It’s always exciting to rediscover old music, especially it when suddenly affects the zeitgeist in a current way. This happened with the track “The Birds” by Californian musician Rick Cuevas. Cuevas, incidentally, is one of the founding members of the avant-pop band Zru Vogue. I had the pleasure of asking Rick some questions about the past days.
- Hi Rick. Please tell us about the spirit in the early eighties in San-Francisco. How was the musical and political climate? Where you used to play?
Hi Marc: The early eighties was a strange time. Of course, the assassination of John Lennon had happened fairly recently (December 1980), Ronald Reagan was President, and my art band Zru Vogue was about 4 years old at that time. The music scene was OK..we were big fans of the british group, The Stranglers…we loved Kraftwerk.. we loved Brian Eno and Roxy Music. My 1980-present band Zru Vogue (founded by me and my longtime music friend Andrew Jackson) played a few shows in the San Francisco area here.
We did one show in San Francisco with all 4 original members, at a club called "The Savoy Tivoli" in the italian district of SF. 2 members left the group shortly after that. Andrew and I continued with Zru Vogue and did a show in San Francisco with the Scottish band "Blue Bells" at a club called "The I-Beam"… we played 4 shows in our home town of Palo Alto at a club called "Keystone Club"… we were all working regular jobs and doing music on the side, as a hobby, etc. Zru Vogue had a minor break-up in 1985..and we re-formed the group in 2002 (after both Andrew and I had families and children,and did other music projects in between, etc.). from 1987 to 1994 I was a member (bass) of the comedy punk band "Electronic Voice Phenomenon" (EVP), from this area as well.
- What musical influences have shaped you in this time ?
Well, in general, I was a child of the 1960's..therefore The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix had the first impact on me… later in the 1970's when I started playing guitar, groups like Queen (first 3 albums), Mott the Hoople, Deep Purple, and even Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had an effect. And then later Elvis Costello, The Stranglers, Brian Eno, Roxy Music, King Crimson, and a little Frank Zappa..all had an effect on me. Additionally, my parents were involved with Opera singing. I went to many Operas as a child and as young adult….so that music, Puccini, Verdi, et al, went into my brain as well….
- Your solo-album “Symbolism” was straight self-published. What was your main motivation to do this? Heretical question at this point: No interest by the record companies at all?
Ha! good question… actually, I did try to submit my music to record companies in Los Angeles/Hollywood, and yes, they did not accept it. The reasons they gave was like "it is good music, it is just not "Los Angeles" enough" …whatever that means… actually, I took that as a compliment.. I believe it meant it was fairly original or different, and they were not able to fit it into the groups of music styles at that time. So, yes, I had already some financial help from my parents, and the parents of some of the other members, when we released the first Zru Vogue vinyl album in 1982, as well as the vinyl 33rpm EP called "Bandit Ducks from Outer Space" by my other band "Science Patrol". Andrew was part of that as well. So, putting out this solo album was indeed an exercise in egoism :) it was the first of many solo albums. I am currently working on number 18. and don't worry, I am a heretic as well :)
- What was your inspiration to make this record ?
My inspiration to make this record probably has many reasons, and no reasons at the same time. It was in early 1984 that I bought (and I still have!) a Yamaha 4-track cassette machine, with a patch-bay. I thought that was very advanced at the time. It was expensive at the time, but the local music store had a process where you could pay it all in 3 months… that made it easier to deal with. anyway, I started making a bunch of recordings, including songs that had backwards guitar solos, etc. I was able to flip the cassette around and play a guitar solo over the backwards music… then I flip the cassette so that the music is forward and the solo is now backwards… it was also during this time I bought a delay unit, also made by Yamaha… this was the first time I started making the delay time match the tempo of the song.. Today, the digital recording programs automatically synchronize the delay time with the tempo that is set for the song being recorded. so, anyway, I was enjoying the way my home recordings were sounding, and I played the music for my dad. he liked it. and so I asked my dad if he could help me with the cost of making the album. he said yes. My father was a great opera singer and piano player…so the fact that he liked the music, made me feel like I was doing something of worth.
- How high was the costs at this time do print a LP?
Oh, I don't really remember well…. maybe $600 USD for 200 copies? with very basic white covers...
- During the listening of “Symbolism” a very outstanding track called “The Birds” caught my ears. My immediate reaction was: 1984? No way! Can you tell us something about the recording?
