INTERVIEW WITH JOHN WOLOSCHUK
BY DAVID BRADLEY, SEPTEMBER 20, 1997

THE WOLOSCHUK KAATALOGUE

CALLING OCCUPANTS OF INTERPLANETARY CRAFT

DB:  I'm going to come back to that specific topic later, but I actually have a topic that deals very closely with what you just said.  Okay, I'd like to go song by song with just a little bit of insight from you on just what each one was, or where it came from.

JW:  Okay.

DB:  "Calling Occupants."  Whose idea was it for the intro sound effects, which parts do you sing and which parts do Terry sing, and what do you think of the continued popularity of the song?

JW:  Okay, first question, who thought up the intro with all the noises and stuff like that?

DB:  Yeah.

JW:  To tell you the truth, I can't really remember.  During the first album, we did a lot of experimentation where the four of us, meaning the three guys in the band and Terry Brown, would be in the control room of the studio listening to the track, and everyone would put ideas out and see if they went up the flagpole.  And it was really, it was done by committee, I think.  So I don't know whose idea it was at first to do this, that or the other thing because it wasn't just a I mean, it was layered.  Before we had all that stuff on there, the song started off with Dee's mellotron line, and it was a really neat line.  And by then we knew that "Calling Occupants" was going to open the album.  We'd already decided that.  So we wanted to have something that was really, you know, sort of ethereal, especially with the subject matter.  And we were all into UFOs at the time, and things like that.  And so, we just started building, and I think the first thing was we had some sound effects records with crickets, and animal noises, and birds, and things like that.  And we layered that on, and then we had the idea of recording somebody walking and these ideas sort of just came, you know, when you were working on the session.  And we came up with the idea of having the sound of footsteps walking through the bush, and then he would come across this record player, and he'd lift you know, he'd put the needle on the record and then "Calling Occupants" would start.  And we thought that was, you know, a neat idea.  So we ended up doing all the cricket noises and stuff first, and then we did a remote recording out at Terry Brown's house in the back, in the ravine there.  And we had a fellow walk through the pathway on we put a bunch of twigs down, and we did a remote recording of him walking on these twigs, and then we just wild-bounced it into the track over the crickets and stuff.  And then we got the idea of putting the scratch in the record so that people would realize that he'd put a record on the thing, because the sound of the needle touching the record was pretty subtle.  So we figured, well, if we put a little scratch on the record so we got a blank lacquer disc and scratched it, and then recorded the scratch (laughs).

DB:  So it's a real record.

JW:  We got a real record, but it had nothing on it.  It was just a blank lacquer.  But we scratched it so that we'd have a recurring "tick-tick" noise, you know, like a scratched record.  And we had a lot of complaints at first.  People bought the record and thought they had a damaged record (laughs)!  But then we faded out that, and it sort of segues into the really neat mellotron part that Dee did.  So,   it wasn't a question of someone coming up with the entire concept and laying it on us, it was sort of like just trial and error.

As far as who sings what, Terry sings the intro part "In your mind, you have capacity to (sic) know " and what's called the outtro, which is "With your mind you have ability to form "  And then everything else is me, except in the "Please come in peace" part, there's a couple of lines where I sing a line and then he sings a line.  But all the choruses and stuff like that were my voice.

DB:  I can hear Dee's voice in there toward the end.

JW:  Yes.  Yes.  There is background vocals.  When we went to do the ending we wanted to put some "Aaahs" and then I wanted to have a whole bunch of people singing "Calling occupants, calling occupants" over and over again.  So we got Dee to sing on there, and just kept overdubbing.  Terry Brown actually sang on there too, and, you know, Terry Draper and myself as well.  And I don't think there's anybody else on there, just us.  From time to time, you know, we would just overdub extra voices, just to give it fullness.

As far as continued popularity, well, I don't know.  What am I supposed to say about that?  I mean, you don't like to judge your own stuff, but I mean, I guess if I had to in relation to other stuff that we've done, I think it's one of our better works.  So, I'm certainly not ashamed that it's still popular.  I mean, I think it's a good song.  It's one of those songs that I don't regret having done.

