Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rob Lind of the Sonics interview, part one

Rob Lind: Sonic Adventures In Sound
Interview by Daniel Coston
Part one only originally published on Tangents Magazine website, 2011

Tangents: One thing that came across in talking to you guys when we did that photo shoot was , I think was it Jerry or [Larry] who said something to the effect of, “If we are gonna do this, we’re gonna do it FOR REAL..and we’re not gonna play around with this.” You were gonna do this the way you wanted The Sonics to sound….

Rob Lind: …. Or we wouldn’t have done it. Yeah, that was Larry saying that. And he’s absolutely right. We, at the time, before we did Cavestomp, which was kind of our “coming out party”, and we were rehearsing real hard to get ready to do it…and we still wouldn’t give the promoter the total, “thumbs up,” because we didn’t want to be like some of the groups that get back together after thirty years and go out and blow it. And by that I mean that we had a pretty good legacy and were pretty well thought of from when we were playing in our late teens and early twenties, the original Sonics, and we didn’t want to destroy that by going out and being idiots and not being able to play, and just picking up a paycheck and going home.

So we all thought, the three of us, Jerry and Larry and me, the originals, we had decided, look, if we’re not ready , we’re not gonna do it. We’re not gonna go out there and blow it.
And it was only up until about two weeks prior to that Cavestomp show that we finally called our promoter and told him, “Okay, we’re comin’ to New York.” We were not in a hurry.
We were not greedy or eager to get back on stage. We wanted to make sure that when we did, that we were good. And now, last year, NPR called us, “The best rock and roll band in the world.” I appreciate NPR for that grandiose comment.

Tangents: Was there ever a point in the last couple of years where you looked around at where the band was going and you thought, “wow I never thought that this would happen”?

Lind: Yeah. Absolutely. You know for us, back in the early Sonics days, with the exception of when we would open for The Beach Boys, you know at the Seattle Coliseum there would be 20,000 people in there, well, they weren’t there to see US, they were there to see The Beach Boys, but we got to play in front of them. But when people came to see US, for us 3,000 people was a monster crowd! And we played for 15,000. You know, it’s just a sea of faces when you walk out onstage. And it’s a sea of faces as far as you can see and they’re dancing’ and waving their beers. So, yes, it’s hugely gratifying and we never anticipated that we would run into that.

Tangents: What finally brought you guys back around? Was there any specific incident? Or is it something that you guys had kicked around for a while?

Lind: No, actually, we had basically talked about it, but nobody was practicing, including me. And as Larry would tell you, we’d been approached by this promoter for about three years in a row…a guy that wanted us to come back and do Cavestomp…and initially it was, “Hell no!” And the next year it was, “NO” and the next year it was, “Well, maybe we’ll think about it.” And so we thought, “I wonder if we can do it?”

So I made a lot of trips up to Seattle..and it was just Larry, Jerry and me. Just the three of us went over things, again and again and again. You know, Jerry hadn’t sung and his voice wasn’t ready for that and I hadn’t played sax in a long time and Larry hadn’t played a lot of guitar, either. So, it was just playin’ and playin’ and playin,’ and when it got to the point where it looked like we MIGHT be able to do this, then we brought in two other guys to have a full sound to see what it would sound like as a band.

And we brought Donnie in, and we had another drummer that we were working with. But we were getting close to Cavestomp, and this other drummer, although he was good, he wasn’t progressing quite quickly enough to make the Cave Stomp deadline. And I don’t mean in any respect to criticize him or to put him down, because we were all starting over and progressing. And we were getting close to Cave Stomp and he wasn’t quite ready to do it. So Donnie said, “Well I know this Rick Johnson, and he brought Rick over,  and that’s all he does is play drums. So he came in and sat down and BOOM! We were ready to go to Cavestomp. So that’s how Ricky got into the band and has been there ever since.
Tangents: So, what do the new songs sound like?

Lind: Well, they’re all different. They’re rock songs. And in The Sonics tradition, one of them is called, “Bad Attitude.” And I wrote one called, “Don’t Back Down”…and I wrote another rocker called, “Cheap Shades” about cheap sunglasses. And Freddy came in with a song that he wrote called, “Vampire Kiss”. Which is an interesting song. So they are all up-tempo, hard rock type songs.

