SIR ARMY SUIT
DB: Sir Army Suit. You seemed to have less of a control over the album at least as far as your contributions go, there was a lot more Dee there than there had been before. Why?
JW: Gee whiz, that's a delicate question, but essentially I sort
of stepped back a little bit, on purpose. Like, I mean, I talked
to Dee about that before we did the album. A couple of things:
the Hope album was an extremely demanding album, particularly on me, because
I had to do so much writing and I was playing – I had to push my envelope
a lot. I had to work really hard just to be able to play what I was
trying to write (laughs). Like some of those piano parts, I can't
even play them now! I had to do a lot of work, and a lot of the Hope
album was written – it wasn't pre-written. I had to write and arrange
and play and the whole deal, so it was a very demanding album.
And when the smoke cleared, after the Hope album, I realized that Dee only got two songs on the Hope album. And on the first album, we had a more equal type of distribution. So I kind of took Dee aside and said, "Look Dee, you know, on the next album if you sort of want to get a little extra stuff in there, it's okay by me. You know, I don't mind that. I'll back off a little bit," because I realized I got a little carried away on the Hope album, you know … the way it worked out, Dee ended up with a lot less play time on his songs than we originally would have liked, so I just thought it might be a good idea. Plus, you know, I was burned out anyway, so – and I did have some songs, like "Routine Day" was written just before Sir Army Suit went into recording. So I had that, and I had "Dear Christine" which I had written in 1971 that I wanted to do, and I also had … what was it? "Tokeymor" was written just before "A Routine Day" was … and I don't know if I have anything else on there or not. Oh, and "Silly Boys." "Silly Boys" was actually "Anus of Uranus" backwards.
DB: Yeah, I've actually played it backwards.
JW: And that was actually my idea. I came up to Dee and – but Dee is totally responsible for the "Silly Boys" version that you hear. Like what happened was, when we first recorded back in 1973, the very first thing we recorded was "Hanus of Uranus." And we recorded the bed tracks, and Dee put a rough vocal down, and I took a monitor mix home and I was so enthusiastic I played it backwards. And as I was playing it backwards, I could pick out words in the backwards vocals that weren't there. But they were, to me, they were very distinct. So I sat down and wrote these lyrics, I listened to it about ten times, and copied down what I thought I was hearing, phonetically. And then the next time I went to the studio I said, "Dee, check this out!" And I said, "Put 'Anus of Uranus' on backwards," and I handed him the lyric sheet that I had written out, and he and Terry Brown listened to it and said "Hey, that's great! We should do that as a song," because it was a totally different song. And that was back in 1973. And so we said, "Yeah, that's great" and then we put it away. And we didn't do anything with it. And when Sir Army Suit came along I suggested to Dee that – and Sir Army Suit, actually the words "sir army suit" come from that backward lyric. And I said to Dee why don't we do the Sir Army Suit thing, like, the "Anus of Uranus" backwards on this one? I said take it and do something with it, and he did. And he ended up, that's what "Silly Boys" ended up being. He did that, and he had a whole bunch of material that he wanted to do, like "Older" and "Manson" and … I can't remember what the other ones are now. So anyway, that's how that came about. It wasn't – it's just that Dee and I agreed that he was going to get more representation on the third album, in sort of compensation for the fact that on the Hope album he didn't quite get as much representation as maybe we would have liked him to have. And so that's certainly how that worked out.
A ROUTINE DAY
DB: "Routine Day." Very introspective sounding and obviously a little bit of mythology tacked onto the end. Did you have a large interest in mythology, and is there introspection about you in that song, or is it just again another artistic idea?
JW: It's just really a projection, you know, an artistic idea. Like, I mean, when you're writing a song like that you try and project yourself into the situation, and then, you know – because at the time, I was actually working at the recording studio, and I was quite happy doing that, you know, I was actually quite happy working. It's not really, what do you call it, autobiographical or anything like that. So you just try and sort of project yourself into that kind of a deal.
