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Sure Thing

by Mike McDowell
issued on Blitz #45 March/April 1983

"Pre-motorcycle accident", reads the inscription in the vinyl adjacent to the label on The Days Of Wine And Roses, the new album by Los Angeles' eclectic (yet highly original) Dream Syndicate. The cryptic reference to the 1966 collision that sidelined the career of Bob Dylan for over a year is but a marginal assessment of the aesthetic impetus of the band, whose aforementioned album is meeting with substantial critical and commercial acclaim.
Fronting the Dream Syndicate is rhythm guitarist/lead vocalist Steve Wynn, whose professional musical career began in 1973 (at age 13) as rhythm guitarist with Sudden Death. "We had a two-show career", recalls Wynn, whose musical talents are equalled only by his sardonic wit. "The first show was at talent night. The second show was at the girls' field at Emerson Junior High School. We played four Rolling Stones songs, Brown Sugar, Jumping Jack Flash, Sympathy For The Devil and Angie. We also did Pinball Wizard, Southern Man and an original that the other guitarist had written. I didn't sing at all. I played rhythm guitar".
The demise of Sudden Death shortly thereafter stopped Wynn's musical pursuits for half a decade. "The lead guitarist freaked out", he explains. "I used to go to his house. I was 13, and looked about nine. He was 13, and looked about 25! He would sit in his room, play Neil Young songs and say things like, 'My grandfather killed himself'. He ended up in an asylum. After Sudden Death folded, I quit playing guitar for five years. I became a sports writer. I didn't play sports much, but I bowled a lot! In fact, I was the sterling star of the Dream Syndicate, Bangs and Salvation Army softball game on Catalina Island last June. Those bands were so embarrassed by the way the Dream Syndicate beat them, that they had to change their names!"
As the daughter of a career naval officer, bassist Kendra Smith was subjected to a nomadic rearing, which included tenures in such diverse locations as San Diego and West Germany. Prior to her partnership with Wynn, Smith's sole musical experience was as a member of her church choir.
Said partnership began in 1978, when Wynn and Smith were attending college in Davis, California. "We met in a class in college", Wynn remembers. "I was a rock critic. There were maybe four people in the entire city at that time who knew who the Jam were. We were two of them! They were going to be playing in town in a couple of weeks, and we got to talking about them".
Smith continues the story: "I had read Steve's articles as a rock critic. He and Tom Grayson had written some articles in the local paper, and I liked them as a whole. When the professor was doing roll call, I heard him mention Steve Wynn. So I pulled Steve aside after class. We had a long discussion about rock music".
The discussion led to the formation of the Suspects that same year, with Wynn as rhythm guitarist and Smith as lead vocalist, augmented by guitarist Russ Tolman, bassist Steve Suchil and drummer Gavin Blair. The band recorded a pair of Wynn compositions (Talking Loud and It's Up To You) at BSU Studios in San Francisco. Co-produced by the Suspects and Jim Keylor, It's Up To You and Talking Loud were issued as a single on Suspects Records at the end of 1979. Despite being afforded moderate airplay on several local radio stations, the band was unable to gain enough momentum to realize its full potential. "We slithered to a very sick end", says Wynn. "The last Suspects show was in March, 1980. It ended with Russ smashing his guitar on stage, Kendra deciding to move to Los Angeles and me retreating into bitterness for nearly two years". After the Suspects' career folded, Wynn performed with Go Dee Dee and Jane And The Cage, and formed the Long Ryders with ex-Unclaimed guitarist Sid Griffin, leaving the latter band after one month.
However, the musical chemistry between Wynn and Smith meant that a professional reunion was inevitable. Curiously, there was a time lapse of nearly two years between the collapse of the Suspects and the birth of the Dream Syndicate, which Smith attributes to: "Broken hearts. Steve and I knew that we still wanted to do music together. But playing music together fucked up our friendship. And he was still up in Davis at school, while I was in Los Angeles. Right when the Suspects broke up, just before I moved to Los Angeles, Steve and I formed a band called the Icons, with some girlfriends of mine singing acapella. Steve played guitar. I picked up the bass for the first time. We made some demo tapes, but that was about it. It was real spontaneous and free-form, very close to the Dream Syndicate. That sound was closest to the way that Steve and I wanted to sound. When I got to Los Angeles, I started developing an interest in the bass".
The Dream Syndicate formed in October, 1981 with Wynn, Smith and lead guitarist Karl Precoda, the latter a veteran of both the Strap-On Dicks and the Johanna Went Band. "Steve began playing with me separately and with Karl separately", Smith relates. "I finally heard them play together, and I thought, 'It's wonderful! My ineptitude won't show!!' So I joined them and recruited Dennis. I didn't know how to approach Dennis, as I thought he might not like their sound at first".
The "Dennis" to whom Smith refers is Dennis Duck, former drummer with the Human Hands, who released a single on I.R.S., a posthumous album and several tracks on compilation albums. "I stayed with Human Hands until December, 1981", adds Duck. "I decided at that time that I still wanted to be in a band. Kendra was the only one I knew. She was a big Human Hands fan. She used to come to all of our shows. The band had broken up, and I wasn't doing much of anything. I ran into Kendra in San Francisco. She told me that she was playing in a band with guys that had really weird guitar sounds. She said that they were looking for someone to play drums".
The sound and direction of the Dream Syndicate in those early stages was quite different. Wynn explains: "Our initial goal was to be a Pebbles cover band", in reference to the ten anthology albums of classic garage band rock, released in 1979-1980 on the BFD label. "I made a tape for Karl of all kinds of rare and obscure garage band records, and told him to learn how to play them. But we were real bush league!"
The Dream Syndicate's so-called "bush league" status changed within weeks, when Wynn's songwriting talents began to resurface. Wynn: "Soon after, I wrote Some Kinda Itch. We did a 45 minute version of that, and a 45 minute version of Suzie Q. So that made up two sets! We had another drummer at that time. When we recruited Dennis, he was a little worried about how prolific we would be. So Kendra told him that we already had two sets!"
To which Smith adds: "In fact, when Dennis heard these two songs, he winced and said, 'Do you think you'll be writing more songs?' And Steve answered, 'Sure, two more!'".
Wynn's songwriting capabilities were deftly preserved on the band's debut mini-album, The Dream Syndicate (Down There DT-2). Therein, Wynn contributes three of the record's four songs (That's What You Always Say, When You Smile and Some Kinda Itch). The cryptic lyrics and loose structures allow the band to execute the material with the wreckless abandon characteristic of rock and roll's finer moments. "We made the EP sound as bad as we could, so that the live shows would sound better", muses Wynn. Rounded out by Sure Thing (a Karl Precoda composition, reminiscent of the finer moments of the C*nts or the Fugitives), The Dream Syndicate was recorded on 31 January 1982 at Southwest Sound in Pasadena. It has since sold 3,000 copies, and is now out of print.
Though the band prefers to rely on original material for live performances, past Dream Syndicate shows have featured faithful covers of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Foxy Lady, the Move's Do Ya, Erma Franklin's Piece Of My Heart and Bob Dylan's Outlaw Blues. A bootleg cassette of a live Dream Syndicate performance in San Francisco brought the band to the attention of Slash's subsidiary Ruby label, who released the first full-length album, The Days Of Wine And Roses, in October, 1982.
Recorded in September, 1982, The Days Of Wine And Roses supplements re-recorded versions of That's What You Always Say and When You Smile with seven new Wynn compositions that evoke glimpses of everyone from pre-motorcycle accident Bob Dylan (Definitely Clean and the title song) to the Q65 (Tell Me When It's Over). Despite the obvious influences, the disjointed phrasing, passionate delivery and wry humor of the lyrics give The Days Of Wine And Roses a stamp of originality that speaks well for the potential of the band. Wynn elaborates: "We went into a studio that was charging $100 an hour. We were told that we wouldn't have to pay for it. So we figured that we would spend as much studio time as we could, spend all the money we could, and just play until we dropped! I told the band to keep playing the song The Days Of Wine And Roses until they collapsed, which was seven minutes and twenty-nine seconds. But the EP was done with our money, so we were real concise. I thought Sure Thing and Some Kinda Itch on the EP were perfect. I would never re-record them". Produced by Chris D. at Quad Teck Studios in Los Angeles, The Days Of Wine And Roses has since become a substantial local airplay favorite, selling in excess of 10,000 copies nationwide to date, as a result of Slash's distribution muscle.
The success of the Dream Syndicate has not prevented Wynn from pursuing extracurricular activities, which include maintaining the day-to-day operations of his Down There label. "I'd love for people to send in demo tapes to Down There", Wynn urges. "I'll never write you back, but at least I'll have something to listen to in my car! One thing I would like is for people to send in their old Impulse label albums, so we can get ideas for album covers. The cover of our EP on Down There was taken from the cover of an Archie Shepp album".
Amongst Down There's most notable post-Dream Syndicate accomplishments has been the signing of the highly promising Green On Red, whom Wynn discovered at one of their performances at Hollywood's Cathay De Grande. "Green On Red is a big tax write-off", jokes Wynn. "Seriously, there are a lot of amazing bands in Los Angeles. But Green On Red is one of the few that I can say is truly great".
Wynn also maintains an active role as a producer, having performed those services for Sacramento's True West (which features ex-Suspects guitarist Russ Tolman and drummer Gavin Blair, the latter now on vocals) on their 1982 cover of Pink Floyd's Lucifer Sam (also recorded by Los Angeles' Three O'Clock) on their own True West label. "I used to produce all of the Suspects' demo tapes", explains Wynn. "When Kendra and I were in school at Davis, we worked at a radio station that had a production room with a two-track tape deck. We used to sit in there night after night and experiment. I'll produce bands whenever I can. I love it. I'm producing the next Green On Red album. I was going to be helping the Long Ryders. But I think they will go with Earle Mankey, because he's worked with Sparks".
Working with such diverse bands as Green On Red, the Long Ryders and the Suspects has helped Wynn maintain a healthy affinity for a wide variety of music. "I love all kinds of music", he adds. "Garage bands, country music, Abba. I could play any kind of music, and I wouldn't feel as if I'd sold out. Maybe that's why we're doing as well as we are, because we're doing exactly what we want to do. We've done some absolutely sick shows, and people would come up to us and say, 'You bled all over the stage and you were out of tune. You were wonderful!' When the Dream syndicate started, I had absolute contempt for music and bands. I detested the concept of bands learning their songs and going out and losing the element of fun by playing the same set night after night. So we decided to just play half-hour songs".
Smith echoes Wynn's sentiments thus: "I don't think you can enter a band with the idea of pleasing the audience, because then you lose the fulfilment of the self. If the audience likes what we're doing, then that's wonderful. But we didn't want to just sit around and think up ways to please people".
Being faithful to their own values has paid off for the Dream Syndicate. The band undertook a successful tour of the southern states in November and December, and plans to enter the studio within the next few weeks to record a new album of all original material, scheduled for summer release. The positive developments in their career have exceeded the aspirations of at least one member: "My expectations with this band in the beginning were so minimal, that everything that's happened since then has been like dessert", adds Kendra Smith. "But the more Baked Alaska we get, the more we want!"

