Peter Holsapple lays it out in black and white

dbs

I learned what an amplifier was because of the dB’s. I remember being a little kid and watching VH1 with my mom and the video for “Amplifier” by the dB’s came on. That video is still pretty iconic in my life, and so are the dB’s. They’re a highly influential power pop band made up of incredibly talented musicians. This is an interview I did with Peter Holsapple recently. 

Are you working on anything new right now?

I play bass with Baron Von Rumblebuss, a children’s rock band led by Tray Batson. I’m playing bass in a little trio with Bob Northcott (from Little Diesel) and Terry Anderson (from The Fabulous Knobs, the Woods and the OAK Team), which is a bunch of fun. I am a five-year charter member of Radio Free Song Club, a podcast featuring other writers like Freedy Johnston, Victoria Williams and Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby.

What bands did you tour with in the dB’s early days? What were your favorite bands and do you have any particularly memorable stories from tour?

We obviously did a bunch of tours opening for R.E.M. over the years, but the first band we did a real tour with was Dave Edmunds Band through England and Wales in 1981. He’d just released DE7th, and while we didn’t get a lot of time together with Dave himself, his band were lovely gentlemen like Geraint Watkins. We toured with Squeeze for about two weeks. We spent a lot of time in our dressing room, blasting Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgaire and pouring non-dairy creamer on cigarette lighters…

North Carolina has a very specific sound, which you contributed to. What are some of the best parts of playing in NC? 

Here’s how I see that: all of the members of the band grew up together in Winston-Salem in the 60s and 70s, and we played in bands with each other from the time we were teenagers on; we utilized the same musical and regional vocabulary. That fairly predates any “NC sound” although that’s how we cut our teeth. By the time punk and new wave were starting up, we’d been playing and making records for years. We loved coming back to NC to play for our friends and family. We were happy to see other bands had sprung up in our absence and were making some noise, like the X-Teens and Secret Service. We were glad there were places for bands to play that didn’t require obligatory Allman Brothers covers.

Did living and playing in New York and New Orleans affect your sound at all?

I’m sure New York did. We were there for almost a decade. I’d been a closet New Yorker since I was a kid, laying on the living room floor, reading the second section of the Sunday NY Times and looking at Bottom Line ads. I knew, in my heart, I would end up in NYC. We had a demi-monde of bands with whom we were (and are) friends; there never seemed like much in the way of competition between bands like in LA, with only a couple notable exceptions who shall remain nameless. New Orleans began figuring in the history of the dB’s somewhere in the early 1980s when we began playing there and were associated with a manager from there. We loved the Meters and James Booker, and while we didn’t sound like a NOLA band, we tried things like a rhumba beat behind a cover of “Message From the Country” by the Move. So I guess we were influenced by everything we heard everywhere we went.

What did Mitch Easter contribute to the dB’s as a soundman/producer/friend in general?

Mitch and Chris were childhood best friends; their moms were also friends. Mitch had a couple years on us in terms of professional musicianship. Chris and I played with him in an early (for us) band, and we learned a bunch of Mitch’s complex songs while writing our own in his wake. I can still play a bunch of those songs today, almost 45 years later. I learned about song structure from those songs. Mitch has always been ‘one of us’ even without being a member of the band. In the studio, he’s always been generous with his time, energy and imagination. We all of us speak the same Winston-Salem parlance.

What were some of your post dB’s projects?

After The dB’s, I played for a couple of years with R.E.M. as a touring adjunct on the Green World Tour in 1989. I recorded the Out Of Time album with them, and I’m featured on acoustic guitar on their hit “Losing My Religion.” After I finished my tenure with them, I joined Continental Drifters, with whom I recorded 4 albums and toured the US and Europe. I also recorded two duo albums with Chris Stamey, Mavericks in 1993 and hERE aND nOW in 2009. I was musical director for three shows at The Arts at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn, New York. For over 20 years, I have served as touring and recording adjunct with Hootie & the Blowfish.

What made you decide to record and release Falling Off The Sky after a 25-year hiatus?

Chris and I had written songs that seemed like they’d benefit by being dB’s songs rather than duo album ones. We didn’t know if Gene and Will were interested or available, but they were both and we did some tracking a few years ago. Little by little, over the course of several years, we had an album that was strong enough to stand alongside the ones we made before. I love the record and am very proud of how it sounds.

Are there any future dBs related plans? Do you have any musical plans of your own?

Nothing on the table for the dB’s, and I’m playing solo showcases at 30A Songwriters Festival in Florida in January 2016. Writing and recording all the time, though.

What music are you currently listening to?

Just heard a great band last night, Loamland. Soulful, emotional and intuitive playing, great songs at first listen. All good things. Listening to middle-period (Bob Welch, Christine McVie) Fleetwood Mac and really enjoying it for the first time, having been a snob before. I try so hard to listen to educate myself now. Sam Smith was a revelation live. Life’s too short to not attempt to hear everything.

