THE VOICE OF ENERGY VOL. 092
Someday things will slow down and I won't be so busy. Someday. But for now, it's been another hectic week of writing, meetings, and other assorted distractions. But as I'm dedicated to getting this out every week, I wanted to make sure this was in your inboxes today... even if it is a little later than I intended.
News from this desk is continued movement on the Megalith project, and some other big potential ventures that are very exciting even if it means having to shut the door on this newsletter for a while. I'll share what I can when I feel comfortable doing so. Just rest assured that it's all positive stuff.
At the same time, I feel like I'm being pulled in a dozen different directions at all times and that's led to little stupid errors in my work and me relying on my old friend procrastination to survive. Case in point: the interview in this week's newsletter. It was intended for the nice folks at Aquarium Drunkard. But even though I had the interview done, I kept putting off the work of transcribing it and getting into shape for the site. By the time I realized I needed to get cracking on it, it was too late for them to be able to publish it in a timely manner - which is to say, before Record Store Day. The people in charge over there were very gracious but I'm still embarrassed about it.
But at least I have this newsletter as a fall back for when things like that happen. So you lucky so-and-so's can enjoy my chat with Matt Piucci of Rain Parade, one of the best of the Paisley Underground groups.
As always, please feel free to share this with anyone you think might like it, and if you haven't yet, please consider becoming a premium subscriber. I give you an extra newsletter every week and free music and send out a gift package to a lucky person every month. It's a great deal for only $5 a month.
Let's get after it.
I have a love / hate relationship with Record Store Day. I bristle at how it is clogging up pressing plants and record shops with junk like a color variant of the new Red Hot Chili Peppers record or unnecessary reissues of chud common LPs. But I also thrill when I hear about rarities being rehabilitated or out-of-print treasures being put back into circulation. Can't have one without the other it seems.
One of the highlights of this year's batch of exclusive releases is Real Gone's reissue of Explosions in the Glass Palace, the 1984 mini-LP (or EP) from L.A. psych-rockers Rain Parade. Originally released by the venerable Enigma Records, this five-song release marked a major step forward for the group as they weathered the departure of founding member David Roback (he went on to start Opal and then Mazzy Star; he passed away in early 2020) and looked to keep the momentum happening around the band going. They had already received a lot of attention in the U.K. for their debut album (1983's Emergency Power Rail Trip) and were making some waves Stateside. A full-length would have been nice but as co-founding member Matt Piucci, who plays guitar and sings in Rain Parade, explains below, they didn't have enough songs to make that a reality.
Explosions feels substantive enough on its own. The five tracks on the record, recorded with producer Jim Hall, have the melodic density of Saucerful-era Pink Floyd and the overdriven oomph of Neil Young (Piucci would briefly join an ’80s lineup of Crazy Horse). And they dared to look beyond what they could do as a four piece (Piucci, guitarist Steven Roback, bassist Will Glenn, and drummer Eddie Kalwa) by layering in strings and keyboards for an authentically fleshy ’60s sound.
Ahead of the re-release, I spent a little time on the phone with Piucci to talk about its creation and touch on where Rain Parade went from there — even getting into the group's reunion. He was the best kind of interview because, as you'll see right away, he pulled no punches and got as discursive and silly as he wanted to be.
At the time you recorded Explosions in the Glass Palace, David Roback had already decided to leave the group...
Sure, we can put it that way.
Is there another way to put it?
Yeah, we kicked him out.
I didn't realize that.
But I guess you could also put it the other way. [laughs] The way he behaved suggested he didn't want to play with us anymore. Buffalo Springfield had three songwriters and how long did that last? It's too hard to do. Nobody gives a shit if Paul is mean to George. Actually, that's not true anymore! I think Opal was great, so the world ended up with more cool music. Ultimately, a good thing. It's really too bad he passed away so young. 61 is too young.
It doesn't sound like it was difficult decision to move forward without him then?
Well, it was. He and I founded the band. He was just as important as anybody. But... I don't know if you want to talk about this right now, but he was already moving on. He was already doing other things. What actually ended up happening, which was a good thing for the universe, is he was like, "Oh..." — and I use this term in the most positive way — "... my little brother wants to come down and play in our band." Great! Well, what I didn't realize is that his brother is every bit the musician and songwriter that [David] is, maybe even better. That was a surprise because we didn't know him to that degree. Then Steven started writing songs and it was like, "Jesus, these are great," and I hit it off with him. We got this partnership going, and naturally, I wrote with Dave less and Steve more. Then Dave started writing with Kendra and... it's all good. But that's what happened. Steven turned out to be way better than we thought. That's probably what happened, in a nutshell.
How does the Rainy Day record fit into all this? Was that recorded before or after things fell apart with David?
