The Electric Prunes - interview with Mark Tulin part 2

 

I HAD TOO MUCH TO DREAM (LAST NIGHT)


picture sleeve EP issued in France - photo source

CM : How did you meet your producer Dave Hassinger ? How did he hear you ?

MT : I told you earlier that we didn’t play parties. We practiced in my garage, my parents’ house. One day, my Dad was out watering the lawn and a woman was standing outside. Her husband was a real estate agent who was selling a house a couple doors up the street. My Dad asked her if she was listening to us play and he said, “Would you like to come in ?” She did, and she told us all these people she knew in Hollywood. We’d already heard that story a billion freaking times. Everybody knows everybody, my best friend is Paul McCartney : sure. She asked us if we wanted to play a party of a good friend of hers and for some reason we said yes, and she said, “I know this producer.” He was at the party. That’s how we met him. It was really because we were playing in our garage and she stopped by and said, “You want to come ?” Normally we wouldn’t do it but we played this one party, and he was there. Then we went up to his apartment and talked to him.

When we first met our producer, he said “Listen, I think you guys really have some talent but what I want you to do is go home for six months and learn to play the Rolling Stones like the Rolling Stones and learn to play the Byrds like the Byrds and learn to play the Beatles like the Beatles.” His reasoning was pretty valid, that if we could sound like the Byrds, God knows not vocally, but if we could sound like the Byrds, if we could play like the Rolling Stones, then we had reference points in the studio. So if he’d say, "I’d like a bass sound like on…" or “It’s a part similar to…” whatever, we went to it.

CM : Did you do that ?

MT : We did it and then we got better. But you know what happens ultimately ? You never sound like them because you’re who you are. Us playing the Byrds never quite made it. I don’t know if I’d be hunted down by Bob Dylan and killed for what we did with “Mr. Tambourine Man,” but at least we had our reference points. So we did that, and then we got back together again [with him].
Our producer brought us the demo for “Too Much to Dream” on a little acetate, written by two women that he knew. The demo was done by Jerry Vale, with strings and orchestra with a bass drum going [imitates drum sound : “boom-clap-boom-boom-clap” - like the intro to “Be My Baby”]. And the strings kick in. [Sings very slowly and melodically, like a crooner] “Last night your shadow fell upon my lonely room.” That’s what we got.

CM : I’d like to hear that.

MT : We can’t find it. But our producer liked the title and thought the title was a hit.

CM : I hear an Indian influence in the song.

MT : Yeah. Indian music was just starting to come up. God had foisted the sitar on Western civilization and everybody thought that they should know how to play one. It takes only about 30 or 40 years to actually understand what the hell you’re doing with the instrument. But who knew that ? It’s beautiful and it always sounds good ; all the sympathetic stings make you sound like God. There’s a great story about Ravi Shankar playing New York, or maybe LA, when [George] Harrison had made him really popular, where he comes out and does this thing and gets a standing ovation, and all he’s done is tune. He said, “I thank you very much. If you like our tuning that much I hope you enjoy our songs.”

There is some Indian, more for the sound of the guitar than for the actual part that’s being played, because he’s playing the melody line. It was sitar-ish. What we were attempting to do, not just us, but what a lot of people were attempting to do, was take that sympathetic string sound and translate it to an electronic six string. That’s where the fuzz and the delay and all that kicked in, attempting to get that drone sound going beneath actually being able to play notes.

CM : The guitar sound on that and other pieces in your repertoire is unbelievable. It’s unique and people are still asking, “How did they do that ?”

MT : We worked. It’s funny. I believe that certain songs are meant to happen and you just happen to be the person there. We were lucky. “Too Much to Dream” fell together. When we recorded it we’d stop and say, “We’ll pick it up from here and we’ll put something in there.” The backwards guitar on it was just a blessing.

CM : That was a very new technique.

MT : Absolutely. The way I describe it is : now with all the pedals and the synthesizers and Pro-Tools mixing, you can’t even imagine what you can do. Back then, you couldn’t do what you could imagine because technology just couldn’t do it. We did some weird things in the studio. We almost destroyed some tape recorders by sticking pencils between the capstans to try and get the tape to warble a little bit. Backwards : you actually had to turn the tape around and play backwards and that’s what we did. The opening to “Too Much to Dream” was an accident. We were recording at Leon Russell’s house and our producer at the time, Dave Hassinger, was an engineer at RCA. He was doing this to break out of being an engineer. We were his leap to producer heaven. We were using both sides of tape because we couldn’t afford to use one, and keep running through tape. We’re talking four track here, not 64 [tracks], nothing electronic, no digital anything.


