Guitarist Bill Dolan is one of my favorite musicians and one of the most under-rated, unsung guitar players of my lifetime. He also happens to be my friend.
Twenty years ago, Bill and I – along with Ronnie Kwasman and Matthew Tucker – played in a couple of bands together in Chicago.
I don’t like telling people what they should and shouldn’t do – despite spending seven months and 100,000 words on 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not.
However, in the case of this interview, you almost have to read Part 1, especially the introduction.
An abbreviated version of the original introduction from Part 1 occupied the screen where these three paragraphs now sit. In the end, it was an awkward game of creative writing Jenga. The structure got a little bit weaker every time a piece was removed.
Of course, it’s up to you. Part 2 picks up smack-dab in the middle of a four-hour conversation. And one of us was…impaired. Nevertheless, we now move forward with the interview, which, for the record, took place March 9, 2013.
Bill Dolan: Hey, you wanna see some of my paintings real quick? Because I’m exploring those avenues, too.
Christian Adams: Hell yes! You’ve been talking to me for an hour and you haven’t told me about your paintings?
[Bill goes off-camera to retrieve some of his work. Returns and holds up a painting.]
BD: That’s the Hutchison effect having a direct influence on my art. You were asking how that’s going to work? This is it, buddy. This is the Hutchison effect, in effect.
CA: That’s great.
BD: Well, I’m glad you’re enthused about it.
[Bill holds up another painting.]
CA: OK, now I understand why you’re not playing guitar.
BD: Chris, I am playing guitar.
CA: I mean, you’re not touring, you’re not making records.
BD: I’m not touring because I don’t have the gumption to make it happen. I don’t want to book a tour and nobody wants to book it for me. It’s an expensive endeavor and, I don’t know. Maybe if we put another record together, because I do have another record ready in my head. It’s rehearsed. We just have to make it.
CA: So SixGunLover [Das Boton’s record label] is not giving you any cash. You’re not getting any tour support. Man, that’s a travesty.
BD: It takes money to go on the road, and I just don’t have it. But it’s OK. I like touring; I just can’t do a lot of it. It’s just not for me.
CA: But…what about during the 90s? You guys toured all the time. I just saw this video of you guys playing “Vic Firth” in Glasgow or somewhere.
BD: That was Leeds, but the video you’re talking about was in 2008. That was part of a fifteen, sixteen show tour, and that’s great. But people go out on the road for like three months at a time, I mean, I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that. My health won’t allow it.
Das Boton – Vic Firth
CA: Did you lose money on tour?
BD: On that European tour? Absolutely. We didn’t make anything on that tour. But I’d never been to Europe and played my music. I’d played other people’s music there, but not my own.
CA: Who did you play with over there?
CA: What was it about Jeremy that you liked?
BD: Well, I loved his voice.
CA: He seems to be a very charismatic dude. He’s tall, right?
BD: He’s our height, dude. What are you, five-eight?
BD: Yeah, he’s probably five-eight, I’d say.
CA: Maybe it’s his eyebrows that give him the height. I was just watching a live version of [Fire Theft’s] “Chain”, and I was thinking, “Oh that’s my boy Bill on guitar!” But it’s not.
Fire Theft – Chain
BD: No, but there’s another Chicago dude on there.
CA: What do you want to next?
BD: I wanna make this record and continue with my paintings. Spread good cheer…and love [smirking].
CA: [laughs] What are you a fucking hippie?
BD: [deadpan] Whatever.
CA: So that leads me to the next question. You don’t have to say yes to this, OK? But I was wondering if you’d be interested in playing on my record.
CA: Now, that’s not the reason I got in touch with you for the interview.
BD: Acutally, I was kind of wondering about that. I wasn’t dwelling on it, but it did cross my mind that maybe he’s calling to ask if I’d play something, I mean, I didn’t know.
CA: Well, I wasn’t going to ask, and don’t feel obligated to do it.
BD: Not at all. You could just send me the MP3 and I’ll download it into my Pro Tools.
CA: Exactly. Super easy.
BD: I’ve done some of that before. Like with the Hella Sound [Running Music] thing. This guy had the drums tracks, and he sent it to me. I did my stuff, sent it back to him, he refined it and sent it back to me. And it went like that. I like doing it that way. Unless you want me to sing on it?
Bill on Hella Sound
CA: Sure, if you want to. But I think you’ll find my stuff is a bit more pedestrian than what you normally do.
BD: I don’t know about that. I know your music from before, so I…
CA: OK, well, I’ll send you the tracks and you can decide what you want to play on.
BD: Yeah, I can do a couple of tracks.
CA: When I was corresponding with Carol Kaye, I kind of asked her about it, too.
