Photo: Godlis (courtesy of the Richard Lloyd website)
Richard Lloyd began his career in the early 1970's as guitarist for the seminal band Television. After their disbandment in 1978, Richard went on to record three critically acclaimed solo albums, Alchemy, Field of Fire, and Real Time. After numerous albums with Matthew Sweet, a Neil Young tribute album, and the producing of Bibi Farber's debut album, Firepop, Richard is back in full force with The Cover Doesn't Matter, a new album full of fresh, powerful songs. I spoke with Richard on a late August night in 1999.
Interviewed by Eric Veillette
NOTE: This interview originally appeared in 32 Elvis Movies
Q: Where are you from?
RL: I was born in Pittsburgh, PA.
Q: What were some of your musical tastes while growing up?
RL: Well, I had a few cousins who used to listen to the Everly Brothers, and Elvis, but I didn't really "get it". Then we moved to New York rather early on. A friend of my mother's said "something very big is coming", and then asked me if I had ever heard of the Beatles. I hadn't, but I said yes anyways. When I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I thought it was interesting. Musically it was okay. But I really liked the Rolling Stones. So there were two camps: The Beatles camp and The Rolling Stones camp. So I was definitely in the Stones camp. Much darker. Some albums made a big impression on me. Hmm, let me see. Jimi Hendrix's first record. Pink Floyd's first record. The Grateful Dead's first record. Stuff like that made a big impression on me.
Q: Did you always aspire to become a musician or did you simply...
RL: ...No I still don't aspire to become a musician. I'm a musician by default. I'm a musician by refusing to grow up, and not wanting to undertake any of the other disciplines that might have been necessitated by having a goal. At the time, to be an astronaut and go to the moon, you had to be in the military. Well that didn't look too promising. I lived in absolute terror of growing up, and I found the one thing that you could actually do and do well and it prevented you from growing up.
Q: But are you happy doing it?
RL: Oh I'm delighted.
Q: Lets talk about Television. The original lineup was you, Billy Ficca, Richard Hell, and Tom Verlaine. How did you guys all meet up to form the band?
RL: I was living downtown in Chinatown with this guy who worked for Andy Warhol...
Q: Terry Ork?
RL: Terry Ork. I had been playing guitar for a number of years. I never played with anybody. I wasn't the kind of guy who ran around playing with everyone on the planet. So, one day Terry says "I know another guy who does what you do" and I said "What do I do?" He said "Well, you play guitar." So I went down to see Verlaine play. So Tom played these three songs. Instantly, watching this fellow, I just knew something was going to happen. Richard Hell was his manager, and we convinced him to learn the bass. In came Ficca, who had been a drummer in some blues band from Chicago. Terry Ork offered us rehearsal space in his loft, and even offered to buy us the necessary equipment. It was an offer Tom couldn't refuse. So we started the group. We called ourselves GooGoo for three weeks, then we all went our separate ways to find a name. Richard Hell came up with Television. Tom liked it because TV was his initials. We were more like the Sex Pistols back then, in a way...
Q: ...Before the Pistols were even around.
RL: Well, the Sex Pistols were the band modeled after the image of Television, and the musicality of the Ramones. All done very consciously, of course, by a guy who wanted to manage Television, and who was told "No."
Q: [Malcolm] McLaren wanted to manage Television?
RL: McLaren wanted to manage Television. He was managing the New York Dolls, who at the time were in a slump. He had them dressed in red leather, patent leather, with a communist flag in the backdrop. We did a co-bill for one week in Manhattan. Some dive. Malcolm fell in love with Television, and wanted to manage us. When he was turned down, he went back to England and used the image that he had gotten from us, from Richard Hell, and started marketing the image in his wife's clothing shop. Ripped clothing. The safety pins, the stitches, which was Richard Hell's idea! So then they got some kids together, and he got the wild idea of "It doesn't matter if they can play or not. The excitement is there." So anyways, that's where the Sex Pistols came from. In fact, irrespective of what others may say, any media, that's completely from the horse's mouth.
