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Sunday, March 08, 2009


Prairie Prince remembers 'Skylarking'

Album of the Week -- Prairie Prince

We've got a treat for you -- artist and drummer extraordinaire Prairie Prince graciously agreed to talk with Todd Bernhardt about recording with XTC -- and this week we feature memories of 1987's Skylarking.

The song we've posted this week is the live-in-the-studio basic version of "Extrovert," originally released as a B-side of the "Grass" EP in the U.K., and then later the lead track on Rag and Bone Buffet (Rare Cuts and Leftovers). The band then later added on to it at Todd's Woodstock studio, but this is a fantastic glimpse of the song being born.

We'll be back in two weeks with a look at one of the band's more old-fashioned songs. Speculate away!

TB: I guess the first thing I'd like to talk to you about is your background. A lot of people reading this might not really know much about that. They might know the big picture -- that you're a founding member of The Tubes, you're even a founding member of Journey, though people might not realize that. You've played with Todd on a bunch of albums and projects, and have been involved with a number of groups, both as a band member and in the studio. Could you go back a little bit and talk about some of your influences? What interested you in the drums in the first place? What drew you to that particular instrument?

PP: Probably my father. He was not particularly a drummer, but he had this incredible sense of rhythm. He loved to dance and sing and recite poetry, so I think I developed a lot of my sense of rhythm and interest in drums through my father. He loved to listen to the Big Band music of that era -- you know, Benny Goodman and Hal Kemp, guys like that.

Probably the first Big Band drummer I listened to was Gene Krupa. I used to listen to his flamboyant drumming. I loved his style so much.

TB: He was the first big drumming star, in a lot of ways.

PP: Exactly. Thinking about XTC, I probably channeled him a bit on "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul."

TB: Your Jazz chops really show though there.

PP: It's really pseudo Jazz chops. I mean, I'm inspired by stuff like that, but I didn't really study it. I was more of a Rock and Roll guy from the beginning.

TB: Speaking of studying, did you actually take lessons as you were coming up?

PP: I took a few lessons in grade school from the local band teacher. Most of my schooling really was among friends -- we would get our snare drums together before we actually had drum sets, and play along with Surf music or other music that we were listening to at the time -- Dion, and stuff like that.

TB: You grew up in Arizona, right?

PP: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. My buddies and I would get together in the afternoon and teach each other stuff, so that was the form of our self-instruction -- and destruction. [laughs] Deconstruction!

I probably still really should go back and take some formal lessons. [laughs] I keep wanting to do that, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

TB: [laughs] It's hard to do when you're working all the time as a professional musician!

PP: Yeah, that's true! I still like to get together with drummers, with full drum sets, and play together, teach each other things.

TB: The Tubes originally had two drummers, right?

PP: Yeah, we were actually two bands that formed together from Phoenix. One band was called the Red, White and Blues Band -- that was Roger Steen and myself and another bass player. Fee Waybill was actually our roadie at the time. The other band was called Beans -- that was Bill Spooner, Vince Welnick and Rick Anderson. The other drummer's name was Bob MacIntosh.

So, we had two bands, and we used to play at festivals and stuff together -- hippie festivals up in the mountains. Then we all moved, separately, up to San Francisco from Arizona in the late '60s, and tried it separately for a while, but then we just joined forces and became one big band with two drummers.

TB: During a time when the archetype was the quartet, how did that go over?

PP: It went over fine. I mean, we were also influenced by the Grateful Dead, who had two drummers. The Allman Brothers had two drummers. At that point, we were kind of into the expansion jam-band kind of thing. We were also very influenced by Frank Zappa, and he had two drummers -- Artie Tripp and Jimmy Carl Black.

Unfortunately, Bob passed away at a very young age from cancer. It was the early '70s, and people really didn't have a handle on how to cure or at least delay the disease, like they do now. He got the diagnosis when he was 21, and died when he was 23.

TB: Wow, how sad.

PP: Yeah, it was a big loss. After that, The Tubes played on with just me as the one drummer, until we met Mingo Lewis, who sort of proclaimed himself as the next drummer in The Tubes [laughs], and started playing with us. His wild percussion led to some exciting moments for many years to come.

TB: He played kit with you guys as well as percussion?

