After numerous requests, Sound Magazine has been granted the first in-person interview with Canada's internationally infmaous group - Klaatu. The trio consists of John Woloschuk, Terry Draper and Dee Long, and if you don't recognize their names, don't worry, neither did we.
Fourth member Terry Brown has since bowed out of active involvement in the gruop since his position was purely as a technical advisor and producer. We say this in a highly complimentary sense, for Borwn's perfectionist standards on Klaatu and Hope rank high on the list of audio extravaganzas in our rock library of the '70s. It is worth noting that Nautilus Records in San Francisco has just released the first Klaatu LP as a hlaf-speed cutting, which should be available in the Canadian market in the next few weeks.
A bit of background on Klaatu is, perhaps, in order. First, the group's name was taken from the film The Day The Earth Stood Still . Klaatu was a peace emissary from outer space who landed on earth in the mid 1900's. His arrival on earth was at 3:47 E.S.T., thus the sub-title of Klaatu's debut album.
Prior to the release of the first album, the group had released four singles, two on GRT and two on the Daffodil label. They had also made a brief appearance under their own name in 1975 on the CBC TV program, Keith Hampshire's Music Machine. The tape has since disappeared mysteriously from the CBC archives.
How did the original line-up in the band fall into place and how did you come by the name, Klaatu?
The band started with John and Dee, who were working together in an electronics company, and John connected with (producer) Terry Brown in the course of looking for work in a studio. As it happened, he had some lyrics to some of the songs we had been working on. He didn't get the job, but Terry expressed interest in hearing some of our demo tapes. We had already tried raising some interest in the tapes from a few record companies, so it was a bit of a surprise when we had someone asking us about hearing them. Anyway, we all went down to Toronto Sound (which Terry co-owned with composer Doug Riley at the time) with the tapes, and Terry was obviously excited by what he heard. It became a four-way project from then on; Terry Draper was the third active member in the group, and Terry Brown became our technical advisor and producer.
As for our name, we had gone through a
thousand different ones. We had seen the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still, loved the film and identified with the central character, and simply decided we would call ourselves Klaatu.
The first Klaatu album was three years in the making, it that right?
Yes and no. Yes, it did take three years to make, but it wasn't three years of continuous work. You see, we were still working day jobs, but on Friday nights we would all meet at Toronto Sound and pick up from where we had last left off. Actually, what we were doing was constructing one song at a time, and there would be gaps - sometimes for as long as three months - when we would be writing new material outside the studio. It was a utopian situation, which contributed to the length of time in making the album. We didn't have any formal design of making music a career at this point, and since Terry had virtually given us free reign in the studio, there was none of the usual pressure to produce by a certain deadline, or to contain ourselves to any set budget.
What sort of equipment were you working with on the first album?
Well, we had started off with 16 tracks, but about half-way into the album, we decided to transfer to 24 track. We were heavily into experimentation at the time, and Terry (Brown) was game to let us continue working and re-working the songs. "Little Neutrino," "Sub Rosa Subway" and "Dr. Marvello" were three of the songs that underwent this transfer process, and then we had eight new tracks to work with. As you can well understand, at this point we had not given any thought to reproducing the material live.
Because of your sound, and because of the mystery surrounding the group, a rumour was spread that you were actually the Beatles.
The Beatles rumour happened much later. By the time we had completed the first album, we had met Frank Davies who had signed us to his own label, Daffodil. The album came out, and for a long time nothing happened, so we all started to work on the second album, which was designed as a concept album with some commercial tunes. Hope was also recorded at Toronto Sound, but we all flew into London to record string arrangements with the London Symphony. Doug Riles came across with us, and was actually finishing the string charts on the plane. It was that tight. Anyway, there we were with an 83 piece orchestra... a harrowing experience. Every third or fourth member of
the orchestra had headphones on to hear the bed tracks we had recorded, and of course each member had a chart.
When we returned to complete the mixes on Hope, the first album started to pick up in sales, and Capitol told us we had some more time to work on the second. It was about eight months later that Steve Smith did a piece in the American press, implying that Klaatu might be the Beatles. We thought it a bit of compliment at first, then rather humorous; you see, the biggest point in our favour was that we knew we weren't the Beatles.
