BOMB/MICHAEL W. DEAN
Bomb- 'Hate Fed Love' promo photo of Bomb
left to right, Dean, Fag, Hilsinger, Crawford.
1990 by Ann Stauder
Fun with Acid
interview by Pete Crigler
Michael W. Dean is definitely a man of many facets. Beginning in Charlottesville, VA with the punk band Baby Opaque, he soon shifted gears with the Bay Area based influential band Bomb. When that band broke up, he found himself a successful author, podcaster, filmmaker and more. He was also one of the first musicians I ever interviewed way back in college. With his new project BipTunia and an amazing reissue of Bomb's Hits of Acid, I got in touch with my old friend to get a definitive look at his amazing and D.I.Y. career.
PSF: What got you interested in playing music?
MWD: I loved music as a young kid. My favorite band as a child was the Partridge Family. LOL. And the song "One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater." Then I found my older sister's Rolling Stones album Out of Our Heads. From then on I realized there was dark cool music in the world, like the song "Play with Fire" on that album. I dug more dark stuff from a very early age. I liked the song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" more than whatever was before and after it on the radio, crap like "Captain & Tennille" and "Olivia Newton John."
"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is almost a Pink Floyd song, because... Slow mid tempo. Dark yet triumphant song. Deep lyrics. 12 string guitar. Pedal steel. Synth arpeggios Slow bent high minimal lead guitar notes with delay. Bass that serves the song only, but plays more than the root, without showing off. Drums. Overall tempo, and the slow tom "three blind mice" turnaround at the end of a lot of verses. Perfect analog production. Gordon Lightfoot was my gateway drug to Pink Floyd...My favorite band, along with Joy Division and Led Zeppelin.
I wanted to be a musician from about age 7. I sang in an all-state choir until my voice changed. We had a piano in our house, and I plinked on that as a kid. I took a few guitar lessons at age 11. No one in my family plays music, though my mother sang in church and had a beautiful voice that lifted above the crowd.
My mother told me something when I was a kid that really made me start thinking about deep stuff. When she was 5, her mother died. They had an open coffin and told my mother her mother was sleeping. When they lowered her mother into the ground, my mother tried to climb in and wake her mother up. They had to pull her off her mother's coffin. I wasn't abused by my family as a kid, but had a lot of weird stuff going on, like hearing that story when I was 6.
Both my parents worked, I was a latchkey kid, which I loved. I like people but I like being alone a lot of the time. My wife and I are now basically a nation of two, along with three cats. To anyone who is a loner: get cats. Then when you talk to yourself, you're just talking to your cats.
My wife and I live in a 2000 sq foot house, lots of room for two people. But she pointed out to me that my office is basically my studio apartment from back when she met me, recreated in a house. LOL. I love her, and love that she doesn't want to go out and do stuff, like a lot of people. To riff off of Salvador Dali: "I don't need a man cave, I AM a man cave."
I don't hate anyone in my original family, but I didn't get along great with anyone in my family, they seemed like strangers. My siblings were in college by the time I was 5, and my parents were 40 and 43 years older than me.
I left as soon as I could. I went away to college at 17, and moved to Arlington, Virginia at age 20. Then moved to Charlottesville, VA for 3 years, then to San Francisco for 16 years, Los Angeles for 10 years, and now in Wyoming for 12 years. I said to myself in Arlington, "I'm going to start a band and play music until everyone in this town who likes weird music has heard me. If I can't make a living by then, I'll move to San Francisco, sell my bass, and get a typewriter."
I didn't make a living, but made some good music with Baby Opaque and The Beef People. I like B bands. Bomb. Baby Opaque. And our cats are Bob, Beast, and BipTunia. My new project is named after her.
I moved to San Fran after 3 years, got a typewriter, and kept my bass. Started Bomb, scratched out enough of a living to do it full time. Made some great records people still want to talk about 35 years later. Toured US 6 times, Europe once, got signed to Warner Bros, got dropped, got sober, got serious about being a writer.
PSF: Tell me about Baby Opaque and the Charlottesville scene.
MWD: Up until that point, I mostly played guitar and sang. I switched over to bass and singing, because it was easier to start a band if you are the bass player. Guitarists are easy to find, bass players are not. Also, it's easier to sing while playing bass for me than while playing guitar. I started Baby Opaque by putting fliers all over University of Virginia and on The Corner that said "Bass player seeks band," and had some crazy and disparate influences listed. Drummer Michael Berube (who had a PhD in English lit, now a professor at Penn State) replied because he'd never seen "bass player seeks band," always instead "band seeks bass player."
I'd written a lot of the songs myself in isolation in a crappy room above a bar, so when we got great guitarist Todd Wilson, it all came together fast. We played a gig at a frat (!) 3 days after we first played.