PP: He played everything he possibly could! He started off with just congas and timbales, and then he had these wild drums called North Drums, and then got a set of Yamahas, so he had one side of the stage completely covered with drums, and he would take his choice, do whatever he wanted to do.

TB: You guys first met Todd when he was your producer?

PP: Actually, I first met Todd through an art project. I was going to the San Francisco Art Institute, where I got a Bachelor's degree in painting. I graduated in '73 or '74, and then in '75, some mutual friends who were his costume designers asked me to do some airbrush painting on some costumes for him. I actually got to meet him briefly at that time.

I think I actually got onstage and played with him at the Bottom Line in New York -- in '75 or '76, I think.

We didn't really become that great of friends until a bit later, maybe '77, when because of another mutual friend, we asked him to produce our Remote Control album, which happened in '78 or '79. And I've been playing with him ever since! [laughs]

TB: Was it really that kind of a deal, where during the making of that album you forged that tight of a bond?

PP: Yeah, pretty much. I think so.

TB: You realized you worked well together, and that's kind of a rare thing in music.

PP: Absolutely. I am actually speaking for myself. Some members of the band didn't feel the same way I did. I was a little more star struck, I guess.

TB: So, you were familiar with his music?

PP: Oh, I was a big fan! From back in the Nazz days.

TB: It's funny -- the people I've talked to who've worked with him, it's kind of a love/hate thing. They either are totally blown away by him and his capabilities and everything he's able to do, or they say he's a really tough taskmaster. He's kind of like Zappa in that way -- a lot of people have bitched and moaned about how hard it was to learn in the "School of Frank," but everyone says they were better when they came out of it, even though -- or maybe because! -- he was so hard to work for.

PP: Yeah, Todd is the same way, and I think Andy found that out. [laughs] I never really heard too much about Dave or Colin's opinions -- they kind of kept it to themselves. But Andy was very vocal about his dissatisfaction. I'm sure they both appreciated each other, but they were both hard-headed and wanted to do their own thing. It was quite a sight.

TB: Yeah, two intensely creative people who have different points of view and want to pursue their vision. I'm sure you've run into that as a visual artist as well as a musician.

PP: Yeah, I absolutely have.

TB: It can be tough to collaborate.

PP: If you want to get paid, you might have to back down! [laughs]

TB: [laughing] Actually, that's a good segue into a question I want to ask you -- you've been a member of several bands, but you've also worked on a lot of studio projects as a hired gun. Could you talk a little bit about the difference between the two?

PP: A lot of time, when you go in the studio, you're asked to do a certain part on a certain song -- for example, with XTC, Andy just said, "I love your drumming on all this and all that, but could you play it this way?" And I said, "Sure, I'll give it a try."

I mean, I'd throw in a few of my own ideas here and there, but generally I'd be playing something per his request -- something that would obviously go with the song, that he had already thought about, since he has such a great sense of rhythm. I mean, that guy is just amazing. I'm not sure if I've actually ever heard him sit down and play a set of drums, but I think that he probably could do an excellent job. I know he's done some great drum programming.

I can't tell you how many sessions I've done where I left very frustrated, thinking that I really should have been able to express my feelings at a greater depth than I was allowed to do, but, like I said, if you want to get paid, you just shut up and play the part. And a lot of times, it does come out, because you're the person playing it, so it's bound to have some of your heart and soul in it. You just have to chalk it up as a good experience.

As far as playing with The Tubes goes, or your own band, where you're actually creating the original part for the music -- I mean, there's nothing like it. It's the most satisfying thing in the world, especially if it comes out sounding good. And you get a number-one hit! [laughs] That would be the best part! Unfortunately, we haven't found that yet, but we're still working on it. [laughs]

TB: A lot of the other studio drummers I've interviewed over the years have emphasized the need to be able to get along with people. It's all about personality -- people are going to call you if you're a nice person, basically. You've got to be good, of course -- you've got to be able to do it in one or two takes, but if you're going to be in the pressure cooker of the studio and you can't get along with other people, you're not going to get called back.

PP: That's true. I always thought I could get along with everybody, and I usually get called back. I was a little surprised I didn't get called back for the next XTC album after the Todd experience, but I have the feeling that I was lumped into the bad feeling that they might have associated with Todd -- it wasn't about whether I was a good or bad drummer or anything.