BD: Oh yeah, I want to talk about that.
CA: We will. But at the end of our correspondence, I asked if she still played on other people’s stuff and how much it cost, and it turns out she has a flat rate of a grand per track.
CA: That’s cheap, I think.
BD: A grand?
CA: Per track.
BD: That’s a lot of fucking money. I wouldn’t ask you for that, Chris. Not unless you were sitting on a giant pile of cash, I wouldn’t ask anybody for that.
CA: But she’s Carol Kaye. She played on Pet Sounds. She came up with the bass line for “California Girls.”
BD: Oh that’s right. She played with the Beach Boys.
CA: But she also just had her house foreclosed on. So she needs cash.
BD: We all need cash. I wouldn’t charge you. You’re a friend.
CA: But she said she hasn’t played on a rock record since 1969, either.
BD: Maybe it’s because she charges too much.
BD: Hey can we take a quick break? Like, ten minutes?
CA: Sure. Make it fifteen.
Conducting an interview is analogous to driving a car in that it’s pretty easy to learn and even easier to do, once you get the hang of it. And one of the worst thing you can do as a driver is to over-think the driving experience.
The conversation lasted almost four hours—we had a lot of catching up to do. Fortunately, I was able to ask a fair amount of decent questions in Part 1. Taking a break right here gave me time to jet down to the 7-11 for a quatro of Kirin tallboys. The second bottle of wine was long gone by this point.
Two bottles of California red is slightly below the average of what I would drink on any given night. It’s nothing to me. My wife says she can barely tell the difference in my demeanor between the first sip and the end of bottle number two. Anyway, I thought I was coherent. The tape tells a different story.
Returning from the break, Bill and I picked up where we left off, but my state of inebriation really begins to interfere with my ability to interview anyone, let alone Bill. A fair amount of what was said between us would neither constitute an “interview” nor be of any interest to anyone on the planet, and thus, is redacted. Though we hardly strayed from the topic of music, a lot of my statements/ramblings were along the lines of, “Man, Bill, you should be/do/see/hear” and Bill did his best to wrangle me back into a dialogue.
BD: Maybe. I think so.
CA: When you started Five Style, did you consider it what Allmusic calls a “funk-jam” band?
BD: No, I didn’t consider it that, but LeRoy had that band Uptighty, and they were very much a funk band. So I knew I was getting into that territory. I was fine with the funk element, but I never wanted it to be strictly that. I knew funk from like, James Brown and that other guy, Rick…
CA: Rick James.
CA: But weren’t you also into Skynyrd?
BD: I got into them way later.
CA: I’ve always heard a twinge of Jerry Reed in almost everything you do.
BD: I don’t know Jerry Reed.
CA: Really? Jerry’s the shit.
BD: Name one of his songs.
CA: He did “Eastbound and Down.” What’s great about that is, you don’t even know Jerry Reed but you’ve instinctively played a bunch of his licks. Well, I mean, he got those licks from other people. I’ll pull up something from YouTube. But I remember at one point you were listening to a lot of The Fall.
BD: That was Kurt Niesman’s doing. He was the house DJ. Well, LeRoy [Bach], too, but a lot of my influences came directly from whatever Kurt was playing.
CA: Refresh my memory on this Kurt Niesman guy.
BD: He was a friend of mine from high school who eventually moved to the Loft. He’s the guy playing bass in shorts that you don’t like.
CA: I didn’t say I didn’t like it.
BD: You said it was a rock and roll faux pas.
CA: I guess.
BD: There was another thing I wanted to tell you about that Leeds video. A guy named Matt Woodward connected me through MySpace and said, ‘I know your work. Would you consider playing some dates?’ That was 2008. So ultimately that happened. He booked the dates with his band, and that’s the Das Boton experience.
CA: Oh, hey, I found the Jerry Reed video.
[Plays “Jerry’s Breakdown”]
BD: I think I hear Les Paul in there.
CA: That’s Chet Atkins.
BD: It’s great, but I can’t really do that. It’s not really what I do, whatever that is.
CA: Where do you think your style comes from?
BD: Well, my first guitar teacher was a “picker”. It might come from some of that.
CA: What was his name?
BD: Greg Whitson. In the 80s he was allegedly going to Nashville to do sessions. But I’ve gotten that question before, you know, where do you get that kind of twangy thing? But I mean, there was this band Soul Asylum. They were kind of a hillbilly punk rock. But you could also say that about the Cramps. They don’t sound anything like Soul Asylum but…
CA: The Cramps are fucking nuts, man.