And we’re writing for this next EP… and I wrote one called, “Get Off My Back”.
Well, we’ve noticed that with the kids in Europe, the stuff they know of ours they like to SHOUT it out and so the line is, “ Hey, hey, hey! Get off of my back!”
And so we figured, well, the European kids are gonna love that because they’re gonna be shoutin’ it and waving their beer bottles.

Tangents: Obviously this means a lot to Jerry and to Larry, too, because I know that they are just amazing talents . And to finally see them get their due, especially with some of the health problems that Jerry has had, I know that this must mean a lot to him….
Lind: Yeah, it does. And you know to give my old pal kudos, he’s singing great now and playing great keyboards - his health is good - Larry is playing better guitar than he ever did. I mean he’s really playing “above himself” now - and these four songs feature a LOT of guitar playing and he just does a great job!

He’s real … OCD…so he’ll do something twenty-five times until he gets it exactly right, ya know? Like in the OLD Sonic days, it was, “OK that’s a keeper!” Jerry would say, “Let me have another chance to make it sound better.” Well, now those days are over. Larry is in there at two o’clock in the morning.

One note that I should add is that the producer is Jack Endino, From Nirvana fame. But in Seattle he is referred to as, “Legendary producer, Jack Endino”. Jack is so good and such a great guy that the sessions where we did these four songs were just a lot of fun.
And so we are anticipating for the next songs that are coming up that going back to Jack again…

Tangents: How has it been to record now, as opposed to how you used to record the first time around?
Lind: Well, we get asked that question all the time and we get asked also what’s it like to play now? And the answer is technology. Back then we’d go in and we’d lay down the basic track, and if somebody made a mistake, you’d say, “aw, cut! Cut! Hold it! Let’s try it again from the top!” Now, you know, with digital, for instance, if I’m playin’ the sax, and my sax betrays me and squeaks in the middle of something? Jack can just take the squeak out. I’ll say, “God dang it! I’ll go back and do that part over again.” And he’ll say, “No, no, no, you don’t have to do that. I can go in and pull that outta there.  On the previous take you didn‘t squeak, so I‘ll take the good note from the previous take and replace that squeak with it.” They can do stuff like that! Which is totally different from when we recorded those first Sonic albums.

Those first Sonic albums were like the way we played, almost. We would take it from the top and blast through to the end. And the producers were like, “Aw, yeah, that’s good enough for me! Let’s move along to the next one!” We don’t do that anymore!
Tangents: One of the legends of the Sonics , those records, was that you guys didn’t even mike the drums. That Bob was just playing so loud….
Lind: You know I think they may have had some “minium mic-ing” on them, maybe like uh, Cream-type situation? Over the top of his drums. But no, that was Bob for real.And when we play live, we mike everything on Rick, you know. Because we play these big venues, these big festivals. But, Bobby Joe, we never did He just hit hard.

Tangents: You can hear that, too! He was just killin’ those drums!
Lind: Well, he would come OFF of his drum stool! I mean he literally would hit the bass so hard that he’d come off of his drum stool! Ricky was telling’ us, “I saw you guys playin’ live one time and Bob broke a bass drum-head. “ And he said, “I have never seen anybody break a bass drum-head, but Bob did!”
Tangents: Wow. That was the amazing thing about seeing you guys play in Austin, the sound, the tone of Larry’s guitar. It was just that over-amped [sound]. I don’t know how he sets up his amp, but it was just this over-driving sound that had no pedals on it, as far as I could tell…
Lind: Oh yeah, he’s got pedals. You just can’t see ‘em. He’s got like four. But he uses two amps. He uses two amps in tandem, and sometimes he uses both of ‘em. Sometimes he’ll use ONE for a clean sound and sometimes he’ll use one for the dirty sound.
Larry is very, very particular about the guitar sound that he gets. He works real hard on it.
When we go to the sound check, he starts. He goes by himself. And he and our sound man, Jim Anderson, set the amps up and then he just screws with them. He’s just down on his knees, trying a little of this, trying a little of that. Yeah, he’s very, very meticulous about it.