But then I got the call 12 or so years later -- they said, "Well, we listened to our last couple of records, and realized how much we enjoyed working with you," and I was glad to hear that they had actually reconsidered or revisited the experience they had had with me, outside of Todd. I thought that was great.

TB: A big reason that Pat Mastelotto got the job on Oranges and Lemons is because the producer knew him.

PP: Which is why I got the job with XTC on Skylarking! [laughs]

TB: Exactly! Let's talk about that a little bit. Todd was working on this album with them, and you get the call...

PP: He called me, and said, "Do you want to do drums for XTC?" And I said, "Are you kidding? Of course!"

TB: Oh, so you knew their stuff and were already a fan?

PP: Oh yeah! The Tubes played with them on Top of the Pops, I think it was -- we did "Prime Time" and they did "Making Plans for Nigel."

I was a huge fan of their first album -- when The Tubes first went to Europe, which I think was in late '76 or early '77, the Punk thing was just really starting to get heavy, and I think the first song we heard from XTC was "I'm Bugged." It just floored me. That one, and "Radios in Motion." Mike Cotton -- our keyboard player-- and I, we were just going, "God, listen to these guys -- they're so great." We became instant fans, and then got Go 2 when it came out.

From that point, it was like the Beatles -- I couldn't wait for the next XTC album. So yeah, I was a huge fan, and when we finally played together, I think I talked to Andy for a second, and told him I was a fan. When Todd got the production job and asked me to do it, I just went, "Absolutely!" So, that all worked out! [laughs] But then on the next album, he wasn't involved, and I didn't get the call, and I was very upset! [chuckles]

TB: Todd did a fair amount of pre-production with XTC for Skylarking at his Woodstock studio, and then came out to San Francisco, to do your parts, as well as the other players -- Mingo was on Skylarking as well -- was that a normal arrangement at the time, when you worked with him?

PP: I'm trying to remember if I'd ever really worked with Todd before that as a studio drummer. I mean, we'd done the Love Bomb album, at that studio, right before that. For that one, we did a lot of pre-production work, and then put drums on some tracks later, when a lot of it was done. That was similar to the way I was introduced to Skylarking -- they had already had a bunch of the tracks down, that they had done at his place in Woodstock, along with loops and some extra sounds, and I just put drums on top of them. As opposed to actually playing a basic track live, though we did that on a few songs.

TB: When there were loops, wasn't someone at least playing along with you -- like, Andy or Colin would be playing along and doing a scratch vocal or something?

PP: Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's the way it was. I have to say, this was a long time ago, and I'm digging deep to try to remember. It was a while ago, and it was a pretty wild time.

You know, the second engineer who worked on Skylarking at our studio, Kim Foscado, actually dug up some outtakes, which is what you heard on Rundgren Radio -- that "Extrovert" outtake. She dug that up for me. I hadn't seen her in about 15 years, and when I did see her, she said, "You know, I have these old outtakes -- would you like them?" And I said, "Sure, I'd love to hear those." It basically included the whole record, along with a song that I think is called "Let's Make a Den," which I talked about, too, on the Rundgren Radio thing. "Little Lighthouse" was another one. And there was another song that didn't really have any lyrics that I could discern -- Andy was just jamming on it, but the groove sounded like "Who Do You Love?" by Quicksilver Messenger Service -- you know, that kind of Bo Diddley beat. The lyric I could hear was something about "trouble."

TB: Oh, that must have been "The Troubles."

PP: Yeah, that's it. Where did that come out?

TB: It came out originally as a home demo, as a B-side for one of their EPs, I think.

PP: Just like "Extrovert."

TB: Exactly. "Extrovert" came out as a B-side as well.

PP: Yeah, that was on there, too.

The other song on here that I really thought was cool was "Mermaid Smiled."

TB: Yeah, I agree! In fact, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to walk through the album in order, and ask you what you remember about each song.

PP: Yeah, sure. [laughs] I might not be able to remember much!

TB: [laughing] Well, you know, if that's the case, then you don't!

PP: I'll give it my best shot.

TB: "Summer's Cauldron" is the opener, and you're hitting some big drum on the "one." Was that a post-recording effect, or the drum? It's not your kick drum -- it sounds like a big, big tom.