We wrote some together too, those cats are great, and both very influenced by jazz. A lot of people compared that band to the Minutemen and Husker Du but I actually hadn't heard either when we started. I started listening to WTJU after that band started- Todd Wilson told me about it. I didn't own a radio, but went and bought a cheap one at a yard sale just so I could listen. Even though I wasn't a student, I was later a DJ on WTJU for one day. I broke a Madonna album on air and the station manager called up and fired me since it was the station's album. I'd never do that now, I have a lot of respect for property rights, but I was young and dumb.
Baby Opaque played mostly just in town. We played one gig in Norfolk VA, one in DC, and one in Richmond, VA. That one was opening for Death Piggy, Dave Brockie's band that later morphed into Gwar.
The Charlottesville scene was very small. It was kind of a punk scene, but the people into weird music back then were such that all kinds of odd bands played shows together, not just punk bands.
I lived with John Beers of the hardcore band, The Landlords. I heard every one of their songs 200 times from the next room, as they were writing them. Same with their side project, "The Happy Flowers." I really liked both bands.
PSF: What was it like making Fugue in Pig Minor?
MWD: LOL. It's "Fugue in Cow Minor." Though I like "Fugue in Pig Minor." That made me smile. Animals are cool and make me laugh, often.
Well, first Baby Opaque made Pain, Fears, and Insects. My first record. A 7-inch 5 song disc. We paid for it ourselves. Recorded and mixed it in 8 hours with Don Zientara at Inner Ear Studio in Arlington, VA. Pressed 1000 copies. Was never re-printed. Here's a song from that.
I think I have never felt as alive as I did when a delivery truck pulled up to my house and delivered boxes of that vinyl. I was finally immortal. LOL.
We couldn't afford record covers, just 7" vinyl in paper sleeves. So we had a record stuffing party. Got plastic bags, razor blades, and beer. Invited some people over to help put the covers together. We had a friend print the covers at night at a print shop. Just Xeroxed on thick paper. Cut the top of the bags off and stuffed the record with the cover in each one by hand. Sent a lot out for reviews and to radio stations. Sold maybe 200, gave the rest away.
Fugue in Cow Minor was our second record, our last record, and a full LP. Also recorded at Inner Ear by Don Z, was put out by John Beers on his very cool Catch Trout Records label, home of The Landlords, The Happy Flowers, and a hardcore band I played guitar in, "The Beef People," another B band. He paid for the recording too. Great guy, and loves music more than most people I've known. That album got more college airplay, mainly because Ian MacKaye sang backup on one song.
Funny, that cover of "Long Black Veil" is straight-up Ramones style punk, and Baby Opaque couldn't be further from that. The only time I saw the Ramones was in Charlottesville, in the UVA basketball arena. The Landlords opened. UVA jock bouncers were beating up people for stage diving.
PSF: How did Bomb end up coming together?
MWD: When I first moved to San Francisco, I'd brought the last 50 or so Baby Opaque albums with me. I went around bars and cool shows and gave them to people looking for musicians. At a San Fran gig of the Rhythm Pigs (the Texas punk/jazz band, not the Los Angeles blues band), I met Jay Crawford.
I walked up to him and tried to sell him a copy of Fugue in Cow Minor. I talked it up a lot. He traded me a drink ticket for it (I think he had played with another band before I got there). He said "If this record is good, I want to be in a band with you, because you have a lot of drive, and seem like you could really promote something."
I wrote my number on the album cover, he called me the next day. He didn't even know I was the bass player- he wanted me based on my singing on that album. We jammed soon, just us on acoustic guitars and both singing, mostly improvising.
A few nights later, we played with a different drummer, and a bass player, and I just sang. That was not called Bomb, and we never played with that bass player or drummer again, but that bass player has been seen at gigs bragging that he was "the first bass player in Bomb." We needed a drummer. Jay said "I know this guy Tony, he's a great drummer, but..."
Bomb photo by Beau Brashares. 1987, San Francisco.
L to R, Fag, Crawford, Dean
PSF: How would you describe Bomb's sound and approach?
MWD: Very organic. We didn't have a five-year plan, we just played well together, and wrote weird, good music. I can't really describe the sound, but people can listen here. Listen to more than one song, they're very different. Same thing with my new project BipTunia.
PSF: Tell me about recording Bomb's To Elvis in Hell and Hits of Acid.
MWD: Bomb's first album, To Elvis in Hell we paid to put it out ourselves. We also borrowed 500 dollars from my dad. First and last time I'd asked for money since I left home. We paid it back too, years later when we got signed to Warner Brothers. Though Tony didn't want to pay him back out of our advance, I had to argue with him to be able to do that.
