For the majority of its existence, Rockford, Illinois has generally been considered one of the armpits of America. It’s a gritty industrial town near the Wisconsin border which has consistently been listed as one of the U.S.’s worst cities by polls and surveys published in major magazines, often winding up in the top ten worst cities.
Since World War II, Rockford’s economy had been driven by manufacturing, which began a sharp decline in the 1980s, but its bad reputation has been in place for as long as I’ve been alive. Word on the street is that the city is trying to rebuild its image. We’ll see how that pans out.
Interstate 90 runs on the outskirts of the city and I can remember as a kid, my family would be heading north to drop us off at summer camp or skiing in the winter, and whenever we came upon Rockford, there was always some grumbling about crime rates. Always a curious kid, I asked my folks what was up with Rockford? It’s a bad place, I was told. One time when we were just making the bend and seeing all the exit signs, I declared that I had to go to the bathroom, to which my father replied, “Can you hold it until we get to Beloit?” I never forgot that incident, and to this day, I have never set foot in Rockford.
And that’s a travesty I am compelled to rectify. One day, I will go to Rockford; I owe it to the town. Even though it’s no longer known for making stuff, Rockford has produced two of the most important musical influences in my life.
Chronologically, the first and foremost is Cheap Trick. It was Christmas 1978. From the moment I dropped the needle on At Budokan, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Not long thereafter, I picked up my mom’s abandoned nylon-string guitar and started teaching myself how to play. Thirty-five years later, Cheap Trick is still rocking. Me, not so much.
Rockford’s second gift came in the form of guitarist Bill Dolan, whose work in the bands Five Style, Heroic Doses, and Das Boton, has been as influential to me as any guitarist—especially because I had the pleasure of playing with Bill back in the mid 90s. Bill’s guitar playing stands shoulder to shoulder with all the heroes in my pantheon of rock guitar: Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhodes, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Rick Nielsen, Tony Iommi, Alex Lifeson, Andy Summers, Robert Smith, D. Boon, Bob Mould, Angus Young, and Bill Dolan. Every single one of those guys made a permanent impression on my own playing, which in turn influenced my life, because for a long time, playing guitar was just about the only thing I ever cared about.
Other than my wife and son, guitar is as close to sacred as anything gets for me. Guitar is not just something to sit and play or watch and listen to; it’s a way of life. When I see or hear someone play the instrument poorly, there’s a part of my inner psyche that feels offended. Even though drums are my first love (and instrument learned), I have been obsessed with the guitar; playing it and/or otherwise.
If you ask my favorite guitar player of all-time, it’s Eddie Van Halen. No hesitation, and it’s a little too late to backtrack on that choice.
If you ask who I think is the best guitar player of all-time, I’d say it’s a toss-up between Andres Segovia and Tommy Emmanuel.
If you ask who I think is the most under-rated guitar player of all-time, I would say Bill Dolan. Hands down. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think something along the lines of, “Bill Dolan should be world-famous.” Kids should have posters of him on their walls; they should be learning the licks to “Summer Salt” and “Reggie, Is It?”; they should be saving up their Xmas money to buy every record in his catalog; they should fucking know Bill Dolan. And even though I don’t think this piece of writing is necessarily going to change that, at the very least, if one person comes away from this with a newfound appreciation for Bill’s music, then I can say I’ve tried to do my job, which is spread the gospel.
In the summer of 1994, the hottest thing cooking on the Chicago music scene was a young guitarist named Bill Dolan and his band, Five Style, which had just been signed to Sub Pop Records—at the time, the pinnacle of indie rock record labels. Hearing Bill’s name and seeing it in The Chicago Reader alongside terms like “guitar whiz” and “phenom” was enough to keep me skeptical, so I passed on an early opportunity to see Five Style at The Empty Bottle (or maybe it was Lounge Ax). Either way, I wanted no part of it.
At the same time, Ronnie Kwasman and I were considered good guitar players among our peers; more so Ronnie than me, partially because I had switched to bass; and Ronnie was a thousand times more consistent. He rarely made mistakes. The kid was (and still) is the most rock-solid guitar player I ever heard. With me, you never knew what you were going to get, and that was one of the reasons we decided to be a trio. It was much better for us to have an unpredictable bass player and singer than lead guitarist.
Ronnie and I had taught each other how to play guitar through thousands of hours of practice and well over a hundred shows. Our band at the time, Whitey (which included our soul brother, Matthew Tucker on drums), was neither successful nor well-known, but there was one thing you couldn’t take away from us: almost nobody out-rocked us. But we weren’t King Crimson, right? We’d go see Jesus Lizard at Lounge Ax and say, “All right, those guys make us look like chumps.” But it didn’t happen very often.
Even if Whitey was unpopular and ignored by the critics, we got our props from the bands we shared a bill with. Every single show, guys would come up to us and say, “Boy, you guys rock.” They didn’t say, “Those were catchy songs” or “Wow, that was the best show I’ve ever seen”, they said, “You boys rock!” And it was true. We brought IT every single practice and show. What is IT? In a few words, the spirit of rock. It is the idea of giving 1,000%, every single goddamn time. We didn’t play half-assed. Even if it was a simple four-chord stomper, we took every last downbeat as seriously as a heart attack. Perhaps some of that rock-ness was a way for us to commensurate for our weaknesses as artists and performers, I don’t know. The only thing I do know is that we left nothing out there. We gave it every bit of piss and vinegar we had in us.
Anyway, the point is that we were hardly ever impressed by other guitar players on the scene. I can count on one hand the number of guys in Chicago indie bands that I thought could play, minus a finger for Ronnie. [Ian Schneller of Falstaff, Fred Mangan of Clown Love, and Dale Meiners of Wesley Willis Fiasco were the others.] And it wasn’t me being arrogant; when we weren’t practicing or playing shows, we were going to shows. So we saw everybody. My opinion was based on experience, not misguided feelings of superiority.
In spite of our pride in epitomizing what we believed to be the standard of rock, neither of us were conceited or deluded. We loved tons of other bands and never looked down our noses at anyone. I guess you could say we were relatively humble about having such a high opinion of ourselves. We never thought we were better than anyone; we were just different. Loads of other bands had better songs, better equipment, better everything. And we respected those guys and never begrudged most of them when they got record deals and we didn’t.
There were exceptions, of course. I personally was horrified and outraged when [certain unnamed Chicago bands] got signed to major labels and became big stars. In my narcissistic and “lofty” opinion, they made terrible music and were simply posing as rock bands. At the time, you did not want to mention those bands in my presence unless you wanted to see some dirty little indie dude lose his mind—and people sometimes liked to see that. Anyway, I guess the point is: we really thought we were the shit. Both Ronnie and I were under the impression that we could play guitar.
The way I remember it, one day in early autumn, Ronnie came home from the record store with Five Style’s debut 7” single on Sub Pop: “Waiting For The Eclipse” b/w “Summer Salt”. Ronnie put the “Summer Salt” side on first, and I made him play it again. And again. And again. We didn’t even get to the flipside for another hour. To say that I lost my mind is wrong. My mind got up and walked straight out of my skull, like, “That’s it. I’m outta here.” For the next month or so, I drove Ronnie crazy about playing that record—since I didn’t have a turntable. In that moment, Bill Dolan turned my world upside down. All this time I thought I could play guitar.