DB:  What about the Carpenters covering it?

 JW:  I think that they did a good job.  It took a lot of guts for them to do that song, because up to that time they were essentially doing covers of Beatles songs and they did a lot of Burt Bacharach tunes and Paul Williams, and they were considered sort of like a soft-pop mainstream band.  And when they decided to do "Calling Occupants" I'm sure they met resistence, because they were really sticking themselves out on a limb.  But they did a good job.  Karen Carpenter's voice is just absolutely stupendous, and it is pretty rewarding to listen to her singing your song.  I mean, (laughs) you'd have to be a complete buffoon not to get off on listening to a voice I mean, she sings a lot better than I do (laughs), and hearing her sing it, it gives you a little bit of goosebumps.  And the fact that Peter Knight did the arrangement for them and he, of course, did the Moody Blues "Days Of Future Past" album and when I saw his name on the credits, I was, it was just really, it was neat.  It was neat to think that the same guy that did the Moody Blues did our song, you know, 'cause like I was a big Moody Blues fan.

DB:  Quick impression:  what did you think when you heard that Karen Carpenter had died?

JW:  Oh, I was pretty bummed out.  It was a real tragedy, because she had so much more that she could have given.  She was a great artist.  It was just a tragic loss.  And the other thing about her is that she was unique.  I don't know that there's that many people that sound like she had a not only does she have a beautiful voice, but it was a unique voice.  I mean, there's lots of people who can sing well, but there's not too many people that can sing well but also be unique, and she was one of those few.  And I think we lost a lot when that happened.  And she was very young, too.  I mean it's always tragic when somebody young dies.  Yeah, it was a bummer.  But these things happen.

CALIFORNIA JAM

DB:  Moving on to "California Jam."  There's a very, very strong resemblance in my mind to "Beach Baby" by First Class.

JW:  Yes.

DB:  Were you influenced by that, or more by the whole surf music sound?

JW:  Yeah, that was coincidence.  "California Jam" was actually written in 1971.

DB:  Okay.  Three years before.

JW:  Yeah.  And it was co-written with myself and Dino Tome, if I'm right.  I'm not sure about that.

DB:  I had a question on that, too.  Most of the CDs that I've got I've got different issues from different countries they list you and Dino, but the Justin Records release in Canada lists you and Terry, and Terry says he doesn't believe he was involved with that one.

JW:  "California Jam?"

DB:  Yeah.

JW:  No, he wasn't.  That's a mistake.  I didn't notice that.  I didn't realize that that was like that.  But no, no, it's not Terry Draper.

DB:  Okay.

JW:  Dino wasn't really a member of Klaatu.  He was a co-writer.  I've worked with Dino since 1968, and we essentially were really good friends.  And in fact, his cousin was my first wife.  But he was he wasn't a great musician, but he was a really good writer.  He had a natural gift for melody, and we both really got off on the same kind of music and things like that.  So a lot of the early stuff that I did I had co-written with Dino.  For example, "Sub Rosa Subway" is another song that Dino was involved in, but when Klaatu came into being he didn't become part of the band.

DB:  Who arranged the harmony vocals for that song?  I know you said earlier that you and Raymond did most of the singing, but what about the actual arrangement about what was going to go where for the harmonies?

JW:  I did most of that.

DB:  And who was the female vocalist on that?

JW:  Her name was Laurie Hood, I think.  Jeez, I hope I got that name right.  She was a session singer at the time that I had seen doing jingles.  When I was doing tape-op work at the studio I did a lot of jingle work like, commercials.  And she was a session singer who I'd seen before, and she had a really soft, sort of sweet voice and that's what we were looking for, so, we got her to do that.  She did a nice job, too.

DB:  Yeah, I love her voice.  Very nice.

JW:  Yeah, she's got a great it's very wispy (laughs).

 SUB ROSA SUBWAY

DB:  "Sub Rosa Subway."  Who came up with the idea to write a song about Alfred Beach, and how had you or Dino heard about that?

JW:  That's a good question.  "Sub Rosa Subway" was written in 1971.  Or was it '70?  No, 1970.  The original version of it, which was slightly different from the version that you're familiar with.  And the idea came from an ad that was in a Scientific American magazine.

