David Minehan Interview
July 18, 2015, Woolly Mammoth Studios
The BGN Crew: Blowfish (B), Miss Lyn (L) and John Keegan (J), headed out to Woolly Mammoth studios to interview David Minehan.
Miss Lyn- This is an interview I have wanted to do for years now. I think David is a phenomenon in Boston. He founded the Neighborhoods, one of Boston's most beloved and well known bands. He's been tours internationally with Paul Westerberg for his solo band and The Replacements for years now. He's got his well known recording studio, Woolly Mammoth and he's long been married to Judy Grunwald former Maps lead singer and muse, and obsession, to many guys out there. - that's pretty damned impressive! He's one of the more successful Boston musicians there is and yet he remains as sweet and amiable as he was when I first met him in 1975. It was an absolute pleasure to do this interview with David and I feel like we hit on a lot of different aspects of his life and career and he was more than willing to tell us a bunch of great stories along the way.
David: I can't believe we're all here 35 years, hangin' out.
B: It is one of the amazing things, of course, we're the survivors.
David: I mean the timing of it all, for us just to be born when we were.
L: I know, I'm so glad that I was able to live through and experience all of that time.
B: I went through the 60's and The Bosstown sound. But I was just a fan. There was a difference when the 70's and punk came. The 70's said to you 'Come in. Play. Do it yourself'."
David: Yeah, there was barely a difference between the stage and the floor at that point. You know I brag to my clients like 'I was buying Beatles records before they broke up, you know? But we had such exalted examples of music. I mean Stones, Beatles, Kinks, it was just like 'How dare we even think we could?' you know? That's why I didn't write songs until I was like eighteen. It was just too intimidating?
B: But, you wrote that first batch of songs in '77, somewhere?
David: Yeah, bass player Jimmy Bowman, who was my high school buddy. He was a couple years older than me and Careful Mike moved out to my little stoner high school. He was my link, you know, Mike was this kid in a black leather jacket, who was a year younger than me. Just his way of just making friends and making things happen and you know, kind of befriending him, talking music, and just goofing around with stuff. Of course getting wasted and high all the time, but our first trip into Boston he took me directly to the Rat. You know, drinking age was 18, I was 17, he was 16, and he walks me into the bar at the Rat and gets me a drink. And of course it was DMZ that night. And everything I knew from that moment on was wrong.
B: Now before that, you were doing a cover band?.
David: Yeah, I had my little high school band. It was very glam rock oriented, Bowie and Bolan….
L: Was Mike playing drums at this time?
David: Well, yeah he, you know, he was the Third Rail guy, Richard's Guy …
B: Like a roadie drummer
David: Yeah, so he was learning how to play drums with those guys, we were all kind of learning together.
B: I thought that you wrote that first batch of songs before you heard The Ramones, but that's not true, you had heard the Ramones?
David: I think so. But you know Cheap Trick was like a gateway band for a lot of us. They weren't punk but they were something kind of left of center. But the album that kind of did it for me, that made me feel like I'd smoked too much Angel Dust or something, was TV Eye Live by Iggy. The sound of it, everything was just so scary, and intense, and the songs were like 'who the fuck is this guy?' you know? And that one was for me like 'Wow, suddenly it was a different kind of pedestal, it was much more down to earth, and then of course the Ramones: three chords and just sing some goofy thing, and then you get a song, that did definitely open a door. Like, "I might be able to do this too", and you just take baby steps.
B: I always think of The Neighborhoods as the second wave. The first wave being Third Rail and Reddy Teddy, Mark Thor, and Willie Loco, and then it was you guys, La Peste, Axe, Thrills. And the difference for the second wave was you had heard punk a little bit.
David: Right, and we were definitely copying it. I mean you just fell in love with it, and you're just so enamored, you start to copy it, but no one copies anything exactly. There's always going to be a little DNA.
L: Yup, influenced by. So were you influenced, say like Cheap Trick and Iggy, and the Ramones, but were you also influenced by the bands in Boston that you had been seeing?
David: Oh yeah! I mean DMZ blew my mind with their intensity, and I loved that visceral onslaught of a show that they had. I was like 'Wow' I think I was adrenalized for a week after watching those guys. But the other band that really did it for me was Nervous Eaters, because there you had a lot more tradition in the songs, but you had attitude galore and beautiful tunes too. Steve to me is still the unheralded premier song writer of Boston. His songs just still kill me.
L: Yes! The songs are so well crafted, and so memorable, but Steve would always throw some crazy lyrics in there. My question when we interviewed them a million years ago was 'Are you purposely using weird lyrics, like dirty lyrics, to ensure you won't get famous or get signed?' You know what I mean? His songs so well written, but then he'd throw 'Stick a stiletto right up your asshole' or something in there. You know…."Just Head".