Tangents: Wow. What was amazing is that the sound comin’ off the stage, Oh, my God, that’s, that’s HIM!
Lind: Yeah, that’s what I mean, yeah! And it hasn’t changed!

Tangents: When you are playing, how do you see the sound of your sax, is there something that you are trying to put forth in that band, or are you just going out and trying to rip it?
Lind: What I try to do with the sax, well there’s two different parts of my sax playing: one part is being in the mix and being textured. You should hear the sax, so like when we’re playing oldies like, “Money” or when we’re playin’ riff songs like, “The Witch” or “Psycho”, it’s primarily guitar-driven, but the sax has to be in there for texture. It just makes the band sound bigger.

So, on all those songs, I play on all those songs just like I was another guitar-player. Instead of a sax player. I put the sax in all those songs in the BACKGROUND of all those songs - to put more balls into it. When I play solos, I just play like I did when I was 19. I just try to play as hard and fierce and dirty as I know how to play. I just try to play as hard as I can.
You know, I’m NOT a jazz-player. I don’t play jazz, I can’t play jazz. I’m a rock guy You know, I have to admit that I’m a rock player and I just play hard rock just as hard as I can!
Tangents: Going back, what made you pick up the saxophone?
Lind: Oh. When I was in the third grade, they had , “Music Instrument Night” at the PTA and my mom took me down there and she said, “You know, it would be good if you played something.” And I said, “Yeah, Mama! I want to play a trumpet! All the cool dudes play trumpets!” And there was a guy from a music store there, and he said, “No, Robbie, with your overbite, YOU should be playing clarinet.” And I thought, “Ah, Geez…that’s a gay instrument. But okay!”

So I started playing clarinet, and I played clarinet all through school. All the way through High School. I was in the High School Marching Band playing clarinet. And I was a GOOD clarinet player. I was classical and everything. I could REALLY play clarinet. I was like third chair out of twenty clarinet players. I got really good at it. And after school, they had practice rooms, they had a big music room where the band and the orchestra rehearsed, and then around the periphery they had these rooms that were about the size of a bathroom. They were practice rooms. There would be a music stand in there and a stool or a chair, and they were sound-proof.

So, after school one night I went in there and I was gonna practice….and there was this guy down in the main band room playin’ rock-n-roll piano. Playing Jerry Lee Lewis and stuff, and I walked up and listened to him and said, “Whoa! That’s really cool!” And I said, “Well, hold on a second!” And I thought, “God, there must be a sax around here someplace!” So there was a big shelf of music instruments. So I pulled out this tenor-sax. I don’t know whose it was. I just opened it up, put a reed on it. You know I knew how to do that from playing clarinet, and so then I went down and then we were playing rock n roll music!

He was playing piano and we were playing , probably horribly, and the band director came down, and I was one of his boys, and he yelled at us, “Hey you guys! Quit stepping on the cat’s tail!!” So this piano player dude said, “Well, this has been kinda fun! Why don’t you come on over to my house, I’ve got a piano, and I live within walking distance from here.”
So, I walked over to his house and we played some more. And that was Jerry Roslie. That’s how I met Jerry! And we were off and runnin’ from then on!
Tangents: How old were you when you met Jerry?
Lind: Sixteen? Probably seventeen, something like that.
Tangents: Is The Sonics the first band that you were in?
Lind: No! Jerry and I were in a couple of different bands. We were in a band called, The Imperials, for a while and we were in a band called, The Night People. And we played church auditoriums. And we thought we’d “really hit the big time” when we got a gig at one of the high schools! We thought, “Aw, man, we’re COOL!” It was like, HEY! I got us a gig at the high school and we’re gonna play three sets!

And I said, “Dude! What are we gonna DO? We only know SIX SONGS!”
(laughter) “Oh, we’ll just play them over and over!” And that’s what we did! Played ‘em over and over! And we were in a band called , “The Searchers.” Matter of fact, I think we were in, The Searchers and The Sonics were playin’ - it was Larry and Andy and a sax player and a drummer…I don’t remember if they had a keyboard player, I don’t think they did, I think they had another guitar-player. I think it was three guitar players and a sax player and a drummer.

