INTERVIEW WITH JOHN WOLOSCHUK
BY DAVID BRADLEY, SEPTEMBER 20, 1997
ON PERFORMING LIVE

DB:  Okay, I have just a couple more questions to wrap things up.  What did you think of performing live?

JW:  It was okay.  I mean, we didn't perform live all that much.  I mean, I was no stranger to it.  I had performed live before Klaatu.  I was never a real big fan of performing live, because you know, the kind of music that I was interested in was hard to do live, unless you had a lot of musicians, and also there was a lack of venues that were suitable for the kind of music that we were doing.  I mean, you can't do stuff like "Little Neutrino" even if you could play it you know, you can't do that in a bar down the street where they want to hear Bob Seger all night.  It just doesn't work.  And you gotta play to your audience, so I didn't mind the concert stuff, because the audience came to hear us.  And that's fine, that was good.  But playing like bars and stuff like that in Sudbury and places like that, where the people weren't there to see us, they were there to get hosed, you know, and they want to hear Led Zeppelin and God knows who else, and Grand Funk, and stuff like that.  It's not the right venue, so

I don't know.  I don't really have a need to, I mean, I was never one of those type of artist that had this overriding need to get affection from the audience and all this kind of stuff.  I was more interested in writing music and having it published.  And so the live is fun, I mean, if you have a good concert and the audience responds, hey, look there's no feeling in the world like having the audience cheering and yelling and holding up posters with your name on it and loving what you're doing.  It's a great feeling.  But it's not enough to make me want to do it for a living.  And then, as I say, there wasn't enough venues in Canada for us to do, and we didn't have enough money to put together an international tour, 'cause it takes big bucks to put together a tour nowadays.  Especially with all the trappings that you need now.  You can't just go out there and play now, and not have, like, sound effects and smoke bombs.  And I was never a big fan of all this spectacle stuff.

DB:  The hype.

JW:  Yeah, to me, if you want to see spectacle, you go to the Barnum & Bailey Circus.  But if you want to hear music, you go to a concert, you know?  And this idea that a concert see, it started off where the spectacle stuff was there, but there was still legitimate concerts, and then it finally got to the point where everybody's using this spectacle stuff, even acts who don't need it.  Even acts who have a repetoire that's so strong that you don't need it, even they're doing that 'cause the audience has come to demand it.  So, I don't know, I'm just not really interested I was never I'm not a big showman.  I mean, I can do it when I need to.  I know how to do it, but, like,  I don't have a longing inside to do it.  But we did have some quite successful concerts in Canada.  Unfortunately we weren't able to play in the States, but we did have some good concerts here.  We played Ontario Place Forum, which doesn't mean much to you, I guess

DB:  No, I've been to Ontario Place.

JW:  Well at the time a lot of big acts go through there, eh?  I mean, the Moody Blues played there, Everly Brothers played there, and we got to play there, and we had an extremely receptive audience.  And, you know, that's great.  I mean, there's nothing like the feeling of having an audience give you a standing ovation after you've done something.  'Cause then you know it really worked (laughs).  You know, it's not all smoke and mirrors (laughs), there's something there.  And we had some of those.  But on the other hand, we also had some times where we played some little bar out in some backwater somewhere, where they didn't even know who we were, and, you know those gigs are not as rewarding.

POST-KLAATU

DB:  After the band broke up, did you continue writing and recording demos?

