Interview With James Lowe of the Electric Prunes
[MuzikMan] How has the Internet helped the band with creating awareness of your music over the past year since the release of the DVD Rewired-Live In Concert? What are the pros and cons of today’s technologies and media outlets in comparison to when you started?
James Lowe When we started there was one way to be heard: sign with a label in order to possibly get played on the limited number of stations playing rock. Upside: The internet allows for direct and immediate contact between music fans and bands. It affords an outlet for worthy material that would otherwise go completely unnoticed. In addition, like the old record listening booths, it often allows you to sample material before buying it. Downside: There is so much crap floating around in cyberspace that unless you want your penis enlarged, mortgage refinanced, or Cindy's webcam, it is difficult to know where to go to find what you want. And, of course, there is the problem of those who want to do more than sample your material....
The internet has not been wildly successful in creating awareness of the Electric Prunes. For the most part, those who know of us and are interested, find us. Those who don’t know of us don’t find us. Imagine that. The Rewired DVD probably got to a few unsuspecting souls; but for the most part, it was people who knew what they were looking for.
[MuzikMan] What is going on right now with the upcoming album, California? Is it a continuation of Artifact or are your fans in for something new this time?
James Lowe There exists (on our website, of course, www.electricprunes.net) a 1965 CD of the band before becoming The Electric Prunes (Sanctions/Jim and The Lords). Compare that to Too Much To Dream, which was only about a year later and the leap in what we were doing musically is pretty amazing. California is that sort of leap up from Artifact. Artifact was a recording we made for ourselves that, in response to requests from friends/fans, ended up a limited release. Artifact was about the process, not about listening. California is, I believe, the most complete package of songs and sounds we have ever produced. It is more like the first or second album in some ways. Little picture songs. Thirteen cuts swimming in “pruenthropic vibrotwang,” including my favorite, "49 Songs" (the title comes from a young musician in San Francisco asking Peter Lewis how many songs a band needs to know to tour … hmmmmm … 49. Not 50 or 48 but 49 ... note: the asker nodded and walked away like he was going home to learn them). God, I love California!
We recorded at Hole In Sky studios, a facility I set up in a guest house on my property. We record using analog equipment and “acoustic” musical instruments. The only synthesizer used at all, if you call it that, is the harmonium on “Transient Absolution.” Our process remains much the same as it was years ago, Mark and I write the songs and record a demo. We then get the band together and loosely run through the material. Once we get in the studio we start playing and, in essence see what happens. Any "effects" happen at the time of recording through the amps. We don't do a lot of direct guitar or bass recording and we do not use pro tools to mix. We do have to load our 2 track mixes into that system to master a CD; but on the way we try to keep the recording as pure as we can. The studio has always been a place for us to experiment and see what happens. Some bands like to take new material on the road, since we are not on the road that much, we prefer the studio.
We are, and always have been, a Southern California band, even though many people thought we were from Seattle. We are travelers from a time when you could tell in 16 bars where a group was from and what records they listened to. California is our attempt to give everyone a feel for what it was like being on the West Coast in 1967. We think we have managed to bring the past forward. It is about memories and futures. Part autobiographical, part fantasy. It is about music, surfing, girls, pain, pleasure, film, truth, lies, heroes, villains and music - California. Whatever appears on the CD has a special meaning to us and is associated with a time and place that, for many, is a legend, but to us is a fantastic memory and an ongoing part of our life. This album happened much like when we recorded ”Too Much To Dream”, everything seemed to fall into place. We would write something and couldn't wait to record each song. That is the best feeling … wanting to do it for the rush. An amp would feedback at just the right time. A guitar would go out of tune and somehow fit in perfectly with the track. A good example is the Tom Petty song, “Makin' Some Noise.” I heard this song on the radio while heading to Rincon (the surf beach from “Surfin’ USA”) with Peter Lewis from Moby Grape (who also sings and plays throughout the album) and thought it would be perfect for us to record in that no one is better at makin’ noise than we are. Two minutes later I would have been out of the car and in the water and the song would have come and gone without me being there. Synchronicity? I call it California.
[MuzikMan] What is your long-range plan to promote the album this year?
James Lowe Plans are in the works now for our “UNDONE Tour” of the UK and Europe starting in September. There may be some U.S. dates in the near future, but for whatever reasons, the European music audience has always seemed more interested in what we have to say than the American audience. We hope to change that with California. We are also completely redoing our website to afford people greater access to samples and information regarding this album and our tour information.
[MuzikMan] What is your opinion on posting a review on several websites opposed to having it in a few traditional print magazines? I believe that having a review on several websites increases readership ten fold, do you agree?
James Lowe Print magazines are important and some of the greatest coverage we have received has been through publications like Mojo and Record Collector. However, our experience is that most print reviewers are usually more interested in how clever they can be, as opposed to actually working to listen to the music objectively. And, as I’m sure you know, it is much easier to be “clever” when trashing something. Also, a magazine gets thrown in the trash bin and that darn web stuff just seems to linger forever. A combination of print and web presence can't be beat. I say the more websites the better. Bring ‘em on. The more sites that carry a review or overview, the more chance you have of someone seeing it and possibly becoming interested in what you have to say. There is a direct link to web presence and fan base today I would think.
[MuzikMan] How do you think drugs and alcohol has affected your life, the music industry and people you have known over the years? I am sure you have witnessed many great artists’ lives destroyed due to addictions. What are you doing to stay on the straight and narrow so you can focus on your film business and reawakened recording career?
James Lowe Sorry, can you repeat the question?
My grandfather used to tell me “don't get all hung up on any one thing ... ANY one thing". I think the wisdom in the statement is that too much peanut butter can kill you. I have always kept a close eye on things that threaten to take my control of myself away. I like to get all "undone" as much as the next one; but there is a time to make some contribution and the thing about substance abuse is you stop making a contribution to anyone but you. THAT is boring. I used to think I played and wrote better songs stoned ... until I listened to them. Everyone has their own way of working; but if I were going to play in the Super Bowl or The Masters I doubt I would be fixing a hole or lighting up a fat one beforehand. Call me square.
[MuzikMan] Does everyone in the band have their own side projects going on besides recording with the Electric Prunes? What is everyone doing these days to stay busy and make a living?
James Lowe We’re musicians; we don’t make a living. If you are driven you just can't stop. I think each member has had to come to the place where this is "what you do" again. Mark and I have started Prune Twang Records as a place where we can record and release material by our group and bands that we would like to help along. Our next release will be a punk band called Epileptic Hero. The way Mark and I have justified it is that we are not likely to become Supreme Court Justices, we probably won't be the next dot com millionaires, and today we wouldn't even get to the elimination round of American Idol. So the question becomes what shrapnel do you want to leave behind? How 'bout this music about a better time in California? Yeah.
[MuzikMan] Are there any closing comments you would like make James?
James Lowe The hardest part of all of this has been trying to explain to family and friends what this is about. We are not trying to recapture our youth, "seventeen won't come again." We are not trying to outdo the tyranny of a couple of minor hits from the ‘60s. We realize no matter what we do everything will be compared to that past material. We would like to think we still have something to say. Sorry, but the world doesn't seem like it has much more figured out today than it did when we left in 1968. I thought we weren't going to get into this fix again? And what's up with that faceless crap on the radio? This music is something we know about and we had a hand in the start-up. There are so many great bands out there today and there is never a gig where I don’t find some real talent as the opening act. If there is anything we can do that makes all this past and present music come together we are for it. When the time for the hook comes, and it will, we will go off in a shower of electrical sparks. When it is over we will vaporize. We promise!
Thanks for the chat, Keith.