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luckyPRICK Interview w/Andy Kubiszewski
By Todd Millenacker
Transcribed by Todd Millenacker
Andy Kubiszewski is most widely recognized as the drummer of Stabbing Westward. However, besides spending 7 years pounding the skins for this industrial-tinged rock act he also sports quite an impressive resume to boot; playing drums for The The, Crowded House, Nine Inch Nails (yup, that's him on "The Downward Spiral") as well as production work for t.A.t.U. (yes, Andy wrote the infectious pop hit "Loves Me Not") as well a ton of film and television scoring work (Ugly Betty, Monster Garage, E True Hollywood Story just to name a few).
To us Kevin McMahonites (thanks to Dave Zima for the term!) Andy is "that guy" who played live drums on PRICK's self-titled debut. Now I could go on and on raving about how I think this is one of the best 10 albums ever made, but - if you're reading this - chances are you probably already agree with me. I'd like to thank Andy Kubiszewski for taking the time to answer my questions and giving luckyPRICK.net a chance to learn a little bit more about his work!
Q: Starting out, how did you get into music? I know you're an accomplished multi-instrumentalist - did you start out on drums or on a different instrument altogether?
ANDY KUBISZEWSKI: I started playing music in a very traditional way...Middle School Band. In Jr. High I began to study percussion privately with the Timpanist of the Virginia Symphony. I played in the Virginia All State Band and Orchestra, and also in the Tidewater Youth Symphony....all very typical for someone who had their eyes set on a career as an Orchestral musician. I studied privately throughout High School and won numerous awards and scholarships. I did play quite a bit of drumset as well, but never really focused on that as much as my Orchestral studies. My senior year, after auditioning at every major US Conservatory I eventually decided to attend the Cleveland Institute of Music. I moved from Virginia to Cleveland in 1979 and it was a VERY happening place. After a while I started doing a lot of session work, and my multi-instrumental skills just kinda grew from there.
Q: Who were some of your early influences/inspirations?
AK: The radio stations in Va. Beach where I grew up played standard FM Southern Rock. My sisters listened to a lot of BEACH BOYS and BEATLES and HENDRIX albums when I was growing up...so I became a fan, LED ZEPPLIN as well. I also really liked a lot of the weird twisted AM pop stuff of the time..Terry Jacks, Badfinger, Bowie...it was pop yet somehow wrong and some of it really struck a chord with me. Then one day during my Senior Year of High School I saw a flyer that read: "PUNK ROCK COMES TO VIRGINIA...THE RAMONES LIVE IN CONCERT".....so I go see the RAMONES and it changed everything. After moving to Cleveland I couldn't get enough new music..XTC, JAPAN, P FURS, SMITHS, GANG OF FOUR, the CURE, Tears For Fears, The The, SPK, TUXEDOMOON, COMSAT ANGELS, ULTRAVOX, RAMONES, CLASH, SEX PISTOLS etc....I bought SO many LPs....It was an awesome time......All of these bands influenced me...
Q: Was Exotic Birds your first proper band? How did Exotic Birds come together? Any particular line-ups or phases of the band that you are most proud of?
AK: Yes....it was my first proper band. In the fall of 1983 the Cleveland Institute of Music was holding its annual Halloween Party. Two of my classmates and I were sitting in one of the rehearsal rooms trying to come up with costume ideas. We decided we'd be a Punk Band, and to top it off we'd actually write and play a few songs.......so somehow I ended up as the singer/guitar player. I had never really written an actual song at that time, or played guitar...so...we were a bit raw, but that was the spirit back then.......At the party we were a smash. Suddenly we started getting bookings all over town. It was very strange. We recorded a single called "DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY'. It started playing non-stop on every college station in town. Soon we had a proper record deal and found ourselves opening for CULTURE CLUB, THOMPSON TWINS, MODERN ENGLISH, etc. Our video started to get played on MTV. Everything was moving so fast. One day I'm practicing for and Orchestral gig and the next I'm singing in front of 15,000 people.....As far as the line-ups go they each had their moments. I think I prefer the final line-up actually......mostly because I was finally turning into a decent songwriter.
Q: How did you and Kevin meet? What were your thoughts on Lucky Pierre and the Cleveland scene at the time (it seemed like a vibrant place in the early-mid 80s!)?