We were walking through the studio and James heard this sound and said “What’s that, man ? We’ve got to use that.” It was Ken : he had his Bigsby [a vibrato unit, also known as a tremolo arm or a whammy bar] on his Les Paul and he hit it, and it went “wah-wa-wa-wa.” When you flipped it, when you turned the tape around, it did that magical rise that starts “Too Much to Dream.” We had it coming up backwards and then we had him hit it forward which then descends it in the opposite direction. All that was just spending time in the studio and saying, “What if ?” That’s why the studio was fun for the band, because we could say “What if we did this ? What if we turned the tape around and played to it backwards. What would happen ?”

CM : You had the luxury of the time. How did you manage to have so much time offered to you ?

MT : Part of the reason was because we got charged for it. It got written off against everything we did. We didn’t take a lot of time. We were never one of those bands who had dinner or invited 32 friends in and slept there or weren’t doing anything. We were always working. When we weren’t working we were at home working on it. We were doing “Too Much to Dream” at Leon Russell’s house. I don’t know what deal David worked out with Leon ; I guess it was probably pretty cheap. When we moved in to American Recording where we did most of our stuff we still spent a good amount of time but it wasn’t the same feeling. “Too Much to Dream” had a lot going on. It’s like a mini-operetta. Some of it just actually happened. The backwards guitar part : I wrote out the chart backwards and I sat down next to Ken with his guitar—we had headphones on—and I was supposed to point out where we were so that he could play against it.

CM : So he was playing against the chords written backwards.

MT : The only trouble was that the drums do not give you any place [of reference] because they’re not hitting [makes a sound like “sssthup” to imitate a backward snare shot]. It took me whatever would pass for six bars backwards to have no idea where we were. I lifted up his headphones and said, “You’re on your own, man.” And he just played. When we played it back there were some moments, we could spend the rest of our lives trying to write and wouldn’t write anything as good as that. That’s why I say serendipity played a little part in that song.

CM : The vocal and the guitar are playing the melody in unison and that’s not the only piece in which that happens. Was that an idea from somewhere else ?

MT : Not really. Probably if we were doing it now, we would have put the voice through something.

CM : And just have the voice in the process.

MT : Exactly. Process the voice and add something in the back. We were attempting to, and always wanted to, give a little different tweak to a vocal so it’s not necessarily just a guy singing at you. Our take on a lot of songs, particularly the ones that we had some say in, was that the vocals were another instrument in the band, not sitting there by itself. We wanted to always fit it in with what we were doing, not just that we were accompanying a voice. That’s what the backwards guitar part was an attempt to do.

CM : Was that a connection to the blues ? Some of the old Delta blues guys played the line that they’re singing.

MT : Jazz bass players do it too.

CM : There’s a jazz bassist called Slam Stewart that actually hummed while he bowed. It’s a very eerie sound.

MT : I learned to do it, and I got it from jazz. I don’t do it on stage, but what it means is that you mean to play what you’re playing, and that’s the brilliance of it. You’re not following your finger. You’re playing so there’s nothing unintentional. If you can sing and play it’s not just playing, you’re not just dicking around on a solo. You’re actually playing something you want to, and that was the magnificence of it to me. That’s what I love about the blues guys ; they’re almost inside it.

CM : Sometimes the slide says, “Spoonful” : “all I want is a” and the slide completes the phrase with two notes.

MT : We love that kind of stuff. It’s a combination of a lot of things, but more that we were trying to add a little tweak to the voice.

CM : Besides the background part in that, the guitar is doing a kind of hovering, almost all the way through the piece. It’s like a drone but more in the middle register than at the bottom.

MT : Yes. We didn’t want it to cover the bottom. There’s enough bottom in “Too Much to Dream” because I doubled my bass part, most of it, on my knees on a B-3 [Hammond organ] pedal set. If you listen to the very front, I’m not in time with myself.

CM : Really ? You’re playing the pedals.

MT : I doubled it. I played my bass part and then we went back and I re-recorded it playing on my knees, playing with my hands. Geez, if I played with my feet I’d still be recording it.

CM : That’s an incredible image, a guy on his knees playing foot pedals with his hands.

