T h e T h e O p t i m i s t I n t e r v i e w
Eric Bazilian is a man with several faces. He's part of the pop-rock sensation The Hooters, who took the world by storm in the summer of '85, he's also a man with a darker side that likes to write about God - scoring a second Grammy nomination for his efforts.
And he's the guy that can adapt to write in just about ay style, co-writing one of the best tracks to last year's Journey album - the track To Be Alive Again.
He also at the drop of a hat scrapped all the work on his second solo album and instead wrote and recorded a new one on his Powerbook computer in six days in Sweden this past summer.
His new album is now called A Very Dull Boy and will be released on his own label Mousetrap Records soon.
After this interveiw was done Eric added this update, adding that the new album features "...two guitars, bass and drums and a lot of singing. It rocks and I like it a whole lot."
Eric Bazilian - Outside of Philadelphia. "I've been here my whole life, and until just a few years ago I was absolutely determined to live anywhere but here. And then, having toured for forever and met the woman who was becoming my wife, from Sweden, and spending a summer there, I realised I had traveled and would continue to travel and continue to spend my summers in Sweden. I like it here [in Philadelphia]. I like being able to come back here. This time of the year,
there's nowhere on Earth nicer."
Having a home-base and the freedom to travel is a good thing. I guess being
a musician, that's what you do.
"I used to, a lot. I haven't toured in a long time and I don't know when I will again. To do a solo tour, you need to have a successful, well promoted solo record. I have a good solo album, but the other elements are........I shouldn't be disappointed or bitter about it because my whole modus operandi, the point of putting out and the reason I called it Mousetrap Records was because I thought I'm going to build a better mouse-trap and
just let it out there and let the world beat its path to my door. Now, the thing is that it hadn't occurred to me.....I would prefer it if that path were beaten while I'm alive!
To shop it to the major labels is a hard sell. The same thing that opens their doors to me...and they're all open. They want me to write songs for their artists, produce records....sprinkle magic dust over them, but at the same time they know how old I am, what I've done, and I guess they think it would behoove them better to milk me for my ideas rather than invest in me as a long term thing. It's kinda infuriating, because the reason I do any of the stuff they want out of me is because I want to get up on stage and
perform. All I really want to do is plug my Les Paul into my Vox amp and turn it up to 11 and shred!"
You shred pretty well on 'The Optimist'! "Thanks. You know, I could have shredded more but at the end of the day, the song was the king and whatever would serve it best would determine how 'shred-like' I could allow it to be."
It's a pretty raw and stripped back record, isn't it? "You know it's funny. Within a week I read two reviews, one of which said it was over-produced and too dense, and one that said it was under-produced and sounded like a demo. It's raw because I wanted it to sound raw, but it's got a lot of stuff going on, and if you listen with headphones you'll hear all these cool little bits coming and going. I actually redid things because they were too perfect and I wanted to mess them up a bit. It's rock and roll!"
I wouldn't agree with either of those reviews. My review fell somewhere in
between. And now you're already finished or are working on a second one? "I'm working on a second one. I thought I was finished...I was hoping to
finish before I went away this summer, but I got side-tracked a little. I was simultaneously working on the solo record and an album with a guy in Sweden, who's sort of my musical hero. His name is is Mats Wester, late of the group Nordman.
They are the largest selling Swedish language act of all time. He plays this instrument which is the Swedish key fiddle. He's a folk musician originally, but he wrote some pop songs and put these tracks together in his basement with drum machines and synths and all these folk instruments. He got a singer from a heavy metal band and a woman to write
some brilliant lyrics in Swedish, and they put this thing out and it was just this phenomenal success. I hunted him down and it turned out he was greatly inspired by The Hooters to do this project. So we got together and I got to play with him on stage at this festival in front of 10,000 people. I told him, not only am I going to play mandolin with you, I'm going to sing the second verse of this song in Swedish! So we've been best friends ever since, and we started doing a record together last summer, which was really
exciting. But one of the songs from 'The Optimist' we re-cut....he had a piece of music which I just loved and I was trying to write a new song to it.
