Folder: 2 0 0 6 AD

Subject: Interview, Part One

Hey RSM!

Here's the first batch of questions in our historic email interview. Answer these at your leisure, just add your comments beneath my questions, and I'll zip new questions to you as our conversation "progresses." I did one of the very first emails in Internet history waaayy back in the early-90s with Billy Idol. Since he was strung out on smack at the time, it was a short interview. Probably just as well.... 


Rev. Keith



Q: What was Nashville's live music scene like in the '70s? Was there any interest in original rock bands? What were the clubs like?

RSM: Well, to begin with, I personally was never that deeply interested in the common popular obsession of seeing live music bands constantly. Not even major concerts. Oh, in the late 60s as a mid/late teen I naturally cherished classic early Municipal Auditorium shows by The Monkees, Paul Revere and the Raiders, etc. And slightly later I dug Procol Harum at War Memorial Audiorium, Moody Blues playing Memphis, and Frank Zappa at Vanderbilt a couple of times. But in the 70s, the local club scene meant nothing to me. I had already begun my manic home recording addiction and had absolutely no desire in wasting weekend nights seeing rock bands.

Remember, Nashville was extremely late in embracing anything even remotely original or stylish. So most clubs only had BOOGIE. That was it. Bluesy rock 'n roll shuffles, rarely any 4/4 BIG BEAT. Or the lame generic country folkie singer/songwriters. NO POP. There was obviously a huge growing following for the seeds of what became Southern Rock... Allman Brothers reigning king, and all the clone bands riffing and boogying away. And though I can respect both blues and country these days with the highest regard, back then to be swamped by it and ONLY it, I hated it with a passion. It was music for the uneducated partying lowlifes. Not that I was this impossibly snobbish, geeky IQ-maddened genius bookperson; I just knew that having been so inspired as a young impressionable teen by all varieties of Beatles, Brian Wilson, Zappa, Top 40, psychedelia, early garage punk, comedy records, 50's jazz, experimental, and even modal classical influences I was always hearing... there was so much more satisfaction I simply wasn't getting from dumb loud druggy hickblues rock 'n roll. Sadly it was the only thing in town. So I conveniently stayed home and created my own asylum away from all of that.

So to answer your question, there were NO original rock bands then, because there was no audience for them, therefore no club would book them.

PS. Another bunch of early sweet memories: why, yes, I and my high school musical friends DID sometimes go to the nearby Hullabaloo club off of Dickerson Road to marvel at various bands passing through which sort of mimicked all the good desired 60's pop sounds of the Beatles, Beach Boys etc. I'll never forget seeing We The People and the Candymen. Blew us away. But "traveling" groups like that were typical of the era, mainly only soundalike cover bands with a few "original" songs and perhaps a real record contract and an album & single out. We also loved many of Nashville's local combos, like Lemonade Charade with Steve Davis and Jerry Smith. And of course the hot dance rock 'n soul bands like Charlie McCoy and the Escorts.

Q: What Nashville bands were you involved with during the '70s? Share any memories you have of these bands and the players.

RSM: In the late 60s, just generic young cover band combos in Madison, where I lived. The Comets. The Taxmen. Short stints in others later, like the Marshmallow Mood. Throughout the 70s I just played and recorded at home, both solo and with my friends Victor Lovera (see below), Billy Anderson, Roger Ferguson and Mike Hopper. Sometimes we did name ourselves as if we were real "bands" (such as Ethos), but besides odd one-off showcase gigs, we never really played out as such. In 1976 I joined another cover band, The Swings, and we did do a lot of common touring through the Ramada Inns of the Southeast.

But I stress, unlike 99% of all the riffin' rock dudes back then, I avoided the whole live performance requirement. My thing was home recording, almost exclusively.

Q: Your interest in music comes as no surprise, considering that your father was a musician. However, what actually prompted you to pursue a life in music? What were your early influences?

RSM: Sixties A-Z. I was the perfect age for pop music from The Twist up to Woodstock and beyond. Fifties Elvis and doowop were also important to my pre-teens, but not until much later did I really plunge deep into all the pre-Beatles stuff. Again, for as long as I can remember, "variety" was the true spice of my musical life. I never ranked one style over the other; I adored them all, and played back-to-back. Freeform programming as we now know it came naturally to me as an 8 year old kid. Not only did I love to listen to everything, I made it a point to also learn and play as many styles as I could. My entire career has encompassed that concept, with either parodies of or loving tributes to all the styles of modern popular music.

Q: You were one of the unheralded pioneers in home recording during the '70s. What prompted you to begin recording your songs and what sort of gear did you use at the time?