BD: My point is, the country-twangy thing, I don’t know where that comes from. Oh, I had a Chet Atkins record when I was a kid. My dad kind of turned me on to him.
CA: Me, too. Leo Kottke. That’s what I was pointing out about “Marmy the Count”. I was thinking, ‘Man, he’s doing sort of a Leo Kottke thing.’ But as it turns out, of course, that was totally not the case.
BD: I remember you used to say that about Steve Howe from Yes. You told me, ‘You’re playing just like Steve Howe.’
CA: Hell, yes! I remember that. We were into certain Yes jams at that point in the 90s—we played “South Side of the Sky”—and I always though that you and Steve Howe were in the same realm of guitar – your phrasing and your note choices.
BD: I like him a lot but I don’t think I ever listened to him to play like that.
CA: So who do you listen to in that way? You were into Fela Kuti for a while, if I’m not mistaken.
BD: I went through phases of trying to play like so many different people, like, the obvious: Hendrix, Page, and Van Halen. All the typical white-boy wanna-be guitar kids have their Rock God influences. Then finding more obscure punk stuff like the Dead Kennedys. East Bay Ray? His guitar playing is pretty twangy. It’s pretty surfy, actually.
CA: Dude, East Bay Ray is the most under-rated guitar player of the 80s. If I have it, I’ll send you a video of me doing an acoustic 12-string version of “Calfornia Uber Alles”.
BD: Awesome. He’s got a distinct style. John Hammond [Jr.] is another country-twangy bluesy thing that I did try to listen to and pick up on. I don’t know if you know him.
CA: I’ve heard a few of his jams but he hasn’t really been on my radar. Other people have mentioned him.
BD: And when a white boy like myself tries to play funk-blues like The Meters, it just lacks so much authenticity and soul that it sounds like hillbilly music, you know what I’m saying?
CA: I never got the sense, especially with Heroic Doses, that you were going for a white funk thing. Did you and Ryan ever say, ‘Oh let’s do a funk groove?’ For me, it’s just a lot of fun to listen to your music and try to figure out where it comes from and where you’re trying to go with it. Sometimes I hear Gentle Giant and other times I hear Captain Beefheart.
BD: I don’t know. I think you’re talking about after Five Style, we were not doing funk as deliberately. So I agree with you there, but at the beginning of Five Style, we were so taken with the Meters, that we were literally doing five or six of their songs just to cultivate the spirit. And then from there, we started writing music. When I moved in with LeRoy, he had a Meters record and I just fucking loved it right off the bat.
CA: Which is somewhat of a dichotomy, since you also loved Skynyrd. At one time I thought that was one of the things that brought us together, since Whitey was totally down with Skynyrd, and you were like, ‘I dig that.’
BD: “On the Hunt”. Did we do that song?
CA: Yes, we did.
BD: That’s a good one. I liked that.
CA: We continued to play that jam in Golden Tones, too. It was a staple of our practices.
CA: Skynyrd was probably for me, one of the most listened-to bands in the second half of the 90s. And then when I moved out to S.F., I kept going with it. But the point is, your taste in covers was really interesting. Like, [AC/DC’s] “Dog Eat Dog”.
BD: Well, that was a direct influence from being a kid, I mean, that record [Let There Be Rock] was in heavy rotation. As a kid, literally that was my favorite record, along with Kiss and Cheap Trick. But that’s not unusual for any kid growing up on rock in the U.S. to own those records.
CA: Did you ever meet Cheap Trick?
BD: Well, yeah, they’re from Rockford. I’d see them around town and be awestruck.
CA: I mean actually meet them and have a conversation? Who are some of the famous people you’ve met since becoming a famous person yourself?
BD: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, Chris.
CA: I just did, so you don’t have to. That’s fine, Bill. I get it.
BD: The most high-profile person that comes to mind is Nate Mendel, the bass player for the Foo Fighters. He was an acquaintance. And I’d hear all these stories about Dave Grohl and Kurt Cobain, but I didn’t know them and I don’t know them. But speaking of Dave Grohl, and that movie Sound City. Did you know that some of [the] Masters of Reality [first album] was recorded there?
CA: I do now.
BD: That movie was pretty cool.
CA: It’s all right.
BD: You didn’t like it.
CA: I like anything with Rick Nielsen in it, and Dave Grohl is an undeniably likeable character. There’s just something about him. Charisma, I guess. I loved watching him play drums, man. When I got back into playing drums, I would think about the way he goes for it on every note. I love that. His guitar playing is OK, too, but for me, it’s his spirit on the drums that sets him apart.
[Redacted bits about rock stars and whatnot.]
BD: Anyway, you were asking earlier about the Five Style record [Static Disco] we did at Ghetto Love, I did happen to find the cassette. Can you see it? I’ll take it out of the case if you want a screenshot.
