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INTERVIEW

Here is the interview I conducted with David and Billy of the Brown Eyed Susans on February 5th and 10th, 1999


MARK: How long has the Brown Eyed Susans been together?

DAVID: Too long. I'd say about 3-4 years depending on when you'd consider the Susans as being a group.

BILLY: Brown Eyed Susans, including David, Richard and myself in our current
adult incarnation, has been an entity since January or February of 1996.

 

MARK: How did the band form?

DAVID: The abridged version is that Rich & Bill were friends in high school. Then Bill went away to University in Quebec. That's when I met Rich through some mutual friends. We got together and started writing songs. Actually, he wrote the songs and I helped out a little.
He played guitar back then and I played keyboard. I got jealous and learned how to play guitar soon after.
Slowly, he let me write more and more until eventually my songs got to be better than his. Just joking. Then we started playing in a band called Higher Ground with this girl singer who I dated for a while named Rachel Owens. She was a pretty good singer and was quite hot. Our keyboard player at the time, Andrew put up an ad for singer and she answered. Now she's doing the solo Jewel thing. I still have some demos of her singing Susans songs like 52 pickup. She left and that's when I started taking over the singing duties. I wasn't much of a singer then. I still don't consider myself one. It was just that no one else wanted the job. I've always been a song writer who just wanted my songs out there. I really woulden't care at all if someone else took the songs and performed them, as long as they were out there. Well, nobody wanted to play our songs so we did. Then Bill came back to town. I hated Bill at the time and was very unhappy that Rich had asked him to join the band, just because he was friend's with him. Against my protest, Rich decided that Bill was in! Bill and I didn't get along very well at first. This is when the Brown Eyed Susans started playing seriously. If nothing else, Bill handled the business side. We then recorded Afternoon Tea in a couple days with the drummer who happened to be in the band at the time, Peter Hendrikson, or was it Hendrixson? I don't remember much about him. All that mattered is that we sucked live until we found Troy. He just quit a band called the Plaid Tongued Devils, who are still pretty popular in Calgary. They are a klezmer oompa pa type thing. He helped us improve live and in the studio, as can be heard on the new album. This abridged version is getting long so I'll stop here. Pretty boring stuff... I'm sure Bill will give you a very different story.

BILLY: Richard and I started playing together and writing songs when we were 11 or 12. In junior high we started jamming with some other musicians and when we were 16 we made our first studio recording. I still have a copy
of that on cassette. If we get big enough that my self esteem could
handle it, I might let you post a song on the net or something.
Dave started playing with us in grade 12 or something. like Dave said,
when I got back from university we all started playing together again.
At that point, our drummer was a guy named Eldan. We replaced Larry
with Peter who played on "Afternoon Tea" and when he stontaneously
combusted during a show we replaced him with Troy.

 

 

MARK: What bands and musicians are major influences for you guys?

DAVID: Well Rich and I write the songs and our influences pre-Afternoon Tea was mainly Beatles and R.E.M. We didn't even know who Jellyfish were at the time. That's why it was weird when he heard about all the comparisons.
After those reviews we went and got some Jellyfish stuff, liked it and went and got all the derivatives; I don't have to tell you about that! I can say that the influences for the second album were Eeels, Elliot Smith, Radiohead, Supergrass, our friends Zuckerbaby, Bowie and of course Jellyfish & Beatles. I'm sure I'm forgetting some more.