When the rumour peaked, there must have been considerable pressure to lay the cards on the table and settle the issue. I mean, the whole thing backfired in Britain, didn't it?
You have to remember that we went into the project as an experiment; it was just a labour of love. We had nothing to do with the Beatles rumour, and we never fed the rumour mill. It was an ironic situation, in a way, because we had avoided the whole "bio-and-meet-the-press" routine because we wanted to concentrate on the music and the music only. We wanted to have nothing to do with the hype process that seems to be so entrenched in the record industry. The irony, of course, is that to avoid the hype we became victim of the biggest hype imaginable.
As for putting our cards on the table and coming out and denying the whole thing, well, if we had done that, our pictures would have been plastered on newspapers from here to Los Angeles, and that was exactly the one thing we wanted to avoid. We had no intentions of becoming well known celebrities. We did want to be creative musicians, however.
Over the years you have come up with some extraordinary vocal effects in the studio. Perhaps you could tell us some of the tricks you have employed?
On "Around The Universe" (Hope), Dee did 24 tracks of vocals, which were fed through a harmonizer which allowed a pitch change. On "Politzania" we fed the vocal through a CB horn and recorded the effect with a microphone. This gave us the sound of an old 78 record.
And the galloping horses on Politzania?
Part of that was lifted from an effects record, part was done with guitar and (laughs), you saw the Holy Grail?, well we also used the old half coconut routine.
Now, you have just completed the fourth album, Endangered Species, which matches you for the first time with an outside producer. What was the thought behind this?
We recorded Endangered Species in Los Angeles with Christopher Bond (who is best known for his work with Hall and Oates). Originally, we had hoped to work with Roy Baker or Alan Parsons, but even though they were both extremely interested, their schedules couldn't conform with ours. Chris Bond's name came up, we met and talked about the project, and he seemed to have the ingredients we felt we needed for this album. You see, musically we felt we were stagnating. It is a common enough thing to happen to a group, especially after three albums. Direction from within can work for so many records and then a catalyst is needed to draw newer ideas out and avoid repetition. Bond had produced all kinds of people and, perhaps even more important, he was an arranger / producer. In other words, we could work directly with him at every stage of the process. We didn't need to go outside for string and horn charts, and that is an important factor to consider when you are working with a concept that needs translating through an intermediary.
Perhaps you could tell us a little about the album. It comes out this month, I understand?
The title, Endangered Species, is actually a song, but one that we left off when we were deciding which of the 25 tunes would
actually be released. The track is about the planet and how we are destroying the life on it.
We took about four months in Toronto writing material and constructing basic arrangements, then we spent two months in Los Angeles recording the album. It is about as basic, structurally, as one is going to hear from us; I mean, we can re-create it pretty well note for note on the stage. Chris did the string arrangements, and the horn tracks were done by Tom Scott.
Again, Chris Bond's approach with us created some new ideas and touches in the studio. He works like a Tasmanian devil because he is used to the L.A. pressure and the need to keep budgets under control. I think we spent as much in the studio in two months in L.A. as we did over eight months in Toronto. The basic rate in L.A. is about $175 an hour, which is not exactly cheap.
So you plan to tour in the next while?
We haven't firmed that up as yet, but yes we do. We are going to wait and see how the album does and are locking in with U.S. management shortly. We want to do a professional show when we go out, so the next while will be spent rehearsing. Whether we will go out alone and play small halls, start off in Europe, play festivals or whatever is something that has yet to be decided. We do want to work out a show, though, that matches the standards we set for ourselves in the studio.
Obviously the Beatles have influences you, but who or what else?
Let's see: "Pretty Ballerina" by the Left Bank was a beautifully constructed melody: that as well as "Walk Away Rene." Some of the Hollies material, their harmonics were gorgeous: Electric Light Orchestra and very definitely 10CC. Albums that might not so much have influenced us as entertained us include Magical Mystery Tour, Revolver, In The Court Of The Crimson King, Giles and Fripp, Fragile and almost anything by Tchaikovsky.