Hi. Christian here. You really need to read Part 1 in order to have some context. At one point in 1996-97, my band [theoretically, Whitey] and Five Style were recording at the same studio, Ghetto Love, owned and operated by Dale Meiners, formerly of Wesley Willis Fiasco. Neither band ever released anything from this period. However, a cassette of Five Style’s aborted recordings found its way into my possession, and I’ve held on to it for nearly 20 years.
CA: [laughs] Static Disco? Well, I understand the title now.
BD: The guitar riff for that song is totally copped from the “Mean Streets” solo by Van Halen. Do you want me to show you?
BD: [Plays the guitar solo, basically note for note, in its entirety] This part. [Plays the riff]
CA: Oh, so you just slowed it down.
BD: Do you know that?
BD: For that particular instance, yes. Are you disappointed?
CA: Hell, no. That makes me want to go back and listen to the song even more. Which track number was that again? The second track? Hang on. I gotta pull it up.
CA: Bill, man, you have no idea what type of effort it took for me to go back to S.F. and find that cassette.
BD: I’ll tell you a story about that…
CA: It was heroic. The effort.
BD: This dude in Madison wanted to release that record, and he was transferring all those tapes to Pro Tools, but a couple came up missing. And I thought to ask you, but you don’t know, and Dale Meiners, I have no idea how to contact that dude.
CA: Uh, I dunno.
[I finally dial up the Five Style record and hit play.]
BD: Um, that’s not “Static Disco”. That’s “Love On the Hour”.
CA: I called it “Haystackin’”
BD: That’s a good name.
CA: How about this one? This is the one that I covered.
BD: “Make a Sound”.
CA: The guitar harmonies were hard to get, but I think I got them.
BD: That song was actually influenced by Richard Thompson.
BD: My guitar part was. That’s a Mike Hueneke song.
CA: I never would have guessed it.
BD: All that stuff in the chorus [hums the melody] that’s Richard Thompson-esque, I guess.
CA: Which Richard Thompson song?
BD: I don’t remember.
CA: I was thinking maybe Jerry Garcia…? I always thought that Hueneke brought kind of a Grateful Dead/Phish vibe to the band. He was into that, wasn’t he?
BD: I don’t know. I don’t remember him ever wearing tie-dye. Anyway, did you find “Static Disco” yet?
CA: I may not have it, Bill. I played everything I have from that record. I never got a copy of the whole thing. What I got was a quick mix from Dale that had six songs, and the last one cuts out with the end of the tape. I didn’t have song titles, either. But I always knew this was like, half the record, but getting the rest of it was out of the question. Dale knew I was really into what you guys were doing, and he was excited, too. Like, ‘Man, you should hear the Five Style stuff—it’s really good.’ One day I was at the studio, and he handed it off to me and said, ‘Don’t let anyone know I gave this to you.’
CA: There’s a lot of chromaticism in your playing. I think guitar theory is something a lot of players overlook. But if you listen to Van Halen, they don’t pay attention to keys.
CA: If I’m writing a song in D major, just because of my education, and maybe my ear, I always feel like it’s gotta come back to D major. Even if it’s in E flat for most of the song, I have to figure out a way to get back.
BD: So you’re saying Van Halen didn’t adhere to that.
CA: No, they do for the most part. Take “Unchained” for instance. Starts in D and ends on D, but it’s all over the map. The third chord is B flat. But I don’t think they really cared about keys—they played in the key of Eddie Van Halen.
CA: All that is for jazzbos.
CA: But if I said to you, ‘Bill, what note you playing right now?’ You might have to look at your fingers and think for a second.
BD: Probably, but what does that mean? What does that have to do with Eddie Van Halen? That doesn’t mean anything.
CA: It means you don’t care what you’re playing, you just play what you want to hear. You don’t really care about notes.
BD: To a certain extent, yes. I would agree with that.
CA: One my favorite licks is from “Summer Salt”, it’s like a double-stop…hang on let me get my guitar.
[Pause while I get my guitar]
BD: You mean this one? [Plays the intro to “Summer Salt”] That last part is just a country bend.
[More redacted guitar talk. I play him a recording of an instrumental I wrote and recorded for the new Aztec Hearts record, “Yeah Right”, which was partially influenced by his playing on Miniature Portraits.]
BD: That sounds cool.
CA: It’s only an outtake. It took me 135 takes to get that one—and it’s still got a couple of clams [mistakes].
BD: Do I have to listen to all 135 takes?
CA: The one comment Ronnie made was: ‘If you can nail this [song], I’ll be impressed.’ I still haven’t nailed it.