No. We started playing out and put out a single, and we recorded a record... and honestly, I don't know the chronology quite exactly, but by the end of recording our first record, it was clear that we had some issues. I'm not saying this was a quid pro quo, but I started playing with Green On Red for about six months, from about the fall of ’82 to the spring of ’83. While I was doing that, Dave started to do this other thing. Rainy Day was his baby. The funny thing about the whole reception of it — probably nobody hated that moniker of the Paisley Underground as much as Dave did, but he was probably more responsible than any other singer person for making it look that way by putting together a covers album of all this bands that did exactly the kind of music that everybody said we were influenced by. Which is true. We were. There's some really good stuff on that record and some pretty awful shit too, in my opinion. But you know what? There's one song by [Susannah Hoffs] that I love, and "Holocaust" with Steven playing piano and Kendra singing. That's some great shit. The songs that the gals sing are the most successful. That's my unsolicited two cents. Which is my new job. I'm retired now so dispensing unsolicited advice is my new job.
To get back to the EP, was there any deliberation about the decision to only record a handful of songs? Was it way to keep some momentum going for the band since you were getting some amount of attention from England at the time?
We had these songs and Bill Hein, who was the president of Enigma Records — the nicest, most honest record guy I've ever met. The first one I ever met, it was all downhill from there. He introduced us to Jim Hill who had produced some stuff for Wall of Voodoo. Bill said, [spoken in a lackadaisical drawl] "I want you to meet this guy Jim Hill. He'd be really good for you." I said, "Okay." I met him and we hit it off. We didn't intend to record an EP. We recorded one or two other songs, but it became clear that we didn't have our shit together on those, so we focused on the other five. It's a pretty long EP. About 20 minutes. Some records are 30. Anyway, we just did what was working. It wasn't really an intentional thing. When we were done, it was, "Ehhh, it's not quite enough for an album. We're done, so let's just do it." And EPs were more of thing then.
It was super fun for me because one of the things we figured out pretty quickly was that we took to the studio like ducks to water. It was clear that that was our forte. At least to me. David was really good at it, too, but obviously he wanted to do other stuff. It does say the first record's produced by him. We met Jim who was much more an accomplished producer and engineer. We still work with him today. He just left a few days ago. I was very excited at the idea of playing all the guitar on the record, and I did that and that was a blast. You didn't ask me that, but I just said it.
With the songs, it feels like you're going for a wider palette with the inclusion of strings on songs like "Broken Horse" and "No Easy Way Down." How was it to go a little bigger?
Well... [affects a haughty British accent] We always wanted to play with the London Symphony Orchestra. I'm sorry. There's always a Spinal Tap quote for every rock 'n' roll moment. It wasn't really intentional. I had that song "No Easy Way Down" that everybody chimed in on. I had that whammy bar, My Bloody Valentine kind of thing. We played it longer, and, I can't remember exactly what was happening but Will and I had been listening to late Miles Davis. Not super late. Like Jack Johnson, Bitches Brew stuff. And we just loved how crazy those chords were. So I started playing some chords on piano and after talking to Will, I figured out, "You know, we could really turn this into a string section." And he said, "Yes, let's do it." He was a really accomplished classical musician and he could write. I would not have been able to chart it.
We charted it and got some kids from Northridge. Four, five, six of them. I can't remember exactly. One of the gals showed up, this violin player, she said, "I can't play these notes. They're wrong." Yeah, you know what? You can't. There's the door. So Will ended up playing all the violin. Miracle of multi-tracking. That's like a six-part, one minute string section. It kind of stands on its own. But once we had them in there, we thought, "You know, it'd be fun to put some of this bass on 'Broken Horse.'" Because it was a really open song. Don't remember whose idea that was, but we did it.
As you said, this was your first time working with Jim Hill. Obviously you got along but how was he in the studio? Was he directing you guys in some way or did he stay pretty hands off?
He's fucking perfect. He's one of my best friends. I adore him. I'll go back to that in a second. About 10 or 15 years ago, I went back and listened to a lot of this stuff, and every single song that he mixed sounds better than every single song that he didn't mix. We just work together great. I mean, catch him on a pool table after a few drinks and he might not be so mellow, but he is the perfect sentiment for an engineer / producer. He doesn't really have the same musical sensibilities that we do. He's not the Beatle nut that we are. But he likes sounds. He's really devoted. He's a true professional. He's done a million movies. He did The Sixth Sense. He just did this new one with Benedict Cumberbatch. He records orchestras. He did Ant-Man. He did Empire. And all that stuff happened after, which is great for us because in those 10 years between analog and digital when nobody knew what the fuck they were doing. But he learned how to make digital sound analog so we're in business there.
He wouldn't say, "Hey, play this note here." For us, it was heaven. The record company paid us what we thought was a princely sum. We got $500 a month, each. So we were in heaven. All we had to do was practice. We practiced from 5-9 every day. Most of the time Jim would come along, sometimes he wouldn't. We stripped that shit down to every kick drum and floor tom. We really got our shit together before we went in the studio. It was a great time. It was the four of us. The tension had been lifted. It would be unfair to blame all the tension on David, but for whatever reason it was gone. We had done a tour. We did an album. We had gotten our shit together. The first record — this is my personal opinion — I thought it was a little more derivative. A lot of the songs on the first record, you can pretty much see what their cultural antecedents are, even down to melodies and stuff. That was another thing we wanted to get away from. Again, no dis because everybody steals, but David was a little more willing to be more overt in his thievery. Like turning "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" into a smash hit. I mean, good for him.