AK: In 1983/84 as EXOTIC BIRDS began to climb through the ranks of the buzzing local Cleveland scene, LUCKY PIERRE was at the top. Both bands played the same 2 or 3 clubs so I'd get to watch them play to packed houses....Kevin was managed by John Malm at the time. John had expressed interest in managing EXOTIC BIRDS....so we all just became friends. The LUCKY PIERRE shows were always packed and Kevin was always a great frontman, and lyrically he was coming from a completely radical place. Really great stuff. Several years later, in between EXOTIC BIRD line-ups and after LUCKY PIERRE had called it a day Kevin and I played together in a band called THE PYRAMID CLUB. I don’t remember much about it....we only played a few shows. After that I think he moved to San Fran and we lost touch until 1993 when I returned to Cleveland after touring with The The. He was over in the UK recording the first PRICK CD and he invited me over to play drums.
Q: How did you end up making the transition from frontman to drummer?
AK: Actually it was the other way around. The original EXOTIC BIRDS line-up consisted of 3 drummers. One of the guys had decent piano skills so he played synths. The other guy really only played drums....So I ended up as the singer/guitar player by default. It was very exciting for a time, but I'm not much of a frontman or singer. I was pretty excited to leave that role behind.
Q: As a huge The The fan myself I have to ask how did you get hooked up with Matt Johnson? What is it like working with him; he seems to be an extremely intense and passionate artist about every aspect of the band.
AK: The The had just started the DUSK World tour. 2 weeks into the tour original drummer Dave Palmer announced he was leaving to play with Rod Stewart. On the day of his announcement The The were playing the KROQ Weenie Roast in Los Angeles and John Malm and Trent were backstage talking with Matt. Trent recommended that Matt check out my drumming. So a few days later I flew to NYC to audition against 40 other drummers and got the gig. Matt is in my opinion one of the greatest songwriters ever. "Love is Stronger Than Death" is one of the best tracks ever recorded. He is very, very intense. It was an amazing experience that I'll never forget.
Speaking of the The, I saw this on YouTube not too long ago. My 1993 Reading Festival gig with The The....
Q: Onto the recording of the PRICK album... As a foreword, I consider this album one of the 10 best records ever made and since very little info is known about the actual recording sessions I'll probably go a little overboard with questions (I'll try and limit myself though). How did Kevin decide on Warne Livesey as a producer? Was it based on his work with The The? I don't know if I'm the only one who hears it, but I hear aspects of "Infected" on PRICK? What was Warne's involvement/influence on the project?
AK: Not sure how Warne was chosen, but his resume speaks for itself. When I joined the process they had been in the UK for several weeks and had the bulk of the midi programming and song structures finished. My role was that of live drummer, although I did a few bits of additional programming in a few spots. Warne has a very particular sound in those early productions, he's very clinical...but in a good way. You can certainly hear the same vibe as "INFECTED". That's his production style....very clean and tight.
Q: One of the most startling, unique and coolest aspects about the PRICK record is the production itself - layers and collages of sound that are completely disjointed and disorientating - yet the songs are strong enough to hold it all together. While assembling this record do you remember Kevin and Warne discussing some of the ideas they were trying to incorporate from a production stand point? I think the record still sounds amazing today (plus I'm still finding new sounds - 12+ years later)!
AK: Well.....first of all I think the songs can stand on their own without any production whatsoever . Kevin is a songwriter in the truest sense....he can sit down with his acoustic guitar and play any of his songs and they work. He's not a sound designer who shoehorns lyrics into some cliché industrial drone. That being said I think a lot of what made the 1st album great was Warne's ability to improve on the sonic sculptures Kevin had been experimenting with all along. The original 7 inch version of Communiqué (recorded in some basement in Cleveland) is quite groundbreaking and very, VERY noisy, and I think Warne's engineering skills helped Kevin to achieve noise on a new level, on a CLEANER level if you will. Also keep in mind the time frame here. In 1994 there were no affordable DAW's, no multi-track digital anything... real performances were key. It's one thing to take a sample of feedback and throw it into your song. It's another thing to sit in front of an amp on 12 and caress and coax the feedback out of it and sculpt it into the track; every body movement orchestrating and placing it into the wall of noise.
I do also recall that we did all sorts of crazy things when we recorded the drums. Once again there were no plug-ins to achieve these ends...so we had to do it old school. I remember Warne using individual guitar distortion pedals (Sans Amps to be exact) on every single drum mic, tweaking every one to perfection. At one point we suspended a large metal pipe from the ceiling of the Manor and placed a mic in it. Before each drum take someone would push the pipe and it would sway back and forth. On the end of "Make Believe" the tape machine was sped up and down throughout the entire ending of the drum track, changing the pitch of the drums as it went along. All sorts of things were reversed and distorted and reversed again. Seems prehistoric by today's standards, but quite exciting in the day.
Q: How many songs did you end up recording for the PRICK record? Did you cut any of the 4 Trent-produced songs with Warne as well? Are there any out-takes (I'm told "Johnny Goes to Paris" and "Attitude" are from these sessions - are there more)?
