For optimum enjoyment, please tune in The Mal Thursday Show #4: Songs the Lyres Taught Us.
Here's Part One:
KOEN GOOSSENS: How did you first become interested in music? What music did you grow up with? When did you start playing the organ?
JEFF CONOLLY: I remember being four years old and the day we moved away from Albany, New York....We said goodbye, visited some family who had an electronic piano/organ, but it looked just like a regular piano. Also, I used to bang away at my grandma’s baby grand when we stayed with them in New Hampshire. There was a Sears Silvertone record player that my parents owned and they had a few LPs, not much. I think I really liked Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” that got heavy play, and also “76 Trombones”…That was kinda the “96 Tears” of its day.
KOEN GOOSSENS: What was the music scene like in Boston when you joined DMZ?
JEFF CONOLLY: Very local, not much, the real rock ‘n’ roll groups were very underground. Then in the spring of 1976, it just kinda appeared all of the sudden everybody wanted in on this thing and it turned into a scene, almost overnight. Remember, this was the 200-year Bicentennial Anniversary of the USA, and people in Boston were very energized already.
KOEN GOOSSENS: It’s a widespread rumor that almost every musician in Boston joined your ranks at one time or another. I checked the DMZ/Lyres Family Tree and the list is pretty impressive indeed. How come DMZ and Lyres have had so many different line-ups?
JEFF CONOLLY: That’s an exaggerated rumor, of course. The music that DMZ and Lyres were perpetrating was not the kind that lent itself to great success on a commercial scale. People left to go back to University, to better-paying bands, like what became the Cars. DMZ and Lyres have musical leanings that make stability of the line-ups nearly impossible. I get along with almost everybody who’s been involved.
KOEN GOOSSENS: The list of songs that DMZ and Lyres did cover versions of is quite impressive as well. Where did you find all these nuggets? Are you a big record collector? When did you start collecting records?
JEFF CONOLLY: My favorite and first band were the Searchers and they were the role model for me as far as searching out undervalued songs and ideas. That pretty much underscores 99.9% of all my activity. There’s that intoxicating rush of “hearing” a song that’s been there all along, that makes you say, “Where was I? How come it took me so long to find this?”
KOEN GOOSSENS: Some of the original versions appeared on ’60s garage comps long after you decided to cover them. Did you get any credit for that? After all, it was you who re-discovered them in the first place.
JEFF CONOLLY: I’ve gotten a tiny amount of recognition, but I’m not fooled by that – it’s the songs and recordings that are the real payoff. Another huge payoff for me has been the chance to actually meet some of these great people who are the real creators. I’m talking guys like Vladimir Tax [the Outsiders], Kenny Daniels [Kenny & the Kasuals], Rudy Martinez and Frankie Rodriguez [Question Mark & the Mysterians]…I don’t consider that “name-dropping,” but I could do that, too…It’s just not that important, although you do get a certain rush…
KOEN GOOSSENS: Is it important to you that a song/band is obscure before you do a cover?
JEFF CONOLLY: I think it matters in the sense that it makes you feel like an explorer who’s made a discovery and you shout “Eureka!” then of course, later on, you find out that Billy Childish already did a re-recording of it ten years ago…
KOEN GOOSSENS: I got lots of feedback from people that were amazed that so many songs they thought were Lyres originals are in fact covers. You have the gift to totally make cover songs your own when you record them. Maybe that’s why people think they’re original Lyres tunes. When you listen to On Fyre, for instance, you don’t get the impression that there’s five covers on the album at all. They all have the unmistakable Lyres touch.
JEFF CONOLLY: That’s a nice compliment for the band and myself, thanks. I can’t really comment on that, because it’s something I’m trying to deal with all the time…
KOEN GOOSSENS: When DMZ started doing songs by Northwest bands the Sonics (“He’s Waiting,” “Shot Down,” and “Strychnine”) and the Wailers (“Out of Our Tree”), they were completely unknown to most of us. I had to wait until their stuff was re-released before I had a chance to hear the original versions.
JEFF CONOLLY: Well, you could accuse us of exploiting the originals. That’s fair, too.