The beauty of “Summer Salt” wasn’t strictly in its technical genius; the way Bill played like a cross between Jimmy Page and Jimmy Nolan. Although I now have pretty good idea where he got the inspiration for those riffs, I had never heard anything quite so funky and angular, yet fluid and graceful. Plus, as far as listening to instrumental music, it was the first time since Rush’s “YYZ” that I didn’t say, “Where’s the singer?” And this kid was 23 years old! The questions swirled around like a vortex. Where the fuck did he learn to play like that? Where the fuck did he come from? Who is this fucking kid?
Our previous band, Brain Kiss, had been working with producer Brian Deck for the last two years, so when we formed Whitey, he offered to help us make a record. The sessions were set for early November, so he called us down to Idful Music a few times to hang out and talk shop. During one of the pre-production meetings, we discussed the additional musicians we wanted to play on the record. We asked C.J. Bani (Uptighty) to play keyboards on a few cuts. David Singer (Kid Million, David Singer and the Sweet Science) would come and do some vocals. Brian had lined up Julie Liu to play violin and Mitch Straffer on accordion. At one point I said to Brian, “Man, we’d love to get Bill Dolan to play on a few songs.” Not a problem, Brian said. He’s a friend and I’m sure he’d be happy to play on a few tracks.
A meeting was arranged. Bill came down to Idful and listened to a few tracks. He agreed to play on two songs which caught his ear: “High Speed Fly-By” and “Where Peotone Meets Hodgkins On Harlem.” Personally, Bill was quite shy and demure, the complete antithesis of what you’d expect from a guitar slinger; but he was very easy to talk to, and he seemed to enjoy playing on our record. I remember—I’ll never forget it, actually—when he said to me, “I like that you guys play rock and you’re not apologetic about it—it feels pure.” It was a thrill to hear him play on our songs and I remember being absolutely, obnoxiously happy during the playback sessions.
When the record was finished, we began the process of booking shows, which was by far the biggest obstacle Whitey had to overcome. Meanwhile, I’d asked Bill if he would be down with me doing an interview and writing about him in Tail Spins Magazine, which he agreed. This led to us becoming friends.
[That interview, conducted over beers at The Big Horse Saloon, sadly never made it to print, and is lost forever.]
Ronnie got us a March 1995 show at Cabaret Metro and I said, “Hey Bill, would you be up for doing a guest appearance?” Sure, man, he said. He started joining us at practice, which turned into jam sessions—Bill taking the lead and the three of us desperately struggling to keep up. We didn’t know it at the time, but he was working out riffs and rhythms that he eventually used in Five Style and Heroic Doses.
Whitey played the show and Bill did his thing, and we said, “That was fun! Can we do it again?” Bill was into it, so we continued jamming at the place in Sharkerville (our communal flat on North Lincoln Avenue). After a while, Bill came around and asked if we’d be into playing some cover songs, which we were. In fact, we were just happy to be playing with him; we didn’t care that he wasn’t really interested in what we had cooking with Whitey. And I found that out the hard way when I flat-out asked him if he would consider joining the band. “No, thanks.” But he said he really enjoyed playing with us and wanted that to continue.
So Whitey started having separate practices, and when Bill came around we did what he wanted to do, which had now evolved into playing a mix of some of his new material, and a set of covers he selected. And that’s how Product of Mentality was born.
During this period, both Bill and I were fairly under-employed. I had just bailed on my gig at the Chicago Board of Trade and got fired from waiting tables at the Grizzly Tavern downstairs from our flat; so I was bouncing around between part-time and one-off gigs. Bill was working for some art company, printing t-shirts, and bartending at Rainbow Club. Therefore, it seemed like we both had a lot of time on our hands, so we started hanging out more often. He’d invite me over to The Loft at the Flat Iron Building and we’d sit around listening to records and learning riffs. At the time, I’d only been playing bass for a year, but that’s usually an easy transition for a guitarist. Playing along with Bill was like taking a master class in musicianship, and I credit that time for really shaping my vision of playing bass, which I would continue to play for the next five years.
One day, Bill proposed the idea of giving our little outfit a name, and playing a show. He chose Product of Mentality, and Bruce Finkelman at Empty Bottle gave us a gig (with Whitey as the opener). Bill was into a record by Masters of Reality, which is clearly where the name came from, but he and I once had a long discussion about it, and his idea was more closely related to the fact that he—or, he with us—was into this rock thing, which was completely different from the funky jam angle he was working with Five Style. He liked playing with us because we understood rock; we were the archetypical rock band; it was in our blood. Bill of course loved rock music, too, but coming up in a punk band and then doing Five Style, he’d never been in a true rock band. Hence, Bill’s concept of “rock mentality”.
Anyway, we played the show and it was fantastic. Bill played lead and sang. We did a bunch of covers by ZZ Top (“The Sheik”), Lynyrd Skynyrd (“On The Hunt”), AC/DC (“Dog Eat Dog”) and Rod Stewart (“True Blue”), Faces (“Miss Judy’s Farm”), Masters of Reality (“Sleepwalkin’”) and at least one of Bill’s songs called “I Want To Be A Dentist.” Ronnie, Matt, and I were totally psyched; it was almost as if we were ready to ditch the Whitey thing and just be Bill’s backing band in Product.
Ronnie has told me that there was a second show, but neither of us remember when or where it was. Either way, Product of Mentality eventually dissolved in late 1996. This was also around time when we decided to kill Whitey, and start a new thing, which became Golden Tones. Bill, on the other hand, was off touring with Five Style and I believe he was enjoying the path his life had taken.
However, Bill and I remained friends and ran into each other occasionally. A year or so went by. Scott Shell of Beluga Records had hooked me up with a gig working the door at the Big Horse Saloon (I also wound up the default bartender on occasion), which was right downstairs from Bill’s house, so every now and then he’d come down and have a chat. One day he asked if I’d be interested in jamming with him. Five Style was on hiatus or something and he had a new project in mind, Heroic Doses. Sure, I’d love to jam with you, Bill.
So I went over to his place a few times and he showed me the riffs. Then he introduced me to Ryan Rapsys (Euphone), who had become Bill’s drummer of choice. They had me over for a couple of practice sessions but Bill was non-committal when I pressed him about my involvement in the project. We’re just jamming, he said. Then one night he called me up and said, “How would you feel about playing a small set at Big Horse?” I’d be down with that. When? “Tonight. Right now.”
So I grabbed my bass and made a beeline for Bill’s place. We loaded Bill’s and Ryan’s gear into the Big Horse, set up, and played three Heroic Doses songs—admirably on my part, I might add, since I didn’t know the material that well—before Bill and Ryan decided to go off on some riff that I’d never heard before. I yelled over to Bill, “What key [are you in?]” He shouted back, “G” and I heard “E”. Hopelessly lost, I did what you’re supposed to do in those situations: I got out of the way. I found one note and stuck with it, playing as little as possible. The set ended. And that was the last time I ever played with Bill, and up until a few days ago, the second-to-last time I remember speaking to him.
A year later, the Heroic Doses record came out and I went down to Reckless and bought a copy; when I got it home, I nearly had an aneurysm. There in the liner notes, under the “Thanks to” section, was my name. It was the first (and probably last) time—to the best of my knowledge—my name had ever appeared in the liner notes of an album that I had nothing to do with.
I don’t remember the last time I talked to Bill Dolan but it had to have been around New Year’s Eve 1998. Heroic Doses played at The Empty Bottle with Hum and Dianogah. I went to the show. That’s all I remember.