So, Jerry and I went to see them. And we thought, “wow! Those two brothers are pretty cool! You know if we had those two brothers and we combined them with you and me and Bobby Joe, we’d have a pretty good rock n roll band.”

And so those two guys decided to give it a try…and so the Parypa brothers came over to Bob’s parents’ house, down in the basement and we had a Sonic practice, and then we went over and had another one over at the Parypa’s home over in Bremerton, and their dad was outside washing the windows or something and we played some songs in their living room and their dad burst through the door and he said, “HOLY COW! You guys really have something - you guys really sound good!” And then we were off and running!
Tangents: So the Parypa brothers had been playing. They had the Sonics together for a few years before you met them?
Lind: I don’t think it was a few years, but it might have been a couple of years. And they were playing little low-level gigs just like we were. We didn’t start playing good places, you know, teenage night clubs. There was a famous teenage night club in Tacoma called The Red Carpet, and that was one of our first “upscale” places to play. And we PACKED the place, they had lines going around the building.So it got to be like the Ramones and CBGB’s. You know when The Sonics were at The Red Carpet, it sold out every Friday and Saturday night - with a line going around the block. And then we’d get a deal where we’d play a sports arena and that was where two or three thousand people would show up…and we thought that that was incredible stuff! We thought, “Man! How can it GET any cooler than THIS?!”
Tangents: Initially, were you guys all instrumental?
Lind: We did a LOT of instrumentals, but, singing was coming in vogue…you know The Wailers were singing and Jerry could sing…we didn’t know HOW GOOD Jerry was…JERRY DIDN’T KNOW HOW GOOD JERRY WAS…and he started doing it, and it WORKED, and so , I would say that back in those days we were probably doing maybe half and half? Something like that…

Until the British Invasion, The Beatles and The Stones, and when we saw THAT, we started weeding out the instrumentals bit by bit and realizing that we had to do a lot of singing. Jerry couldn’t …just by force of the way Jerry sings, he couldn’t sing straight through for three hours, we used to do three sets, everybody did. So I picked up the slack. I had what they euphemistically referred to as a “blues voice,” which meant that I sang all of the Rolling Stones songs! And I sang anything where there was any kind of a blues song, I sang that. “Hootchie Kootchie Man”, and stuff like that, I sang all those, just to give Jerry a break.

We’d do eye contact across the stage and he’d kind of look at me and go, “Whew! I need a break!” And I’d go, “OK” I’ll do Hootchie Kootchie Man or “Hey, Get offa my Cloud,” or something like that.

But with the new Sonics, for three years, I started out doing, “Walking the Dog” which we started doing back in the early days because The Rolling Stones did it…that’s a perfect example. And we did it at Cave Stomp and a couple of other places and it just , because we’re only doing one set now, it didn’t ROCK hard enough…so we dropped it.
The only thing that I’m singing right at the moment is, “You’ve Got Your Head on Backwards”. I may…the boys want me to do, “Get off my Back”, I’m trying to talk Jerry into it. I told Larry that if Jerry absolutely refuses, I’ll take a crack at it! If you promise not to laugh, so we’ll see what happens!
Tangents: That kinda makes sense. Even the set that I saw you guys do in Austin, Jerry didn’t sing all the songs. I think maybe Don sang a couple…
Lind: Well, Don was a great vocalist. And so is Freddy. And so that just, for two reasons.  For one, it’s good just to have another voice, and number two, it rests Jerry. We have to. Jerry is like holding back a HORSE! We’ll tell Jerry at some of these places, “Dude! We gotta play three nights in a row, don’t go out there and blow your tubes on this first night! We can‘t have you hoarse on the next couple of nights!”

