RALPH HEIBUTZKI's EXTENDED INTERVIEW
WITH RICK SHAFFER
NOVEMBER 8, 2010 • PART 5
"IT'S A COMBINATION OF OPPORTUNITY AND PREPARATION"
All good things come to an end at some point, and this interview is no exception. However, I've never enjoyed a recent transcription job more than this one, mammoth as it seemed: thanks to Rick for his willingness to expound so freely, and The Reds® manager, Theresa Marchione, for hooking us up. We begin by discussing why Rick isn't worried that he didn't snatch rock 'n' roll's proverbial big brass ring.
CR: When we first talked, you made that abundantly clear – you didn't see yourself as a victim of that whole ['70s/'80s New Wave] era.
RS: There was an opportunity, just a little while ago – the guy that produced the [first Reds] record, [David] Kershenbaum? I sent him a note, and I was real nice . . . because he was also the vice president of A&R, and he was the guy that decided that we either became pop, or we were gonna be off the label. Plus, he was our producer, which made it really uncomfortable.
CR: Lovely situation!
RS: Anyway, I sent him a note saying, “Over the years, we've had quite a bit of compliments, and I could kind of see where you were coming from with the record – you were trying to drag that garage sound out of us, and you really wanted to develop that more . . .” Because he thought we should really be more like the early Animals.
I said, “You know, I can appreciate that now, but I also have to be very thankful – through the A&M situation, I've been able to have a pretty long career, I've been able to create for a long period of time. And I really thank you for giving us the opportunity.” But, I never heard anything from him.
CR: Oh, well, that's just how it goes.
RS: Yeah, that's pretty much my MO in life. I try to do the right thing, say what you think, and if it doesn't go, that's not my problem.
CR: So, if you're giving advice to the next generation, what two or three things would you tell them, assuming they'd listen? Because, as you said, you meet people who think they've got it all figured out.
CR: Oh, yeah. I was talking to a guy – I think he'd signed a deal with Sony − and I'm askin' about the studio, production, artwork, things like that. He says, “I don't care about that stuff!” I said, “What do you mean, you don't care – it's what you're doing!” And he says, “What I'm doing is making records so I can meet people, and get women.”
RH: Oh, God, he told you that?
CR: I said, “You don't care about the whole creative process?” He says, “Nah!” It was very superficial – a lot of the younger people I run into are very superficial. It's kind of distressing.
RH: Well, perhaps – but you know what? My theory is that this stuff skips generations.
RS: You're absolutely right. It's that old thing of, the father's a laborer, so his son can become a doctor, and his son can become an artist. The most important thing is, play it like you feel it – if you're doing the work, and you're really doing what you think, it's going to come to light.
You can't just sit in a room and not do anything with it. I knew this one guy that was a producer from the '50s and '60s. The guy was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. He would work in the studio for 20 hours a day. He was like a Joe Meek kind of guy. You would hear this stuff, and it's like taking a hit of acid, it was so surreal – the way he would do things, and produce things. But he would work on a song for five years! One song!
CR: One song?
RS: One song, every day, for five years! And he'd just never do anything with it – he's workin' every day, he's real creative and he's brilliant, but he's doin' nothin' with it!
CR: And nobody ever got to hear it.
CR: Nobody ever got to hear it. Well, it's a combination of opportunity, and preparation – put 'em together, and you usually come up with something.
RH: Yeah – when I was first playing, I knew people that were champions in their bedroom.
CR: There are a lot of legends in their own mind, and that's what they thrive on, but it's not gettin' them anywhere.
RS: No, and that's why I just keep working.
CR: Keep working, keep your head down, and just do the playing.
RS: Yeah. The other thing is, I keep in touch – I listen to everything I can, [including] the newer bands. That's one thing I'm really happy with – a lot of original fans are buying the CD, rather than the downloads, which our newer fans buy, which is kinda cool in both ways.
It really gives you a sense of purpose, I guess. I get a lot of the same response from people, “You made me become a musician” – from the first album, [the] early stuff – and when I listen to their stuff, they're good. That definitely makes you feel like you passed it on from the people that turned us on, know what I mean?
CR: Absolutely – so we can only hope everybody does you proud, I think.
RS: Yeah, right. We're fortunate, too – we're with a number of music libraries around the world, where music supervisors go to pick music for projects.
CR: And I'm assuming that's something you would recommend, as well?
RS: Yeah, absolutely
CR: And then, it's kind of a potluck, random [situation]?
RS: Well, it is, but you've got as good a chance as anybody else. When we did the films with [Michael] Mann for “Miami Vice,” everybody said, “Aw, you can't do it, he's got Phil Collins, you guys are nothing.” I said, “OK, let the guy decide.” That's the way I look at everything that I do. I don't care. I have no embarrassment issues – if they don't want you, [they say], “Next!”
CR: Different people get tuned into different things. Sometimes, that coincides with what you do, other times, it doesn't.
RS: I did a press interview in Canada for the last [Reds] album, and he said, “Do you really think you're gonna be any bigger than you are?” And I said, “I don't really care.” He says, “Well, I think you're the main reason why this band has never gone anywhere.” I said, “Wow! I’ve been working for thirty years and it hasn’t stopped me yet.”
CR: He's really trying to make friends!
RS: Yeah, and I said, “That may be so, but the fact of the matter is, I've been recording since 1977, and my music is released everywhere. The main thing is, I like it.” He said, “This band could have been really a big band, with somebody else in it.” And I said, “But, the other side of it is, I’ve written mostly all the material”
CR: Boom! Touche . . . and there was, probably, I'm guessing, the sound of crickets on the phone...
RS: Nah, he said, “I don't think you'll ever be anything.”
CR: Geez, what a prick!
RS: Yeah, he was pretty brutal. When we were looking for record deals, before we signed to Sire – Theresa would set up meetings where I would meet people at Elektra, Capitol, or Columbia. I had guys telling me, “You can't sing, you can't write, you can't play, and you're sure as hell not pretty.” And I'd say, “Yeah, but I'm real good.” You know, what can you say to that? It's an indefensible kind of a thing, and it's their opinion. You can make anybody look like an ass.
CR: Yeah, but there's some other agenda going on with somebody like that.
RS: Oh, absolutely. That's somebody who's got some kind of an issue, somewhere.
CR: If somebody like that really dug it [his own music] – I'd have to ask myself, “What am I doing?”
RS: Yup, that's right! [laughs] I have to say, Ralph, I think that a lot, too. When I got off the phone with that press guy, I was like, “Where are you coming from?” One of the reviews we got on the first album, Bruce and I absolutely loved – the other guys in the band and the management weren't too thrilled about it. I think it was in MELODY MAKER.
The guy said, “Imagine this, if you will: Elvis Costello, and Black Sabbath.” Then he went on to go through the whole album – that was the whole theme of it [the review], putting Black Sabbath and Elvis Costello together. And I was like, “This is great.” You think about that, and I guess it's a perspective on stuff.
CR: Yeah, I can almost see how you might have reacted to that.
RS: We just got our first review on NECESSARY ILLUSION, from a magazine in Luxembourg. He's [the reviewer] a Reds fan, and started with [how] he missed the keyboards at first – but, as he delved into it, found other things [to excite him]. He said it sounded like late '60s garage: “Imagine, if you will, Jon Spencer and Alan Vega together.” I thought that was cool.
CR: As we say, different people like different things, and that's a good example.
RS: Yeah. Well, I thank you for your time, Ralph.
∎ About the interviewer . . .