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Under the Spell of the Dream Syndicate

by Nigel Cross
issued on Bucketfull of Brains #8 Spring 1984

When I arrived in Los Angeles last September, one of the disappointments was that the Dream Syndicate weren't going to play any shows during my visit, in fact they weren't even in town but up in San Francisco recording their second album. As luck would have it, I made a flying trip up to that city by the bay and through the help of scene-maker Spock, among others, I was able to meet singer/guitarist, Steve Wynn. After a couple of phone calls, he picked me up from Jim Keylor's BSU/Army Street Studios and we embarked on a crazy tour of the city. Any hope of an interview quickly evaporated: instead I got the unique experience of seeing Steve in the studio listening to playbacks of the scratch mixes for The Medicine Show, acting as DJ on a local college radio station and I also had the opportunity of chatting with him in a relaxed way before my tape recorder reared its ugly head to restrain the conversation. At one point as we sped towards the Automat, he was grilling me about how much improvisation the Soft Boys allowed on stage, at another we were talking about one of San Francisco's foremost journalist/writers, Ralph Gleason. Wynn is an excitable, animated guy: we drove half way across town that night just so he could watch a German TV video of John Coltrane at an acquaintance's place. However one of the most vivid memories remains, staring across a table at him, both of us well gone on a bottle of Scotch, in a Mexican bar on the edge of China Town at 3 a.m. as he poured out this tale about Creedence Clearwater Revival having reformed, turned up unannounced on the campus of the University or Berkley only a couple of weeks before, played an amazing set, then disappeared… how I wish I could have got all that down on tape.
Anyway I didn't get my interview: instead Steve promised to call for me the following Sunday when we were both back in Los Angeles. At 10 p.m. on the Sunday he materialized at Byron Coley's Hotel for rock 'n' roll degenerates where I was staying and off we went on another long and interesting night that ended in a 24 hour doughnut house!! First stop was the outside bar on the end of Santa Monica Pier to conduct the ensuing conversation: it turned out to be closed so we had to make do with the noise of the drinkers in the inside bar and the dreadful piped muzak. As Steve remarked "You're missing the whole reason I like this place, the quietness, the ocean". Well I had to take his word for it but at least we got the interview done.

A couple of embarrassing historical questions first of all: I get the impression that you're very down on the whole Suspects' period?

Well the period is not very important to anything. You've heard the record; it's far from being worthy. It's important only because I met Kendra… and Russ and Gavin. The world will end and the Suspects will not be mourned when it ends.

About Steve Suchil, the bass player with the Suspects, what happened to him?

He was about to pass his exams in law at the time: he's now a practising lawyer. When we go to Sacramento, he comes to the shows. He plays in a jazz-fusion band for fun to keep his chops up. He never was that serious about it. He was the first person to ever play me the Velvet Underground! He played me White Light, White Heat! I was nineteen years old.