RSM:It just sort of happened, as if preordained to me. Wasn't hard to consider the joys of having tape recorders around. Instant hobby. No big deal, really. Naturally, my father's occupation provided me easy access to some early gear, namely a 1-track mono Crown monstrosity, for playing back at home the tapes of his studio sessions. So I guess that was the first pro unit I learned the basics on, circa 1965-66... which was also the era of the new latest portable decks, those 3" reel-ro-reels and then the newfangled compact cassettes. And then the motherlode arrived: stereo 7" reel machines with overdubbing abilities. They called it Sound-On-Sound! Or was it Sound-WITH-Sound? Or was it BOTH! I haven't looked back since.

Q: Have the changes in recording technology changed the way you write and record? What are your favorite new tools, or was it really better "back in the day"?

RSM: Apples and oranges. Hard to realistically compare. 30 years ago was different in many ways. Most importantly, *I* was different in my music creating, because although I was always influenced by my fave artists and styles, I was still 100% Nashville-innocence with virtually no one to go to with my creations. So that HAD to affect the kind of wreckless abandon my 70s methods relied upon. And back then I really didn't feel I was competing with anybody, because to my knowledge nobody else in town was doing what I was doing. BUT this was totally unlike after I later made the big plunge relocating to the NYC area, trying to impress and succeed in the marketplace. Some innocence lost? Perhaps. And by then the punk/new wave thing had erupted and competition suddenly was fierce. I had been my own solo underground down south, and now DIY was everywhere up north (albeit rather unchallenging and samey).

And as regards to gear and tools, naturally it's been a long strange journey through the museum of home recording developments. Nashville 70's was the golden era of the reel-to-reels. At first it was using 2 separate decks each with mic/line mixing, overdubbing ad infinitum and unfortunately increasing tape hiss and degradation with each generation copied. Then the multi-tracks came in, mainly 4-track TEACs & Dokorders. But it was always basic 7 1/2 ips, usually quarter track stereo (as opposed to the superior half-track), and never with any noise reduction applied either during tracking nor during final mixdowns.

The late 80s saw the move to cassette portastudios, and now I use a 12-track digital workstation. It's important to note here that never have I been a gear head whatsoever. Rarely was I searching to constantly upgrade my home equipment. Usually I was simply donated stuff by friends.

Q: Through the years youhave proven yourself to bean amazingly prolific songwriter. How do you approach writing a song and do you have any "goals" in mind when setting pen to paper?

RSM: No real rules here; varies day to day. Sometimes words come first, sometimes music first. Often it flows out by itself, and there are frustrating periods where it just has to be forced out. I've lived it all. And after decades of conscious "composing", these days my laziness and bitter fatigue prevent the prolific ways of my past. I honestly get more pleasure now by just assembling soundscapes, recording extreme minimalism, defiant anti-music. Wrote a million pop songs, just don't feel the competitive urge anymore.

Q: How did you meet Victor Lovera? Talk about your collaborations with Victor and share some of your memories of this underrated artist.

RSM: January 1971. Dropped out of Vanderbilt after only 1 semester, left parents' home in Madison, found a cheap 2nd floor room in a house at 1211 16th Avenue, where I essentially BEGAN my official renegade career, one cheap tape recorder, a puppy, numerous loose sexual liasons, occasional cheese sandwiches, pot & acid free-flowing, old friends visiting, gettin' a job at a record shop, buying a used Kharmann Ghia, and tryin' to grow up FAST! And one day I heard another guy in an adjoining room playing a Firesign Theater album. Victor Lovera had hitchiked from his home of Babylon L.I. NY to Huntsville AL, then got a ride back up to Nashville. He was a brilliant struggling songwriter in a McCartney, Cat Stevens/Paul Simon style, and we hit it off immediately. For the entire decade we collaborated on stunningly innovative rock lo-fi home recordings, and naturally couldn't get our foot in one goddamn Music City door. He taught me so much about modern Beatlesque pop, and in reverse I gave him a much needed electric, experimental edge. Together we discovered all the magic new sounds which replaced the Fabs: Bowie's Hunky Dory, Roxy Music's 1st, 10CC, Sparks, etc etc. Like me, he was also a self-taught graphic artist, and we also shared much about dadaist, avant eclecticisms in all art. Two multi-talented directionless wizards misplaced in a startlingly dull and unimaginative hillbilly rodeotown!

The present day composer has left the building.


That's all for now. More to come, especially about Hopper, PHONOGRAPHY and why you left Nashville. [REV.K]

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