Last month, I sat down for an interview with Kiloh Smith of the Texas Psych blog. Now that SXSW is over, and I've recovered for the most part, I finally remembered to re-post it here.
How did you get involved in radio?
I started doing college radio at WMUA in Amherst, Mass., back in '87, after I got out of college. I was the lead singer in a local band, the Malarians, and got invited to do a guest DJ thing where I brought in a bunch of garage records, and said stupid things on the air. After that, they gave me my own show, which was the original incarnation of "The Mal Thursday Show." I would mix it up, playing new releases as well as the old buried shit that was my bread and butter, and segue from a Sinatra record to Iggy & the Stooges doing "Louie Louie." By the way, both of my old bands, the Malarians and Mal Thursday & the Cheetahs, are reuniting in June to do a tour of Massachusetts to support the CD reissues of our LP catalog. It's pretty much of tour of Route 9: Boston, Worcester, Northampton, and Amherst. We're doing Boston and Worcester with Lyres, who have done some great Texas covers in their day: "We Sell Soul," "Enough of What I Need," etc.
Where does your interest in sixties psych stem from?
I was a little kid in the '60s, but thanks to AM radio and my older sisters, I got early exposure to not only the Beatles and Paul Revere & the Raiders, but also the Doors, Hendrix, and Vanilla Fudge, as the decade wore on. Like I said in an interview with The Miami Herald last year, "As far as I'm concerned, music's been going downhill since 1966." As John Lennon said, referring to Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, "That's my period and I'll never leave it."
Sixties psych doesn’t seem like a great career move. Why?
Neither is radio, for that matter. And when I was working in commercial radio, I found it pretty much impossible to divorce myself from what I was playing. If I couldn't get off on it, it seemed dishonest to pretend that I did for the benefit of the listening audience. With the podcasts on GaragePunk, I may be preaching to the choir, but I know the audience is digging it. One reason that '60s garage and psych isn't a great career move is that the records were made over 40 years ago, which is to the present day what the roaring '20s were to the '60s. While the baby boomers' death grip on pop culture, combined with the fact that there was more great rock 'n roll made between '64 and '69 than there has been in the four decades since, has kept the music alive, there's no getting around the fact that it's ancient history. Pretty soon it'll be like Doo-Wop, totally marginalized. But not yet, thankfully.
Why Texas Psych?
I don't know if there was something in the water here, or what, but there was more good music coming out of Texas in the '60s than almost every other state in the U.S. Sure, New York and California had the major record companies, and San Francisco got all the hype, but the Texas psychedelic bands not only had a certain purity, they also rocked. Hard. Listen to the 13th Floor Elevators 1966 show at the Avalon Ballroom - none of the San Francisco bands could come close to that intensity. Of course, Janis and Chet Helms gave that scene the Texan flavor that helped put it over the top.
How did the "Texas Tyme Machine" come about? Is the show going to enter into syndication?
When I moved down to Florida in the fall of 2001, I created the "Florida Rocks Again!" radio show. It was my way of giving back to the culture, to show Floridians that so much great music had come from there, that Florida was more than just a national joke about rednecks, retirees, and hanging chads. It also allowed me to play a bunch of great garage and psychedelic records along with the Skynyrd, Tom Petty, and Sam & Dave stuff. Although we had a couple of lengthy runs on commercial radio, there was resistance on the part of most programmers to the overall obscurity of the show. There's also the unavoidable fact that a large percentage of the population wasn't even there in the '60s and '70s. They were in New York or Cuba.
In Texas, it's a different story. People take pride in their culture here, especially in Austin. I wanted to do a Texas version of "Florida Rocks Again!" even though there are already a couple of all-Texas music shows on the local airwaves ("Lone Star State of Mind" on KGSR and "Texas Music Matters" on KUT), I figured there was room for a more rockin' variation on the formula. Again, I could play all those great local '60s records, and give airtime to people like George Kinney, Roky Erickson, and others. I came up with the title "Texas Time Machine," and I even had some investors and a host, Dickie Lee Erwin, who had the right persona. I encountered difficulty in the fact that corporate-controlled commercial radio is not at all receptive to new ideas or specialty programming, which they consider to be an "audience-killer." So if you manage to get your show on the air, you're stuck with a late-night time slot or Sunday mornings, which is not going to attract much in the way in the way of sponsorship. Then I found out that the University of Texas has the trademark on the name "Texas Time Machine," which is some kind of a geographical mapping project. What a waste of a great title! So I changed it to "Tyme" with a Y, like Kenny & the Kasuals' "Journey to Tyme," and rather than wasting a year of my life trying to get the show syndicated for chump change, I decided to make it a regular part of "The Mal Thursday Show," which already has a built-in worldwide audience. And unlike a radio show or streaming internet show, a podcast is available indefinitely, 24/7, and it's free on iTunes.
