Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Interview:--> Lance Threet (Clocks)

"Summer...gonna make you
feel like runnin' away  
do it...do it...do it."
~ Clocks ~

In 1982, the Clocks hit the streets with a glorious self-titled album filled with catchy new wave splash and summer flash. 

For fans, it would sadly be the bands only record. (At least until their 2004 reunion.) But mercy, what a tasty piece of shag to leave behind. The album remains both endearing and enduring and begs rediscovery. Not to mention spawning one of the most underrated singles of its era.

The Clocks, from Wichita, KS, had their glorious moments in the sun and were a successful rock n roll band, however you want to measure it. I caught up with guitarist Lance Threet and we talked about those times.

~ Lance Threet, Gerald Graves, Steve Swaim, Jerry Sumner ~

Interview - May 13, 2014

Casey Chambers:  Everything has its beginning, so let me ask, how did the Clocks come together?

Lance Threet:  Well, we came together in junior high basically.  Me and Jerry Sumner started up a band in the 9th grade and played all through high school.  After school we went our separate ways, but then started playing again in a band called Polite Force...which would eventually morph into the Clocks.

Polite Force started up in late ‘75 and along with Jerry and I, Gerald Graves, the keyboard player, eventually joined. And, for a while, Reggie Littleton was our bass player.

We just got out, playing all over Canada and the Northern United States and kept working to improve the thing. Originally, Jerry was the drummer and one of the things we decided to do was get Jerry out front.  ‘Cause we knew he was a good frontman. (Jerry also took over bass duties)

I had played with this other drummer, Steve Swaim, in a couple of bands before and had been lobbying to get him in the band ‘cause...great drummer y’know?  It took about three years of working on him and he finally joined.

Then the lineup was together. That's when Jerry (Sumner), Gerald (Graves), Steve (Swaim) and I became the Clocks and it started snowballing from there.

Casey Chambers:  That’s cool.

Lance Threet:  Yeah, that’s the way it went.

Casey Chambers:  When the Clocks first started hitting the highway...what was the game plan?

Lance Threet:  Basically we were just going to get out there and have some fun.  Gerald had some connections. His previous band had been out on the road for quite awhile, so we just hooked up with them.  

We were working two agents.  One out of Manhattan, Kansas and another one out of Minneapolis.  And the Minneapolis agent was the one who got us up into the Canada gigs which ended up being a pretty good thing for us to do.

Casey Chambers:  How did you guys get signed to CBS/Boulevard Records?

Lance Threet:  Oh...that was kind of a long drawn out process.  We had put together a mailing list and had quite a few people on it. We’d send out little flyers...where we’re playing and all that stuff. One year, we decided we were going to make a 45 for Christmas and make it available to everyone on our mailing list.  

So we went to John Miller’s Studio up in Newton (Kansas) and recorded four songs.  And by the time we were done, Christmas was over.  So we were sitting there with this tape and we didn't know what to do with it.  Four songs on the tape.  

Steve used to work at a record distributor here in town and he had a few vague contacts with record people. He gave them one of our tapes.  And he knew an outfit in Kansas City...I’ll think of it in a minute. He knew them and gave them one of our tapes. And they came down to hear us play and talk to us. Good Karma Productions!  That was the name of their outfit.

Casey Chambers:  They came down to Wichita?

Lance Threet:  To talk to us, yeah.  They actually came to  our house. They managed the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and Brewer and Shipley. So we knew they were legit.

Casey Chambers:  Dig that.

Lance Threet:  They liked our originals and thought they could do something for us.  We were kind of apprehensive because a lot of people wanted to come in and manage us. And nobody really had anything but a line of horseshit.

These guys, they had the spiel worked out    One of the last questions we asked was, ‘We’re dirt poor.  What  are you going to charge to manage us?’   And they said, 'Well, we take 20 percent, but we don’t take a dime from you guys until we get you a record deal.’   So we knew they were legit because they were going to sink their own money into it.  Which they did, and they got us a deal.  So...

Casey Chambers:  So now it's getting real.

Lance Threet:  Yeah!  It was really cool.

Casey Chambers:  And from there, you guys went to L.A. to make a record?

Lance Threet:  Yep.  Recorded it in Los Angeles at Sound Recorders.

Casey Chambers:  What were those sessions like?

Lance Threet:  They were pretty efficient, really.  Mike Flicker was the producer.  He had produced Heart and a few other bands and he knew what he wanted. 

He let us play every song we had ever written and sat there and evaluated them.  ‘This one’s out.  This one’ll work.  This one’s a maybe.’ We just whittled down the list to what tentatively was going to be on the record.