BD: Kinda reminiscent of a little Jimmy Page.
CA: Maybe. But I was going for Billy Dolan.
BD: OK, that’s nice. Did you ever see the movie It Might Get Loud? There’s an outtake—just an extra on the DVD of Jimmy Page playing by himself on a 12-string and it sounds a lot like that.
CA: He’s playing “White Sunshine” or like a version of “Black Mountain Side”?
BD: No, it’s not that. It’s a new tune—he says it’s a new song—on 12-string, and there’s a camera shot panning down a long corridor and it’s just him. It’s really cool, you should check it out.
CA: Well, now that you’ve got your guitar there and we’re all about guitar, I’ve got some questions.
BD: Ask me one question.
CA: “The Lost Oar”.
BD: That’s a Jeremy Jacobsen song. You know if you’re in a band, it’s a democratic process. You say do we want to do this song? I’m not saying I didn’t want to do the song. But it’s like OK. So it’s his melody line. I think he started it on the melodica.
CA: I thought it was marimba. I saw a live version of it at Middle East.
BD: Marimba? I don’t remember there ever being a live version on marimba.
CA: Let me see if I can find it.
BD: Well, do you want me to show you the lick? I like doing that.
CA: I think there should be Billy Dolan video lessons. Like a video channel.
BD: It’s not a marimba—it’s a vibraphone.
[Redacted section including my derogatory remarks about Stevie Nicks.]
CA: So what’s cookin’, Bill? Really. What’s happening with Das Boton?
BD: I have plenty of music for a full-length, and I have the guys to do it. We just haven’t nailed down a studio, so I don’t know. And also, I’ve talked to Ryan about maybe going out to L.A. Then I was talking to Ronnie about coming down [to Chicago] to see his place [Astrolab Recording]. That would be fun for us to get out of Rockford, and have someone from outside of our scene, like Ronnie, to give us input. But there is a studio here that me might consider. The thing about Ronnie is that he’s a super cool dude and they’re analog, so that would be cool, too.
CA: What about Five Style? Is there any chance of you guys getting back together? Are you still in touch with all of those cats?
BD: Actually, I have been in touch with all of them over the last five months via email. I just don’t think they have the time right now to do it. I would do another Five Style record, but it doesn’t seem to be happening, so I want to do something that will happen. [Laughs]
CA: How many songs have you got for the new Das Boton?
BD: Easily ten songs that I’m pretty sure about. We could probably do about 18 or 20, some of them I might be on the fence about. I have at least six songs that I know are good to me, maybe four more that are pretty decent, too.
CA: So it’s hypothetical, but if you could get anyone in the world to be the vocalist for Das Boton, who would you pick?
CA: Doesn’t matter. Anyone.
BD: [pause] I don’t know, man.
CA: Do you hear someone singing when you play?
BD: Have you ever heard of Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum?
BD: I think he might be able to find an angle that would be suitable for the music.
CA: I bet you could get Dave Pirner to sing on your record.
BD: Well, then it would be like a studio record for him and then it would be back to I don’t have a band, so it’s kind of, I don’t know. We wouldn’t be touring—which is fine, I’ve got art to do.
CA: Have you ever asked Dave Pirner?
BD: I’ve thought about it. But it’s… I’ve had so many people who’ve auditioned or worked with me, and then it doesn’t work out, so it’s hard for me to have people get behind the singers I’ve picked. It’s not easy. I get a lot of criticism. If I said, ‘Hey Chris, I want you to sing on this’ and then later have to say, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to use this’ or ‘We’re not going in this direction’, I just don’t want to deal with that. But I asked the girl from Royal Trux and RTX, Jennifer Herrema, and I was contacting her, talking on the phone. But she’s got better things to do, plus she lives on the other side of the country. Like I said, Danny Kubinski from Die Kreuzen sang for a while, and we made a record, basically, that still hasn’t been put out.
Die Kreuzen – Think of Me
CA: Is your relationship with Sub Pop [Records] over?
CA: Do they still send you checks?
BD: In fact, I have one right here. It came in the mail yesterday.
[Opens the envelope and shows it on camera.]
BD: A whopping fifty-three dollars.
CA: Fifty-three dollars! Do you get one of those every six months?
BD: If the amount doesn’t exceed forty bucks, they don’t bother.
BD: I’ve gotten checks from ASCAP, and I’ve had a couple of sizeable endorsements. Big chunks of money, but you know that doesn’t last. Life is expensive.
CA: Dude…my money is gone! Poof!
