Title: KBCO Interview With Tom Waits
Source: KBCO-C studios Los Angeles (USA), by Bret Saunders. October 13, 1999. Transcription from tape by "Pieter from Holland" as published on the Tom Waits Library. Copyright: KBCO Radio
Date: show aired October 13, 1999
Key words: Mule Variations, Boulder, Paramount Theatre, Chuck E. Weiss, Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet

Picture: Brett Saunders


KBCO Interview With Tom Waits


BS: Hi, it's Bret Saunders here on 97.3 KBCO(1) on channel 1031 in Los Angeles. Glad that you could join us this morning. This is such a fantastic opportunity to have a gentleman in the studio who's been such a big influence on my life and my philosophy. And he's just uh. given such fantastic music. His name is Tom Waits. He's appearing at the Paramount Theatre tonight(2). He appeared last night, by all accounts a fantastic show. Uh Tom Waits, welcome to KBCO's C-studio.

TW: Thanks Bret. Thank you. Good to be here. Wow, haven't been up in Boulder in a long, long time.

BS: Yeah, how long has it been?

TW: (at the piano) I hate to say how long it's been. It's been too long. Let's just say it's been. 20 years? (laughs)

BS: Wow!

TW: Something like that I don't know. I mean I played in Boulder in Tulagi's a long time ago(3). But that's been. you know. I don't have a lot of details about what happened during that period but I've been told we did well, we did rather well at the club yeah.

GS: I'm sure you could sell out Tulagi's at this juncture Tom.

TW: Ok. (laughs)

BS: Not a problem. So maybe you could play something for us? We got a piano in here for you.

TW: Oh boy, you just got right out of the box here huh? Right into the..?

BS: No I mean we could hear some music.

TW: I thought we were gonna talk over. I don't know uh. My choice?

BS: Absolutely, anything you like.

TW: Alright, uhm.

("Picture In A Frame" live at the piano)

BS: Tom Waits here at Studio-C. "I'm gonna love you till the wheels come off". Well THAT is devotion! Those are lyrics of devotion. It may be the strongest pledge I've ever heard. How do you come up with that?

TW: Come up with what?

BS: "I'm gonna love you till the wheels come off".

TW: Oh, that's an old expression yeah. That's an old uh.. one of those old jail house expressions yeah. I guess it means that you have to uh. you have to have your wheels looked at regularly. (laughs)

BS: Rotated!

TW: Yeah, balanced and rotated! (laughs)

BS: (laughs)

TW: Yeah check the rotors, have 'em greased.

BS: Tom, who do you make your music for, or for whom. Is it for an individual, is it for Tom?

TW: Oh uh, I guess yeah it's for me. And uh. ghee I don't know. That's an interesting question, because you know you write a lot of songs that just kind of uhm pass through you and this is really kind of child's work, you know? Children write the best songs. So, you know. You know uh, you're writing for yourself. And then uh. I don't know where they come from, they kinda come from all kinds of places. You build 'em out of things you see and remember and find and felt before and feeling now and uh. you know? Take notes and. you know? I don't know really uh who I write for. Sometimes I'm writing for my wife. Sometimes I'm writing for my kids. Sometimes my neighbours, my friends, my loved ones. It's like selling salve, you know?

BS: (laughs)

TW: I was sent away when I was a kid on the back of a comic book and I could get a signet ring with my own initials on it and uh and I didn't read the small print. And then I got like 12 cases of salve that I was supposed to sell in order to get the ring and everything. It was a scary time for me. And I hid the salve and I wore the ring and then I got a letter from a lawyer saying that you know, I was supposed to be in court that Monday and I was like 7.

BS: Right you were 7 years old!

TW: I don't know. I don't know who you're writing for. Sometimes you just write 'em for music. You just... you have songs that you remember and loved and you just kinda parted the whole thing. You leave in the little things for folks to discover later and. you know they're kinda like containers. Songs are kinda like containers. So I don't know.

BS: Do you have a Tupperware song that would illustrate that right now?

TW: (laughs) .

BS: Your latest CD is called Mule Variations, it's great. Great album.

TW: Okay, yeah that's been out for a while now and "it's doing good" I guess. That's what they say. The title came from uh. my wife always said that I didn't marry a man, she said that I married a mule. So these are Mule Variations. So that's where that came from. (plays piano) I don't know what else to play here. Do you have any requests?

BS: Yeah, I like the one on Mule Variations about the "Come on off the cross we could use the wood." (4)

TW: Alright, right, yeah. I probably ought to do that one with a band. Is the band here?

