Perfect Sound Forever


Photo from No New York

Interview by Tim Broun, Part 2

PSF: Listening to you over the years - I would see you play, and would listen very closely to what you do, and it's - you have a very singular style, and if you never gave it away that you really had no idea what you were doing...

PP: You wouldn't notice?

PSF: No.

PP: (Laughs) Thanks, Tim. No, it's funny... When we got back together in the '90's, and started writing, by that time I'd been in five other bands, and I sort of learned how to play guitar. I still don't really feel like I know, but I know a lot more than I did then. But when I go back and play the early stuff, I kind of... I mean, seriously, Tim, here you play a little guitar, or no?

PSF: A little bit, yeah

PP: [Gets guitar] So like, this is useless for this, but just because it's kinda funny, right? [Sound of guitar]. The songs are like one chord. Like "Boom In The Night" is just this [plays guitar], and it's just there the whole time. And "Cowboys... " is one [plays guitar], and I'm just going on to [plays guitar] inventing the chords, and I didn't know what I was doing, but it works. It kinda works, and it was simple. Then Laura playing these kinda very melodic kind of bass lines that...

PSF: Yeah, the rhythm section could play that stuff!

PP: Yeah, yeah. So it really was a band effort. When I go back, and I think of the simplicity of this stuff, I think that's the only way. I mean, if you knew more, and you tried to write that you probably couldn't because you'd think "Oh, there has to be more than that."

But it's so incredibly simple. It's... I don't know how simple it is, but I felt going back and relearning the songs, I thought, "Oh my god, it's crazy. I don't have to move my hand." (Laughs)

PSF: It's great. Was it a big deal that there was one dude, and a bunch of chicks in a band at the time, or did you guys even think about it?

PP: Well, no. I mean, that's funny. We really didn't, you know. I was living with Laura, and Cynthia was my best friend, and we were just doing it. But I think it was a big deal, and we didn't really even realize it. Like probably the way people saw us.

PSF: Right, but it never became like a political statement by you guys, right?

PP: It wasn't, unfortunately, no. I'm sorry. I mean, of course it was. It was... we were doing it. So that is, yeah, a statement indirectly, but not intentionally, no. It's just like we wanted to try to make some music, really. It's that simple.

PSF: Was it The Rituals EP that was produced by Topper Headon? Is that right?

PP: Yes.

PSF: How was that? Or was that another case of...

PP: [laughing] ...of "turn off the tape recorder"?

PSF: (Laughs) Yeah. Well, was that a crazy time by then?

PP: It was. It really was. We opened, I think we opened for The Clash at Bonds - a HUGE gig.

PSF: So that was '81.

PP: Was it? Yeah, probably.

PSF: So you had already done the record ["Too Many Creeps" single] with 99 Records by then, right?

PP: We did the first one with Ed Bahlman from 99 - "Too Many Creeps," "Topics," and "Snakes Crawl." Then we did "Boom In The Night" on Fetish, and we did that in England.

PSF: How did you connect with Ed Balman?

PP: He was right down here on MacDougal Street. You know, it was more like a neighbourhood thing, too. He probably saw us play at Tier 3, and approached us. He had this really cool shop, a record store on MacDougal Street, and asked us to do it, and you know, we did it. Don Christiansen produced the record. We probably recorded it in two hours one evening, I think.

PSF: Wow. Two hours.

PP: Well I don't know. I mean, it was an evening. I remember we went out to some place. It was the summer. It was some place in Jersey. Some place that had a swimming pool and it was - wow! You know? We're out of the city which was - the city in those days was like living in a war zone, right?

So I think we were much more interested in the pool than in the recording studio. (Laughs). Yeah. It was very simple then.

PSF: That's amazing. I know touring was a totally different game back then, and like you said, with The Contortions, you played once in France and once in Chicago, and that really was about it. What about The Bush Tetras? Did you guys get out of the city more?

PP: We toured a lot. We actually had a booking agent. Bob Singerman. And he put us in one of those these crazy, crazy tours. You could get some sort of airline ticket back then where Atlanta was the hub, so everytime you had to fly somewhere, you had to go through Atlanta. So it would be like, playing in Seattle and then we'd have to fly back to Atlanta to fly back to L.A., and it was so insane, but yeah, we toured. That was our first tour. It was really crazy. And we went to Europe. I don't know, three, four, five times.

PSF: Do you have any idea how many records you've guys ever sold?

PP: You know, that's a really good question. I don't know. I don't.

PSF: Yeah. I'd be interested.

PP: I don't think a tremendous amount but, you know, enough.

PSF: You guys had some success at the dance clubs right, with "Too Many Creeps" or "Can't Be Funky"?

PP: "Can't Be Funky." Yeah, I think, "Creeps" did make like, um the dance charts.