Actually, that song was a very lucky song in the sense that it came pretty fast. Partly because, you know, I was in the studio, the studio had some down-time, there was nobody there. And they had a beautiful grand piano in the studio, and it sounds great 'cause like the studio was sound-treated. And you're sitting there playing this beautiful grand piano, and the sound of the piano itself is inspiring. So that song sort of just came. I just remember playing F6th, and all of a sudden I realized I had somewhere to go with it, and I just kept going. And it was sort of inspired by, musically it was inspired by – not inspired, that's too strong a word – influenced in the way it went by Gilbert O'Sullivan's work, because I always admired the way Gilbert O'Sullivan used very complicated chords but he used them in a way that was very melodic. I mean anybody can put together – any musician can put together a song that's got a lot of fat chords in it, but what does it sound like when the smoke clears? A lot of fat chords. I mean it doesn't have any thread, where Gilbert O'Sullivan used to take those chords and put them in such a way that the melody is what sort of worked, and it tied it together … So you get the best of both worlds: you get this nice, lilting melody but you get this rich, harmonic texture underneath it, you know.
I think Paul Simon would be another person I would put in that category.
If you listen to the Bookends album, there's a song there called "Overs"
I think, where he uses very rich – what some people might call jazz chords,
where they're not just simple chords, like, there's a lot of notes in them
– and he uses that, but at the same time he ties it together so beautifully
with a nice, memorable melody that you're not even cognizant of the fact
that the chords are really fat, rich chords. But at the same time,
those chords are giving a lot of harmonic structure to the overall sound
of it. You don't know why you like it, you just know that it sounds
And so that was an attempt to put a song together with those kinds of chords – dissonant chords, I guess, some of them would be. But at the same time it sort of gives a bittersweet quality to the sound. And then if you're lucky enough to find the melody that sits on top of that and doesn't sound like it's got an anchor dragged on it, you're doing okay. And that's what happened with that song. I started trying to use these fat, rich chords and it just sort of came. You get lucky. Every once in a while you get lucky where the song almost writes itself, and the lyrics sort of came – just came. But it wasn't introspective in the way – I wasn't thinking about my own situation, I was just sort of projecting myself.
As far as the mythology part of it's concerned, I'm not really a hardcore mythology fan, but in high school, one of our courses taught mythology. I think it was an English course, where we had to read a book about mythology, and I know I was fascinated by mythology when I was in my early teens. And I used to go the library and read books about the guy that – Icarus with the wings, and all that stuff. I always thought that was sort of like Jules Verne, you know? It was sort of fantasy, but it's not – there's sort of an element of reality in it, too. And so that's where that line about Charon comes. I guess I remembered enough that Charon was the ferryman to the underworld, right (laughs)? And that's probably all I know, so don't quiz me about my knowledge of mythology!
And when you're writing, some things from your own background crop up, but usually they're academic things like that. Like in my case, you know, it might be something academic like that, where I just happen to remember "Who was the name of the guy that … " and I had the idea about the guy standing on the pier waiting for the ferry to take him to the underworld – in other words, the guy's suicidal. And I thought, "Who's the name of the guy … " and then I thought, "Oh yeah! It's Charon." And how do you pronounce that? Is it "chair-on?" "care-on?" I wasn't sure, you know, but I just went with "care-on." But I knew that that one word would say more than I could say in ten verses. So I used it. And I also knew that like ninety percent of the audience wouldn't know who Charon was, but I didn't care.
I guess that's what you call, at the risk of sounding pompous, it's
one of the few times that I did something where I felt inspired.
Like, the music, the song came from an inspiration, and it came quickly.
You know, sometimes you work on a song that's not inspired, and you work
and you work and you work and you work, and it's really drudgery.
And then when the smoke clears, you pound it out and you end up with something
respectable, but it's not inspired. Whereas the other time, you'll
work on a song that just sort of comes, and that was one of those ones.
DB: "Juicy Luicy." I understand that that was around before the first album and that there are even early recordings of it. How did that evolve into disco? How did it start, how did it get where it went?
JW: Well, actually, "Juicy Luicy" was written when I was working at the studio as an assistant engineer. Let's see, when would that have been? Sometime around 1976-77, in there somewhere. And it wasn't originally a disco song, it was originally sort of like a pop-rock song, and … I mean it's not really a very distinguished song, let's face it. It's s just a throwaway. But I did a demo of it at the studio with Steve Vaughan engineering for me. He was one of the head engineers at the time, and when there was down studio time, every once in a while we'd go in and use the studio for ourselves because we didn't have to pay for it. And we'd throw something quick and dirty together, and so that's what we did. And I had it pretty well all written, but then it just went on the shelf, you know, because it really wasn't suitable for anything.
I mean, every once it a while I would come up with something that I knew wasn't really vintage Klaatu material, but I still wanted to get it down, because if I didn't I would forget it. So that was a case like that, where I had this idea, and I knew it wasn't Grammy material, but I knew it was good enough to at least put down, so we did. And then it just sat on the shelf for a couple of years, and then when it came time to do Sir Army Suit, I needed a song to fill my quota, and I didn't have anything else at the time that I wanted to put forward, so I just chose that one.
