Title: Swordfishtrombones Interview
Source: Swordfishtrombones Interview (excerpts from interviewer's tape). Transcription by Gary Tausch as sent to Raindogs Listserv Discussionlist, August 2, 2001
Date: 1983/ 1984
Key words: Sal Crivello, One From The Heart, Swordfishtrombones, Frank's Wild Years, Dave the Butcher


Swordfishtrombones Interview


Interviewer - let's talk about 10 years with one label and growing up in the music business.
I guess the whole concept is things are gonna be real rough for a while and you're gonna play a lot of real joints and bang on a lot of doors and people are going to treat you like dog meat and then all of a sudden one day - ping! - things are gonna get better and you can look back on 'em as the good old days. The albums that I've made - now, this the first one that I've ever produced so it's the first one that I've had a real firm active role in the direction and the landscape of the music and there's a lot of different barometers for how you're doing. I'm not absolutely sure that making a million dollars and having your face on a lunch box in Connecticut is really what that's all about. I think as long as you're still taking turns and exploring and trying out new things, I think then you're better off.

Interviewer - so what do you do to stay fresh, keep fresh?
The danger after a while is continuing to write the same song again. I think that's what you have to be careful of. So I'm trying to find some new geography, all composers go through that. You get comfortable and familiar with certain territory, whatever it is that you find attractive to write about and deal with and then - I do have a familiar turf that I continue to dig up and look at.

Interviewer - what then becomes an interesting subject & a non interesting subject? - here in this diner?
I like those shoes up there.

Interviewer - the waitress' white shoes?
It's a nice angle from where I am, the variety of sweaters there on the nail, I remember I worked in a restaurant(1) for several years and Sal Crivello who I worked with for 6 years - I never saw him in anything but a paper hat and a white linen shirt and dirty apron and white socks and black tractor tread shoes and one night, it was Christmas Eve I think, I stayed late, he left early and he changed, he went into the little closet and he changed, it was like watching Superman. He went into this little closet and he came out with a sweater shirt and a little gold pepper around his neck and slicked his hair down, tight, stay pressed slack job there and loafers, wild socks and apparently an unbelievable itinerary. He was going to a bowling alley with a girl who was about 6 foot 7, weighed about 220, and I always remember that, the thrill of seeing him dressed as somebody else. I thought he wore that little white uniform everywhere he went. Just like I always thought jazz musicians slept in their clothes and stayed in 4 dollar rooms, drank cheap booze, and lived this whole life of self denial, kind of, you know, in the name of the music, and I found out all these guys wear panty hose, sit out by the swimming pool, play golf in the afternoon, it was really hard for me.

Interviewer - now you personify that image - is that true?
Yeah, that's me.

Interviewer - there isn't then that separation, is there?
Well, I think it's important to at some point to make a distinction between the - certainly the - I think that you can continue to write about certain things without staying overnight there - yeah, I think that's possible, safer, Hubert Selby Jr has a nice family and is very - he writes about the dark side. All depends on how you handle it I guess, the creative process is imagination, memories, nightmares, dismantling certain aspects of this world and putting them back together in the dark. Songs aren't necessarily verbatim chronicles or necessarily journal entries, they're like smoke, it's like it's made out of smoke, the stuff that makes a song, usually a song will remind you of something, take you back somewhere, make you think of somebody or someplace. They're like touchstones, like a mist.

Interviewer - why do it?
It beats working in a fish market, beats working in a slaughterhouse, and you have to do something cause you have to do it, not cause you - it's just a bad habit with me, I get nervous when I'm not writing, I'm usually working on something.

Interviewer - why the 4 year hiatus?
Somewhere in there I worked on One From The Heart with Coppola and I don't know, I get confused as to years, just feel like - it's like a deposition - where were you between August of 81 and September of 82 - I draw a complete blank, I feel like I'm gonna be slapped around and forced to remember. I lost 4 years there but it'll turn up somewhere. No,. I don't remember. I have my own sense of the fiscal year - usually little landmarks on the way, Heartattack & Vine came out I think in 1980 and I worked on that while I was writing music for One From The Heart. I'd been living in Manhattan and I met Coppola and I went to California. I got a little office there at Zoetrope and I started writing songs, I worked on One From The Heart for almost 2 years from actual inception to release so it was a long project You're working with so many other people, you're not on your own, it's an enormous committee, you have to learn how to communicate and cooperate and I put on a suit and tie, shaved, read the paper, had a cup of coffee and went to work along with millions of other Americans. That wore off. No, it was good for me, it disciplined me, it made me - I had to sit in a little room and they'd ring me up on the phone and put memos under my door - it was like working in an office. Builds character, I think the lock was on the outside of the door, not the inside, they were afraid I was gonna go to Acapulco.