It was recorded at Hyde Street Studio in San Fran, a very good studio that had recorded Dead Kennedys, Flipper, Grateful Dead, Bob Mould, Cake, Chris Issak, Green Day, Jimi Hendrix, etc., etc. It's a few steps up from Inner Ear. Inner Ear is cool, but this is a mainstream "big" studio. It's in a horrible neighborhood. My old roommate Paul "Bean" Kirk got sucker punched for no reason out front while recording there with Helios Creed. There is human shit and used syringes all over that block. Well, the whole city is like that now, but not as much back in 1987.
My girlfriend at the time, Kirsten Sterns, worked there as a tape op and receptionist. She got free studio time, and gave it to us, and is the executive producer on the record. The engineer is Dave Bock, who now makes very high end studio microphones that are very in demand and sell for 5000 dollars and up.
The album was recorded in off time hours, or when people canceled. That's called "Bumpable studio time." It also means you book time cheap, but if a paying customer comes in at the last minute, you are cancelled. It used to be a thing at a lot of studios. Some great records have been made that way. Including Generic Flipper. Like Kirsten would call us at 7 PM and say "Some band just cancelled, get here quick." Jay and Tony would call in sick to work, we'd go record for 12 hours. Then I'd leave as the sun came up, on no sleep, and go work as a bike messenger.
Was probably 4 days total of recording and mixing spread across about a month, all on short notice when people cancelled or their deposit check bounced. Sound on that album is good, thick, and drugged. Put it this way, we didn't sleep. You can listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nHCtQoFdWg I didn't put that up, fans do that. And I'm glad they did.
Hits of Acid is 6 of those 10 songs re-recorded, a little faster, played and recorded tighter, and mainly saner, after we'd toured a lot and played the hell out of them. We were not together long when we did that album. We started in late 1985, played our first gig July 4th, 1986 opening for Flipper, and To Elvis in Hell came out in late 1986. We were relentless and rehearsed about 4 nights a week that first year, for about 5 hours a night.
For Hits of Acid, we were much more prepared. We booked studio time at Inner Ear while on tour, and didn't have to rush, even though we recorded and mixed it in 3 days (seeing a pattern here?). I booked the time on the phone with Don Zientara. I'd done 3 sessions with him before, and loved working with him. Plus he was 30 dollars an hour, for him and the studio, plus tape. Damn cheap for a good studio back then.
When we showed up and started unloading our gear at the studio (in the basement of Don's house in nice suburban Arlington, VA), Don said, "This is Eli Janney, he'll be recording you today, you're in good hands, I'm going to a museum with my kids."
I felt a little ripped off at first. Like it was bait and switch. I didn't know Eli, I knew Don. I knew Don's work. Don assured us we were in good hands with Eli, and left. I do NOT feel it was bait and switch, and I'm VERY glad it happened. Don makes things sound like Minor Threat. That wouldn't have worked for Bomb. Eli Janney got us immediately and made the thick, hard, dark, ugly/beautiful psychedelic album we needed it to be. If you're on the East Coast of the USA, hire this guy to do your next album.
PSF: Did you ever expect the band to sign with a major and what was the Reprise experience like?
MWD: When we started, never. It was not a dream to be on a major, because it was impossible. Then things changed in the industry. Everyone thinks Nirvana broke open the doors for weird bands to the majors with Nevermind in 1991, and to an extent, they did. But only after Jane's Addiction did first, in 1988, with Nothing's Shocking. THAT album is what really made majors look at scruffy fuckers who toured the country in vans, sleeping on floors, listening to punk rock, and playing anywhere that would have us.
Bomb's manager, who got us signed to Warner Brothers, Charlie Brown (seriously) used to manage Jane's Addiction, and got them signed. So he had cache in the industry, and was able to get big labels to come see us live. When we got signed, I didn't think "Now it's easy, I'm going to be snorting coke off supermodels next week." I was a realist. I knew it only meant "Now you have a real job. Time to work even harder." We didn't have a good record deal. Our lawyer called it "A 1962 Motown deal." Yikes.
We had a 65,000 dollar advance, and a one record deal. We spent 35 grand on Bill Laswell. After we paid off debts, bought some new amps and drums we needed badly, paid our manager, attorney, it worked out to 800 dollars a month per band member for one year. We did not do a second album with Warner/Reprise.
Bomb promo photo by Karen Mason
PSF: What was it like making (Warner Bros/Reprise Records) Hate Fed Love with Bill Laswell?
