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luckyPRICK Interview w/Tom Lash
By Todd Millenacker
Transcribed by Todd Millenacker
luckyPRICK was fortunate to recently conduct in e-mail interview Tom Lash. Tom was able to shed light on some of Lucky Pierre's earliest history, as well as elaborate on Prick, Hot Tin Roof, etc. We sincerely thank him for the opportunity, and look forward to speaking with him again in the future!
Q: How did you and Kevin first cross paths?
A: In college, I was the Music Director of the radio station at Cleveland State University. One of the DJs, named Ray, brought me a cassette of unreleased original music that his friend had recorded. Ray had hoped that perhaps I could give some local airplay to his friend. That friend was Kevin McMahon. It was a hand-labeled cassette with 4 original songs. Needless to say, I was bowled over by the originality of the songs, the British-glam influence, and the attitude and confidence that exuded from the tape. Already being a huge fan of Bowie, the Kinks, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Cockney Rebel, Lou Reed, Donovan, and T-Rex, I heard many influences but also saw the songs as extremely original. To me,
these songs were easily on par with any of the major-label artists of that
I arranged to have Kevin come to the studio for an on-air interview and to see how I could perhaps help him move things from the "project" phase to a live band.
Q: Regarding the 4 song cassette, do you remember what songs where on there? Obviously, Kevin has a history of redoing songs, anything we might recognize?
A: Now you're testing my memory. I believe there was a version of "Allushia", "Take the Pain", possibly "Fans and Cameras" (which became the first Lucky Pierre vinyl single), a song called "Tell Me the Truth" and maybe perhaps a version of "Sock Rockers" that Lucky Pierre performed live for many years... but the exact song list is a distant memory.
Q: Was this before Kevin was using the Lucky Pierre moniker (weren't his really old recordings under the name "My Stars")?
A: He used his name on the cassette, but called it a "My Stars" production. I think the name Lucky Pierre was only in his head at that point. He also used the name Cats on Holiday in previous incarnations.
Q: What was the instrumentation of these records – was it Kevin solo or with a band?
A: My guess for those earliest recordings is that he had the great John
Gusciardo on lead guitar, Denis DeVito helping with some guitar, and Kevin could have played the rest of the instruments at that time. Kevin could play good rhythm guitar, bass, and rock piano. His drumming wasn't proficient but it was exciting, in a Ringo Starr fashion. They were home-quality recordings, probably done on a multi-track reel-to-reel in someone's living room. But the quality of the songs outweighed the limited production capabilities.
Q: When did you start playing music?
A: I was raised in a family with eight brothers and sisters, and everybody was expected to play a musical instrument in grade school. At age 8, I started to play the trumpet. Of course, when I saw the Beatles or the Stones on TV, I didn't see anybody fronting with a trumpet... other than Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
Q: How did you get into bass?
A: Every kid of that period wanted to play guitar. As a left-handed kid in a big family, we shared a guitar that I strummed upside down as it was strung for right handed. By eighth grade, I bought a cheap electric guitar of my own, and my first bass. Being a lefty, of course it was a Hofner-style fiddle bass, which I still have.
Q: Who where your early inspirations?
A: As far as inspiration, music was the inspiration and core for so much of my early existence and formative years. It extended way beyond just influencing a music playing style. It's hard for kids today to relate when someone older speaks of the soundtrack to your youth, but those bands I mentioned before helped shape my world outlook and my philosophies for better or worse. When I met Kevin, I felt a kindred soul... someone with the same experience and influences. That has been the bond of our friendship over all these many years.
Q: What where those early Lucky Pierre rehearsals like and who was in the band?
A: When I first met Kevin, he was already running through songs with Denis Devito on bass and John Guciardo on guitar. A keyboard player named Tom Miller was around in the early years, and played in the band before moving to LA to pursue a music writing career. The drumming slot changed a few times, mostly guys that Kevin knew before I met him. Kevin tried to get Anton Fier to join the band on drums, but Anton lived on the other side of town with no ability to get to rehearsals. Anton moved to New York, went on to play with Miles Davis, Yoko Ono, and form the Golden Palominos. His loss!
We went on to work with Bryan Dempsey, Gary Shay, and then Dave Zima, who was really the stalwart of the band during the majority of the years we played. Dave had the feel of Elvis Costello's drummer... great chops, great meter. That helped to anchor the band when we swayed from the downbeat and tempo.