I was sitting in his basement in Stockholm and I started singing 'Until You Dare' over his track and suddenly I liked the song a lot better, and his track a lot better. It's just this intense thing with fiddles and heavy drums and fuzzy guitars on it, and we thought it would be a slam dunk in Sweden, but I think it was too American for the Swedish labels who expected him to do another very Swedish folk thing, so that sort of hit a wall.
Then I encountered a couple of interesting, young talented guys here, one of whom is a singer who is very like-minded spirited guy. He's much younger than me, but he went to my high school and we've become very good friends.
I toyed with the idea of actually making him my singer, kinda like my Roger Daltry, because he can just do things with his voice that I cannot. However, it's hard to ask somebody to just step into your shoes and be you instantly. So that's probably not the right thing to do anyway, but it side-tracked me a bit. So I'm glad I'm going away because it'll give me some perspective on the twenty or so songs I've written and recorded since I came back from Sweden last September.
It's all very interesting, trying on all these different hats. I get so excited when I work with other artists, and at the end of the day I come back and it's like 'I want to be Dylan, I want to be John Lennon, I want to be Paul McCartney'. Just thank God I'm able to hock my wares to the Philistines for shekels and wampum, haha."
Well, you've done better than most in your field, in that you've already got
a fair legacy of music behind you.
'You know, you can't really sneeze at that."
Yeah, my Hooters CDs are some of my most prized possessions. I got into you
guys the first time I heard 'All You Zombies'.
"I still like that one. That's one of the songs I can still listen to."
Actually, you had an album before 'Nervous Night'? "Yeah, we had an indie album. We have boxes and boxes of vinyl copies, so
I'll have someone at the office send you out a copy."
Thanks Eric! So what do you class as your favourite Hooters record? "I can tell you which is my least favourite! Unequivocally it would be 'Zig
Zag'. That's my 'What on Earth was I thinking' record.
You know, even as we were finishing it I knew this was not a record I wanted to make. It was a record totally devoid of attitude, devoid of edge, but at the same time I was there for every second.
I got excited with the other guys, I said 'Okay' and I have to take full responsibility for it, but at the same time we had come off of our second big tour, we were a rock and roll band and we were kicking ass live, and we should have made a major rock and roll record.
I would say my favourite is probably 'One Way Home', even though I have
issues with most of the songs for various reasons. I think the songs on 'Nervous Night' are probably better songs, at least knowing where they came from, the motivation behind the stories....they are so much more real. But just the sound of 'One Way Home', the attitude....it rocks!
And it actually has the worst song I've ever written on it, 'Hard Rocking Summer'. The problem with that track, and this was a great lesson in what to do and what not to do. Our rehearsal place at the time was in a kind of funky little neighbourhood, and all these heavy metal kids would hang out outside our door....and they were all into AC/DC and the like.
We walked out to get pizza for dinner and we looked at these kids, and it was the beginning of summer, and we said 'Yeah man, it's gonna be a hard rocking summer'. We were kidding, but we were like 'That's a song'. So we went back and did this track and got this really nasty sounding drum pattern, and did this guitar riff, and then Rob started doing this screaming rap.. 'Teacher says I gotta stay after class, I say that teacher better kiss my ass'. It was a hilarious thing, but it was just so unlike us, but it rocked. And I remember the day we cut the basic track for that with our drummer and I walked from the
studio into the maintenance guy's room and I heard 'Fight For Your Right to
Party' for the first time.
And it was the same, exact record, except it was guys who were ten years younger than us and they did it better. Basically what happened was we tried to write a real song to that track and to that title, and we couldn't. Well we did, but all the original spirit was totally gone. We tried to get serious. Rule #1...do NOT get serious."
But it was a pretty serious record though, wasn't it? "Well it was, but that was our downfall. That was the thing about 'Zig
Zag'....it was so bleeding heart liberal serious after a while. We lightened
up a bit on 'Out of Body' thank God."