MWD: All songs from it are here: https://www.youtube.com/user/CowgirlBootlegs/videos
It was good, and it was strange. He's a great guy, and quietly helped build a some new types of music behind the scenes, like world beat, and electro dance. He produced and co-wrote "Rock It," the 1983 infectious crazy instrumental hit by Herbie Hancock, with the horrifying and hilarious video I loved before I even knew who Laswell was. Electro influenced most modern dance music, and a lot of hip-hop. He played bass on and co-wrote "America is Waiting" on the 1981 Brian Eno/David Byrne album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts that influenced most everything done with samples since. Laswell did produced albums by The Ramones and Motorhead. He'd also turned down Jane's Addiction, based only on their photo, which I find hilarious. But honestly, while he's an amazing producer, and a great guy, I think he wasn't the right guy for us. I really wish he'd produced Jane's Addiction and instead of Laswell, Dave Jerden had produced Bomb's Warner album.
The one thing I learned from Laswell is to tune all guitars and basses between EVERY take, using the SAME tuner, even if you think you're all in tune. We actually tried to get Ted Templeman, who did all the Van Halen albums. They sound amazing. We heard from someone at Warner Brothers that he liked us, but he was on a two-year hiatus and didn't want to do it. I can't blame our demise on Laswell though, the members of Bomb were our own worst enemies. Mostly Tony and I.
PSF: What inspired the cover of "Suzanne" that Bomb did?
I love Leonard Cohen. I think it was Tony's idea to cover that, but I was very on board. You know, I saw him play solo acoustic and sing at the wake for Flipper's Will Shatter (apparently they were friends). I didn't know what he was at the time. LOL. I thought "I don't wanna listen to some old guy play weepy songs," and went in the kitchen at the venue to hang out with Helios Creed.
But later, some suicidal girlfriend I had broke up with me, left in the middle of the night, but left her CD of Leonard Cohen's Greatest Hits. I fell in love with it and played it non-stop for a year. During that year, we decided to cover "Suzanne."
I later met Leonard Cohen's daughter, Lorca Cohen, at a Bomb gig in Los Angeles. We later became friends and she stayed at my house in San Francisco for a week or so. I gave her a copy of the Hate Fed Love CD, circled "Suzanne" with a pen, and asked her to give it to her dad.
A year later I asked her what he did with it. She said, "He threw it on the pile of things people send him that he never listens to." Fair enough. I ignored him once, and he ignored me forever. The universe is in balance.
PSF: Was the band dropped by Reprise and what ended up causing the band to stop?
MWD: Tony had a very bad idea. He had a lot of good ideas, but probably more bad ideas. We vetoed his bad idea. Our manager vetoed it. He went behind our backs, called Warner Brothers, and his bad idea got us dropped. Enough said.
Tony also insisted he and his girlfriend make the stupid cover for that album. Something about artistic integrity. Our manager told us that on a first album, the label will get behind us more if they do the cover. Tony insisted on his "vision." After the album came out, I saw an itemized expense list and found out Tony had gotten 4000 dollars for that cover that we never knew about. He did that behind our back. He spent the money on heroin and a new motorcycle.
PSF: What were you up to after the band split?
MWD: Drifting. We stayed together a year after we got dropped, Tony quit, we got a different drummer, was never the same. Jay and Doug told me if I wouldn't quit heroin, the band was done.
I quit the band, rather than getting clean. I did some solo projects with a band, recorded a demo, went nowhere. I got sober not that long after Kurt Cobain died. I never met him, but I could tell why he died. He couldn't be happy, with or without heroin, and I was getting to that point. My mother called me after Kurt died. She wanted me to get clean. She saw me in him. Both blond skinny rock screamers with dark lyrics and upbeat dark music. LOL. I didn't get clean immediately, but it all affected me.
PSF: Tell me about how you came to write $30 Film School and $30 Writing School?
MWD: After drifting a few years, I went back to college. San Francisco City College. I took it seriously... learned secretarial skills, computer skills, writing, editing, English composition and grammar, and making a resume. I became a temp worker doing administrative assistant work in the financial district of San Francisco. Wearing a suit and tie. It was all good background for writing books. I wrote a novel while at work in offices. I got very good at doing the work I was paid for, to where I'd have several hours of free time each day at work. I wrote in the evening. I wrote non-stop.
My novel had an agent, but was too dark to get published. So I self-published, back when you had to go to a print shop to do that. I had 1000 paperback copies of Starving in the Company of Beautiful Women printed and bound See pattern here? I've always thought, and known, 1000 copies of anything is enough to get it out into the world to make some ripples. Like the first Bomb album, that book is beyond way way out of print. But it's on Kindle: https://amzn.to/2PdTRnz
Starving in the Company of Beautiful Women is basically a fictionalized, exaggerated version of me in Bomb, with the names changed, if I'd died instead of getting clean. Was really just me purging, but it's readable. And crazy.
