Editor’s note: This transcript of a May 1980 Klaatu interview with music journalist and Capitol Records Editorial Manager Stephen K. Peeples was first posted online at http://klaatu.org/.
What follows is the transcript of an interview I conducted in May 1980 with the then-mysterious rock band Klaatu, named after the human-like alien visitor to Earth played by Michael Rennie in the 1951 sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
In the years since 1980, I’ve received a few calls and emails from fans asking about this Klaatu interview. So here’s the backstory to the best of my recollection.
Since the band had refused to do interviews up until this one, its members’ identities remained unknown. All the public knew was that Klaatu hailed from Canada, where they recorded for Frank Davies’ Daffodil Records, which had an arrangement with Capitol Canada. Davies also served as the band’s manager and spokesperson.
The melodic rock and ambitious production of their August 1976 Capitol Records debut album, titled “3:47 EST” in Canada and simply “Klaatu” in the U.S., had led some reviewers and radio types to think there was some kind of secret Beatles connection, or even reunion.
Undeterred by an unexpected backlash about that alleged connection from others in the media and some hard-core Beatlemaniacs, Klaatu followed with the albums “Hope” in September 1977, and “Sir Army Suit” in August 1978.
By spring 1980, when Klaatu’s fourth album, “Endangered Species,” sneaked onto Capitol’s upcoming release schedule, some media types had expressed serious doubt this was a real band. Sales of the last two LPs were not huge. So among the Capitol A&R and marketing honchos, there was a sense that this album would need some singles, and some major album promo.
That included Klaatu’s members finally coming out, talking to the press, and revealing their identities.
A promo tour was planned to coincide with the album’s June release, but print press, mainly magazines, had lead times, and needed something in advance.
In my gig as editorial manager in the Press & Artist Relations Dept., based on the 9th floor of the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood, my duties included writing the press releases, bios, newsletters and other collateral the department mailed out to the music press.
With the June release date looming for”Endangered Species,” I proposed an interview with the band, so a transcript could be included in the press mailing. The idea was that press people who didn’t talk to the band members in person could pull quotes from that transcript or reprint the entire Q&A.
The band members went for it.
As I recall, we had to set up a conference call because the three guys were in different parts of Canada at the time. I recorded the phoner on a cassette. Transcribing the Klaatu interview was a major challenge, sussing precisely which guy said what. Not having done a lot of interviews, they tended to talk over each other at times. A rough edit and the transcript was off to the printer to make the press mailing deadline.
The tape went MIA; a month after this interview, I moved on to Elektra/Asylum Records as the editorial director, and didn’t look back for years. You can catch up with what happened next in this Goldmine feature from December 2013.
With a hat tip to the Klaatu-maniacs at Klaatu.org, and to Jaimie Vernon, now head of Bullseye Records of Canada, the transcript follows (compulsively buffed just a bit to clean up a few typos).
— Stephen K. Peeples, December 29, 2016
Stephen: This is Stephen in Los Angeles – who do I have on the line here?
Dee: Well, you have three of us, I think. This is Dee.
Terry: And Terry here.
John: And John.
Stephen: Okay, let’s take it from the top then, chronologically.
???: Yeah, that way we can warm-up [laughs]. Good idea.
Stephen: Okay, now, I was talking to John a few days ago and he indicated that you guys had been working in various bands throughout the Toronto area before Klaatu came into being. Could you just tell me at what point Klaatu came into being and what was the original concept? Either one of you guys could answer.
John: Well, we actually started recording as Klaatu in January 1973. That was Dee and myself at that point. And Terry Draper joined us within a year of that date and we were still recording our first album right up to the end of 1975.
Stephen: Yeah, that was a long project.
John: Well, actually it was a couple of years. About two and a half years. We weren’t recording continually. We work on a particular tune and finish it which might take anywhere from a month to a month-and-a-half or so. And then we wouldn’t record for awhile and then we had another tune that we all agreed was good enough to record – we’d go back into the studio for another 60 or 90 days or whatever. There were a couple of moments when we were working on more than one tune at once, but basically it was a tune-by-tune affair. And as I say there was often quite long breaks between recordings.
Stephen: What were you doing before the recording dates?
John: Working. Working odd jobs.
Stephen: Such as?
John: Well, at one point Dee and I were working in an electronics factory. And then I got a job in a recording studio as a technician and you’ll have to ask the other guys what they were doing (chuckles).
Terry: I’m a roofer by trade.
Stephen: Oh, yeah?
Terry: Yeah, a macho man – a hard-working person.
Stephen: Great. Blue-collar hero and all that.
Terry: [chuckling] Yeah, that’s it. True Life Hero. That’s me.
Dee: Well, I was working in an electronics factory. That’s where John and me first had the idea.
John: Yeah, it was over a soldering gun. [SKP laughs]
Stephen: How did the concept for “3:47 EST” come about?
John: I don’t know if there ever really was a concept as far as we were concerned. The first time we heard any mention of a concept with regard to that album was after it had been out for like eight months and everybody was sort of saying it was a concept album. But I think when we were recording it the only concept was that we were musicians who didn’t want to go through the rigamarole of playing bars and local clubs paying those kind of heavy dues. That was the thing in other bands prior to this.
And the only concept was that we had these tunes we thought were relatively good and that we wanted to record and we didn’t even have the concept of putting an album together. It was only after we had 36 minutes of music that we realized we had enough for an album.
But there was never a pre-conceived idea of what should be the overall concept. In fact, the songs were not decided upon as to whether or not they fit into a pre-set concept as much as they were just quality and whether they tickled our fancy at the time we recorded them.
Like, I remember “California Jam” just because we wanted to do a song as a take-off on The Beach Boys, kind of like the Beach Boys on acid. Right after that we said, “Well, let’s not do that again. What do we do now?” Then Dee came up with a real rock ’n’ roll song called “True Life Hero” [Ed.: Transcriber wrote “Too Late Hero”], and we said, “That’s perfect. Let’s do that!”
So it was always what’s next? What can we do that’s different than we’ve already done? And I think if you listen to that first album with that in mind you’ll hear that there’s very little repetition on any of the songs – like the songs are so totally different from each other.
