Cloaca Melodia

My life in concerts, by Mike Sauter.


WHTG Snowball

John Easdale/Juliana Hatfield/Fountains of Wayne/Patti Rothberg/Wesley Willis/Mars Needs Women/Goud's Thumb

Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ

Here's an interview I did with John Easdale a couple of weeks before this show.

Mike: So first, the basics--where are you from originally?

John: I grew up in Wayne.

Mike: Is that where Dramarama started?

John: Yes, everybody in the band was originally from Wayne for the most part--our first couple of drummers were from Wayne, but [later Dramarama drummer and former Blondie drummer] Clem Burke, I guess, is from Union. We were pretty New Jersey based. The four of us who stayed throughout--from the beginning to the end--we all went to the same high school.

Mike: Do I remember correctly that you guys had a record store at one point?

John: Yeah, actually, Chris Carter--the bass player--and Tommy--who was the sixth member of Dramarama, he was the keyboard player, acoustic guitar player, and background vocalist--they opened a store when they got out of high school called Loony Tunes Records on Route 23. I was their first employee. I used to just go hang out, and after awhile, they said, "We're either going to have to arrest him for loitering or start paying him." [laughs]

Mike: When you were doing that, were you guys playing together?

John: No. I didn't know Chris, really. Chris was the last guy I met. I knew Peter [Wood] and Mark [Englert], the guitar players, but Chris was a couple of years older than I was, and I met him at the store. We just clicked instantly--we had very similar taste in music, and we turned each other on to different things.

This was at a time when independent 45s were just starting to come out, and we sold those. We sold R.E.M. and the Bongos--from Hoboken. In fact, the bass player came down with ten copies of the first Bongos 45 and was like "Uh, would you guys like to sell these?" We listened to everything that came in, and we were like, "Oh, that's a pretty good single."

There was also a number of records that were just garbage, so we were like, "Heck, everybody else is doing it, so why don't we?" It was becoming a thing in the aftermath of the punk, and the new wave do-it-yourself thing started happening. In 1982, we sold the store--we had started playing and fooling around in the basement of the store in '81--and put the first 45 out.

Mike: Now, John, I'm a big film buff, so I've been curious. There was a British composer of film scores named Brian Easdale...

John: Yeah! He did The Red Shoes!

Mike: Yeah, is he any relative?

John: No, I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised, but no, I don't know.

Mike: I wondered especially because he's also in music. Well, he won an Oscar for that movie, so you could always claim him.

John: I know! It's not a common surname.

Mike: What would you say is the big difference in your life these days, versus three, five, six years ago?

John: Maturity.

Mike: Maturity?

John: Yeah. Everything's different, it's like night and day. I was just saying yesterday how I don't miss everything in my life coming from my head. When I was running the band, that was my only way of living--that was the way I made a living. I got paid, and I actually made money doing that. When I was doing that, it was all things that I was coming up with--I would write these songs, and these five guys were standing around, waiting for my songs. And this is going to be the vehicle that was going to feed us all, and buy us all clothes, and pay our rent. You don't realize it when you're doing it, but it's a tremendous responsibility. You just do it and do it and do it, and you're not thinking about it. Now, with hindsight, I say, "How did I handle it?" I don't know.

The point being--now I work for [radio industry trade magazine Virtually Alternative] and I produce "Rotten Day," and it's nice to not have to come up with everything. I don't have to invent it out of thin air. I'm doing a job, and it's less mentally straining. I don't have to create. I'm creative, but I'm doing a job.

Mike: On 18 Big Ones!: The Best of Dramarama, which was recently released on Rhino Records, you have a secret song on it.

John: Oh, "Work For Food."

Mike: Yeah, the acoustic version. A lot of people are very psyched since they've heard that on the radio for years but couldn't buy it anywhere. It's so cool that you can hide tracks on CDs and play around with it. On the Hi-Fi Sci-Fi album, the last track listed says "13-41 Double Secret Bonus Tracks." Was that supposed to be multiple tracks, or was that supposed to all be track number 13? On the CD that I have, it's only one track, with indexes.

John: Yeah, the numbers go up. Or does it not?