AK: Not exactly sure how many total tracks were recorded. As far as out-takes go, both "Attitude" and "Johnny Goes To Paris" were recorded, as well as a never released version of "Actress". There may have been others as well but I don't remember......a lot of music has passed through my brain since then. Not sure about the Trent produced tracks.
Q: What was the recording process for a song? In an interview with LiveWire that came out at the time, Kevin mentioned bringing a track to 7 or 8 studios for further tweaking - this is obviously a far cry from setting up a couple amps and trying to capture "the perfect take". Could you walk us through the process of recording a song for the PRICK album?
AK: Like I said before, when I arrived they had been working for weeks, so the bulk of the midi programming had been completed. Those bits were done in London at a small midi studio in Chelsea. Then we moved to The Manor in Oxford to cut the live drums, guitars and vocals. I was really excited to record at the Manor. XTC recorded a number of albums in the same room....fantastic!.. I remember both "Crack" and "Actress" were cut live with Kevin, myself and Chris Schleyer sitting in the room playing, then additional programming was added. After that.. Kevin, Warne and Alan Moulder did additional bits at a number of studios. I also think the density of the sound of the disc presented some challenges when it came time to mix, so several studios were used.
Q: Getting a little off topic here, but in reference to your creative recording techniques used during the making of PRICK you mentioned there "were no plug-ins to achieve these ends...so we had to do it old school." As a professional (and employed!) musician for over 20+ years what do you think of all the inventions in recording technology? Is it all too easy now? Is it a blessing, a curse or something else altogether?
AK: I couldn't exist without it...I use technology every single day in the studio. It's enabled me to compose music for TV and FILM without ever having to leave my home. The current line of Virtual Instruments are fantastic, and in the right hands all too real. Honestly I wouldn't be able to do what I do without it. As far as making it too easy.... well...even the best technology can't hide a bad songwriter or composer. Besides....it's enabled people who never had the chance to become creative....and often times they surprise us all. But back in the day we had to actually figure out ways to create these sounds and effects....sometimes it took days, but I learned a lot from having to do it. I also find that sometimes its best to revert to the old school ways...it keeps me fresh and adds an unique sound to what I do.
Q: Back to PRICK, were there ever any plans for you to tour with the live band after the recording of the album?
AK: Absolutely, but Nothing records took forever to release the PRICK CD, so by the time it was FINALLY released I had already started touring with Stabbing Westward, replacing the original drummer in the middle of their tour supporting Killing Joke. At that point I was a gun for hire so to speak. I also toured as the drummer for Crowded House right before I moved on to the Stabbing Westward gig. So...had the PRICK CD been released on time I would have stayed on as the drummer. Curious to think how my life would have ended up under those circumstances.
Q: In 1995 you joined forces with Stabbing Westward. I know this isn't an interview about Stabbing Westward, but I wanted to mention the band as you spent a large amount of time with them. How did you hook up with the band and can you tell us a little bit about your involvement (it appears as though you where much more than the drummer - songwriting, production, keyboards, guitar, etc)?
AK: In the fall of 1994 Stabbing Westward were touring in support of their first album UNGOD. The original drummer decided he'd had enough and quit. At that time Stabbing was managed by the same person who managed The The... so after getting the The The gig as an unknown, and then walking onstage with Crowded House at a show out of nowhere to take over the drum duties they seemed to think I had a streak going...so they phone me and say "what are you doing"? I said "watching TV"...they said "not anymore"… "there's a plane ticket waiting for you at the airport. Be in LA tomorrow night and finish this tour"...So...I got in my car, drove down to the local CD shop and purchased UNGOD. I learned it on the plane flight to LA. The next night I was playing drums for Stabbing Westward. After the tour was over they asked me to join the band. I wrote quite a few songs for SW. "What Do I Have to Do", "Haunting Me", "Sometimes it Hurts", "Desperate Now", "Inside You", "Crushing Me", "Goodbye", "On Your Way Down", "Perfect", "Breathe You In", "Darkest Days", "Everything I Touch", " Slipping Away"....etc.....and co-wrote many others...On the "Wither" CD we were without a guitar player, so I played most of the guitar as well as drums and did quite a bit of the programming. I liked that band at the start because I could really use all my multi-instrumental skills. After the self-titled CD failed miserably I quit because musically it had become....well........crap. It was no longer a band. I no longer had a voice in the decision making process. I was told that I was no longer allowed to write songs...only allowed to be the drummer. I was happy to get out of that situation in the end.