KOEN GOOSSENS: Obviously, the Stooges were a major influence on DMZ, weren’t they? I think that you are one of the few people that can really handle a Stooges cover…I’ve heard dozens of bad Stooges covers, more than I care to remember. Why do you think it took so long for the Stooges to get the credit they deserved?
JEFF CONOLLY: I think the Stooges were totally, totally misunderstood by the rock audience when their first album came out in 1969. But I don’t think that the group “Open Mind” did very well that year, either. There were lots of bands that were so far ahead of the ’60s, even back as far as 1966, that there was simply no chance of any real sort of recognition. And that’s probably the way it was supposed to be. It probably made that music all the more angry and counter to everything else that was accepted back then. By the time of the Stooges’ second album, even people in my school were aware that something very, very strange was coming…There were only a few people back then who had ever listened to the second Velvet Underground LP, let alone understood it.
The one guy who slipped through this net was Jim Morrison. A total disturbing freak. A lot of people liked the Doors’ recordings, but got turned off by the live “performance.” It was simply too advanced for a lot of people. Of course, across the ocean, it was easier for people to “hear” what was going on in the USA. There were plenty of advanced, ahead of their time recordings produced in the UK and the Continent as well. It took a newer, younger crop of creepy like Johnny Lydon, et cetera, kids that were born in the ’50s, to make it acceptable, finally, for lots and lots more people to finally come around and say, “Yeah, aren’t the Stooges great?” – only ten years later! That’s the way it is in music sometimes: you need that distance to really something…However, I don’t see myself enjoying Britney Spears or ‘N’ Sync ever! Not ten years from now, not ever!!!!!
KOEN GOOSSENS: The Outsiders are undoubtedly big faves of yours. Lyres have covered no less than four Outsiders songs [“I Love Her Still, I Always Will,” “Sun’s Going Down,” “Teach Me to Forget You,” and “Touch] and one more by their lead singer Wally Tax [“You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”]. What, in your opinion makes them so unique?
JEFF CONOLLY: They did their own stuff. Period. They are unique, very, very artistic, but at the same time, very brutal and frank.
KOEN GOOSSENS: You must have been very proud when you did the VPRO show together with Wally Tax. Was that the first time you guys met? Whose idea was it to team Wally Tax and Lyres?
JEFF CONOLLY: The promoter, Wim, said he had a “surprise” for me. That’s all I remember. I was very nervous and very freaked out that day, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world. For me, it was a hallucinatory, magical day. It sounds conceited, but I’m proud of some of the things I accomplished during that period. I’m allowed to be proud of that! Right now, I’m trying to get together with Dave Aguilar, the singer of the Chocolate Watchband. He works right up the road from where I live, at Harvard University. We’ve been friends for a few years now…
KOEN GOOSSENS: Was Wally Tax aware that you guys were covering his tunes halfway around the world?
JEFF CONOLLY: He’s got his finger on a lot of pulses – he’s very aware and a great person to hang out with, even when he’s down, he’s still very witty, and often quite hilarious. [Tax died in 2005.]
KOEN GOOSSENS: Let’s talk about the Kinks. Collecting Kinks covers is one of my passions, and you’ve done no less than five Kinks covers! “Tired of Waiting,” is especially cool. I reckon it to be the best Kinks cover ever. It’s so different, you kinda took it to anther level. I never really liked the original Kinks version – although the newly released BBC version really smokes! – but Lyres made me notice what a great song it truly is. Where did you get the idea to give it that slow, menacing approach?
JEFF CONOLLY: Kenny and the Kasuals meets Ray Davies…Back then it seemed an OK mutation.
KOEN GOOSSENS: DMZ did cover versions of songs by other British groups like the Pretty Things, the Troggs, the Beatles, the Stones, Them – How did the Boston audience respond to this, way back in the mid-’70s? Were there any other bands from Boston that played this material?
JEFF CONOLLY: Some of these rock tunes translate better than others. DMZ and Lyres always had a bit og the “think tank” streak in it. All the other bands did it to some extent, but we were the ones that “painted ourselves into a ’60s corner,” according to one big guy…
TO BE CONTINUED...