DB:  Alfred Beach's publication.

JW:  That's right, and I think that it was an ad for Dow Chemical company.  But anyway, they had an ad, a really neat ad, with a sort of an etched drawing of this subway thing.  It sort of looked like, you know, what later became the "Yellow Submarine" animation style?  Well, this was sort of done in that style.  And they had a little blurb at the bottom talking about this subway.  And the title they called it "Sub Rosa Subway" right in the article.  And I remember picking up that magazine when I was waiting for somebody somewhere, and coming across that ad, and I used to cut things out all the time.  If I saw anything that I thought would be a good idea for a song, I used to cut it out and save it, and then when I needed an idea for a song, if I was running dry, I would go through this file of clippings and try and come up with something.  And that's how that one came to be.  And the lyrics were partly taken I mean, the lyrics were definitely inspired by the text on the ad, and the whole idea of the subway and everything.  And I was always a big Jules Verne fan, so it just seemed like a really neat idea for a song.

DB:  And similar to "California Jam," on one of the issues of the CDs, this time it's the first Capitol release in the US of the first album, they list you and Terry as the author, and all the others list you and Dino.

JW:  Yeah, no Terry had nothing to do with that.  That was Dino and myself.

DB:  And Terry has mentioned that the ending of that song, you were going for the George Harrison "It's All Too Much" type feel, with the continual build-up of all the different instruments and stuff.
 
JW:  Right.  Yeah, well I think that's accurate.  We wanted it to be big, and "It's All Too Much" is definitely, has that kind of an ending.  And we put on, you know, like the subway sound and we did some vari-speeding on a chime to make it sound like a Doppler effect.  So, yeah, we were looking for one of those big I mean, that was the rage, you know?  (Laughs).  Like, "All You Need Is Love" is the same kind of a thing, and even "Hey Jude," I guess has got that kind of an idea, so (laughs) I always liked those endings (laughs), and I was bound that I was going to have one.  And that song seemed to lend itself to it, 'cause I couldn't think of any other way to end it (laughs)!

DB:  That is a good ending to it.  I hear when I listen to that song I really hear "Penny Lane":  very, very pop, very bouncy, very positive, very pleasant, and then when this ending comes in, it's like that's just so perfect for it.

JW:  Yeah?  Well, I'm glad that you like it, 'cause, you know, it could have it would have been a bummer if it didn't work.  But I think it works.  I think it works for that tune.  And, like we have a Morse code message in it, stuff like that.  We just threw the kitchen sink in, I mean you gotta remember, that was the very first song I got to do as Klaatu, and I was very enthusiastic, and I was very much into my own thing, and you know, I really wanted it to be big.  I wanted it to sound big time and, 'cause, you know at that time, we were criticized heavily for not sounding Canadian.  And I don't know what Canadian sounds like, but nevertheless we were criticized 'cause you see, at that time, the CRTC commission had just come into effect, and they were hassling the radio stations about Canadian content.  And a lot of radio stations refused to play our stuff, because even though it was Canadian content, it didn't sound like Canadian content.  And that used to be frustrating, but at the same time I was cocky enough and young enough to not care.  And not only that, it made me go even more in that direction that I was going in, because I thought, well this is ridiculous.  I mean, I wanna sound whatever I wanna sound like, you know, and if I don't sound what they think is Canadian that's their tough business, you know?  So we were just trying to sound "worldly," you know?  We weren't interested in sounding like the bar band down the street.
 
And, of course, we had a large palette to work with.  I mean, Terry Brown gave us carte blanche:  if I wanted strings, I got 'em.  If I wanted to bring in I mean, originally, that song was recorded on 16 track.  And the 16 track version was mixed down and released as a single, and then the studio subsequently got a 24 track machine and I said to Terry, "Jeez, you know, the ending's not big enough.  There's not enough stuff on it, and it's boring.  You can't listen to that "Brahmsian tunes" thing over and over again without having something in there to keep interest."  I said, "Look, let's bounce this thing down from the 16 to a 24 and let me do some more overdubs."  And he was reluctant at first, but he later agreed, and then we overdubbed a lot of extra stuff on the ending.  And that's the version that you're familiar with all the, with the kitchen sink.  And I think ultimately we were satisfied with how it turned out, yeah.