Stephen: That’s quite true.
John: And that’s really how that came about. It was intentional. And then when it came time to do something like “Little Neutrino” we said, “Well, let’s go crazy. Let’s do something that’s totally off the wall. And let’s not record it with any other perimeters in mind other than doing something completely different than we’ve ever heard of before. This time create something really new.” And that, to us, was the crowning achievement of that album.
Stephen: Now, at that point Klaatu was a four-member group, right?
John: Yeah, the fourth member being Terry Brown. He was not a musician, but we were so involved at the studio, his studio at that time, that his engineering and production assistance really was an integral part of the band’s sound.
Stephen: Which studio was that?
John: Toronto Sound Studio. In fact, that’s where I work. [Ed: Should say “worked.”]
Stephen: That’s where you were a technician?
John: That’s how I’m always employed – as a technician.
Stephen: Okay, so meanwhile, the album comes out. Nothing much happens initially. You guys get back into the studio and start working on “Hope,” then all of this Beatle shit hits the fan.
Stephen: Tell me what you think about all of that.
Terry: Well, first the band said it was very flattering. I think we were flattered more than anything. Surprised, though, considering that it was totally regardless of us that it happened. We didn’t perpetrate it. It just sorta came to pass by an article written in Providence by Steve Smith. We were surprised as everyone else. But it was flattering. That’s the thing I remember most.
Stephen: Well, considering that you count influences like The Beatles, 10cc and ELO – it’s sort of right in the same ball park. And even Tchaikovsky, the classical influence came through, too.
John: We were really heavy into King Crimson during the first album. So many people are aware of King Crimson as they are about the Beatles and things like that.
Stephen: Alright, then since you had nothing to do with the origination of the idea that you guys were The Beatles and didn’t have anything to do with perpetrating it, other than maintaining your silence, at least initially, what were your attitudes about the whole thing? Did it change from flattering, or being flattered, to something else after the backlash started to happen?
John: Well, it was a little bit like having an albatross around your neck because what would happen is that as the rumor strengthened and as the shit was hitting the fan, there was more pressure being put on us to come forward.
And one of the things that we had agreed upon when we first got together was that we weren’t do the picture-bio routine. We weren’t gonna do all the personality build-up and things like that. We just wanted the group to remain sort of anonymous. We were really naive then and let the music do all of the talking.
That started out as a real great, noble idea and worked for awhile, but then the exact opposite thing happened than we wanted. We wanted to remain anonymous and not have to get our personalities involved. We thought that was really a bunch of hogwash. We thought that music was great because it was great, not because somebody likes your tie and what color your hair is.
Stephen: Yeah, and whether or not you wear sneakers or pointy shoes.
John: Yeah, we don’t like fads to that degree – we recognized their force, but we didn’t want to [garbled]. But what happened was when the Beatle thing happened we got caught up in this positive press that was now exposing the album – we got more hype out of that than you could have manufactured with 15 promo records directors. I mean, it backfired on us. While we were looking for anonymity we got more exposure than we could have dreamed was possible.
Stephen: Infamy without individual recognition, then.
John: Yeah, right. That’s kind of a good way of phrasing it. So then and after the Beatle thing dies down…in the meantime we didn’t want to release anything at that point because if we were to release our name at the time of that Beatle rumour, ya know, our names would have been in the newspaper from Boston to L.A. and we weren’t looking for that kind of explosive mushrooming exposure. I think, in retrospect, it might have done more damage than the backlash ended up doing. We just weren’t ready tp accept that kind of exposure – we were at that time working on the “Hope” album which was taking a lot of energy.
Stephen: Okay, there was a thing that happened about that time – a P.D. (program director) named Dwight Douglas from WWDC radio in Washington had dug around and came up with four names. The names were J. Woloschuk also known as L.M. Carpenter and Chip Dale; Cary Draper; David Long; and Dino Tome. And then, right after that, we have a quote from Frank Davies, he says, “The article is so inaccurate in several of its details, including the names.” Now, that is like very very true that names were not exactly correct. What was your reaction at that point when his guy, Dwight Douglas, came so close to naming your correct names?
John: Take it away, Dee.
Dee: I don’t really know. I don’t remember too much about that. As far as I was concerned I don’t think we had said to Frank and Cary that we didn’t want them to use our names. There was really no sense in commenting or saying, “Yes, these names aren’t quite correct, but here are the correct ones.”
Stephen: No, I don’t mean commenting to the world – I just mean among yourselves.
Dee: Our reaction?
Dee: No, I don’t know personally. I just found it a little – it was interesting, it was funny. I never really thought of it as …anything to do with the music. We were much more concerned with guarding our health at that point.
Stephen: Okay, let’s move on to “Hope” then. Did this backlash that began happening while you were in the sessions with “Hope” have any affect on the “Hope” sessions?
Terry: It did actually in a queer sort of way.
Stephen: In what way?
Terry: We were about to deliver the “Hope” album and I think it was just somewhere within a few weeks that the Beatle thing happened. And we weren’t quite happy with it. The album as it stood [was] completed at that point and yet we had a deadline with Capitol Records. As we were handing it in this Beatle thing happened and they gave us some more time to finish it which was another bonus the Beatle thing supplied. We spent another good 30-40 days in the studio again – fixing it all up and doing things that we weren’t happy with after we’d lived with it for awhile.
Stephen: Right. A little polishing there.
Terry: Oh, a lot of polishing. Lustre-Sheen.
Stephen: [laughing] Lustre-Sheen! With polymers? How did you guys react to the critical reaction and the popular reaction to the “Hope” album, which was to my ears more conceptual both musically and lyrically than the first?
John: I think that [“Hope”] might have gotten a little bit of an unfair treatment. Not on its own merit, but basically because of the backlash to that Beatles affair.
The thing about the Beatle thing – once it got to a certain point [it was] beyond our control, and with our helping it along there was no real graceful way to get out of it! I mean, it was either give out the names and say, “Yes, here we are!” and then be exposed to all the persons saying, “Well, why didn’t you come forward sooner?” and all that stuff. Or just keep quiet and let it sort of ride itself out – hopefully everybody would forget about it. And there was no really easy way of dispelling any negativism that might have developed as a result of that.