BD: Well, I think that’s something that [controversial inventor] John Hutchison, and all these inventors who tried to tap into free energy, were trying to free people from these dominant forces that we’re enslaved to give money to, like oil companies. I mean, there are technologies that would allow us to not have to worry about those things, but they don’t want us to have them. I believe that. Maybe that’s like a faith kind of thing.
CA: My take on it is that there’s nothing I can do about it, and I have to play the game. Like you, I need to make the nut every month, and I can’t worry about all that other noise. If I have any redeeming quality, it’s that I make the nut doing something that I’m good at.
BD: But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know about alternative energy and free thinking.
CA: Of course I know about all that shit. It’s my job to research and write articles about all that crap. I just wrote this piece about the Segway guy, what’s his name? Dean Kamen. This guy came up with a device that converts any liquid into drinking water. It’s called a Slingshot. I’ve been onboard with a lot of this for a long time.
BD: There’s a guy who promotes this thing called ProPur, which is a similar device.
CA: But the government is not interested in changing their policies.
BD: Right. They don’t want to change the military industrial complex.
CA: Which is one reason why I left the U.S.
BD: Is that the main reason?
CA: No. But once I got over here, I started thinking that maybe I might never want to live there again. Let me ask you something, do you own a gun?
BD: I have access to one.
BD: Because I’m concerned about what might happen if there were a collapse of the global economy—which could happen, soon.
CA: You live in Rockford, home of the greatest rock band of the 70s—Cheap Trick! They’ll form a militia to protect your ass!
BD: What!?! The greatest rock band of the 70s? Cheap Trick?
CA: Yeah! Who was better?
CA: OK, I misspoke.
BD: But I don’t understand where you’re going with this gun thing.
CA: Well…[pause] I think the second amendment should be changed.
BD: Wow. That’s too bad. But that’s OK
CA: I want to live in a society where nobody has guns.
BD: That’s never gonna happen, because somebody is always going to have a gun.
CA: I mean, at least in Taiwan, which is nobody’s paradise, at least the only people with guns are cops, and probably the gangsters—but they don’t fuck with anybody except themselves. There are no drive-by shootings or high school massacres. But in the Philippines, man, everywhere you go, there’s metal detectors and security guards with .44s, and they will shoot you. It’s just fucking madness, and I can’t—I can’t even deal with the thought of my wife and raising my kid in this type of society. America is armed to the point where you have to have a gun just because everybody else has one. I get that. I understand that. But I have chosen not to exist in that place anymore.
BD: I understand your sentiment but…
CA: Let’s just drop the subject altogether.
BD: Hang on for a second.
[Bill goes off camera while I cue up “Mythical Numbers” from Miniature Portraits.]
CA: Man, that is some of the coolest shit ever. Every time I hear it, I think, ‘Why isn’t Bill playing guitar for a living?’
BD: Well, I guess we’ve been talking about that, haven’t we? I mean…
CA: The first time I heard “Summer Salt”, I was like, ‘Nope. That’s it. We’re not making another record.’ Why bother? I didn’t even want to play guitar anymore.
BD: That’s too bad. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that way about my playing. But I guess there are some Van Halen things where I think, ‘How does he do that? I can’t do that.’ It’s all relative. There’s always going to be someone that has a different angle or further ahead.
CA: Have you ever heard of this guy John 5? He’s played with a bunch of people, like Marilyn Manson. I think you’d like him. He reminds me a bit of Buckethead.
BD: No, I can’t say that I’ve heard of him.
CA: I’ve seen him do some of this super-fast, crazy country shit, and it made me want to quit.
BD: I don’t think that guy would make me want to quit.
CA: But in the end, you know, Bill, I think I said it in an email, is that once I got over that feeling, you inspired me.
BD: That’s the good part. But how did I inspire you?
CA: First of all, standard tuning. I thought, ‘OK, this guy owns standard tuning.’ So that’s why I switched over to Open G. I mean, I don’t ever try to do what you do. It just pushed me to say, ‘All right, I gotta find something here to make my own.’
BD: That’s cool.
CA: What I’m looking for now, honestly, friend-to-friend, is how you’re going to inspire me in the future. And that’s why I’m—frustrated, I guess—that you are inactive or not as active as you could be. And I guarantee you’re a better guitar player now than you were in 1997.
BD: Possibly, yeah.
CA: “Deep Marsh” is just so cool. It was the opening track for the first album. You knew it was really good, didn’t you?
BD: I was really excited about it. It sounded so…I knew it was good, and it resonated with some of the things I was trying to achieve. The caliber of John Herndon and LeRoy Bach, plus John McIntyre manning the console; those were tools that I didn’t have access to before, so it was going to be that much better.
CA: Do you have any favorite songs of your own? Like, what is your favorite thing to play right now?
