DUG E. BIRD
Interview by Scott Bass, Part 2
PSF: For Plays for Lovers, I don't know if you've noticed on allmusic.com, but the editor who wrote the article for that album noted that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were doing a similar hybrid at the time but that Beefeater was doing it better.
Dug: Wow! Well, that's nice.
PSF: I can send you the link if you'd like... it really is a fuck of an album, I mean, I just don't get tired of listening to it.
Dug: It was so awesome to record that album. I mean it's just that whole experience, that first year of the band especially. We wanted to do a funk sound, if it came up like we want this song to have this style of bass playing where Fred would just... Fred was awesome and he'd get right in my face and say "do it this way motherfucker!" And it's not like he's mad, and you know what's so awesome about him, is like sometimes when people get really intense and get really in my face, I can get really weirded out and just kind of shut down. But Fred could do that and yet maintain this total positivity and that's just awesome, he has so much positivity and so much energy that he will put into people that he's working with.
PSF: Clearly there was some sort of synergy going on there.
Dug: Yeah, yeah, the guy, I mean the guy is amazing, and Tomas is amazing, and we always had a good drummer. Fred would work with me, helping me get up-to-speed playing funk bass. He was living in Capital Heights, Maryland, no short drive from there over to Arlington. He was so good playing funk.
PSF: I had no idea.
Dug: Just watching him play just blew my fucking mind. I'm thinking like "how the hell am I ever going to be able to do this?" That was like my first reaction and yet I was like so fascinated by it. Fred and his buddy Big Mike who was also showing me stuff were...
PSF: Big Mike who plays on the second album?
Dug: Yeah, yeah.
PSF: (quoting from the record) "That's all you've got to do."
Dug: (Laughs). Yeah, that's right. When they play, it doesn't look like they're doing anything, they're just like barely touching the strings and yet it's like such powerful sound... it was just fascinating to me. In my mind, if seemed like it's going to take a long time to get there but Fred had the patience and he wasn't you know, critically, he wasn't going to put up with my bullshit of like... he would just say "try doing it this way. Okay, now do this and now do this" and then I would just like try to do something just keep fucking it up and fucking it up and fucking it up and then I would just get like pissed off, and say "god damn it, I'm never going to get it..." And he'd say "shut up motherfucker, just do it again!" You know? He wasn't going to put up with it and that's what I really needed to hear at the time and gradually I've figured out some things I could do and in the end it's punk music and it's not about like, it doesn't have to be like super complicated, super clean or anything but it does need to be funky and powerful... and so we figured out a way.
PSF: To say that the musicianship one Plays for Lovers is above average for a hardcore record, it's probably a bit of an understatement.
Dug: What can I say? Thank you and I feel very grateful and very fortunate. Everybody brought real good energy, real good feeling, real good attitude into the studio that night, just super positive.
PSF: So it was all in one night?
Dug: Oh yeah, we had the basic tracks in one night and then I think we went back for vocals.
PSF: Gotcha, so that's the first album. What happens between that and House Burning Down? Is it that Need a Job EP recorded in the interim between those two?
PSF: Why does that record not come out on Dischord, but rather on HR's Olive Tree label?
Dug: Well, Olive Tree approached us, they really wanted to do a record and we had the songs and I was okay with waiting until we could get another record out on Dischord but I could also understand the idea of "we've got the songs, let's not sit on them," which is pretty much how Tomas and Fred felt. Especially to Tomas because he's writing these words that are about stuff that's happening in his world, and if the album doesn't come out 'til like years later, it feels kind of weird. So we did it on Olive Tree.
PSF: And that was licensed in Europe as well, Wetspots records, I haven't seen that pressing but I know it exists over there.
Dug: Oh, weird.
PSF: Yeah, you've heard of it?
Dug: I haven't seen that either.
PSF: I assume it's licensed (laughs), it came out the same year.
Dug: Oh, okay, okay.
PSF: After that, sessions for House Burning Down start coming together; this is almost, I don't want to say a "concept album," but for a band that already has a pretty wide-angle view of what hardcore is, it seems like it gets even wider at this point.
Dug: Right. Well, yeah, I guess 'concept' is a good word for it because Tomas had broader ideas for House Burning Down.
PSF: Did he actually ever use the words "world music"?
Dug: No, no. It wasn't like that. It wasn't like World Music or Worldbeat or Afro-Beat or like any set thing but there were ideas of like you know, he wanted to use the studio as or take advantage of the opportunity to bring in more sounds. We've met a lot of really talented people, like really awesome singers and musicians...
PSF: Like Harv and Jackie and Leon and Nicky and Rogelio and...?
Dug: Yes, yeah, yeah and even on the first album, Brian Nelson, Jeff's brother, playing sax. So I think it was like a lot of it was about these people that we have met and you know, that just really lots of talent, really good attitude and we wanted to work with them.