Early rehearsals were spotty. Denis was a novice guitar player as he was really a bass player who kindly made room in the band for me, I was certainly a novice bass player, John Guciardo was totally spontaneous and electric, and Kevin had so much music pouring out of him that it was hard to keep up. We rehearsed several nights a week, and when we weren't rehearsing, most of us were out drinking and seeing other bands. Seven nights a week... rain or shine, in sickness and health. We were like a pack of dogs!
Q: Where was your first show?
A: Back in those early days, there were a handful of small clubs in Cleveland and the near west side that booked original, alternative bands. Our home base was the Phantasy Niteclub in Lakewood, Ohio. The owners were like family to us, and we were their incorrigible kids. The scene really flourished with a dozen or more great bands playing out several times a month. Lucky Pierre, Pere Ubu, the Wild Giraffes, Ronald Koal and the Trillionaires, The Monitors, The Adults, and on and on. Lucky Pierre could have eight gigs a month, and we knew almost everybody in the crowd on a first-name basis. Once in a while we did live radio shows, a cable TV show, and openings for national bands at the really big venues. We played on and off for many years, with "retirement" shows and "comeback" shows every two years or so.
Here's a link from the local paper that will give you some insight into the
local scene over the years. You'll recognize a lot of names:
Q: The scene sounds amazing! Out of curiosity, did you ever play with Devo (I know they’re from Cleveland)?
A: We never played with Devo, but they did play in town periodically before departing for LA. That became the model for all bands that broke out of Cleveland or Akron... leave.
Q: So "Fans & Cameras/Idlewood" was Lucky Pierre’s first single. Was that everybody's first "professional" recording experience? From the sound of it, I'm guessing the excitement was in the air.
A: "Fans and Cameras" was everybody's first recording in a real studio. The engineer, Mr. Ken Hamman, was a legend who recorded all of the early Grand Funk albums, all of the Pere Ubu albums, etc. Everybody's nerves are raw as you just hope to get through the song without hitting a clunker and then have to rewind the tape with everybody scowling. Back then, it wasn't a click track and one instrument at a time. Drums, bass, guitars and scratch vocals all at once. Nominal overdubs of guitar and piano. As almost always, Kevin did his final vocals in one take. His performance wasn't always pitch-perfect throughout, but that is in part what makes his vocals so endearing and interesting. Those songs
sung by anyone else wouldn't resonate the same way.
Q: Did you raise the money for the recordings yourselves?
A: We had a manager, Don Conte, and some friends who helped fund the recording. This studio also could cut the acetate Master. You would finish recording, do the mix, and then they moved on to this cutting table that resembles a phonograph and it actually cuts the Master that gets sent to the duplication plant for pressing. We were all wide-eyed!
As slow as it sounds, we were doing one 45RPM single a years for the first few years, even though the live set consisted of 2 hours of Kevin's original songs. You can press a CD today for less than $1 apiece. That's the same cost to press a 45" single. Studio cost were higher also back then, relatively speaking, so more recordings were cost prohibitive for us.
Q: While we’re discussing recordings. Anything you would you care to elaborate on about all of Lucky Pierre's known records:
Fans & Cameras / Idlewood (7") - 1979
Into My Arms / Match (7") - 1980
Stetson's / Once A Child (7") - 1981
Communiqué (7") - 1984
Muchacha Latina Today / Birdman (7") - 1984
Cool Summer Night / Chilly Willy (7") -1984?
Communiqué (12", EP) - 1988
A: Some of the later releases by Kevin were not Lucky Pierre band recordings, but Kevin working in different studios with different musicians, released as Lucky Pierre. For example, the Communique EP was recorded in San Francisco. Trent and I were going there on vacation to visit my sister, and Kevin invited us to the studio to help with some tracks. Trent played some mean saxophone and we helped on vocals. Obviously Kevin and Trent's friendship continued from there, and when Kevin returned to Cleveland for periodic shows, Trent helped out
on sax and keyboards.
Q: What about the recordings I’m missing in this chronology - where "Actress", "Deeper Deeper", "Pi Squared" and "Florence & Constantine" ever released at some point?
A: Most of those other recordings you mentioned were done at studios, but not released on vinyl. The quality of the recordings wasn't great, and the goal was just to document the songs onto tape, I guess.