After I moved to San Francisco in 1999, Ronnie and I basically stopped communicating with each other. There wasn’t any bad blood between us; we just went our separate ways. Every now and then I would hear about his comings and goings, but several years went by before I heard that Bob and Ron’s Record Club got their own show on WCKG. At any rate, I was genuinely happy for them. Both Bob and Ron are soul brothers to me, and some of my fondest memories revolve around being in the Record Club. However, I was deeply involved in my own stuff, so I had little or no inclination to reach out and say, “What’s up?” It’s not like they reached out to me, either.
Facebook changed all that. On December 24, 2008, Ronnie sent me a message: “Hey Chris, just thought I’d drop you a line and say hey.” Since then we’ve re-established our communication and it’s great to have him back in my life. Once we started talking again, it was like we’d never been estranged. Of course, with BSM and the Record Club, we have a bunch of reasons to communicate on a regular basis. A couple of years ago, Ronnie wrote: “Hey, I ran into Bill the other day. He told me to say hi.” Really? Fuck, man. Tell Bill I said, “What’s up?”
And that was it. A few weeks went by and he never mentioned it again. I did my usual Google search and found info about Bill’s new project, Das Boton, and basically what he’s been up to for the last ten years. I also started listening to Five Style and Heroic Doses again. Back in the mid 00s when I was making the first Aztec Hearts record, the Heroic Doses CD was one of the dozen records I listened to almost on a daily basis.
Though I found his work on MySpace, the one thing I couldn’t find was Bill’s email address. Bill is not on Facebook, either. In the past, I’ve been able to track down an email address for just about everybody, but not with Bill. He’s crafty like that. And honestly, I didn’t know if he’d really appreciate me popping out of the woodwork and bugging him about shit, right? So I shot off an email to Ronnie: hey can you get me in touch with Bill Dolan? Ronnie said he’d do what he could.
In the meantime, I got married and had a kid, so getting in touch with Bill was put on the back burner. Every now and then, I’d bug Ronnie about it, but he’s busy, too. One day he sent a message saying he told Bill that I asked about him, but nothing else. It’s now 2013 and some of the dust has settled in my personal life; the kid made it through his first year and family life is pretty stable. It’s now that I can get to some of those things I’ve been meaning to do, like getting in touch with Bill Dolan.
In the end, it wasn’t as hard as I thought. Since I have a MySpace account for Aztec Hearts, I sent a friend request to Bill’s account, along with a short message, saying that I hoped we could have a chance to catch up sometime, etc. Bill wrote back. After a few exchanges, he agreed to another interview and we set the date.
Before we get into the transcript of the interview, please be aware of one thing. Bill and I are on opposite sides of the planet. He’s in Rockford, I’m in Taipei. So it’s Friday morning in the U.S. and 11:00 p.m. in Taiwan. Bill is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, drinking his coffee; I’m sort of bleary and ragged, halfway through my second bottle of red wine. After a couple of technical difficulties, the discussion began.
CA: I’m going to try and do this interview like I haven’t known you for 20 years.
BD: That’s cool. I have some topics that I wanted to—
CA: Unless you—oh, please, go ahead. I’m sorry.
BD: Have you ever heard of Joe Rogan?
CA: [Disappointedly] Yeah.
BD: Oh, so I’m trying to figure out the emotion behind that answer. That means you’re not too thrilled about the guy.
CA: Well, I… You know what? I have to admit that I’ll watch fucking MMA—what’s that shit when they fight until one of ‘em submits? I’ll watch that shit because I have no other choice. It’s like three in the morning. My wife and my kid are sleeping and I can’t sleep. So yeah, I’ll watch those guys beat themselves senseless, but I’m not down with Joe Rogan.
BD: I’m down with him, but we can still be friends. [Laughs]
CA: [Laughing and backtracking] No! He’s a cool guy! His stand-up used to be really funny.
BD: More specifically, I’m talking about his podcasts. He has a lot of very interesting conversations with people—I mean it’s the fringe of what’s accepted in the mainstream as reality, et cetera. I really dig his podcasts. The topics and his guests are really interesting people. I mean it’s not—
CA: Bill, I’m writing it down. I didn’t know he had a podcast but I’m gonna check it out. I do like the character Joe Rogan plays.
BD: Well, that’s the other thing. He was first introduced to mainstream media by the “Fear Factor” and I didn’t have any idea that his process of thinking was alternative to what we’ve been conditioned to know about what reality and the planet Earth and the United States is. He’s talking to people who are offering better—not better, sorry—he’s talking to…
BD: Nah, fuck that. Truth seekers, if you want to call it that. [Pause] Conspiracy…
CA: Oh. Well, man it’s hard to look at things that have happened over the last 15 years and not think, “Somebody had to fucking know.” That’s just how I look at it, like, yeah, that happened and a bunch of people fucking knew about it before it happened.
BD: How many, I don’t know, but sure, absolutely, you’re probably right there actually. I’m going to be with you on that. A bunch of people probably did know.
CA: So, what’s up with—please correct me with the pronunciation—Das Boton.
BD: [In Midwestern accent] Uh-huh. It’s dahs-bah-tun.
CA: I knew it. [In exaggerated German accent] Das-boton!
BD: Yeah. ‘That robot’ in German.
CA: Sorry, I was going with the Sub Pop West Coast pronunciation.
BD: I took a trip to China in my dream last night. The dream was very Asian, or it was very foreign to me, and I woke up was like, “Oh, that’s weird. I wonder if it’s…” I mean, obviously, the subconscious works in lots of ways but, you know, you’re in China.
CA: [Stuttering] Man—um—I’m gonna skip talking about dreams but and whatever. How I wound up bugging Ronnie about getting in touch with you, it’s just—it’s really, really strange.
BD: That’s the kind of shit Joe Rogan talks about. The coincidental synchronicity that people are having now is more and more common, and the global awakening of a higher consciousness. All that shit is going down. I mean, I believe.
CA: Well, of course it is because we are completely connected now.
BD: Yeah, we’re so connected. We’re one.
CA: You don’t have a Facebook page because of what we’re talking about now.
BD: In part, yeah.
CA: I get it. I totally get it.
BD: So Chris, do you guys, I mean, I know you get all kinds of different news but do you guys ever get like, crop circles? Do you ever hear about them or do you ever see them in the papers?
CA: No, we have ghosts. It’s a tiny island. And they’ve never had crop circles in China as far as I know.
BD: Well, I don’t believe that. I find that hard to believe, but OK.
CA: As far as what I know, but Bill, I’ve been here five years and I don’t read the news to be informed, it’s a pastime—I don’t read, like, the Chicago Tribune. I don’t get my news from the Internet, really. I talk to people who know shit. One of my friends here is kind of a shady character, probably local mafia, I’m not sure. I don’t really hang out with him but whenever I need to know something, I call him.
BD: See, that’s fun. Where’s this guy living in China?
CA: No, he lives a couple of miles from me. If you want to know something, you just talk to him. He’s one of those people I’d be happy to introduce you to.
BD: That’s cool. Ask him if he knows about Alex Jones and the crusade to dismantle the tyranny that’s afoot in this world.
CA: Man, Bill, I can’t even watch that stuff.
CA: It’s all hyperbole. They’re just… I don’t like it when people are… [long pause and sigh] I want substantiated facts.
BD: It is. That’s what Alex Jones does. He’s not making this shit up.
CA: I don’t have a problem with what he says, it’s just all a little evangelistic to me.
BD: And my sister says the exact same thing. Me and her at odds about that. She used that exact term. “He reminds me of one of those TV evangelists.”
CA: Yes, and I don’t like that.