And Larry and I have to keep buggin’ him, because Jerry is gonna go out there and give it everything he’s got if we don’t hold him back. He’ll go out there and just wail and scream, and then the next day he can’t talk to you. So, if we’ve got one show and three or four days until the next one, then he can go for it. You know, go crazy. But when we have a series of them, like we get in Europe, we gotta hold him back.
He’s singing really good now! I’m proud of him!
Tangents: I love playing The Sonics for the first time for people, and they hear how he sings and how he screams and how often he screams and like the LOOK on peoples’ faces is like, ‘WOW!’
Lind: Yeah, and he still does that, the crazy old codger! (laughter!)
And Freddy does, too! You really should ..well lets’ see, Freddy does, “Cinderella” and uh, what else does he do? Oh he does our rockers…he does, “Lucille’ and “Dirty Robber”…

Tangents: Speaking of writing, when did you guys start writing those songs… and when did the subject matter come up. The subject matter of The Witches or Stricnine always just strikes me….
Lind: Oh, Jerry would come in with that stuff, like “Strycnine,” and “Psycho.” We did “The Witch,” and actually “The Witch” was supposed to be slower than that. We went in the studio and we were over-awed by the fact that we were in a recording studio and guys were lookin’ at us through the window, so Bob , we all were a little bit nervous, so we played The Witch too fast! We thought we blew it!

And when we listened to it after [the session], we went over to the Parypa’s house and laid on the living room floor and were just distraught. We all just thought, “Aww, we just BLEW IT, we just HOSED IT,  listen to that!” And it was real clean,and Jerry said, “Oh, that just really BLOWS, it’s gotta be BIGGER than that!” So he and Larry took a MagniTone amplifier and they went back up to the studio the middle of the next week, and they overdubbed, and that’s how “The Witch” came to be like that.

So “The Witch” came out in the northwest and it was being played in all the radio stations, so the record company said, “ You guys gotta follow this up! You gotta come up with something!” So we played at The Red Carpet, full house and everything, so we asked the owner, when everyone was gone, “Can we rehearse for an hour?” And he said, “Oh, sure!”
So we just hung out and everybody left and they locked the doors, and we said, “Okay, what are we gonna do, we’ve GOTTA be in the studio tomorrow?” And this is how we used to THINK back in those days, “OK, we have to be in the studio at ten o’clock tomorrow morning, we need a song…”

And so one of the songs that we played back in those days, that the crowd really liked, was a song called, “Farmer John”. And it was a three chord riff. “Farmer John! I’m in love with your daughter!” Over and over. So we said, “Okay, let’s use the “Farmer John” riff, and let’s put some drum breaks in it. Bobby, maybe we can stop it and maybe you can put something in there.” And we said, “Well, we can START IT with a drum break” And Bob said, “yeah, like this.” And we said, “Yeah, PERFECT!” So we said, “OK, we’ll do “Farmer John” with drum breaks” and Roslie said, “OK, I’ll have some words when I get up to the studio tomorrow.” So we walked in the studio and we did “Psycho.” That’s how “Psycho” came about.

Lind: And the rest of that stuff that we did, a lot of that stuff that we did on those albums was songs that we played LIVE, so , there wasn’t a lot of rehearsing to be had…like, “Have Love Will Travel,” we always played that, and so, we’re standing in the studio with our instruments and said, “Well, what do ya want to do?” “Oh, I don’t know…how ‘bout, “Have Love Will Travel”?” “OK! Two three four!” We did it and laid it all down in ONE take!
And we play it NOW and it gets HUGE results.

And there’s been a number of commercials [that have used that song.] As a matter of fact, Jerry came up with, “Shot Down” and we just…”Shot Down” is in one of those…it’s in that new Tom Cruise spy movie that’s out now and is all over the place…”Night and Day”….”Shot Down” is in it….

But yeah, in those days, we didn’t take credit. It was like, “Psycho, written by Jerry.” Well, it was actually written by ALL of us. Bob had a big part in it, BIG part in it. And “Shot Down” for instance, Jerry wrote the words, but Larry came up with the (he makes a noise like a musical instrument here) stuff… but in those days, we just credited the writer.