Q: I'm guessing Lucky Pierre must have been in discussions w/ some major/large indie labels at the time. Was the decision to stay indie on Kevin's Unadulterated Records sticking with certain "punk-ethics" or did things just not ever align themselves properly?
A: Regarding label interest, I have to say it wasn't for a lack of trying. As
the major labels found with almost all of the new wave bands that they signed, new wave and punk bands were money losers on a national scale. You could be a hometown hero but it doesn't necessarily translate to a national presence. Being located in Cleveland didn't help. I certainly though that Kevin's music would warrant major label interest back then. It was frustrating and probably due in part to us being stuck in Cleveland.
Q: Did Lucky Pierre ever tour?
A: Although Lucky Pierre did play dates regionally, we never did a proper tour. We would go play a weekend in Chicago twice a year, or go to Pittsburgh and exchange gigs with Norm Nardini and the Tigers who were a staple in Pittsburgh.
Q: How did Kevin work his way from the live band sound into electronics and bringing technology into his music. Obviously, "Fan & Cameras" is a far cry from "Communique" or "Cloud"?
A: As far as the introduction of electronics, it just seems like a natural
progression... another color to work with. The difference is that I believe all of Kevin's songs can be presented in a guitar/voice format and still have an impact, and the vocals stand out. You can listen to "Animal" and then the acoustic "Cosmic Kids" and know that it's the same voice. Most industrial bands that are lumped into that genre are grooves and sounds, with a ton of processing, but lyrically they don't say much.
Q: Regarding songwriting, is Kevin much of a reader? From his lyrics I can tell he has an excellent grasp of the English language.
A: Kevin's lyrics were always very "literate" and methodically constructed. I would say he is a reader and he always had a true appreciation of words and lyrics. You can develop that appreciation through books, or movies, or listening to great songwriters who can cut you with a line.
Q: On the topic of songwriting, besides the Bowie, Kinks and the 70’s glam influence you mentioned before, I've always heard a little The The in Kevin's Prick music (obviously Kevin chose the same producer - Warne Livesly). Did either of you have much knowledge of Matt Johnson and The The?
A: I think the same strong songwriting attributes can be said of Matt Johnson and The The, since you brought him up. He's one of my favorite writers, and you saw him jump from piano and voice of "Uncertain Smile" to synth beats with "Infected." When that came out, it was like "What the...?" But it was amazing. "Armageddon Days" is very poignant, especially today. "Love is Stronger than Death" about his brother's passing can still bring tears to your eyes. "Kingdom of Rain" is a masterpiece. Kevin knows Matt's work in retrospect, but I think it's safe to say that The The had a profound impact on Trent's writing.
Q: Since we're on the subject, what was Kevin's reaction to Prick being lumped (by the press) into the "industrial" genre? I remember reading one interview where a fan asked, "Were you influenced by Trent Reznor?" Kevin played it off well (he responded by saying Trent introduced him to new pizza flavors). Was he frustrated by all the "industrial"/Trent Reznor connections or did he know it was part of a game he had to play for larger success?
A: In my opinion, there's no question that Kevin got unfairly categorized into the generic Industrial genre by the press.
There are a lot of ways to handle the media scrutiny and the rote interview questions, and perhaps it could have been handled differently. I think he quickly realized, as many other artists have said before him, the major label route is not what it appears from the outside looking in.
Q: How was it seeing an old band mate being thrust into the spotlight? I always got the impression he found all of the sudden interest in him mildly amusing - but had another career/occupation he could be doing.
A: Any musician/actor, etc. who is being honest never truly expects to reach the upper echelons of fame or success, even though you need some confidence just to be out there trying to get your self heard. It's usually a strange combination of ego and self-doubt. Also, there is no school of preparation for how to handle the downsides of success. Every thing and everybody around you changes, and trust is in short supply. Someone once said, "I've never seen fame nor fortune make someone a better person." I don't think you can go to that level and not be affected.
Q: Between Lucky Pierre and Prick, Kevin also undertook a number of musical projects including Broken Man, Fear Of Blue, Master Cherry and The Struggles. Other than "Fool's Gold" - a Fear of Blue track from a gothic compilation - little has been heard of these tracks. Have you heard much of these releases and - if so - can you tell us anything about them?
A: Kevin can obviously write songs across the gamut... ballads, harsh rockers, and pop songs. Those bands you mentioned were other artists with a respect for his writing, with an interest to work with him. Most were put to tape, but never formally released. I haven't heard all of them, but they're all different stylistically.