BS: (laughs)

TW: No? We're all by ourselves here. Uhhhh let's see. Uhm.

(Starts with intro to "Broken Bicycles")

TW: Oh let's not do that one.. Oh here's uh kind of an obscure one! Uh.

("The Fall Of Troy" live at the piano)

BS: Tom Waits at Studio-C here at 97.3 KBCO on channel 1031 in Los Angeles. Tom it's great to have you in front of me. The opportunity to just sit here and talk to you.

TW: Okay. (laughs)

BS: It's been a long time since we've heard new studio material from you. Since recent Mule Variations it had been quite a few years. You've had the Black Rider with William S. Burroughs. (5)

TW: Alright, yeah!

BS: Why. your fans wanna know why it's been such a long time since we heard anything.

TW: Oh I don't know. Uh. traffic school, I was in traffic school for a while and that. It was Harvard Traffic School, so it really uh.

BS: At least it's one of the best!

TW: .got a lot more involved then I ever imagined it would be and so uh. but uh. I don't know. You know I've been uh I don't know what I've been doing. Ice sculptures, plumming, electrical sheetrock, that type of thing. So.

BS: Taking care of stuff around the house.

TW: Taking care of things, yeah.

BS: Which is important.

TW: Fixing fences and uh all that. But uh, you know "time flies" you know. You know, you wait till you got a bunch of stuff together and then you go in and lay it down, you know? Miles Davis always said that "The only reason to write new songs is cause you're sick of the old ones". That kinda happened to me. You play the old ones but you know... it's always much more interesting to play something new. So.

BS: Speaking of new, any new film projects on the horizon perhaps?

TW: Uhhh... film? Uh, let's see what have we got there. Something's coming up uhm. I get a lot of offers, a lot of weird offers.

BS: Is there anything you won't do and you say that's repugnant? I'm not gonna do that!

TW: Uhhhh. No, there's nothing I won't do! (laughs) Just get the money out Bob! That's what she said..

BS: (laughs)

TW: No there's gotta be something I won't do... but I haven't encountered it yet uh... (laughs) Because I don't get that kind of wide range open latitude with offers you know. I mean, I'm not playing romantic leads so. But you know I do uh.you know film is weird you know. I'm not a real.. I do some acting. you know. I mean it's on my card. So, but it's.. The trouble with it is that you're caught there for a long time and you have to kinda bring a book... bring a library really, cause you wait around a lot. So.

BS: It's a massive process.

TW: It is. It's. you're one violin in a very large orchestra. I used to be in conducting myself within my own group. So it's a. it's both you know healthy and uh challenging and a pain in the butt yeah.

BS: So you're gonna be performing at the Paramount Theatre tonight?

TW: Oh yeah, we'll be there.

BS: You're pretty happy with last night's performance?

TW: Yeah it went okay yeah. And the crowd was wild and uh. So yeah, it was a good night and so I hope we'll have as good or better an evening tonight so uh.

BS: Well, we're happy to have you back in Colorado. I just wonder if we could coax one more song out of you if that's possible.

TW: Uh.. I don't know what to play. uhhh. I've done all these slow songs. Uhhh. (plays intro to "I Can't Wait To Get Off Work") I worked at a Pizza place when I was a kid(6). It was next to a mortuary and there were a lot of jokes about the food. And uh. anyway I guess this is the. this is for all the restaurant workers out there in the world.

("I Can't Wait To Get Off Work" live at the piano)

BS: Tom Waits there just isn't enough music for cleaning the bathroom gets appraised(?) you know? This ain't right.

TW: (laughs) So you uh. so you played that Chuck E. Weiss record?(7)

BS: Yeah, Chuck E. Weiss from Colorado.

TW: Yeah Chuck E. ..

BS: . you and your wife were involved as executive producers on that.

TW: That's right yeah. Of course I've known Chuck E. well I've met Chuck E. in about 1974 you know out in front of Ebbet's Field. And so that record was really a labour of love. Chuck E. did most of the work you know. We put up the money and my wife shopped it around and got a lot of interest. You know I'm glad it came out. Everybody seemed to love it. It got a lot of great reviews. He played a lot of shows and uhm... So I was real happy for him. It's really a bizarre combination of uh. it's just like Chuck you know? So it's like sick and touching and loud and you know it's... So I was real glad it came out.

BS: Now is it true that "Chuck E.'s In Love(8) is about him?

