Friday, July 2, we were able to catch a
hurried evening meal in their downtown motel restaurant with Mike Brewer and
Tom Shipley. That night they were to play Public Hall, their acoustic
sound sandwiched between Sweathog and Black Sabbath. Their plane into
Cleveland had been three hours late, delaying a brief interview at WNCR's
studio. Mike and Tom have been touring steadily for four years and
recently the pace has stepped up drastically - ever since they did "One Toke
Over The Line." They recently returned from a stint in England
and Western Europe.
both live on farmland outside Kansas City, they have little time to be there
with their families. In spite of the fatigue, loneliness and
homesickness, their heads seem very together -- it appears that they
understand their game. Just prior to the start of the "interview" we
had been talking about the correlation between the banning of songs and the
burning of books. The duo had recently played in Luxembourg, and the
radio people there understood the implications of the comparison -- about
thirty years ago Hitler burned a lot of books in Luxembourg.
Tom hails from Cleveland, and we've known
him for about six years. As we sit at the table, the participants in
the interview are Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley, da BOOM's Mr. Nobody, my wife
Lisa and myself. As I start my kamikaze tape recorder, the strains of
"Up, Up and Away" drip from the muzak.
BOOM: The song "People Love Each Other"
(from Weeds) has got to be a favorite of mine that you do.
Like, you guys said you don't really like to write about things that bum
you, things you hate, so where does that fit in on the list of songs that
you've written? What do think of it?
TOM: It's just another song.
MIKE: That's the song that's doing it in England for us. Tarkio
is still new over there. When we went over to England recently, we had
to brush up on the old tunes. Occasionally, we do some songs from
Weeds, but not too often. We still close with "Witchi-tai-to" and
do "Watchtower" but that's about all from that album. Primarily, we do
stuff from Tarkio here in the states.
AL: You're more into a loose sort of thing
on Tarkio, more into just laying the tunes out.
MIKE: You have no idea...
AL: Well, it seems to work better
sales-wise, than the earlier more structured stuff.
MIKE: Tarkio almost killed us. It almost killed us. It was so
uptight rather than loose. By and large things were incredibly
uptight. It was that simple, or difficult. Our producer kept
referring to the song "The Light" as "Slow Drag in G." Every time we'd
start to record another song the producer would moan and groan and just hate
it. We got hassled too much, so we're producing our own record this
time. We had control, but not as much as we wanted. A lot of the
musicians on the session had worked with the man for years and years and
they recommended him.
BOOM: Like Jerry Garcia?
MIKE: No. Garcia just popped in one day, played his part about three
times and then split. Just walked in and did it. He only played
on one song.
BOOM: Where'd you record?
TOM: Wally Hieder's in San Francisco.
AL: How do you feel that "One Toke Over The
Line" is the song that everyone knows you for? It's a fun song, but some of
your heavier things have been overlooked.
TOM: We didn't pick it to be, or write it to be a single. The record
company wanted a single, they listened to all the songs and decided which
one had the right length to it for the Top 40 people to play, you know --
which was the most commercial, whatever, the did it, you know. It's
just another song to us. I didn't expect it to happen. We've put
out a lot of singles, but nothing ever happened. The record company
needed a single. We didn't care, so it surprised us that it was a hit.
AL: You guys were far out on the Johnny
Carson Show. It was really great.
LISA: You know what it looked like? You guys looked like two
professors in a burlesque show to me, man, you know? Really.
MIKE: It was horrible.
TOM: Do your know that we flew our bass player out to play with us, from San
Francisco. They didn't even turn on his microphone. He was there
AL: What was the Carson trip like?
TOM: That's exactly what it was like! That's what the whole trip was
like. It cost us several hundred dollars to fly him out from San
Francisco. An they didn't even run on his mike. Just
AL: Did they screen your material at all?
"Tarkio" is pretty heavy.
TOM: We just had to edit "Tarkio" like the single, 'cause it was too long,
BOOM: But you didn't get censorship from
the Carson people: you could say what you wanted to say?
AL: How did they treat you?
TOM: Carson? Horrible, just horrible.
TOM: NBC is just horrible -- everything there's horrible. We just did
David Frost. That was different.
AL: Did Frost rap with you?
MIKE: A little bit. He's a zombie. I mean, he's a nice guy and
all, but a zombie.
TOM: Talk about a guy turning it on and just doing their thing
MIKE: I don't even think he knows what he does: he just does it. He
just knows that whatever this is that he does, they give him a lot of money.
He just does it and looks straight ahead, and he's turning yellow.
Which is kind of strange. He has a strange color about him. It
comes from looking just straight ahead all the time.
AL: Do you run into performing situations
where everybody's got things together?