And what happened I think was that the result of inaction on our part – we got blamed largely for – although it was recognized we didn’t start the rumor. I think a lot of people think that we had something to do with it in some way or another and obviously they felt a little embarrassed. So, that sorta came out and manifested itself in a negative reception for the “Hope” album which I think was probably as good as the first album – perhaps a little better – we weren’t naive enough, though, not to realize that the “Hope” album was certainly not that commercial an album as the standards that were prevailing at the time. We still believed in the myth that we didn’t have to do that to make a living.
Stephen: How did that square then with the more commercial approach for “Sir Army Suit”?
John: Well, having done the “Hope” album, there was no sense in doing another concept album. We had done the concept idea to the hilt as far as we were concerned. But to do another concept album would be almost admitting that we didn’t think the first one was good enough.
John: Anti-climax. Like we’d already done the concept. I mean, we picked our album in the same way we picked our tunes. Once you do an album or a type of album you say, “Okay, let’s do something we haven’t done yet.” So, obviously, it was a counter-reaction to the “Hope” thing. I mean, we’d done the concept thing. Okay, let’s go the other way now. Let’s just write small, short tunes that don’t necessarily have to tie together with any overall theme.
Stephen: Were you disappointed? Well, I’m sure you were, but tell me in your own words how you reacted to its lack of acceptance.
Dee: Nobody was really happy about it, obviously. There was no way to react to it other than to go on and do another album.
Terry: We weren’t totally satisfied with it when it was done – when it didn’t really happen we started giving the audience a lot more credit than we’d given it before.
Stephen: Okay, now let’s go to the “Sir Army Suit” cover on which caricatures of some of the group members appear for the first time, right? On the front cover we’ve got the gentleman at the far left holding a big, it looks like an art portfolio case with a long-waisted coat and he’s pointing at the sun and the stream of people walking over the hills. Who could that be?
???: That’s Ted Jones, the artist who did the first two album covers.
Stephen: Ah-ha! Hence the art bag.
???: He also did the “Endangered Species” cover which is purported to be the best cover yet.
Stephen: I think so, too. But I have some specific questions about that we’ll get to later. Okay, then, we have three people – a guy and in an overcoat with a briefcase and stuff under his arm with his back turned to the viewer. And we have a lady in a shirt with a white hat on. A guy and a cane and then the other guy, a long-hair type with a shoulder-bag and a long leather coat, just sort of stepping into the circle picture. Are any of the three you guys?
???: No, the last guy you mentioned is Hugh Syme. He’s the artist that did the “SAS” cover.
Stephen: Okay, over on the back, we see the little mouse here [snorts of laughter].
Terry: That’s me.
Stephen: That’s Dee?
Terry: No, that’s just a small joke that didn’t come off.
Stephen: Okay, then we have on the back cover, the first guy that you see stepping out of the circle…
Stephen: Then right behind him we have a long-haired guy with a beard.
John: That’s Terry.
Stephen: Then there’s the old gentleman with a cane.
Terry: That’s not Dee.
Dee: That’s just a decoy.
Stephen: Decoy, okay [the guys break up laughing]. And then we have a long-haired type, curly hair, receding hairline, carrying a reel of film or tape.
John: That’s Dee. Roger Dee.
Stephen: Okay, so we’ve got everybody then?
???: Yup. There’s some other people on there who weren’t in the band, but were associated with the band in the background of that particular piece. Terry Brown and Frank Davies and Terry’s wife, Linda. The Queen’s there.
Stephen: Yeah, the Queen has the ER – wearing the bag and she’s got a big piece of bread.
???: Bread stick, yeah.
Stephen: Yeah, and then there’s the couple.
???: Yeah, I think that’s Terry and Linda Brown.
Stephen: And then Frank Davies is like right behind ’em.
???: Yeah, right.
Stephen: Well, let’s move on then. Here we are – we’ve already made it to the new album!
Terry: It was great!
Stephen: Was that so bad?
Stephen: Okay, now in your own words tell me why you guys decided to come out of the closet basically with this record?
???: Well, have you read the lyrics to “Sell Out”?
Terry: Say no more.
Stephen: Okay. I want to talk specifically on a tune-by-tune basis a little bit later on, but while we’re on “Sell Out” for a second, “Sir Rupert said…” – that would be Rupert Perry [head of Capitol U.S. A&R]?
Stephen: “….and do what Stevie did.” Stevie who?
John: Yeah. I don’t know if I can say that without getting sued.
Stephen: Well, how ’bout if I throw a few names?
???: Peeples? [heavy laughter]
Stephen: No, how about Wonder?
???: Oh, not Stevie Wonder.
Stephen: How ’bout Nicks?
???: No, it’s not Stevie Nicks.
Terry: Wish it were.
John: I’ll give you a hint. It’s somebody who I think was on Capitol Records at the time.
Stephen: Uh, Miller?
John: You’re really warm. But, like, that’s as far as I’m gonna go.
Stephen: Okay. Say no more.
???: Are you familiar with that conversation we had with Rupert at all?
Stephen: Yeah, go ahead. I wanna get the whole run-down. I understand Bobby Colomby [Capitol A&R director] and Rupert had something to do with urging you to shed the cloak of secrecy. So could you outline how that all came about?
Dee: I think the biggest reason Rupert and the people at Capitol wanted us to [go public] – the biggest problem with the last album was many [radio stations] refused to play it as much as they would have simply because of the anonymity, and they didn’t feel that we were giving them as much as they were giving us. They just wouldn’t go for it anymore. [Capitol] didn’t want to have to go out and try to work us without having any kind of information. And we wanted to do a fourth album very badly. So if we had to come out of the closet to do that, we will, we said. I don’t think any of us love it or love trying to be Hollywood types, which we’re not. I guess that’s the way it happened.
Stephen: How did the decision to come to Los Angeles to record come about?
John: It seemed like a good strategy.
Stephen: Did any Capitol people visit you at the studio during the sessions?