David: Right, I know. To me, that was the clincher though! There were no aspirations of anything but just making an impact with this song. I mean, that to me was like 'ooh, that's awesome!'
B: Where do the Neighborhoods fit in that spectrum, cuz as far as punk and pop, The Neighborhoods would sound more like Cheap Trick than the Ramones.
B: Did you make that decision, or that's just the way it came out?
David: Just the way it came out. It's poppy, but it's aggressive. It was power pop. As much as we wanted to be Punk, and all that stuff, it was power pop.
B: But if you played Power Pop in those years, aggressively…and that made it Punk.
David: Right, because people were used to James Taylor. But you had the Plimsouls thing, there were Power Pop bands. I mean, even Blondie was Power Pop and stuff like that.
B: Things were much more all encompassing then. We'd take a Blondie or a Mink Deville along with Ramones and Black Flag.
L: People were doing their own thing, so it wasn't like a formula that everyone had to follow. It was different. That was what made it all so great.
David: Yeah, it was all inclusive…and that's what the Punk ethic was like "Don't copy me, just do whatever you think.
B: But I think you're playing it this way; G (GBDGDG), C (CEGDG), and A (AEADG)?
David: Well I'll tell you, this is geeky fun stuff to talk about, but when you're in a three piece band and you're trying to make every chord as loud and proud as possible, and you start to play in ways that the chords resound bigger than a first position chord would or something. So it was a matter of 'how do I sound as big as these two guitar bands?" or at least attempt to get as big. And you start to find out what chords ring and bloom the most, you know, that way.
B: A few more people should be doing it that way.
David: Well when you're a geek with your head in the guitar speakers and you're just like "whaaah" and you're just hearing this thing wash over you, and quickly designate the things that work and the things that don't. Like Major third, for some reason on loud guitar amps just start to sour a little, even though it's a major, they kind of implode the chord a little.
B: See, I like what you're saying right there, and this is stupid geeky, but drop the fifths people, and play the thirds. If you move the thirds around, that's a cool poppy sound.
David: Right, again I'm going from a position of loud, somewhat destroyed amps, you know like cleaner, you know thirds say it all. They're like the feeling, or the mood.
B: And what gear are you using? It almost looks like you're just playing to the Les Paul, and you've got a Marshall, what do you have there?
D: These days or back then?
B: Well both then. I thought you had the same gear.
David: Nah, I mean back then, I was a Hendrix freak growing up and that's kinda what brought me to guitar, and he had Strats and Marshalls, and I was bound and determined to make that work somehow. Even though for the Punk thing it's not a good choice. But I was already kind of invested in 'I gotta make it work somehow'. So I had my Marshall Stack and I had a 69 Strat…..and it got stolen.
David: Stolen at my very first show in Boston as the Neighborhoods, for a Willie Alexander benefit, at The Club, remember The Club?
B: Oh yeah? We were there for that show!
David: Yeah and it was kind of brand new and I was just a country bumpkin, and I left my guitar in the back stage area for…after sound check or something, and low and behold there's a door right to the parking lot right there. And it got stolen, and I found it like 8 months later in the Record Garage. And then I found out just all the little criminal junkies who worked all the clubs, stealing guitars and bringing them to the Garage. Bands, people in bands that were a junkies. People you'd know.
L: Yeah, I can imagine. That's sad, that's really sad.
David: And you find out this shit years later, and the guy who ran it was a total criminal, and so here again it's like country bumpkin kid, "welcome to life in the big city man". And then you know I get beat up four or five times….and my first girlfriend PunkRock Girlfriend R, I love her, you know, but she was dabbling in the junk. We had our Punk rock apartment down in Charlesgate in Kenmore Square and living the Punk life, the Sid and Nancy life and paying rent and one day these Constables come in and serve us our eviction notice. And we have to get out right there and then. No warnings. I was like 'PunkRock Girlfriend R, what the fuck is this?' and she goes 'I'm sorry.' She'd been taking all our rent money, and doing junk, and hiding the eviction notices. And so I'm 18 years old, and I'm like 'Whaaat????' And Remember Stu?
B: The sailor, yes!
David: He and Jerry Anne were living there too, and we're all sitting there on our fucking shit out on the sidewalk, and PunkRock Girlfriend R gets in a Cadillac with some guy from like East Boston and drives away.
David: That was my first Punk Rock romance.
L: It was a good lesson, huh? At least it happened right away, and hopefully you learned your lesson at that point.
David: And I was like wake up and smell the junkie! And like I say I got hurt in town a lot, I got beat up a lot, cuz being Punk then, I mean if you walked out of your safe little bubble, you got beat up a lot.
L: Did you literally get beat up? Cuz here you were living near the Rat, and there were all these stories all the time about people getting beaten up by the jocks and BU guys.