Mike: Well, on mine it's all track 13, but sometimes different machines react differently is certain situations.

John: It should go up--I know Vinyl did, and that one [on Hi-Fi Sci-Fi] was supposed to. It's the "Hey Grandpa" cocktail party, then the song "Hey Grandpa."

Mike: The cocktail party part has a bunch of people--like Gary Owens and Davy Jones from The Monkees--saying "Hey Grandpa." How did you get all those people?

John: We put in a call, we said, "Please, we're not asking much, all we want you to say is 'hey, Grandpa.' No big thing, you don't have to say who you are, just say 'hey Grandpa.'" So we got some people to come down to the studio and we got some people to just phone it in. It was a goof.

Mike: And one more question about the Dramarama albums. On both Vinyl and Hi-Fi Sci-Fi, you sampled from several well-known prank phone call tapes which made the rounds some years ago...

John: Yeah, that was all before there was anything known as "The Jerky Boys." It was all before that. We didn't call them the Jerky Boys, we didn't know what they were.

Mike: You were definitely ahead of the curve on that one. So you guys were into those old tapes?

John: Oh, yeah! The best ones you could listen to again and again and still laugh.

Mike: I'm curious, and if you want to take the Fifth on this one, feel free. Did listening to those tapes ever inspire you to make any prank calls of your own?

John: You know, I never did. It never occurred to me. That's pretty funny, but no. When I was little I did it, but I don't think I could be that inventive.

Mike: You did it when you were little, though?

John: We would just call people out of the phone book and say they won prizes from radio stations. A twelve-year-old boy trying to sound like no one knew it wasn't a grown-up.

Mike: [laughing] Yeah, right? I once had a kid call me at the radio station trying to close their school for a snowday, thinking they were sounding very adult. It was so obvious it made me embarrassed about when I was a kid and tried to sound adult.

John: You never know when you're little. You always figure you're pretty grown up.

Mike: Speaking of younger days and since we're getting towards the holidays, you wrote in the song "Don't Feel Like Doing Drugs," "I still remember every program, toy, and game." When you were a kid were there any particular toys that stand out in your mind that you coveted as a gift?

John: I like that G.I. Joe space capsule I got when I was five or six. I recently saw it in the box at a toy convention for eight hundred dollars or something, and was like "Man, I gave this up for a quarter at a toy sale when I was eleven." It was actually a Friendship 7, John Glenn's capsule. It had a sliding plastic, see-through window that you could see inside the capsule. I thought it was the coolest thing. It had a record that had the actual tape of John Glenn in space. I thought that was the wildest toy. That's the first thing that comes to mind anyway, I'm sure there were thousands.

Mike: So who's playing with you when you're doing shows these days?

John: I'm bringing Mark Englert out with me--who was "Mr. E Boy" as well, the guitar player from Dramarama. He's coming out from California with me. And Peter Wood, who lives back in Jersey now, will also be playing with me. Nick Celeste, who played with me the last time I played The Metro in Long Branch--he used to play with Richard Barone and is my dear friend. I'm not sure--maybe some other guests--but, for the most part, the three Dramarama boys and Nick.

Mike: Are you going to be putting any new stuff out in the next year?

John: Funny you should ask that. I was planning on something for the beginning of the new year--like maybe January or February--and it's pretty much done. So I've rushed-pressed up a couple of hundred of CDs for the show when I come out. They'll be available at the shows. They're not available at stores and they're not available anywhere else until next year--just as a favor and a present.

Mike: A special treat...

John: A special treat! Bringing holiday cheer. Last time I came out, I had made some cassettes. I sold all those, so with the money that I made from the cassettes I made CDs. And if I sell all those, I'll make more CDs. I'm very reluctant to get back into business with someone else right now. I've had offers to put out records with other labels, and I've been very, very hesitant.

Mike: Just wary of it?

John: The stories are many--you can read the booklet from 18 Big Ones, and that doesn't even scratch the surface of the kind of bad luck that we had. And unfortunately in music, it seems that that's more the rule that the exception. The exception is the success.

We're actually an exception to the rule, in the sense that we got to make so many records and do what we did for as long as we did without ever breaking through to that next level of financial independence. We did everything but make the money--we traveled the world, we were on the radio, television, and did everything. We just didn't make the money, which was too bad. Back then, there weren't even twenty modern rock stations.