TW: Yeah right, it's supposed to be about him.

BS: Colorado guy.

TW: (laughs) Yeah! Colorado guy! When I met Chuck he was wearing a Chinchilla coat.

BS: Yeah.

TW: . and real high platforms, like 4 feet. You know? That was the old days.

BS: Think he was working for the Reagan administration?

TW: No, he was walking in on the ice. He was trying to balance on the ice. It was like February and he was doing this kinda balance-dance you know?

BS: Wow.

TW: And uh.. but yeah the songs on there are great. HE really produced the record. I mean, you know the music, worked with the band he'd been with for a long time, they played a lot of dates and really honed(?) the songs and wrote a lot of stuff just for the record just before he went in and the other stuff was stuff that had been, you know worked on, on the road. So.

BS: One last question for you, Tom. Regarding your career and what you managed to do. I mean you first hit me with "Swordfishtrombones" when I was a teenager.

TW: Aha.

BS: . the music has become progressively more and more interesting and complex. How do you manage to thrive with the major record labels and do what you have been able to do as an artist and do without any compromise? Because let's face it, your records don't sound like everything else you hear on major labels.

TW: Oh yeah. I don't know, I really don't know the answer to that, except that I. I would suggest that to others you know? And there'd probably be more variety and more diversity. Uhm, but you know when you start out you really do have to come in on some kind of uhm. suggested uhm. music that's already there you know? I mean I'm not totally original. I draw from all kinds of sources and I listen to a lot of things and I. you know I don't see myself as completely original you know? But uh. you know. But I'd say that's the . I would recommend that when you are starting out that you stay with your own stuff and find out who you are. And stay with uh.. you minding your own unique qualities and uh.. rather then trying to sound like somebody else. I mean you do start like somebody else and slowly you become so it's kinda like life you know?

BS: Well, Tom it's been a great pleasure having you here in the studio-C.

TW: Okay.

BS: Can we get one more before you go?

TW: I'll play a little bit of that "Jesus' Blood" because I know you like that...

BS: Yeah, it's a great story too.

TW: Well this was the uh. Gavin Bryars and uh this was a song that was discovered through uh uhm.. they did a documentary on songs that people remembered from their childhood. And they interviewed a lot of homeless people in England. And they went under to the bridges and out to the beach and downtown and uhm. and they found people that uhm. asked them what are the songs they carry with them, what are the songs that mean something to them. And there's a lot of people (who) have lost everything and maybe all they've got is you know these memories and these songs and this was one that they found and uhm... So Gavin Bryars orchestrated it and it was called "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet(9) and uh he made a record with that title.

BS: It's a beautiful record too.

TW: But I heard it on my wife's birthday at about 3 o'clock in the morning coming out of the radio. And I didn't know what it was and it went on and on and on. So it's one of those... it almost sounds like a kid's song. Uhm but uh.. I'll just play a little bit of it.

BS: Yeah cause it's 74 minutes long (laughs)

TW: It's 74 minutes and uh. (laughs). Everything's in B-flat today.

("Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" live at the piano)

BS: Thank you Tom Waits here at Studio-C, 97.3 KBCO (Tom Waits laughing in the background) on channel 1031 in Los Angeles.

TW: Okay, good to be here.


(1) 97.3 KBCO: Further reading at http://www.kbco.com/.

(2) Appearing at the Paramount Theatre tonight: refers to the October 12 & 13 shows at the Denver Paramount Theatre.Further reading: Performances

(3) I played in Boulder in Tulagi's a long time ago: This was February 14/15, 1978 at Tulagi's (On The Hill). Boulder, USA. Further reading: Performances

(4) "Come on off the cross we could use the wood.": Quotes from the song "Come On Up To The House" from Mule Variations, 1999.

(5) The Black Rider with William S. Burroughs: Further reading: The Black Rider

(6) I worked at a Pizza place when I was a kid: This was at Napoleone Pizza House ca. 1965 to 1968. Further reading: Napoleone

(7) That Chuck E. Weiss record: refers to Chuck E.'s album 'Extremely Cool' (released February 2 1999). Further reading: Rickie and Chuck

(8) Chuck E.'s In Love: refers to Rickie Lee Jones' 1977 hit "Chuck E.'s in Love."

(9) Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me YetFirst released in 1993 as "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Gavin Bryars" (Label: Point Music 438-823-2). TW contribution: "Tramp And Tom Waits With Full Orchestra" & "Coda: Tom Waits With High Strings"