Yeah, that's my second favourite album, and depending on my mood can sometimes slip into #1, because I love the sound you guys got on that. "The sound on that was great, I was really happy with the sound and the
playing. And having Mindy in the band was wonderful. She was just such a
great player, and our live shows with her....do you have the live album?
That jam at the end of '500 Miles'.....You see, Rob and I had this great
sympathetic musical thing going on, but we could never really jam like that
because being a keyboard player....he's not a shredder, it's just not his
way. Mindy, on the other hand, is totally that way. By the time we recorded
those shows, at the end of that jam we would sit down together on a monitor
and light a cigarette."
The only thing I was disappointed in was that it wasn't a double live album. "We toyed with the idea, and it could've been. There was a lot of good stuff
and it was almost all from one show. We taped one in Stockholm and two in
Germany. I did the artwork for that album. I bought a computer just to learn
how to do that. Looking at it now, I could have done better but it's got
And then after that tour and the year after, we were poised for absolute
world domination, especially in Scandinavia and Germany, and we had a new
record deal with Polygram and I was totally determined it was going to be a
rock and roll record or nothing, it turned into 'Largo'."
I don't even think I've heard 'Largo'! "It's a very nice record. The people who liked 'Zig Zag' liked 'Largo'. A
beautiful record, but for me that was just the writing on the wall."
But 'Largo' was never credited to The Hooters, was it? "No it wasn't. The kind of wanted to for a while and I said 'No way is this in any shape or form a Hooters record'. The record company decided they didn't want to use the guys in our band as regular players...they'd only play on a few tracks, and that there were going to be all these other singers on the record.......okay, I think I'm going to build a studio behind my house and make a rock and roll record!"
And was that the last time you worked together? "Just about. I've done stuff with Rob since then. They're actually making a Broadway show out of 'Largo' right now, and they've got some cool ideas.
They have a very, very noted playwright who has come up with some story for it which I've heard bits and pieces of, and it really completes the picture a bit....it still ain't rock and roll! And to me, that's the alpha and the omega of it."
What's Mindy Up to these days? She released a record, didn't she? "At least one. She's raising kids now, she's got two. I love her, she's like a sister to me. I think the world of her. In fact, if this project with my Swedish buddy ever comes off, I'm going to bring her into the band. I love touring with her, and love performing with her."
It was mentioned there might be the possibility of The Hooters touring again
"Well actually, I was very game for it but it was Rob that put the kibosh on it, which I was surprised about. But he has stuff going on here that he can't get out of. Rob and his very serious keyboard player.......we sat down to discuss it and they were like 'If we're going to bring The Hooters back then what does that mean? Shouldn't we make it more?' and I'm like no, let's just have some fun with it and see what happens."
It's funny. I talked to Jonathon Cain of Journey, and he's the same way, the
"I had a great time working with Jonathon but he totally reminded me of
You two wrote some killer tracks together. I've only heard 'To Be Alive
"So he didn't play you 'Rhythm'? This track was by far the better. He sang it great, and it absolutely would have had to go on the record with his lead vocal. It was actually kinda Hooter-esque in its way. It's kind of a song that could have redefined Journey for a new generation, but it didn't really sound like Journey. Jonathon's talked about putting it out under his own name as a side project."
I'll tell you something I absolutely adore and it's on the American official
Greatest Hits record, is the live version you did of 'Time After Time'. One
of the rumours I have heard is that you were going to make an album of all
the songs you've written for other people like Cyndi Lauper and Joan
Osborne. Any truth in that?
"Never, ever, ever heard of that. It's intriguing but the thing is....taking the two most notable songs which are 'Time After Time' and 'One of Us', those songs are recorded as they were intended. 'Time After Time' Rob wrote with Cyndi and the recording was done so quickly. It was a real inspired couple of days. 'One of Us', when I first wrote it, the voice I heard in my head was Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies.