But I'm the luckiest man in the world to have done what I've done already. It doesn't matter because it never was about money, and it still isn't. When I was fourteen years old and I just wanted to do it, I never dreamed about getting out of the garage. It was just something I loved to do, and at the end of the band I wasn't loving it so much. I can honestly say that when I do it, I am loving it again. Getting away from being in a rock band has brought back some of the joy.

Mike: The CDs that you have--do they have some of the same songs that were on your tape from the last time you were here? You know, "Waiting (For that Sound)" and so forth?

John: Yes. It'll have those songs, and it's twelve songs altogether--actually eleven and one song twice. And actually thirteen, with a bonus song that will not be on the future pressings of it. A Christmas song.

Mike: I know you had the song "70s TV," but if you had to select one decade from the past forty years as having the best pop culture, would it be the '70s, or would it be a different decade?

John: The '70s was my decade for growing up--I went from nine to nineteen--so, obviously, I'm really nostalgic for it. The '60s were probably a better time--it was also time when I was growing up and there was a lot more innocence than was depicted in the wild days of free love and drug abuse and whatnot. In 1969, that wasn't going on many places--maybe in Berkeley, California--but mainstream America hadn't turned that corner. In the '70s starts the decline and fall of Western Civilization. But that's when I grew up, so I have a great love for it.

Mike: You always are going to feel very fond of that time in your life, but do you feel that twenty years from now, you might look back at these days with a similar kind of nostalgia?

John: I think that whole adolescent time is a very important time--it's when you make a lot of choices in life, what you like and what you want to do with yourself. If you're lucky, by the time you're twenty, you're on your path. I think that that nostalgia will remain for the '70s since that's when I grew up--the coming of age period. And people who grew up in the '80s will think of that way of the '80s. And people who grew up in the '90s will think of that way of the '90s. People have fond memories of Saved By the Bell already.

Mike: [laughing] Yeah, that's going to be The Brady Bunch of the next generation.

John: Yeah! It's on every day, on every channel. It's on more than I Love Lucy. So yeah, I will feel nostalgia, but at the same time, I don't look back at the '80s and say, "Wow! What a great time." I did a lot of living in the '80s--I went from obscure record store clerk, to playing in France and coming to California and selling out the Hollywood Palladium. So it was quite a decade for me. I didn't do quite as much in the '70s, but it means more to me than the '80s ever will.

Mike: It makes me think of a Jonathan Richman line talking about a grade school sweetheart, "do you pine for her, or the way you were?"

John: I love Jonathan. He's a great, great artist.

Mike: So how is it working with John Lydon?

John: Oh, it's a breeze. We get along famously. He's a very professional gentleman--none of the sort of things you might expect. He is what he is--when you hear his radio show, he really is like that, but he reserves his ridicule for people he thinks are full of shit. So if you go in there and try to kiss up to him or anything, he has a very strong bullshit detector. He'll probably rip you to shreds. I treat him like an ordinary Joe.

Mind you, when I was fifteen, I took a bus to New York City to buy the 45s of the Sex Pistols. They used to call me "Johnny Rotten" when I was sixteen or seventeen in high school. I didn't dye my hair red or put pins through my face--I never sought that out--but he was definitely one of my top icons, along with Bowie and a couple of others throughout those years.

But even as much as that was the case, you just can't get all gushy because you make people uncomfortable when you do that. I know I for sure get really uncomfortable when somebody says, "Oh, you are so cool!" or anything. Any kind of minor complement? The greatest way to get rid of me. Say something nice to me, "Thanks, goodbye!" and I'm outta there because I don't want to be on a different level. And if you're looking up at me and saying nice things to me--you're totally wrong, you should be looking down on me, is the way I feel. Or eye to eye is good. I get really uncomfortable with the put-the-artist-on-the-pedestal kind of thing. I never did that with him, I was like "Hey, how's it going," tell him what to do, "Read that again," and it was fine. We have a nice professional working relationship.

Mike: Well, that's it, John. It's been great talking with you.

John: Cool! See you soon!

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