But that's another song you had asked me what my favourite songs are, and I think "Sub Rosa Subway" is another one that I, if I hear it, I enjoy hearing it.  You know what's really weird, you know how sometimes when you turn the radio on in the car or something like that, and you catch a song in the middle, and you're not quite sure who it is?  And it turns out to be something you're familiar with, and you didn't recognize it at first?  Well, I've had that happen, you know, where I'm sitting in the car -- and I usually don't have the radio on because there's not much on that I really like but I turn on the radio and there'll be a song playing, and I think well, jeez, this sounds interesting, and I start listening to it, and I'll realize it's one of ours (laughs)!  And that's happened on more than one occasion.  Or you hear something from two rooms away, and you don't really get oriented to it you can hear it, but you're not oriented to it.  You're not sure where the downbeat is and things like that, and "Sub Rosa" is like one of those types of songs where, if I hear it, I mistakenly start thinking it's somebody else and then I realize oh jeez, that's ours.  No wonder I like it, right?

But I do think "Sub Rosa" is one of the songs that we did sort of fulfill, ultimately it took a lot of work but we ended up getting what we wanted with it.  It's not the greatest song ever written, and it's not my best song either, but we had a lot of fun doing it.  I guess that's what it boils down to.  And it was also the first song where I got to hear string arrangements on my work, and that was a big thrill.  I can tell you that when we first did the string session it was done in March of '73, I think and we just had done the bed tracks, and when the string session happened, and the strings were on there it just came alive, you know?  I mean, you just started hearing these really beautiful string parts, and it really inspires you to do other things.  But, you see, that's when you're just starting out and everything is new.  After you've been in it for ten years, that sorta wears off a little bit, but that sort of joy of discovery it sort of shows itself in the songs, you know, which is why I think the first album is probably my favourite.

DR MARVELLO

DB:  With "Dr Marvello," is that based on a real person, an existing story line, or something that you came up with?  And I've head that it was influenced by "You Showed Me."  Can you elaborate on that, and who plays the sitar?

JW:  First of all, it's something I just came up with.  It's not a real person, it's just a psychedelic exercise.  And yes, it was influenced by "You Showed Me."  I was a big Turtles fan, and I really liked songs that were in a minor key but didn't sound "down."  And "You Showed Me," was a song like that, where they used a minor key, but it it was a haunting type of sound, but it didn't sound like, depressing, or anything like that.  And I also liked the idea of switching from minor to major mode halfway through a song, and there's a lot of songs out there that do that.  And "Marvello" was sort of done that way.  When you got to the chorus part, the "If that is all you want" part, it changes from minor mode to E major, and you sort of get this real automatic uplift.  And the Turtles sort of had songs like that.  I think "Eleanor" was a song that did that, and the Beatles did that, too, in "Things We Said Today" and also that other one, "I'll Be Back."  There may be others.  But it's just little tricks you pick up from other groups that you know work real well, and it's always fun to try and see if you can apply them in your own song.

DB:  What about the sitar?

JW:  Oh, that was Dee.  We had an electric sitar, and I had written the parts for him, most of the parts, and then at the ending of the song I just asked him to wing it.  But he played that.  We actually got an electric sitar from a session musician who rented it to us, or lent it, whatever it was.  It's a really neat sound, electric sitar.  It's sort of a very very tangible sound.  It's "tactile."  It sounds "wet," and so we thought it would be a good candidate for that.

DB:  In the single recording of it, you sing the middle, but on the album that's been changed to a whispered middle.  Why the change?
 
