The Day The Blog Stood Still – Klaatu Exclusive!
I don’t usually do this but I’m going to share the entire transcript of an interview I did last month with Dee Long, original member of the Canadian prog rock group Klaatu. There are THREE reasons for me doing this. First, some of this interview is incorporated into a piece that is running today on Crawdaddy.com about bands who sometimes sound like other bands, in which I discuss Klaatu’s Beatle’s controversy of the seventies and compare and contrast it with a recent Beach Boys-ish recording by South Carolina band, The Explorer’s Club. Here’s a link to that piece on Crawaddy.
The second reason is that Klaatu is the character that Michael Rennie played in the original 1951 Sci-Fi thriller, The Day The Earth Stood Still, which has been remade and updated with Keanu Reeves in the Klaatu role. So it’s sort of timely to post a story about the band that wrote “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft”.
Third. I’ve been busy with some things, and haven’t written a blog in a while so why not release something from the archives?
A PULMYEARS EXCLUSIVE: MY CONVERSATION WITH KLAATU’S DEE LONG (Unedited) Note: for more information on Klaatu or Dee Long check out http://www.deelong.com.
PAUL MYERS: Was there any conscious attempt, while you were making 347 EST, to “do a Beatles” or to infuse your songwriting or arranging with pastiche elements from the Fabs?
DEE LONG: There’s no doubt that we were, and are huge Beatles fans. When we started on the first album, there was just John Woloschuck and I. Terry Draper joined after a few songs had been recorded, one of which was “Sub Rosa Subway”.
That song in particular was definitely an attempt to sound like the Beatles from the “Penny Lane” era, at least I saw it that way. I mean, John sings with a British accent, although he doesn’t have one normally! All the songs we did that had a Beatles influence were written by John. “Little Neutrino” or “True Life Hero” do not sound much like the Beatles. But in the early days people preferred to ignore that minor detail.
I think one other big reason we sometimes sounded a lot like the Fab Four was our approach to recording. George Martin and John Lennon were always experimenting with new ways to record music. They were the first to put the microphone inside the Kick drum, and first to use EQ and compression as effects, or as part of their sound. The engineers at Abbey Lane were appalled when they started turning dials way past were they were meant to be turned.
Klaatu also spent a lot of time experimenting with different recording techniques, and layering many overdubs. After all there were three of us, and most of our songs had a lot more than three parts going on. Brass overdubs, and string quartets were not at all unusual on a Klaatu album, as on a Beatles album.
The song “Around the Universe in 80 Days” has over 100 tracks mixed, and remixed down to stereo. The odd vocal background is a tape loop of me singing a single “A” note, looped between 2 tape recorders with the tape running across the room, and played back through the first hand-wired Eventide Harmonizer prototype which came with an optional keyboard. Since I could only record one note at a time, I built the large chords one track at a time, then mixed that down to stereo, and “flew” the result back in to the master 24 track tape by running two machines at once and pushing play and record at just the right moment.
In Logic Audio the same thing would be a breeze to do with the built in sampler, but this was the first heady days of the digital recording revolution. When we first heard vocals through a harmonizer it was a revelation! Similar to when the Beatles first heard their mixes in stereo. Apparently they were so transfixed by the sound, they listened over and over again in disbelief.
PM: How did the “Klaatu Is Really The Beatles” thing come about?
DEE LONG: It started with an article by Steve Smith written for a Rhode Island newspaper. I spoke to him for the first time a few years ago, and he said it was the one and only time he ever had an article published in a newspaper! He had pulled a copy of our first album from the delete bin (yes it was in the delete bin only 9 months after release) and on listening wondered if this could be the Beatles recording under another name. At the time people were craving a Beatles reunion, there were no names on the album cover, the songs had a Beatles vibe to them (or at least some of them did) and he also thought the face of the Sun on the cover was possibly those of Paul and John merged together. He thought this was a fun conspiracy idea, and revealed quite a few other “clues” in his article. Much to his surprise, the article was picked up by media across North America, and then spread to the rest of the World. Places like Australia, Germany, France and Brazil also decided to believe. The album sold very well for months, and would have done a lot better if Capitol had enough copies to go around. They had to scramble to print more. Klaatu was in Britain at the time recording orchestral overdubs for our second album, “Hope”.
In Australia they even used voice detection to prove conclusively that Paul McCartney was singing “Sub Rosa Subway” on the album. When we found out what was going on, we had no desire to change direction, and reveal our identities. That may have been a mistake, but our only intent was to make music that could stand for itself.
PM: At first, your identities were kept out of the press. Was that a conscious move to neither confirm or deny the rumors? Was it all Frank Davies’ idea?