BILLY: Some of our influences are pretty obvious. Obviously we enjoy the
Beatles, as should anyone. We do get a lot of Jellyfish comparisons,
but we really hadn't heard much Jellyfish prior to tracking "Afternoon
Tea". We started to get into them sometime between the recording and
mixing of that record, so if there is similarity between that record and
Jellyfish it is due to having had the same influences as them rather
than due to them being the influence. Since then, we've gotten quite
into the whole Jellyfish, Jason Falkner, Grays, Brendan Benson,Moog
Cookbook, Imperial Drag etc. scene. It's crazy that none of these
projects have had much success because they are all so good. Maybe that
doesn't bode well for us.
In terms of personal influences mine are somewhat different in that I
used to listen to a lot of blues music; Stevie ray, B.B. King, buddy
Guy, Sonny Boy Williamson,Robert Cray, Muddy Waters etc. I just love
the feeling and emotion of that music. Right now (this week) my
favorite records are the Imperial Drag album and Stevie Wonder's
"Talking Book" album. I know Stevie Wonder isn't exactly our genre, but
I think everyone should own that album, as well as "Songs in the Key of
Life" and "Innervisions", which I am listening to right now. It's
amazing that he recorded three records that good in three years. the
Stevie Wonder obsession is new for me but I'm happy with it.

 

MARK: I heard a while back that Brian Kehew would be appearing on the new album. Is this true?

DAVID: It was the plan and may still happen. I recently ran into him again and he's still into it.

BILLY: I'm sorry to say that it doesn't llok like that's going to happen. For
a white guy he has a lot of Stevie Wonder in him! The record is almost
done and doesn't really need much more in the way of keyboards, but you
never know.

 

MARK: If so, how did that come about?

DAVID: We ran into him at my favorite guitar store in L.A. called Black Market Music. I just bought a cool old Wurlitzer from there.

BILLY: We met Brian at Balck Market Music in L.A. It's a really cool music store with all kinds of amazing vintage gear.

 

MARK: How would you say the two albums differ?

DAVID: Bad production - Better Production. Singing has improved. Drumming has improved. Song writing has matured. More time in the studio, although we were working with an insane studio engineer who was on the brink of blowing up at any moment.

BILLY:The main differences between the two records are better production and better drumming. "Afternoon Tea" has some songs that I wish we could recut with Troy. Live Engine #3 and Pass the Broken Glass rock, as does
lost my eyesight. Maybe someday we'll recut them. It would be fun.

 

MARK: To my ears, It appears that the bands songwriting has matured greatly since "Afternoon Tea". Do you feel this is so and why?

DAVID: Wow I'm one step ahead of you.We're just taking the whole thing a lot more seriouly now. Spending more time wrting the songs. We've also learned alot about what it takes to create a great pop song. More time on arrangements. Now that we know who Jellyfish are we can steal better. HA HA.
Also, having had some strange L.A. experiences last year with some weird fucked up people inspired me, anyway, to write songs about orgies and cocaine and the whole L.A. thing. SEX.
For example She's Organic is about an Orgy. Maybe is about some girl that picked me up in an S&M bar who was totally high on Cocaine. Afraid of heights is about the L.A. quest/fear of stardom thing. "Don't look so scared we're not flying that High YET!!". This song apitimizes the album. <-I spelled that wrong. Monkey Friend is about a small town girl trying to make it in Hollywood. Come on.. "Got her break from Climbing trees" (If that's not an obvious sexual reference what is) The album is basically about sex, and L.A. and Rock & Roll. Words on you is about a star stalker. "I've seen your face upon a 1000 magazines". "I know you'll never get this dream..." Stardom. Superficial Relationships.
"She'll settle for a fast paced life...." etc.. etc..
Oh yeah, and lonliness... L.A. creates a lot of lonliness...

BILLY: I think the songwriting has changed, but I'm not sure if it's better or just different. I don't think the problem with "Afternoon Tea" is the
songs (except for Gerald the Mouse which is iffy) but rather the
execution. I thing our playing has matured, but the songwriting was
always there.

 

MARK: One of my favorite tracks on the new one is "Suitcase Whore". Who did the arrangements on that song? I swear it sounds like something George Martin would have come up with.