John: I think Rupert and Bobby Colomby came to a string overdubbing session one night, at the Capitol Tower in Studio A [where Sinatra recorded]. That was the only thing done for the album there. The rest was done at Sound Labs.
Stephen: Let’s talk about the tunes on the album. Compared to “Sir Army Suit,” which to my ears was more pop-oriented, we’ve got on this album a little more broader mix of the pop and rock spectrum. Did you have these tunes ready to record when you came to Los Angeles?
John: We had spent about three or four months last summer recording demo tapes at Dee’s house of various candidates for the fourth LP. He has a four-track Docorder at home. We had about 20-25 songs by the time September rolled around, and out of those Chris helped us to select nine or 10. Actually it was less than that, about eight.
Stephen: I’ll bet you wrote one of them here.
John: Which one?
Stephen: “Hot Box City.”
John: Close, but that’s not it. Interestingly enough, we came very close with that one and “Knee Deep in Love,” the last tunes written. They were written just prior to…in fact, Chris had said, “Look, you guys gotta give us some A-sides, you gotta give us some singles. So, Dee came up with “Hot Box” and I came up with “Knee Deep In Love” and much to our amazement, Chris said “Great!” and we put them on the album.
Stephen: Both are decent candidates. “Knee Deep” is the first single here and in Canada. It was released simultaneously right after Victoria Day in Canada May 19. I understand that a major part of your concept going into the new album’s sessions was your desire to tour for the first time, and that the music you wanted to do had to be transferable to the stage without carrying loads of extra musicians. Could you outline your consideration about that more specifically?
John: It’s basically with instrumentation and arrangement. If you look at our first three albums, there was very little regard for translating the music to the stage. We’ve only got three people, so there’s no way we could do something like “Little Neutrino” onstage. When we originally recorded that, we didn’t think twice about ever having to play it onstage. This album, right at the outset, we knew that there was a strong possibility we’d have to perform whatever songs were on the album. So that affected A) the kind of material and B) the production of that material.
When I say “kind of material” I’m referring to the more heavy rock stuff on this album. This album shows a new side of us. I don’t think we’ve shown as much of our rock ‘n’ roll side before this album. Then, in the actual production of the songs, we didn’t get too carried away with overdubs and things. We tried to keep it as basic as we could so if we had to do it on stage it’d be within human possibility to play it. Whereas something like “Politznania” is not.
Stephen: I understand the desire to carry on with the self-contained idea. At this point I’d like to get a complete list of the instruments you guys are playing on the album, with the idea being to show versatility.
Dee: I think that would be very difficult to do, really. In the work everybody plays different. I’m not sure that I could isolate them all. I can say I play a lot of guitars on the LP, and Chris plays some guitars as well. Terry plays the percussion occasionally and drums, and John plays keyboards, but not necessarily all the time. Sometimes we need more freedom and use additional musicians, so it’s hard to isolate who plays exactly what.
Stephen: The sax solo on “Hot Box City” has got to be Tom Scott’s.
Terry: It is. Triple-Scale Tom.
Dee: One-Take Tom. He was absolutely incredible.
John: Yeah, he was incredible.
Stephen: What impressed you guys about Chris Bond as a producer for the first outside producer you’ve worked with?
John: We’d already been approached by Bobby Colomby, who’d asked us if we’d be willing to work with an outside producer. And we said, “You find us the right guy and we’ll talk about it.” A few days later he called me from L.A. and he said, “Have I got a producer for YOU!” Oh, yeah? Who? And he said, “Chris Bond,” and I said, “Who?”
I wasn’t familiar with his name at the time other than hearing his name. Bobby told me some of the artists Chris worked with, such as Hall & Oates, and my first question to him was, “He the guy who did “Rich Girl”?” and he said, “Yes!” And I said, “That’s fabulous,” because I personally thought that record was really well produced.
I also knew that that was the kind of direction we’d be needing help on, that commercial, well-thought-out slick production. That wasn’t his only credential, but that was the one that stuck in my mind the most.
And then I discussed it with Dee and Terry about the possibility, so they said, “Yeah, okay, let’s meet the guy.” So Chris flew up to Toronto to meet us during October, I think, and he really impressed us as a person, too. He has an incredibly sharp wit and an outrageous sense of humor, and he was very honest. He didn’t care about hurting peoples’ feelings. Very blunt and very direct, but with a great sense of humor. He was so energetic we almost had to strap him in a chair, he was just nervously bubbling around. And it was just great to see somebody that enthusiastic about the music we were trying to do for this album.
When we met him, we sat him down in a chair and played him the demos we’d made and some of the songs he really got off on. Which made us even more willing to use an outside producer because we weren’t sure about the kind of reaction we’d get. Up to now we’d been doing most of the production in collaboration with Terry Brown, but the group had very much to say about the production, whereas in this case we were bringing someone in from outside who wasn’t used to working the way we were used to, so it was kind of a new thing.
But on the strength of that meeting he flew up again a month later to talk in more detail about his ideas for the tunes, and by that time we’d written a couple more. The whole group got off on his ideas, so we decided to take a chance. And one of his conditions to do the sessions was that they take place in L.A. We weren’t really thrilled about that at first, but having gone down there, in retrospect, we realized we got a better product because we did.
Stephen: I think we’re ready to get to the individual tunes. The album opens with a pop-rocker called “I Can’t Help It,” which I perceive deals with love on the rocks, or use and abuse of a love, or uncontrollable love for someone. Dee, you wrote it, what do you say about it?
Dee: I don’t think it was designed to be a personal comment. It’s a love song, which is something we really haven’t done much of before. On the first album, the word “love” was mentioned only once, I think, and in an esoteric light. It was “Dr. Marvello’s” love machine.
Stephen: Mechanized love.
Terry: An Orgasmatron.
Stephen: Let’s move on to “Knee Deep in Love.” John, you wrote that with D. Tome. Dino. Who is he?
John: He’s a close friend of mine. He’s not in the band, but from time to time we co-write songs together. He co-wrote “Sub-Rosa Subway” from the “3:47” LP. It was just a last ditch effort for a commercial song.
