|Interview BOCEPHUS KING
April 2004 (by E-mail) www.bocephusking.com
Vancouver Airport, June 2002. Never been there before, actually. We had a long plane ride from Amsterdam behind us and huge delays at Immigration. My friend needed to catch a train into Washington state and managed to talk himself on the already fully filled airportbus. I leisurely took the next one downtown, where Michael Friedman's wife Marilynne was so kind to pick me up. I should really go with her for a while to the music store of Michael's brother, a few blocks away. Trying to forget my jetlag, headache and blown-out left ear, I entered Not Just Another Music Shop. Among the nice people there was also Kate and in our conversation she asked if I knew Bocephus King. I remembered the tape, back home in a drawer, of a session for the shortlived Sundaymorning show "ZondagsKint". Yes, Bocephus King, I knew his music! During the following days Kate (his manager!) tried to arrange a meeting, preferably at a concert but with everybody being busy, that never worked out. So the name of Bocephus King slipped into the back of my mind again, until his superb album "All Children Believe In Heaven" was released and a tour in Italy and The Netherlands soon followed. Never mind the snow alerts last January, I went to the Q-Bus in Leiden and described the show as "a breathtaking rollercoaster ride"! I knew I could expect something very special from our interview too, look only at the man's inventive lyrics... Kate joked: "He basically wrote a book!" It's perfectly fine, we're ready to read Bocephus King's book, aren't we?
Johanna: This is, no doubt, the question everybody has been asking you and still there are misunderstandings. The Name! I thought Bocephus was the nickname and King was the real last name... Please, be so kind to explain one more time how you got the cool Name?
Bocephus: The name? I won it in a game of BINGO in an Odd Fellows Hall in the dirty main street of Tacoma Washington...truth be told, it was the old lady next to me had what they refer to in BINGO circles as a "Black-Out".... all the numbers covered. A big win. I saw that she was about to holler her victory whoop and stepped on the hose that carried pure oxygen from her portable army-green canister to her near-useless lungs, stopping the air flow and causing her to drop like TV from a hotel balcony. I then yelled "BINGOGODDAMMIT!!!!!!!!!!" and showed the runner her card while the lady who sells cans of 7-UP and LUCKY STRIKE filter less cigarettes tried CPR on the ol' broad who was now begging St. Peter for one more last go at this idiotic game. A true gambler must feel constantly that the big one is just a little bit further, just a little.... bit.... fur...thhhh-er away just beyond their sad reach. This breathless broad was no exception. I walked like a general to collect on that which I'd never even won. That which wasn't mine. That which I had lied and cheated for. That which an innocent person was more than likely going to die for. In many ways...I was riding high on the greatest new wave of the American dream. I had arrived. The prize was a well-crafted chess set that depicted the battle of the Bay of Pigs. It made almost no sense and the Castro figurine came off looking like a dark-bearded Smurf. I asked if I could trade it for anything and all they had left was a bus ticket to Nashville. I took it. After a dark, nasty journey (which is, itself, a long and woe-full tale) I arrived in Music City. A limousine was parked out front of the depot and the driver stood outside of it, holding a sign that said " Car for Mr. Bocephus King". I looked cautiously around, didn't see any takers, cleared my throat and nervously said..."Yeah...uh...hmmm. That's uh ...me". I got in... and never got out. I've been King ever since.
Seriously though? I moved to Nashville when I was 19 to write music. I was naive and foolish but got a job regardless, thanks to my California cousin. I'd never heard of Garth Brooks and wasn't really a fan of Pop-country. I've always felt that late 80's/early 90's country music is where all that bad heavy metal fashions and ballads of the earlier 80's hair bands (Poison, RATT, etc..) went to hide their hairspray in shame. This apparently came across in my total inability to write anything they could use or sell. I thought Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson were "country".... but at that time...they were not. That was a problem since all I did was steal theirs and Hank Williams songs ...in chords and spirit at least. So...some of the guys who also worked there...started calling me "Bocephus" as a lark referring to the styles I was always ripping off (Hey! I was only 19!!!). They had all of these song writing nights at various bars and coffee houses and such around town where, when you perform, they sometimes put a chalkboard out front with the names of the many poor fools who'll perform that night. I use to put "Bocephus King" on it so the guys who I worked with would laugh when they saw it. It just stuck.
J: Your latest album "All Children Believe In Heaven" has numerous references to religion, mostly connected in a somewhat negative way. Did you have a religious upbringing and did you get disappointed maybe?