The day after I wrote it I brought it into Rob and Rick and Joan, who were writing for her record at the time, and I played it for them, just to say 'Check this out. I did this
last night and it's whacky.' And then Rick looked up and said to Joan 'Do you think you could sing that?' And before she had a chance to think about it she said 'Yeah, I guess so', so I wrote the words out and plugged the guitar in and it was recorded live guitar and vocal, and I got in my car afterwards and started practicing the Grammy speech I never got to give."
So who robbed you of the Grammy? "Well Seal won, but I know that I did write the song of the year. I also know that I came in second. That's what Rob said, because he got robbed with 'Time After Time', which got beat by 'What's Love Got to Do With It'. The Seal thing was an industry thing....it was a movie theme. Seal's a great artist. In fact, I ran into him the day before and said to him 'If you beat me in this, I don't mind.' And then when he won I said 'You know what? I
lied. I mind.' But I've already gotten my rewards for the song. It defined the times and kind of captured a whole movement in human consciousness, I think."
And dare I say it, you were also instrumental in Cyndi Lauper's success. "Well yeah. 'Time After Time' did the same thing. Making that record was a lot of agony and ecstasy. It took a lot of time and a lot of blood was shed."
Did that get your foot in the door at Sony? "It helped. It certainly didn't hurt. When Rob and Cyndi played me their first draft of 'Time After Time' that was my first brush with greatness, with immortality. I said to them 'You know what? This is 'Yesterday'. This is a standard.' And they even offered me to jump in on it with them and finish writing it but I said 'You know what, the song's written. You may change a word here or there but you don't need me for this one.' I did come
up with the signature guitar line, which they always use for movies and TV commercials, so if I'd known then what I know now, I would have made them put my name on it anyway, hahaha."
I love that record. 'Money Changes Everything'.... "Oh yeah! And Richard [Rick Chertoff - producer/collaborator] absolutely deserves all the recognition and respect in the world for that record, and for the Joan record too.
I look up to Rick. I still think 'What would Rick do', especially now when I'm flirting with the idea of working with other artists, and really co-ordinating and producing entire projects.
I try to put myself in his shoes. It's very different though, because he's not a hands on guy. He doesn't play, he's not really a writer per se, although he's great to have in the room. Me, I'm like such a megalomaniac. The records that I want to make I play everything, I engineer, do it in my home studio and I let the other person sing. But it works out great, like the Amanda Marshall record. She and I had an amazing synergy, and I was going to produce that whole record but it was a political business thing that kinda broke my heart, and then they came running back to me at the end having spent a fortune on a record that nobody liked, and asked me to finish the songs that became the singles."
The other rumour I heard was that you were going to team up with Cyndi
Lauper for a new album.
"I know Rob has done some stuff with her on this new record of hers. I have no idea when it'll be release. You know what? If she called me I would do anything she asked, although I would kick myself later. Cyndi is like family. I think the world of her....she sang at my wedding. She can make you, feel so good about yourself and then make you feel like a piece of shit. She has that kind of power, that kind of magnetism....if only that power could be turned to good. No, it has been. She has a great heart, but she is really
intense, and when you are making a Cyndi Lauper record you are making a Cyndi Lauper record. It's all about her, and it's her way or the highway, and I respect that about her. But I can't work in a situation where I'm only allowed to use five percent of my brain."
So what's the next chance we have of a Hooters record? "You know, I wouldn't keep your fingers crossed. I just don't think that we could agree. What happened was, the Largo record came by default. Rob and I had been working, trying to write songs for two years and we weren't finishing anything because we were just pulling in opposite directions. I found my voice in 'One of Us'.
I wrote that song, I played those guitars...it was really what I had been doing twenty years earlier. That's what I do...I play guitar like that, I write lyrics like that, melodies like that.
Rob had kind of found another voice which was a much more kind of esoteric......and we were just not able to make it work. I wanted to make something rock and Rob wanted something else. So now, I just don't know that we could do it. We hang out all the time, I love the guy. He's my brother, and anything's possible. And again, it was particulars that prevented the German tour from happening this summer.
If we get offered next summer, I think we'll probably do it. And who knows, perhaps we'll go out and play those rock and roll hits and get excited and do something new."