PP: It was my floor tom.

TB: Okay, I guess they processed in some way to make it sound huge.

PP: I don't know if Andy had a lot to do with the engineering of that, but I think [chuckles] Todd was pretty on top of all the sounds. I think the drum sounds on that record are excellent.

TB: I wanted to ask you what you remember about your kit setup for that. There are a couple of things that strike me about your drum sound on that album -- one is the snare sound. It seems like the kind of snare sound that Todd prefers.

PP: I can tell you about the snare drum. It's a drum that I actually got through Willie Wilcox, and is a 1929 brass Ludwig. It's just got the most amazing ring and overtone/undertone -- it's got a really great note, no matter where you tune it. And, of course, they just wanted it as open and wide-sounding as possible, so there was no damping on it. And pretty tight -- cranked up pretty high in pitch.

The rest of the drums were Yamaha drums -- my first Yamaha drum kit, which I got in the early '70s -- I was one of the first endorsers for Yamaha. It was birch Recording Custom kit, natural-wood, with a 22-inch bass drum, a 12-inch rack tom, and a 16-inch floor. And that was it.

TB: Really? Just a four-piece kit?

PP: Yeah. There were some other setups or additional drums that I used throughout the project, but that was the basic kit.

TB: That gives me some insight into some of the rolls you do, especially on "Summer's Cauldron," the one I was just asking about. Instead of multi-tom rolls, there's that great roll you do where it's a triplet feel on the snare, and then you end with a big, single hit on the toms. Andy has always mentioned that as one of his favorite drumming moments on the album.

PP: Andy was completely responsible for the entire concept of the drum part on that song.

TB: Really?

PP: Oh yeah. He just had it in his head, exactly how he wanted it. And it felt very awkward to me at the time -- you know, it was just not something I would play. It was almost like a Reggae thing -- an inside-out and backwards kind of a piece. He worked me on that one, and later I was so happy that he did, because over the years I've gotten so many compliments about the drumming on that song. To which I say, "Well, that's Andy Partridge."

TB: [laughing] This is the man who came up with the pattern for "Making Plans for Nigel," along with Terry, of course.

PP: Yes indeed.

TB: You guys recorded "Summer's Cauldron" and "Grass" as one piece in the studio, correct?

PP: I have a feeling that yeah, it was one piece of music.

TB: Todd knew he was going to have the songs joined, and he didn't want to do it through an edit, so he asked them to record the songs in sequence?

PP: Right, and you really feel that, too, when it comes in. It's obvious.

I'm trying to remember what I played on "Grass," if anything. It might have been just Mingo playing a percussion part.

TB: It sounds like at least a ride cymbal, but I guess he could have been doing that...

PP: I probably did that. I probably just played the ride through it. Mingo did all his stuff overdubbed.

TB: That was another question I wanted to ask -- did you and he ever play at the same time on this album?

PP: No, I think he always came in and overdubbed after me.

TB: The song after "Grass" is "The Meeting Place," which probably is one of the songs where Todd had done some programming and pre-production, because it's got those machine samples running through it. Was that something that you would have played along with, with the samples acting as a click track?

PP: I think so, yeah. I do have a little funny story about that song. My girlfriend, Diana Mangano, loved this album so much when she was in high school -- [laughs] she's a few years younger than me! -- and when she read the credits on the record, she saw that the credit I had been given was, "The part of the time bomb was played by Prairie Prince." She always thought that the clock sound at the beginning of this song was the only part I played on the record! [laughs] Anyway, I had to set her straight. "No, I actually played the drums, too!"

TB: [laughing] Anything else you remember about that particular song?

PP: I can't really say so. Other than I love Colin.

TB: [chuckling] Tell me why.

PP: He's just so droll. And what an incredible bass player and great songwriter. Like I said, I've been a huge XTC fan all these years, and you know -- you couldn't wait to hear the giant plethora of material that Andy was going to come up with, but then there would be those two or three Colin songs that were just so different and so special, but integrated so well with the rest of the record.

TB: Yeah, he really is a good foil to Andy.

Let's talk about "That's Really Super, Supergirl." That's got that some crazy keyboard programming by Todd on there...

PP: Exactly...

TB: Were you playing along with that, as well?