BD: Probably any of my new stuff. There’s one called “Timbale Jam”. But I’ve been into John Scofield and Brian Setzer. Those dudes…I don’t know that I’ll ever achieve their level of skill, but I’m in awe of them.
CA: Brian Setzer is by far the best rockabilly guitar player of all-time.
BD: He’s so good.
CA: The Stray Cats records have some of the coolest guitar jams that nobody remembers. Listen to “Stray Cat Strut”. That’s one guitar, one take, and it’s perfect. He’s playing lead and rhythm at the same time. That’s what you do. In fact, there’s really no room for a singer in your music. I don’t know that I even want to hear a singer on your music.
BD: OK, I’ll tell Dave Pirner the audition is off.
[The Skype connection drops. Five minutes pass before we reconnect. Some redacted chatter.]
Das Boton – Felt It
Das Boton – Russian Sages
Das Boton – Wonton Salad
Das Boton – Plotting Insanity
Das Boton – Does the Bat Know Where You Are?
CA: What’s your current bass player’s name?
BD: Karl Ropp.
CA: OK, that’s right. So how do you choose your bass players?
BD: [Laughs] You mean how do I meet the bass players I work with?
CA: How did you meet LeRoy?
BD: He was playing in this band called Bowery Boys that we were playing shows with. It was actually Brad Wood who introduced us, I think. I wound up being roommates with him. A couple of times. He was mainly a guitar player, he didn’t really play bass, but when we were doing the Five Style stuff, he got excited about playing bass. Oh, actually he was playing bass with Liz Phair. So he was playing with her, too.
CA: All those Idful [Music] days.
BD: Those were fun times.
CA: Brian Deck…
BD: That’s how we met.
[Redacted. More connection problems.]
BD: What were you saying about Thailand?
CA: Oh, there’s two things. I’m not sure which I want to tell you about first. OK. There’s like a weird psychedelic rock scene in Thailand, and I can’t pronounce the name of this band, but they’re really really really good. [Khun Narin Phin Sing]
BD: OK. What’s it called? Where can I find it?
CA: There’s a post on BSM. I’ll send you some links. The one band has a Facebook page…but you don’t… Anyway, the other thing is this crazy drummer in Taiwan named Vela Blue, she’s like a cute 19-year-old girl who sets up her drums in Ximendeng, which is like Taipei’s trendy kid hangout. She sets up her kit in a plaza across from an MRT station and plays along to Britney Spears and Lady Gaga songs.
BD: That’s cool.
CA: It’s fuckin’ amazing. I’ll send you that link, too.
BD: But before, you were saying something about being in Thailand.
CA: No, I was saying that I was sitting in a bar in Taiwan and Slint’s Spiderland came on the P.A. and it played in its entirety. I was like, ‘Goddamnit, there’s nowhere in the world that I’m safe from this shit.’
BD: Come to Rockford, Illinois. You won’t hear any of that. [Laughs] They wouldn’t like that kind of music.
CA: You know, it’s a good record, I guess. Now I can say it’s part of an experience. But speaking of Rockford. It’s probably the number one question and I don’t know why I waited this long to ask but, why did you go back to Rockford?
BD: [Pause] Well, I went through some…pretty severe things. My sister is here and parents are here. One of them has passed on, but it was mainly the stability of family. I wasn’t really in a good place starting around 2001, and I wound up back here in 2004, after traveling around for a while. New York, Seattle, and I even wound up in L.A. for a second. Life got really…it happens to everyone, so…
CA: What makes you happy these days?
BD: Learning about… [Pause] A lot of things make me happy. This is making me happy. I’m enjoying it, so thank you for being my friend and talking to me.
CA: Are you kidding me? I know you probably hate it, but I’m bowing down to you right now.
BD: Well, you are supportive of my music and that’s nice. But what makes me happy? I like to paint and make music. I like the process, and getting excited about what I’m doing, that’s when I come across happiness. I get happiness from being with my wife.
CA: Do you credit her with helping you get through some of the dark days?
BD: Absolutely. She was there.
CA: Maybe this is just a personal thing, but it took me the longest time to learn how to accept a compliment. Did you ever have an issue with it?
BD: An issue? No, I don’t think so. If someone is supportive of my music, I appreciate that. It’s nice.
CA: But I would imagine that everywhere you go, people come up to you and say something. I was curious how you might deal with that. You know, ‘I love your music! You changed my life!’ That kind of thing. I mean, are you like Steven Tyler? ‘I did it for you, baby!’ or…
BD: I see what you mean. I’m appreciative, and it’s nice that my art may have had that impact, but I don’t necessarily think about it.