BD: I’m not a fan of evangelicals either. But I find a lot of comfort and piece of mind when he articulates things that me and my generation have been exposed to through punk rock music. Those [guys] were pioneers in terms of political—I mean, the Dead Kennedys, they were talking about corrupt government, wars waged against citizens of this country. I mean, it’s an issue—I can’t articulate it as well as Alex Jones can. He’s so informed on what the fuck the workings are of this country and what’s going. That’s why I listen to him.
CA: So, Bill, what is the key point of that message you want to discuss, for instance, you said the Dead Kennedys.
BD: Liberty. Freedom.
CA: Our freedoms being taken away from us on a daily basis, yes.
BD: Well, you have to find gratitude in the liberties we have left, and maybe exercising them to keep them in shape. It’s fun to communicate with you through Skype. We can do that through the internet. That’s a freedom we have.
CA: We shouldn’t take it for granted since if I were in Iran, this conversation would not be taking place.
CA: If I were in Iran I’d have been killed by now. It’s a scary place over here sometimes, Bill. That’s the only reason I question the evangelical nature of people like Alex Jones. I don’t care if you’re right wing, left wing, center wing, I just want a wing. I want a fucking chicken wing, you know what I’m saying? And I want some blue cheese dressing. I don’t give a fuck.
BD: You’re hungry!
CA: Man, a lot of people are hungry. And I think the disparity of wealth in this world is a much bigger issue than anybody’s concept of what abortion should be or not be. Can I get a witness?
BD: They’re not just distractions but they are distracting from the root cause of what it is. One thing I wanted to say about Alex Jones in defense of his evangelisms is that he has loads of guests. He doesn’t always agree 100 percent with their ideologies but he leaves that platform open. It’s not all just Alex Jones’ word. He has this guy Dave Mustaine who comes on sometimes.
CA: Bill, did you ever watch Jerry Springer?
BD: I did not.
BD: It’s sensationalism.
CA: That’s exactly what Alex Jones is doing by bringing on people who have differing opinions. Dave Mustaine is without question, across the globe, everybody knows this, probably the biggest dickhead in all of rock music.
BD: I don’t know. I haven’t met every dude in rock and roll. [Laughs] That’s your opinion. That’s fine, Chris.
CA: Well, hey, in terms of Alex Jones. Maybe I’ll take another look at it but perhaps I’ll see something I didn’t see the first time, or the first ten times I’ve seen his—
BD: You’ve seen him ten times?
CA: I’m a Jon Stewart guy. I watch “The Daily Show”.
BD: That’s comedy!
CA: It’s not comedy. Bill. Do you think The Onion is comedy? Satire is not always meant to make you laugh.
BD: Hey man, I gotta take a bathroom break.
BD: You were saying.
CA: The Left. That’s the people I am. I watch Daily Show and Stephen Colbert. Of course, I read CNN, Drudge Report, Gawker… Dude, I read way more about U.S. news than you do, I guarantee it.
BD: I’m sure you do.
CA: But I’m a left-leaning type of person. I hope you don’t think that I’m some kind of Pinko or anything. But even thinking about politics makes me feel like we’re talking about religion. [Pause] You feel what you feel.
BD: So it’s an emotional issue for you to talk about your world view and politics. You’re getting emotional. You have an emotional attachment to it. You’re feeling offended or something?
CA: No… But you’re right, I am starting to feel emotional about it, but what I mostly fear is that I would offend you by something I would eventually say, because that’s what I’m known for, Bill.
BD: Oh! OK.
BD: We can move on but…
CA: I put my notes aside. This is not an interview. This is just us, talking.
BD: Whatever. OK, we can move on but I wanted to let you know that these are the kinds of things—this is what I find the most intriguing and gratifying in life, is pondering these issues, and being informed.
CA: You’re in Rockford now?
BD: I feel like you’re judging me.
CA: Bill, I would never ever ever judge you. I consider you one of my heroes and I know you don’t like to hear that, but it’s true.
BD: It’s nice. Thanks. I appreciate that you acknowledge me in that regard. That’s nice.
CA: You’re one of my heroes, so I would never—
BD: Never say never.
CA: All right, well, one of the reasons that I tracked you down was I wanted to interview my heroes, or the ones that are still alive. That’s how this whole thing started. That’s why I tracked down [Mike] Watt, that’s why I got in touch with Carol Kaye.
BD: Well, on that subject, Eddie Van Halen—I know you love him as much as I do.
CA: I love him more than I love you.
BD: My point is, he is one of your heroes, why didn’t you try and track him down?
CA: Because Eddie Van Halen exists behind a wall of publicists. This is part of the learning process. Getting an interview with you was relatively easy compared to getting an interview with Carol Kaye.
CA: Getting an interview with Eddie is not impossible, you just have to know the right people and become friendly with them. I’ve got my foot in the door now with the Watt interview.
BD: I know people who know Mike Watt and I’ve met him myself, and I don’t see any reason he wouldn’t give you an interview.
CA: I know Watt, too. We played a show together. We’ve met a couple of times. But you gotta go through this other guy, Howard [Wuefling], if you want an interview.
BD: Howard—is it the same Howard from Chicago who worked at Touch and Go?
CA: No, no, no, he’s out of Washington D.C. East Coast somewhere. I dunno. But this is one of the things I have had to learn. He’s a booking agent, you know? Sub Pop is just a record label. So who is actually your go-to representative? In terms of press, Watt’s point man is Howard. So for instance, who was your last tour manager?
BD: I don’t know that I’ve ever had a tour manager.
CA: OK, who booked your last tour?
BD: I think it was Billions but the thing is, we got picked up by Tortoise because we asked, “Can we please go with you?” They said sure.
CA: So who managed that tour?
BD: What do you mean, managed?
CA: So if I wanted to interview Tortoise on tour in say, 1999, who would I have called?
BD: I’m not sure I know what you mean, because we just went on tour with them two years ago.
CA: Either way, it doesn’t matter. Do you know who handled interview requests? If I wanted an interview, who would I have called?
BD: Well, Billions booked the tour. Or wait, no, it was Tom Windish.
CA: See, that’s what I’m talking about! Nobody knows. At first, it’s really hard to figure out. You can send out a bunch of blind emails and say, “Hey, I’d love to interview Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine” but—fuck, no! Not going to happen. That interview is really hard to get.
CA: I’m not sure that I even remember the question. You shouldn’t be asking me questions.
CA: I’m just kidding.
BD: I hope so. Chris, I’m going to ask you more questions. Have you ever heard of this guy John K. Hutchison from Canada?
BD: How about Nikola Tesla?
CA: I’ve written at length about Tesla. I could talk all day about Tesla.
BD: Let me tell you, before you talk about Tesla, about this guy Hutchison who built a replica of Tesla’s coil, and these sort of haphazard, no real rhyme or reason experiments and got things to levitate, and video taped it. He got extensive media coverage in Canada and eventually, the authorities shut him down. He left for America and re-built it, and he’s on lots of news programs. Anyway, the Hutchison effect—Google it or YouTube it—
CA: I’ll do it right now.
BD: There’s also one other thing called Coral Castle, where a dude was moving multiple tons of cut stone by himself.
CA: Aw, yeah. Sematics. I’m familiar with this.
BD: That guy is cool.
CA: Bill, let’s talk about your music, man. Do you not want to talk about it right now? If you don’t, we won’t.
BD: I want to talk about music but I just had the urge to let know that these are the things that are stirring around in my mind, and they’re eventually going to work themselves out in my product, or my work, or my art. It’s going to reflect the kinds of things I’m taking in, my filter. Isn’t that the way art works?