We’d played all these demos for Chris Bond and he flew back to L.A. and as he stepped on the plane he said, “Write me a single! Write me an epic, too!” That was sort of a tough order to fill. So during the few weeks before we went to L.A. I just sort of got lucky one night and started fooling around with the guitar and then Dino came over and we finished it off. It’s not a personal statement or anything. It’s just an exercise in imagination.
Stephen: Who came up with the neat guitar hook in there?
John: I’ll have to give Chris Bond for that. He’s a fabulous guitar player.
Stephen: He played acoustic and electric on the LP, didn’t he?
John: Sure he did, on “All Good Things,” the closing track.
Stephen: On to “Paranoia,” which is really the album’s first example of Klaatu rockin’ and rollin’ on this record. John, it’s one of yours, so take it away…
John: It’s just one of those songs you start writing in the shower, you know? You’re rubbing your head with shampoo and your blood’s starting to circulate, and you start getting all these ideas. Sometimes it happens when you’re on the loo, too [the toilet] [group laughs].
Dee: It was also a very paranoiac time in our career.
Terry: It was the first one we attempted as well when we started doing the demos.
Dee: That’s right. We were feeling paranoid about the thought of exposing ourselves…
Terry: By then we were experts on paranoia.
John: It was just one of those things. You get an idea and keep pursuing it. Interestingly, as I was trying to think up lyrics I found it easier and easier to think them up the more I got into it. Because I could relate to more of the things I was starting to say.
Stephen: “Delusions of persecution haunt me/my one companion is fear.” What about that line?
John: Well, I’m not quite that bad, though, but I can imagine what it’s like.
Terry: You’ve got to get excited more in the third verse where that line comes from. [laughs]
John: Yeah, whenever you’re writing lyrics about a subject like that, you have to go one plus, beyond what you’d normally say. It’s like a motion picture, they have to exaggerate it so it’ll get through to the audience, who’re sitting there eating their popcorn and getting bored to tears. So the thing about a lyric is that when you read it, the author might sound like some kind of kook. But, when you hear it sung, it somehow loses a little bit of that edge, and you need words that are more poignant than you’d normally use in speech.
Stephen: What’s the effect being used on the vocal when the word “Paranoia” is said?
Dee: It’s just a phasing effect, a flanging.
Stephen: Who’s playing the guitar solo? It’s pretty hot…
John: That’s Chris Bond.
Stephen: Do we really want to say that?
John: No, not really. When I mentioned to you before about cutting the demos – one thing you have to keep in mind is that a lot of the arrangements you’re hearing on the record are directly taken from our demo arrangements. Same with the solos. But, to counter myself here a moment, the solo you’re referring to here was one of the few, if not the only, that were different from the ones cut on the demos.
Dee: That’s right.
John: He kept telling me he wanted to do a Peter Gunn solo, and I kept flinching every time he broke into Peter Gunn. “There’s no way you can get away with this, Chris,” we told him. “But if you can combine Peter Gunn with the original solo as it is on the demo, then we can get something in the middle.” And he went in and did it in one take.
Stephen: Let’s move along to “Howl at the Moon,” another John and Dino tune. It’s sort of “woman as siren.”
John: Yeah, it started out being sort of a mythological parody, so it just sort of stayed there.
Stephen: There are also vibes from Rick’s Cafe in “Casablanca”…
John: Right, there’s a little of that in there too. I don’t know how it got in there but it must be all the Humphrey Bogart movies I’ve been seeing lately [laughs].
Stephen: There’s a lick you guys play right after the words “prison cell,” it sounds like sax, keyboards and guitar playing in the ensemble.
John: That’s a good description, but it’s actually the ARP Avatar, double-tracked. Guitar synthesizer.
Stephen: On to “Set the World on Fire.” Sounds like a bit of frustration went into this.
John: Well, one thing I’m an expert on aside from paranoia is frustration [big laughs from others]. No, actually, that was one of the few…I think Dee’s the same way, I think. We very rarely write about actual personal feelings. We tend to project ourselves into abstract circumstances.
But on that tune…see, I had bought a new tape recorder and hooked it up and was starting to use it. And I had this riff I had lucked onto and I recorded it. I thought, “Gee, that’s funky, it’d be great to write a song around it,” and then it sat in the can for six months.
Finally, I realized I had an idea for that riff. I knew it had to be called “Set the World on Fire” and then I had to work out some lyrics to pertain to that idea. The idea of your car breaking down on the road – that really happened. I know how frustrating it was for me. The tune’s lyrics don’t go into the story verbatim, but my car did break down and I was stranded and it was a pain in the ass walking to the phone some miles away, the whole thing.
Stephen: That’s the kind of thing that if you’re already having a bad day, it’ll push you over the edge.
John: Oh, sure. And then there’s the other one about going to the bank and waiting in line for an hour and when you get up to the window the teller just put up the sign saying ‘CLOSED.” That happened to me the other day, but I didn’t break into a chorus of “Set the World…”
Stephen: Maybe alter the lyrics a bit for the situation to say “set the bank on fire…”
John: Really. To make a long story short, that was based on something that really happened and I just sort of extrapolated them. The lyrics just started falling into place. Once you zero in on what you want to get into, the rest of it flows easily. You know, like “your luck’s been running bad/the whole world makes you mad” or whatever it was I said.
That was one of the first songs that Chris Bond reacted positively to, which made me happy in the first place, because I very much wanted that kind of music represented on this album.
Stephen: It’s certainly one of the funkier tunes on the album, and one of the harder-edged tunes you’ve done to date.
John: It was really a reaction on our part to the people we’ve heard say or you’d read in the press: “Well, they make nice music and stuff but they don’t know how to rock, they haven’t any balls, they can’t really let it out.” It’s kind of frustrating reading about how we couldn’t do these things when we knew we could if we applied ourselves in that direction.
Not to sound too self-righteous, but Terry and I have very strong R&B backgrounds, which you might never guess by listening to the first three albums, but that’s because we were suppressing those influences [laughs from group]. On this LP, we said, “Let’s hang it loose, let’s do what we want to do,” and those R&B roots come out in that tune.
Stephen: Let’s get specific here. Who are the influential blues people?