[Long redacted segment]
CA: What are you eating there, chips?
BD: It’s an apple.
CA: So you are completely sober now?
BD: Well, the old days of getting completely drunk and talking like shit without understanding the consequences are over.
CA: Rainbow Club.
BD: Exactly. I never need to revisit that for the rest of my life. It will do me absolutely no good. I’m just not capable of drinking. I just can’t do it.
CA: I never saw you drunk. Not once.
BD: Oh my god. That’s because you were so drunk too that you don’t remember.
CA: That’s true. I was completely hammered.
BD: Yeah, we got trashed a lot, Chris. Back at your old place on Lincoln, we’d go down to the Grizzly Bar for a couple of pints or more. And then – I’d ride my bike home. That was pretty good.
CA: You know, you’re right. I’m flashing back to the interview we did at Big Horse. And the taxi doobie incident, which I absolutely do not remember.
[45 minutes of redacted personal conversation not suitable for the general public. Capital T-trust me.]
CA: Oh, hey. How much would you charge for guitar lessons?
BD: I don’t know. I’d have to get back to you on that.
CA: Would you take anybody, or would they have to be intermediate or advanced players? Or would you take beginners?
BD: I don’t know. Who’s the beginner? I have to know who it is. [Laughs.]
CA: Some kid who wants to learn how to play!
BD: Well, I did have a job at this rock camp where the kids came during the day, and I was an instructor-slash-supervisor.
CA: But that was like babysitting, wasn’t it?
BD: Kind of, but it was fun, and the kids were ages 14-17.
CA: Weren’t they like, ‘Teach me everything you know’?
BD: Not really. They were into whatever was current. I think it was like the Raconteurs.
CA: Have you heard of Maroon 5?
BD: Actually, I know the drummer, this guy named Matt Flynn. When I was out in New York, I was in a band with that dude. Maroon 5 started out with a different drummer, and then [they got Matt Flynn, whoever he is].
CA: Hmm. [Cheerfully] They make horrific music! But it could be worse.
CA: [sighs] Yeah. I bought a copy off iTunes, actually.
BD: Oh, cool. I’m glad you own it. You probably don’t like it, but there’s some good stuff on there, man.
CA: Anything with DLR… You know, anything they do with Dave is going to be fantastic. It’s going to be something I want to hear. Even if I think it’s shit. I’ve never really talked to anyone about this, not even my wife, but I have this problem with Van Halen. I own the record and I’ve listened to it a bunch of times… Do you like Ween?
BD: Ween? Can you tell me what song they sing?
CA: ‘Push th’ little Daisies and Make Them Come Up’. Yeah.
BD: Who sings that song that goes, ‘Ooh we look just like Buddy Holly?’
BD: I know I get those two mixed up – Ween and Weezer.
CA: They are the Boston of the 90s.
BD: Who? Ween or Weezer.
BD: OK. You can see the easy mistake. Ween, Weezer.
CA: Correct. Of course.
BD: So, I’m sorry, I’ve never heard – I’ve heard of Jan and Dean Ween, two brothers or something?
CA: Yes. Haha. I was going to direct you to a super cool website called Ask Deaner. Anyway, I asked you before, what are you listening to these days?
CA: I thought it was spam. I’m on Chico now.
BD: I got turned on to him when I lived with LeRoy, and then I stumbled on to some of his newer stuff with John Scofield, and it’s fucking great. So I said, well, I’m going to check out John Scofield again, and he’s got online lessons, they were videotaped in 1984, but he’s still relevant, his theory on scales and whatnot. So those are two things that I dig. Sometimes when I hear stuff like John Scofield, I’m captivated, and I want to learn how to do that.
CA: What about Scofield that makes you want to learn his riffs?
BD: Check it out. Chico Hamilton “Yeh Yeh” and John Scofield. The solo is really beautiful and interesting. It’s very jazzbo, but it’s cool.
CA: I used to say jazzbo all the time until I got chased out of Chicago.
BD: Oh, I also like the new Prince.
CA: OK, listen, Bill. It’s like almost 3:00 a.m. No, it’s 3:30. I’m done. Is there anything else you might want to talk about.
BD: Um, just wanted to acknowledge Brad Wood‘s part in connecting me with people that were vital to 5ive Style’s inception.
CA: Right on. We’ll make sure to get that in there.
[Wood, who also hails from Rockford, IL, was one of the leading figures of the 90s Chicago music scene, and produced a whole bunch of influential albums from local artists including Liz Phair, the Smashing Pumpkins, Seam, Veruca Salt, Red Red Meat, and Eleventh Dream Day. Surprisingly, he never produced a record for Bill.]