article by jennifer kelly|
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Richard Lloyd is on two of my all-time favorite albums -- Television's Marquee Moon and Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend. Although the two discs are vastly different, they share a certain DNA in the gorgeous lyricality of Lloyd's guitar lines. A cursory listen to The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs -- a collection of demos and unreleased recordings from the legendary Cleveland proto-punk group -- revealed an entirely different beast, all rage and hard rock and adrenaline. It was great stuff, amazing stuff, raw and powerful as the Stooges, artful and mocking as Pere Ubu, hard-edged and alienated as the Dead Boys. It was, as Lloyd put it, "the broken glass of rock and roll", with some of the world's greatest-ever paeans to nihilism.
And now it's back. Last year's re-release of old RFTT songs spawned a temporary reunion, headed by two of the band's original members, David Thomas of Pere Ubu and Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys. Lloyd joined to stand in for Peter Laughner, the band's legendarily self-destructive guitarist, who, in a bit of irony, had once jockeyed to join Television. I spoke to Lloyd right before he started a second tour with Rocket from the Tombs, talking about RFTT now and before, art, self destruction, the definition of temporary and the powerhouse live experience of the current Rocket from the Tombs.
Splendid: I've been listening to some of the tracks from When the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs, and they're really cool, but they're so different from Television or your solo stuff. What appealed to you about joining the reunion tour?
Richard Lloyd: Oh, well, Rocket from the Tombs opened for Television in 1975. In fact, they ... the guy who I'm replacing because he's now dead...
Splendid: Peter Laughner?
Richard Lloyd: Right. He's the one that got us our first out-of-town gig, in Cleveland. So we drove out to Cleveland, and that band that opened for us was Rocket from the Tombs. I liked them then. I thought they were terrific, except I knew they wouldn't last, because they were literally having fistfights at sound check and bouncing off the walls. I thought they were great. It's quite a hard rock thing, and I love that.
Splendid: Yeah...except for "Amphetamine," which is...
Richard Lloyd: ...more country and western.
Splendid: It's real different from the rest.
Richard Lloyd: That's because that's Peter's song, but the lyrics are quite good. Terribly ironic. I think it's just a total gas. To me it's like being in a hard rock band, and I love hard rock as long as it's not metallic and stupid and artificial with, you know, hair and tapping and screaming banshee crap. Rocket from the Tombs has some of the greatest paeans to nihilism and teenage megalomania, maniacal sorts of angst, that I know of.
Splendid: Is it kind of weird playing that stuff now?
Richard Lloyd: It's perfect. I remember after ... they broke up right after ... that might have been their last gig, they had this big punchout. And then David formed Ubu and Cheetah formed Dead Boys and came to New York right away, so I know Cheetah awfully well, for a long time. In fact, that's why I'm doing this -- because he called me.
AUDIO: Sonic Reducer
Splendid: What about Peter Laughner, the guy that you're replacing? He's kind of a cult figure at this point. You must have known him fairly well...
Richard Lloyd: I didn't know him fairly well, so I don't want to speak, too... Look, I knew the guy some. In fact, he vied for my position. He wished he was in Television. That didn't happen, but in any case...
He was like a Sid Vicious, a guy on a self-destructive path. And I was on a self-destructive path, too, but you never know who's going to get crushed like a beer can by it, and Peter got just crushed. The extraordinary thing is that some of his musical expression is so ironic and so poignant when you understand what happened.
Personally, I remember when I was very young and I was contemplating drugs. I actually had to make a decision. And I thought to myself, you know, throughout history, great men have succumbed. It's like Ulysses and the sirens' call, and they go down the toilet. But as they do, they spin off, by some kind of centripetal force, they spin out art. And I thought to myself, I asked myself first of all, am I strong enough to withstand the kind of forces that may wreak havoc on in me? And my inner answer was, well, no. And then the next question was, well, am I going to do it anyway? And the question came back, yes. And maybe the hope was that it was going to do something, like in a balance, in the opposite direction. That's kind of what happened to Peter, and it's very unfortunate that his output was so slight, but there are still some remarkable documents in his material.
Splendid: I was listening to a little bit of his solo stuff, and it's almost elegant. It's not what you'd expect from a guy who's killing himself.