PP: Yes. I recall that being probably one of the most difficult ones to play along with, for some reason. I don't remember exactly now why, but I remember "Supergirl," I had to do multiple takes of that one.

TB: Did you get a lot of these songs in one or two takes, or did it vary from song to song?

PP: I recall it going pretty quickly. Maybe, at the most, three takes. With this one, though, I think there were some sound issues or something like that. I recall it took us longer. Maybe I had to do multiple overdubs, rather than one straight track through.

TB: That snare sound we were talking about before really comes out on this.

PP: Comes out on that one, it comes out a whole lot on "Earn Enough for Us." That song is the ultimate for that snare.

TB: The other things that strikes me about this song -- and you do it on other songs as well -- is that you use the hi-hat as an accent, sometimes even crashing on it, or putting it in an unusual place. It's not the "standard Rock drumming" approach.

PP: I'm sure it was a mistake! [laughs] A lot of that happened -- and I remember Andy going, "Oh yeah, I like that. Keep doing that." You know, if it was something that I had actually thrown in, on top of what he had suggested in the first place.

TB: Do you consciously try to approach the hi-hat as something different?

PP: Yeah, of course. I try to throw in a little something, probably influenced by [Captain] Beefheart's drummer, John French, Artie Tripp from Zappa, and some of those guys, who would just play the most insane parts on the hi-hat -- you know, backwards, inside-out and stuff. So yeah, I was always experimenting with different hi-hat patterns.

TB: When you were growing up -- and maybe even now when you practice -- did you play along with albums?

PP: Always, yeah! Put my iPod on now -- it's much easier than anything else. That's how I learned to play drums. I didn't have headphones back in the day -- I had my little hi-fi in my bedroom, and played along with the Beatles, and Surf Music, and Rolling Stones and stuff.

TB: You were saying that when you grew up you listened to Gene Krupa -- I'm assuming you were also a fan of Buddy Rich...

PP: Absolutely. But you know, I didn't really get that deep into Jazz drummers, except for the top few. I actually had a great love for Surf Music, and was listening to Sandy Nelson -- "Drums a Go Go" and "Let There Be Drums," you know. And it was his take on Gene Krupa, I'm sure, that I was influenced by. So, I actually got into it second-hand.

Then the British Invasion started, and the Psychedelic stuff from San Francisco -- early Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver and the Grateful Dead, as well as "Freak Out" by Frank Zappa. I had a pretty eclectic musical repertoire at the time that I was taking ideas from, and expanding my own thing with.

TB: And then if you want to throw something on to play along with today, what would you grab? What type of stuff do you like playing along with?

PP: Actually, I played along with "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" the other day, just to see if I could remember what I did!

TB: So, you're telling me you like to play with yourself? [laughs]

PP: [laughs] Well, actually I was playing more with Mingo! In fact, I just saw him at the NAMM Show in Los Angeles, in January.

TB: How's he doing?

PP: He's doing pretty good! We're actually talking about getting together and playing a little bit. I wanted to call him today, because I was listening to these songs, and I just loved his percussion so much on them.

TB: Crazy parts on there -- I've always loved them, too.

PP: The bongo parts on "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" are just insane. They sound like an electronic machine or something.

TB: Indeed.

You and I had talked on Rundgren Radio, and I had asked you if there were any kind of visible tensions between Todd and Andy, and you had mentioned trying to record "Let's Make a Den" as the time when you saw it...

PP: That's when I first noticed it, yeah. I just tried not to pay attention to it too much, because I always like to make the peace. That's my thing.

I wasn't there at the initiation of this entire project, so I wasn't sure how locked-in they were to the concept of what it finally ended up to be. For all I knew, there were a lot of other options for things to be included on the album, so when Andy pulled that out, I thought, "Wow, I really like that," because it was in seven. I thought it was cool, but then Todd, right at that moment, said, "You know, I really don't like this song, I don't think it fits with the whole scheme of this album." And that's when they started arguing -- Andy was saying, "Well, why not?" He gave some long explanation why it should, and Todd just kind of put his foot down, and didn't want to do it.

I was disappointed because [laughs] I wanted to play on the song! I didn't know exactly what I was going to do, because all I'd heard was Andy singing and playing. I never heard about it again.

TB: So, you never heard his demo?

PP: No.

