MuzikMan: Welcome to you James, and the Electric Prunes return into active
Last year Artifact made the MuzikMan Top 10 albums of the
year and deservedly so. Now there is a new DVD titled Rewired
that celebrates those great new recordings, can you delve into how the DVD project
started and how it reached its fruition?
James: We had an offer to do a small tour in Europe and thought it would be
interesting to visit some of the same places we played in 1967, kind of like
going back to the roots of something.
We never really had any film or video of the band in the past, and the Stockholm
‘67 album was all that existed of our live performances. We had had numerous
offers to do a DVD. We were actually working on some animations and live video
of our own but the timing never seemed quite right to release it. The UK tour
seemed to be the perfect place to capture some of the energy of the band in
a live situation and a chance to expose some of our animations and home movies.
I think television is a very difficult medium for rock music. I cannot watch
anyone for very long on DVD’s or Pay per View concert specials, not The
Stones, Dylan, Springsteen…anyone. A concert is meant to be a live event
and experienced live. But when you have the option to put some touring episodes
in there, show a little bit about the band’s recording techniques, and
let people know a little more about you, it can work. The sub menu ability of
DVD’s allows cool little movies to be hidden in the programming, and that
can be a saving grace. Snapper Music in the UK was very agreeable to our ideas
as to what we wanted a DVD to be and let us put anything in we thought might
be fun to watch. They also let me do the artwork and come up with the Rewired
title. You run the risk of breaking the illusion people have of the music when
you go visual; but life is about taking some chances. We opted to shoot a small
club venue in Brighton Beach as opposed to the Royal Festival Hall in London
because we felt it would be more intimate and more like what we had done in
the 60’s. I still think that was a good decision. Most acts will record
a few nights on a tour to select the best takes of the set list. This was not
an option for us as it all had to happen on one night and whatever we got was
what it was. That, in itself, is somewhat exciting…Play and Record! We
decided to play a set that included the songs that people expect from us like
“Too Much To Dream” and “Get Me To The World On Time,” but
we wanted to expose some of the new recordings as well. It all boils down to
what is fun to play. If you are having a good time, the audience will feel it.
The energy you bring to a concert is really, what drives the thing. Rewired
is about as noisy and confusing as our gigs get so it is a decent representation
of the band live. If you did not see us in the 60’s this is about what
it was, and is.
MuzikMan: Can you update all the fans that have been enjoying your music since
the 60ís and the new ones that have come onboard with what is going on
with the band and what the plans are over the next year?
James: We are in the last stages of mixing a new CD that is a little more like
our first two albums. It is more song oriented and even has two new songs from
the writing team that gave us TMTD and GMTTWOT, Annette Tucker and Jill Jones.
Artifact was an album for us to get our sea legs; this CD
will be for the listener. While always a possibility, playing live is still
a question, we are having such a good time recording. Perhaps a tour here in
the USA would be possible if we can get the support. The difference this time
is we are really having a good time playing and the music is the issue, not
being pop stars or trying to sell a lot of records.
MuzikMan: Let us jump into the way-back machine (remember that cartoon?) What
was James Lowe doing during all those years that he was not recording; also
did you keep in touch with all the EP members during the bands extended hiatus?
Rocky and Bullwinkle, one of my favorites! I produced and engineered albums
for a few years after the band issue and eventually wandered into television
production. I started my own production company, produced and directed television
commercials, kid’s shows for Disney, corporate image pieces, anything I
found some interest in.
Mark and I had spoken once or twice in the 30 years and had dinner together
once; but I had no contact with the other members. A band “crash”
is a traumatic event and hard feelings can run rampant when everyone is trying
to place blame somewhere for a failure. We were not exactly fighting mad but
seeing each other would have been a reminder of past issues. Since Mark and
I had written together, we always have had a closer relationship and when we
had the opportunity to remix the Lost Dreams compilation
album it was a perfect situation to rekindle our friendship. This led to our
recording new things together.
MuzikMan: What are your thoughts about some of the technology that is available
today opposed to when the band first started out? What are your feelings on
the new Internet technology and marketing strategies eliminating the need for
labels and other traditional promotional tools? Although some things are the
same, there is quite a bit that has changed good and bad, what are your thoughts
and opinions on all of those developments?
James: Well the most exciting thing is that a group no longer has to depend
upon a studio system to get a decent recording of their material. The consumer
market has driven the prices down and quality up for smaller systems that any
artist can enjoy at home. We prefer analog but the digital recording systems
are amazing. Things that used to take us hours in the studio are now realized
with the push of a key. If you remember, the recording studio advances of the
Beatles era led to some of the coolest music ever produced. I look for things
to get even more amazing as talented artists explore the digital domain. I am
currently producing a young punk band and we record them live here at my studio.