CA: I’m trying to understand how the Hutchison effect translates into playing guitar.
CA: Is there a way to levitate over the strings and make it play—oh that’s an e-bow.
BD: I’m working on it, man.
CA: Does the Hutchison effect have a groove? Got a beat?
BD: Yeah, man, well, it’s interesting you should say that because there’s this interview on YouTube where this woman—I think she’s Japanese—she’s talking to John Hutchison’s wife and she says, “I think John’s a musician. He’s making music.” And so I was like, dig it, man. Think outside the box. I haven’t yet collaborated with the dude, but if I can somehow make it to him—
CA: Have you already contacted him?
BD: I have through YouTube, not much. Just a couple little…
CA: Do you want to talk to him?
BD: I… Yeah, I think I want to talk to him.
CA: I could probably try to make that happen.
CA: I don’t care. I’ll talk to him. I totally do not care, Bill. I’ll tell you, I care about two things in this world: my wife and my kid.
BD: Then you should be concerned about things. You should be concerned about the future. There are things being implemented in society today that are going to have a larger effect on the future of your child. And I know that you think about those things and it’s a hard—dude, I don’t have any kids. That’s how much faith I have in the system.
CA: How long have you been married?
BD: Five years, but we’ve been—that’s not the point. Having kids brings up a lot of issues in my brain that makes me feel I may not want to. I have a bleak outlook.
CA: For the first 42 years of my life I said I do not want to have kids and I should not have kids. I should not. I’m not…I’m not a good example of a human being.
BD: That’s too bad you think of yourself that way. I know the feeling.
CA: But then you meet somebody and it’s like [claps his hands] Oh! Hello! And man, I never thought I would get married. And she was knocked up a month after we got married. Now we have this kid and I’ve never felt the type of love that I have for my wife and son. And I think, “I hope that it’s turned me into a decent human being.” But I never expected it to happen. Before, I was like, yeah, I’d been in love a few times but mostly I didn’t care. Man, the depth and the intensity of the love I have for them, it hurts, but you know, I feel it.
BD: I have love for my wife [Wendy], very deep and committed love. I want to share the rest of my life with her. But I just have a lot of issues about the world, and maybe I’m wrong, but I have a right to say that. Isn’t that what America is about? Freedom of speech?
CA: Basically. It should be.
BD: I’m not seeing an accurate and fair reflection of what is supposed to be. I mean, I’ve kind of had enough. [Laughs] So, whatever.
CA: Hey, dude. Then you gotta pick up your guitar and start making some crazy noise.
BD: [Makes strange noise] Is that crazy enough?
CA: Can we talk about “Summer Salt”? That song changed my life, and you don’t know that but it changed everything for a lot of people.
BD: That’s nice of you to say.
CA: Dude, me and Ronnie—we couldn’t believe it. We were like, “Aw, goddammit!” And so I just watched the live version of it. Have you noticed there’s a lot of videos from a couple of shows you did with Jeremy [Jacobsen] at the Middle East in Boston?
BD: Yeah, I’ve seen those. I have to admit that I do watch them.
CA: Whoever that fucking guy is, he took a lot of video and he uploaded all of ‘em. But thank you, thank you. For me, “Summer Salt” changed the landscape. Where did that song come from for you as a guitar player?
BD: I wrote it in sections and I actually wrote one of the parts on bass when I was sitting at the Loft and I had access to a bass. It was just something I came up with and then I put it to the opening riff, you know there’s the whole introduction. So I melded those two together. I think I was listening a lot to Band of Gypsys, and in fact that record may have been a tiny bit of inspiration for that song. And you know, just trying to find my own way as a guitar player. I guess I wasn’t trying, it was just me.
CA: The opening riff is a real cool hybrid of like Chet Atkins, Nashville picking thing, but at the same time it’s got a very Meters sensibility to it. I always wondered, what did you grow up listening to?
BD: I should have mentioned the Meters because they were definitely an influence on that.
CA: Later on there’s Meters all over Five Style and Heroic Doses.
BD: Yep. It almost goes without saying. But the Hendrix Band of Gypsys record—
CA: I don’t hear it on “Summer Salt”.
BD: I know. I’ve cited other influences for distinct parts, for instance to Jeremy Jacobsen. Like, this comes from a lick in “Hang ‘Em High” by Van Halen, and he’s like, “I don’t hear it.” And I’m like, well, that’s where it came from.
CA: “Hang ‘Em High”, baby.
BD: I’ll show you the riff. [Moves to grab guitar] Listen. [Plays the opening riff and sings] ‘Somewhere, he lost his mind…’
CA: [Laughs] Awesome! [Tries to sing along] ‘Never crossed his mind.’ [Mumbles] I don’t know the words. The chorus—‘He comes from nowhere he turns on his own. They better hang him cuz he’s headed for the moon, hang ‘em high.’
[Bill joins in and both laugh]
CA: That’s the fucking shit, man.
BD: I would have loved to have written a song like that.
CA: OK, so you just touched on something called the Wish List. I’ve been trying to do this website feature where I ask my favorite musicians, if you could have written any song other than your own, what would it be?
BD: Oh, I know why I sent you that Chico Hamilton video because he covered a Stevie Wonder song and I thought that you were a big Stevie fan. Am I not right on that?
CA: I was a huge Stevie Wonder fan. I still am, I guess.
BD: That’s why I sent you that, Chris. See, I remember things about you like that.
CA: But forgive me, I’m really sensitive to spam, and it was just the link, and I thought it spam and your account had been hacked. [Laughs] You might want to include a message like, “Hey Chris, you might like this.”
BD: Yeah, I know. Maybe at the time I was kind of busy, but I really wanted to throw it your way, and I knew I’d be talking to you.
CA: The Prince [appearance] on [the Jimmy] Fallon [Show] was fucking cool.
CA: What did you think about the opening, I think it’s like G to E minor.
BD: “Bambi”? That’s from his first record. I don’t think many people know that.
CA: I have it on vinyl. But what I’m talking about is during the opening, it sounds like, as Mike Watt would say, somebody clammed a note.
BD: Really? There’s a wrong note in there?
CA: That’s what it sounded like to me. Maybe I need to see it again.
BD: That happens. I mean, what are you gonna do?
CA: Aw, man, I’ve seen you—you clam on “Deep Marsh”…which one is it? I’m looking at my notes. There’s one of the versions of “Deep Marsh” from Middle East where you clam a note and I was like, “Oh, OK, so he’s not God.”
BD: I didn’t hear all of what you just said.
CA: Never mind. Why did you…what happened with Five Style?
BD: Are you taking notes?
CA: No, I’m recording it.
BD: Why did I make the transition from Five Style to Heroic Doses?
BD: Well, as you know, Five Style turned into Mike Hueneke, Ned Folkerth, LeRoy [Bach], and myself—obviously, bands make transitions and stuff. But we made that record, the one that you’re such a fan of [the Ghetto Love sessions] and I met Ryan [Rapsys]. I was wrapping up that Five Style record and rehearsing with Ryan, getting to know him. And I was getting really excited about the Heroic Doses songs. I was in pretty frequent communication with [Sub Pop’s Jonathan] Poneman, telling him what I was up to. He was like, if you’re excited about it, I’m excited about it. He was giving me encouragement.
CA: So for the first two records and the singles, you were an instrumental band. How did Hueneke—he was a super cool cat, by the way—how did he wind up in the picture?
