By FLANNERY CASHILL
Do you tour a lot?
No, and I want to. This is a real new beginning for me.
Have you been to Kansas City before?
Only with Television, I think opening for Peter Gabriel a long, long time ago. I’ve been to Kansas City with Rocket from the Tombs, I’m pretty sure. Rocket from the Tombs is like nitroglycerin, a one-act play where we blow the theater up at the end. It’s very exciting, hard rock, like Alice Cooper meets the Stooges meets Led Zeppelin, so it was very fun for me. And I’m pretty sure I played Kansas City on my Field of Fire tour which would have been in ’87, but not since then and I’m real excited to get over there. A musician is paid to go where the tourists pay to go and when you get there they applaud. I was on my knees when I was a teenager wanting to be a successful musician. Now I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, I’d be an idiot. But it is true that a week or so into the tour, I think, What have I gotten myself into? I’m playing in rooms with no windows and all-black walls and everybody’s intoxicated and I don’t drink, and I think, Oh my god, and then when it’s half over I say, Oh no! I wish it was twice as long!, and it’s over. They plop you down in front of your house and it’s hard to stop moving.
More after the jump.
Tell me a little bit about the material you’re touring with.
Well, we’re touring as a trio, we’re doing mostly material from my last record, The Radiant Monkey, and also previewing songs from a Jimi Hendrix cover record that will be released next year. I knew Jimi through my best friend when I was a teenager, named Velvet Turner, who was his only guitar student. He asked permission to show me what Jimi was showing him, so I know all the Hendrix-isms from ’68, ’69. This is like a debt I’m paying.
Is the covers album a daunting project for you?
Oh, hell no, because I know those songs. I always hid my Hendrix influence in Television and I never told anybody that I had known Hendrix pretty well, until now. Velvet’s deceased and Jimi’s long gone. In the set we do nine or ten of my songs and five or six off the Hendrix records and some songs off old records. We’ve worked up a couple of Television songs, but there’s only a few that I want to do if I want to do any at all. I mean, after all, I quit.
I read that on your album Radiant Monkey that you played every instrument yourself. Do you think you work better on your own? Is it easier for you to write as a solo artist than working in a band?
I’m happy to work in a band format, but with Television Tom [Verlaine] became impossible. 14 years between records is too long, so finally I couldn’t give Television my loyalty anymore. I had always put a magic spell on Television and it was my first loyalty. But Tom’s loyalty is not to Television. It never was after Marquee Moon and that’s incredibly sad.
So, would you have liked to keep working with Television as a band if you thought you could have?
Of course. We kept talking about recording for 12 years but nothing ever came of it and that’s all Tom’s fault. All he cared about was money. He wouldn’t tour and lose money to build an audience. I have a great relationship with him personally, but he’s only in it for himself, so, good luck to him.
How has that changed your attitude towards your solo performance and motivated you?
It’s made me incredibly happy to be on stage. People have really noticed that I’m playing better than ever, I’m singing better than ever. I wouldn’t play Hendrix songs next to my own songs if I didn’t think my own songs stood up. That’s the miracle, that I can play six Hendrix songs and they don’t sound any better than my own. I knew Hendrix, I knew members of the Rolling Stones, and when I saw the Beatles on TV, I wasn’t concerned with the music. I thought it was nice, but I was interested like an anthropologist: How did they create a social phenomenon that’s only equaled by war? I wanted to be near rock stars not to shake their hand, I don’t want any autographs, I don’t have any pictures of me with Jimi— I don’t give a rat’s behind about that— but I wanted to absorb, to see if they had magic power or how could they do what they did. Even looking at the Beatles, if they had each had separate careers, none of them would have done what the Beatles did. So there’s some synergy. It’s like a flying saucer comes down and beams you up, and you go, “Can I bring my best friend?” and the aliens say “No.” You don’t have to love the people you’re in a band with but if it’s a real group, it’s a circle that envelops you. I’ve had that with Television where you stand on stage and you think, Oh my god, our entire audience has stopped breathing, all their jaws are open. And with this trio I get the same thing so it’s absolutely fantastic and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
What impresses you now in other musicians? You’ve seen a lot of performers, what stands out?
There are a great many musicians who are wonderful technicians. They know how to make polished rock that gets on the radio but it’s meaningless, it’s like a machine. It’s like a semi-pornographic, choreographed, teenage Broadway play. In the old days, going to the rock show was like going to the circus. People were doing high wire acts, you weren’t sure that they were really going to make it, and that’s what’s really missing in modern rock and roll, and when I see it, the authenticity turns me on.
Is making music much different for you than in the ‘70s, besides the difference between being in a band and being a solo artist?
It’s the same connection, the direct connection to the soul of the people in the audience. If you just reach their ears and they applaud, that’s nothing. But if the band and the audience turn into a giant sponge, you wring out of it everything that can possibly be wrung out of it, well then everybody goes home having had a transcendental experience. That’s what I want every night.
You’re very prolific. How do you keep motivated?
Like a billiard ball hit, it’s like Newton’s law, when an object goes in motion it stays in motion unless it’s stopped. I grew up in the ‘60s in New York and I ran around with rock stars and those are some pretty strong forces and they still act on me. There’s many people dead who did less than I did.
Do you have to be very self-disciplined to keep that work ethic going? Do you have office hours, things like that?
I’m lucky, I have a job where the word for work is play. There’s very few people who are as privileged as that. With all other animals, what they do when they’re young and play trains them for what they do as an adult. Only human beings play with erector sets when they’re young, but then when they work in construction they’re bitter. It’s ridiculous. You should find something you love to do and submit everything else to it. And it has to be the music, it can’t be this search for fame, money, girls, boys, what have you.
I read that you’ve been producing lately. How do you like it?
I produce my own records and then I produce anybody else’s that comes along and asks me. I love it! I was going to be a producer so long ago. When we made Marquee Moon, Tom is called the co-producer, but every single time [Andy Johns, producer] turned a knob I asked him what he was doing. I picked his brains and I picked every producer’s brain ever since, so I’m a fantastic recording engineer. I shouldn’t say that myself, other people should say that. But I pride myself on my ears.
I associate Television with a very distinctive and very sparse sound. Has your aesthetic changed at all?
It’s still sparse, but it’s powerful. It won’t degrade over time. Like ‘80s records, you listen to them now, you hear that tinselly reverb, where the gated drums sound, and you say, “‘80s.” I like to record what’s called short wire. By the time I’ve finished recording something, it mixes itself. A lot of my mixes are flatline because I don’t do anything. The room sounds great, it has its own reverb, I add a teeny bit of plate reverb, that’s about it.
Richard Lloyd and the Sufimonkey Trio play the Record Bar this Friday, August 1st.
MP3: Richard Lloyd, "Monkey", from Radiant Monkey (Parasol Records)