But it didn't make any money. I had a girlfriend who made a living as a writer and she said I had to basically write non-fiction how-to in order to support the fiction, and just me in general. I made a movie . D.I.Y. or Die: How to Survive as an Independent Artist was released in 2001. Watch here:
It's an exploration of independent artists, and why they do what they do, why they HAVE to do it, even if it doesn't pay. There are a lot of punk rock documentaries now, but back then it was the first or one of the first. When I sent Ian MacKaye a copy of the final DVD, he wrote me a quick note congratulating me. He said something like "A lot of people have interviewed us for things like this, but yours is the first one to actually be completed."
I started writing $30 Film School while finishing my first movie. LOL. It's basically everything I learned about running and booking an indie band applied to making films. It did very well- sold 120,000 copies. So the publisher paid me to write $30 Writing School and $30 Music School. Those last two are the only two things with my name on the cover that I've really done purely for money. But once I got the check, I put my all into them, LIVED them, wrote and re-wrote non-stop until they were perfect.
PSF: What prompted Bomb to come back and make Lovesucker?
MWD: Because it was easy.
Tony had quit in 1993, we broke up in 1994, and in 1999, we decided to play one reunion gig. It was packed and a great show. There's video of one song, it's really the only good video of Bomb:
A friend of a friend (now a friend) Josh Levine of Wingnut Records asked us if we had enough unreleased music to do an album. We had enough to do an EP, 4 new songs, filled out with two songs that were only ever released as a tiny single in Germany that never got out in the US. That included our cover of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," way before Marilyn Manson and Johnny Cash also did excellent versions. We went in the studio, recorded and mixed it in two days. I have been talking to Josh recently, he's great. But this album isn't even online yet. I have a bet with him that if he doesn't get it on iTunes, Spotify, etc in six months from a recent phone call, I own it. If that's the case, I will put it out the next day. I have 4.5 months more to wait.
PSF: What got you into writing and filmmaking; did you find it was easier than writing and recording music?
MWD: Yeah. I have done enough "art by committee" to hate art by committee. I mean, writing involves editors and publishers. Filmmaking involves editors and sound people (though I did all that myself on my last movies). but you're not married to them like you are in a rock band.
I see a lot of articles and videos lately about "Is rock dead?" I don't think that the sound of loud guitar and drums is dead, but I think the concept of a band is dead, or should be. The idea of 4 people playing and living together in sub-optimal conditions, hating each other, and not really being free to do other things is old. It's like brick & mortar stores.
Due to the Internet and worldwide quick shipping, you don't have to get in your car and go to the mall to buy shoes. And you don't have to virtually marry three other immature dudes, smell their farts in a moldy basement night after night, and GET IN THE VAN to get art made.
A lot of people flipped out and got depressed when the pandemic lockdowns happened. I'm not in favor of governments doing that, I think it should be dealt with by private businesses. But in a way, I love it. Now I have an excuse not to have someone come over and hang out. Hanging out, to me, is just getting in the way of work I love to do.
I work on something, some kind of art, 100% of the time. On any given New Year's Eve, I guarantee at midnight I'm at home working on music or writing or something else. Same on my birthday, same on Christmas.
I'm not a stellar musician, I can't play blazing solos, I'm not technically impressive. But I can write a damn good melody, and sit in front of a computer with a MIDI keyboard, mouse, and a microphone moving things around until it's as good as anything people get excited about.
THE MAIN THING I LOVE ABOUT making music on my own, about doing art on my own: You don't have to have a part for everyone. In a band, if you don't want guitar in 1/4 of the songs on the record, someone's feelings get hurt. With a home studio, you just do it. You can also add perfect trumpets, violins, marching bands, and any synthesized noise imaginable.
I always liked synths. I played bass and guitar back in the day because I couldn't afford synths. But now they're basically free, with software. I've had a few hardware synths, and just bought some new ones to play around with (that free COVID stimulus check devaluating my money has to go somewhere). But with VSTs, it's easy to just download more synths. Or make your own. I've made some VST synths, some are even microtonal. I'm into microtonal music. It's a whole new world from 12-tone equal temperament of what most people in America think of as almost all music they've ever heard. My free VSTs are here: https://biptunia.com/?page_id=2070
You know, a lot of people wear DIY as some kind of badge. I don't, even though I made a movie about it. I just do it myself because it's easier and cheaper than convincing or paying someone else to do it. I basically learned photography because I needed a photo of me for a bio page when I went solo after Bomb. Nothing came of it, but the woman flaked, even though I paid her. I got a disposable camera at Walgreens, took the photo myself, had a friend scan it (back when scanners were rare and expensive), and it worked fine.
PSF: Tell me about your films, including the Hubert Selby documentary.
MWD: After DIY or DIE, I met Hubert Selby Jr, author of the books that the movies Requiem for a Dream and Last Exit to Brooklyn are based on. He's a lot more than that, a great American writer. In Europe he's huge, but he's too dark for "The happiness machine" that is America (or that it used to be before it turned into a slow-burn civil war).