B: I, like so many, was raised loosely Catholic. Catholicism is the perfect religion for the cowardly. It has great numbers, financially and member-wise anyway, and has 10 simple rules required for membership which can be easily ignored right to your deathbed where, upon it, just a few choice words of regret and repentance will get you on Heaven's great guest list. You can be a crazed fuck-up your whole life and just walk into the Kingdom when the golden trumpet calls, forgiven for all of your earthly ridiculousness. It's a win-win religion. All this said however, I still feel great hope and believe that your actions have a holy price. Call it karma, call it God or the Devil I have a pathetic faith that there is somewhere justice waiting for the wicked, define them as you may. The album is haunted by many of these themes, it's true. As for disappointment...I have much, but, like anyone, it's my own expectation in the good of things and people that bring it on like a mad fever. The title refers somewhat to the idea that when you are a child, with luck, you just believe in the good of all things. Then, on comes the brutal reality of the world and that belief is raped and beaten and censored and twisted. It's used by pimps and politicians and salesmen alike to sell and con and scare you. It becomes hard to see anything for what it is anymore. You then have to trust that the faith you had before all of the bullshit, a child's faith, was true and that, although the world seems like a two-bit hustler's scam, it is still filled with beautiful things. That is faith. So... in this shaky world of spin doctors and vile criminal leaders.... to believe in anything is a miracle. The album is somewhat about losing and finding faith. Not necessarily religious faith. Any faith, in these dark times, is a miracle.
J: "Goodnight Forever Montgomery Clift" is one of the most intriguing song titles I heard in years. Could you tell us something about the background of this song? As you also drop other names of old movie stars, we can assume you're interested in film?
B: You assume correctly. Movies are probably my biggest influence. The song's title came to me years ago and then sat patiently waiting for me to write it. Clift's ghost haunts the whole album in many ways. I consider him sort of a human sacrifice laid broken at the altar of the celluloid temple. He was a beautiful and rare actor with a bounty of personal problems. He represents the true cruelty that is the dream of Hollywood. Too good to die...too fucked-up to live. His era is gone, and although I feel movies just keep getting better that time and place seemed touched with something gold and magical. I'm sure I sound like someone hawking nostalgia for late night cash but I believe all the crap spilling on to this screen from my tripping fingers. Old Hollywood made the world seem full of endless possibilities. Everyone is in on the joke now so a bit of the magic is just stardust now. There's always a jaded fool pointing out the wires that make movie-flight possible and when middle class America knows how something is done...it goes in a park and they ride it. I love movies, I love middle America too but Montgomery Clift is dead and there can never be another.
J: "Hollywood" paints the real picture of that place, like I've seen it, 5 a.m. arriving at the bus station. You must have been there too? Are you just an interested observer of the people on the street, alcoholics, junkies, hookers, or do you also feel compassion?
B: Both. I feel for any fool who falls and can't get up. Hell...I'm one of them. Nashville was my Hollywood...19 years old, full of dreams and insane faith that all things would work out. They don't. Wherever people are brave or stupid enough to bring their dreams...there is always vultures waiting to rape and steal and beat that hope away from you and pawn it. The world is filled with love and glory but all it takes is 5 minutes in Hollywood to realize that there is also much evil. America is a corrupt country ruled by drug-dealing fascists who have let their cities become tiny third world slums. Hollywood promises riches and greatness so it draws dreamers like flies and in they go and out, they never come. Not in one piece anyway.
J: I think design and lay-out of the album look just great, was it your idea or did somebody else come up with that concept?
B: I found the poster that the art comes from in Chinatown. It's an old Shanghai cigarette ad. I had a pretty clear idea of what I thought the art should look like. There is a lot of Asian soundtrack influence on the album but the cover has more to do with wanting something that looks both old and new. I find this idea exists peacefully in a lot of Asian art. I took the poster to my manager and said " I want something like this" and she said, " Why not just use that?" and I said, "Is that possible?" and, as you can see...it was.
J: How did you start out in music? What was there first for you, the music or the poetry? What comes first now, as your songs have lots of well-chosen words and just short refrains, not the usual way to write?
B: I started out in music like everyone, crouching, fascinated next to a radio, ear to the speaker, and head in the wires. I could never get enough. The sound seemed physical almost, like I could hold it. It still does at times. I started "writing" by taking songs like "The Yellow Rose Of Texas" and making up my own words while I dug holes in the yard or crept through forests. That turned to writing poems I guess. You could probably call what I started writing poems. They were pretty abstract and got me really worked up. I was never shy about them and read them to mostly confused peers who, at 11 or 12 were not making anything but noise. Young aimless noise. 2 years later I had learned the guitar and a bit of piano and any song anyone would teach me on my brothers Sears guitar and 2 years after that I was playing for money in a bar. Actually it was a lounge but, none-the-less, there I was. Now I usually write a bunch at once. Slowly collecting ideas and melodies and bits of verse and then smashing into them violently for a few months. I've never really developed a sure-fire method. I see all these songs people write that are beyond me. I think " how the hell!?" but I often think "why the hell!?" as well. I put a lot into a song and then...out it goes. You hear it years later and think sometimes "hey, that's not half bad" and of course sometimes you wonder "who is that idiot? Did I really think that?" and... yes, you did.