Dug: And House Burning Down was an opportunity to do that.
PSF: You know on paper it shouldn't work but it totally does.
Dug: Yeah, yeah, there were some crazy ideas going out there and...
PSF: "Bedlam Rainforest" blew my mind the first time I heard it, it just knocked me over.
PSF: So next is Fidelity Jones; Beefeater comes to an end and something happens with Fred I'd assume... since you and Tomas go into Fidelity Jones.
PSF: Is there a falling out or is it just time for him to do something else?
Dug: Yeah, it was time for him to do something else. There was an ongoing disagreement in Beefeater where Fred wanted to take the band in a different direction managerially. He wanted Beefeater to be on another label, not like a major label per se but he wanted us to be on something like Sire you know, that was recording other alternative music acts. So he could support himself as a musician and not have to work retail to make ends meet. I mean, that's what he saw as a possibility and you know, a lot of other people took that view so he had plenty of people to talk about it with and I know a lot of people have gone for it. Steve Albini wrote a really good article about it once where if like when somebody leaves their independent and goes with a major just like the early '90's when people were jumping ship for... you understand what I mean?
PSF: it's a famous essay, I can't think of the title but it's been widely printed.
Dug: Yeah, I now want to read it again but you know, you get the advance from the label, you go on tour, blah, blah, blah.
PSF: And you will owe money when it's all said and done.
Dug: Yeah, you will owe money when it's done and also from end to end if you look at the big picture, all of the time you spend doing band stuff for all the money you'd make and when all of the money you owe gets paid back, what you're left with is equivalent to like if you had been working at 7-11 all that time. To me, it's a question of who do you want to deal with. Who knows how it would have really been like, what do I know? Fred saw moving to a different label as like an opportunity. I did not see it as an opportunity and Tomas didn't really see it as an opportunity either. So he wanted to do Strange Boutique and I think that was the direction and then Tomas and I looked for or went on the search for other musicians to do Fidelity Jones.
PSF: Okay and the transition I tried and failed to make there was that it seems to me that whether by design or just accident, Fidelity Jones probably was more of an accessible sounding band than Beefeater, certainly for the most part the tempos were a bit slower.
Dug: Well, I can see where it would be more accessible and there was certainly less crazy in Fidelity Jones than Beefeater. It was different people with a different set of creative influences, a different sound. There was that initial period of Fidelity Jones where Tomas was singing and playing guitar. That was rough, I mean it was we all knew it but it was really challenging for us to express ourselves, for us to actually create the sound that we wanted to create. We were writing new songs and practicing new songs and we heard them coming off. We wanted them to come off stronger than they were actually coming off because it was just difficult for Tomas to play in sync.
PSF: Is he playing on the record?
Dug: I don't think so, I can't remember. Then we started playing with Andy and you know, awesome sound, playing a Paul Reed Smith, a really excellent guitarist and excellent songwriter but in a different way than Fred. Fred is, was - is, always will be, kind of crazy, he has that really crazy, intense energy. He was just like in your face 100% of the time. He was like doing guitar solos on people's heads in the audience. That is Fred, Andy is a different person. Andy is a little more reserved. At first, I found that frustrating, I wanted the same intensity as in Beefeater but looking back, that's unfortunate to take that attitude because that took away from my experience of Fidelity Jones and just like appreciating people for who they were.
Andy is a great songwriter and he has a really good appreciation for bands that played together well as bands where everybody is making their own contribution to the sound but you don't... and when you hear the songs, what you're really feeling is how great a song it is, not necessarily like "oh, that guitar playing was really awesome or that bass playing was really awesome."
PSF: They whole greater than the parts?
Dug: Yeah, exactly, like Mother's Milk, the Chili Peppers record or Blood Sugar Sex Magik or Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, all great records. At first we would have these like kind of conflicts like "no, it needs to be more like this..." I would be pushing for more of that speed, intensity like craziness, like turn the bass up and Andy would say "No, no, no... less!"
Dug: A little restraint and over time, I grew to appreciate that approach more.
PSF: Is the name Fidelity Jones a reference to Tomas Jones or early member Maria Jones?
Dug: Perhaps. I interpreted it as Jonesing for fidelity, right?
PSF: So Fidelity Jones kind of like Basketball Jones?
Dug: I guess so.
PSF: A last question about Fidelity Jones. It's pretty much all out of print now I noticed, any talks of a CD release? Do CD's even matter anymore?
Dug: Yeah, I don't know. It's available as a download from Dischord and it's streaming... it would be a pretty short CD.
PSF: That's true. So by '90 or so, Fidelity Jones has folded, and quickly you're then in a new group, Suture, how do you hook-up with Kathleen Hanna? Is Kathleen is living in Maryland at this point? I've read that she lived in Calverton which is very close when she was much younger.