David: Yes, I got totally pounded one night, one New Year's night Cantone's. And we had our little usual gang, you would know them too. And this one guy just started freaking out, and slam dancing but it was in a violent kind of way and I just like kind of said "come on man," and just did one of these elbow things, and said back up or something. Next thing I know "Do-do-do-do" You know like 5 punches in the face. And I was on the floor out cold. Years later, I found out it was the brother of the keyboard player from Pastiche, who was a professional fighter.
(everyone exclaims) OOoooHHH!!!
David: I didn't have chance. I'm not a fighter anyway, but I didn't have a chance. Then I got sucker punched at a Buzzcocks concert once too, just knocked me down on the floor, you know… And then the more famous one was in front of the Rat, when we had just come back from 999 at the Paradise. We were hanging out outside The Rat, and as you remember, there was the disco across the street, and there was hostility from those types toward us Punk types. A gang of kids had come out of there and were working their way over and one of them, this is with PunkRock Girlfriend R once again, said something pretty nasty to PunkRock Girlfriend R and then PunkRock Girlfriend R said something back and the guy smacks her in the face!! And I go in and just say "Woah oh oh" and next thing I know, I'm down, bleeding profusely in front of the Rat. One of the kids had a bottle of something. He just slammed it over my head. My head's wide open, and I'm coming to and Mitch is hovering over me "Hey Dave, the ambulance is on the way. Hang in there." And that blood stain was there for like 5 years or something. I mean today it's like who would even think about it?
David: No. I think there's been a saturation of images and looks and cultural kind of bits, everyone looks all different anyway. I guess if you get into some of those homogenized societies, maybe then you're in trouble again.
B- To get back to your gear - What's your current rig? A Les Paul?
DM- OK, yes. So back in the day it was a Fender and Marshalls and we got voted the loudest band in Boston playing that place Jasper's. They clocked us in at 120 DB. But you know, things change and in the late 80's we got artist endorsements from Fender, Gibson, Ampeg so we were given some guitars and I gotta say Gibsons are just a little easier to play. I loved Mick Ronson with Bowie you know? Just give me a Les Paul and a Marshall and I'm happy. Billy Loosigian and a Les Paul you know? If you watch how Billy sustains his note, his thumb is not even on the back of the neck. He's got a technique that has swooping notes.
B- What amp are you using now?
D- These days, it's different because the Replacements have a lot of traditional tones. Sure they look kinda like crazy Rat punk and you can crank up but with the Replacements there a lot of stuff that has to be dynamically low and clean and chime-y and strum-y.
Lately I've been into this whole HiWatt area but now there's a company in America…um the guy that designed HiWatt, Dave Reeves, his son and another American builder have created this company called HiTone and they are exact clones of HiWatt amps from the 70s. So I use two HiTone half stacks on stage with the Replacements as well as a Fender Vibro King that Fender gave me on tour last year.
B- What about pedals? I've never seen you with a lot of pedals.
DM- In recording I have about a hundred pedals available for any different use but live…not a lot. A little echo, a little slap back, a little distortion, a little chorus. With the Replacements I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel up there I'm very true to what was on the records. And Paul is an amazing guitar player and I have to just stay out of his way and just cut my own path.
B: You mention the Replacements and we want to talk about that because it's what you're doing, or what you've done right up to this point.
L: Or had done, because we all know about the Westerberg t-shirt thing supposedly ending the band.
David: Right, that last thing in Portugal, you know four weeks ago, was like "This is our last show". I think the thing is Paul says all kinds of stuff on stage. Every night it's just kind of a running banter. It's a funny, half-cocked shit. But that said, I always think like every show could be the last show of the Replacements. That's just the way it is. You know, there's just kind of a perishable thing about this. And I've learned not to butt in on any of that and I think that's why he appreciates me too.
It was ironic because before we went onstage that night, at the festival in Porto, Portugal, the grounds were just incredibly beautiful. Stages set in different parts of these rolling hills that you walk to, and it's just stunning. And I'm looking around, we finished sound check, and I gave him a hug, and said "You know Paul, if this was the end of it now, this is a good one." And then later that night like "This is our last show." (everyone laughs)
David: No, exactly. He's in a real…..I don't wanna call it midlife crisis, but it's like 'what are the Replacements in 2015?' ….Except that they are loved by millions, and I would say at least a third maybe half are kids weren't even born when the band was originally playing. When they are out in the audience, and when we start a certain song and they almost start crying. It's a really powerful visceral exchange that happens up there! But I do know Paul's ideal would be "Let's do a half a set of Replacements' songs and half a set of Solo album songs." Cuz his Solo Album songs are fucking amazing.
B: Yeah he doesn't throw those in?
