Interview with Paul Roman by Matti Nieminen January 2005
Its now 2005 and you guys started in 1986 how have you changed in those years? Well our music has changed of course.It would be very boring and painful if we just put out the same “formula psychobilly” album out all time.
What is “formula psychobilly” in your opinion? you know...graveyards, bats, monsters,and musically its a formula also.So many bands, even top bands have been putting out the same record for years! How many songs can you write about monsters? What about the REAL monsters that live among us and want to blow us up? That doesn't mean you have to be political but use your imagination.
Psychobilly is a “sound” its a style-but sadly many bands have made it into a cartoon.
There is a big market of people who love all that bats and monsters shit but I'm not writing for them.It would be too easy and I wouldn't get any satisfaction from that- I write for myself.
You had some songs about bats and monsters on the first Quakes album...Ya we did...(laughs) that was back in 1988 and those songs were written a year or two before that...Hell I was still in high school when I wrote some of those- back then it wasn't so cliche'.It's now 2005 and done too much- I wouldn't start a punk band and write songs about anarchy in 2005.... -we wanted to be popular on the scene and we thought that's what we HAD to do.
What do you mean you HAD to? Meaning we were trying to get a record deal and be popular on the psycho scene so we played fast and wrote songs about walking in the graveyard-(laughs) I'm just saying be original--after that album we went in many new directions.
Do any of your songs have any political messages? Not directly.Its not really politics- I just think of it as social commentary- Its easy to write about what I see going on in front of me. Its much harder to “make up” a story. Sometimes people get the wrong messages from my lyrics and I have to explain to them the real meaning- and some songs don't mean anything at all (laughs).
How do you write songs? well I need to be unhappy(laughs)- most of my best stuff comes from frustration- its a release for me to put negative energy into.
You have had several line up changes over the years, are you hard to work with? Yes I am....but I'm misunderstood(laughs)
I expect that everyone has the same enthusiasm about this music that I do.I'm a details guy and I like to get things right.In general musicians tend to be guys who are late, guys that drink too much, guys that take drugs, and just plain fuck ups and I don't like that. I have been lucky in that most of the guys that Ive played with haven't been a problem. When I go on tour, I'm there because the people want to hear the music and I expect that the guys in the band act professional at all times.I don't want guys all drunk acting like assholes,especially in a foreign country where we not only represent the band but our country. Its not a “vacation” for me to go to these places-its work and I like it.
Rob played on the first Tiger Army Cd? Yes I was in San Francisco and this guy who ran the coolest record shop in Buffalo was now working at Amoeba records-so he told me there's this psychobilly guy working there etc. etc.It was Nick 13- he said he was going to record a CD and needed a bass player and so I gave him Robs phone number.
Do you like the cd? I didn't at first to be honest -but after I saw Tiger army live a few times I really liked some of the songs. Nick is a good song writer.He takes a lot of crap from jealous people on the scene but he's going to be around for a long time.
What about the scene in the USA with bands like TA- Nekromantix-Horror pops?
Well what all of those bands have in common is they are all on Hellcat records/Epitaph which is major.The reason psychobilly never caught on before is because no bands were on a big label that had any power in the industry. The power to put you on tour with Rancid or other bands that have a big audience. Some other psycho bands have had major deals before but not with the kind of push and effort that Hellcat has.-We were on Sony/Japan but that was just for Japan there are plenty of good bands out there and I think some of Epitaphs competition will start to sign their own “psychobilly bands”.
What about The Quakes getting signed to one of those labels?
(laughs) after years of being screwed I started my own record label which allows me to have total control over my art.
We don't play often enough and my line up changes often--I don't think I'm making the kind of music they (the labels) would be interested in. I'm not interested in “selling it to the kids.” I'm 37 years old and I don't write the same kinds of things I did when I was 20. Even if a record company would let us do what we want- most of the contracts are so one sided that there is no reward.Right now I own all of my publishing and all copyrights. Sadly I don't own the rights to the early Quakes stuff.I have a free advice section on our website to advise bands who are getting into the biz.There is so much to learn! When you are 20 you just want to be on a record and you don't think about publishing rights and royalties.
You guys have had, in addition to very different sounding cds, different “looks” can you talk about that? Sure (laughs) At the time of the first record we were all about bleached jeans and combat boots and black trench coats and bomber jackets,shaved sides...and that look suited our music at that time. When we did Voice of America we not only wanted a different sound but a different look.It was more Peg pants-50’s styled shirts,creepers, huge hair and make -up.
We got into the whole leather thing shortly after that because its easy to wear Leather pants on tour. They are rugged and they are COOL.We took a lot of shit back then (1990) for wearing leather pants! It was unbelievable.It's the same with the make up thing.People will say “we thought you were gay cause you wear make up and leather pants”.
I would answer them with....well Brian Setzer-Adam Ant- Billy Idol-,Gene Vincent,Eddie Cochran ,etc. all wear leather pants....are they gay too? and what about MIKE NESS? Is he a fag?...he wears eyeliner.......You cant win with some of the idiots out there who don't get it.You know they found a guy frozen in the ice in the Alps who had been there for 5000 years! He had leather pants and Tattoos!
People gave us crap for the picture of us on the New Generation cover (Nervous cover not Sony)---but we wanted to be like Duran Duran or Depeche mode.In the sense that we wanted an audience full of hot chicks dressed in black etc.The cd was kind of pop and we were trying to cross over into that whole scene. We were into New Wave and Gothic as well all things "abilly"..