The other question is about your first release on Down There which was under the name of Fifteen Minutes…

I'm proud of that. I had access to a 4-track recorder for a while and at the same time I had a strong distaste and cynicism for everything in music. I'd been in about ten different bands, everything from backing a transsexual to playing pop to playing avant-garde jazz, everything! Then I was in a band where I had to compromise everything I did. I wanted to do anything else but music. I decided before I left I'd do one record I'd be proud of and call it Fifteen Minutes, my fifteen minutes of fame. So I went down to the basement, set up the 4-track and recorded these tracks: they were made up on the spot, it was entirely self-indulgent. I made 500 copies and said to myself: "That's a record that'll stand, I'll give it to my grand kids". Then that was it, end of story, end of music career. Sell the 4-track, sell the guitar, sell the amp and do something reasonable but I never got around to doing all that because I met Karl.

Who else played on that record?

On the A-side, I played everything myself. On the B-side, two friends of mine played bass and drums, they're from Alternate Learning. The bass player Carolyn O'Rourke was my old girl friend but the drummer's not the one who's now in True West. As you can see, everything does connect.

The Dream Syndicate played a gig under the name of the Fifteen Minutes, tell me about that? Didn't Sue Hoffs from the Bangles sing Pablo Picasso from the audience with you that night?

That was a strange set, that wasn't the Dream Syndicate, that was a failure!! At that point, it was back when I was naive about things, I wanted us to play a real small club as another band and have no expectations, just play as though we weren't the Dream Syndicate, play anything at all. People would show up and we could have a great time. It was ridiculous, it came off as pompous, unimportant and stupid, at best we got a good jam session out of it. We've done better versions of Pablo Picasso though.

Do you still have many connections with the Davis music scene?

I'm a still friend with Russ.

Tell me about your involvement with True West…

They gave me a plane ticket and a sandwich and I produced the record, that's all there is to it. The way I produce, I just say: "Turn up the guitars, make it weird", it's all from a fan's point of view. I love producing but I don't know the first thing about it. Russ wanted to make that record way too safe, he wanted the guitars quieter, the vocals standard, he wanted it like a standard pop band. I just came in and told them to give the voice a lot of mid range, make it sound like it's coming through a telephone and to turn the guitars up. I was a real troublemaker, that's what they needed.

On their single Lucifer Sam you play guitar, is that the same version that's on the Bring Out Your Dead 12" EP?

Yes, I play the reverb lead stuff. They'd already recorded it and I came up to mix it. They needed another guitar part and Russ told me to play whatever I wanted.

You weren't involved in the final sessions for their French LP, Hollywood Holiday?

Right I didn't do any of them. In fact I only did four tracks for the EP, I didn't do I'm Not Here. I did another song which didn't come out, it was horrible and Russ'd tell you that too, I'm not talking behind his back, I slept through it!! The rest was real good; I had a good time. I might be producing a band called Phil Blues.

You mean the band that features Ward Dotson from the Gun Club?

Right, they're real good. We played a show with them and I talked with Ward and Mike Adder, their other guitarist from Middle Class - they're good guys. They're the sort of band I want to produce. I wanted to produce Green On Red, I was going to co-produce with Chris D. but we went on tour and I got left out of that. It's a big regret.

Tell me about your record label, Down There.

The whole Down There thing, the label's meant to be as permanent as the record… it was an excuse label. I did everything myself outside of the cover of Fifteen Minutes, which a friend of mine Ed Horneij drew. It was done in a basement; I lived in a basement so it was "down there". I had no dreams of being a label mogul; I didn't want to do that at all. There was no ambition behind it, it was just something that I could look at and be proud of.

You seemed to be in about a dozen different bands at that time. Weren't you rehearsing with Kristi and Kelly from Wednesday Week?

Fifteen Minutes was after that. I'd already played in a dozen bands before Kristi and Kelly. We have this thing here called "The Recycler"; you look through there if you want to form a band. They're the worst listings: if you wanted a guitarist, all you'd find will be "into Rush, into Led Zeppelin", I'd have to go for that because the pickings are so small, you'd go for anything you can get. That's what I mean by compromise because I'd figure I do like Jimmy Page so I can get away with it. It's no way to form a band.

What was Go Dee Dee?

That was Kristi, Kelly and David (Provost) for one week. That's how we met through that band; you see everything pays off. I've got a very short attention span, that's why it didn't happen. I was very impatient, I still am but I've got a band I like a lot at the moment, so it keeps my interest.

You actually rehearsed with Sid Griffin when he left the Unclaimed, didn't you?

That was kind of fun. That was at the exact same time the Dream Syndicate were forming, before Dennis. I wanted to do two bands at once, I thought it would be great. I could have one band where I could write the songs and sing, it would be really weird original stuff, and I could have my sixties band. I thought it would be fun to play sixties garage covers. But I couldn't do both. After I'd been playing with Sid and Barry for a couple of months I realized that the Dream Syndicate was working out really well.

Was the Dream Syndicate your idea?

It wasn't an idea; you've heard all the hot rock stories, they're true. We just wanted to make a bunch of money. Karl and I had equal contempt for the music scene and if you'd been here then, it was contemptible. There was no reason to form a band. Why should we form a band just to at best be part of a circle of people who go to an after hours club called the Zero. At best you'd be hip enough to go to the Zero, who needed that? All we wanted to do was make a bunch of money and/or bunch of noise.

How did you run into Karl?

I don't even know! I don't remember! Somehow we ended up playing guitar together. The first memory I have is of us playing Suzie Q for hours and hours. All we had was this agreement between us that if we played a song together, we had equal time for solos. I'll play rhythm for you and you'll play rhythm for me.

How did you rope in Dennis?

(Laughs) How did we rope Dennis into this horrible thing? That was all Kendra. She'd been doing the hard sell on him for a while, saying "I know these guys who play this wild stuff" so he finally came to a rehearsal one day. I knew Dennis, the Human Hands were a respectable band out here, they were popular and made records. We didn't know what to do; here was this guy who'd come down. So we said we'd do Suzie Q and asked him if he knew it. He said he knew it and I told him to just play a beat and that eventually I'd give him a cue to do something. We'd played it for an hour and he'd look at us as if to ask, "Are we going to stop?" We'd played for a long time, he taped the whole thing then went home and we figured that was that, that's the last we'd see of him. Four days later, merely out of courtesy to ask what he was going to do, I phoned him. He said: "Well since I was with you, I've listened to that tape about five times a day - incredible, I can't believe it, I'd like to play with you guys some more". At that point we still weren't taking it seriously, we still didn't have a name, and we weren't planning on playing or recording. It was then that we decided that we might do something because he's a motivator. We were and still are lazy. Dennis is a good motivator.

So had you written a lot of songs or did the songs evolve as the band evolved?

They evolved as the band evolved. I've written a lot of songs, I always write songs. I'll write something for a particular day or time. I don't like digging up old songs. The only song we did dig up was That's What You Always Say which we stripped clean; we gave it all new words and parts, everything.

You said it still wasn't serious when Dennis joined?