I interviewed him for $30 Writing School. Was going to just audio record it, but someone lent me a video camera. Even though I'd made a film before, I was too poor to own a camera at this point. So I videotaped the interviews, at Selby's apartment, and my friend Lydia Lam came along and took photos. I edited the video and Lydia's pix into a little movie, about 25 minutes long. I emailed Selby and asked if it was OK to show the film. I said "I can send you a copy if you want." He wrote back within a day and just said "show it."
He died a few weeks after that. He knew he was dying when he replied to me, but didn't tell me. He only told a few close friends, though as Nick Tosches said later in the movie I made, "Cubby (Selby) was dying for like 50 years." Selby looked in ill health when I interviewed him. He was on oxygen, and struggling to speak, but did the whole interview, all questions.
I showed that little film I put together at a small community place, "The Echo Park Film Center," near my house in Los Angeles. A crowd of about 30 loved it, and I got the idea to expand it, before he died.
I wrote him again, and again included my phone number. About a month later, his widow, Suzanne Selby, called me. He was dead, she was in charge of dealing with his affairs, was answering his email. He'd died of COPD. He was living with only one lung since WWII. Had it removed from tuberculosis.
I told her what I wanted to do, she said she'd think about it and get back to me. Two days later she called me and said do it. I don't want to go into a lot of details, but she'd had a vision of sorts that I should do it.
After she saw very early rough-as-hell cuts, she opened up Cubby's Rolodex to me and put me in contact with people who really needed to be in the film to tell the whole story, who ended up in the film, including Darren Aronofsky, Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, and the publishers of Last Exit to Brooklyn who fought, and won, an obscenity case over the book in 1966 in England. Eventually Robert Downey Jr. agreed to narrate, I wrote the narration in two nights, and he recorded it perfectly in one hour. That was a fun studio session.
PSF: How did you become immersed in all facets of media including radio, blogging, etc.?
MWD: "Don't watch the media, be the media." Again, it goes back to that desire to make something great, share it with the world, and live in people's minds even when you're asleep, or later when you're dead. I got into podcasting early, 2005. I stopped in 2019. I was tired of talking. And tired of having to do something on a schedule. My podcast "The Freedom Feens," ended up on actual radio, and we had to do it at the same place at the same time every week. It didn't make much money and the thrill was gone, so I gave notice and shut it down.
PSF: Tell me about your newest project BipTunia.
MWD: It's what I always wanted to do. The music I wanted to make, the music I want to LISTEN to, that no one else is making. You can listen to all our albums free, here: https://biptunia.com/?page_id=114
It's also on Spotify, iTunes, all those. Anywhere music is available now.
It's hard to describe music, but these are influences, and people who like some of these would probably like something by BipTunia: Brian Eno, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, David Bowie, Fugazi, Gary Numan, Captain Beefheart, The Doors, Depeche Mode, Jim Carroll, Frank Zappa, Sonic Youth, Robert Fripp, Blondie, The Residents, Kraftwerk, Terry Riley, The Last Poets, Ministry, Velvet Acid Christ, Butthole Surfers, Giorgio Moroder, Front Line Assembly, Led Zeppelin, Suicide, Marilyn Manson, Helios Creed, Chrome, Dead Kennedys, Devo, Proof of Utah, Blue Oyster Cult, Yes, Genesis, Front 242, Big Black, Aphex Twin, The Kinks, ELP, Syd Barrett, and Nine Inch Nails.
As a kid, I started wondering from my little bedroom in my little town what the life of artists was like. But I wasn't fascinated with smashing hotel rooms and glamour and breaking TVs, I was enamored with the workman-like ethic of bands like Kraftwerk. I remember reading an interview with them where one of them said something like "We are not stars. We are workers. But instead of going to work in a factory every day, we go to work in a recording studio." That's what I wanted to do. And now I do it.
I spend very little money on clothes. I dressed like a lumberjack before grunge made it cool. I buy non-fashionable clothes that last a long time and I don't care how they look. I spend my money on art, and on getting it out in the world. In the long run, somehow I make enough back to keep it going, and to eat and pay bills. I cannot imagine now being in a band. It sounds awful. This is what I always needed to be doing. Making good art myself at my own pace....which is actually much faster than with bands. Bands hold you down.
BipTunia has occasional collaborators, a couple poets who live in Maine have sent me spoken word to use, my wife has read some things for me, and I sing on a couple songs, but it's predominantly instrumental, and overwhelmingly just me.
Vocals are overrated. And I say that as a great singer and a good talker. I am really starting to feel that vocals get in the way in music...in my music, and a lot of music. I often hear background music in movies and films, and think "This is really cool" until a singer comes in, and then more often than not, I hate it. Most singers suck, and a lot of them think they're great, and important. Not many are.