JW:  A little bit, but not a heck of a lot.  I started working with a fellow named Terry Watkinson, who was a former member of Max Webster, and we worked together doing demos for, I don't know, maybe six months.  Maybe less.  But it didn't really go too far, and we didn't have a lot of commonality as it turned we thought we had more commonality than we actually did, musically.  And that didn't really sort of go anywhere, so
 And then the next thing I got hooked up with was a fellow named Peter Shelley.  Now, there might be some confusion on this.  There's two Peter Shelleys, apparently.  This Peter Shelley is the ex-producer of Alvin Stardust in England.  And actually, he was very successful in England, as a producer, and he's a very good writer.  Anyway, he was in Canada at the time, and he got my name, and we got together.  And we worked together for, probably a year and a half, and we ended up doing a children's album that he wrote, and we co-produced a children's album called Robot Man & Friends, which was tied into an American animated TV series that got to pilot stage, but didn't really get beyond there.  And we have a pretty good relationship.  He was a really good writer.  He was one of those he was a gifted pop writer, and, very good ears.  He wasn't a great musician, but he didn't need to be.  He had a gift for melody and lyric, and he understood pop real well.  And we did write a few things together.  We had one cover in England, one song that he had written, and then I helped co-write a little bit on it, that was released by some artist in England but didn't do all that well.

DB:  What was it called?

JW:  It was called "The Rules Of Love," and I can't remember who the artist was.  It was a female, sort of a disco artist type thing in England, and it didn't do well.  I don't think you're going to be able to find out much about that.  And it was called "Rules Of Love," and it was actually pre-written before I got to it, but I re-wrote the chorus on it, so I got a writing credit on it.  I also co-produced that with him.  So the upshot of working with Peter Shelley was really this Robot Man album that got released on Capitol Records in Canada.  But it sort of died a death because the animated TV series didn't get past pilot stage.

And then I sort of withdrew from that, because at the same time as I was doing that I was completing my studies as an accountant, and I was starting to build my own business as a freelance accountant.  I think I threw the towel in around 1984 and started concentrating 'cause I realized, it was getting to the point where I couldn't do both, you know, where I had to do one or the other.  And I had already been in the music business, and sort of had my turn, and it was getting I don't know.  It was getting harder and harder to get motivated to do it, so and not only that, I didn't want to end up being a lounge act in my fifties.  That didn't interest me, and the kind of material that I wanted to write was getting harder and harder to get placed, because it was becoming less and less in vogue.  And I was constantly getting criticism back that, you know, "You should be listening to this, that and the other thing," and then once you get to that point, it's time to hang it up.  Because, I could still write, but the stuff that I'd be interested in writing, there's only a handful of people out there that'd be interested in spending the money to buy, and life's too short.
 And the other thing, too, is that I don't want to end up watering down I think we left a pretty good legacy.  I mean, if I can blow my own horn here for a second, I think Klaatu left a reasonably good legacy to the fans who are hardcore fans.  And I think by doing something after Klaatu that is substandard, if I would do that, I think that would damage the reputation, the memory of Klaatu for a lot of people.  And I would really not want to do that, 'cause I'm even from the outset of Klaatu, before we had our record even done, I was very much concerned with our image, and the fact that we didn't do personalities, that the music spoke for itself, and we didn't do the hype and we didn't do the spectacles and all that stuff, and if it wasn't in the music then it wasn't going to get done.  And we stuck to that pretty firmly right through, even the fourth album notwithstanding.  And to do something now, afterwards, as a solo artist or anything like that, and have it not measure up to the high standards that we tried to keep while we were in the band, I just think would cheapen the name we worked so hard to establish.  So, unless I had something, you know, I just don't think that I mean, I did it, you know?  Am I going to be able to top the Hope album?  I don't think so, you know.  And I don't think that the audience necessarily want me to, you know (laughs).