The first thing was to make a record. We made the EP during our third week. I think bands should do that all the time. I'm always seeing bands at their first gig that are better then go down hill all the way, bands that are better right away. We just said, if we think this is good, then someone else has to as well; it's raw… we just wrote the songs last week, let's do it because there are so many bad records out, this can't be worse. We didn't expect it to be a big deal, we figured it would sell a thousand copies and it would come close to breaking even. You can sell a thousand copies of anything.

When you recorded it, did you put up the money yourselves?

Yes. The 4-track, I was telling you about, I sold it and that's how we financed the record. That's the way it works, always selling one thing to get another.

Were the songs on the EP written pretty much on the spot?

They were already there.

What about a song like When You Smile?

That's written - it's real song. There were no plans, we didn't say: "Let's do a spare song with drama and eeriness".

I read that you thought Sure Thing and Some Kinda Itch were complete and couldn't be bettered so they weren't re-recorded for The Days Of Wine And Roses. Was that a glib quote?

Everything I say is a glib quote! In fact I'm not too glib any more. I think they could be bettered; Some Kinda Itch is better now. Sometimes the first thing you do is the best way to do it. I don't think That's What You Always Say on the album is any better.

I agree. I think When You Smile is best on the EP.

I like that more on the album, I think it's too fast on the EP.

So you decided to carry Down There on after the EP came out?

There was no decision to carry the label on. I did it because Green On Red are my best buddies, I thought they're God's answer to everything and could single-handedly stop every evil in the world. They were too drunk and too poor to get it together; they said they were going to make 50 cassettes of this record and get them around the stores. We'd already started to get money back from the last record so I offered to put up half the money to put it out. It wasn't a money making move but it did make money, it's sold 2,000 copies. Good for them!

You once asked for bands to send in their cassettes to that P.O. Box Number, are you still interested in that?

I'm hardly ever home now. If I see something that's really that great, I'll do it. I've offered it to both the Long Ryders and the Del Fuegos; I've told them both that I think they're great and that if they want to be on Down There, then fine but I feel that they should get something better. I'm a lousy label chief, I told them: "I think you're great, I don't want you on my label". The Long Ryders are better off on PVC than on Down There.

What about the Del Fuegos?

I think they'll do better. The label is there if anybody needs it. Green On Red couldn't get anything better at the time; they couldn't get a better deal because nobody knew who they were, they weren't playing around very much. I felt they needed to put a record out.

How did you get to be friends with them?

We played a show with them at the Cathay De Grande: they played upstairs, we played downstairs. We finished the show at one in the morning and got drunk. Dan Stuart came up to me, threw his arms around me and said: "I love you! You remind me of William Faulkner". A friendship was born, that's all it took. I thought, I like you. They're my friends: I'd do anything I could for them.

Do you feel part of this new L.A. scene?

No, absolutely no part of it at all. At best some of the people on the scene are good people and they have interesting bands. We have nothing to do with it.

So it was coincidental that the Dream Syndicate started at the same time?

Purely coincidental. We happened to do some shows with the other bands. At that time there were either bands that were unoriginal or uninspired, there were older bands that were good but had moved on to better things or were on their way down. Or there were these new bands that at least had the spunk to do something. All we shared in common with the Bangs and Salvation Army was that we were new and innocent and naive. If there is any "Paisley Underground", we're not part of it. I was nine years old when the sixties ended; I couldn't care less about the sixties. There's no reason to go back. If you repeat the past, you're condemned to be forgotten. "Paisley Underground": it's cute, it's a nice idea but it's no more substantial than any other fad that's happened. The good bands will go on and the bad bands will be part of history. At the same time my favorite bands have always been disposable bands, there's nothing wrong with being disposable. The Gods' Radar Eyes - an amazing song, a song we used to do - the Gods matter nothing to history, they never changed the rock music world. The best versions of Who Do You Love weren't famous, the Preachers, the Woolies.

What do you think you'll be doing in 10 years time?

The same thing as I'm doing now.

You don't think you'll become a burnt out wreck, which is what most pop stars become after a decade in the ring?

Do they? I don't think they do.

Why's that? Instinct?

Instinct? Do you mean savvy? I think in 10 years time I'll be writing songs and playing them.

Are the Dream Syndicate now geared to becoming big stars?

I was reading what Tom Waits was saying in an interview in the paper today. Here's a guy who's made over eight albums, been around for over ten years and never been a big star, just a cult secret. He's still been around all that time and made some great records and he can still afford to live off what he does. He said, "Look I see what stardom's all about and you don't have any privacy; I don't know if I want that". You don't have to be a big star to survive. Ask me if I want to be then sure I do.

I think you're entering a new phase, which is geared to a higher level…

Sell out? Sell Out? You think sell out?

No, not at all. I mean you're signed to a big record label for instance…

That's not the motivation for the change. The change led to big label. Four months ago no label wanted to touch us. We made tapes of these new songs and they got around; that's what helped. We don't want to be a sixties band, we don't want to be the Velvet Underground.

I think that from what I heard of the basic tracks at the Automat, last week, the band has changed dramatically. Do you think Dave Provost's arrival has changed things?

Immeasurably. His personality is different to Kendra's. Kendra's was spunky, inspirational, and wild which made us more like that. With Dave, he's really solid. When you talk about the bass being the bottom of the band, Dave is that bottom. We can fly around but he's always there. He's the most dependable, knowledgeable bass player I've ever worked with. It's got to change you. The more tools you work with, the more things you want to try, the more things you want to build.

The rhythm section now sounds awesome. Before it was a little understated…

It wasn't a rhythm section before: Kendra sometimes was a solo instrument. Dave's more a r'n'b bass player. He's played a lot of rhythm 'n' blues and soul - we all like soul music but there wasn't any soul in the music before. The Days Of Wine And Roses has no soul per se; it's got heart and emotion. Now there's a little more soul in it.

Whose idea was it to bring Sandy Pearlman in to produce it, the new LP that is? It's an interesting combination.

What do you think of when you think of Sandy Pearlman?

I think about the Blue Oyster Cult and the Clash.

I think of the Dictators.

It was a band decision then, not A&M telling you had to have such and such a producer?

He was already part of the package when we went label shopping. He's been with us since early May; he actually started thinking of working with us when Kendra was still in the band. He saw us at Kendra's last show. We had mutual friends; he came down to the show and talked to me. I think the second Clash album's great. I think he made them sound great. He's got more feeling for emotion, heart and soul than anyone else I've ever worked with. He's got real strong feeling for things that affect him and hit his mood, rather than just sound.

I'm really dying to hear the results. Don't Fear The Reaper by the Cult is one of my all time faves so I'm curious to hear the changes Pearlman will wring, especially as I like Chris D.'s production on your debut LP. Maybe you could say something about that?

Chris is a very raw producer. The Green On Red record sounds so great and raw. It reminds me of the Tonight's The Night Neil Young band - it sounds like it was cut at 4 in the morning right between being drunk and having a hangover… Chris is good at getting that feeling where you're still a bit high but you're just beginning to come down and do some very sick things. He gets that with every record he does, he did it with the Gun Club. It's a nice line between exhilaration and realization of sickness. Sandy's more of 11.30 to midnight producer whereas Chris is a 4 in the morning producer; Sandy's right when you've had your fourth or fifth drink and you feel you're the greatest person that's lived, you get up and you'll be standing in the middle of the bar and you yell and you get into a fight with someone. Sandy gives you this feeling while you're playing and what you feel is real strength.