BD: Actually, when I first started jamming with Johnny, Mike was living in New Orleans. LeRoy started playing with us—it was like the first couple of practices, and we were throwing the Meters vibe in there. LeRoy and I talked about getting Hueneke to sing. So that was way back then. A little time passed and he was still in New Orleans. We had talked a little about him coming up to Chicago. Anyway, Johnny said, ‘Why don’t we just go instrumental?’ and I said, ‘Sure, whatever,’ I mean, I just wanted to play with Johnny. So that’s how we came to the conclusion that we were going to be instrumental. It was Johnny’s suggestion, I mean, he was already in Tortoise doing instrumentals, so he was like, let’s just do more of that. That was fine with me. Whatever.
BD: I don’t think it was something they wanted to invest more money in. [Laughs]
CA: Do you think it had anything to do with the fact that it was done at Dale Meiners place. I know there was some weirdness going on that I wasn’t in touch with.
BD: Um, I have no idea…I guess I don’t—
CA: OK, it’s not an issue. It’s not important.
BD: I’ll be back in 30 seconds.
CA: No problem, man.
[Redacted: Bill returns and we have sort of an awkward exchange about saying “sorry”. Bill said it and I replied that he doesn’t have to say “sorry” to me for anything, in fact, it’s kind of pet peeve of mine. There’s a long pause. Finally, I break the silence.]
CA: OK. Here. Led Zeppelin’s Presence. Go!
BD: All right. Like now I’m trying to predict what you’re going to say next. OK, so, there’s a riff on the first Five Style record that I borrowed from Presence.
CA: “On the Corner”?
BD: No. Well, I mean, yeah, I guess.
CA: The whole feel of the first record is so Presence. I was just wondering if you were as influenced by it as much as I was.
BD: [Laughs] Not as much as you were!
CA: How did you meet Ryan Rapsys?
BD: I was at a party—Jeremy Jacobsen lived on like the southwest side, kind of a sketchy neighborhood. I don’t know why that’s relevant to the story. But Jeremy was playing at his own party as the Lonesome Organist, and he was accompanied by Ryan. I remember standing outside on the porch, and I was hearing it but I couldn’t see—the place was full. But I was really stoked about the drumming. I was like, “Damn, man, I gotta meet this guy.” I couldn’t even see him play, I was just listening. And so I said to Jeremy, “Who is this guy?” He introduced me to Tall Ryan, you know he’s like six-feet-something. He was somewhat aware, you know, of what I had done. He knew about Five Style. So I was like, “Let’s jam, man!” He was like, sure, let’s do it. He was like, just a happy guy, I don’t know how to say, he had a positive vibe. He was down for anything. He was mostly just a positive person.
CA: Why do you speak of him in the past tense?
BD: ‘Cuz I don’t jam with him anymore. He’s out in L.A. I want to play with him and I miss him, but we’re not…playing. I noticed that when you said it, I was like, “Why am I talking about him in the past tense?” He’s a great guy.
CA: Where did this Nick Macri guy come in?
BD: Ryan brought him in.
CA: Man, I’ve never seen a guy so disinterested in doing his job. He’s like the security guard that’s falling asleep. I’ve watched so many videos of you guys and I’m like, “Goddamnit!”
BD: Can you blame him?
CA: Can I blame him? Yes. I can. So anyway, Miniature Portraits is a record that nobody knows about. It came out in ’90, am I right?
BD: No, you’re incorrect about that. It came out in ’99. Nine years difference.
CA: [embarrassed laugh] Sorry, I misread my notes. What I want to know is, how did you make the transition from the period of having Hueneke in the band, that was ’97—and then you do Miniature Portraits without him two years later? I’m confused. What happened in between?
BD: You want the story of that, OK. Well, we did the Heroic Doses record and toured with that. The Dale thing happened. I know Hueneke was bummed, and LeRoy was bummed but I think he may have been relieved. They were bummed that I was doing Heroic Doses, and we kind of dropped the ball on Five Style.
CA: Going back to the [Ghetto Love] record. Did you not want to do the whole session?
BD: Did I not want to do it? Um, I wanted to explore those songs we were working on, trying to say, let’s put this down on tape, you know. Why? What am I supposed to do? I don’t own [the master tapes]. I can’t put them out.
CA: Nah, that’s not what I’m asking. It seemed [at the time] like you were already in the Heroic Doses mindset.
BD: I don’t think so. We started recording before I had met Ryan, I believe.
CA: What was it about Jeremy Jacobsen? For a long time, you were really into that guy.
BD: I love him. Actually, I’ve seen him recently. I think he’s a brilliant player. He’s a really good composer. He’s multi-talented. I love that guy. I think—I don’t know what you’re trying to get at—
CA: I’m just asking because he was a part of both Five Style and Heroic Doses.
BD: No, he wasn’t.
CA: I’ve seen the Heroic Doses videos of him on marimbas at Middle East.
BD: The video must be mislabeled. I know why, because Ryan played with Five Style. That’s why you’re confused.
CA: One of the cool things about you, Bill, is that you have compositions—if I’m not mistaken, you have played, for instance, “Deep Marsh” with all three bands.
BD: And I still play it with the dudes I play with here. Yep.
CA: What’s the name of that band?
BD: Bill Dolan or Das Boton.
BD: Bill Dolan with Das Boton, I mean, it’s never like—
CA: That’s—what is it?
BD: Just call it Das Boton. Anyway, dude, I was going to say, take the “For Your Life” riff—I thought that’s what you were getting at. You were saying “On the Corner” has a very Presence-y sound.
CA: I stole that riff, too.
BD: Let me tell you, Chris, there was an interview with this guy who was a sampler-DJ, and he was from the band Deee Lite, do you remember that band?
CA: “Groove is in the Heart”.
BD: Anyway, I was just taking a riff I really liked, and just sampling it with my guitar. That’s all. Zeppelin were the kings of stealing riffs anyway, so…
CA: Hell yes. That’s exactly right. So, “Microscopic”. I drop the needle on it and I hear .38 Special, Thin Lizzy, and Edgar Winter, but I’m thinking, “Bill is taking the piss on me. It’s something else. It’s not any of those guys.”
BD: It’s definitely not those bands. Are you asking me something or are you telling me? I don’t understand.
CA: I was sort of presenting it as an opportunity to say anything, like, “Oh, actually it was….”
BD: OK, well that song—that riff—I was listening to RXT, Jennifer Herrema’s band, and also I was trying to channel some just straight-up metal. You know, fuckin’ dirty metal. You know what I’m saying? I dig that. I like that kind of shit.
CA: So in “Mythical Numbers”, that’s like four tracks of guitar, if not five?
BD: Hell no, that’s two tracks, buddy. It’s me and Jeremy. You’re trying to figure out who’s playing what?
CA: There’s what sounds like an acoustic guitar and one part that sounds like a claw-style banjo.
BD: I don’t think there’s any claw on that record. There’s an acoustic, so maybe that will help you discern what’s what. That’s a Jeremy tune, so a lot of the leading parts are him.
CA: Fire Theft. What the fuck? I just watched a YouTube live thing of “Chains”. You’re not in it.
BD: No, I quit. Isn’t that great? I’m a quitter.
CA: How did you even get in that band in the first place?
BD: Ever hear of a band called Sunny Day Real Estate?
CA: Bill…of course I have.
