Drowning With Word in Sight

The Mike Roe Interview

by Mike Scholl (thescholls@comcast.net)

The timing of this interview couldn't have been more perfect, as this edition of The Overground is dedicated to Sacramento artists, of which The 77's are a pillar, despite a somewhat quiet local presence these days. Amidst beeping answering machines and noisy blenders preparing iced lattes, we begin the interview with...

The last two albums have sounded very fresh, are you doing less of the endless, as you've put it, "rehearsals, rehashing and overdubbing?"

Yeah, that's true, well...each song is done under different circumstances, the most recent album was the most (beep) cohesive as far as all being pretty much written around the same time, rehearsed around the same time and recorded at the same time. There were a few tracks that had been written (beep) maybe three or four years ago in various stages, but they hadn't been performed or rehearsed or anything. It was all fresh material for the band and all members of the band worked on it at the same time. Whereas (beep) in the past a lot of the songs were either demos by separate members, and it was done a little bit more by phone. Pray Naked was a composite of demos by my...(beep) myself. That thing really is a pain...

We could do it on the other line, where there's no beep at all.

Yeah, 'cause it's really irritating.

We pick up the conversation where the other answering machine finally kicked on, about demos and how the Strawmen (Mark and Bill Harmon and David Leonhardt) will...

...finally release this stuff hi-fi (on CD), because it's quite good.

I remember one time in your newsletter that you mentioned a solo album, "Roe The Boat Ashore."

Oh, "The Boat Ashore." I plan to do a solo album but I'm not going to do The Boat Ashore right now; that's been shelved for another project called "It's For You." There's like three different albums I want to do and I have to decide which one first. The It's For You project is the easiest to pull off right now, whereas (the other) will be more elaborate, and I don't have the time or the means to do that right now.

There's also live material from "Ping Pong (Over the Abyss)?"

That's true, there's a double live album in the can that was made in '80 and '81, back in the notorious Scratch band era at the Warehouse Ministries. At some point within the next year or two that should come out. You've heard some of it from the "No Sense of History" compilation. "Unsatisfied" is from that and also a couple of other tracks. But, those are not good mixes. Those are real rough, crude... in fact, those weren't even supposed to be released. Those are actually done without my supervision. But real clean, pristine mixes of that stuff will be out, along with probably six songs that we played during that period that have never been released.

I remember getting a newsletter last year with some of that information, but I hadn't heard anymore.

Well, the one thing that we want to do now is release an EP of material from the latest album that was banned from the album or censored or otherwise manipulated. There's a song called "Walking Shoes" that was literally thrown off the record. It was banned. Word (Records) claimed the lyrics were obscene. Then there was "Dave's Blues."

I heard the...

...yeah backmask. And we were very angry about that. That was done behind our back.

Was (a certain word) used?

Yeah..., which we felt was very appropriate and the album sort of climaxed right there and they sort of took the wind right out of it.

Plus it sounds ridiculous, I mean it screwed up the whole rhythm and everything. Did you realize what had happened? I mean did you know beforehand that that was going to happen?

Well, actually I didn't really predict how the words would go, but that would have been my conclusion. And then when I heard it, I had to back up 'cause I thought, "Oh, man something's wrong with the disk." Then I thought, "Oh, I get it now."

Couldn't they have at least said, "make up something else that rhymes?"

Well no, we agreed to do the edit ourselves. We did it a different way (but) they told the mastering engineer what to do. They don't realize how much that hurt us, but it did.

Isn't this like a strike two situation?

It's worse actually. Pray Naked was a piece of cake compared to what they put us through with this record. I mean the first week we turned it in they loved it and then they requested a lyric sheet. Reluctantly, the lyric sheet was sent and when they got it they called up, wanted their money back, accused us of submitting not an album they asked for but secular demos, said it was obscene and devoid of any spiritual value whatsoever and that they were very disappointed.

Holy Cow, (feel I've been milked down brown how now! - ed) all this is already out, done, ready to go, you send them a lyric sheet and they say, "If we would have gotten this ahead of time we would have said forget it?"

Yeah, essentially. We turned the album in on time. The album was delayed for probably five months because of all of this. As it was we were on tour to promote it and they had to drop ship copies to us in order to get them to us on time because of all their buffoonery. That includes taking over the art work. We were lied to about that. You know it was just a really unpleasant experience.