Like for instance the two that I wrote, “Cheap Shades” and “Don’t Back Down”, that’s fifty-fifty. And a lot of times, Larry will play something…he’ll play a riff…and he’ll say, “You think you can write words to this?” And I’ll say, “Well, play a little bit more.” And he’ll play it and I’ll say, “Yeah, I think I can, actually.” And actually, that’s how, “Don’t Back Down” came to be.
Tangents: That makes more sense, too, when you hear those records. Because it seems like all of you guys had volume and were creating the sound together.
Lind: Yeah, we all did. But a lot of those songs, like, you know, “Dirty Robber”, that was a Wailers song but we played it in all our gigs. And, “Hey! Let’s put Dirty Robber in there! And we did and off we went. The “One-Take-Sonics”

The difference was , and Larry REALLY should have gotten some credit, we had to credit Richard Berry and the Pharaohs, who originally wrote “Louie Louie” But in those days everyone was playing Louie Louie in the standard one/four/five. And we were playing it THAT WAY, too, but we were gonna play it in the studio..and we were doing it in the studio and we always, in those days, the promoters always got cheap studio time. MIDNIGHT TO FIVE! So we’re there, four o’clock in the studio and we’re all totally exhausted, and so we took a break and Larry and Jerry went outside, and sat on a log out right in front of the studio where the cars were parked against. And Larry thought, “Well, why are we doing it, ONE/FOUR/FIVE? Maybe we can do it in a DIFFERENT progression and make it sound a little bit weirder?!” And so he came back in the studio and he said, “Hey guys, I wanna try something,“ and that’s how OUR version of Louie Louie came to be. There is a book called, “Louie Louie,” and the guy who wrote it said, “Of the fifty versions of Louie Louie, no one can touch the Sonics version.” That’s just strictly because Larry thought, “Well, WHY do we have to do it like everybody else? Maybe I can think of something else!” And he DID! You gotta give him full credit for that!

Tangents: Wow. Was the whole midnight to five sort of a regular thing with you guys?

Lind: No, our first couple of sessions were MORNING sessions. You know that time when we went in there and played, “The Witch” too fast. Then it turned out to be a hit record, ya know! But, yeah, we got some cheap studio time. And you know, when I was working in Los Angeles as a director, I used to do commercials, and training films and stuff. …and we’d have to go in edit them. And we’d go into an editing facility…and the producers that I used to work with, they’d do that kind of thing. ”Alright, we’re gonna BE there at 11:30 and we’re gonna work straight through til 6:30 a.m. because it’s cheaper!” But the Sonics gave me an introduction into how to try to think straight at 3:30 in the morning!
Tangents: I love that you guys open with, “He’s Waitin’” That’s still one of my all-time favourite songs.

Lind: Oh, great! And you know the thing that is interesting about us and our original songs, is that in those days without even knowing that we were doing it, we kinda trapped lightning in a bottle. They sound as good as they did back then, they have a life. They’re not antiquated. It’s not like we’re playing some two-stringed, Fender Stratocaster, surfin’ song, they work TODAY!

We never played “Cinderella.” ”Cinderella” was a studio job. We never played it live.
We started playing it live three years ago, and we play it every show. We start our shows with three songs in rapid succession: “He’s Waiting”, “Money” and “Cinderella,” we just go from to the other like it’s just one big song to get the energy up…and then after “Cinderella” we take a break and get a drink of water and say hi to the crowd and so forth.
But those are our three openers. And, “He’s Waiting” and “Cinderella” are two of the three…and obviously those are originals.
Tangents: Wow, that’s cool. That’s the thing that always struck me, you were killin’ covers but your originals were just stunning!
Lind: Well there was some stuff that we regret doing (laughter), like, “Skinny Minny” and “Dirty old Man,” we cringe when we… that was done at four o’clock in the morning. “Well we gotta do somethin’, let’s stick something’ on here!”

“Skinny Minny,” we would play that at concerts. Like we opened for The Kinks a couple of times and we were big fans of The Kinks and we opened for The Beach Boys a half a dozen times, and there was crowd participation. We’d tell the crowd, “HEY! When you hear THIS….” You know..all bands do that! And so it worked really good at show, so there we were in the studio at four o’clock and we had to do something! Well, let’s stick “Skinny Minny” on there! Okay! So we did. Well, it was horrible. And we regret doing it! But what are ya gonna do.

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