BD: Heroic Doses toured with them more than once. And they were a Sub Pop band also, so we really hit it off with those dudes. William Goldsmith, Jeremy [Enigk], whatever. I was living out in New York, and Jonathan [Poneman] called me and said they’re putting a new band together and you need to go out there and try it, because he was a fan of mine and Sunny Day. So this is the beginnings of Fire Theft. But I was actually spending a lot of time with William at his house. We started our own band in addition to the Fire Theft which is called Varicocele, which you can find on MySpace.
CA: I didn’t know about that.
BD: Yep, and that was another record that got turned down by Poneman [Sub Pop]. We had like 30 songs—we had a lot of material.
CA: And that was you on guitar and Goldsmith on bass?
BD: No, William is a drummer.
CA: Right. Sorry.
BD: I did some overdubs on bass, and we had a singer come out. This guy I know from Milwaukee and his band was called Die Kreuzen.
CA: I know Die Kreuzen. I used to go see them all the time.
BD: Me, too. I loved that band. The singer, Danny Kubinski. Check it out. He sings on some of the tracks. And I love the guy’s voice, but it just didn’t work out.
CA: I’ll find it.
BD: So I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of stuff over the last ten years that you haven’t been aware of. I’ve made several records, they just haven’t all come out.
CA: Well, whose fault is that?
BD: [sings] Nobody’s fault but mine… Did you see that Zeppelin reunion? Isn’t it awesome?
CA: I don’t know. I don’t have any feelings about it. I don’t think we should talk about my feelings on that subject. Let’s talk about Reggie. So who was Reggie from [Heroic Doses] “Reggie, Is It?”
BD: OK, the reason that song exists is that I had a riff, and I had scribbled down “Reggae-ish”. That was the working title for me. Somebody misread it as “Reggie, Is It?” and that’s all that is.
CA: So was “Marmy the Count”, is that influenced by [John] Fahey or [Leo] Kottke?
BD: You know, I don’t listen to either of those players, so probably not. I’ve heard them, I just wouldn’t know any of their music. Aren’t they folk guitar players?
CA: Yes, that is one of the classifications that frequently get attached to those names, that’s correct. So, “Bon Ham”… Am I saying it correctly?
BD: [laughs] Are you kidding me? Bonham. John Bonham? He’s a guy who played drums.
CA: John Bonham. Greatest drummer of all-time. Number one hero.
BD: Yeah, that’s what that is.
BD: You don’t like it.
CA: Dude, that’s one of my favorite jams. I love it.
BD: You don’t like the title.
CA: No, no, no. I didn’t know if I was saying it right. Cuz I was saying Bon Hom.
BD: Doesn’t it look like his name with just a space between?
CA: No! See that’s the thing, I live in Asia, Bill. So I see things completely different. Living over here fucks with you, man. I dunno. It’s like, every book you read, you have to read it upside down, hanging from the ceiling. It’s fucking crazy. But anyway, one of the issues I have with the videos from ’97—that was Heroic Doses, right? You were touring as Heroic Doses, no?
BD: I’m not sure. Let me see, ’97…
CA: All right, here’s the thing. I can’t see Ryan cuz he’s behind the drums, but you and the bass player are both wearing shorts.
BD: [laughs loudly] You don’t like shorts in rock n’ roll!
CA: The fuck? The fuck’s wrong with you? You’re wearing shorts, on stage?
BD: Dude! Angus Young! The drummer from Def Leppard.
CA: Uniforms—cool. Fuckin’ shorts and white socks—not cool.
BD: I have a picture of Eddie Van Halen wearing shorts on stage.
CA: Dude, Eddie was as high as a motherfucker could be. You guys were hardly high at all. In fact, you probably weren’t high at all, since you don’t even get high.
BD: We’re talking about 1997? Dude, one time I was in a cab with this guy, and the driver pulled out a joint and said, “Hey, you guys wanna hit of this doobie?” And he passed it back to my buddy. Do you know who that buddy was? You!
BD: We were in a cab and we were headed southbound on Damen Avenue, and we were right at the intersection of Milwaukee and North Avenue.
CA: [laughing] Dude, you just made my life! That’s like super Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame type shit.
BD: That’s the only time it’s ever happened to me.
CA: I was so fucking high. That’s rollin’ down the street, smokin’, smokin’ stuff, man.
BD: You don’t remember that? For some reason the driver saw us and thought it would be all right. We were like, yeah, whatever. It was just something that doesn’t happen very often and I remember it.
CA: I do remember now and do you remember our little cover project?
BD: It was Product of Mentality and I hope you have a tape of it. I’d love to hear it.
CA: I don’t but Ronnie has some tapes but I don’t know if he can find them. Either way, at that time, I think everybody was kind of crazy, man. Ronnie was fucking crazy, too, way crazier than most people know about. And you were about to become King of Chicago.
BD: Whatever, I mean, I don’t look at it that way. Reflecting on the time that we were playing together, in Whitey and Product of Mentality, I was really enjoying your guys’ company, and you were really supportive and thought of me in a high regard, and I can’t not acknowledge that. But I liked playing with you guys, I really enjoyed it. The music we were making, I was digging it. I remember that show, I covered some of my insecurities with a bit too much alcohol.
CA: Oh, downstairs at Metro, at Smart Bar. Remember C.J. Bani? Where the fuck is that guy now?
BD: I don’t know but we played Empty Bottle. What is this Smart Bar thing?
CA: We opened for Chris Whitley, and you came on as like a guest for two songs.
BD: I remember that now. It was so long ago. My old roommate, Kurt Niesman, who you may have met. He was the one who turned me on to Chris Whitley. He had some bootlegs and demos. I’d never heard of the guy. Was he on Austin Nights or something?
CA: Dunno. He had a big radio hit in the early ‘90s. “Big Sky” something.
BD: Didn’t he have long, kind of blondish hair, and he played a Telecaster?
CA: That’s correct. At that show he played a National Steel in Open D.
BD: That was kind of around the time that Jeff Buckley came out.
CA: Actually, he came out before Jeff Buckley, but Jeff Buckley did it way better.
BD: I really like Jeff Buckley.
CA: I know you like him. Did you ever cover one of his songs, like [sings] “Lover, you should have come over…”
BD: I can’t sing like that, man.
CA: Also, the chord changes—I’ve played along to the song—the chord changes during the second half of the song are totally random. Like, he makes one little change or addition, I don’t know what it is. I never figured it out. It’s not like a mistake. It’s…he changed something and I can’t follow it at all.
BD: It’s interesting you should say that. I’ve heard other people have that train of thought and I’ve never understood how one little change can make that much of a difference in the song. Doesn’t it just change that moment? I don’t know. That’s weird. I want to hear what you’re talking about.
CA: I want to explain it better, so I’m going to try and pinpoint that part.
BD: I know the song.
CA: It’s one of my favorite songs of all-time. It’s like, instead of going to E minor, he went to G, and then back to E minor to sort of make up for the mistake. And it changes the way the rest of the song progresses. Listen to it. Or play along with it. That’s how I found it. I was like, “This fucking guy is out of his mind. Please play the same chord progression! At least once! Are you Syd Barrett?” It was kind of infuriating because I really enjoy playing along and trying to figure out how certain guys do things.
BD: Kind of like how Hendrix would do that. He might play the same chord progression but each time he would voice it differently. He had that capability.
CA: We all have that capability, but I think what you’re talking about is that Hendrix would never play the riff the same way twice.
BD: That too.
CA: Well, that kind of leads me to the next question. I have all these notes and a whole list of questions I wanted to ask.
BD: OK, let’s hear it.
CA: “Wrong About You”.
BD: Yeah. OK.