But of course, by then, everything was disco. I mean, at that time, you couldn't get anything played unless it was disco. That's all that was being played on Top 40. And so I thought well, I guess we'd better try and throw a disco song on here because if we can get some airplay … So, we ended up doing a – poking fun at disco, though. We didn't want to do just a disco song, we wanted to do a sort of satire. So we ended up adapting "Juicy Luicy" into a disco-type format, because it sort of lent itself to it a little bit, and tried to make it a little bit of a self-effacing type thing. And it actually did get released as a single in Canada, but didn't do very well, so it was an exercise in futility from that respect.
But we were not disco fans; let me make myself very clear: We were not disco fans in any way, shape or form, but you have to remember that in those days there was nothing but disco – even the Bee Gees, who I respect enormously. I always loved the Bee Gees' writing, but they went disco. And when they went disco, I thought hmmm, we're going to have a hell of a time getting airplay, because the album before that, Hope, we virtually got no airplay because it was so underground-sounding. And of course, the record company was pressuring us by then to come up with something more AM, and so "Juicy Luicy" was put forward in that spirit, but at the same time we tried to do it with humor so that it didn't look like we were, you know, going down the disco road with everybody else. So that's really where that came from. I mean, it's certainly not one of my favourite tunes.
DB: "Dear Christine." Beautiful harmonies in the song. Is that all just you, or the whole band, and what instrument starts the song? It sounds like a harmonium.
JW: Good. That's a good question. First of all, I do all the vocals on that. It's all done with overdubbing, between coughs. And the instrument at the beginning was one of those little electric organs that you buy at Woolco. You know, I don't know if you've ever seen them. They don't even sell them anymore, because everything's digital now. But in those days, you know, if you went to Woolco or Woolworth's, or whatever it is, Kresge's, in their musical departments which used to have two fifty-dollar guitars and that's about it, they used to have these little organs that were electric. And essentially how they worked was they had a little fan inside that blew air through these vents, and it was sort of like a pipe organ. Except it had a very reedy sound, and I guess the word "harmonium" that you used is a good description, because that's the closest to the sound. It actually is a harmonium, except that it's not a legitimate harmonium. Like, a real harmonium you pump with your feet. And there actually is a real harmonium on um … oh jeez … what opens up Side 2 of Hope?
DB: "Loneliest of Creatures."
JW: "Loneliest of Creatures." You know that melody in there that's sort of sounds, sort of like a reedy instrument … ?
JW: That's a harmonium. That's a real harmonium. But on "Dear Christine," I bought – there was a plaza across the street from the studio, and I just went over there and bought one. It was like sixty bucks or something. And the only down-side with them was they were noisy, because the little motor inside used to whirr, and so we had to figure out how to record it and not get the sound of the whirring. But I loved – I knew that the sound was right. I was really looking for the sound of a concertina, but I couldn't play one (laughs)! And I knew that this thing would sound – and I always liked that sound, that sort of reedy sound, and so I thought well, gee whiz, if I can't get a concertina then this will have to do. So that's what we used. I don't have it any more, but it was, you know, pretty good little instrument.
DB: "Tokeymor Field." It sounds like a young man's first experience with love. Is the totally-consuming feeling from that about any specific person? Is Tokeymor Field a specific place?
JW: No. I'm sorry, it's not that lofty (laughs). You know, it – I was a big fan of the Young Rascals, and they had a couple of songs from the mid-60s, one was called "How Can I Be Sure" and the other one was the one that was released either just before or just after. Something about love … "Girl Like You?" (sings) "I'm in love with …" yeah. "Girl Like You." Anyway, I was a big R & B fan – I mean, I liked all kinds of music and in those days there was all kinds of great music to like. So "Tokeymor Field" really was the Young Rascals influence finally surfacing (laughs) 'cause it didn't get much chance to surface in Klaatu. And that song wasn't really about any one person, it was just sort of my attempt at doing a Rascals type of song, from that period, and uh … it's just basically just, you know, drudgery. I mean, it's just working. It's just keep going until you get something that holds together. And it's not totally Rascals, because the middle part, the "round ring-a-round" (sic) part definitely is not Rascals, but it's a little on the MOR side. It's, I guess, a little therapy for some people, but it really was just an attempt at doing a happy, nonsensical sort of fantasy-type song.