MT : That’s what we did. We would have Leslie speakers for the B-3. We’d say, “What could we put through a Leslie ?” It was attempting to get that Middle Eastern sitar range thing. Because it involved not just the distortion—most of it was an amp distortion not pedal distortion—but there’s also tremolo on it. If it’s too deep you lose any texture and all you would get is a clog at the bottom so that’s what we attempted not to do.

CM : So he’s got amp distortion and he’s got the tremolo going. Is there something else as well ?

MT : I guess it would be a fuzz tone, at the time. There weren’t a lot of them around.

CM : They were new.

MT : Yeah, real new. When Ken got his Les Paul it came with a Bigsby on it that allows him to bend notes. That’s always been a big part of our sound, bending notes. We’re not real big on necessarily just holding the true note. Why hold a note that’s pure when you can “we-we-we-we ?” He’s also doing that while he’s playing some of it with the tremolo [setting on the amplifier]. We would attempt to time the tremolo to the song. It wasn’t just arbitrary “turn on tremolo.” We spent more time timing tremolo than almost anything else we did in the studio : okay it’s this, now it’s a little off. Ken did a lot of work on that.

CM : A lot of work. What a brilliant idea to do that.

MT : It was a combination of being willing to try anything, and only being limited till basically we couldn’t ping pong things back and forth anymore. We had to record three tracks and then transfer them down to one, and then record two more. Because we didn’t have enough tracks, right ?

GET ME TO THE WORLD ON TIME


CM : In that song there is what is called a trip section : from “Here I go, higher, higher, here I go.” I think it’s a good term to describe the musical depiction of a trip.

MT : Okay, I guess it could be. We just did what worked. We weren’t attempting that. It was surrounding us at the time, surrounding everybody at the time. It was a mood. The entire period was electric. There was Vietnam, civil rights, and it was electric because people were charged up about what was going on. You wouldn’t go to a party and talk about someone like Britney Spears. You got into debates. There was a thought process. Every portion of your life was charged with at least an intellectual process. Whether it was a valid intellectual process is another matter. The music reflected that as well as drove it, but I think it was more influenced by it than drove it. A lot of our stuff was to reflect that feeling. I think that when you’re in a beginning of something which we were, people later can tell you what you were doing. At that point you’re just doing what you’re doing.

CM : Ah ha, trip section !

MT : I will guarantee you we never said, “Let’s do the trip section” or wrote out a chart that way.

CM : There’s another psychedelic characteristic in that song which I call the tour guide. It’s in a lot of other songs : in “Sergeant Pepper’s” it’s the MC who’s says “sit back and let the evening go.” In “Magical Mystery Tour” it’s “roll up… the magical mystery tour is coming to take you away.” It comes from the idea if you’re going to take LSD, it’s good to be with somebody who’s experienced. In your song, you find out that it’s a guy and a girl, and he’s telling his girlfriend, “You’ve got to take care of me because when I see you it’s a chemical reaction.” It’s set up as if it’s some kind of romance but it’s about this hidden…

MT : I don’t even know if it’s a happy romance.

CM : He’s saying, “You’ve got to get me to the world on time.” Why ? “Because I’m going higher and higher and I need you to get me down.” When he sings, “Here I go, here I go,” it goes into what I’m calling the trip section.

MT : You thought about this song a lot more than we did, I’ll tell you that much.

CM : Your bass part is going “woom, woom, woom” [sliding up on a string] and there are general rising figures in the guitar and it’s a sense of going up.

MT : We kick an oscillator in at the very end on “Get Me to the World on Time.” The guitar can only go up to a certain point, then we have an oscillator take off from that and kick it all the way up to the top. An oscillator is a variable tone generator. We built it, well “we,” I couldn’t solder. I paid somebody in school to do my soldering in the electric shop. There’s a little knob and it starts off with the tone and as you dial it, it increases the frequency and it takes it up to dog pain area. It starts with the guitar but we ran out of notes on the guitar and the notes as you go up the neck become less and less pure as the frets get smaller. This is really a pure tone that sort of soars. We tried to take off from where the guitar came in, because you can vary where you start. It’s just the tone. You run through the whole cycle. We overdubbed the oscillator. We did a lot of overdubbing. It was hard for us, there was too much going to have four or five guys in the studio do everything at one time. We recorded a basic track and put stuff over it.