J: You record with many musicians, many instruments and sounds, various musical influences, layered arrangements. What is your way of working on a song in the studio?
B: I take a song and fill it full of liquor. Then, I take it out for a ride to the farmlands and make it run through open fields while I shoot at it with a Colt 45 that I call "Lil' Bertha". Then, if it lives...I round up whoever is around and cheap as far as musicians go and put em' all in a pick up truck (Usually a Ford) and drive to the nearest studio where at, I lock em' all in a room and throw a raw piece of meat in every few hours. The wretches fight like dogs for the dead cow and soon enough, only the strong and clever remain. Usually, I'll buy the survivors a couple of Moon-pies to gnaw on while I run over the prospective song while urging them to completely ignore their instincts musically and play as if they were dying of a rare flu with only medication and cunning to keep the reaper at bay. Musicians are a savage lot with no concept of fear or justice. A mighty mob that need only a carved piece of wood to spoil any divine evening. Only their inability to evolve to ruin a good cry. If shit was gold they would have no asses. This is why I choose often to work with as few as possible in the studio. For the most part it is just the engineer and myself along with whichever player is doing their part, any more than that and the hired help starts to talk amongst themselves, usually about something either ghastly or mundane and it creates an air of nervous repugnance and the stench of slow death. If one brings their spouse we have to have the entire studio sprayed for Fleetwood Macs. Once those filthy things get into the walls of a studio any old Puff Daddy can come along and build a nest out of old tape and moxy. Studios are expensive, the pressure is tremendous and one tends to break things to keep a clear head...this is the best reason to hire a musician whom no one will miss in the event of a tragic accident. I bury the bodies where no one will look...in the songs. That is why they are so layered, more places to hide that which you don't want found.
J: You're touring with a rather large band in these days of small budgets. Isn't that complicated in various ways (logistics, tension) or is it just more fun? You have a new line-up of your band, time for a fresh approach? Band Of Doom, where does that name come from?
B: If you put any large group of people in a small enough space for a long enough time.... there is going to be tension. As far as logistics go.... there isn't much logic in trying to play music for money so it's a risky and doubtful journey from day one right up to when you are called to a better place.... maybe it's Tokyo, maybe it's Valhalla...but if you go in a little van, as I've said... there will be tension! It's also fun, at times. Other times...you wonder out loud "What the fuck am I doing? I could be in bed with my neighbor's wife and teenage daughter instead of dry humping some drummer's leg, trying to get enough room to twiddle my pinky in this idiotic van on a heartless road heading for another room full of people who would be happier if I dressed like a gay cowboy?!" So you keep switching the line up because the road is no different than prison and all the players get lonely and start making out while pretending to sleep. It gets strange and uncomfortable. Feelings get hurt and hearts get broken and suddenly your bass player and drummer won't sit together and they groove like two snowboarders discussing Oscar Wilde's "Soul Of A Man Under Socialism". The air fills with hatred and pretty soon... one of them is fucking the guitarist and all hell breaks loose. It's best to keep em' moving so they don't fall in love. Musicians fall in love like it was the chocolate river at Willie Wonka's and you can only imagine what desperate filth a flautist would pull on one of the weaker Oompa- Loompas! That's how I arrived at the name " The Band Of Doom" it was originally "The Band Of The Doomed" referring to the type that usually thinks music would be "Fun" or "Crazy" or " Better than blowing cops for quarters down on the wayward strip on a Saturday night when your friends are gone and the sky stares cruelly at your dismal odds it's two thirty am the fifth of June and nothing's on TV."
J: You've been on a European tour recently, in Italy and The Netherlands. When you look back, what were your best experiences? Was there also a worst experience?
