PEOPLE KEEP ASKING ME QUESTIONS AND SO I ANSWER THEM
(Reprinted from Michigan Musician, April, 1997, Bob Rail))
It's 2:30 in the morning at Doktor Toddzilla's farmhouse on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, and we sit in the ramshackle comfort of the living room. It's furnished in Early Musician Bizarre...posters of Frank Zappa, the Beatles and strange barnyard animals line the walls, and the room is lit by the black light bulbs of the pink aluminium Christmas tree, although May is only a few days away. The Doktor leans back comfortably in his chair,
Sheaf stout in hand, his wiry frame and youthful attitude belying his forty-plus years. We're back from a frantic and eerie show at the Blind Pig, where his band Reptile House rocked some of the crowd, bemused others, and confused the rest.
MM: Well, we've finally seen the show...
TZ: And high time too, I might add.
MM: It was everything we thought it would be.
TZ: Thanks very much...what exactly does that mean?
MM: I liked it a lot...the different instruments, the new songs, the sparklers...
TZ: Yeah, don't lean into that sparkler thing too much in print, though.
TZ: A lot of bar owners disapprove of people on stage with burning magnesium.
MM: Ah. right. How about something else...how about the early years?
TZ: Yeah, how about them, anyway? I was born when I was very young.It was dark, and I was scared. Then I saw a light, and...
MM: Actually I was thinking of your early musical years.
TZ: You never let me have any fun. I suppose you're thinking of the Schultz Food Band.
MM: Yeah, tell us about that.
TZ: Well you know...when I ran into them I really was very young, about fourteen or fifteen, and I was living in a commune with some of these people, who were in this "band". Actually at the time they were a sort of surrealist, dadaist, guerrilla theatre troupe that did this wierd performance art, with people shaking gourds and moaning, and Shultz, this large guy, would put a beefsteak up on a podium and mike it and beat it with carrots while reciting poetry. Pretty far-out stuff for the mid-sixties! That turned into my gig...writing poetry and shaking gourds.
MM: What kind of poetry?
TZ: Oh, terrible poetry! (laughter) Very, very spaced-out free verse. I can't even remember any now. Probably just as well.
MM: Wish I'd been there. Do you think any of that influence carried over into what you do now?
TZ: That sense of the absurd, certainly. Or course later on people came into that group who could really play their instruments, free jazz style stuff, and that influenced me a lot, these folks had wonderful record collectons too...Albert Ayler, Muddy Waters, Coltrane, Pharoah Saunders...I started playing bass right about then.
MM: How'd that happen?
TZ: Oh, there was just somebody's upright lying on a stage somewhere and I picked it up and started playin' it. Until its owner chased me off, but by then I was hooked.
MM: What did you like especially about the bass?
TZ: Well, those low overtones were just so rich. And it looked so cool...basses just look so great, so beautiful and exotic. I've alway been attracted to exotic instruments. When I was a kid I'd always go to the India Art Shop and play on their sitars and things. Guitars and pianos came later!
MM: And accordions?
TZ: Accordions...and banjos...(reflectively) those steenking banjohs...
MM: If you could play only one instrument, what would it be?
TZ: Gourd. You always have a bond with the instrument you start with. Besides I'm somewhat of a gourd virtuoso. I'm known for my solos on the gourd, you know.
MM: And I think that's where we're gonna have to leave it.
TZ: Yeah. Let's leave it and then sneak away quietly.
(Transcription from radio interview at WEMU with Clark Douglas, 2002
...interview starts mid-show...)
Clark Douglas: We are here on the air with local musician, bassist, songwriter and singer Todd Perkins (or Dr. Toddzilla for those who know) who's been good enough to come to the fundraiser and give his time and talents to help us keep this station going...good to see you here. Dr Toddzilla: Great to be here.
CD: You've been on the show before, and we've discussed your past history a bit...
TZ: It's all lies! I never touched that goat! We're only good friends!
(Laughter from crew)
CD: Not what I meant, Todd...
TZ: Right, right, it's a family show, I forgot. Sorry.
CD: The past history of your music.
TZ: Well, yes.
CD: For those who don't know, Todd has been a mainstay on the Ann Arbor music scene for a very long time.
TZ: Because I'm very very old.
CD: Partially because of that (Laughter), and also because you're very talented.
TZ: Aw, shucks, mister, you turnin' my head. (Laughs) Actually I always thought I got hired 'cause I showed up on time.
CD: And that's important.
TZ: Actually more than most people know. I know bassists who can play rings around me that never got work because they couldn't be consistent about stuff like that, or because they had lousy attitudes, or because they couldn't save their recreational drug use till after the gig...