The other day one of them said, “When we get the demo finished... ”,
to which I responded “This ain’t no demo... .when will you ever record
it better? When will it sound any better? This is the real thing so play well!”
There are no excuses anymore, no company to blame, just push record!
As far as a band being able to promote itself, cut its own CD’s, realize
its own artwork, create the image they want for the audience, there has never
been such access in history. I can sit at home and communicate with a distributor
in Germany, a concert promoter in the UK, a radio DJ in Yugoslavia or Poland
in the same 15-minute period, and all free! The bonus is you can also communicate
with the people that like your music thru emails and website messages. This
was impossible in the past. The internet is amazing, and as I see it as the
only link to any semblance of diversity, we will have in the future. The radio
stations today are controlled by a few entities; computers play the music that
is pre programmed. There is not much chance for a feeling or expression there.
In a business that is characterized by people clawing their way in to get an
audience share, the internet is at least a couple of fingernails. Airplay is
something else... it is still an “in-crowd” thing.
MuzikMan: What and who would you consider to be your strongest influences,
both personally and professionally, when you were starting out in the recording
James: The Who’s: You can never forget the people that help you realize
something about yourself. Images: Todd Rundgren at 17 writing full orchestra
parts for “A Beautiful Song” in his hotel room the night before the
session for Nazz, he had never done it before and completely blew the studio
Van Dyke Parks playing the most disconnected notes and sounds to achieve absolute
masterpieces. Often we would be recording for 5 hours before I knew what the
hell we were doing, amazing.
Russ and Ron Mael of the Sparks and their great sense of humor and musical
irony, I thought they were what rock was supposed to be about, free expression.
Manager, Albert Grossman always had an open ear for music and I saw him fall
into his “goo filled” swimming pool trying to show me a frog. Ry Cooder
having me mute a fantastic slide guitar solo on “Alimony” because
he thought it too self-focused and flashy, a class dude.
Randy Newman acting incredulous when he played “Mama Told Me No to Come”
in the studio between songs and I said... that is a hit! He said someone named
Three Dog Night was going to record it.
If your eyes are open, you can learn a lot.
The What: Someone telling me to get over it, the past is past and unless you
learn from the mistakes, you are doomed to making them again, good advice.
MuzikMan: I know you have worked as producer (on the other side of the glass),
that is entirely different experiencing than being the artist that is actually
recording, how have those experiences benefited you over the years? Who are
some of the most enjoyable people you have produced?
James: Well, it really seems like it would be fun to be in the position of
saying yes, no, let’s go this way or that, it should really be... but you
have to get your shit together to be able to do these things with confidence.
It all boils down to listening. Most people are easily distracted and do not
If you have ever been in the other guy’s shoes, you have a little more
sympathy. When I used to record vocals there would always be 10 people sitting
behind the glass in various stages of disinterest. One was sleeping, one frowning,
and one eating a burger and so on. This would drive me up the wall, as my performance
was always dependent on watching how they responded. Guests in the studio get
bored quickly, as they should. It is time-consuming repetitive work. Since I
have experienced this firsthand, I protect anyone I record with by kicking anyone
not involved out of the studio. This hurts when they are cute, but we get better
You really need an overall view of the thing from 50 feet up. This helps you
avoid the obvious and develop some strategies to make things unique. I have
always preferred to try to understand every phase of any project I have been
responsible for, the only way you can do this is to experience the duties of
each person involved. Want to be a director? Learn lighting, sound and editing,
your project will be better for your understanding of each area, and the attendant
problems each department faces.
Most enjoyable people to work with: Sparks, Ananda Shankar, Todd Rundgren,
Hunt and Tony Sales, Grapefruit, Terry Melcher, Van Dyke Parks, Mark Tulin
MuzikMan: Is there anything else you would like to add James? The floor is
James: Our mantra remains the same... Dreams do not give up on us, we quit on
them. Paint that painting, write that poem or song, play that guitar, and play
it loud! Damn the neighbors! The recent tour showed us our music is as relevant
now as it was in the 60’s. I think people are tired of artificially created
bands, perfectly synthesized voices and computer quantized and generated tracks.
Everyone is still looking for a little passion in their lives and music. We
come from a musical time when everything was in flux; there was nothing you
could not try. There is a power and aesthetic derived from being there and going
through it. That energy cannot be faked or simulated. We believe that we are
carrying forward that same spirit and energy into the music we are making today.
It is, truly, the past present tense.
My favorite part of the Rewired DVD? The easter eggs... can you
find them? There are six or seven. Thanks for listening... and now looking.
©"Keith "MuzikMan" Hannaleck
James Lowe was interviewed by MuzikMan from 6/4/03-6/6/03. Published with permission
of the artist.
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