PSF: There was some sort of Billboard thing...

PP: It was Billboard number 30 or something - which for a band at the time, it was something like a big deal, yeah.

PSF: (Laughs). So now - after there was the 45 on 99 Records, then Boom In The Night. The Rituals EP. I kind of lose track of you guys after Rituals.

PP: Well for good reason. [Laughs] That was kind of the end.

PSF: I mean that was probably what, by the mid '80's?

PP: Well, no. The band split up in '83. Laura left first. Then we replaced her with Bobby Albertson on bass and then Dee left. So Cynthia and I were carrying on and Don Christiansen came in - Don from The Contortions. We actually did a recording session with Laura and Dee. We recorded about five or six songs. They are on Boom In The Night that we didn't release then. They didn't get released until much later. And then we recorded two songs with Bobby and Donny. They are on Boom also. And that was kind of a different band really. I mean, obviously, without Dee and Laura. It was a really different sound. And then it fell apart. For a lot of different reasons. It wasn't the same band. I got kind of sick. I was just really burnt out.

PSF: Was it an obvious end or where you heartbroken, or... ?

PP: I was...

PSF: All of the above?

PP: I think I was just incapable. I couldn't carry on. And then it was really hard for Cynthia because she was kind of keeping her wits about her, and was watching this thing disintegrate. and I think it was pretty much heart break. I reached a point where I just couldn't do it any more.

PSF: So the band breaks up and what happens next?

PP: The story of my life. I take a few years and like, you know, kinda went into the darkness. [laughs] You know. I really didn't do that much. I was doing my art and then I [whispers: got sober] in '86. That sort of started the whole thing, and then I started playing again gradually. I took a few years off from playing. I mean, it was so much that went on between The Contortions and with The Bush Tetras, and that was like four and a half to five years. It was constant. Constant. And it was really, you know, a burn out, and I think I needed a break too. But I didn't take a break in the healthiest way. But I just needed a break from it, and I did - I painted actually. I did some art. And then, late '80's, I start playing again.

PSF: Was that with a band or... Can you remember? [Laughs]

PP: No, no. I have, I mean all of the nineties... I have all of the CD's I made. I worked with Brian Kelly. We made a couple of CD's. The band was called Joey's Oscar. It was really different kinda music. He was like a singer songwriter.

PSF: Joey's Oscar?

PP: Yes, I'll show you the CD. And Julian Schnabel was involved with that And there was a song that Brian and Julian and I wrote together on that Basquiat Soundtrack called "She is Dancing." I was on that project for a few years. It was really nice because I was just playing. I was playing lead, and he played all the rhythm, so I had actually had to play melodies which I'd never done. It was a different kind of thing. It was kind of perfect. I just needed something really relaxed. He had this great studio down on Murray Street and we just jammed a lot, so I worked on that.

I did that for a couple of years and then Maggie Estep came along, and she was having this spoken word moment on MTV. She was putting a band together to back her up, and she asked me to do it. And there was some money involved with that, and an MTV tour and we actually toured. We made a record. There's you know, a little money. I was actually back. I was going, I started, I did like a half or one semester at NYU for social work school and forget it! I have to make a living. I gotta do something. That didn't last long. But I tried.

For a minute. I did the thing with Brian, and then I thought I'm gonna go back to school, and Maggie called and we were on the road and we - that band - called Maggie Estep and I Love Everybody, we did about nine days opening for Hole when they were doing Live Through This, so that was kind of a cool moment. There was three acts. We were the first opening band, and there was this band called Veruca Salt, and then there was Hole. I did that with her for about a year, and then I had some all-girls cover band called Alice. This was the first time I'd ever did cover songs, ever. Well I think we tried - we did a couple of Rolling Stones and... anyway, we did a few covers.

PSF: You did "Cold Turkey." I know that.

PP: Yeah, yeah, and I think we did "Wild Thing." The band, Alice, we did AC/DC, Bad Company, a lot of Stooges. We did...

PSF: ...Hard rock.

PP: Hardcore boy-band songs. Kinda cool. We did about six gigs with that. And then The Bush Tetras got back together, like, '96 or something.

PSF: Which was fifteen freaking years ago!

PP: Yeah, I know. We did Beauty Lies with Nona Hendrix producing on Mercury. Then we made another CD which was finally pressed in 1999 that never came out because [Happy, produced by Don Fleming], I guess Polygram got bought up by Sony, and the A&R guy got fired, so it got shelved.

PSF: So there's an unreleased Bush Tetras album out there?

PP: There is. We've been looking into putting it out.

PSF: That's great! That's very cool.

PP: It was called Happy. And then we did a compilation called Very Very Happy on ROIR. We re-recorded a couple of songs that were on that - the original release.