DEE LONG: It was our idea, not Frank’s. We felt at the time we wanted to record, but not to tour. We wanted to make music but not have to dress like “Rock Stars” and pretend to be someone we were not. We also thought it was kind of cool, to have our music on the radio, and not have to play the big game. Capitol even signed us to a three album deal without knowing our names! We signed through a lawyer acting on our behalf, and all songs were listed as written by pseudonyms, we didn’t have our names linked to the project at any time, except that we had to register those pseudonyms or we couldn’t be paid our royalties. That’s how we were finally exposed, someone looked up the names in the library of records in the US, and found our real names.
In the meantime Capitol continued to tell everyone that we were NOT the Beatles, and that “Klaatu is Klaatu”.
PM: Was the first album helped or hindered by all the publicity?
DEE LONG: That is hard to say for sure, I figure that without the publicity the album would have remained in the delete bin, the second album would have followed it into obscurity, and the third might never have been made.
As it turned out we made it all the way to five albums, with declining sales from one to the next. People were angry and felt they had been made fools of. Same with the DJs and radio people who felt they had been given the run around. In our defense, we never intended to fool anyone, but we were still glad to at least have made an impact of some kind. We probably have more fans today than ever before.
PM: I’ve read that you were working on Hope when the Beatles thing hit. How did it feel to be working on your next album while this “story” broke? Did it encourage the band to keep the Beatlesque elements or to consciously try and tamp them down? Was it a good thing or a bad thing in terms of how you wrote and recorded your stuff?
DEE LONG: To me it seemed like a great laugh, and acknowledgement that we had created something worthwhile. To be compared to the Beatles even a little was a great honor. When we returned from Britain the secretary at Toronto Sound handed us a stack of photo-copied newspaper articles a few feet high. It was a lot of fun reading what was going on, people were really excited! The basic tracks, and orchestral parts for “Hope” were already recorded, and most certainly contained many Beatle style elements. We did not change direction at all, but rather felt it was encouraging that we were making music people wanted to hear, even if for the wrong reasons.
That album was complete a few months later, and sent to Capitol. They decided to hold if for a few months, since the first album was still selling well. After living with our second album for a few weeks, we all agreed it was not finished yet. In fact it was really boring! We went back into the studio for months, and repaired and replaced and enhanced the tracks. We even went so far as to lift some of the orchestra parts off the tape and drop them back in to repair major timing errors, and sometimes tuning errors. The result was a much more exciting album, and if we had not had the extra time to get it right, it would have been released in it’s original form, and likely never been seen nor heard again.
PM: What was the best thing about the whole controversy?
DEE LONG: Selling a million albums in a few months.
Plus the enjoyable experience of knowing people were getting a kick out of it.
PM: What was the worst thing?
DEE LONG: Not selling a million albums ever again!
And of course never gaining the media’s attention again, at least not to anywhere near the same degree. I think if we had come out early on and announced our identities, it would only have shortened our 15 minutes of fame.
PM: Klaatu made several eclectic and progressive pop records that didn’t sound like The Beatles at all. Why do you think that the Beatles thing has endured in some music fans minds?
DEE LONG: There’s no doubt most people wanted to believe. It’s now far too late for the Beatles ever to return, but I too would have been really happy back then to see them reunite. To all those who were fooled, I humbly apologize that we weren’t the Beatles! I wish we had been.
PM: Could something like the Klaatu / Beatles thing happen today, with the internet and digital underground movements? What advice would you give a new band in terms of incorporating their influences?
DEE LONG: It’s hard to imagine something similar happening today. I suppose in a way Kiss and other bands who hide or obscure there identities for a time, have something in common with us. But they always come forward eventually, and there’s no one in music today iconic enough to cause such a large reaction if they were to return to the music scene. Maybe if Elvis returned, for real, but I don’t see that happening either.
As to advice for new bands, as I say in one of my songs on my most recent solo CD, “Take my advice, ‘cause I’m not using it”.
I find MOST music I hear these days to be derivative of something from earlier, greater bands and artists. So many U2 clones, Nirvana clones, Stones clones, and whatever that thing they call R&B is these days, stop it! It sucks.
If a new artist or band wants to make a real impact, play what you feel, and use all the influences you want from the music you truly love, but first and foremost make it original, and make it your OWN sound. I haven’t purchased music in decades, but the last thing I bought was a Jimi Hendrix CD, one of the most unique sounding artists of all time. As far as I’m concerned if I ever made the mistake of buying a “Nickleback” CD, I would want my nickel back!
©2008 Paul Myers.
(portions of Mr. Long’s answers appear in the Crawdaddy.com article Pastiche Perfect: Klaatu Vs. The Explorer’s Club.)