Interviewer - Swordfishtrombone is a soundtrack?
Yeah there is some - in some demented fashion I've tried to knit the songs together - I tried to have characters reappear at some point or another so there was some sense of a revue or a follies - that it all had some type of logic. The stuff on the new record is more - there's no saxophones, tuba, trombone, trumpet, bass marimba, accordion, banjo, electric guitar, harmonium, bass boobams, metal ongulongs, African squeeze drums. Tried to find a more exotic orchestra. Much more percussion than I'm used to in the past, I was trying to get it to imitate things that I'm already used to hearing rather than just being separate so it's more like an organized automobile accident and it has some shape to it but it also relates to the real event itself, some of the stuff on Shore Leave is like sound effects, the low trombone is like a bus going by and I got a little more adventurous, I'm still a little timid about it but melody is what really hits me first, melody is the first thing that seduces me. Underground had some - I thought it felt like a Russian march, the music to accompany the activities of a mutant dwarf community in the steam tunnels - that kind of a feel is what I was after. Some of the stuff is familiar territory, Franks Wild Years is Jimmy Smith organ, Ken Nordine attitude, Gin Soaked Boy is some of that old New Orleans thing, Down Down Down is more of a Pentecostal reprimand. 16 Shells - I wanted a chain gang sort of a feel -banging a hammer on an anvil - Huuh - like a work song -Huuh. used brake drum and bell plate and tried to take it outside -certain instruments bring you indoors, other instruments take you outdoors, trying to get that kind of feel on it.

Interviewer - the album is a dramatic expansion of sound.
Just dramatic I don't know how dramatic, I notice places where I pulled back and other places where I stretched out, it's hard to tell immediately till you look over your shoulder and you move on and you say, oh, yeah, that was the place where I went over there so I could come over here I tried to keep as much air in there as I could so there's a sense of the room itself. Biff Dawes(2) and I worked on trying to get a sense of the room, using a lot of different microphones to that end.

On the lyrics to Franks Wild Years.
Crumbling beauty, Frank is a little bit of that American dream gone straight to hell. Frank is more of a commentary on real estate brokers and insurance investigators and defense attorneys, That fear, that button down, 8 o'clock, the whistle blows, Bermuda shorts approach to life. I've never liked chihuahuas.

On Dave the Butcher.
He works at a slaughterhouse in Ireland. He wore two different shoes, an Oxford and a boot and his house was filled with religious items and crucifixes and he worked at a butcher shop. I tried to imagine what was going on in his head while he was cutting up a little pork loin. I wrote everything very close together, all in about two weeks so the songs have a relationship - that's the one I wrote yesterday so today I'll hitch this one to that one so you usually try to leave an end of the one you wrote before open, so it can attach on to the one you're writing next, rather than just a random, arbitrary collection of tunes. I tried to get 'em to knit. It's not entirely successful as far as a libretto, it's just one guy who leaves the old neighbourhood and joins the Merchant Marines, gets in a little trouble in Hong Kong, comes home, marries the girl, burns his house down, and takes off on an adventure, that kind of a story.

Interviewer - there's a strong military feeling - is that you or the character?
More the character than me. Soldiers Things I imagined like a pawnshop and raining outside, a bunch of sailors, all the instruments hanging up, a guy pawning his watch. I lived in National City, every night the place was loaded with sailors so I at one point considered joining the navy but a friend of mine talked me out of it I guess what made it most attractive was the $38.00 a month. I wanted to go to Hong Kong.

On being a singer songwriter in the 80's.
There was a time when songwriters were heralded and considered valuable. Writing is valuable and important, I think, it's what you do with it and where you take it, how you get it to come off the page and onto your forehead. I was never really part of that coffee house scene, I kind of missed that. I've always kind of been on the outside so I started doing this because I didn't fit. So you kind of don't want someone to tell you you fit in over here cause that's why you started doing what you did before. The creative process remains, regardless of whether it's 1939 or 1979 - it remains the same. I'd like to score another film. This stage thing(3) for me is a West Broadway musical revue for lack of a better description of it. It's gonna be kind of a musical sojourn but with more focus on the theatrical aspect of it rather than just a straight performance. It's gonna actually unfold, unravel like - or I'm going to unravel, I don't know which is gonna come first. I've been trying to get it finished so - at a theatre near you soon, Christmas time - not sure.


(1) I worked in a restaurant: Further reading: Napoleone Pizza House

(2) Biff Dawes: collaborated on: The album 'Swordfishtrombones'. Album released: September, 1983. Recording and mixing at Sunset Sound; - The album 'Frank's Wild Years'. Album released: March, 1987. Recording, mixing; - Film crew for 'Big Time' movie (recorded November, 1987). Concert recording & remix; - The album 'Big Time'. Album released: September, 1988. Recording, re-mixing; - The album 'Night On Earth'. Album released: April, 1992. Recording and mixing at Prairie Sun Recording, Cotati/ USA; - The album 'Bone Machine'. Album released: August, 1992. Recording, mixing ("The Ocean Doesn't Want Me", "Jesus Gonna Be Here", "Goin' Out West", "I Don't Wanna Grow Up"); - The album 'The Black Rider'. Album released: September, 1993. Mixing at Sunset Sound factory, Hollywood/ USA; - The album 'Dead Man Walking'. Album released: January, 1996. First engineer ("The Fall Of Troy", "Walk Away")

(3) This stage thing: here it seems Waits has given up the idea of having the script for "Why Is The Dream Always So Much Sweeter Than The Taste?" (written with Paul Hampton) turned into a movie. He's now thinking about a stage play, and of course this would turn out as "Frank's Wild Years", only to premiere in 1986 (at the "St. Briar Street Theatre", Chicago. The Steppenwolf Theatre). It's remarkable to see how long Waits had been living with the idea. It must have been extremely disappointing to see "Frank's Wild Years' being only performed for a couple of months and getting "mixed reviews".