When the Quiff Rock cd came out, you seemed to have abandoned that style for a more of a “back to the roots” of the Quakes Yes, I thought that would be our last album so I wanted to go out like that.
There was a long gap between Quiff Rock and your last album Last of The Human Beings...why? Well I moved to Phoenix and got married for one thing. We were not having any luck finding a drummer so it seemed like the end-this was back in 97 before the whole scene got going in California etc.
Why haven't you put out anything since? I'm working on it! Basically since I am the record company now,that means I have to pay for everything,so its a financial thing and not a creative thing. I probably have about 30 songs now and some are already recorded. I have to whittle them down to 15 or so.
Any hints as to what we might expect? Well of course it will be different from the others but I think I have a style that permeates what I do regardless,so if you like the Quakes, you will like the new album.
Will it be just you or a whole band recording this one? I ask because on the last cd it was basically you right? Yes I played most of the stuff. I had Chris play on most and a studio drummer on a couple.We didn't have a bass player then .I will probably do most of the recording myself.These days the members of The Quakes live all over the world so its hard to get us all in one spot.
I like to play all the stuff myself but I want to try to get a few songs done with the whole band if that can be arranged.
What do you think of the new psychobilly bands today? Well there are some good ones out there for sure.Some are not entirely psychobilly like the Seven Shot Screamers who are kind of in that gray area between psychobilly and neobilly---Im not a fan of the “bats and monsters” style psycho bands that seem to make up most of the scene.There is a real lack of creativity out there.If I hear one more cover version of “tainted love” I'm gonna puke! (laughs)
This scene suffers from the same disease that the rockabilly scene does in that you get all these guys trying to re create the 50’s with all sorts of rules as to what is acceptable. Basically these people are just preaching to the choir. With the Quakes we always wanted to be big outside of the scene.We wanted to be successful because we had good songs.
When the Stray Cats sold a million albums in the USA it wasn't all rockabilly guys buying those records- it was a lot of different people cause those songs were good...were they rockabilly? Absolutely but it was GOOD!
I think those bands on Hellcat have the potential for that crossover and I think that Tiger Army and Horrorpops are headed in that direction- I think they will lose some fans but they will gain a lot more and be “free” to expand on the genre.
What about this PR3 project in Finland? Well that started as a result of me meeting my girlfriend in
Helsinki and moving over there. I put that band together so I could play lots of gigs- not only did I want to play but it was a source of income for me as I'm not allowed to work in Finland (legally).
And you are playing Quakes songs? Yes, it's not really a “solo” project, I'm just playing my songs. 95% are Quakes songs and a few new ones that will probably be on the next Quakes cd.
You have a new lineup now? Rumor is you had some trouble with the band members? (laughs) yes I did,I don't want to get into the whole thing at this time but in a nut shell, they were arrested in Germany while we were on tour so I fired them and canceled the rest of the shows. I have a new line up now with Tommi Häninnen on drums and Lauri Valkonen on slap bass. Those guys play in the band 9 Lives and are real professional. When Lauri cant play, I got a guy from Helsinki-Aki Savolainen and he's real good also. I have noticed that the musicianship here in Finland is real good and its easy to find great players here.Why do you think that is? I don't know,maybe its the water.(laughs)
Do you like living in Finland? Yes, its cool, it's very different here. Very peaceful and laid back.Being the consummate complainer that I am I could tell you what's wrong with it all day!(laughs) Because of the visa situation I have to go home every three months for a while.
Can you speak Finnish? (laughs) a little bit-I can understand better than I speak. I learn more all the time.It's very hard and lucky for me that most people can speak English here.
Ok lets get into some other areas here.What else do you do besides music? Any hobbies? Well music is a hobby really cause I don't make a living doing this but I like to go fishing and I play ice hockey when I'm in Phoenix I go camping,panning for gold in the mountains...stuff like that.
Where your parents supportive of your music? My father died when I was 10, but my mom was always supportive of my music. She recently passed away.
What other types of music do you like? I'm really into 80’s new wave.I was as a kid and I still am.There are songs I'm still just discovering. Kind of like the rockabilly thing where they keep finding “lost” recordings. I like western swing a lot. Heavy metal,Blues etc. there is all kinds of great stuff out there if you look.
Most people are not "lookers", they listen to what ever music is placed in front of them by radio or tv. A real music fan SEARCHES to find gems that others have missed.Nothing will ever be as exciting musically as when I first discovered rockabilly.
How old were you? Well I was listening to some bands that were rockabilly before I even knew that term-there was a band called the Kingbees that played great rock n roll/rockabilly and others at that time.This was like 1979-80 andI was 12 or 13.When I saw the Stray cats on MTV, I thought that they were some British new wave act and the whole 50’s thing was just their “shtick” cause you had Adam and the ants doing the Pirate thing and Madness-,Duran Duran- everyone had a “look”.I remember my older brother had Built for speed and I would hear him play it once in while and then I got it and it just grabbed me. Then I read their interviews and went out and bought Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent.Hearing Be-Bop A lula for the first time brought tears to my eyes- It was as though I had found what I was looking for- I had found my true identity.
What's in the future? I'm going to continue to play and record my stuff- We just got back from The Ukraine which was a great place and we went to Russia last summer so Im getting to travel to new places and play for fans that really appreciate us coming there- I will never get tired of that.
Last thoughts? Look for the new Quakes cd in May?Thanks to all the people that have been coming to the shows and sending emails.