CA: I think that’s one of the strangest Five Style songs.
BD: Proceed with the question.
CA: I can’t seem to figure that one out.
BD: You don’t like it?
CA: No, Bill, I love pretty much everything you’ve ever done. Everything you touch turns to gold.
BD: The Midas touch. No, I don’t have that and I wouldn’t want to have that.
BD: So with “Wrong About You”, I think I was trying to tap into the “Summer Salt” vibe, like the busyness of the notes happening. It didn’t really work out that way. It’s an OK song, I mean, I remember reading a review of that song and they likened it to early Red Hot Chili Peppers meets Aerosmith, which is a fine thing to me. I don’t mind those bands, but I wasn’t trying for that.
CA: How often do you practice these days?
BD: I like to play once a day, at the very least for a half-hour, but sometimes I can play for a couple of hours. I have this Music Man Reflex, but I’m not sure if it’s the best guitar for me.
CA: How do you practice?
BD: I have a little battery powered thing with amp simulation. Sometimes I wear headphones.
CA: Oh, sorry, I mean how do you practice? Like, is there a routine?
BD: [grabs his guitar] I’ll show you a couple of [starts playing]. That’s an exercise I learned from Joe Satriani.
CA: I’ve noticed you use your pinky more than most guitar players.
BD: Eddie Van Halen uses it a lot.
CA: Bill, watch those videos. He never uses it. He does those eight-fret stretches between his middle and ring fingers. He uses the first three fingers. He never uses his pinky unless it’s on a D chord, or to add a note on a Barre chord.
[Note: I was totally wrong about this. Eddie uses his pinky all the fuckin’ time. Here’s video proof. It’s just that I’ve seen so many videos where he doesn’t use it. Meanwhile, his fingerings – as you can see – are quite unorthodox.]
BD: Well, I can’t make those stretches without the pinky happening.
CA: Eddie was cheating the whole time anyway.
BD: How so?
CA: Have you ever studied the guitar tab for one of his solos? When he does that run up the fret board, it’s the same stretch on every string: 5-8-12, 5-8-12. [Sort of whistles a typical Eddie run]. Do you ever watch their videos from around ’81 –’82?
BD: US Festival.
CA: US Festival is actually really good. They were psyched.
BD: They were definitely psyched.
CA: I stopped listening to them after 1984. How about you?
BD: Oh, that’s too bad, man.
CA: Do you really think there’s anything on OU812 that’s worth listening to. If so, please tell me and I’ll start listening to it.
BD: [starts playing the riff to “Finish What Ya Started”]
CA: [starts doing Sammy Hagar type screams]
BD: And…and. The record before that one, the first one with Sammy, has some decent songs.
CA: Name one.
BD: “Summer Nights”.
CA: Dude, that song blows. He’s using the Steinburger fucking Trans-Trem.
BD: Yeah, yeah! I love that riff.
CA: [laughs] Oh, hey, what was the Masters of Reality song we used to play?
BD: I can’t remember. What was it?
CA: I don’t know. We played ZZ Top’s “The Chief”.
BD: “The Shiek.”
CA: That’s right.
BD: Do you know the riff to the [Masters of Reality] song? Can you sing it?
CA: No, I can’t. But I’ll do an a capella version of “Italian Girls” for you right now if you want.
BD: Uh, no thanks. [Laughs] That’s some good shit. We should leave that to Rod Stewart.
CA: [still laughing] Rod Stewart is number one in my iTunes right now.
BD: That’s awesome. He’s great.
CA: He’s a crooner now. But let’s not judge. So, let me ask you. Do actually sit down and think about the architecture of your songs?
[Ten second pause.]
BD: I…don’t…know. What song are you talking about?
CA: I mean, of course you know what a bridge is.
BD: Yep. Do I sit down and think “I need to put a bridge here?” Sometimes. Sometimes I’ll be like, this is lacking something; it needs to go somewhere.
CA: Have you ever done something like said, “Ahh, let’s move the bridge to the beginning?”
BD: Well, maybe not exactly like that. But I like to rearrange stuff a lot. Not a lot, but I’ve got this one song that I’ve been trying to find the arrangement for over two years. I just keep fucking with it and I’m not happy with it, or I think it could be better.
CA: So you’re playing every day. What’s going to happen next?
BD: Well, I’m playing with some guys in town, and we were going to maybe do a record and it didn’t happen. I’ve also been talking to Ryan about reuniting with him out in L.A. but I don’t see that happening any time soon. But you never know.
CA: Did you ever live out there?
BD: I moved out there for a minute, yeah.
BD: That was because of the Fire Theft-William Goldsmith connection.
CA: Did they offer you a bunch of cash?
BD: They did not offer me a bunch of cash. But William is a very supportive dude with his friends when they’re around. He helped facilitate my existence out there. I mean, I was lucky enough to be able to stay with him, and he would help me out with food and stuff. I was in his band and we were making something. Poneman was still interested in my work, kind of, and he was helping pay for recording.
CA: You think Poneman is not interested in your work anymore?
BD: That is not something I could answer for him. I do think I could confidently say that he’s moved on to things that are of more interest to him right now. He’s got loads of artists he’s working with and he’s no longer working with. So, I mean, the times that I’ve tried to—I try to keep him somewhat informed about whatever I put out, I send it his way. But I don’t always even hear back from him.
CA: Were you happy on Sub Pop?
BD: Can I ever say I was unconditionally happy, Chris? I mean, I’m not saying it was bad; it was a great experience. Maybe it’s that I don’t know whatever it is I’m looking for. I don’t even know what’s going to make me happy, I dunno.
CA: Well, as an artist, that’s your First Amendment. As artists, that’s what we’re all looking for. We’re looking for meaning, and why we’re doing this.
BD: Right. Exactly.
CA: Like, I’m making this Aztec Hearts record. Nobody on the planet cares about this project. It’s my little band and I’m making Lamb Lies Down On Broadway over here.
BD: What is that?
BD: If I have, I didn’t know that’s what it was called.
CA: Oh my God! Stop what you’re doing and get that record. It will change your life!
BD: Are you talking about a particular song?
CA: No, it’s a fucking double concept album.
BD: OK, I’ve got it right here.
CA: Hit play.
BD: It takes a second, Chris.
CA: Isn’t this wi-fi shit amazing? Like, the last time we talked, we didn’t even have cell phones.
BD: Right. David Icke. If you don’t know him, that’s another name I want you to write down. You ever heard of David Icke?
CA: No. So, what triggered your interest in the Meters and the whole afro-billy thing. Were you really into the New Orleans sound?
BD: I was really into the Meters. Like, Dr. John, I’d heard him, but I wasn’t crazy about it. Allen Toussaint, I did like, but a lot of those Meters songs were arranged or something by Allen Toussaint. Beyond that, I don’t know too much history about the New Orleans scene. So I’m hearing the song [cues up “Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”]…
CA: That’s Peter Gabriel singing.
BD: I dig it. I can’t ever say I’ve heard it though.
CA: That’s shocking! If I could tell the world I turned you on to Genesis…
BD: You haven’t turned me on yet. I’m only hearing it. I’ve turned it on, I’m not turned on.
CA: Phil Collins on drums.
BD: I can hear, I mean, I can identify Peter and Phil. I know how they sound. We’ll come back to that later. At least I got the reference point.
CA: Thank you.
[Redacted: I talk about Peter Gabriel and why he left Genesis; it’s not relevant to the interview and Bill was not terribly impressed.]
END OF PART 1