What has the feedback been like so far?
There have been two all-Texas episodes so far, and I've gotten great feedback not only from the listeners, but from bands and labels here in Texas. The promo CDs have been pouring in, which is great. Also, I'm reaching out to the guys in the '60s bands, and giving them an opportunity to tell their stories. On Volume 3, the surviving members of the Wig are going to tell their tale, accompanied by their 45s and live tapes from the Jade Room.
If no syndication, are any individual stations interested in broadcasting "Texas Tyme Machine." Has there been any interest from the University of Texas at Austin’s student radio station?
I'd like to take a shot at it, but what's more likely is that I'll do "The Mal Thursday Show" on KOOP, the local community FM station, which shares a frequency with the UT student radio station. The UT station is limited to enrolled students, and going to grad school isn't in the cards at the moment! Part of the problem is that I've got a family to support, including two little kids, Liam, 5, and Lola, who's almost 4. I've got to hustle every day just to pay the rent. And I got laid off from my hated Microsoft job last July, so it's not easy. I take whatever gigs I can get. For instance, I'm writing a Classic Movies column for the Austin Examiner, a Celebrity Headlines column for the Dallas edition, in addition to my blog, and I'm up for a featured extra role in the Coen Brothers' remake of True Grit. Luckily, I can ride a horse and I'm growing my hair out for the Malarians reunion tour, so I've got properly Wild West sideburns going on.
Are you going to focus on cities/regions per show? That could be cool.
Oh yeah. The current episode has a segment on the Dallas/Fort Worth area circa '65-'67, taken from Norton Records' great Fort Worth Teen Scene series. Of the new bands I'm playing on the "Texas Tyme Machine" shows, I'm showing a huge bias towards Austin and San Antonio bands, but those are the bands I've seen and heard, and more importantly, that I've gotten promos on. If any bands from the rest of Texas are reading this, send me your stuff. LPs, CDs, mp3s, whatever you've got.
Ten years ago hardly anybody, outside Texas, had heard about this genre on music. What do you attribute the (late) rise in popularity to?
Well, the first renaissance in the genre was in the '80s, when you had all those semi-legit garage and psych comps, and people like Doug Hanners, David Shutt, and Dave Baldwin doing those vinyl releases like Texas Flashbacks, Fire in My Bones and Houston Hallucinations. In the early 2000s, there was a revival of interest in the music when garage rock was declared the Next Big Thing, and Little Steven started doing his "Underground Garage" show, and later his Sirius channel. There have been some great documentaries, like You're Gonna Miss Me and Dirt Road to Psychedelia, and all the fine work of the Roky CD club. There's also the undeniable fact that good music is good music, and people will listen to it if they get the chance. And thanks to the internet, that's easier than it was back in the days of scouring the Goodwills in hopes of finding some obscure psych 45 or waiting around for Pebbles, Vol. 69.
Are you uncovering any new gems? If so, tell us about it.
While most of the records from that era that haven't been completely lost have already been documented, there's still a lot of stuff that remains unheard, that was unissued, or only exists on acetates collecting dust in someone's attic. Researching the show, I'm always hearing great stuff for the first time. Or stuff I haven't listened to in 25 years. And although I'm something of a dinosaur, I'm hearing a lot of new bands that are really incredible. Austin has the Ugly Beats, the Jungle Rockers, Love Collector, the Black Angels, and I'm trying to put a new band together to do some live shows. There's a great band from the UK, the Higher State, who do a killer version of the Golden Dawn's "My Time" on the new episode.
What’s the future of Texas Tyme Machine?
It's going to be more or less a quarterly feature on "The Mal Thursday Show," and if I can get it on the airwaves here in Texas, that will be a bonus. In the meantime, I just want it to be heard by as many as people as possible, especially fans of Texas music, like your readers.