The material for the Medicine Show sounds much stronger than that on the last LP.

Song for song it's going to be better than the last album. I've got nothing against the last album but it's going to be difficult not to put it down when I start talking about the new record. I love the songs on the last album but I think you've got to get better or forget it. If you're just treading the same water, forget it.

Do you have any vivid memories of the recording sessions for The Days Of Wine And Roses?

It happened in six hours. I remember it was midnight when we went in and 6 a.m. when we went out. We dubbed the vocals the next day.

So it's mostly live in the studio.

Oh it is. When You Smile is entirely live. It was all eye contact and right there. Karl and I had to look at each other because the headphones were so bad we couldn't hear what was happening. On the title track it sounds like there's interplay but the only interplay was we watching each other's hands. I'd look over at Karl and he'd be playing on E chord on the twelfth fret so I'd say "OK he's doing that" and I'd have to imagine what it would be like. I'd do a contrasting figure on the seventh fret. I couldn't hear a thing he was doing; it was all eye contact.

The Days Of Wine And Roses is an amazing track…

It was a blur at the time.

Not only do I like the guitar playing but also the lyrics and emotion appeal to me. You sound like you're on the edge, like you're the guy in the song.

It's a semi true story. He's very tense, he doesn't know what to do, he doesn't know which way to face, he's got his girl on the ledge and he's got his contacts from all these outside sources and he sits there and doesn't know which way to turn, it's scary… And I'd never seen the movie until after the album came out, with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick - it's a film about alcoholism. In short Jack Lemmon is a businessman who likes to drink and meets Lee Remick who's a sweet girl, he gets her into drink slowly, she hates to drink at first… they become alcoholics and it follows them through their life, how they become drunks and lose everything, going from a good business life to just a shack. I can't describe it; it's a very painful film… The new stuff is just so different. I can never imagine doing an album like The Days Of Wine And Roses again - that's the type of thing you do when you've never done a record before. It's naive, it's all guts, no tampering with the mind. There are people who say, and I used to say it, that's the way to record - all guts, all sex and passion and no mind. It's the mind that fucks you up. That's kind of true, it's great when you do things through passion. An example would be if you're a Rolling Stones fan: you'd say The Rolling Stones Now is the best thing they ever did because after that they got too brainy about it. You'd say Let It Bleed is ok but when they went on from there, they got more and more brains and less and less guts. It's a balance, that's why I think Let It Bleed may be the best Stones' album because that's where they still had the sex, they could still get the erection but they started to think what they could do with it! (Laughter)

What about a song like Tell Me When It's Over?

That's the most optimistic endemic thing we've ever done. In short it's the whole attitude of you wanting to do something and somebody is telling you that it won't work, "I've been there and it won't work". If you want to be a writer and that person's saying "You can't write like that, I've tried and it failed", you say "I want to make my own mistakes, tell me about them when it's over". That whole idea didn't get across because most people complained that the band was bitching about something on the first track, so it was a downer, nobody wanted to know. I think people should do things on their instincts and fail on their own, they'll get more from failing than they would by compromising with what has been learned before. Once you fail or succeed on your own terms, you can go on and start learning lessons.

Changing the subject, I'd like to ask you about all these cover songs that you've done… You've got quite a reputation for doing them.

We needn't do covers; there's no thought pattern. We'll learn something on impulse; we drove to a show in Fresno and Werewolves Of London was on the radio. We said, "That's the greatest song". We'd heard it before but forgotten about it, it was when Kendra was in the band, it's only 3 chords. We got to do the sound check in Fresno and I played the 3 chords and that was it, we've done that cover for about 8 months now. That's how they come.

Was it a big shock when Kendra decided to leave?

No, she hated touring, I knew she hated it and I knew she cared about David (Roback) and wanted to do things together with him. The answer was that we weren't going to replace Kendra, we were going to start over again. We still do the old songs but they're not the same.

Can you say a bit about Dave Provost's background? Was he an obvious choice?

I'd been friend with him for a couple of years. When Kendra quit the band, the first person I called was Dave. If he'd said no, I don't know who I would have gone to. My first thought was Dave and he was surprised. We hadn't talked to each other for a year, not since the Syndicate had formed. He was very excited because it was right up his alley and he was playing with Wednesday Week and the Droogs both of whom he liked but this is what he wanted to do.

Let's talk about some of the songs that are on this new album?

The new LP is a mean hard record.

What about a track like Burn?

It's another mean hard song. I think the lyrics are better, I hope there's going to be a lyric sheet this time. On the first album I liked the lyrics but they weren't really mature - isn't that terrible? What am I going to say about this album in a year? (Laughs). Burn is a very personal song; I don't want to talk about it. It's all there in the song. The motivation for a song is a whole different thing.

Still Holding On To You - what about that?

It's my first real love song, love beyond death, love beyond any element at all.

Are you looking forward to going to England and Europe?

I'm excited about that, I'm curious how a band like us will do there. They smashed X, they smashed the Blasters, they smashed Wall Of Voodoo, that's the L.A. record for you! They loved the Gun Club, I guess.

The Medicine Show will be out in America on A&M in late February, sadly there's no release date for it in England yet. If you haven't already done so, get your paws on a copy of the band's recent Rough Trade 12" 45. The A-side is Tell Me When It's Over, which you've just been reading about, the flip-side is more interesting as it features the Dream Syndicate in full flight, live, taken from a KPFK radio broadcast in 1982. Every time I play it, I can't help feeling some sadness in that the music belongs to the past now, to a band that we'll never have the pleasure of experiencing on stage in Europe. However the performances are dynamite specially the way they've reworked Some Kinda Itch and Sure Thing from the Down There EP. As a bonus there's one of the group's infamous covers, this time a version of the Buffalo Springfield's Mr. Soul plus you get some hilarious liner notes, written in a mock intellectual fashion (at Wynn's request) by Byron Coley and the artwork is a spoof on an old Tony William's Blue Note Records' sleeve.
Right now I'm just waiting for them to set foot on English soil to blow our minds.