Richard Lloyd: Right, but in a way it's like... one day Johnny Thunders and I were having a couple of beers at his house and we were trading off acoustic guitars, and I realized for the first time, the guy's actually good. He's actually tender. That's a hidden aspect. I think you can see it some in "Amphetamine" and in a couple of the other songs Peter wrote. But it's a tragedy. But you know, hey, you can't make a determination who's going to survive that and who's not. It's not up to us. It's up to some ... I mean, you can get hit by a bus, too. You can't tell. I'm around and lots of them aren't.
Splendid: So, you don't have any idea why you survived and so many people didn't?
Richard Lloyd: I would probably think I had more prayers by others. That would be the answer I had. I don't know... now we're getting into philosophy. I have a very strong guardian angel, who once upon a time was about fucking fed up with me, and went back to the throne on high and said, you know, he's worn me out. And I was hanging by a thread. Who knows what Peter's demons and angels, what kinds of things were going on with him.
Splendid: Do you think that whole self-destructive thing is necessary to make anything of value?
Richard Lloyd: Absolutely not. It's not necessary to make anything of value. It does produce, in certain instances, extraordinary things which can't be produced in any other way. Do you see what I mean? It's kind of like ginseng, the root, the Chinese herb?
Richard Lloyd: The way they look at it is ...the harder the life that the ginseng plant has -- if it's in a crevice in a mountain where it's really suffering, it's cold, maybe in Korea or something -- the greater the potency. Maybe there's something along those lines. In Sufism, a man -- that's with a capital M -- can't even be created without incredible pressure. It's like making a diamond. Negative pressure, not positive pressure. It's so hard to make a real man, they say, that it requires thousands and thousands and millions and millions of people to sort of be around and give the pressure required.
But if you're doing an interview about something other than music, maybe these are interesting topics.
Splendid: What about the way Peter Laughner played guitar? Was his style different from yours?
Richard Lloyd: The funny thing is that our styles are closer. That's why he liked what I was doing in Television, and when I went and listened to old demos and stuff, I was struck again by how damned good he was. Terrific. I think he had a real down the middle, classic, loopy lead guitar. I'm very comfortable with that. It's the same ballpark.
Splendid: So it's not a big stretch for you to play like he does?
Richard Lloyd: No, not at all. Cheetah trades off leads as well as I. It's like two race cars on the street instead of one.
Splendid: It must be amazing.
Richard Lloyd: It's lovely.
Splendid: Now, you guys are doing a reunion tour at the same time as the Stooges, and I know that Rocket from the Tombs does a couple of Stooges covers --
Richard Lloyd: I thought they already went around, but okay. We haven't been doing those songs. In rehearsals, we just didn't get to them.
Splendid: I was just wondering if you saw those two bands as linked in any way?
Richard Lloyd: I think that in edginess and careeningness, in sort of the vitriol. There's a certain vitriol that David Thomas has access to and that Cheetah has access to, that hard rock without any makeup on. The Stooges had that -- the broken glass of rock and roll. It's no joke. It's a fantastic thing.
Splendid: Do you see the two bands as really different in any way?
Richard Lloyd: Well, I think that the theater is different, of the two bands, but they're in the same ilk.
Splendid: What is the theater of Rocket from the Tombs?
Richard Lloyd: Right now, the whole thing is so fast and furious and, I mean, it's an hour when the music is so packed that the theater is right there. It's kind of like...to me...it has an impact on audience. We've done about twelve gigs. It has an impact on our audiences like the Stooges or the Sex Pistols. It's so crushing and tight and short. We don't play for two hours. It's not the Grateful Dead or Bruce Springsteen. That in itself is like a theater. It's not a three-act play. It's like one stick of dynamite. And it goes off and you're there and you say, whoa, holy shit! What just happened?
Splendid: What kind of people are going to the shows? Are they people that were around when you played in the 1970s?
Richard Lloyd: Well, Rocket from the Tombs probably played to 40 people in their whole career, a little more than that. But it seems to be quite a mix -- young college kids and older people and younger people. It's really hard to say who the audience is now. I happen to think that Rocket from the Tombs has a much broader audience than anyone imagined. It's very hard rock and it's like American non-glossy... there's a great deal of truth in it.
Splendid: When I was doing the research for this interview, it occurred to me that Rocket From the Tombs is one of those names that has always been around, but I didn't realize that they had almost no recorded output until about last year.