CM : I did my thesis on San Francisco psychedelic music.

MT : Cool.

CM : The research I’m doing now expands to the whole West Coast and it’s not just psychedelic music. I’m taking it from the folk revival up to surf and folk rock and garage music. The book will likely be called West Coast Styles, with a subtitle like From the Folk Revival to Psychedelic Rock.

MT : Cool. I love surf music.

CM : In the process of writing my thesis I wanted to define what psychedelic music was, so I looked at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s exhibit in Cleveland, and the book they published of it, called I Want to Take You Higher. In the book is a list, which had originally appeared in Mojo magazine, of 100 psychedelic songs.

MT : Right, I’ve seen it.

CM : I also took two box sets, three CDs in each volume, six CDs in all, called Psychedelic Years and Psychedelic Years Revisited, and the songs on all those CDs totaled 100.

MT : Got you.

CM : Then I had another other book about psychedelic music, not that great, but at the back the author had a list of his idea of the 200 most psychedelic songs. So I had three lists : a hundred list, a hundred list, and a two hundred list. Then I did an analysis of the lists to see which songs were on all the lists.

MT : Right.

CM : There were loads of songs that were on two lists but there were only 10 songs that were on all three lists. There was a lot of overlap of artists, and at times it wasn’t this song on that album but that song from the same album. But there were precisely 10 songs that were on all three lists. It broke up, very conveniently, into from five from the US and five from the UK. So in my thesis I said, “Let’s assume that these list makers have some credibility, therefore, this makes a hypothetical ‘most psychedelic top 10.’” Then I did a detailed analysis of each of those 10 songs to say, “These seem to be the characteristics of psychedelic music.” And I compared that to what I was seeing in San Francisco.

MT : Cool, I’d love to see your thesis.

CM : “Get Me to the World on Time” was one of those 10 songs.

MT : Oh great ! It’s funny. Ultimately “Too Much to Dream” was a bigger record, sales wise, but “Get Me to the World on Time” is the one that everybody remembers, raves about. “Too Much to Dream” was not a hit in New York. They wouldn’t play it. They thought it was too strange. “Get Me to the World on Time” was a hit here [in New York]. It wasn’t a hit in LA. It’s very bizarre the way the country… What were some of the others ?

CM : There was one that never charted in America called “Rainbow Chaser” by a band called Nirvana from England, not the grunge Nirvana. Also “Paper Sun” by Traffic.

MT : That’s cool. I like that. I never saw Traffic as being psychedelic but I guess they are.

CM : Eric Burdon singing “San Franciscan Nights.”

MT : Oh, I detest that record. I’m sorry it just drives me nuts.

CM : That was never one of my favorites. The five from the US were all recorded in LA. There was “White Rabbit.”

MT : Good choice. Our producer, Dave Hassinger, engineered that session, the Surrealistic Pillow album [of Jefferson Airplane].

CM : He did a lot of other bands too.

MT : Yes he did. He did the Rolling Stones.

CM : When he worked with the Rolling Stones, was that in Britain ?

MT : No. RCA had studios in Hollywood and they did Out of Our Heads there. Dave was a staff engineer at RCA when we met him. He did the Monkees if that counts for anything.

CM : It does.

MT : He told me he suggested, in “Last Train to Clarksville,” the little cymbal hit : “take the last” zit – that’s his hit. In the Rolling Stones, he got along good with [their manager] Andrew Oldham. We actually went in and watched them do “Paint it Black.” We would record sometimes next to them. When they’d be mixing something, we’d be in the studio next door to them. But Dave did a lot of good stuff. He knew the studio.

CM : Did you get along with him ? Were there conflicts or was it smooth ?

MT : Let me preface this, because I’m so tired of the “producer did me wrong” story or “the record label tweaked,” because you know all that happened to us, by the way. I’m tired of hearing bands complain about it. Preface it by saying were it not for David we wouldn’t be sitting here talking today, so he gets the credit for that. He got us in the studio. He brought “Too Much to Dream” to the table. He brought “Get Me to the World on Time” to the table.

CM : He had seen early promise in you. He is the one that said go home and practice.