B: Europe, itself, is an amazing experience when you come from a place where history begins in the early 1800's (The West Coast) and ends in the early 1980's (Reagenomics). Oh sure.... there's other histories, that of the First Nations people whom we robbed and murdered and practically erased but the more you don't think of it, the less it happened. It seems odd that we North Americans all ran -from other countries from fear of monarchies and fascists only to create a great fascist monarchy over here. Actually, Canada isn't that bad comparatively. So.... Europe huh? Beautiful, grand and full of mysterious women who speak many languages and men who are up to no good and whistle while they work. Coffee that seems God was your Barrista. Ghosts everywhere, too caught up in their own thousand year old drama to pay you the time of day or suffer your bullshit. Bits of Roman and Nazi architectural reminders everywhere saying "Death once lived here." Looking back now, from thousands of miles and pounds of wisdom away.... I can tell you the worst experience without fear of revenge since all of the parties involved are dead or dying or working so hard at a job with no future that they dare not look up and perhaps catch a glimpse of the wretched ditch that is their life. It was a dark and crappy night. On a cruel road near the Swiss/German border, we happened upon the last breaths of the survivors of a horrific car accident. It was around three in the morning and we were exhausted at best and no one is prepared for open skulls when they haven't had at least eight hours in the comfort of a Holiday Inn and even then, it's a little harsh. They drifted one by one out of this world till only one remained. I knelt close to him, holding what was left of his hand. His present condition left little clues as to what he would have been before luck turned on he and his fellow companions, kicking the shit out of all their souls and steering them straight into an oncoming Mercedes hauling chickens...chickens which now, mangled but free from their cages, ran about the highway, screeching like Death's banshees and picking without prejudice at the newly dead. This guy could have been the Pope's right hand man for all I knew. His one working eye half open, he leaned in close to me, I could feel the reaper hovering impatiently above us, occasionally clearing his throat to remind us his time was precious and we were fucking up the thread of fate. The soon-to-be-worm-food came even closer and whispered..." All the money you. c.c.c.ccould dream of..j.j.j..just get me a coke". I got him that Coke.... it cost me all my friends and a quarter of my liver, but I got him that Coke. I wonder in the wee hours sometimes if I made the right decision... then, I look out at my yacht from my bay windows overlooking all of my beach-front wonderland and think " yes, yes I did". The details are hideous and hard to think about, so I try not to.... but, that of which I dare not speak, the four days and five nights after the highway was the worst experience I had in Europe or any other God-forsaken place for that matter.
J: I noticed, that you play the songs quite differently on stage than they are recorded on the album, on purpose or is that just happening? Unfortunately, I could only attend one concert but I heard that your shows were never the same twice. Do you make your plan just before you go on stage, does that depend on your mood or the audience?
B: I love the idea that a live performance, meaning (in my mind at least) the time, the audience, the energy and all other contributing factors can occur only once. On a tired night sometimes, an extraordinary show will happen that no one can see coming. At other times...you can feel like you're gonna change history and all the ages with a feeling and it ends up sounding like talent night at the Jones school for the deaf. I have terrible stage fright as well and it takes a little while till I feel free from vomiting on stage so, with all that...I like to make it harder on myself and others by just winging what we're going to play. At shorter-type gigs I'll make a quasi-list but it is usually short lived and we go back to where it's dangerous and say "yes". The songs are different live than on the records for many reasons, some of which are... I get quite bored playing a song the same all the time. The musicians on stage are rarely, if ever, the musicians on the discs. I like to hear people solo. I like to hear what others may do when leading a song. Now.... for the most part, it's great although in a live search for big musical moments you are gonna have to endure a lot of wanking and bullshit. As I go along I'm sure I'll get closer to what I'm looking for. Hopefully we all will. But, until that time, the mistakes and triumphs are going to have to be made, in public, on a stage. From the audience's point of view, I would hope the idea that they're seeing a one-time thing would be a little special. I know that's how I feel. Life is fleeting and a band pulling through town on a string of one-nighters really drives that truth home. Here tonight...gone tonight.
J: Writing about music is often comparing artists, to make it as clear as possible how somebody sounds. I understand from an article in a music-magazine that you don't like to be compared with anybody? Not even with great people like Warren Zevon and Tom Waits?