What do you think upcoming bands need to know about touring/playing/being in a band in general?

I think that the sooner you can get really good at writing and playing, the better off you’ll be. If you’re young AND good, that’s going to help your chances at trying to make a living as a rock band. Learn how to record your shit well, like how you place what mics you use and how not to overdose your recordings with reverb and compression. Make recordings you can pull off live too. Own your masters and lease them. Hold on to your publishing. Do your best to love your bandmates and treat them with respect. If you get to where you have a tour bus and driver, always thank your driver for getting you there safely when you leave the bus. Every time.

Talking TV with Richard Lloyd, pt 2.

Photo by Marcia Resnick

Photo by Marcia Resnick

[This is part of an ongoing series of excerpts from my conversation with Richard Lloyd in February 2015. For the first installment, click here.]

I mean you get this name, Television. [There was] one point when there was nothing going on and I went to Fred and Billy and said, “Why don’t we put a band together and call it Relevision?” but they were so scared of Tom, that he’d be pissed and that would be the end. It never happened. I’m not scared of him, He’s like a homeless person with a lot of money. He wouldn’t buy luggage to go on tour. He brought plastic bags with his clothes. Dirty clothes, that was his luggage. He had an apartment and I’ve only been like four times in forty years.

I try not to harbor ill will. I’m really happy for Billy and Fred and that they’re able to tour. That rhythm section is really underrated, like god, they are great. I don’t know why Billy’s not in the drummer’s Hall of Fame. I don’t know why Fred isn’t being called by bass player magazine to do lessons. I’m doing lessons for Guitar World. They’re videos plus the actual columns. I like to overload people, I like to leave them so they have nothing to hold onto except the guitar and it impacts on them slowly. I’ll say something and then twenty years later someone will say, “You know, he once said something to me and it changed my life.” Johnny Marr once said that to me. We were in London to do something with Patti Smith and I guess I saw their soundcheck because afterwards I said to Johnny, “You have the voice of an angel.” And he swears he didn’t know who I was but he found out later and it blew his mind because I was one of his idols.

The Replacements had destroyed everything in the dressing room at a hometown show. Garbage on the walls to the ceiling, broken light bulbs, and i just thought…there’s two types of people who play rock n roll. People who play because they don’t wanna grow up, then there’s the kind who play because they haven’t grown up. And man do I try and stay away from them. The Replacements had some component of that, They hadn’t grown up, they’re immature. It’s one thing to have Tho Who. Mature and they destroy their equipment knowing they go into debt but it’s part of your act. Nobody can ask you for an encore after you’ve smashed a guitar and blown up the drums. I mean it’s wonderful. But the replacements were part of the REM, can’t hear the vocals kind of mix. I don’t know why anyone would go for that. I mean certainly on the radio, you hear the vocals first. Record companies always say vocal plus.

television2

Marquee Moon – people never knew who did what. We didn’t want to play live and one of us be on one side and one of us be on the other, and people only hear who they’re in front of. So we always had mono mix so you couldn’t hear who was doing what. Mostly tom did rhythm and I did all the other parts. So on Marquee Moon I’m playing like, 60% of the guitar on that record, or more, because all of the intricacies are done by me. That’s the only television record as far as I’m concerned. After that the Capital record has some good things. I mean, I used to love playing those songs. I’m very proud that I wrote something that anyone else can’t play.

I still wanna do a half acoustic, half electric record. I really have exciting things happening. Terry Ork was the manager of Television, Little Johnny Jewel was released on Ork Records. That’s going to be in the package, [along with] my Rolling Stones cover of “Get Off My Cloud.” Another one with Chris Stamey covering a song I wrote. [It will have] his version, my version and a reggae song I wrote. Keith Richards couldn’t learn the bass part of the chorus. There was a girl who said, “I’ve never seen that,” and I go “What?” and she says, “You told Keith what to do, and he did it.” Being friends with Keith was too dangerous. He’s in the eye of the hurricane, everyone else gets hit by the storm wall. It’s hard to be a friend of his. He was on the next to die list so long the list died. Then a couple years ago he killed a coconut with his head. He also had hepatitis and got over it. Last thing he said to me was, “I’ll write all your epitaphs.”

[One time] Keith said, “I’m going to Jamaica later, wanna come along?” and I said, “I don’t have my passport, I don’t think I could get it in time, plus I don’t have money.” And I was like, “I think i’m gonna stay.” And I stayed with Keith’s mother and [his son] for the weekend. It was much better to stay there than go with Keith to Jamaica and probably get shot.

Catch Richard Lloyd with New York Junk and Faith October 30 at the Bowery Electric.