RALPH HEIBUTZKI's EXTENDED INTERVIEW
WITH RICK SHAFFER
NOVEMBER 1, 2010 • PART 4
"THERE'S ONLY SO MUCH TIME"
Picking up from last time, we start by discussing Rick's motivations for working on music as intensely as he does, and how that contrasts with what he's seen out in the field.
CHAIRMAN RALPH: So – if you had to dispense any words of wisdom to these young bands, that would be it, then?
RICK SHAFFER: It's totally it. I mean, I meet a lot of guys that are on their first or second record, and think they got it all figured out, you'll tell 'em, “It's just about the work. None of the other stuff matters.”
CR: As I like to say, “The music is going to outlive us, so we'd better try and serve that first” – whatever you leave behind, that's what you're judged on. If it's embarrassing, then you're treated accordingly.
RS: That's it. It's funny, Ralph, that's the thing that drives me every day, the concept that there's only so much time. I love the work, I love the process. Bruce, he's a little different than I am. He's more of a social kind of guy, and works when he wants to work.
He calls sometimes, and I'll be working on something. He'll go, “Are you playing that? Are you recordin'?” I'm like, “Yeah,” and he goes, “Why?” And I say, “Because I want to, I got to.” Really, when you think about all of this – you never know when your ticket's punched with that deal, why not do what you do?
CR: So, when you look back on the “[good] old days,” there's all that superficial revivalism going on now. Where do you think time has treated you, in that respect?
RS: I don't worry, I think that'll all be figured out, at one point. I got a message from a kid in Russia last week. He'd been a fan since CRY TOMORROW, then went back and got the other albums. And he said, “You guys are the real gem. You are a real diamond. Your music has, to me, a real psychedelic quality that touches my brain.” And I said to him, “How old were you when you got into this?” He says, “I was 10.”
That blew me away: how did he hear it? I should have asked him that [first]: “How did you hear the record?” He continuously likes to listen to all the stuff. He says, “Don't think of me as a junkie, but your music – when I'm high – sounds unbelievable.” And I loved that, I thought that was great. But that will all be figured out at one point. I said to Bruce, “We're just like the blues guys – maybe 30, 50 years from now, somebody will be listening to us, saying, 'These guys were real good.'”
CR: “These guys were the reference point.”
RS: Yeah. I get people that were there when the [early] stuff was going on: “Are you guys gonna tour?” Especially European fans: “Is there a chance that you would tour, and do stuff from all the albums?” And the answer is no. I mean, we could do it real well – maybe it would happen, I don't know. It's just that sometimes, when you see older acts doing this stuff, it's kind of depressing.
CR: In other words, you feel like that would be going back a bit too much, perhaps.
RS: Maybe. If it could be done in the right way – I've seen some people that do it. I've seen Van der Graaf Generator, and it was absolutely phenomenal – they were unbelievable. But I think it just depends on the act.
CR: But you're quite happy for The Reds® to exist as a studio phenomenon?
RS: And the fact that we like working with the film stuff. Theresa got a company in Los Angeles to release, finally, the soundtrack from MANHUNTER – which was a big deal, because that was something that we wanted. So I've been doing some interviews around that [release], and they ask, “Why not go out and do The Reds® stuff, live dates, and all that business?”
The answer I gave them is, “To me, film has a real sense of immortality. A movie like MANHUNTER's played in Brazil, Japan, and all over the world.” People can experience your music with the sound and vision concept – you're visually taking something in, and the music's there. It doesn't necessarily just have to be about what we're doing.
CR: Given the regimen you guys were subjected to back then, it's something that you really don't miss, and are not anxious to repeat.
RS: Once you enter the first couple days into that tour thing, you're just into it then, and that's what you're doing. I like playing live. But, economically, I don't see how you can do it now.
We're supposed to do something in 2012, in the UK – a live performance for film. A British director proposed it to us. It's a cool idea. They want us to compose a piece for a '40s film noir – for a specific scene to be performed live, to the film.