Terry: Sam & Dave, a lot of the Tamla/Motown stuff, Stax, Atlantic, Wilson Pickett…Aretha Franklin…
Dee: Yeah, I heard “Respect” the other day and it blew me out of the car…what a vocal performance.
Stephen: The horn charts on “Set the World on Fire” – where’d they come from?
John: Ahhh, Chris Bond’s mind. There were four saxes, two trumpets, trombones. Tom Scott is on there. Chris called the horn players in. We were meeting so many people in the studio all the time it was hard to keep track of everyone.
Stephen: Let’s move onto “Hot Box City.” Dee, tell me about it…it’s about the most mainstream thing on the album…
Dee: Well, that’s it. It was just an attempt to write a really simple rock ’n’ roll tune. The number of chords is very minimal, and the basic lick is extremely simple. E, A, E, A over and over. Tom Scott’s on the sax solo.
Stephen: The rhythm section really starts pumping after the solo starts, and it’s one of the ballsiest things on the album.
Dee: That was the intention, we wanted to wail and we did. I wanted to crank the amps up to 10 and do it.
Stephen: Okay, moving on to “Dog Star,” another tune by Dee, sort of a space rocker with escapist overtones.
Dee: It was actually Terry’s idea. One day he came to one of our rehearsals when I was trying to write a really current commercial hit song, in say a disco vein, and he said, “Why don’t you write it about outer space instead of writing about love or whatever it is all those boring (disco) people write about?”
Stephen: Who came up with all the spacey guitar effects with the feedback and all that good stuff?
Dee: Again, that was Chris…I’d said to him that we wanted to “Hendrix this one out, just go crazy on it and see what you come up with.” And he did, came up with it all by himself and then showed it to us, and it was what we wanted. It’s again almost exactly the same as the demo we cut of it, except Chris’ contribution there.
Stephen: On “Sell Out, Sell Out” – the lyrics are pretty self explanatory here, with lyrics like “tired of breaking my back/to please critics who can’t be pleased.” At the same time you’re saying how tired you are of trying to please them, what you’re doing musically is designed specifically to please those who’ve criticized your music in the past for its lack of accessibility. You say you’re tired of doing it, at the same time you try to do it. How does that square?
John: Actually, when I wrote that song, I was having fun. Like you’re mentioning the fact that I’m tired of breaking my back to please critics who can’t be pleased. At the same time I was having all kinds of pressure put on me about writing this kind of music and we want you to write that kind of music (from Bond and Capitol A & R guys) – all these people were giving me ideas of what kind of music they wanted me to write.
And I was sort of saying, “Well, why can’t I write what I wanna write? Why can’t I just sit down at a piano and freak out and do what I feel like doing without having to worry about being in Klaatu? Why should being in Klaatu limit me in what I can and cannot do as a writer?” It gets frustrating after a while trying to pigeonhole yourself and you wind up pigeonholing yourself into a corner and you can’t do anything.
So on this particular tune, I thought, “Well, wouldn’t it be nice if I could write a tune with just one chord and just get the energy from the beat and the delivery? That’s what a lot of contemporary music is based upon. The Big Beat plus a de-emphasis of melody and chord progression. I remember once reading an interview with Jim Webb in Composer magazine, and I consider him to be one of the all-time great songwriters to emerge during the ’60s. He wrote some killers. I read it about the time we were doing “Sir Army Suit”. He was saying that “the art of writing chord progressions has died,” referring to disco and some of the more basic rock ’n’ roll being done about that time.
Stephen: Like vamping endlessly on a couple of chords or even one chord…
John: Yeah, you nailed it on the head. Nothing but vamps with beautifully recorded special effects, but no substance. And I kind of agreed with him because I was sort of feeling the same thing, and it was really nice to read someone of his stature articulating that. I know the other guys in the band had similar opinions about what was happening. So we just decided to try to emulate what was happening but try to also retain some of Klaatu’s character so it’s not a complete sell-out, but by letting the audience know that we’re cognizant of the fact that it’s a sell-out, then it’s not really a sell-out. We’re just trying to be honest about it, to lay it on the line.
That song really came out of that meeting we had with Rupert, in March 1979, and he laid it on the line what he wanted us to do and he was very nice about it but it was made quite plain to us.
So I just went home with all those ideas mulling around in my head and I just started writing about it. I thought, “Gee, why do I have to keep writing about stuff that never really happened? Make up stories? I’m gonna write about something that really happened so I can really mean what I’m singing if I try to write words that I really felt I could sing.” I find this one to be the easiest song to sing I’ve ever written, because I’m really meaning every word of it.
Stephen: “The ivory tower has fallen down…” Would the ivory tower be your original dream?
John: Yeah, as you go along you tend to lose your ideals. That’s the part of growing up that most of us have to face. You have to learn to temper your dreams with a little reality. I can’t go to my banker and say or my creditors and say, “Well, I’m broke, but I’m in Klaatu.” They don’t give a darn – they say, “Either pay the bills or forget about it.”
Stephen: “The nickels and dimes are spent…” Does that mean you guys were basically broke?
John: Yeah, basically.
Stephen: From what I understand, you guys were in hock pretty deeply after the last album…
John: Yeah, our studio costs have been inordinately high on several occasions, to say the least. No, we were broke, too, When we started recording the demos for the “Endangered Species” album, we had to submit a proposal for a rehearsal budget just to record the demos. So that’s how broke we were.
For all those Klaatu fans, however many there may be, who are out there and buy this album and might be a bit surprised by that tune and the difference in its direction relative to the previous three, there’s a built-in explanation about what’s going down. Hopefully, they’ll take us at our word and see that we haven’t totally forgotten them, but by the same token we have to eat, too. It’s a moody thing. Tomorrow I might feel differently. Tomorrow I might not even give it a second thought. But at the time I wrote that song it seemed appropriate.
The crux of the matter is that we look on “Endangered Species” as very possibly our last album, so we thought, look, we’re going to say anything. Let’s say it now, because there may very well not be a next time for us as a group. So that’s really the attitude that song deals with. Hopefully, it won’t work being our last album.
Stephen: So Klaatu might very well be one of the endangered species.
John: Yeah, it could.