Richard Lloyd: That's right. Just the demos that didn't come out. And then it was bootlegged. That was the reason we finally put that thing out. And then what we most recently did -- did you get a copy of the three songs from the upcoming record?
Splendid: Not yet.
Richard Lloyd: Oh, well, what a gyp, man. What we did was at the last tour, we were having such a blast that I took the band in the studio I have in New York, and we basically recorded the set as a studio record. And that's coming out...we're going to sell copies on tour. And then it will come out on the same label as what you were talking about.
Splendid: Smog Veil?
Richard Lloyd: It's called Rocket Redux, and it will officially come out in February, but we're going to sell it on the tour, because people kept coming up to me after the shows and saying, do you have recordings of this band? I want to buy the other thing (The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs) but I want a copy of this too.
Splendid: It must be kind of odd, because people know a couple of the songs from Pere Ubu and maybe a couple of others from the Dead Boys, but almost nobody up until last year had ever heard any of these songs as performed by Rocket from the Tombs, right?
Richard Lloyd: Absolutely.
Splendid: Do people immediately get what you're doing, or is there a learning curve?
Richard Lloyd: Well, I hope you come and experience it for yourself. It's an exhilarating thing. Hard to imagine. it's like a very big train.
Splendid: What about the second tour that you're doing -- is that different in any way from the first one? Is it bigger venues or anything like that?
Richard Lloyd: No, we did one show and then we did 11 shows around the Northeast and Midwest. This is about the same size venues, I imagine -- 500-seat clubs. But it's all places where the band has never played. Where Pere Ubu has played or where I've played or where Television has played, maybe where Dead Boys have played, but Rockets hasn't done this. It's really kind of the grunt work of playing live out. It's like 30 dates in 32 days. Almost absurd. I call it the circle tour because you go in a circle of America.
Splendid: But you guys aren't travelling around in a tour van, are you?
Richard Lloyd: Oh, yeah, a tour van. That's the thing. You think that we've got to be old and crotchety and in a bus or a limousine, but we're willing to get out there. It's a 15-seat van that we're touring around in.
Splendid: That's an amazing picture, thinking about a band that has guys from Television and Pere Ubu and Dead Boys in a tour van...
Richard Lloyd: That's right, wave to us on the highway...
Splendid: And stopping at 7-11 to get Twinkies or something... So I know that David Thomas has made it pretty clear that this is not a permanent reunion, that you're not going to write any new material and when it's over, it's over.
Richard Lloyd: He didn't say that. He said it's not permanent until we write new material. It's not permanent until we see if we can continue. He thinks you can only truck around an hour's worth of stuff that's 25 years old for so long. Well, I disagree with him. I think it's like a run on Broadway. The show doesn't change, but it's so good that people go see it.
Splendid: Are you implying that people are thinking about writing new material?
Richard Lloyd: Oh, absolutely. I'm hammering them all the time, and Dave, too, and Cheetah, that we've got to write something.
Splendid: Yeah, because I think one of the quotes I read from David Thomas, he was saying something like it's a fast-burning flame and part of the attraction of seeing it is watching it burn. So there's something about the finite-ness of Rocket from the Tombs that would make it more compelling to people. Do you buy into that?
Richard Lloyd: Well, I buy...I'll tell you, they flew me out to Los Angeles to do this show, and we were doing rehearsals and they had a big fight again. I swear to god, the show was on Sunday. I got there on Friday. I went to the theater. There was a rehearsal. About 20 minutes into the rehearsal, everybody walked off the stage, and I was standing there.
Splendid: Who was fighting and over what?
Richard Lloyd: None of your business. The band members. I'm kind of kidding, but there's only so far I can go ... but I was standing there watching. It was like seeing boyfriend and girlfriend fighting. It was embarrassing. And it was like exactly the same tension that existed when I first saw them, and I said to myself, oh my god, maybe this just isn't going to work.
Right now, we're all over the place, so we talk by email. We're having fights by email.
Splendid: Well, it must be a lot less dangerous to do it that way.
Richard Lloyd: Yeah, that's right. So I think it's one of those cases, there are certain chemicals -- and I blew myself up mixing chemicals once -- there are some chemicals that are perfectly innocuous alone, but put them together and they're volatile. Alfred Nobel's brother blew himself up. His own brother blew himself to smithereens while the two of them were working on dynamite.