PSF: The original Happy?

PP: Exactly. Then we recorded some old stuff that had never been recorded that we only had live versions of. It's a mish-mash, a mash-up of stuff, but you know, it was ROIR's idea to put something out.

PSF: Get something - yeah, 'cause you guys, you were playing shows from time to time.

PP: Yeah, yeah. We were.

PSF: And you've since done some Contortions gigs?

PP: Yeah, yeah. In the 2000's, we did a bunch. We went over to Japan, and did like three nights in Tokyo and Osaka. That was really cool.

PSF: Was that pretty close to the original line up?

PP: It was the original line up except for George. It was Jody and Donny, me, and Eric Sanko on bass. Because George died. So, yeah. It was cool and we played in France, and London, and we did some of the All Tomorrow's Parties things. Actually I think James has some gigs for us in October. Somewhere in Brooklyn. Under the bridge.

PSF: Are you happy with the way things are now? Or would you like to be playing more or...

PP: Oh man, Tim. [laughs] You know, I've recently had a few art shows in the past few years, and I've been with this gallery, Jane Kim [Jane Kim Gallery, formerly Jane Kim/Thrust Project Gallery], and I thought it would be nice to get back to that and get away from like, bands and all that. Like trying to book a rehearsal sometimes. I'm too old for the schpilkas... You know what I mean?

But no, I totally - it's so great playing music. It's just if things had gotten to a certain level, like the next level, where you could actually tour comfortably - but it just really didn't with the Bush Tetras, so occasionally we will get offered a gig that's paying pretty well, or we'll just want to do it, so we'll do it. Cynthia just moved to LA, so... Yeah. We were actually going to try and write this fall. I might go out there. I don't know. She's got another project [Command V with Pat Irwin] that she's doing right now.

But anyway, am I happy with the way things are? You get older and there's only more limitations, and what you're willing to do or can do, you know, physically. But I think The Bush Tetras, as long as we are all still around. We'll, you know, do the occasional gig or we might try to get together and write something. But happy? Well, I don't know. That's a whole other concept.

PSF: I hear you. That's kind of a loaded question.

PP: Yeah. Well, playing music is amazing and The Bush Tetras stuff had a certain chemistry. When we get together it falls right in. It's cool. And it's funny, when you are younger and you're doing it, you don't realize what you have. It took me a long time to realize that.

PSF: And what's going on with your art work?

PP: I'm doing a lot of photography. And my friend Kevin is making a group show we might do. He wants to do this thing - "musicians who make art." He's starting out with a small group of like four or five, but we have this idea to expand that idea. So I do that show in December. We'll see.

PSF: That'll be photography or painting?

PP: Well, my work will be photography. But it's more like conceptual photography - like groupings of multiple things.

PSF: Do you do your own processing?

PP: No. That's what I mean. It's not like photography in a technical sense. It's more like the medium.

PSF: Do you sell paintings and photographs?

PP: I do. There's a huge piece behind you that I sold last year. One of those. That's an edition of five.

PSF: Are those yours [pointing to a set of paintings on the opposite wall]?

PP: Those are mine from art school.

PSF: Oh wow.

PP: I brought some of my stuff back from my parents house when my dad died a few years ago.

PSF: Those are great.

PP: Thanks.

PSF: Do you still love New York City?

PP: Yeah, I do. Do you?

PSF: Sometimes... it depends.

PP: It's really different. It's such a different city. It's really like a love/hate. I was walking around today. We were over on Orchard Street looking at some of the galleries. A friend of mine lives out in Long Island came in, and I thought, this is great but I'm sick of it. I mean it's changed so much. It's love-hate. Because it's so great. There's so much here. Everywhere. The shops. I mean everything's so interesting. The galleries. All of it. But it's like overload. And it's crowded and it's noisy and it's dirty. That's the stuff I don't like. And the landscape. I was in L.A. and I'm sort of really liking palm trees lately. It's looking good. So I understand. Cynthia moved to L.A.. I might follow. I don't know if I could - I have a lot of friends out there and I like visiting L.A.. I don't know if I could live there. Maybe Northern California.

PP: Oh it's beautiful. Yeah. Well, L.A. is... there's interesting pockets. A lot of New Yorkers hate it. I don't hate it.

PSF: I don't hate it, but I could go a week, two weeks, there and have a great time and then it's like, alright, I gotta go.

PP: Why?

PSF: I don't know.

PP: Well, it's sort of different from New York. There's no street scene. You have to drive and you have to find the pockets. You really have to have a destination. And a plan.

But here in New York stuff just happens. You walk out your door to go to the corner deli, and you run into - you know - stuff just happens in the street.

PSF: Right.

PP: It's great here for that, really. It's unbelievable.

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