The slide in the middle of the flood sort of thing was their idea?

We had nothing to do with that. We don't dislike the cover, it's just not what we would have done. It's not to say they're bad people, I like all the people, I just don't like how their organization operates. I hope the record does what they want it to do in spite of all this, because they have given it a fair amount of publicity and it's doing very well actually. We're hoping that whatever compromises we made will be worthwhile in the end. I think that kind of way of working is better for artists that would rather have it all done for them.

You're also now with Frank Tate and you've dedicated this album to Jan Eric (Volz - prior management as well as ex-band member de facto). Any comment about prior management?

Sort of, yeah and just the fact that the record kind of reflects a lot of where he might be right now. I just felt it was the end of a chapter really, 'cause Jan didn't really have anything to do with the record this time. He sort of closed up his management company, so we sort of felt it was time to try something different. So, I just wanted to give him that honor.

Kind of like..."Film at Eleven?"

I don't know...that wasn't about that.

Really, it's weird because there's references to "Peacock," "All Fall Down" and "Kite Without Strings" I mean I didn't try to read too much into it...

Oh, I didn't even think of Peacock! Wow, that's crazy! No I... gosh I didn't even notice that.

Wow subliminal, dude...

Yeah, I never would have thought that.

...or subconscious, maybe.

Wow, so you thought that was about Jan?


That's pretty weird.

Well, then it talks about the girl sort of reference and I was like, "Is that just like a foil or something?"

No, it really doesn't have anything to do with Jan at all, but that's interesting, you know. This is always the kind of thing that makes this stuff fun, 'cause you never know what people will get from it. I mean your thing is probably just as valid as anyone else's idea about the song.

I don't know maybe I analyze these things too much. Like, did you plan "88" to be 77 minutes long? That's weird, too.

No, I remember seeing that and I thought, "That's cool." That was just luck.

I guess that really didn't have anything to do with anything...

Well, that's just like the old "Paul is dead" thing with the Beatles. Everyone assumes that they masterminded this and they said there's just no way they could have ever done anything like that or that they would ever take the time to. So, this stuff just kind of happens and it's pretty funny.

Well, when it's moving in that direction, why not give it a nudge?

Well, it's part of what makes rock and roll fun. The mythology of it is half the fun of it. I think that's why people like that sort of thing.

I've seen two acoustic shows at Cafe Montreal. The first one was right after Pray Naked came out. Of course both shows were great, but the first one seemed to have more energy than the second one, are you getting burned out by the acoustic thing or...

We hardly did it all. That was the year that Aaron (Smith - drummer) was on the road a lot with Peacock, Michael Card and we wanted to keep working and we felt that if we stopped working the band would get really down with our morale, you know, which is a constant problem because of the kind of group we are. So, we thought, This acoustic craze is really happening...seems like there's a lot of places we could do it, why don't we just do that for a while?" And we did and it was very helpful especially 'cause we were able to drag out a lot of the oldies that people wished they could have heard us do and we never have done.

Yeah, "Denomination Blues," I remember that.

Yeah or "Something's Holding On," "Different Kind of Light" I mean there's a lot of them. I was very grateful that we did that. I want to do it more. People want the electric show, it's like pulling teeth to get promoters to want to book the thing.

I haven't seen an electric show since '87. We lived in Colorado and came out and I just found out about that show. It was a freak thing, you know "Hey, they're playing at the Warehouse," so we went and saw you guys.

We're really not into playing churches these days.

I think I understand why...if you play churches then the club people won't show up and vice versa.

Well, for a while we were doing pretty well with both, we used to be able to pack the Warehouse and then pack like Melarkey's and other clubs. There was a period around '87 and '88 where we were doing very, very well in both arenas. But then all these terrible things happened and then it got to the point where we shied away from playing locally at all just for a variety of reasons. There's so many bad vibes and we didn't like many of the venues, no one seemed much interested except Dusty down at Cafe Montreal. We weren't drawing and there were so many ugly rumors and just, you know, hideous things that I just lost interest completely. But we'd still do it, we just want it to be the right situation.

© Copyright 1994 Mike L. Scholl