DAVID: Well thanks, I'll take that as a compliment. That's one of my songs. I basically wrote the thing on piano and handed it over to my friend who played on the first album, Graham Neumann. We lucked out, because he and his wife were back for a visit from San Fransisco, where she is doing her masters on the violin at the Conservatory there. Graham, I met back in my computer science days at university. Actually, I forgot to mention that he was our keyboard player while we were recording Afternoon Tea. Great piano player. Anyway, Graham, Andrea(his wife) and I wrote out the string parts together. I basically sang the ideas to them and they made it into something. She performed them all herself. She's amazing. I'm really happy about the way the song turned out. I'm surprised it turned out as well as it did, because the studio owner almost kicked the both of them out of the studio in one of his drug induced rages. By the way, Andrea's younger brother played trumpet. Sorry I'm rambling on, incoherently, it's just late. I'm also surprised I managed to sing that one at all. I still didn't have my voice back from the IPO trip and was gupling back that disgusting Buckley's sore throat remedy in the studio. I'm starting to think my voice sounds better when it's only half there.
(David is interuptedby the phone) One second the phone is ringing....
That was Troy, he just got back from the Falkner show tonight at the DragonFly. It turns out Jason's really into working on a couple more new songs with us. I'm looking forward to that whole thing. I think Jason will have a lot of great ideas to contribute. Apparently, he mentioned again that he really digs the album and is excited about helping out. I'm already looking to the 3rd album. I'd liked to use both Jason and Roger Manning on that one. Get a whole Jellyfish reunited thing happening. They have the same management and Jason was saying that Roger would probably be into it. Fuck the Susans, we'll just move out of the way and let them rock...
Anways, sorry about the distraction. On to the next question. Hopefully, I'll get better on the next ones.

BILLY: George Martin was going to do the string arrangment for "Suitcas Whore" but he had to cancel to record Celine Dion singing "In My Life."
Seriously, the parts were arranged by Andrea, Graham and Dave, with some
input from the rest of us.

 

MARK: When you guys write songs is it a group effort, or does one person come in with the songs and the rest enhance them?

DAVID: The latter. We have a strict way of doing things when it comes to songwriting. Rich and I usually write alone and then bring our song to the other person. He then says what he likes and hates. Then he adds and subtracts ideas. If we both like the song we'll bring it to the band.
We have about 90 songs which haven't made the cut. We're not one of these bands that records tons of songs in the studio and then picks the best one. We rarely record something that doesn't make the album. Most of the time the song changes completely in the studio. For example Maybe never had a piano in it originally. Also, Richard sang Monkey Friend and it had a completely different melody originaly. Richard then decided to just sing the backgrounds. He does all the harmony stuff usually. He is amazing at it. He has great falsetto and ear for harmony. The only song that we have recorded and will not release is Secret Engineer. The song felt good at the time, but we soon woke up and realized it was just a vessel to vent about the asshole studio engineer.

BILLY: The latter is true. Usually, Rich or Dave write the essential elements
of a song then we all but them together by adding or subtracting
(usually subtracting)parts. for instance, when Dave brought "She's
Organic" to the band it was a seven minute long rock operetta.(he was
listening to a lot of Pulp at the time) By the surf rock outra section
I was slouching in the corner in pain. Maybe it would have been better
that way.

 

MARK: What are you all's favorite tracks on the new CD?

DAVID: Personally, my favorites change day by day. The songs I am most proud of songwriting wise are: She's Organic, Maybe, Suitcase Whore, Afraid of Heights and Sunday School. The songs I am most proud of performance wise are: Monkey Friend, Window Seat.

BILLY: it changes all the time. When the mixes are done I'll know better. I'm really proud of all of the songs.

 

MARK: So Jason Falkner is helping out on the CD. How did that come about?

DAVID: I think I told you the story in a previous e-mail. Basically, we met him at the IPO festival. We liked the fact that he was very personable and approachable.

BILLY: We met Jason at Goldfinger's in Hollywood, the bar from the Shawn Mullins "Lullaby" video. What a shit song that is. Anyways, (time out,
Innervisions just ended...I'm back and listening to Badfinger), Jason
was playing a show there so we showed up early to be there for
soundcheck and he was giong to play acoustic for the show but they
couldn't mic the thing properly. He had an electric guitar with him,
but he had no amp. Because the bar was only a few blocks from our hotel
we let him Richard's Matchless DC30, a $4000 amp. Since then Jason has
liked us.