David: No, because it's the Replacements. When I toured with him in '92 on his first solo tour, we did do a third or more of Replacement songs then. But even Tommy's got great songs too. So just for now, I think he's just faced with...like, he said it in an interview, some years ago, "you know, I've been playing those Replacement songs all along anyway, it's not like I left them completely." You know he'd do his solo records and, but when he and I toured, he would love to hear certain songs. So I think it's just a matter of like "I'm not going to become a nostalgia act." The thing about that guy is that he never seem to care about money, because he lives frugally, he's not wealthy, and the world has been trying to make him wealthy for 25 years!
J: He keeps refusing.
B: They want to use his songs for different things I imagine.
David: Oh yeah, and that is great. That honors him, and he's happy to do that because in the end he's all about his songs, and he's proud of his songs, but I've seen him kick so many silver platters of offerings back in the face of people…
L: So how did your friendship with him start?
David: It's not that I had any connections to those guys. I saw them at the Rat in '85 or '86, and their reputation by then was just like, 'they're probably going to suck, cuz you know, they'll be drunk'. But they played 14 songs like bam-bam-bam, and just like the moment I saw DMZ it was like 'It just doesn't get better than this!' And then years later, he had a manager, Gary, who had an agency here in Boston and then moved to New York and the agency took off and he was managing the Replacements. So when they broke up, Gary was putting feelers out for auditions to get this touring band for Paul. And Gary, knowing me from Boston, put my name in the hat along with a few other folks, and I went down and straight up auditioned. He didn't know me from Adam.
B: Well that's different than what everyone thinks
David: Why what does everyone think that?
David: No I was a fan, but I was a fan from afar.
L: Something obviously must have clicked because it kept going.
David: Well the thing was it, Darren Hill from Red Rockers and from Rain Dogs, and a good friend of mine for all these years, caught wind that the auditions were going on too. So I thought 'oh that'd be awesome and so we got it arranged so Darren and I would audition on the same day', and we got together before then, and we just woodshedded on a lot of his songs, so when we both stepped in to rehearse, it sounded fucking brilliant.
L: You must have been thrilled, how did it feel to be in that situation?
David: I was nervous as hell, because I have idols, we all do. You know, The Beatles, The Who, Bowie, Iggy, and Westerberg. I just said "I can do it, I can do it, keep cool." I just went in there and played my thing and it was all kind of business, it wasn't like touchy feely stuff, but I was just l trying to be me and do my best, and I got it! I'm also a very easy person to get along with. I have no ego, you know, I mean it's like, "I'm here, just tell me what to do."
B: You've played all these songs with Paul. But creatively do you ever interact with him?….like writing?
David: Yes, he comes in odd times, but a lot of the rehearsals leading up to this Replacement stuff would be an afternoon of not playing any Replacement songs. We'd be playing just fucked up shit, you know like covers…and jams, I mean not jamming you know, but just like reaching out into weird riffs that kind of rock. I think that's his way of making sure that you can think on your feet a little or that there's a 'catching lightning in a bottle' aspect of things available in some way
B: Now during those jams do you see any riffs that he later uses?
David: Yes, he was trying out a lot of new stuff with us. And then I've seen him just kind of stop and kind of think about something, so there is a little bit of that process going on too. I actually had those guys in here in a secret recording session a year and a half ago, and it was the hardest session I've ever done in my life. You know he's an unorthodox character. You say white, he says black. You set up for one thing and he starts dismantling it and sets it up another way. So you have to anticipate that this is gonna be an inversion of what you think it's gonna be.
B: So what do you attribute that too? Is he just a contrarian or is it creative process?
David: It is creative process…and he is a bit of a contrarian, but after all these years, those happy accidents have some consistency. That's why you can't point to any particular kind of thing about the Replacements. The records all sound different, the songs all kind of like take different steps, so chalk it up to a real artist who does not want it to be so repetitive.
B: Yeah he's not, he doesn't have a template. One song will be riff based and others chord based, and others melody based, he's all over the map.
David: He listens to music in the most capital sense of the word. Like everything is valid. On the tour bus sometimes there'll be Joanie Mitchell, into Prince, into the Sex Pistols into the Fairport Convention into Miles Davis.
David: There are some huge crowds!
B: Bigger than The Hoods ever played?
David: Oh god yeah, well I mean unless we were opening for someone, like the Clash or Bowie or those kind of shows.
L: Do you feel like you've finally become a rock star?
David: It's funny because I thought of myself as more of a rock star in '79, '80, than now. Now that I'm up there with you know….rock stars, the way this organization works, as well as that tier that they're traveling in, we're up there with all these head honchos, everything is five star. But the thing is there's a fan base that's just so appreciative, you feel like you're delivering, you know, fucking food to the starving. It's just like, 'Oh my god, I know I'm not gonna see this again, I'm just so glad I'm here for this', and that kind of stuff.