Stephen: Okay, the last tune, “All Good Things,” by John – the closest thing to a ballad on the album, yes?
John: Yeah. What’s to tell? It’s just a two-minute tear-jerker.
Stephen: Let’s move over to the album jacket, which I find rather fascinating. Over on the back cover, the imagery is sort of prehistoric, like one is looking through a microscope at a drop of water that’s come from two or three million years ago…
Dee: Sounds great!
John: Yeah, I wish we’d thought of that!
Stephen: And everything is under water on the back cover shot. Then on the front side, we’re partially under and partially above water, which I sort of get Darwinian tones from, in terms of tracing the evolution of the flora and fauna on the back cover shot into the future. Like the turnip that’s in the ground with everything from the tap root just squiggles down through the sand below the water line.
Also on the front cover, I see this little winged craft that looks like a combination of an ancient Greek galleon and the MAD Zeppelin [group laughs]. Randall Davis [a Capitol marketing colleague] and I were talking a little while ago, throwing ideas around about the cover back and forth, and he said the craft might be carrying the sole survivors of the people who lived in Politzania.
John: Gee, that’s tight.
Dee: I love it!
Terry: I think it’s another one of those species that’s endangered, actually [laughs].
John: No, actually, that never entered our minds, to honest about it. I can tell you one thing, that it’s not from Cuba [more guffaws].
Stephen: And, of course, on the galleon-zeppelin’s mainsail we have a Klaatu sun, which marks its only appearance on the album graphics. And we also have the little mouse, except this time around he’s part mouse, part unicorn. Over on the back cover again, on the top right, there’s a fish that has a yellow dome-looking superstructure and yellow around the gills, or portholes. Maybe that’s inhabited, too. Is there anything to that?
Terry: I don’t know about that. Just another endangered species.
Stephen: When you guys approached the artist about doing this cover, what kind of ideas did you give him?
Dee: The idea originally came from a National Geographic rendering. It was like a cross-section of a stream and a forest, one of those typical Audubon-styled murals, with all the creatures on it and labels telling you what each form of life is.
Stephen: Sort of a microcosmic ecosystem simplified for the sake of example…
John: Right. Personally, I’m a big fan of Audubon, and I know Terry is, too, so I approached Dee and Terry with the idea and asked them what they thought about it as an idea for our next album cover. They said, “Yeah, it looks great, let’s talk about it,” and from that we got the idea of “Endangered Species.” And once we got that word grouping, we realized it was very appropriate not only from the album point of view but from our own. So we thought we’d go for it, combine those two ideas.
At that time, we were ready to approach Ted Jones, the artist, and Terry, Dee and I said, “Look, we’d like to present the ‘endangered species’ concept in a rather refreshing and abstract way. Let’s set up an ecosystem, yeah, but with creatures that maybe never really existed as far as we know, but that very well could have existed at one time in the past, or may exist in the future.” So that’s why you have the ship with wings and the mouse with the unicorn horn and stuff like that.
It would have been too much like stepping up on an orange crate and delivering a lecture to put the killer whales [on the cover] and do the Crosby & Nash [“Wind on the Water”] trip. I really respect those guys for writing the tunes about the whales they did. I saw them do it live and really respected what they were doing with the song and the [Cousteau Society-produced] slide presentation going on behind them as they sang it. But it was so ’60s-oriented, and people today don’t want to be preached to.
So we said let’s try to get that idea across and avoid giving people the idea that we’re lecturing them about it. There’s nothing worse than letting someone know they’re being lectured. We wanted to give something that both entertains but still gets that message across. I hope we’ve accomplished that. We like it a lot. And when it came time to decide whether to do something like that or have pictures of ourselves on the cover, it was easy to make the decision, let me tell ya [laughs].
Stephen: Now that you’ve all had the opportunity to sit with the album for awhile, I’d like to get some overall, general comments about it from each of you.
Terry: I’d like to go on record as saying Chris Bond did a great job. He really impressed us. He did the string arrangements and the horn arrangements. Having a producer do the arrangements really puts him in touch with the inner feelings of the song, and you can really get down inside it. He did a great job, and we’re very happy with it.
Dee: Each one of our albums has been completely different, and this one is another different album. To me it’s just a completely different album. We got to go to Los Angeles, work with professionals. And my interests are more in the technical areas and I really enjoyed that. As far as listening to the album, I don’t often listen to it, so personally, the only thing I could say is that I enjoyed doing it.
John: Well, I stopped thinking about the album the moment I got off the plane back in Toronto. Our part’s done. Now, for me, this album becomes a possible stepping stone to the fifth album.
Stephen: Where do you think you’ll be going from here?
John: McDonald’s, I think…[laughs]. Hopefully, on to do live shows. We’re going to be doing a press tour in Canada to coincide with the release of the album in June. And we’re hoping that initial American response to the single “Knee Deep” will result in a similar tour of the States. And then further we hope we’ll have the opportunity to play live in August of the fall. Europe, or in Canada or the States. And we’re also hoping to do another album.
Stephen: Let’s segue into the animation aspects here. How did the short [film] for “A Routine Day” come into being?
John: Terry Brown had been contacted by a guy named Al Guest, an animator who worked out of Toronto at the time, and his associate Jean Mathieson. They said they’d like to do an animated feature based on the “Hope” album, and we thought that was a great idea, but how much is it going to cost? They realized the costs involved but they were quite willing to try to get them, the bucks, back.
As the situation developed, they realized they couldn’t come up with enough cash to do a full-length feature, and meanwhile, we’d just finished recording “Sir Army Suit.” So Terry [Brown] suggested they take one of the tunes from the new album and do a short animated film about it. They’d been making a living doing other animated things, like for commercials and Captain Kangaroo things, etc. They were looking for a aesthetic project outside their normal commercial projects to do. To them, this was very challenging and something they could have a lot of fun with. And they did.
It came time to pick a tune, and the three of us got together with Terry Brown and brainstormed about which tune would best lend itself to animation, and those were “Everybody Took a Holiday” and “A Routine Day.” The final decision was made when “A Routine Day” was chosen as the first single. So they went ahead with that one. We were really impressed. It took them a couple of months.