PSF: How did this revision and updated Hits of Acid Bomb album come about?
MWD: Well, Krist Novoselic from Nirvana has always been a huge fan of Bomb. He and Dave Grohl came to see us in Seattle once, Dave knew all the words. Krist wrote an article about us in the Seattle Weekly after we broke up, and he did an interview on my radio show, where he talks about how Kurt Cobain loved Bomb, and turned Krist on to Bomb. We've had some rock star fans, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, but Krist really loves it and keeps coming back to it.
Last year, he asked me if I had a good copy of Hits of Acid. I said "I don't even have a turntable." He bought a copy of it, and sent me WAV files of all the song. One night after that I was bored, and I re-mastered the album, from vinyl, the last thing in the world you'd really want to do. But even that sounded better than the album. I posted it and a lot of people agreed. That album is looong: 48 minutes. The longer an album is on vinyl, the quieter it is, and the less bass the album can have. It's physics. Plus I never really loved the mastering job that was done for that album for vinyl.
I bought the master tapes and rights from Tom Flynn of Boner records. I asked Krist if he knew anyone who could bake tapes (something you have to do to old tapes to take the audio off, or else the tape disintegrates). Krist said "Jack Endino is a master baker." I talked to Jack. He quoted me a low price to bake it and pull the audio off. I was going to master it. Jack really wanted to master it, that it's one of his favorite albums. I said I didn't have enough money. He gave me a low price to bake, pull audio and re-master. I'm not going to say how much, but it was less than Nirvana paid him to record Bleach. Not to devalue his masterful mastering and audio work in general, but I almost think he would have mastered it for free- he REALLY wanted to do it.
His result was stellar. It's everything the album should have been. Someone actually asked me "Did you remix it, or just re-master? I hear things I've never heard before, like guitar parts and background vocals." I said "just re-master." That's how good Jack is.
Krist tells the story from his end here, including Kurt turning him on to Bomb: https://deepriverdispatch.com/musicwriting/bomb.html
PSF: What are you currently up to?
MWD: Seeing. All I do other than music these days involves seeing. I've gotten into astronomy, got some telescopes. Got a good DSLR camera (finally) and am taking a lot of pictures. I got a microscope and love that. I watch a lot of videos about space, and about the dawn of man, and the genesis of life.
I told a friend recently that me getting into astronomy is sort of a mellow mid-life crisis...thinking about my mortality. And becoming more fascinated than ever is making me think more and more about how there might not be an afterlife... And thinking about space, looking at space, the vastness of everything, while it seems like it could make all that worse, somehow makes it better.
PSF: Are you still friendly with members of Bomb and what are they up to?
MWD: I love Jay Crawford, our first guitarist. We get along well, and still chat sometimes. Doug Hilsinger, our second guitarist who joined later, I have no problem with, but we don't talk much. I wish him well. Our drummer, Tony Short (a.k.a. Tony Fag, though he doesn't use that name anymore), I do not talk to, and will never talk to. He's the most unpleasant person I've ever had extensive dealings with.
Those guys recently wanted to do a reunion, but I have no interest in that. I'm too busy, and literally would not spend five minutes in a room with Tony for a million dollars. I won't take his calls, and have his email blocked. Jay and Doug play in bar bands. Doug did a cool album a while back, a cover/reinterpretation of Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy from Brian Eno. Doug plays guitar, bass, drums, and a woman named Caroleen Beatty did all the singing. It's grand and magnificent. I love it, and Brian Eno loved it. too.
Tony isn't playing music. He's procrastinating, from what I hear. Like won't play drums because he has to get his old drums back from some guy who stole them over a debt. That's crazy. Tony has a job as an electrician, he could walk into "Guitar Center" and walk out with drums tomorrow, and pay over time. Or he could look in the want ads and find kits for sale. I'm sure they're cheap and plentiful now that "There's an app for that" and the economy is down. I remember when drum machines first came out, there were bumper stickers a lot of drummers had that said "Drum Machines Have No Soul." Well, drum machines (hardware and software) combined with sampling and "humanize" functions have a lot of soul. And they don't show up drunk, need money for sticks and dinner, treat you poorly, and pawn their drums.
I love that software has allowed me to be the whole band. I can do two very good albums in the time it took Bomb to write a song, argue about minutia, and record it. And we were even faster at that stuff than a lot of bands. As flakey as all of us could be back then in various aspects of our personal lives, practice was productive and very workman-like.
I watch a lot of Glenn Fricker's videos. He has good studio recording tips, but is also just entertaining as hell. Part of that is he has a running joke about how "Bass players suck." I did not suck as a bass player, took it very seriously, but I understand his pain. He records a lot of bass players (and whole bands) who don't have their shit together. If you don't know how to play your own song, why the fuck are you recording and releasing it?