Splendid: But maybe that volatility is part of the sound that everyone is responding to.
Richard Lloyd: Well, of course, that's what it is. That's the light that draws the moths.
Splendid: So if you could solve all the problems, maybe the music wouldn't be as good.
Richard Lloyd: Of course. Now we're back to the theme that trouble makes good songwriting. What do they say, more have been made great through suffering than through all the joys in the world.
Splendid: You're also reissuing all the Television albums.
Richard Lloyd: They just came out.
Splendid: Tell me about that.
Richard Lloyd: They came out. There's some bonus tracks. It's all very exciting. They sound great. They're remastered, and I'm very, very happy about it.
Splendid: Well, what was wrong with those albums? Marquee Moon is one of my favorite albums of all time.
Richard Lloyd: There's nothing wrong with them.
Splendid: What was the problem that they had to be redone?
Richard Lloyd: Nothing. If there's any sort of thing I'm glad to see about it getting redone is that on CD it came out very early when CDs were pretty new and CD mastering wasn't all that good. When I first heard the CD I was like, oh, the record sounded better. And now the CD sounds as good as the vinyl.
Splendid: Where did the bonus tracks come from?
Richard Lloyd: The bonus tracks? Well, they searched all over. Mostly it's outtakes and rough mixes that were lying around. We didn't leave a lot of B-sides and outtakes, mostly because we weren't given enough money to record more material than was going to go on the record. It's sort of like if you have a certain amount of gold and you're trying to gild something, you just can't paint a house with one bucket of paint.
Splendid: What about, you guys did a reunion in...
Richard Lloyd: We do about 15 shows a year. In the last five years, we've been doing that.
Splendid: As Television?
Richard Lloyd: Yeah. We were just over in Japan a month ago. And on the West Coast.
Splendid: How was that?
Richard Lloyd: Great. It was my third trip to Japan and I like it.
Splendid: Are you doing any more solo stuff?
Richard Lloyd: I have about half a record done. But then I have all these other things going on. I can never get back to it. I've done a bunch of producing.
Splendid: Who are you producing for?
Richard Lloyd: Well, I produced the Rockets record I told you about. I just finished something called the Blond Ink. That's four guys with dark hair here in New York. I'm in love with the band. They're terrific. And then just some local stuff. It's not big. I'm not big. I'm teeny, as a producer. I've got to have something to do when I'm absolutely old and crotchety and can't go on the road anymore.
Splendid: So you like all that technical stuff?
Richard Lloyd: I love it. Yeah. I was always the guy in the studio who was saying to the engineer, "What does that do? What knob are you turning now? I want you to tell me exactly what you're doing." And they'd treat me like some sort of fly landing on them.
Splendid: So now when you listen to music, do you hear the production more than the music?
Richard Lloyd: Yeah. I've been that way for years.
Splendid: Do you still teach guitar as well?
Richard Lloyd: Yeah. In town.
Splendid: It's interesting to me, because a lot of people will talk about punk and say things like, "Anyone can play. It requires no skill." And then you have bands like Television where it was clear that people really could play. Is punk not a good word for Television, or is it just not true that punk means anyone can play?
Richard Lloyd: It doesn't matter now. It's sort of like the Beatles -- what a crappy name for a band. But it's defined by the music, rather than the other way around. Punk is a label that we all hated and now there's nothing we can do about it. I think it's so wide, and a statement about so many different kinds of music, that it hardly matters whether we're called that or not. I don't care. In England, there was more of a concept of social rebellion by not being able to play and still forming a band than there was in America. In America, you just had people who couldn't play very well, who were gifted with some creative ideas and then tried to put them in to effect with their bad craft. That's different. Do you see what I mean? Than the sort of communist or socialist or anarchist notion that you don't have to know how to play your instrument, because that's irrelevant.
Splendid: How did you come to play guitar? Did you teach yourself?
Richard Lloyd: My best friend when I was growing was friends with Jimi Hendrix. But I knew I was going to play guitar. My cousin had guitars, and I lusted after them.
Splendid: When did you start playing? How old were you?
Richard Lloyd: I was one. (laughs) In my crib with a diaper.
Splendid: Did you have an amp when you were one?
Richard Lloyd: I used to climb on it.
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Jennifer Kelly is allergic to soup.
[ graphics credits :: header/pulls - george zahora | photos - john nikolai :: credits graphics ]