Q: Looking at your page on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Kubiszewski) I also see you have an entirely non-rock Classical/Jazz side to your playing. Are you still actively involved in classical and jazz music? Do you notice jazz/classical ideas influencing your rock playing or vice versa?
AK: Funny...I have nothing to do with that page. Someone put it up and they are very good at keeping it up to date. (A bit scary...if you ask me). Yes I do have an extensive Classical and Jazz background. These days I do mostly TV and Film composition and scoring....so..in a sense I am active, just not as a drummer. I do occasionally write songs...I've done work with TATU recently, as well as a Japanese pop singer named KOTO. I've also recently composed music for a children's CD. I like the freedom to do what I want musically.....every day is something new.
Q: So how did you become involved with the film scoring/composing thing? Is it just one of those things where once you're in the industry you start to know "people who know people"? Any particular production/scoring work you're most proud of?
AK: Well... I do have a Conservatory education and I've always tinkered with short orchestral works over the years. A few years ago after I returned to LA after my stint in Cleveland with Prick I started composing music for a show called MONSTER GARAGE. That led to work on a number of shows (MONSTER HOUSE, BALLROOM BOOTCAMP, SHARK HUNTERS, CRAZY CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, HALLOWEEN MADNESS etc...)and eventually small indie films. I'm moving up the food chain so to speak. Each show is better...each film is better. I also get quite a few random cues in shows like UGLY BETTY, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD,E TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY, SMALLVILLE etc. I recently finished a charming little indie film called "JAM" starring Gina Torres and Jonathan Silverman (among others). I also literally (2 days ago) just finished another film called "The Unlikelys" starring William Forsythe. I'm working towards bigger things, but it takes time. I'm currently scoring a show on the Discovery Channel called "LOBSTER WARS", which is a spin-off of a very popular show called "DEADLIEST CATCH"...Musically it's a combination of heavy orchestral and heavy rock....fun stuff....it begins airing in July.
Q: In 2002 you re-established a working relationship with PRICK and helped Kevin put together a touring band for the Wreckard album. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
AK: After I quit Stabbing Westward I decided I needed to get out of LA for a while. So I moved back to Cleveland. Kevin had released the Wreckard and was considering touring, but Garret Hammond had just joined KILL HANNAH and was not available. So when Kevin found out I was returning he called and we decided that we'd see if we could put together a band and make it work. We rehearsed for a few weeks and eventually did a small tour. It was great to play those songs, but I must admit I was a bit spoiled after previous tours and traveling around in a van and playing a lot of sketchy venues was not always fun. Some of the gigs were great....others.....well...not so great. But it was great playing the stuff live.
Q: Speaking of the Wreckard, how do you think it worked out to release and promote The Wreckard independently? What worked and what didn't?
AK: Well...there are certain benefits to doing it yourself. But there are drawbacks as well. Kevin is a very independent minded soul and he has his way of doing everything. So....I can’t really say much about his decisions. It's his music....so he should decide how it's released and distributed. Obviously with any small indie release you can only do what you can afford to do, and the fact that Kevin's music is unique and doesn't appeal to the masses also makes it a challenge. But you sell one CD at a time and you go from there.
Q: You also assisted Kevin a little bit on Lucky Pierre's ThinKing album (most notably on "Beginning"). Can you tell us about your involvement on this record? While there was quite a bit of promotion and press surrounding The Wreckard, I got the impression Kevin just sort of put ThinKing without much hype or fanfare (I think there's one official interview about the album in Cleveland Scene magazine). This always struck me as a curious move since ThinKing is obviously a much more commercial sounding record than The Wreckard. Nevertheless, any info you could share with us about ThinKing would be greatly appreciated.
AK: I co-produced BEGINNING...played drums and some of the other instruments. Garret Hammond added a few bits and some mixing skills. Great song. We did it right after we finished the PRICK tour. I think Kevin had been assembling bits here and there for the ThinKing disc for a while. He has a huge back catalogue...so much of which was only available on 7 inch back in the day. I think "JOHNNY GOES TO PARIS" and "ATTITUDE" are out takes from the first album sessions as well, although I'm not certain...Kevin has many musical sides...you never know exactly what you're going to get, but I'm a fan of all of them.
Q: Finally, the rumor on your Wikipedia site is that you recently cut quite a few tracks with Kevin for a new PRICK album. I realize Kevin is extremely tight-lipped about this sort of thing and I understand if you'd rather not say anything, but – if you don't mind - can you at least give us a hint as to if there is any truth to these rumors?
AK: Like I said before, I didn't put up that Wikipedia page. Someone (unknown to me) seems to like to keep very close tabs on what I do ....but there are a few errors.