And he made a few changes.  'This endings all screwed up.
You gotta change that. This one’s too long.  Cut if off here.'
Like on “Someone (Not Me)” he said, ‘That’s the stupidest beginning I've ever heard.’   And I mean right on the spot, we had to come up with something. Kinda came up with what you hear on the record just...out of the blue.

Casey Chambers:  That turned out to be one of my favorites.  Some good guitar work on that one.

Lance Threet:  Oh thanks.  Yeah, that’s one I thought came out pretty good. I was mostly hammering on, pulling off, but I got away with it. To me, it’s one of the fuller sounding songs on the record.

Casey Chambers:  No surprise, my favorite and probably most requested Clocks song is “She Looks a Lot Like You” and you guys made a music video for it. What do you remember about that experience?

Lance Threet:  Oh, being awake for 40 hours straight!  (laughs)  That’s the thing I remember the most.  We flew down to Dallas.  From Dallas to Los Angeles and then from Los Angeles to Monterey.  Spent 24 hours doing the video. Got back on the plane.  Flew back to Los Angeles.  Back to Dallas.  And then flew back to Wichita. And I was awake for 40 hours.  Really fun experience.

The guy that made the video for us was Bill Dear, who was also the director for Mike Nesmith’s video...“Elephant Parts”. (“Elephant Parts” won the first Grammy ever in the Music Video Category).

Bill flew out to meet with us and he was like, ‘What do you guys want to do?’ We were all big Monty Python nuts, so we told him we wanted to dress up like a bunch of old women sitting around a card table, smoking cigars. He thought that was a great idea, but changed it a little bit and that’s what you see on the video. It came together real fast.  Just went lightning fast.  I mean it was crazy.

Casey Chambers:  But the video was actually shot in Monterey?

Lance Threet:  Yeah.  He had a little soundstage and that was where he did a lot of his video work. The girl in the video was his dentist’s dental assistant.

Casey Chambers:  Do you remember the first time you saw it on TV?

Lance Threet:  Yeah, I sure do.  I got a call about 4:00 in the morning.  I answered the phone and it was our sound man.  He said, ‘HBO.  It’s on!’

I thought, ‘What the heck?’  I turned it on and got to see the very end of it.  At that time, HBO and Cinemax used to start their movies on the hour.  And so if a movie ran an hour and 45 minutes, they’d show 15 minutes of rock videos.  I think it probably aired on HBO as much as it did on MTV in the beginning. And then we started seeing it on MTV which was quite a thrill, to say the least.  It was pretty cool.

Casey Chambers:  And music videos were just starting to get its legs, right?

Lance Threet:  Yeah, they were just starting to catch on. I think MTV had started the year before and there were only about four cities that were test markets and Wichita was one of them.

Casey Chambers:  And the album was getting some radio play, as well...

Lance Threet:  Oh yeah!  Quite a bit of airplay. They were playing “Summer” on the radio and “She Looks a Lot Like You” made it to #67 on the Billboard charts. That was pretty cool.   For a bunch of hicks from Kansas...it was pretty cool.

Casey Chambers:  Another gem from the album is...“19”...which you co-wrote.  How did that song come together? 

Lance Threet: I’m  not a lyricist, y’know?  But I pretty much put all that music together.  Jerry Sumner had a big notebook of lyrics he had written...just words but no real music. And I was going through it one day and thought I could put something together. Jerry and I sat there and worked on it for awhile and came up with "19".

And that was primarily a live song.  We didn't really have any designs of it being on the album, but a couple of guys at the record company really liked it.  And it’s my understanding it got quite a bit of airplay on the new wave stations in L.A. On the recording, they used a phaser which gives the song kind of a weird effect.  I always felt it came off a lot better live.  It was more rocked out.

Casey Chambers:  “Nobody’s Fool” is another crowd favorite. What are your thoughts on that one?

Lance Threets:  Oh, that’s one of Steve’s songs.  It was never one of my favorites for some reason. Some you gravitate to and some of’em you don’t.  That was one the producer altered quite a bit.  It had a little bit different riff at the beginning of it than what you hear on the record.  A very small, little known fact...and maybe one of the reasons I’m not real fond of the song...is that it's not me playing the lead at the end.

Casey Chambers: What happened?

Lance Threet:   Well, the way that worked...Jerry and Steve went to the final mix-down up in Seattle and Gerald and I didn't go. And the producer was sitting there and the more he worked with that song, the more he thought there needed to be some riffing going on at the end. They could either fly me in or get somebody locally to do it.  And they just got somebody locally to do it.  So, that’s me playing in the middle but not at the end of it.

Casey Chambers:  That had to be a bit of a pisser.

Lance Threet:  It was at first. It kinda got sprung on me.  I didn't realize it until I heard it on the record. I thought, ‘Wait a minute.  I don’t remember doing that.’