B: Does he write the set list each night or do you ad lib it?
David: The set list changes each night, but there tends to be a "let's wrap this up and take no prisoners kind of thing." When we do the opening riffs to Bastards of Young, it's always, a 20,000 person shriek. Or Paul starts Can't Hardly Wait, and it's just sort of that community of people who love it so much, as I do, you know? It never gets old.
L: When you played that Boston Calling show and then the Converse show at the Sinclair…how did you feel coming back home and playing in the Replacements in front of Boston audience and fans?
David: The Boston Calling thing was stressful because when you're playing a big show on home turf, everyone comes out of the woodwork. Bus my wife Judy and my daughters and friends and relatives and were there. So it's wonderful on one level but there's also this like, you're thinking as a parallel person 'Are they all set? Are they gonna get seats?'... and the backstage area was not great, it was very tight. The security was really really tight. I think everyone that night was just a little on edge and even though the show was great and everyone was happy, at the end, I just felt like I wasn't even grounded that night. But the Sinclair, which I thought was gonna be a more stressful show cuz it was so tiny, and then much less of a production and all that kind of stuff, that show turned out to be kind of a magic night.
David: I love it! I showed my kids the Judy shrine!
B: Oh yeah yeah yeah!! Explain to us the romance, the introduction, the whole thing, how you were together, because to us it's like Angelina and Brad Pitt or Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
David: Haha!!...except we haven't been divorced 3 times. I will say this on the record; the first time I laid eyes on her I was done. I was, "that is the woman I love". I just knew she was the one.
L: Where was this at a club?
David: I don't know The Maps played somewhere, and I thought the Maps were phenomenal, they were fucking brilliant. But she had a boyfriend, I was kind of like 'awww'. But there was a New Year's show, at weird place on the corner of Mass Ave and Newbury Street called Tennis Up. The Hoods, Unnatural Axe, and I think the Maps played. It started in the afternoon and went all the way through the night. That was the first time I kind of got to hang with her and it was awful because half of our crew, including our sound guy, was stuck in an elevator all night. And the electricity was really bad in there, I stepped up to the mic and I got knocked almost unconscious by a shock. The whole night was like that and it's New Years to boot. People were throwing furniture out the windows down on Mass Ave. It was the wildest scene. It was that night backstage, I think I made a first move.
L: And did it click with you two right away?
David: It took five or six years after that before we started dating!
David: I kept pursuing her. She always thinks it's so funny that I would have these crazy huge cars that Rick Hart would buy the Hoods. He didn't want us to break down so he would buy us these ridiculous cars like Cadillac Brougham or Lincoln Continentals, not new, used, but like big ass mafia cars. She knew I had these cars and we'd find each other in different clubs sometimes and she'd be like "Can I get a ride home?" That kind of thing, and I'd be like "Yeah" (smiling). I'd give her a ride home, she's say "thanks" and jump out of the car, and that went on for a while, but slowly but surely…but I forget our first actual date.
B: By the time you were dating her was she in Salem 66?
David: Just starting. Michael Cudahy of Christmas, and her, and another girl were jamming together, and Susan Miriam got involved, and that was the very beginning of Salem 66.
B: Where did you get married? When?
David: We did a very small backyard thing at her parent's house here in Waltham, and no big blown out thing. We had been dating for ten years by the time we got married. And she was touring a lot, I was touring a lot, there were lots of times when we were like this isn't gonna work, but…it did.
L: So…you know…everyone's getting back together again. Has there ever been talk about Salem 66 getting back together?
David: Susan Miriam is a professor at Bard, a Flemish Art Professor. And she has a PhD and that's all she does, and hasn't touched drums in years. And Beth and she just kind found each other again recently and just started talking. I think, the factor, the fear factor alone of this like "this again?"
David: A little, a little, not like that, but she'll sing a little here and there. Of course whenever we sing anything, our kids are like "Stop, you can't do that!!"
B: Yeah, so the kids, when you have career day with the kids do you go to the class?
David: No, but I will say that every now and then a teacher at one of the schools is like "No way!" It'll come up. Sylvia told me one of the teachers, who she didn't even have, but he knew of a Sylvia Minehan in the school, and asked her "Is your dad Dave Minehan" She said "Yeah" He said "He plays for the Replacements right?" She said "Yeah" He goes "Ohhh my god!"
B: I can't imagine what they think, or how they take it
D- We've kind of kept it low key, I mean my kids have been to a couple shows, but you know, I was kind of dormant for a lot of years, just kind of learning how to produce bands and running a studio. I'm kind of glad that we let them become who they are. You know, they love music though…
B: Do they listen to the Hoods stuff?
J: "Don't play that Dad!!"
David: Yeah, yeah, right "Don't embarrass me!"
B: Could you imagine your daughters going out to the Rat today? You know what I mean? If it were reversed, if you were the parent and they were going into the situation?