MT : Yes. Anyways, I was saying about getting along together. David was older than we were, I don’t think he ever got really what we were doing. He understood recording. I don’t think he ever understood psychedelia. There’s a thing on the Lost Dreams compilation CD where we do this long, long, long run on the song and at the end of it, it’s actually on the CD where he says, “Is this a fade ?” It better freaking be ! He didn’t know how to stop us because we had turned all the lights out in the studio. He couldn’t see in the glass. They didn’t know what we were doing. I think he didn’t understand what we were doing. He wanted us to have the versatility of the Beatles, that’s why our first album has some songs on it that never in my life would I ever do, but I did, so I guess I would. But he wanted that. Sergeant Pepper’s had come out, so you had to do a “When I’m 64.”

CM : The old-timey thing.

MT : You had to do this and you had to do this. The biggest difference being we weren’t the Beatles. He never quite got what we wanted and the more we grew up and the more we started asserting ourselves, the more friction occurred. It ended up not being that comfortable.

CM : But it worked for a while.

MT : Yeah, it worked. It’s always tough when you bring people together in a creative environment. There’s bound to be some friction. I think the real shift was that he just didn’t know what we were attempting to do and wasn’t going to turn it over to us.

CM : Right, because then he wouldn’t have had a role.

MT : Exactly. That’s what happened.

CM : How did the studio do echo ?

MT : It was up against a cliff, a little hill and they cut into the hill and dug sort of a cave and concreted it. All you did was feed the sound in, and then record it coming back. That was our echo chamber.

CM : They did something similar at Motown ; they cut a hole in the attic.

MT : There were no digital delays. The only thing you could do was rate how fast it would come back to you. But we wanted to see “what if ?” We wanted to do extended pieces that weren’t singles oriented. We were right, two steps to the wrong side of album sales. At the point when we had a hit record, the Blues Magoos had “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet.” Their album, Psychedelic Lollipop, was probably the first real “we can sell albums.” Because of our difference of opinion, everything was looked at as “How are we going to generate a single from this ?” as opposed to “Maybe we could give them a 10 minute piece that’s mystical that they’ll listen to” as opposed to two minutes and 37 seconds.

CM : Pop masterpiece.

MT : That’s where we came to real cr… [cross purposes]. It was also the period where bands were stretching anyway. When you went to a concert you didn’t hear two minute and 30 second songs.

CM : Even the songs that had been short on record.

<"Happening ’67", featuring Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, the Electric Prunes, and the Shadows of Knight, Minneapolis Convention Hall, July 19, 20, and 21, 1967. poster source

MT : Yes. We did a tour with the Airplane and the Buffalo Springfield. Everybody’s doing these extended jams. It allowed for, if you want to talk about a trip, establishing a mood that rode for a while so you got to go with it rather than just cataclysmically changing AB, AB bridge.

CM : You wanted to see where it goes.

MT : Sometimes you didn’t even know. I think that was the magic of the Grateful Dead : sometimes they didn’t know where they were going. We missed that because our producer thought that we should be a singles band.

CM : A singles band from producer point of view, album mentality from the band’s.

MT : Exactly.

CM : The first album had some songs that you weren’t crazy about.

MT : Oh, that I hated.

CM : Then there was the second album which gets more attention.

MT : Underground. That was more us. That’s when David started not talking to us, and left us alone a fair bit. He’d be there but he’d read newspapers and stuff and wouldn’t bother us because he was so pissed off at us. That was closer to what we wanted to do than the first one.

CM : Selected pieces aside.

MT : Yes. It’s hard to describe how nave we were and how nave most bands were back then. It wasn’t a business to the bands. Now you come in with an accountant. First of all, everybody’s older when they make it now. We were 16, 17 years old. We didn’t know we had any power. Had we known that if we don’t play nobody gets anything, we would have done Underground first. As a matter of fact, on Underground is a song called “Hideaway” that they would not put on our first album. We recorded it with “Too Much to Dream” but they thought it was too strange to put on. It has real Indian influence. It came out on the second one although we recorded it a year or so before. Underground is closer to where we wanted it to be but a lot of it is still stuck in that time frame.

see part 1

see part 3

comments or questions ? email me


I have posted interviews with members of the Doors, Electric Prunes, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Music Machine, Quickislver Messenger Service, and Strawbery Alarm Clock. To go to the index page, click here.

you may be interested to read Psychedelic Music in San Francisco : Style, Context, and Evolution by Craig Morrison, available as a download from lulu.com for less than $5

CRAIG MORRISON
is an ethnomusicologist, teacher, author, and musician
based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
7 Nights Music Communications, 2006