Ha! yes, actually, this is one of my favorites too…and other folks over the years have said that "The Birds" was a song that caught their attention. again, here I used my method of setting the echo or delay to match the timing of the song. I also used a Yamaha drum machine (I still have it). I also used a little Yamaha synthesizer, a CS-01, mono-phonic…which means it only plays one note at a time. one cannot not play chords with it. So i used the synthesizer as a bass pad, and for the high solo at the end… i was also very interested in hypnotic guitar riffs… thus I double-tracked the hypnotic guitars on that song. By the way, the Sybolism album was recorded in my friends big studio, on 2-inch reel-to-reel tape…and 16-tracks… by the way, I re-recorded this song in my home studio in 1998…using an 8-track half-inch reel-to-reel machine. (listen)
- You were also a member and founder of the surrealist rock band Zru Vogue. How did it happen ?
Well, this group has its roots in the fact that Andrew Jackson and I started playing guitar together in late 1972, when we were 14, in Junior High School… when we got to High School in 1974, we formed a group called "idiot" (from Shakespeare's Macbeth…life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing) … it was Andrew and me on guitars, along with Tad Williams (a science fiction author now, he wrote Otherland, a big success in Germany). Tad was our lead singer and lyrics writer. we had Tom Sanders on bass, and Paul Almeter (first drummer) and Patrick Coyne (second drummer). Idiot existed from late 1974 to late 1977; we were a teenager band that was ahead of the times! We played original glitter rock stuff…and played some shows in San Francisco in 1977 at the famous punk club "The Mabuhay Gardens"… we broke up after the October 1977 show. Pat Coyne was the drummer then.. 1978, we had a boy pop band called "The PLUS" with me, Andrew, the idiot bass player Tom, and a new drummer, Ted Taylor (his father was a Stanford University physics professor).
That group lasted one year. no shows played.. then Me, Andrew and Tom stayed together and formed an art band in 1979, called 'the random factors'. Tom got a new girlfriend, Nancy… we all had a New years Party 1979-1980 and played as 'the random factors" … so early in 1980 we changed the name to Zru Vogue, with me, Andrew, Tom, and his girl Nancy… we planned to record a 45rpm single..and so in June 1980 we were rehearsing a song called "Blue Room"…it was the night before going into the studio… and the "A" string on the bass broke! Tom was on bass…and did not know how to play a bass with 3 strings, and we had no extra strings around. I was on drums, so Tom and I switched places.
Now, I am playing the 3-string bass, Tom on drums, and Andrew on guitar.. Andrew started playing 2 chords over and over, and was singing a melody …I started playing my bass part.. and this mysterious new song came out. Tom's girl Nancy said 'what is that song??" "that is great, we should record that song instead of 'blue room" she said.. so we did, and the song Nakweda Dream became a cult classic song… a song voted by Sub Pop Magazine (now sub pop records, in Seattle, WA) as the best independent single of 1981… and still today, the old members of "idiot" are still playing music together. first, Zru Vogue now is: me, Andrew and Patrick Coyne … and we have another band now called "Savage Roger", which is basically 'idiot' with a new name, it has : me (guitar, keys, vocals), Andrew (guitar, vocals, lyrics), Patrick (drums), and Tad Williams (on bass, vocals, lyrics)
- You still a active musician. What are your current projects?
My current project is my solo album number 18 called "We're alive". I am almost finished with it. We are also still trying to finish the second album of "Savage Roger"; Tad needs to fix some of his vocals first. Andrew and me and Patrick just recently released the 2016 Zru Vogue album "Topsy Turvy World", and I am now helping Andrew with his 2016 solo album… all of these projects have been done at my home recording studio "Zrubutus" , in Palo Alto, California.
- What kind of music do you listen at the moment?
Wow, well, I don't listen to much modern day music, except for the music that my teenager daughter listens to… Maroon 5, Miley Cyrus, etc. (she loves the old stuff too, like Beatles etc), and maybe some of the music that Andrew likes, like the Flaming Lips, Aimee Mann, Grandaddy, and other things like that…. plus, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Nico, Wire, The Residents,….and still, some Opera music :)
Upcoming: A “Symbolism” reissue is coming soon
Interview: Marc Jauss, August, 2016
At this point we would like to express our thanks to Vincent Nomad .
Throught his fb post we became attentive to Rick's fabolous music.