David: That's the thing, I gotta be careful, even talking about any of these things, cuz there's a lot of our lives that's secret to them. They don't know half of the stuff that's kinds dangerous to know about parents…being in situations that could have gone really bad. And you know I read that people who commit suicide, often 50% or more had a parent that committed suicide. There's something about it that gives them some sort of parental permission thing when that happens. So, put it this way I have been clean and sober for 28 years. They don't know that, but that's fine.
B- So talk to us about your transition from being in a band to being in a studio? At what point did you say to yourself "I'm getting out of playing and doing something else now."?
D- Luckily I had as much of a fascination with this shit as I did with being in a band. We all had our collection of records and many times it would be listening to the record intensely and looking at the artwork and many times those studio shots would fascinate me and then wondering you know "How did they get that sound?" The first time I was in a studio I was like "This is the bomb!!"
B- When was your first time in a studio?
D- Richard Nolan's guitar player in Third Rail, Gary Soprano had a little studio in his house in Newton. And we cut our first two songs ever in there and I was on fire! I was like "This is the greatest thing EVER!!" And I loved Third Rail, it was a kooky band and Richard Nolan was like…talk about a colorful human, but that's what I loved about that time - all characters. Richard Nolan, Ed Hood, Willie Alexander, Marc Thor.
B- Richard Nolan always had great musicians in his band. And he was a great song writer.
D- I loved Richard's work ethic. You know, he managed us for a while, very early on.
B- I remember those early songs then really came together fast. The first gig was like "You know these guys have some catchy songs." The second gig was like "Wow these songs are actually good." And the third gig was like "These songs are great!!
D- We were growing up in public - for sure, and you know nothing succeeds like success. You just start to feel the wind in your sails and I will say that band when we were with Richard was pretty great. I just felt like "I'll never be as good as the Eaters or Real Kids" and you know the bar was high and I did not want to suck.
B- And did you have a serious work ethic as far as practicing went?
D- We did actually. Richard Nolan made us!! (big smile) Remember how he would make up these flyers for everything? He made flyers once for us to put on our refrigerator. One said "Keep your dynamics, Keep your loyalty, and you will get signed"
B- Now tell us about Rick Harte.
D- Well Rick Harte is a veritable story unto himself and I wouldn't be here without him. He is an eccentric's eccentric. But the guy taught me HUGE lessons. Some people may argue about his production style but I think it sounds pretty good. This is a classic Rick Harte thing….
D - …and inside…
He opens the suitcase- it's overflowing with old 45s
D- He didn't give me his record collector singles but he gave me the chafe. He said "Listen to these and learn." It's Beatles, David Clarke 5, Creedence Clearwater…it's a goldmine…they're all in terrible shape but you know - what better way to influence a kid? He was just saying "Listen to how these songs kinda work, how they come together." He really made an effort to teach us "Don't just love these songs, learn how they work."
B- I would think you went into the studio and would just record a song but you just showed that's not what happened to you at that time. And that record took a long long time.
D Well Rick…RICK…was being Rick…even out of the studio and back at the office he has like the ice age of timing there. And the only regret…and this is not about Rick!...we had a manager at that time; Joe Casey and there was this apex of like "The Hoods are ready to get signed, ready to go to the next level" but Joe Casey was waiting for the Beatles recording deal and Rick Harte was kind of fingers-in-the-pie and there was stuff contingent on his getting it out that would have helped a lot and we scared off some people because we loved Rick so much we wanted him to be part of the parcel. I remember giving demos to EMI and there were something like 15 songs of that era that just never saw the light of day that would have been our perfect power pop album.
B- So they're in a vault somewhere?
D- Not even, well maybe a half dozen in a vault somewhere. I remember this guy from a French label who came over to do a deal with us. So he put us in a studio in Vermont and we did about 15, 20 songs for him and he was thrashing all over the room and it was the most fun recording session ever. And we did record them all and I cannot find that anywhere. That would have been a great record.
B - It's amazing how stuff like that can actually get lost. The Live at The Rat II, you're on there and it's gone. What the hell's goin' on?
D- Well for one thing, things were much looser back then. But I will say the Hoods did persevere…with a little breakdown here and there and a little time off. But from '78, our first show, to '92, our last show, we still covered a lot of ground. We missed our first kinda big chance and then it took us 5 years to even recover. I could tell we had missed the boat. And the other thing was…we were whores, we were livin' so high on the hog…we had a house in Scituate, a house in Brighton, we had our crew living with us, our manager living with us. We had a half size semi truck full of lights and sound equipment.
L- You were making that kind of money?