Q: Television has reformed a few times in the last two decades. Any chance of another reunion someday?
RL: I have no clue. I'm finishing a record of my own. It's going to come out in the early part of next year. I'm very pleased that I have a new platter of things to offer, and so, for Television, big deal. If something was to happen with Television, great. That's also nice.
Q: Are you with a label at the moment?
RL: Nah. We're going to form a label. We're probably going to sell through the Internet. Maybe do licensing. I don't know, because I'm paying for the whole thing myself, so I say why bother.
Q: Now, the book, Please Kill Me... Do you even want me to talk about it?
Well, it has really nothing to do with what I want.
Q: Personally, it seemed to be a very nitty-gritty, peep-holed view of what really went on back then...
RL: Well you see, Legs realized early on that if he wanted his book to sell, it had to be about nothing but 'the dish.' Of course he didn't really let anyone else know. I spoke to him for eight hours. Now you can imagine that in eight hours a lot of things were said. He went through it with a fine-toothed comb, and picked out only the dish, you know, ad infinitum. So, in that way, it's wildly successful. You know why people buy newspapers? It's because one definition of a newspaper is 'a list of bad things that haven't happened to you'. So there's an appetite for this sort of thing. And now I've heard that they're even going to make it into a movie! The wonderful thing in Please Kill Me is that I so come across as though everyone is all talking about 'how much they loved me.' So it's a stroke to my vanity.
Now you've always managed to bring out a distinct sound to anything you've played on. Have you fancied any specific guitars or amps over the years?
RL: You know, there's a really wonderful remark by Keith Richards. He said: "I've tried different guitars, and different amps. But there's nothing I can do about it. It always comes out the same." So Brian May sounds like Brian May because he's Brian May. Not because he uses a specific guitar. Its the authenticity to the person. But I take it as a compliment.
Q: It definitely is.
RL: People in high school would come up to me and say "Hey you want to learn what so-and-so played on his last record?" I'd always say "No!" Especially if it was good, because then I knew that it would unconsciously show up in my playing 30 years later. I teach guitar now. Been teaching for about, oh, two years. I don't teach what's known as 'local knowledge.' You know, riffs. I teach structure. Then, it's really you that comes out.
Q: What made you decide to teach?
RL: Well, I like teaching, and I have other interests. But nobody wants to study them. I had some people clammering at me. So I thought, maybe it would be a way for me to figure out what the hell I'm doing. So if I agreed to teach you, then I'd have to collate some kind of curriculum. So I thought that if I do that, maybe I'd benefit from it. That's basically why I started teaching. At first I taught voice, because I'd gotten such a positive level of criticism for my singing that I took many singing lessons. So I know how to formulate what people do when they teach voice. I'm a very good student, in that regard. Actually I'm more like a sponge.
Q: You absorb.
RL: Well, more like a magnet. I become inducted. But teaching has been extraordinarily good for me, because it's required me to study how is it that I play what I play. What is it that I'm playing, to begin with? How could I transmit to somebody else some of the technique so that they could find their way and eventually develop their own creativity?
Q: Do you find the entire songwriting experience to be a spiritual kind of thing, or is it more of a laid back, fun kind of thing to do?
RL: Ha! I wish it were such a wonderful self-searching endeavour. No, its terrible. I want to say, its really a struggle against certain aspects of myself. And it really humbles me, to find out, as a songwriter, how little I really have to say to the world. In terms of 'marvelous lyric content,' it's just not gonna happen. The best things that I write, are kind of coated. They're not about what they're about. They're about something else. But, the process of songwriting is just painful.
Q: You played guitar on Bibi Farber's latest release, Firepop. You also produced. Was this your first shot at the control board?
RL: Well, no. I've done a few other things. I produced a single back in 1978, and my own records of course. Bibi, who is from Sweden, sent me demos. They didn't sound so great. I'd listen to them, and put them away. So two years ago, she sent me another one, and it sounded great. I told her "You know, I really like this one." So I produced three songs for her. During that time, her guitarist had left, so she got me on to play guitar as well. I had really not wanted to play guitar and produce, because I would have rather had more fun being the producer. So then she had two demos. She decided that she wanted to fill it out and make a full album out of it, and wanted me to produce it. So that's how that came about.