 

MARK: What exactly is Jason contributing to the CD?

DAVID: It looks like mixing, producing and then helping out completely with 2 new songs. He expressed interest in adding some guitars, bg vocals and maybe some keyboards. He has a Chamberlain which would probably sound pretty cool in Afraid of Heights.

BILLY: We're not sure yet. He was going to mix the whole thing, but I think
now we'll just get him to add a few vocals and some chamberlin on the
songs we've already recorded, then we might record two new songs with
him as producer.

 

MARK: What is going to be the first single off the album, or the one that is going to be sent to radio stations?

DAVID: Unless the record company says differently, it will probably be She's Organic first.

BILLY: Right know I'd have to say "She's organic". Once it is properly mixed
it should be really cool. Either that or monkey friend.

 

MARK: Are you going to make a video for the single?

DAVID: We're planning to.

BILLY: I sure hope so. Stylistically, I hope it to be like the Foxy Brown "Hot Spot" video. she's dirty!!!!!!!

 

MARK: Do you guys plan on doing a US/world tour to promote the new album?

DAVID: We're trying to get that organized as we speak. We've been asked to play China of all places in the summer. We're not sure if we will yet.

BILLY: One of my goals for this band has always been for it to take us all over the world, and we plan to make that happen.

 

MARK: Are there any places that the band would love to play?

DAVID: Europe and Japan.

BILLY: Spain and Portugal.

 

MARK: Is there a release date set for the new album yet?

DAVID: Most likely summer time.

BILLY: No. There are so many factors. We have to mix, maybe record two more song, and come up with all the money to do this. We need to creat
artwork and a whole coordinated marketing plan. It could take a little
while.

 

MARK: Is the title still going to be "Afraid Of Heights"?

DAVID: Yes.

BILLY: I think so.

 

MARK: Do you feel that Permanent Press will promote the band a bit more with "Afraid Of Heights"?

DAVID: We're not sure if he is capable of giving us what we need for promtion with this album. We are currently in the process of shopping the CD around.

BILLY: I don't know if they'll be in the picture.

 

MARK: You guys played the International Pop Overthrow Festival this past August. What was that like?

DAVID: We left Calgary with 2 cars. Richard's car broke down in Northern California. We all packed into Troy's jeep. Most of the stuff was then strapped to his roof. Then all the stuff flew off the roof and onto the freeway. That's when I played frogger and ran out almost killing myself to retrieve our stuff. I lost my voice after the Portland show at NXNW and by the time I got to Space Land my voice had become very heavy metal. I think this shocked David Bash the organizer of the festival. I think we still kicked ass at the show. People were really into us. The show in Portland was also really good. The two shows on that tour the sucked were the instores at Borders and in Portland. I felt bad for Joanne, having to see us like that. We were really hung over and exhausted from the trip. The borders show was especially bad. Richard was really sick. You can probably tell by the pictures.

BILLY: It was pretty cool, but like everything other music festival there are
only a few good acts. At IPO the highlights were Jason and the Tories,
who are amazing live.

 

MARK: How do you feel about the magnificent "POP" scene that L.A. has?

DAVID: Love it. I guess we're not jaded by it all yet.

BILLY: I don't know how magnificent it really is. I'll be in a better postion
to evaluate in a couple of months.

 

MARK: Do you feel that pop music as we all know it will make a comeback in the near future?

DAVID: I really hope so. I try not to let the shitty commercial stuff really bother me. I'm not really going for that one hit wonder, coke commercial thing anyway. I want our band to slowly build up a good reputation for releasing great albums. I'd be happy with moderate success and enough money to just get by on music alone. I really respect musicians like Falkner and Jon Brion that are just solid musicians and great song writers. The big Fame thing is very fleeting and misleading.

BILLY: I hope so. BNL are really big right now and they're a Canadian pop
band. They were really good on SNL this week. I hope Jason's record
does well. Radiohead have been succesful. Maybe we'll blow the whole
thing wide open.

 

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