D- Well we were doing 200 plus shows a year for 3 years straight. And that was all over New England and up and down the East Coast. Wherever we went we carried our stuff with us and I know…I found an April 1979 Joe Casey band schedule and we did 23 shows that month. And I know between the fast living and the sheer work and that kind of frustration-coz we'd keep hitting the ceiling- that by the time 1981 came around I was fried, I was frustrated. I sort of put it down and we lost a lot of ground.
I kinda had a weird way of coming back. I was very influenced by a lot art damage music. We got kinda funky and we had a black bass player for a while and then coming back with this heavy kinda Gang of Four music….then we slowly regained speed and started releasing records again culminating with a record that went nowhere.
But at least we got to tour with Bowie. We did the whole Tin Machine tour of North America with him. And that was wild. I mean you look at Bowie's eyes on his album covers and every day I'd be back stage and I'd say "Hi David. " and he'd say "aye David." And I just look at him and those eyes and think 'WOW!!!' But we got him in our van and got him to go to Tijuana with us one day and we went to see a movie with him once and went out to eat with him a couple times.
Everyone is laughing
D- You know I've had these experiences in my life that I'm thinking "How did this happen?" When I was 14 in my little bedroom playing a guitar I wasn't thinking "I know, some day I'm gonna tour with Bowie." You know??
B- You've had quite a rock'n'roll life, career.
D- Yeah if you don't ask for too much from it ...I always say there's a lot of bitter, cynical, jaded rockers out there because they asked too much from it. Whatever the ride is just enjoy it, don't ask anything from it coz it 'll just break your heart.
B- To get back to the Hoods… you were coming back, you had the albums out and the touring and then what?
D- Once again we had really become a force of nature. We were selling out The Channel and places like that, touring all up and down the East Coast, I mean we were touring nationally again. We were having fun. But with Mike we had come to a point that we really needed to part ways. Musically it was just only going so far with Mike and there were personal things. Then we hired this guy Carl Coletti for the last two years, he was like a drummer's phenomenon. All these songs I had tossed in the wastebasket previously were working out really well with him.
Luckily for the Hoods we came back and we were strong again but about that time Lee was like "I'm going back to school" and we said "Let's just make this last year be a total blast. So we did all our final touring and shows and it was just the best good bye ever. It was so positive and so good. That Live at The Rat II record was our last show. So that was the end of the Hoods.
B- And at that point was your idea like "I can run a studio. I can produce bands."?
D- I'd been dabbling in recording bands and had been producing bands before then anyway. One of the first records I ever produced, that I thought was really good, was the Scruffy The Cat record I produced in '86. I didn't have a studio but I was figuring out how things worked and got a 4 track and started from there.
D- It all started one piece at a time. You wouldn't believe how basic it was, but that's how it starts. And…you know…You start to feel that you're good at something. And because I've been around the block and I kinda know how to write songs, play songs, perform songs, what kinda works and what doesn't. I kinda felt I could not just be a technical guy but could actually talk the language with bands. Because it's a psychological game too, you know: "What do you want to bring to this? what do you want to get out of yourself?" Trying to help bands not get in the way of themselves. How to erase self doubt. How to erase adulation so they're not copying someone. But you do it all very carefully and nurturing. Then you bring 'em to the finish line and it's a very positive experience.
And you know, each time it's different. Some bands are like "We just want to document the way we are. Set up the mics and let us play." And that's fine, that's totally valid. But if they say "We want to make these songs the best that they can be"…then you try to help with the production side of things and you start to come up with ideas and you try erase their weaknesses and build up on their strengths.
D- Oh, Lots. But I'll tell you there are some artists that just blow my mind like Rick Berlin being one of them. He embodies passion like nobody else. He is a theatrical rocker, a pullin' the heart string type songwriter. But he's also full of irreverence too. Some of the songs are so funny. And this guy still walks the walk for his art.
B- People may think that Wooly Mammoth …and you…would have a Neighborhoods type sound, a harder rocking sound. So how about people like Jon Macey? That album Actuality In Process has an almost string quartet feel to it. It's quiet and warm and far, far away from what you did in your own band.
D- That's a good point. As far as having a name and notoriety - it can work for you or against you because people may have preconceived notions of what I will bring because I was in a proto power pop band or whatever. But my musical roots go way, way beyond that. I know a lot more about music than just that era, that was just my vehicle at the time. I've done avant guarde records and jazz records here. Sonically I love when things change, I hate repeating myself.
D- Ah, yes and no. If you know Jon he's another eccentric character. Very passionate about music. His life has had some twists and turns… You know Jon, he is a true punk! And he's a great song writer too!
B- Didn't he have health issues for a while?
D- Yeah he is one of those guys who basically died on the table. He had that experience you hear about …he could see the time on the clock, what color tie the doctor was wearing, what the nurses were doing. He said "Dude, I don't buy this shit and yet this happened to me." And that is the basis for how this rock opera started …..it was like .."Whoa! I gotta redo some of my thinking here." I think there's gonna be a second part to it too. To me it's not done …it just seems unfinished to me.