B: I don't mind really, being compared with anyone; it's just that after four albums it's frustrating to be still so unknown that you are compared with relatively obscure artists. I know this should be a point of pride and, it is for the most part. I love Warren Zevon and Tom Waits but I feel that when I hear my music...that's not who I personally think that it sounds like. It's different for me of course because I know who my big influences are. I see many musical ideas I have "borrowed" that seem to never be mentioned or noticed by people doing reviews. If you put any of the work I do that is at all similar to Tom Waits...it's gonna look like shit because he does what he does so well and really has a style that is his own and for that fact, untouchable. The truth is.... the songs of mine people consider similar to his are stolen more from Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Durante and Dr John. So it's more a matter of myself wishing people were judging me with a bit wider array of evidence other than stamping "Waits" on anyone who should happen along wearing a pork-pie hat and an old tuba case for a purse. That said though...it's true, there are a lot of fucking losers who are sucking the bones of Tom Waits and Gram Parsons trying to get the last of the meat. It's disgusting, but I swear to you, with John Coltrane as my witness, I'm not one of them. Every album I have made is filled to overflow with various influences from Ennio Morricone to Michael Nesmith. From Gavin Bryars to Elizabeth Taylor. From Akira Kurrosawa to Prince and so on and so forth. So you see, I've trespassed everywhere so deducting it to a few, somewhat recognizable sources is just proof of someone not doing their homework. I'm sure of course that many people hear the discs and think they are not worth the research or effort, that is their privilege but I'll keep making records regardless. Some will love them some will hate them some won't give a shit either way but remember...even if I should sell millions and millions of records, none of it is that important in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps in time, even Ryan Adams will be considered original and some poor songwriter will have to endure comparisons to him. I can just be glad that will never be me.
J: What do you think is best for an artist, to be at his creative peak, a stable living-situation or an adventurous life?
B: It's best to create stable living situations and then destroy them with your adventurous life, over and over, forever and ever amen.
Interview by Johanna J. Bodde, previously published on Real Roots Cafe, The Netherlands.
|Concert Review BOCEPHUS KING & THE BAND OF DOOM
Q-Bus, Leiden NL January 27th, 2004
A breathtaking rollercoaster ride
It's fun to see once again a stage full of instruments in these times of small budgets! Canadian Bocephus King and his five-piece band begin the Dutch leg of their tour in Leiden and can't wish for a better start of course. I've heard a lot of good things about Bocephus already. By the way, that is a nickname from his days in the songfactory of Nashville, which stuck with him. In my big drawer full of tapes I have a radio session from 2000, that was the first thing. Then I visited Vancouver in 2002, a brother of singer-songwriter Michael Friedman has an awesome music store in that city (Not Just Another Music Shop) and there the talents of Bocephus were emphatically pointed out to me. Too bad there was not enough time to get in contact with him, but when you have patience long enough, anything finally happens, right?
Bocephus King climbs on stage at ten minutes to ten, neatly dressed in a darkgrey suit, red shirt, even with a tie AND he wears a grey hat, cool! He addresses us as "Q-Bussers" in his greeting. There should have been more Q-Bussers really, the premature snow alerts even kept a number of regulars home. Then we're taken on a breathtaking rollercoaster ride...
Rootsrock is played, rock with too many different influences to be mentioned here, melting together in a special own sound. Long songs, the experimental soundscapes are somewhat alienating, improvisation takes up a big place, the musicians look at each other: your little solo, then my little solo. Bocephus himself plays a fast looking, flashy red/white electric guitar and he sings with heart and soul, he gestures and jumps and then again spits the words into his microphone. His band consists of eager twentysomething musicians, an exotic looking girl plays keyboards, she also takes care of tapeloops etcetera. There is a tight drummer and a bassist who also dragged a shiny stand-up bass with him. The guitarplayer does it with slide too, sings along and changes his instrument every now and then for a lapsteel. Extra compliments towards Jesse, the young man who stands focussed on playing fiddle and mandolin but has the most ungrateful task, as in spite of the good sound (all channels are in use!) he gets drowned sometimes when three electric guitars go full-force.
In contrast with being so talkative during radio appearances Bocephus barely speaks here, the songs aren't being named, he is just too busy playing, we get almost no time to clap. Somebody asks me if I know all those songs. No, I don't, even "Lullaby Blues" and "Goodnight Forever Montgomery Clift", little prize-animals from the new album sound different again now! The songs, performed intensely, have almost no choruses, Bocephus doesn't articulate very clearly, together with the loud, fast playing it doesn't benefit the audibility, but we still have CD's for that... Extensive imaginitive lyrics are to be found in the booklet of "All Children Believe In Heaven" and then you'll see the real dirty downtown area of Hollywood vividly before your eyes!
In the meantime Bocephus is getting rid of his jacket plus tie and again pulls his hat deeper over his forehead. Overwhelming show. Encore. "Let's rock!", somebody calls from the audience, "What we gonna do?", somebody asks on the stage. A second encore of course, but first a well-meant "Happy Birthday" is sung for promoter Robbie Klanderman. His request puts everybody to hard work again in a fast piece with surf influences. Half past eleven, I even have time left for the compliments & autographs ritual, our Canadian is super-nice too... I was never able to see Warren Zevon live, if Tom Waits plays tickets are non-affordable, so: Bocephus King forever!!
Written by Johanna J. Bodde. Dutch original of this review previously published on Real Roots Cafe, The Netherlands.