JW:  (Laughs) I don't know!  We were in the middle of re-mixing some tracks for the album.  "California Jam," "Anus of Uranus" and "Dr Marvello" were all being re-mixed from their single versions to album versions, 'cause we had to get the album put together.  Anyway, so in the course of those sessions, I remember we were doing the mix-down of "Dr Marvello" and I just said to Terry Brown, "Jeez, you know, that middle part, you know it should be whispered.  It's too much singing."  So he let me go out and do the whispering, and we ended up using that.  I'm not so sure it was a good idea, because the melody was actually a pretty good melody, but I don't know why, just at the moment, that's how I felt, so we did it that way.  And I'm not sure which version works better, to be honest with you, but I thought that the whispering was a little bit more mysterious than just singing it.  I think part of it probably was that we had released the single version as a single in 1974, and it died a death.  I mean, we couldn't get airplay.  And I used to hear criticisms back that our music was too sweet, and too soft, and non hard-edged enough and all this kind of stuff.

DB:  Gimme a break, it's good stuff!

JW:  Yeah, well, I guess the whispering may have been an attempt to get away from the super-sweetness, and I guess I don't have a really good answer for you on that, but I can tell you that it was done right in the mix-down session, and there was a resistance to it from the other guys (laughs).  But anyway, it ended up being in there.

SIR BODSWORTH RUGGLESBY III

DB:  "Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III."  What made you decide to change your voice for the song?  Can you describe the session where the voice was recorded?  How did you get the effect?  And is there a story-line to the background of the influence for what caused you to write the song, or is it based on anything or is the style based on something?

JW:  Well the style is very much music-house, you know, barrel-house type of music hall stuff, like that McCartney did so well.  I have to admit I'm a huge fan of McCartney, particularly in his Beatle days.  I'm also actually a big fan of anything he did, but that song was sort of a I mean, like things like "When I'm Sixty-Four" and those kinds of deals, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and that, I always thought that those songs were kinda neat.  So that song was sort of an exercise in that kind of thing.  I always thought, "Jeez, I'd really like to write something like that."  That was my attempt.
 
It wasn't based on an actual story, it was totally fabricated.  I'm not sure where the inspiration for something like that comes, but I used to keep a list of weird-sounding words that I would You know, every once in a while, if I came across a word that I thought was sort of a neat word, I'd sort of write it down on this list.  And I think that some of the words, like the title, may have come from that somehow, but I'm not sure.  I think it was just an imaginary type thing.  And of course, then it builds on itself, right?  Like, once you've come up with this concept -- that may be totally out of thin air -- but once you come up with the concept, you know, you start working on it and then it sort of feeds off itself.  And if you get lucky, and you get inspired, and it doesn't always happen, but if you do, sometimes you'll find that you come up with ideas that elaborate on the concept and work well.  And I think lyrically that song holds together pretty well.

The vocals actually, the way the vocals came about, it was originally not intended to be sung the way that the version ended up being done.  But we had done all the bed tracks and I'm not sure if the strings and the woodwinds were on at that point or not but the bed track was quite solid, and when I went to do the vocals, I just sang it in a normal voice, and I got the message over the headphones from the control room that it sounds like Bobby Sherman.  And they were sorta really coming down (on me), and of course when you're out there trying to sing something, it's hard enough singing in the first place without having that kinda stuff.  I said, "Okay, I'll tell you what I want you to do.  I want you to speed the tape up by a lot.  Just do it.  Never mind asking me why, just do it.  I want to try something."  And they did.  They vari-speeded it up so that the song played back to me very quickly, and then as it started playing back and the vocals came, I started singing in this sort of Popeye voice.  And I could see from the reaction in the control room that they were just going wild in there.  They thought that this was incredible.  So then after the original pass, we slowed the tape back down to normal speed and listened to it, and it sounded like an old sailor.  So we all thought that that was the way to go, so we just took it from there.  But it was just a spur of the moment thing, it wasn't intended to be that way.  When you were told that you sounded like Bobby Sherman, that wasn't meant to be a compliment (laughs)!  And of course, the song had so much, was very cartoony to begin with, musically, and lyrically, so it made sense to make the vocal a little, uh, weird.

DB:  Why the "Intermission"?

JW:  You mean in the middle part, where it goes (sings) ba-baah, ba-baah ?  That part?

DB:  Yeah.