One thing about having to pay for a studio back in the day, and pay to put it out, people generally didn't make it into the studio unless they could play their own songs. In studios back then, I paid attention to a lot of what the engineers were doing, and asked a lot of questions. I was in awe of the process, and of engineers. They seemed like wizards to me. So when it became possible to make a record on a computer, I got good at it quickly. I also become singularly obsessed with a particular thing to where I can come close to mastering it in a short period of time, and constantly strive to get better at it, to learn more at it.
PSF: What do you hope your musical legacy could possibly be?
MWD: I used to think non-stop about being remembered, and about having no unfinished projects. To the point that starting as a teen, if I was, say, sending a poem to a magazine, I'd go drop the stamped envelope in the street mailbox at night instead of mailing it the next day, because I was afraid if I died in my sleep, it wouldn't get mailed.
I partially blame the nursery rhyme "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," mainly the line, "If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take..." That one affected me to the point I even used that in a Bomb song, "All My References Are Dead," I sang "If I die, before I wake, I pray someone my soul to snake."
But other than that singsong child abuse of "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" being whispered in my ear as a little kid, I used to always want to live on, to be immortal and important through art. I started reading well by age 5, loved books, and spent time in the library. I flunked out of college because I skipped class to go to the library to actually LEARN. My mother taught me to read, to get me started. I learned to get good at it on my own. I'd say that other than learning basic household math in 6th grade, my complete school education from K-12 was a waste. I was always frustrated in school, often corrected my teachers, and was screaming inside to get out into the world and make my own path. My first week at kindergarten, my teacher saw me reading a 5th grade science book from the library, and had me read it out loud for the class. I read it well, without stammering. Later the dumb kids threatened to beat me up for "being a smarty pants." I realized then and there that there was a large swath of the population I wanted to avoid. I knew that if I did art, which when I was young meant writing, I could be self-employed and largely avoid people who want to beat you up because you can read.
I always pictured authors as these grand people who lived amazing lives, probably in a castle in England. They were surrounded by beautiful women, and had pet tigers, drank absinthe, smoked opium, and dined with kings. When I later became a published writer, I realized the reality is a lot more mundane than that.
I was from a small town in Western NY, called Westfield, NY. Population 3000. Nothing ever happened there. I went to college 10 miles away in Jamestown, NY. Nothing happened there either. Well, the band 10,000 Maniacs was from there, and I went to both middle school and college with Natalie Merchant, but that band was way after I decided to be a writer/artist/musician. By the way, I've seen 10,000 Maniacs over 100 times, more than I've seen any other band. This was back when they were great and had an edge, because the only other thing to do in Jamestown, NY was go to the Holiday Inn and watch cover bands, which I also did. So I pictured art of all kinds from a young age as a way to escape my mundane little town, and I succeeded at it.
So, I used to think it was important to be remembered. Now at age 56, I don't feel that as much. I'm more prolific than I've ever been, I'm working on the 59th album by BipTunia. It's good stuff. Every BipTunia album gets more downloads from my site and from torrents I seed than from all Bomb album sales combined, and more downloads than all people Bomb played for live, all time.
Once I got away from art by committee, I really started to shine. I started putting my things on the Internet early on. I had a website in 1996 and was putting MP3s online in 1997. I groked it quick. Something Tim O'Reilly from one of my tech book publishers O'Reilly Media said later sums it up:
"Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy."
It's about the art, and any message, more than it is about the author. I recently found the concept "The Death of the Author," which basically says as soon as you publish something, it belongs to the world. You have very little real say in it. I always felt that, but this sums it up well. The only way I ever made money at art was by doing it anyway, with no hope of money, then getting good enough at it that someone paid me to keep doing it.
I really am more concerned now with living well, as long as I can, and loving life quietly, and quietly releasing art I make and love, and sharing it. I don't need to be on the cover of magazines anymore. That's a young man's game. And part of growing older with grace is realizing that doesn't matter as much.
I spend more time looking into a telescope and a microscope than I do on social media, by far. I think about the eternal and my tiny but important place in it, without having to scream "LOOK AT ME," which is basically what being a rock musician is. My dad was 43 when I was born. He died two years ago, 2 weeks before his 98th birthday. He still had his mind, walked with a cane, but was not in pain. That's the goal now. To live long and well. I'd like my music to still be heard in 100 years, but don't care nearly as much as I used to if my name and face is attached to that music.
ED NOTE: Requesting a recent photo, Michael sent a picture of one of his cats and then offered to send a list of all of their names, adding
"if you print these, you really are the weirdest music mag ever." Our response: game on.
Also see Peter Crigler's blog
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