I mean, I know that there's a lot of hardcore fans out there, and I know that there's some of them weren't even born when we first started recording.  And that is very flattering.  I mean, to be able to cross generations with music shows that there is something in that music.  Because I think a lot of the contemporary artists who were around when we were doing our thing don't have that kind of longevity.  And I think the reason we do, is we tried so hard to put so much quality in the music, and we tried to make the music stand for itself.  And by gosh it does, because there's lots of people who don't even know who John Woloschuk is, young people who weren't around when we first, when all that Beatle hype happened, who have discovered our music for its own sake, and who enjoy it on that level.  And to me, that's very rewarding.  I find that gratifying.  And to do anything now to sort of dilute that, it takes away some of the mystery, it takes away some you know, it's like all these programs on TV, you know, they have, where they show you how they do the special effects?  Like, I don't want to know how they do the special effects, because once I know how they do them, it's not magic anymore.  You know, sometimes a little bit of mystery and intrigue, less is more, you know?  It's better not to know.  And that's the way I feel.  So yes, in answer to your question, I have puttered, but not seriously, and most of the stuff I've done has been with other people and I just sort of, didn't get too involved.
 'Cause like right now, I'm into my own business now, as an accountant.  And I have to be professional as an accountant.  You can't fake it (laughs).  You either do it well, or you shouldn't be doing it.  So, I'm finding that the time demands, on just staying current with tax changes and all that kind of thing, is such that I really don't have the time, even if I had the will.  I don't really have the time I'd have to give something up that I don't think I really want to.  I mean, if I did anything now, it would be strictly for my own consumption.  Like every once in a while I might get together with some friends and just sing some old songs.  Number one, they won't be my songs, and number two, it's strictly recreational.  You know, it's like some guys get together and play poker every week, every Friday night?  Well, once in a while I get together with a couple of friends and we just sing some old songs.  But, like it's, it's nothing that's all it is.

ANY REGRETS?

 DB:  Knowing what you know now, and looking back over everything, would you have done Klaatu all over again?  And was in a positive or negative experience in your life?

JW:  Yeah, I think I would have done it again.  Yeah.  I don't think I would have changed I mean, I'll quote myself:  When I was 17, I bought my first copy of "Sgt Pepper's.," and I was blown away by it.  I mean, I was just absolutely blown away.  And within 10 years, the whole world was claiming the group that I was in was the Beatles.  And that's got to be looked at as an achievement, I think, one way or the other.  Because nobody would think you were the Beatles unless your music was good to begin with.  And I don't see everybody running around comparing groups that sound like Led Zeppelin to Led Zeppelin.  But, you know, to me, in 10 years I went from like, being just a young guy who was a big fan to writing material  that was of a good enough quality that people actually mistook it for being written by probably two of the greatest writers in pop music that ever lived, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  So, I look at that as an achievement.
 The fact that it didn't quite work out in the final act, that's just, you know, one of those things, and it's time to move on to something else.  You know, I think that overall, no, I wouldn't want to lose that.  I mean, if I had my chance to live all over again and not have the satisfaction of hearing Karen Carpenter sing "Calling Occupants," -- no, no it was worth going through all the hell to hear Karen Carpenter do that.  It was worth going through all the nonsense to have fans such as yourself and others who feel strongly enough about the music that they're calling me up long distance, spending all kinds of dough talking to some guy.  Why?  Because he wrote some neat songs.  I mean, if it wasn't for that, you wouldn't know who you know, I would have no importance to these people at all.  And there's a lot of satisfaction out of writing the material itself.  I mean, if you write a really good song, there's a satisfaction that comes out of that that you get from nothing else.  And in fact, there's nothing else in life you can do I mean, unless you're a painter or a sculptor or something like that but like, if you're an artist of any kind, I think that the gratification you get out of completing something, even though you never achieve perfection -- you're always haunted by the quest of perfection -- but that set aside, the high, the temporary high you get when you finish a song that sounds really neat can't be compared to anything else.  So that was neat, and I think overall you say was it negative or positive no, I think it was positive.  I think it was a positive thing.  But, at the same time, you know, I've done my bit.  I feel like I just want to go on, and just sort of let it go.  I mean, I don't want to continue it, but that doesn't mean that I think the whole thing was a waste of time.  It just means that I'm not prepared to go through it all again.

ON OPENING THE VAULTS

DB:  Something you alluded to earlier, with rarities:  Dee and Terry have intimated that something has always been in the back of their minds, and whether or not that ever comes to fruition or not is yet to be seen, but would you be supportive of a rarities disc?

JW:  It depends on what went on it.