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The Birth of Clay Allison

by Nigel Cross
issued on Bucketfull of Brains #8 Spring 1984

Fortunes are forever changing on the merry-go-round of pop music: a year ago Kendra Smith was still very much a part of the Dream Syndicate whilst her boyfriend David Roback was one of the main guiding lights of the Rain Parade. Twelve months later the two of them are out on their own, finding new paths and directions with their recently formed outfit, Clay Allison.
Whilst spending a couple of weeks in Los Angeles last Autumn I passed some pleasurable time in the company of David and Kendra. It was an exciting time for them: the debut album by the Rain Parade was about to be released and alongside it the Rainy Day LP which saw the two of them working and collaborating with other young L.A. musicians. Rainy Day (Enigma 1024) turned out to be one of 1983's most intriguing releases, not least because it brought together various members of the Dream Syndicate, the Bangles, the 3 O'Clock and the Rain Parade to perform a collection of mid sixties folk and pop songs. The whole project was produced and directed by David Roback so when we met up for breakfast at the Penguin Restaurant in Venice, L.A., I asked him all about the background to the album: "It started just by wanting to record some songs we liked. I wanted to record some songs I'd played at home. It was about nine months ago. At that point I decided that I could have a baby or make the Rainy Day album. I figured making the album would be better. It was very spontaneous. It never started out as a David and Kendra project, it started as me trying to work with all these different people whom I'd always wanted to do things with. I just called them up and asked them if they wanted to do it. We'd all talked before about doing something like this. I asked Mike (Quercio) and Sue (Hoffs) and Kendra to pick a couple of songs they wanted to do and I gave some suggestions of which songs they should do".
It's an eminently listenable album; certainly one that bears up to repeated plays. It's not an earth shattering experience but is pleasant and some of the cuts are a delight. Dealing with the less successful tracks first, On The Way Home, a Neil Young song doesn't fare too well with Roback's vocals unable to lift the song out of a dirge-like state whilst the title track Rainy Day, Fade Away is something of a disaster, getting bogged down in a morass of jamming guitars and endless improvisation that not even the usually riveting fretwork of Karl Precoda can rescue. I tackled David over its inclusion, as somehow it doesn't quite gel with the other songs: "It wasn't my idea, I just went along with it. I think it was either Karl's or Ethan's (James who engineered the record). I should have mixed the conga track louder because it's really captivating!!! It was really spontaneous… we just did it. I think Karl's guitar playing is the best thing on it!"
Holocaust (from Big Star's 3rd album) is a stellar cut with Kendra giving the most moving vocal performance of her career thus far. Every line aches with an anguish that surpasses even Chilton's and the piano adds an air of doom to proceedings. Kendra's other singing contribution, on the Buffalo Springfield's Flying On The Ground Is Wrong is nearly as fine, her voice milking the ballad for every last ounce of tenderness and sadness. Sue Hoff's contributions to the album show that she may have an enduring talent, something that her performances with the Bangles have failed to illustrate: her singing on the Dylan song I'll Keep It With Mine is inspiring and it's to her credit that this version holds its own against other superlative readings of this tune by the Fairport Convention and by Dylan himself. Hoffs ain't no Nico but again she infuses I'll Be Your Mirror with enough charm to carry it off. On the inclusion of these two covers Roback comments: "They were songs that Sue and I used to play when we were in a band together a few years ago called the Unconscious, very short lived. There's an old film of us playing in that band, it's pretty interesting but we moved on because we were holding each other back. We didn't want to sing together; we didn't like the sound of the male and female voice together. I'm very proud of I'll Keep It With Mine on the record: Sue's vocals and performance are classic and inspired".
Mike Quercio's renditions also come out well, on the whole, though his frivolous treatment of Sloop John B is not to my taste. John Riley however is an ace with plenty of guts and emotion, characteristics one could hardly apply to his work with the 3 O'Clock: this is almost on par with the Byrd's version on 5D. Enjoying this as much as I do, I asked David to explain its place on the record: "That was Mike's idea. We were going to do Catch The Wind. I learned it on guitar but Mike turned up at the studio and said he wanted to do John Riley instead". All in Rainy Day, despite its piscean depths of loneliness and despair, is a record to be treasured an I'm pleased to say that Rough Trade are releasing it here in the U.K. in the very near future.
One of the most important aspects of Rainy Day is that it represents the first recorded fruits of collaboration between David and Kendra, something which Clay Allison will allow them to do more fully. Back in September Clay Allison was very much a secondary project which ran side by side with the Rain Parade. Kendra also had only recently left the Dream Syndicate and my curiosity was such that I had to question her about leaving such a successful band. Kendra: "The main reason was that my role in it was limited. When the band first started, there was much more improvisation; we developed the songs together and then it became more and more one person finishing a song and bringing it in. Everybody got a little more uptight about live shows, which I think is a normal progression in what happens with most bands. We started touring and people started getting bigheaded, full of self-importance. Touring was fun but it was the hardest I've ever worked in my life. I decided that if I was going to like roll the carpet for someone else, it just wasn't fun any more. I wanted to start writing songs; I was getting bored just playing bass. When we started it was good; I could act up and jam. There was that song It's Going To Be Alright, which we used to play all the time; it was totally open for everybody. But it was getting so the openness was only for Steve and Karl to yank off for a whole show whilst Dennis and I had to be perfectly well behaved. The official statement was that I quit because I didn't like touring which is absolutely stupid. I wanted to work with David and the band were demanding a total commitment of all my time and life which just wasn't a good enough return".
In its embryonic stages last summer Clay Allison was very much a studio concept which was to quote David "Without players with individual influence and strong identities (except Kendra and myself). But we yearned to become a group. Terry Graham was brilliant and facile on drums, but his involvement with the Gun Club and his personal tastes always stood between him and total involvement". Terry, Kendra and David actually went into the studio and recorded though Roback now maintains that "We are not going to release our early recordings because we feel we have already outgrown them and they reflect what now seems to be an old state of mind". By the way the name Clay Allison "Comes from that of a gunfighter's from the Old West. We took it out of context and thought it had a lot of other associations that were interesting". Originally the music, according to Kendra had "A folk base but it's more warped and electric". At that point in time Kendra felt that Clay Allison was very influenced by Bert Jansch, Tim Buckley and Stones material like I'm Waiting and Flowers Inbetween The Buttons though David added that such ideas were "A complete afterthought". As we sat crunching toast and drinking coffee in the Penguin that morning, Roback was eager to explain some of the basic ideas behind the music he was writing for Clay Allison: "I tend to write a lot about weird morbid fantasies but I don't write about the morbid aspects of life. It's more the spiritual side of living in a morbid world, what becomes of it if you transcend that morbidity. I try to think about children when I write. Certain nursery rhymes are very morbid like Ring Around The Roses from the plague years. Like This Town is a child's song and on another level a very morbid song for adults. Children don't usually see the morbidity of things. It's interesting to note how childlike Kendra's artwork is for the front sleeve of Rainy Day!"
A couple of months after our conversation, Clay Allison played its debut show at the Pyramid Club on New York's Lower East Side in late December. It was an acoustic set with David, Kendra and Will Glenn on violin, warming up before the Rain Parade played. However less than two weeks later fate dealt a crippling blow: David Roback was given the sack from the Rain Parade. When I spoke to him on the phone during the first week of 1984 he was "heart-broken", saying "The band meant almost everything" to him. It must come as a great blow to Rain Parade fans too: as I write it would seem that Matt, Will and Steven will carry on but I've had no official word. Whatever Clay Allison continues and their first recordings are to be found enclosed in Issue 8 of this magazine in the shape of a debut 45: Fell From The Sun is written by Kendra and is the A-side whilst a joint Roback/Smith composition All Souls is the flip. I'm delighted that we can offer readers the chance to hear some truly original unorthodox music and hopefully the record will pave the way for a debut album which will feature the aforementioned two songs plus a further seven or eight originals and possibly an European tour. The music has changed quite dramatically with the current line-up moving away from the stripped down folk sound to what David describes as a "More dark and instrumental area, owing a lot to groups like Weather Report, the Doors etc.", which comes in part from "Long free form electric jam sessions… that were very hypnotic and had a very oriental inclination… very guitar and organ influenced". He sees the current Clay Allison material falling roughly into three categories: "1) Oriental and haunting songs, very electric, 2) Dark folky but electric and drippy ballads that usually feature Kendra's spectral voice, 3) Somewhat more baroque country ballads", adding that the group "Don't want to be like other bands in that (we) don't feel tied to any particular period and/or roots. (We) want to move further away from the pop or traditional rock sounds of bands like the Rain Parade or Dream Syndicate. (We) feel allied with something that pops up in all genres of music. (We) feel music has a lot to do with creating a mood and reaching people who need something".
Apart from David guitar and Kendra bass and most of the lead vocals, the band features guitarist Juan Gomez who was formerly in the Romans, then the Human Hands with Dennis Duck: now they're a band who deserve an article to themselves but all we've got room for here is to send you off after an interesting retrospective double LP and 45 set on Independent Project Records which will give you a good idea of this bizarre brand of subversive industrial pop music. David describes him as a "Versatile organist, soft spoken and intelligent… always stood out to us as a remarkably nice person". They've also recruited a new drummer, an old friend of Kendra, Keith Mitchell who used to play in a late seventies L.A. band, Monitor. During his time with the Rain Parade, David could never find a percussionist who suited the music he was writing a hundred per cent. So it was with great interest that I learnt that Mitchell fitted in perfectly: "I knew Keith would be perfect for us when we were playing one of our new songs, Lullaby with him and he started playing these great ambient and rhythmic droning drums. It turns out he loves tabla and played in a Pakistani band. Finally I'm playing with a drummer who loves what I love". The group will probably remain as a quartet though Sylvia Juncosa former organist with the Leaving Trains (whose debut LP Roback has produced) has been jamming with them recently. The idea of using an organ is important to Roback as it was he who suggested to the Rain Parade that they add an organist and he helped Will Glenn to develop that sound.
If it isn't already apparent I'm tremendously excited and enthusiastic about the music of Clay Allison, their potential seems limitless and both Kendra and David deserve the success, I hope, they will encounter in the coming months. I just wish they were over here now playing this remarkable brand of music - we need a waft of fresh air and unpredictability. Anyway I'll let Mr. Roback have the last word… meanwhile do enjoy the record: "Clay Allison has no desire to make it on dance band circuits. We're not interested in that at all. We're just interested in playing for an audience no matter how large or small. We feel there are a lot of people spread around who would be interested. Kids are taught that liking music like this is very uncool but I think eventually things will change and that very superficial trend will disappear like it always does every five or six years".