Q: That's great. Now how did your partnership with Matthew Sweet come into play?
RL: Ever hear of The Golden Palaminos?
Q: Not too familiar with them, but yeah.
RL: Anton Fier, had a project called the Golden Paladinos. It was kind of a traveling circus. He had records that Michael Stipe was on... Jody Harris. Buncha people. And on one record, a couple of the songs were sung by Matthew. He put a touring band together and he had several vocalists. So anyway, the guitarist quit on him, and he still had two shows to do. So Anton called me and said "Can you learn fifteen songs in two rehearsals?" And I said "Well, no, but I can look like I have." So, we had these rehearsals. Matthew was in the band. He was playing bass. We hit it off in a friendship basis, and well, tried to keep in touch with postcards... phone calls once in a while. And then when he went to do his next record, Earth, he called me. He said "I want you on this record. I like what you do." I ended up doing five different records with him. We recently did a bunch of live dates. I would have continued with him, because I love playing with him, but then we did the Television reunion, so I had to pull out.
Q: Now tell me what a day in the life of Richard Lloyd is like.
RL: Oh, gee. Well I have an eight year old boy. So you can imagine my day starts very early. I get up with him, maybe go play some baseball. I play a lot of guitar of late: mostly acoustic in my house. I go to the recording studio, which I built myself basically from the ground up to do this record. I'm there for a number of hours in the day, or I teach lessons. And well, that's enough. I come home and I collapse.
Q: Sounds like a full day.
RL: And it goes on. So I'm just about finished with this new album. Just doing vocals now. I'm going to mix it soon, and hopefully it'll come out in February.
Q: So aside from your studio time, your gigs, and all that. What other interests do you have?
RL: Oh well see, now you're getting into it. What other interests do you have?
RL: Yeah, what are your interests? I'm interested in what other people are interested in. Its not a double entendre. That's an actual interest of mine. I'm interested in the sciences. I'm very much interested in astrophysics. I'm interested in religion. But now you. What are your interests?
(At this point I talked about myself a little longer than I should have. )
Q: Do you ever play up here in Canada?
RL: Yeah I've played a number of places in Canada. Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Vancouver. I think that's about it.
Q: Any chance of playing Montreal of Toronto when the new record comes out?
RL: Hey just send me the ticket. After it comes out, I'm hoping to make something of that.
Q: That'd be great. Do you listen to much music nowadays?
RL: I haven't listened to much music since 1974. My record player broke haha. I've been listening to some things for production only. See I'm like more of a scientist. When I listen to something I'm not actually listening for pleasure. I'm thinking "Where's the reverb? Was the voice delay only appearing on the right side?" Junk like that. Its very interesting though, to be able to differentiate the piccolo from the cello. It's magnificent. Your resolution goes up because of this. It's amazing.
I recently spoke with Richard again about his new record, which at the time of the preceding interview, had not been completed. Here is what he had to offer:
Richard Lloyd: The Cover Doesn't Matter is a CD which I recorded and mixed in a studio which I cobbled together out of all the old outboard equipment that I had. I made a deal with myself that I wouldn't spend any money or time in anyone else's studio, but that I would build my own studio, albeit a small one. The record is a pretty hard rock record, with quite a bit of lead guitar on it, and with more background vocals than my usually have had. These were also done by myself. The bass and drums, however, were performed by Peter Stuart and Chris Butler, so it's not like Paul McCartney's first record or a Prince record where they play everything short of having cymbals between the knees. It will probably come out after the first of the year and will be on a new label called Upsettermusic. You can also go to their website and read all about it (http://www.upsettermusic.com). Or you can go to my site (http://www.richardlloyd.com) where we have some free guitar lessons, a question and answer section, some mp3s of some live versions of things and all the usual other things which rock star web sites have to have.
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