DB:  The collected singles with the different mixes of stuff.  Like "We're Off, You Know" on the single is really beautiful.
 JW:  Actually, I would be in favor of that under certain conditions, and I don't know that I'd want all of them to go public.  Let me put it this way:  I think that if Klaatu does a rarities album, it should be purely that.  It should be stuff that was recorded while Klaatu was Klaatu, that was either demoed and not recorded, or was like, for example, Dee did a song called "For You Girl" that you probably are aware of and may even have a copy of, but it was never put on an album.  It was released as a single only, and I think it's a neat song, and I would like to see that go on a rarites album.  I'd also like to see the original version of "Anus of Uranus" which is called "Hanus of Uranus" to go on.  And there's other things, too, that have been proposed.  There's an original mix-down of the Hope album, which was done in February of 1977 before we did all the overdubs, that has some moments in it that people have said they'd like to see go on there.  I've got some demos here that Dee did and I did although I don't know that I'd want my demos on there.  They're awful rough.  I mean, they're really rough.  I mean, you talk about the Beatles Anthology stuff these are real rough.  Those things are polished compared to some of this stuff (laughs).  But things like that, things that were truly Klaatu, and that I'm not saying it's gonna happen, and I'm not saying I would support it unconditionally, I'm just saying that if we were going to do something like that, I'd want to have input over what went on it and what didn't get on it.

DB:  What about "Woman?"

JW:  Uh, that really wasn't us.  That was sort of a I don't really think that deserves to go on, because that was a weird situation that we sort of got talked into, and we didn't write the song, and uh you know.  I don't know.  I don't think that's representational of I would be much more interested to have a demo of Dee's.  I mean, I've got some demos of Dee's, but he has a whole bunch of tapes that he probably, some of which he may no longer have, but he had other demos that I'd rather see go on it, you know?  I mean, if I was a fan, I would be much more interested in that, than I would of us trying to do some cover of a guy's song for a German TV show.

DB:  What about "Happy New Year, Planet Earth?"  Can you ever see that being released, even in limited-edition for the fans?

JW:  Yeah, I would have no qualms about that.  I don't know if that's possible from a legal standpoint.  I'm not actually sure who owns title to that.  It was done by a couple of people, a man and wife team, that last time I heard were in Los Angeles.  I don't know if they're still there or not, but I'm not sure where the rights are for that, but from an aesthetic point of view, if somebody wanted to release that, no, I have no problems about that.  That was purely the songs were all songs that were taken from the albums, and the animation, by and large, was pretty good.  Although, some of the animations were done after their money ran out, and they're very sketchy.  But, have you ever seen the "Routine Day" animation?

DB:  Yes I have.

JW:  That's an excellent animation.

DB:  Very "Yellow Submarinish."

JW:  Yeah.  Well, I guess they were influenced, too (laughs).  Yeah, in fact it was very much so.  But, no I have no qualms about that, in fact, I think that would be a nice thing for fans to be able to get, but what the mechanics are, legally, of getting it a reality, I don't know.  But I certainly wouldn't let me put it this way:  if somebody was going to do it, I wouldn't stand in their way.

THE BEATLES AND THE DAMAGE DONE

DB:  You've mentioned that, even with the early singles before the first album, you had trouble getting airplay.  You've mentioned being flattered by the Beatles rumor which, rightfully so, that is a fantastic thing to have said about your music that it could be mistaken for John and Paul's work.  And the Beatles rumor certainly increased sales of the first album, it allowed you extra time to re-mix Hope and add some overdubs, it probably allowed you to go on to a fourth and fifth album after your three-album deal was up.  But in the end, do you think that the backlash of that is what hurt the band, or do you think it was more that you couldn't get the airplay, right from the start?