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Presskit of Fell From The Sun EP

Fell From The Sun is the debut release from a new Los Angeles based quartet led by Kendra Smith and David Roback. The four songs EP, produced by David Roback features the original songwriting and diverse talents of the individual members of the group. Lead singer Kendra Smith's vocals have been described as haunting and honest. The material on the EP moves gracefully from ballads to more exotic and hypnotic pieces. The creative guitar and organ playing of David Roback combines effectively with the unusual drumming and percussion of Keith Mitchell. The overall effect is a gripping full band sound that while certainly unusual in its style, still manages to find a place in the raw and rebellious ranks of much of contemporary rock music.
Kendra Smith, age 23, first came to public attention as the co-founder and bass player of the Dream Syndicate. After several national tours and critically acclaimed records, Kendra decided to shed the constraints of the Dream Syndicate to pursue her own singing and songwriting. It was at this time in early 1983 that Kendra met and became interested in collaborating with David Roback. David, age 25, was the founder and a singer/songwriter in the Rain Parade. Kendra and David's first collaborations from this period appeared on the highly praised folk compilation album "Rainy Day". Shortly thereafter, after touring with and producing the Rain Parade's well received debut album, David decided to leave the band to pursue a band whose orientation focused more on live performing rather than studio technique.
Kendra and David decided at this point to form their own group. They began working with Keith Mitchell whose drumming with the underground band Monitor had always appealed to them. The combination was perfect and along with other local musicians they began recording the songs that appear on Fell From The Sun. The group initially adopted the pseudonym Clay Allison and released a limited pressing of the single Fell From The Sun/All Souls in the British magazine "Bucketfull of Brains". After touring the U.S. in the spring of 1984 the band decided to no longer use a pseudonym, opting instead to use their own names in the interest of clarity.
It would be difficult to pigeonhole this original quartet into any of the narrow and self-limiting genres of contemporary rock music. It seems clear that the group has been inspired by both the rich traditions of American and English folk and rock music, and the liberating lyricism of free form jazz and oriental music. Fell From The Sun is a collection of the earliest recordings by this group who will undoubtedly be hearing more from in the future.

…a few excerpts from reviews:

"truly original, unorthodox music." - Bucketfull of Brains (UK)

"Brace yourself for (reveals Kendra) baroque acoustic dirges and rock & roll, influenced by everyone from the Rolling Stones to Tim Buckley to Hot Tuna." - BAM Magazine

"Kendra Smith, a young woman of simple radiant beauty." - Melody Maker

"embraces everything from folkieism to the crackling dunt of hefty metal, and they are hands-down this year's band to watch. All kinds of musical ether emerged from their set - this minute Keith was playing the floor toms with his hands while David spooled Cipollina-like frills far up into the atmosphere, then next they were crashing through a Zeppelinesque instrumental… So don't be a dick. Get the record." - Byron Coley, L.A. Weekly

"Raw Power from a hot California combination… fronted by Kendra Smith, ex-Dream Syndicate, and David Roback, once of the awesome Rain Parade… Throw them on your turntable." - Edwin Pouncey, Sounds (UK)

"Holocaust (Rainy Day) features a stellar vocal from Kendra Smith which will chill your soul." - Music (UK)

"Holocaust… A stunningly emotive reworking of an Alex Chilton slice of genius. A sad, lonely sound, with a girl plaintively crying and dying over a sparse piano background. So beautiful that it sends chills up my spine just thinking about it." - Tibet, Sounds (UK)

"Singer/guitarist David Roback was the frazzled mastermind behind Rainy Day. His gifts are equally evident here…" - Trouser Press

"And if we were sitting here talking to Joe Zawinul," explains Roback, band's (Rain Parade) principal singer and songwriter, "I would tell him what an influence he's had on our band. There's Miles Davis and Bach, that very classical thing. And there's something about those Oriental scales--it's as if you're on a wave and it captures you, it keeps you going with the drone. And that's not just psychedelic. It's honest music from another place entirely." - Musician

"Fell From The Sun/All Souls. Yeah, I've heard enough snickering from all those who think these two together--David Roback and Kendra Smith--represent the deep end of the paisley flood, to make me hesitate about putting this on. But it's good. The A-side is plaintive, kind of plodding and weary-sounding, but a pick me up nonetheless, propelled by buzzing, strangled guitar that kind of pulls you up while dragging you along, like Neil Young. The B-side is more of the wispy ethereal stuff you'd expected after hearing Rainy Day, haunting and yes, Big Star-y. And believe it or not, it ends too soon." - Matter Magazine

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Opal - A Gem in Explosion

by Guido Chiesa
issued on Rockerilla #83/84 July/August 1987

David Roback gave this interview to Guido Chiesa in US after the release of Happy Nightmare Baby: I sent it a few years ago to April for her All Souls website. I report it here with her introduction…

…"Please keep in mind that this isn't a word by word account of the interview… Roberto translated it from italian to english for us, and I went through it and made a few parts a little clearer. Hopefully, i didn't change any of David's quotes too much, I just tried to make it a little bit easier to understand because of the translation and all. I apologize if there's some things that aren't exactly what they're supposed to be." -April

Did you grow up both in LA?