CR: Now that does sound like something a little different.
RS: Yeah, we would do it, 'cause we thought it'd be a cool thing to actually perform the music to the film, live. They wanted our sound – which, to an old film like that, would be interesting. There's a couple [film titles] being talked about. We don't know which way it's gonna go, though.
CR: OK, but that's a little different, and that'll get your juices flowing in a different direction – [rather] than doing 10 days here, 10 days there.
RS: Yeah. The beauty of doing the other stuff is that we have a catalog now. We have so much material. Somebody sent me a video where they performed “Victims,” off the first album – it was a Philadelphia band, David Scott Smith, for [WXPN's] “World Cafe,” a syndicated radio concert series. You hate to speak too ill of anybody, since . . .
CR: They're complementing you by doing the song.
RS: Yeah, but it was weird. I hadn't heard the song in ages – [theirs was] like a rolling kind of shuffle [hums the riff], and the original version went [hums original riff]. At the end of it [the program], I was surprised . . . people really liked it.
CR: Has your music actually been widely covered, to any great extent?
RS: Not that I know of. A Canadian band did “Self-Reduction,” but the label wouldn't let them put it out. I think they were called The Darkroom – they were a cool band, an electronic band, reminded you of the [Psychedelic] Furs.
CR: And you said, “Go ahead,” and got bitten . . . but that's typical of how a lot of these things go.
RS: Yeah. But the thing that was interesting – we just licensed a song off our third album, “Five-Year Plan.” It's a real raucous piece, and was licensed to a company doing a film about architecture [laughs]!
CR: Really? That's really weird . . .
RS: Yeah, it was from left field. We said, “Thank you.” It was an Australian company, which was cool.
CR: Well, in that sense, these things aren't so bad in that they keep you as a deeply underground phenomenon, you might say.
RS: I guess. People ask me, “Are you bitter that you're not big?” I say, “No, I'm able to keep the lights on, and doin' what I love doin'.” For me, it's not an issue. At one point, it probably would have been a bigger issue – because I would get real frustrated by having to get another label, find another producer, getting so wrapped up into that . . . you spend all your time doing that, rather than writing.
CR: Right. Well, I guess, maybe it might have been more of an issue at the time that you were gotten rid of by A&M, perhaps.
RS: That was definitely an issue at that point, because I was responsible for all the business stuff – dealing with management and agents. The band was [saying], like, “Well, what are we gonna for money? How are we gonna live? What are you gonna do about this?” I was 26, and I was beside myself, 'cause I didn't know what we were gonna do.’
CR: You didn't really know which way things were gonna end up, right?
RS: I didn't, but from working with the people I did the Freight Train album with, they schooled me real early on. They came out of the doo-wop thing of record-making, producers, and labels, so I learned a lot from them. With A & M, they wanted the whole thing to end.
I said, “We have a five-year deal with you, but how about if you give us the money, so we can do the second album?" Because we had already started working on it . . . they thought it was a little too off-the-wall, and they wanted it to be a pop album. That's when I got into [saying], “No, that's not happening, so let us finish that record, and we can have the master.” And they said, “OK.”
Then I got the master. We were able to make the deal with a Canadian label, and a British label. Terry King, he had stuff like Caravan, and different progressive bands like that, on his label. He says, “OK, I'll make a deal with you guys for the master.” So he made a deal with them [A&M]. With the Canadians, and a couple American people here, indie guys, we released EP’s and albums. We were able to keep it going that way.
RH: So you found a sideways route out of that little problem [with A&M]?
RS: Yeah. And then, we just kept playing through that whole business till we got on the thing with Seymour [Stein], Sire, and that led us to Mr. Mann.
RH: And here you are today. So that was pretty fortunate, how it turned out.
RS: We've had some [stories] written about us, and it's always, “The poor Reds.” And we don't really see it that way.