TOM: Oh yeah, those are the only ones that count.
MIKE: Not often enough! And it's usually because of something no one has
control over. Like the sound system just being weird you know.
AL: You don't have your own sound system?
TOM: We do, but we haven't used it in a long time.
BOOM: So tonight you get to use Black
Sabbath's sound system.
TOM: I guess. I don't know.
BOOM: Have you done a sound check?
TOM: It doesn't make any difference. You get a sound check in an empty
room, and it's totally different when it fills up with people.
BOOM: Does Paul mix?
TOM: That's why we have somebody with us. We have to have someone who
can keep things together as much as possible. But there's no telling.
We did 15 cities with Quicksilver, using their equipment. One night it
would be great. Next it would be horrible.
AL: With the same mix settings?
TOM: Yeah! Same people running it, same everything. Who knows what it
is, the room? I don't know.
(Conversation drifts to talk about
relatives, vacations, etc.)
MIKE: I really felt welcomed home from a quick rest in Mexico yesterday.
My old lady and I were both stripped naked and searched at the border.
Welcome home! This is the land of the free, is it not?
BOOM: Do you get hassled by other
TOM: No, I don't even go through customs except in Canada.
MIKE: The only country we've ever been hassled in is the United States.
AL: Coming back
TOM: Or leaving! We were going to Europe from Chicago. I've got
pictures of us going through the metal detector. Searched. Hands
AL: You're the guys with the bombs!
TOM: I guess. They can do anything as long as they don't shoot.
AL: I've been through a metal detector
before. The airlines were courteous. Are you the only people subjected
to that POW-type treatment?
TOM: No. We were the only people on that plane who were searched.
MIKE: I was searched thoroughly. Frisked! Tom's been pulled off planes
after we were already on them and searched.
TOM: They're a little more uptight in Miami than they are in Chicago.
MIKE: You looked more like an Arab than anything that day, the way you were
TOM: I don't know. I've become quite careful when I travel.
BOOM: I guess you're quite lucky that you
didn't have to learn the hard way to be careful. So many people have
MIKE: I just want to stay on being lucky, until I can leave.
AL: Till you can what?
TOM & MIKE: LEAVE!
MIKE: Go to some free country.
TOM & MIKE: Holland.
MIKE: Maybe Amsterdam
AL: How about Switzerland?
TOM: Not as groovy as Holland as far as permissiveness is concerned. Holland
is very permissive, plus it's an incredibly heavy art center.
MIKE: Dutch realism is in fact, alive and well in Holland. Everything
looks like an old Dutch painting. I just want to find a place where I
can live! I could live very well in Holland. I want to check it out
some more before I make a decision.
AL: Do you feel that you have a function as
performers, other than entertaining and working for a living, to sing social
songs to keep people aware of what's going on?
MIKE: No! No more than everyone has a responsibility, even if you don't
perform, to promote what is right and ignore what's wrong, to do away with
AL: You don't ignore what's wrong through
your lyrics. You're very sensitive.
TOM: I think Mike meant "do away" with what's wrong and dig on what's right.
MIKE: Yeah, I've started to think that one way to do away with something is
to ignore it. That came down when the whole "One Toke" thing went down
AL: The FCC ruling, or suggestion?
MIKE: Yeah. We were really tempted though. We had the heavy lawyers
that always get involved with those things, the one or two "test" cases.
They were really coming onto us. They wanted us to challenge the
banning. And...we just couldn't take it seriously, you know. We
were tempted, to be sure.
AL: to be martyrs or something, or set a
MIKE: Well, at first we felt threatened. It freaked us, the fact that
people would make an issue about it.
BOOM: Considering that it was not illegal
to write that song.
MIKE: Right. But on second thought we decided the best thing to do
would be to ignore the whole thing, till in fact they did hurt us.
TOM: Till we were personally confronted.
MIKE: And by ignoring it we made the whole thing look silly. Instead
of making it look important by making an issue of it.
TOM: "One Toke" was taken off in only four major markets.
BOOM: I understand it's a big jukebox hit.
TOM: And "Oh, Mommy" (the flipside) is a big jukebox hit on Army bases.
AL: Do you expect to be entertaining our
troops on the Army bases?
TOM: NO! Bob Hope gets all the work.
MIKE: Right now, the people in the service are more closely aligned with
freaks, or people of our "ideology: than ever before -- with our side.
TOM: And it's growing.
MIKE: Since the Pentagon papers, I just hate the thing. What a drag --
even the people that went into the service with good intentions just have to
believe! At first they just scared them, but now they're as dragged as
all of us. More so, I would imagine, than a heavy percentage of the
destructive revolutionaries, the heavy bombers, are coming from Vietnam.