B- You know Jon reminds me of you on stage. Not the way you move or anything but just because he's a natural rock star up there.
D- Oh yeah. He's got the stance and everything! And he's got stories to tell that guy! He loves the dark side….for many years he was a taxi driver and you know, the whole hanging out at Jacques…he's a heterosexual but he just loves the dark side. He's had relationships with all kinds of insane people…and you know, what comes out at night?...He's an expert.
B- What about John Lincoln Wright?
D- AW!!! THAT guy!! I did his last record. He's the best songwriter. John was already really hurtin' you know, deep into the alcoholism and spittin' up blood in the studio, weighed 100 pounds, and that voice and those songs. He wrote a song that still gives me chills and almost makes me cry…it's something like On the Way to ..a city in New Mexico…it basically encapsulates the life of a musician. It would drop any man. Obviously he gave his life to it. It's the story of when you give it your all and it doesn't work out, even though you had a legacy and you brought great joy and you have documentation of how valid it was to many people, in the end you die alone and broke and there are divorces and there is a cost. That was an experience. You know I did a Willie record too! I mean Willie was one of my heroes!
L- Do you get people coming to the studio from all over the country or is it local?
DM- Its all word of mouth. Just word of mouth.
L- Yeah you were saying you don't really advertise at all. But do you want more business?
D- Yes, I do want more. I DO WANT MORE!! My kids have to go to college!!!!!
L- How did you come up with that name Woolly Mammoth?
D- We were doing our records for one of the labels and the only studio that had kind of like a pretty swanky set up was a place kinda locally. This guy had had platinum records with some well known bands but little did we know we were getting in bed with fucking Black Beard!! This guy was an active alcoholic junkie, ex-wives showing up for alimony every other day. Looked like something out of Young Frankenstein, you know? Chain smoking and there's a half million dollar board and he's using it like an ashtray. And the biggest compliment you could get out of him was (David in a gruff voice) "Yeah, that didn't suck."
But he would take forever, I don't know if this was to milk the budget or what but he'd take five fuckin' hours on a kick drum and a snare drum. And we'd be like "Come on, are we there yet? Can we get on the guitars now?" And he'd yell "Shut the fuck up I'm getting' to it!! The fuckin' woolly mammoths will be up soon!!"
Like guitars to him were like "ARRGGHHHH!!:" You know, woolly mammoths, big gargantuan things. I didn't even think of it 'til later but I thought "Hey that's pretty cool."
B- So physically this is quite a place. You have that room with the grand piano in it.
D- That's Mark Sandman's piano. That's a famous piano.
B- Talk about your drum room, that's amazing too.
D- For those who know how studios work, everything is reactive. Some rooms are alive, some rooms are dead, some rooms are shaped in ways that are not good. There is noise cancelling where, let's say the bass is canceling because you have bad acoustics in that room. So you keep turning up the bass and yet take the recording and listen to it in your car, or somewhere away from the studio and the bass is the loudest thing on there. I've worked very hard to make sure there's good accuracy and musicality to the rooms.
I'm not a wealthy person so I had to choose two rooms to put my money into. So whatever happens this room will always be perfect especially for loud stuff. The other rooms were designed and treated so they work as well.
But the drum room is a room within a room. You can't have anything of those rooms touching each other. The first room gets built, the joists are laid on these neoprene pucks and those are secured to the floor in a way that they minimize vibration to the floor below. Then we put 50 or a 100 bags of sand in between those joists and then the next floor goes on top of that. So it's built so if you are in the room with no ear protection it would be insanely loud but if you go out, shut the door and stand outside of it and poof the noise is gone. That's why we can do music here 24/7.
B-Do many bands want to do that?
D- I gave up the vampire hours years ago. But some bands want to record at night yeah. I'm here ten hours a day usually and when I leave my other guys come in and do their other projects. There's a proliferation of "studios" out there now, the technology can be had pretty easily. So there are people out there who are technically recording things and getting things done but they may have poorly sounding environments and preamps that don't sound as glorious as what we have.
D- Oh you know all those records.
B- You mean album covers?
D- Yeah all those 60's album covers. You know, Brian Jones…if you can dress like Brian Jones you're doin' great!
B- Now, you say there is a new Neighborhoods record in the works. Is it all new material?
D- Yes. Our plan is since I'm off the road with the Replacements, the Neighborhoods are getting together for this down time and we're actually finally getting a record together, its kinda half done already and I want to have it kinda in the can by late September. I'm on a real creative rush right now. It's funny you know I don't want to billboard it because anything could happen to get in the way but it's like this sleeping giant has awoken within us. It's like we're ready to throw down the gauntlet again.