Dug: No, she was living in Olympia... Bikini Kill was touring, which brought them out to DC. And I think maybe this might not have been yet the time when they moved to DC but they were just in DC for a while and we started playing, doing the Suture thing and...
PSF: And you had known Sharon Cheslow from previous bands, Chalk Circle and Bloody Mannequin Orchestra.
Dug: That's right and also Jennifer Ballard was in Suture and recorded with us and Molly from Bratmobile, we wrote these songs and we practiced a few times over at the embassy which was where Nation of Ulysses lived. We recorded at WGNS studios in Arlington and...
PSF: That's where the EP was recorded?
Dug: Yeah and the single was release pretty quickly after that. It was around that same time in '90, I was... or maybe it wasn't until '91, I had been talking with Pete Chramiec a little bit and...
PSF: Pete Chramiec?
Dug: From Verbal Assault.
PSF: Oh, okay, gotcha. We're moving on to the next band.
Dug: Yeah. We had talked about getting a band going. Verbal Assault was still playing but there was kind of a mutual decision within the band to part ways and Pete was thinking about what he wanted to do after. So he wanted to do another band and he had plans to and he really wanted to tour and go to Europe and everything and that sounded real good to me so I was really interested in jamming with him. So we did that and it felt good and that was all like in around the same time frame, like we took a road trip out to Olympia in '91 because he was going to... he went to Evergreen and the International Pop Underground Convention in '91 was happening at Olympia so we road-tripped out there and camped a little bit at this house where Pete was going to live. There was this idea that I was going to move to Olympia but I got out there and honestly, I wasn't feeling it, relocating, it just seemed like, I don't know, I couldn't do it. So I went back to D.C and the following Spring, Pete was done with Evergreen, moved to D.C, Josh moved to D.C, so this is all like Spring '92 and we started practicing as Rain Like the Sound of Trains.
PSF: So tell me about the origin of the name? Everyone at this time is doing one word names and you guys come up with a six word name. How did that happen?
Dug: Well it's sort of a... Pete says the name comes from Neuromancer.
PSF: William Gibson?
Dug: Right. He liked the sound of that... it was funny because... anytime you tell anybody the name of your band they're like "What? What in the what of what?" Yeah, so you always have to say it twice.
PSF: That's funny.
Dug: But you know, it was a cool band and again, awesome experiences touring.
PSF: And the band sold pretty well? I mean they enjoyed a pretty good success?
Dug: Yeah, yeah. It was a little more jam-influenced. But in saying that it's sort of like harkens back to this idea that I had, like that I wanted it to be powerful, chaotic, funky like that first Beefeater album but you know, it can't be and this is a thing like I read about where I guess people do this like if they have an early experience as a musician or artist or writer, like a really, early on like an experience that's really satisfying creatively, then other things that happen after that are like trying to reproduce, get back to that earlier feeling. I think that I read about a story about Lou Reed where he kept running into that, like getting in his own way, you know?
But trying to get back to what he had in Velvet Underground and you know, maybe I was doing a little of that myself, I don't know but...
PSF: The bass playing is definitely reminiscent but the sound of the band is quite different. It's a bit more mature sounding; the production on the records is really good too.
Dug: Yeah. I mean we had... I think it was cool because we had a wide variety of songs and what's really also cool about that band was the travels that we did.
PSF: You toured a lot.
Dug: The tours, even just road-tripping with Pete like when we weren't even doing the band; he had like been around to a lot of places I had never seen and that was like an eye-opener.
PSF: From playing with Verbal Assault?
Dug: Yeah, totally, so it was like an eye-opener in a very similar vein to like you know, listening to Coltrane for the first time.
PSF: Was the Waiting for the Water EP done after a break? Seems like it came out a couple of years after everything else.
Dug: Yeah. We did the European tour in '94 and then everyone kind of went our separate ways to do other stuff. This is around the time I met Jerry that I'd later do All Scars with.
PSF: OK. And '94 is when Las Mordidas' demo, 7" single, and split 7" came out, right?
Dug: Yeah, yeah, that was really fun to record Las Mordidas because we recorded it at Pirate house, in the living room.
PSF: I had that demo in the car on the way up, that group was a bit of a return of punk, right?
Dug: Yeah, it was, yeah, especially with Chris Thompson singing, how could it not be? He was just awesome. I'm really glad we did a tour, '94 it was like the massive year of tours because we went to Austin to record with Rain Like The Sound of Trains, with Tim Kerr producing and mixing. My first and only time playing ever with a click track which...
PSF: It sucks!
Dug: It's really, really hard. I was not digging it. And then in the summer, I toured with Las Mordidas and that was "the loop" -- 48 state, 20 on the West Coast kind of thing and in the fall, Rain Like The Sound of Trains toured Europe and that was a lot of fun.
See Part III of the Dug E. Bird interview
(If you didn't start at the start, here's See Part I of the Dug E. Bird interview)
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