TB: Did you ever hear the demos of any of these songs before you recorded them?

PP: When we did Apple Venus, he sent me the demos. But I don't think I heard anything on Skylarking before I went in and actually heard what they had done so far.

TB: So you were just coming in, hearing them play it for you one or two times, and...

PP: Doing it cold, yeah.

TB: Wow. Andy does have demos from this time -- they're fairly rudimentary compared to what he did later, but I'd figured that they or Todd had sent them on to you.

PP: Nope. I really don't recall that -- it could be one of those things that's missing from my memory, but I really remember coming in and being excited by what I was hearing for that day.

TB: After "Supergirl," the next song is "Ballet for a Rainy Day." The toms are very clear, and tuned, and deep and resonant on this song -- were you playing more than just a four-piece on this?

PP: I think it's just the basic kit.

TB: I'll have to listen again -- maybe it's obvious, now that I know it's a four-piece. I could have just been assuming you had a larger kit.

Then, for "1,000 Umbrellas" -- it sounds as if there are no drums or percussion, but I wanted to ask, to make sure. Had you guys ever talked about the possibility of adding drums or percussion to that track?

PP: Not that I can recall. I recall seeing the string section coming in and doing that session. But I don't really recall even hearing the song before that -- I thought it just sort of happened there around the strings. Todd arranged that, right?

TB: Actually, that's the one song on the album that Dave arranged. He did the string arrangement. Todd did all the other string arrangements, and the guys in the band have always talked about how impressed they were with his arranging skills, and how fast he could do that.

PP: I think it's a great song -- one of my favorites on the record. That string section, you know, was my friend Dick Bright. I guess he pieced it together.

We discovered Dick Bright back in the early Tubes days, back in '73,'74. He auditioned for The Tubes' talent contest at this club called The Boarding House. He came out and tried to sing a song while playing violin, and his bit was that he had this breakdown -- he was wearing a toupee or something, and it fell off, and he began crying and broke down, and had his friend come over and take him offstage. [laughs] That was his act, and we loved him so much.

He's a local celebrity here. He plays at the Fairmont, and some of the big hotels. He was the guy who did the Led Zeppelin cover, "Stairway to Gilligan's Island." Did you ever hear that?

TB: [laughing] No!

PP: It was the music of "Stairway to Heaven" but the lyrics to "Gilligan's Island," and it was so funny. You know, I think they got sued, or told to stop selling the song.

He's a classic comedian, and he was the one who pulled together the musicians for that session, and led that session.

TB: So, "Season Cycle" is the next one on there, and ends the first side -- back when there were sides -- and one thing that strikes me about this is the "fade in" snare rolls you do.

PP: I remember recording this one in lots of sections. I remember starting and stopping a lot -- this one definitely took a long time to record.

TB: Was that because you were having trouble with the feel, or they were talking and trying to figure things out?

PP: I think it was pretty figured out. I think Andy had it figured it, but it might have been that I was having problems with it.

TB: You'd never tell -- the feel on it is great. Andy has mentioned this as one of this favorite songs from the album.

PP: It's so "Beach Boys" -- all those great vocals.

TB: So, side two opens up with you channeling Ringo -- "Earn Enough for Us."

PP: Yeah. That's the one where I said that snare drum definitely shines.

TB: Did you guys play this one live in the studio?

PP: I think we did, yeah! I think all four of us played this together. I'm not sure if Dave was in there, but I know it was definitely me, Andy and Colin. I think that was the same day that we did "Extrovert," and played that together, and possibly "Little Lighthouse." That was kind of a live session day, where we were cranked up.

TB: And playing the more Rock-oriented songs of the bunch?

PP: Yeah. This one's definitely my favorite song on the record.

TB: Is it? Because it was fun to play?

PP: Happy, good sound -- I don't know. A bit Punk. It reminds me a bit of "Living in Another Cuba" -- it's got that feel.

TB: Interesting -- I'm going to have to listen again with that in mind, because I've always heard this as the most Beatlesque of songs on the album, and thought of it more as '60s Rock rather than '70s.

PP: I guess, for me, it's the intensity of it. I love "Cuba" -- it's one of my favorite XTC songs.

TB: That's a ton of fun to play with, too -- speaking of playing along with albums.