Kendra was born in Virginia and spent most of her youth in Germany.

Your first steps to music…

When I was a child I listened to the radio: Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles. I'm quite self-taught from a technical point of view.

Did growing up in the sixties exert its influence on you?

I wasn't interested much in what has happened in the sixties. They were simply the sixties. TV and press exert their influence on LA and I think my memory of those years is mainly a filtered experience through the memory of the media.

I've read you're interested in painting and literature…

The European culture between the end of the previous century and the beginning of this one fascinates me. My favourite artists are the symbolists and the surrealists in literature, the expressionists in painting. Artaud exerted a powerful influence on my formation: his magic world (linked with the unconscious) helped me to fix my perceptions better. Also I esteem Joyce, Hesse, Yates, Dylan Thomas and Nietzsche very highly and among the painters, the early Picasso, Modigliani and Schiele. Finally, I studied the medieval English literature with great care whose use of language is still unexcelled.

Did you study these things at school?

Yes I did. I have a degree in art history.

Did your interest in art have bases similar to that one in music?

Yes, it did. They're the same thing. At the beginning, my interest in music was born from the wish to write lyrics for songs.

I think the modern rock set is rather unlearned while in the sixties people like Morrison or Dylan quoted Brecht and Thomas Eliot. Do you ever feel frustrated for this emptiness?

Yes I do. Actually I don't associate much with the rock circuit. Really it isn't an agreeable atmosphere. I think very highly of most of my fellow musicians but when they play gigs nearly all of them are inclined to become presumptuos and superficial people.

What on earth made you want to join a rock band?

I wished to play the guitar… to stay with other people.

Did the want of a music relating to your wishes drive you to the Paisley Underground?

No it didn't. At that time I loved deeply Patti Smith (probably the greatest inspiration of my life) and Television. In those years I lived in NY and I wasn't interested in the sixties revival.

Do you think the Paisley Underground has ever existed?

I think there was something called Paisley Underground, but I didn't believe in it… I didn't like it all. I didn't take part in it.

Well then, what was the Paisley Underground since it has existed?

It was a philologic operation and also a critics' trick that many new bands took hoping to achieve success more hastily.

You say you have never been interested in the revival, however since you joined the early Rain Parade, you were indeed considered to be the brain of the operation…

I was too deeply entangled to stop and think about what I did. Just later I realized that my life was a million miles away from that of the people I worked with. I left the Rain Parade when I became aware of where the music went.

You played on the Rain Parade's first album: do you still like it?

Really, I recorded with them a second LP that was never issued. I think Emergency Third Rail Power Trip had some good songs, but I don't listen to it any more.

Are you still friend with the musicians of that time?

No I am not. You must understand at that time among those who frequented those bands there were great differences that I could synthesize in two groups: those who were interested in soft, pop, revival music and those who turned to more metallic, electric, surreal atmospheres. I tended towards the second course. There were bands that I admired such as the early Dream Syndicate but all of them have lost their way.

Were the reasons that drove Kendra to leave the Dream Syndicate similar to yours with the Rain Parade?

It was the change happened into the band after the first mini-LP to motivate her decision. The Dream Syndicate was born as a band able to play absolutely improvised live shows. Then business aspirations came out and Wynn started to quarrel with the other members. Kendra left without slamming the door, however with the evident intent not to return.

Tell us something about the Rainy Day project.

Really there wasn't any project. Some members of Three O'Clock, Bangles, Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade enjoyed themselves playing some covers in a studio and so a record was born. The choice of the covers was totally casual.

Why did you leave the name Clay Allison after the recording of a single EP?

Because it was the easiest way to tell everybody we were about to engage in something new: Opal.

What is the actual line-up of the band?

It isn't exactly the same of the record. Kendra and I play the guitars, William Cooper on bass, Aaron Sherer on drums and Suki Ewers on keyboards.

Talking about your records and concerts, you have keep always a very reserved image…

After the Rain Parade I was disappointed with the musical scene and its corruption very much, so I decided to retire for a little while. It isn't distasteful to me to have left the Rain Parade because they ended up taking an opposite direction to my interests. We haven't exposed ourselves much, however obviously we have recorded much more than we have released. For a long time we have been cautious in deciding on our calling, because we would rather just involve ourselves in something we could put ourselves in completely. I don't think it's a question of diffidence. It's difficult to express such an opinion about myself, most people might think we're moody.

Do you intend playing many gigs after the release of the LP?

Yes we do, and in Europe too.

The image of the band that came out from the rare records that came before the release of Happy Nightmare Baby seemed much more ethereal and soft than the later album has shown. While the names Pink Floyd and Their Satanic Majesties Request strike me with concepts like that typical "music for mind-expansion" I'm in doubt that behind all this there is no humour. Am I wrong?

No you aren't. The magic and the humour are the basic elements of our philosophy. We perceive the pleasant aspect of the magic however we believe in it wholly. Only white magic. The positive side of the magic. We believe in it without perplexity but we cannot shrink from looking at it with a sense of humour. I don't manage to believe in a band or in a music that don't have humour, I think they're unreal. Take the apers of Joy Division: I adore Joy Division, but those who followed them have imitated only their heavy abstract side.

How much space is there for improvisation in your music?

In our music the coefficient of improvisation is very high. We cannot play such an electric music without the looseness provided by the improvisation. Now our main interest is born from the opportunities given by the new line-up and the volume of electric sonorities which we can create playing in concert. The record is nothing but the live band in a studio.

In the sixties a type of music, like that one which you promote nowadays, was intrinsically linked with the use of drugs and the spreading of eastern philosophies. Do you think of your music in these terms?

Not exactly. I don't think about our music in so general cultural terms.

The last question: why have you signed with SST, the label of Husker Du, Black Flag, Meat Puppets?

Because with SST we feel like we're at home. Either it's to the kind of music which they produce or it's their political trend. Their strategy is founded on steady tours which is totally compatible with Opal. The other labels thought of us as a psychedelic band whereas they haven't these sort of problems, coming from the hardcore. We like working with these people. The labels haven't any sense for us: they call us heavy metal, psychedelics, folk. It's all the same to us.

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