Casey Chambers: "Summer" is a cool song and one I think really captures the "wanderlust dance" in all of us.

Lance Threet: Yeah, that one's more about the groove than anything. Steve came up with that "chunk chunk ching" riff... and it may as well go like that. That works. And "Summer" seemed to get quite a bit of airplay. Especially around the Midwest.

Casey Chambers:  Now the Clocks got to share the stage with some pretty big acts...

Lance Threet:  Yeah, fondest memory is probably Cheap Trick.  They helped us get our record deal...inadvertently. And it’s interesting how our paths just kind of intertwined.

We were playing down at the Tennessee Gin Mill (Wichita, KS) one night and they showed up. Somebody came up and said, ‘Man, the guys in Cheap Trick are here.’...'cause they had a show in town that night.  And the place was packed like sardines. I never did see them that night but supposedly they were there.  

And the story goes, our management had sent out some of those cassettes we'd made to the record companies.  And Cheap Trick’s guitarist Rick Nielsen was in the A & R office at Epic Records.  And this guy’s talking to him, ‘Hey, have ya seen anybody cool lately?’  And he said, ‘Yeah.  I seen a band in Wichita that had some pretty good original songs.’  
Guy started quizzing him about us and he said, ‘Wait a minute.  (Opens drawer of a desk and takes tape out.)  ‘You mean these guys?’ Rick said, ‘Oh yeah, I think that’s them.’ That’s kind of how the ball got rolling.  Just on a fluke, y’know?

Then, when we were out in L.A. doing the record, we were at this hip, rock and roll clothes shop looking around at some jackets on the rack.  And I hear somebody behind me going, ‘Ahhh, I see you guys finally made it out here.’   I turned around and it was Rick Nielsen hopping for clothes and he remembered us.

And so we ended up going out on tour with them for a little while.  Really nice guys.  They were real serious about their road crew making sure the Clocks sounded good.  They told their guys, ‘A Cheap Trick show is good from start to finish. We want these guys looking good and sounding good.’  And they just bent over backwards to accommodate us. Really nice guys.

And we toured with Rick Springfield for four or five shows. Lots of screaming little girls everywhere.  That was quite an experience.  And then some other oddball gigs.  Played with Canned Heat.  Did a show with them three weeks before their lead singer (Bob "The Bear" Hite) passed away.  I was thrilled to get to see’em because I used to listen to them all the time when I was a kid. So, getting to do a gig with them was pretty neat.

And we did a really memorable show with this band from New Orleans called Zebra.  They had a few hits.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah. Good stuff.

Lance Threet:  Oh man, they were awesome.  I really enjoyed that show.  Stayed and listened to them the whole night.  Ahhh, I ain't leaving.  

Let’s see, who else did we play with?  We played with The Motels a couple of times. We played with some of my perverse favorites like It’s a Beautiful Day.  I don’t know if you remember them.

Casey Chambers:  Oh yeah, the San Francisco group.

Lance Threet:  Yeah, yep.  Got to play with them.  David LaFlamme was still in the band.

Casey Chambers:  That would have been a good one to catch. Awesome violinist.

Lance Threet: Yeah, I think that was at a show in Albuquerque. Used to play a bar down there quite a bit.  We carried a huge PA and light system with us...so a lot of times people would hire us to open up for the big bands.  They would hire our PA and lights at the same time.  So we got our foot in the door several times doing it that way.

We also warmed up for the Johnny Van Zant Band one time. Now I knew Johnny was Ronnie's little brother, but I'd never seen him before. We’re sitting there watching’em do sound check and this barefoot guy comes up, sits down beside me and just starts shooting the breeze. So I’m thinking he must be one of the roadies. The band’s up there clowning around, when pretty soon one of the guys start yelling...‘Johnny man, we gotta go eat.  You gonna get up here and sing?’ It was him and I didn't even realize it. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  It's gonna happen, right!

Lance Threet:  Yeah, and just a heck of a nice guy.

Casey Chambers:  In 2004, Clocks released their second album, “The Black Box”.  What prompted the reunion?

Lance Threet:  Well, I think Steve knew his health was going downhill and I just think he wanted to get together and start playing again.  Steve and I had a few issues in the past and we made a real strong effort to patch things up and play a few shows again.  Had a lotta fun doing it.

Casey Chambers:  I was real sorry to hear the news about Steve.

Lance Threet:  Yeah, yeah, it was too bad.  He was a very sick guy. (Steve died of liver failure in 2006. He was 51.)

Casey Chambers:  Do you still keep in touch with Gerald and Jerry?

Lance Threet:  Oh yeah.  All the time.  In fact, Jerry was up at the house week before last.  He lives in Kansas City and I live up in Bel Aire, so he either stops on his way in or on his way out almost every time he comes to town.  Like I said, I've known him since we were kids.  Real close friends and still are today.  I talk to Gerald, too.  Not as much, but still quite frequently.