"Big Day" is the song after that -- it sounds like you're playing that song with brushes?

PP: It could have been brushes. It's definitely a different snare sound. Maybe I had a different snare for that one. Or I could have been using something called a Blastick. I use them a lot now -- I used them on Chriss Isaak's records -- in fact, that was about all I used on those. That was back about the same time.

TB: Yeah, I have a pair of those. I think those become popular before they started making similar sticks with wood dowels -- the Hot Rods, which give you little bit more of a bigger sound.

When you were working with different drums in the studio, were they all yours, or would the studio have different equipment?

PP: Well, that was our studio -- I have to mention the name of it, because we were always proud of the name. It's Latin for "sound hole" -- Cavum Soni [laughs]. That was our little recording studio that we had in South Market in San Francisco. Later, we had to leave, because of the earthquake of '89. The whole building just cracked down the middle. We were there probably about five years, and recorded Love Bomb and Skylarking and several other projects. And it was just a crazy, crazy scene.

So yeah, it was our studio, and it was my collection of drums.

TB: Hence the bit in the liner notes thanking The Tubes for letting XTC use their amps?

PP: That's right. A little inside joke of Andy's that was a bit cryptic. [laughs]

TB: "Another Satellite" is next -- that sounds as if it starts with drum machine, and then you come in to play along with it.

PP: Exactly. I didn't play too much on that, I think. It's mostly drum machine.

TB: Yeah, you play mostly ride cymbal, and this seems to kind of introduce the songs that have more of a Jazz feel -- you're accenting things a little bit more, rather than just emphasizing "two" and "four."

Then, "Mermaid Smiled" comes along, and we've already talked about that. It's mostly Mingo in the beginning, but you come in later.

PP: Boy, I love that song. It's such a beautiful song.

TB: Yeah, it was a shame that they dropped it when they put "Dear God" on the album.

PP: I never did understand that. I've got several versions of the album, and I think I have a version with both songs on it.

TB: It's probably one of the remasters, and maybe there was a Canadian version that had both.

PP: It was some odd version that had both. I always thought they should have included both.

TB: But the album was originally released in the days of LPs, and it was hard to fit that much music onto a record -- unless you were Todd Rundgren!

PP: [laughs] Yeah, he liked to pack his albums with music!

TB: Then, on "Man Who Sailed Around His Soul," you said you were channeling your Jazz influences...

PP: I said, "How do you want the drums on this?" And they said, "Well, just act like you're a junkie." [laughs] I said, "Well, I don't know what that would be like, because I've never done that," so they said, "Okay, just think of a 1950s crime-story film, the soundtrack from that. Smoke three cigarettes while you're drumming." [laughs]

And I think this was a one-take song.

TB: Jesus.

PP: Maybe two, or maybe they put a couple together, I'm not sure.

TB: How much of the other instrumentation was on that song when you were playing along with it? There are horns...

PP: There were definitely no horns yet. It was pretty bare, as I recall. Definitely no percussion.

TB: How do you deal with something like that? It must be strange for you to sometimes think a song is going to turn out one way, based on the information you have when you record it, and then when you hear it fully realized, it's different.

PP: Oh, absolutely. That one was particularly shocking, how incredible it turned out. This huge production around this basically simple song that I started off with.

TB: Had they explained to you what they were going to be doing with it?

PP: No, no. I didn't know what was going on with it. Like I said, they just told me to just be a Jazz junkie drummer.

But I was definitely playing along with Andy's vocal, which is already so rhythmic. Andy might have played with me on this song, too. Somebody had to be playing with me on it -- otherwise I wouldn't have known what to do!

TB: In cases like this, when you know the song is going to be fleshed out more, do you try to make a point of not playing too much, or do you just kind of let it flow and see what happens?

PP: Again, a lot of time, it's about who's instructing you. I have a feeling that I didn't have any limitations on this -- they said, "Just go crazy." So I did! [laughs] I did, and they kind of built the track around me, I think. I would love to talk to Andy about his memories about this, because he might have a completely different idea. [laughs] So, don't hold me 100 percent on a lot of this stuff! I'm sure he remembers more than I do.

TB: No, his memory's equally fuzzy on some of this stuff. Dave's the memory guy that everyone refers to.

PP: [laughs] Oh, okay. I love Dave. I would love to play with him again someday, with or without XTC.