Ever since the first album, we’d been pipe-dreaming about how great it would be to have animation set to some of the tunes that were more visual. Like, “Little Neutrino” was always a favorite of ours. We always have looked at “Little Neutrino” as being a soundtrack to something, as opposed to just a tune.
But when Jean and Al approached us, we were already geared up for animation and wanted to investigate that possibility. So it came out of that fateful meeting, I guess, and they decided to do a 30-minute TV program. From there they decided to do “A Routine Day” only.
Stephen: I understand there’s another animated film in the can. What’s on that?
John: “A Routine Day,” the previously produced short again…
Dee: It was done before “Endangered Species” was recorded, so there’s nothing relating to the new album. It’s made up of tunes from the previous three albums.
John: Which is unfortunate, actually, it would have been great if we’d been able to have a couple of tunes from the latest album represented. It’s just a question of bad timing.
Stephen: Okay, “A Routine Day” and what else?
Dee: “Tokeymor Field,” “Everybody Took A Holiday,” “Sub Rosa Subway,” “Calling Occupants,” “Perpetual Motion Machine” and there are little snippets of “Little Neutrino.”
Stephen: Has the special been sold to anyone? Has it aired anywhere yet? What’s in the works?
John: At this point it’s been packaged as a 30-minute TV special entitled “Happy New Year, Planet Earth.”
Stephen: Why that title?
John: That was Al and Jean’s idea. You’d have to ask them, they wrote the script.
Stephen: Are they going for release around the first of the year 1981?
John: I’m sure they’d love to get a theatrical release and television airing, but the last we heard – we looked them up in L.A. in the meantime – they weren’t as successful getting it aired on American television as they’d hoped. There were a couple of bites from Canadian TV, but I don’t know if anything solidified out of that. We don’t know about the theatrical end of the situation, we haven’t really followed up yet. It’s not really being actively pursued, which may or may not be a bad thing.
Stephen: Let’s talk about the possibility of touring in the near future. For argument’s sake, let’s say that a decision to put you guys on the road has been made by the powers that be at the label. What would be the sequence of events?
John: Auditions first. I’d think it’d be a must to travel with other musicians. We were targeting ourselves to be a six-piece ensemble, including ourselves and that’s the basic band. And depending on the budget increases, if we could afford a horn section and/or a string section we’d probably go for it. But, assuming the worst, assuming the most stringent budget, we’d stick with the six-piece.
Stephen: In the clutch you could most likely do most of the string parts using keyboards…
John: That’s right. Oberheim, Prophet.
Stephen: That about covers the question I had. Have I missed anything?
Dee: It’s very unlikely [laughs].
John: I really can’t think of anything else off-hand. But say hello to Rupert and Bobby.
Stephen: Aha, there is something else – at what point did Terry Brown pull out of the group, and why?
John: I’d say sometime between “Sir Army Suit” and “Endangered Species.” He had other projects happening that were taking more and more of his time, and there also was a slight drifting in musical direction. Dee and myself had been writing certain kinds of music which were a little different than what we’d done up to that point, and I’m not sure that that didn’t have something to do with it.
Also, we felt that we had taken the group – just prior to recording the “Endangered Species” album – about as far as we could go artistically with the lineup that we had. That’s not to slight Terry; we were thinking more of ourselves. And we realized it was time to bring in an outside influence from which we could learn and possibly develop our own talents even further.
There’s a certain limit you reach when you’ve done everything you can do with what you have at hand to work with, and from there you have to branch out. It would have been awkward having both Chris and Terry involved in a single situation, and seeing as how Terry’s involvement had been steadily decreasing – his involvement in “Sir Army Suit,” though important and instrumental, turned out to be less than his involvement in, say, the first album, where he had an incredible amount of input. And really, if I had to sum it up, I’d have to say that if there’s one person who’s responsible for Klaatu being together for as long as we have been, it’s Terry Brown.
We really thought we needed guidance. You get to that point where you say, “There must be more out there that what we can do.” We can’t be audacious or bold or closed-minded enough to think we have accomplished everything that can be done, right? There are obviously people out there who have a great deal to offer, and as it turned out Chris Bond was one of those.
Stephen: I also understand Lee Sklar and Ed Greene are on the record, too.
John: Yeah, they played on a few tunes…bass and drums.
Stephen: “Endangered Species” was mixed using some sort of new system?
John: That’s really Chris’ department. To be honest, we didn’t have anything to do with the mixing of the album. We regret that we couldn’t be there in L.A. for the mixing, but as it turns out it’s fine. We’re animals of habit. Up to this time we’ve been very used to being intrinsically involved in every aspect of making a record. And for financial and strategic reasons beyond our control, we were not permitted to be involved. But, maybe next time we will be.
I understand Chris is building a studio in his basement. He’d probably turn out some killer stuff over there. Wonder how much he’d charge us for an hour?
Stephen: That’s it, and this time I mean it. It was good talking with you all.
John: We enjoyed it.
Terry: It was excellent.
Dee: Yeah, you made us feel right at home. Of course, seeing as how I’m already sitting in my home…[laughs].
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Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples is a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival,” MIPF/Rhino, 1992), a veteran record industry media relations executive (Capitol Records, Elektra/Asylum Records, Westwood One, Rhino Entertainment, 1977-1998) and website content manager (Warner New Media, 1998-2001). Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for the Westwood One Radio Network from 1988-1990. He was music and entertainment features writer/columnist for the Santa Clarita Valley Signal (2004-2011), and The Signal’s award-winning online editor (2007-2011). He wrote news and features for Santa Clarita’s KHTS-AM 1220 News (www.hometownstation.com) and SCVNews.com (2011-2016), and hosted, wrote and co-produced the WAVE-nominated “House Blend” music and interview show on SCV community TV station SCVTV (2010-2015). Peeples was also Vice President/New Media & Editorial with Los Angeles-based multimedia pop culture company Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. (2010-2016). In 2015, he co-founded Pet Me Happy Treats. For more information, email skp (at) stephenkpeeples.com or visit https://stephenkpeeples.com.
Article: Klaatu Interview with Stephen K. Peeples, May 1980
Category: Blasts from the Past
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com