I don't think the EP is as derivative. I mean that's for other people to decide, but we felt like [Emergency] was more us than the people we were trying to imitate. I thought we hit our stride. We were well prepared. We had an engineer who knew what he was doing and we went into decent studios. That doesn't always work. You can still have shitty songs that sound wonderful. I think they were good. I'm proud of that record.
As well you should be! You've talked about this in other interviews, but as someone who grew up adoring the British Invasion bands, knowing how well this record sold in England must have felt really gratifying.
Well, that blew our minds. From what I gathered from talking to people who were there then and people who were super music geeks... I'm not a record collector. I make ’em, I don't buy ’em. My wife has a huge collection and I was raised on greatest hits double albums. But in my day, my brothers had Hot Rocks and The Doors and The Beatles. But I think the English really appreciated the Floydian aspects of what we were doing. We were and remain huge Pink Floyd fans. That's not a band people tap into very much, I don't think. Maybe it's more true now, but it wasn't then. That's actually been other exciting things since we've started playing together again is that there's two more generations of this psychedelic music I don't even know about. I think that's most of it.
I do think that the English appreciated what we were doing a little more than the United States. It's tough in the United States because there's New York, Nashville, Miami, L.A., Texas. There's so many markets. In England, it's London and that's it. You're in Manchester, but it's still London. They really hold on to stuff over there. My friend Ian McNabb from The Icicle Works, they had one hit in the ’80s and he's still an official rock star. The other thing that's true of England is that they love to build you up and tear you down. We were never as good as they said we were, and we were never as bad as they said we were.
That was a mindfucker to see little magazines go crazy about us. That really made us. We never really did shit in L.A. L.A. tends to like bands I can't stand. We're talking the ’80s and there were frat bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers or roots bands like The Blasters who I think are okay but people went gaga over them. I always liked X. They tend to like this flashy kind of thing. Therefore some really great bands in L.A. didn't do so great in L.A. Maybe we just sucked. That could be it. [laughs] First of all, there's a gazillion talented people but it's all about recognition. Once we started to get a little recognition, we started to do a little better there. But always better elsewhere. Better in San Francisco. Better in Europe. I'm not really sure why because I do feel we were more of an L.A. band than a San Francisco band.
After Explosions came out, the band signed to a major label, Island Records, which must have felt pretty huge at the time.
It did, but we should have stayed with Jim. And we didn't. We wanted to but the other people talked us into [Steve Gronback]. He was a nice guy but he wasn't the right guy for us. Actually, you can blame Ian Matthews for that. A great musician. A great singer. Possibly the worst A&R guy of all time. Other people like that record, and I do, too, but I really wish we did it a little differently. But you know what? I signed off on it. So it's my fault, too. Live and learn. That's how it works.
Do I have it right that you were working on another Rain Parade record when you decided to split up?
No, not really. It had run its natural course. We just fizzled out. And that's fine. Steven went on to do some stuff. He's more prolific than I am. I'm super slow. He went on to do Viva Saturn, which is some absolutely fantastic stuff. It took about 20 years, but I ended up putting out two records of my own. We still work with each other, Steven and I and John Thoman who ultimately replaced David after the EP. We've all worked together. And we're working together again. I hope you guys like this new stuff, but that's for another day. When we started getting back together about 10 years ago, which was precipitated by a car accident. Bobby Sutliff of the Windbreakers. Holy shit. He came so close to dying. He was in the ICU for about six weeks. People had been bugging us to play in Atlanta for a while so we just decided to do it as a benefit for Bob. He actually got healthy enough to play. It was really cool and fun. Then of course, The Dream Syndicate got out there and The Bangles were playing and so was Three O'Clock and so we were playing some shows. Then it was like, "Well, do we really want to be just a nostalgia band or should we do something new?" We did the 3x4 thing and got our feet wet and got our juices flowing in the studio, got Jim back. Really happy will all the sounds we got. Steven and I had a bunch of songs that we were working on. That's that. That's where we are now. None of which has anything to do with Explosions in the Glass Palace!
Are you guys looking to do any touring to support this reissue or to just play some shows?
Man, that's very difficult to do because it just costs more money to do than you can make. It's really hard to ask people to do. I would love to be able to do something like that, but the amount of support that you need. I don't even know with this new music if we're going to put it out on a record label. Do those things even exist anymore? I've given up on the idea of getting 10 bucks out of 10,000 people. But we have a shot at getting 50 bucks out of 1,000 people, I think. If we can do that and make a really nice package. If you have any ideas, I'm all ears.
Worth the wait? I hope so. Thanks for reading this little publication. Your support means the world. Back on Monday for the premium folk and on Friday for everyone. Time for another Deeper Into Movies, I think. And I think it's time to tackle the directorial efforts of the late Prince Rogers Nelson. It's gonna be a blast. Until then: Do no harm. Take no shit.
Artwork for this edition comes from Vincent Isambourg's exhibition Sables émouvants – Saloum, which is on display at Galerie Arte in Dakar, Senegal through April 30.