TB: Yeah, Mike Keneally came through Swindon a little while ago, and Dave played with him at a local club.

PP: Yeah, I saw Mike recently, and he said he'd done something with Andy.

TB: Yeah, they wrote and recorded some tunes together, and I think he's going to be releasing those.

PP: Oh, that's great. Mike Keneally's a super genius. You get those guys together, and wow.

TB: I've heard some of the stuff they did together, and it's really nice. Mike's such a virtuoso, and when you've got both of their creativity mashed together, you can't go wrong.

So, on the later albums, "Dear God" comes after "Man Who Sailed." This was the song that rescued XTC from obscurity, because the two albums before Skylarking -- when they'd stopped touring -- had not done very well. There is actually a very well-realized demo of this song, but you apparently never heard that?

PP: It's possible that I could have heard that, but I don't think so, because I always thought that I came up with the drum part on this, more than the other songs on the record.

TB: Your drum part is pretty different from the demo, actually. One of the unique things that you added is the way you kind of buzz the snare on every other "three."

PP: Yeah, I think that was something that maybe I did by accident, and Andy said, "Oh, I like that. Keep that in." But it was also a little kind of a trademark that I was doing at that time -- I'm not sure how I developed it. It may have had a lot to do with that snare! [laughs] It had just such a fine sound on it that I could do these one-handed rolls, which I thought was kind of a nice addition to the drumming on that song.

TB: It lends almost a martial feel to it.

PP: Yeah, a marching cadence-type thing. I love that song, too. Incredible.

TB: The bridge on that is pretty big -- were you just playing the four-piece on that?

PP: Yeah, that was another one-take deal.

TB: On "Dying," I'm not sure if there are drums -- there's that clip-clop part, but I'm not sure if that's you.

PP: Maybe I did play brushes on it. I think I recall that. And what a sad song!

TB: It's a very affecting way to end the album -- that, and "Sacrificial Bonfire." With that song, obviously you're playing toward the end of the song, but I didn't know whether you were playing the intro part, or if that was programmed.

PP: That was quite a production, the setup on that. Colin said, "I want this big, tympani-sounding thing -- should we rent some tympanis?" And I said, "No, I have these 26-inch bass drums" -- I had two different drum kits with double bass drums, so I had four 26-inch bass drums, and we set them up on folding luggage racks, or something like that, so they were heads-up. I tuned them to specific notes, and played them with big mallets. The drums were wide-open -- no padding or anything. So, those are the tympani-sounding drums -- they're actually Yamaha 26-inch bass drums on their sides, played on these racks.

Then, I definitely used a different snare drum on that, and tuned it way, way down, to get that kind of field snare-drum sound.

TB: Was it a bigger, deeper snare?

PP: I think it was 14 by 7-1/2, actually. In fact, I have that drum now, and I just painted it with images from "Phantom of the Opera." I do a lot of custom drum painting nowadays.

TB: Was that just for your own benefit, or did you have a commission for that?

PP: Yeah, I'm painting a whole drum kit for myself, with famous monsters from screenland. The bass drum is Dracula, the floor tom is Frankenstein, the snare drum is Phantom, and the rack toms is The Wolf Man, and the other floor tom is The Mummy. [laughs]

TB: Sounds very cool! Are they wood drums? Is that how you're able to do this?

PP: Yeah, they're wood Yamaha Recording Custom drums. So, that was the deep snare I used on "Sacrifical Bonfire." When I paint drums, I basically rough them up, and paint them, then coat it and put a final finish of urethane on it -- polish the hell out of it.

TB: You must have a big room with ventilation and enough room to do all this. You do this for other people as well for yourself?

PP: Yeah, you can check it out on my Web site. My custom-painted drums are on the site.

TB: You have prices posted on the site? [laughs]

PP: [laughs] No -- really, price is determined by the images, the number of drums, the hours, and all that. I'll give people a rough estimate of what I think it'll cost. And then put a disclaimer in there saying if it's a lot more, you're still going to have to still pay me a lot more! [laughs]

To be continued at a future date -- watch this space for an interview with Prairie about the Apple Venus sessions.

6:40 PM

©2009 by Todd Bernhardt and Prairie Prince. All Rights Reserved.