JW:  I don't know.  I don't want to sound like a whiner, but we had a lot of difficulty overcoming that backlash, because we were never able to like, the press that we were getting, especially Stateside, on subsequent releases was a lot more antagonistic towards us than it had been before.  I mean, there's a difference between getting no press and getting bad press.
 When we released our first album in the States, it was released in August of 1976, and we didn't get a lot of action but we got good reviews in Cashbox and Billboard small reviews, but they were favorable.  And we did get some pockets of airplay, but there wasn't a heck of a lot of action, it's true.  But it was a good start.  Definitely was a good start.  And then, when the Beatle rumor happened, it no longer was under our control anymore.  We had said all along, from day one, before even we had put the first note to tape, we had always said that we wanted to remain anonymous.  Not because we were trying to fool anybody, just because we wanted the music to speak for itself.  And we were young, and idealistic, and we thought that was the way to go because at that time, that was the beginning of the glamor-rock era where everybody was wearing outlandish clothes and makeup, and the music seemed to be taking a secondary seat to what it was ten, fifteen years prior to that.  And so, when the Beatle rumor happened, we tried to cling to our anonymity for the same reasons we clung to it before, which is to try and let the music speak for itself but unfortunately, our silence was misinterpreted as complicity in this rumor.  And, as a result of that, we found that the backlash in the press, particularly outside Canada, was pretty rigorous.  And no matter what we did, whether we came out with a concept album like Hope, or whether we went back more towards sort of a pop, AM-ish type of album like Sir Army Suit, or whether we went whole-hog, try to sound American like Endangered Species, I mean, we just couldn't get arrested.  And everytime we made a move, it was the wrong move.

So, I think that it was sort of written on the wall at that point that we weren't gonna live down that original once you make a bad impression, it's really hard to live it down.  And in actual fact, Rolling Stone magazine named us the "Hype of the Year" for 1977.  And once we got that stigma attached to us, you know, you can't shake it.  The only thing we could have done was change our name and start over again, and I wasn't prepared to do that.
 So we tried to soldier on, as best we could, but it became harder and harder to get airplay and to get good press.  And we weren't, we didn't think the music was declining in quality that much.  You know, we thought that it wasn't so much the music and see, 'cause most of the criticisms were repetitions of the Beatle rumor rather than criticisms, and so anyway, we could do no right after that, as far as I know.  And so it just finally got to the point where it just seemed to be a waste of time.  'Cause you know, once you get a bad it's like Orson Welles.  He got a bad rap he does "Citizen Kane," the greatest picture ever made, and then when he was doing "The Magnificent Ambersons," his follow-up picture, he was having some hassles with the Hearst family over the "Citizen Kane" thing, because they thought it was about them.  And he got black-balled, and he never did anything, you know, he never got he was ostracized from that point forward.  And he ended up going to Europe and doing all these little rinky-dink films (laughs), you know, as an actor, and there's a guy who could have done amazing things, but you know, once he got the stigma attached to him it didn't matter how much talent he had.  It was game over.  And it's a tragic thing for him, 'cause he was a genius, but that's what happened.  And at a much lesser level than him, I think a similar kind of deal happened with that Beatle rumor, where it just got out of our control where we no longer were able to change anything.  I mean, we tried to change things for a while, and then I think it just got to the point where and then we had other problems too, contributing, and we had, as I said, we had a litigation with our former publisher and that went on for seven years, and if that doesn't destroy you, you know, there's not too much that will.  And then we started having internal squabbles, which is natural.  I mean, you know, you can only withstand so much negativity before you start doubting yourselves.

One thing I am pleased about is that as the Endangered Species album was done, we had our heads hanging pretty low, as a group.  Everybody was pretty dissatisfied artistically, and when the American company then didn't promote that album after we had sold our souls to them, that was even doubly depressing.  And the fact of the matter was that we turned ourselves around and we were able to put together the Magentalane album, with a Canadian-only release even, and I think we did a pretty good job on that, considering.  So we were able to at least we left gracefully.  It's like the one last gasp type thing, you know?  And at least we left -- I don't have to be ashamed about our body of work, and I'm not.  And I'm really happy that there's guys out there like yourself and others who are real big fans.  I mean, gee, it's amazing when you think about it, that stuff that was recorded 20 years ago is still being appreciated by people who were around then, and people who weren't around then.  I don't know.  That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
 



© 1997 Dave Bradley