JW:  I don't know.  It was supposed to be a solo.  The solo was originally supposed to be done on guitar, which it was, and that guitar solo was played by a studio engineer at the time, Steve Vaughan, who was a guitar player as well.  And he had this beautiful guitar I can't remember what it was, now but it was a semi-acoustic-electric or whatever it was, but it had a great sound and he put this incredible compression on it.  I told him what I wanted, and he played it, and doubled it, and it just sounded great, and I thought "It's just a guitar, so it needs one more thing," so I asked him to slow the tape down, and I went out there and started doing this "bup-bow" thing.  And then when we put the tape back up to normal speed, it made it go higher in pitch, and it sounded like a little voice.

So, that's where that came from, and it still wasn't enough, 'cause every time it came to the end of it where it modulates, we kept wondering "Jeez, we need something else."  You know, the guy stops singing and he hasn't sung for a long time.  So we ended up doing this Terry Brown, I think, thought of the idea of a pipe, and so we put this thing on where the guy was lighting the pipe, I think, and then taking a few puffs out of it, or whatever it was.  But it was supposed to simply be one of those corn-pipes, you know, that a sailor would use.  Sort of like a Lionel Barrymore type of a -- I don't know if you're familiar with that film.  What was film where he played the Captain and the boy's father?  Anyway, it was sort of like one of those things, you know, where an old sailor with a pipe, you know

DB:  You can hear the match.

JW:  You can hear the match, and there's the puffing of lighting the pipe, and he goes "So " and I think he chokes, and then he says "So off he went around the world."  Oh, and that leads into the solo.  That's what it was, right.  We needed to segue into the solo.  And so, I don't know.  Why does it happen?  'Cause somebody thought of it, and the rest of us thought it was a good idea, and we tried it, and it turned out that we liked it, so we kept it.

DB:  You've mentioned songs seeming to take on a life of their own after you get the initial idea.  When you start writing, do you start with the music first or the lyrics first?
 
JW:  Oh boy.  It varies, you know?  It just varies.  Like in the case of "Calling Occupants" you asked me about "Calling Occupants" and I wanted to mention something and forgot, but it follows on this sort of a question.  First of all, I was a big UFO freak when I was in my early twenties, and I went to the library and got some books out about UFOs.  Like, serious books.  And one of them I can't remember what it was called but it had an article in it about telepathic communication with extra-terrestrial life.  And it had this thing about World Contact Day that actually took place sometime in 1951, and it had the recitation that everybody had to think at the same time, and all this kind of it started off with "Calling occupants of interplanetary craft" and "we are your friends" and all of this kinda stuff.  And so, in a case like that, the idea really came from that and the lyrics really came first, because I just sort of took the ideas that they had in this recitation, and just made lyrics from it.  I mean, it's similar to what Lennon did off "Benefit for Mr Kite," you know

DB:  With the poster, yeah.

JW:  -- where he supposedly had a circus poster, and it had all the Hendersons on it and everything else.  And this is a similar type of deal where I had this article.  And when I read the article, the thought that came to my mind was "Wouldn't it be neat to have a song that did this?"  And that every time it got played, it was sort of like another World Contact Day, you know what I mean?  If people sang along, it was sort of in keeping with the intent of what it was supposed to be.  So I thought that was a great idea for a song, so that's how that you know, the lyrics came first in a case like that.  And the chorus, the "calling occupants" part, the melody was really written after the phrase was invented.

Now there's other times when the melody came first.  Gee, let me think of an example.  Well, I think "Magentalane."  The song "Magentalane" started off as a different song altogether.  It had nothing to do with "Magentalane."  In fact, the song that's called "Magentalane" was not actually part of the original Magentalane Suite that was written ten years before.  It was another song that had nothing to do with it.  And I think it was called "I Love," and it was just a little ditty and I knew it wasn't going to get recorded.  But I liked the melody, so I re-wrote the lyric for that.  So in a case like that, the melody was already written, but I sorta had to do lyrics afterwards.  And all the lyrics were done to that after the melody was established.

"Routine Day" gee whiz, that's question of being both at the same time.  "Routine Day" sorta just, nothing was written at first, and it just sorta came together.  So, in answer to your question, it varies from tune to tune and there's no set formula.  Some writers do habitually write one or the other first, but I'm not one of them.
 



© 1997 Dave Bradley