Casey Chambers:  Gerald's keyboard splash gave the Clocks just the right amount of new wave balance to go along with your guitar rock sense. It really works.

Lance Threet:   Yeah, before Gerald joined the Clocks...he had been playing in horn bands. And the rest of us had been playing in all kinds of prog rock bands. There was a point where we’d have to guide him a little and tell him this is what we're looking for.  But when Steve’s songwriting started taking off, he just fell right in.  It just came naturally to him.

And Gerald has a Liberal Arts degree in pipe organ and is a well-schooled keyboard player.  Man, he can play all that Bach fugue stuff and it could just make you cry.  It’s killer. He used to get sick of me telling him...‘Gerald, man, play #13.' And it’d just kill you, it was so good.

Casey Chambers:  In 2012, Clocks were inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.  That must have been quite a thrill for you guys.

(L-R) Gerald Graves (keyboard), Lance Threet (guitar), 
Steve Swaim (drums), Jerry Sumner (lead vocals/bass)

Lance Threet:  Uh-huh.  Yeah, it was cool.  We were inducted and had a blast playing that gig. White Clover got inducted. So, I got to meet a couple of the guys who later were in the band Kansas, which was cool.   Tommy Stevenson was inducted that night, as well.  I had no idea that he played keyboard with Joe Walsh.

And all the others inducted that evening. The whole night, I'm thinking, ‘Really?  Wow, I didn't know that!’ Some really talented musicians. So we were honored and received a trophy. And it’s a nice thought, for sure.

Casey Chambers:  Well I've really enjoyed spending the afternoon with you. Thanks very much for sharing your time.

Lance Threet:  Oh yeah.  Cool.  Glad to do it. Come by and shoot the breeze with me anytime. I’m a pretty easy guy to find.

Good stuff!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lost Stream Gem: "Arsenic And Old Lace" (1944)

"I'd like to lick the coil some day...
Like Icarus, who had to pay
with melting wax and feathers brown.
He tasted it on his way down."
-- Phish --

This surprisingly twisted film, directed by legendary Frank Capra...rolls comedy, horror, romance, and drama into one long, smooth and satisfying smoke.

"Arsenic And Old Lace" (1944) is a whacked-out tale revolving around a hyperactive longtime bachelor...Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) who finally takes the marital plunge and returns to his hometown to announce the good news to his two favorite aunts who are now running a boardinghouse for elderly men.
Crazy Aunts - Jean Adair & Josephine Hull
These delightful old sisters are perfect as the sweetly naive and macabre spinsters who share a very strange secret.
Mortimer, of course, accidentally stumbles upon his aunts..."charitable activities"...and quickly realizes his favorite relatives have been loitering just a little too close to Insanity Avenue.
Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant)
Without giving too much away, “Arsenic and Old Lace” changes gears midway...and surprisingly so...taking a lighthearted tongue-in-cheek story into a direction much more dangerous and creepy, thanks to the menacing performances of baleful step-brother Jonathon (Raymond Massey) and his bug-eyed sidekick, Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre).
Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre)
Lines are delivered at a breakneck pace at times...especially Grant's ...so running subtitles is recommended. Else your likely to miss some pretty clever convo betwixt the actors.
And although this film is stagy at times...and debatably cries out for a little editing in places ...there is enough quirky interplay amongst the actors to provide some scrumptious "corn on the macabre" entertainment.
A little known bit of trivia...Cary Grant donated his entire salary from the film, $100,000, to the U.S. War Relief Fund.
Must See Moment:
Watch Peter Lorre strike a match and then forget to blow it out before (really) burning his fingers. Twice.
Also, “Horse Face” Raymond Massey’s expression when anyone tells him he looks like Boris Karloff is not to be missed.

"The Squirming Coil"  -  Phish (Lawn Boy/1990)

The squirming coil of sunset
I keep within my reach
Tried yesterday to get away
and hitchhiked to the beach
I saw Satan on the beach
trying to catch a ray
He wasn't quite the speed of light
and the squirming coil
it got away....
The muscles flex the mother's ring
She fastens children to her king
and sends him down the crooked street
When he returns, the birth's complete
Jimmy holds the Tannis root
The forest's tasty nectar shoot
The sun tips off the monarch's suit
from sequined sash to shiny boot
I'd like to lick the coil some day
Like Icarus, who had to pay
with melting wax and feathers brown
He tasted it on his way down.
Stun the puppy!
Burn the whale!
Bark a scruff and go to jail!
Forge the coin and lick the stamp!
Little Jimmy's off to camp.

Good stuff!

Casey Chambers
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