Q: After the classic line-up of Lucky Pierre ended, you began Hot Tin Roof. Can you tell us a little bit about the band? It appears Hot Tin Roof also has quite an interesting history in itself having played with My Bloody Valentine, the Swans and Violent Femmes just to name a few.
A: Just prior to starting what would become Hot Tin Roof, I was involved with a studio project called System 56 (www.beyondtheparade.com). They had an Ultravox/ Gary Numan/ Roxy Music vibe. This band was a one-man project who was looking to add members and put together a live band. We did some new recordings, got quite a bit of regional airplay, and sold out our first show at a 1200 seat venue. There was immediate talk of major label interest. Two shows later, the singer/songwriter decided to break up the band.
Instead of repeating that dead-end experience, I decided to start my own writing and see where that would take me.
With Hot Tin Roof, I began like most with a four track, a guitar, a bass,
keyboard, and a drum machine in the basement just composing songs for the challenge of it. When I decided to go into a proper studio to improve the sound, I met guitarist and engineer Greg Zydyk who became my right hand man. He helped to shape the songs as his guitar playing far exceeds my abilities. After I had a dozen songs down, I decided to look for band mates to perform the songs live.
We played a lot of regional shows, had opening slots for national bands, some out of town gigs, and some pretty big radio festival gigs. We had airplay on the local alternative rock stations and charted at college stations. We self-released a handful of CD EPs in the process.
The headache of rotating prima-donna drummers and the well documented back-stabbing politics of the Cleveland local music scene contributed to the band's demise. We had a good run for several years, better than most. Greg Zydyk then started a side band. The bass player became Sharon Osborne's tour accountant for OZZFEST and was gone. Keeping band members interested and committed enough to keep a rehearsal schedule became a real pain. Bands seem to get to a point where they can no longer suspend reality enough so that the good outweighs the headaches. Sound familiar?
I still play guitar a bit every day for my own entertainment. As you know, PRICK did some dates locally and a small regional tour a while back to support the release of The Wreckard. Kevin asked me to play bass and help him put it together. Greg, Andy K, Kevin and I are all friends, so those dates were fun even though the venues and PA systems weren't all great.
Q: Jumping ahead to "The Wreckard" and the formation of "Lucky Pierre Music". Obviously, after the whole Nothing Records fiasco Kevin was burnt out on the whole "major label" game. Was going indie and releasing the album online the plan as soon as he was freed from Interscope/Nothing? It's quite an interesting and brave move for an established artist to attempt.
A: In my opinion, it was clear that the major label route was incompatible, especially the way PRICK was handled as an artist by the Interscope/Nothing relationship. Ditto for The Wolfgang Press, The The, Pop Will Eat Itself, etc. Not a happy artist in the bunch of really good bands. They deserved better.
For The Wreckard, an indie release seemed like the best option, as most small labels could only offer distribution. Ask any band in that situation, and the artist almost never makes money from CD sales.
Q: In hindsight, how do you think it went?
A: What worked? I'd say the release itself was successful. The music, the songs, the experimental production from song to song. What else worked? The Wreckard followed by Thin King, which was brilliant. Interscope never would have allowed that to happen.
What didn't work? Receiving very little radio play or Press from any of the
major magazines... Alternative Press, Rolling Stone, Details, etc. that is
essential if you hope to sell CDs without distribution. The competition for attention is daunting... hundreds of indie labels with PR firms all submitting music for consideration. Four years on, e-mails still come in where someone has just learned about the release of The Wreckard.
I think the future of non-major label bands will be all internet-based... with little distribution to retail. The band puts up a retail website. You can download the songs per track, order a CD copy, or a store or chain can order and pay for discs directly from the artist's website or CD Baby type of site. Sell the first pressing, press another 2000 to keep moving forward. This is the best model for artists like Kevin, and for those who buy his music, in my opinion.
The indie model that doesn't work is distributing CDs to hundreds of retail stores that don't pay for them, and then they want to send half the discs back before they have even paid you for the first half. Unless you're getting major press and radio play, that model never works to the band's benefit.
Q: What's the current status of PRICK/Lucky Pierre? Do you know of anything on the horizon?
A: I'm not at liberty to discuss Kevin's future plans, but you can be assured that he's always working on something new... certainly sooner than later.