CD: Unlike yourself...
TZ: Yeah, I save mine for radio shows! (Laughter and scuffling sounds) Oops (Muted sounding), Dropped the mic...
CD: ...Proving my point! Things are a little chaotic here, folks...
TZ: Ha! Now I'm back! From under the table!
CD: Todd has spent lots of time under the table.
TZ: True. Actually I was a pretty inibrieated musician for many years. The Blue Front Persuaders were a pretty hard-drinking, partying band, and I was no exception. I remember a few moments out of those years, at least.
CD: And now, though, you're OK.
TZ: Well, I guess so...you either mellow a bit with age or you fall over, and I seem to still be upright.
CD: At least when your microphone doesn't fall under the table.
TZ: Clark, you are a cruel cruel man.
CD: Sorry...where were we? We've been giving away copies of the rough mixes of your new CD to our pledgeing listeners, and playing a few cuts.
TZ: Yes, and to those people who called in, thank you! although why you want the rough mixes I don't know. They scare me, and I did 'em.
CD: I like it...they sound great, they don't really sound that rough.
TZ: Rough to me.
CD: And they'll be collectors items in time.
TZ: But to who? I'm so far underground I'm a pop star out in the Indian Ocean. Still, thanks folks, and thanks for supporting WEMU, one of the coolest stations on the planet!
CD: Can I ask you some questions about the tunes on the CD?
TZ: Sure, it's your show. (in a strange foreign voice) I am under your command!
CD: When did you write Op Art Mini Dress? It sounds like Zappa doing a 70s Disco tune.
TZ: I've gotten that Zappa thing before, and I don't really understand it. Maybe it's because I sing in that low range sometimes, and 'cause I don't always write about traditional subjects. But I usually stay in pretty standard time signatures, my music isn't anywhere as harmonicly out there as that...
CD: There is that wierd vocal chorus in that song though.
TZ: Well yeah...I have no idea where that came from! (Laughter) The songs about a year old...it's just about a guy who's enamored of this pretty girl and her taste in clothing.
CD: How about the one we just played...The Ice Maiden? That's a spooky sounding thing.
TZ: Well, I was watching the public TV channel...public TV, public radio, it's good, folks, it's the people's airwaves...anyway, there was a great show about and archeological find in Siberia of this ice mummy of this woman, frozen for 3000 years, perfectly preserved. Apparently she was a shaman, a medicine woman, she was buried in great honor with horses sacrificed outside the tomb entrance and her body was covered in mystical tatoos...and I thought, damm, I gotta write a song about that!
CD: Wow. You really don't write boy-girl love songs, do you?
TZ: Oh, I have a few on there, but it's just more interesting to have something else going as well if you're a writer. Like, Chainsaw Holliday is about my fear of cannibals...
CD: I love Chainsaw Holliday. It's pretty happy sounding, considering the subject matter.
TZ: I'm just happy I haven't been eaten by cannibals (Laughter). There seem to be some interconnecting themes on this CD that just somehow happened. One is the alien abduction thing...
CD: And of course the fear of cannibals...
TZ: ...and the hope for peace in the world.
CD: Yeah. That's right...we're going to put on one last song from Dr Toddzilla's new upcoming CD...These are still rough mixes...
TZ: Very rough, very very rough.
CD: And this is the song Peace In Your Time. Remember, your pledge helps keep unique music like this on your radio, so call us now at 734-663-3363 and get a free rough mix CD of these songs. And here we go. (Plays song)
CD: Gosh, captian.
TZ: (Quietly) OK?
CD: That's really beautiful...serious but beautiful.
TZ: Thanks. I really think that song got given to me somehow. It's hard to sing it live sometimes 'cause I get really involved with it. I like to think that peace is possible.
CD: I like to think that too.
TZ: That's 'cause we're sensitive. Sensitive us. And our listeners, they're sensitive too...except that one that called in to complain.
CD: You can't please everybody.
TZ: I did offer to get off the air if he pledged, but apparently he didn't feel strongly enough about it.
CD: Well, we're all glad here that you managed to make it over...I know you have to go to your gig tonight. Where is that?
TZ: Tonight I'm playing bass with Mike Katon at the Lower Town Grill in Plymouth. Very nice place.
CD: That should be a great show. Thanks again, Todd.
TZ: Absolutely my pleasure. Goodnight, everybody, if I don't see you at the gig, and keep listening to WEMU. Bye.
Interview with Flyers bandleader Dr Toddzilla (A.K.A. Todd Perkins) by Allen Olwen.
AO: It sounds like you've been a busy guy recently, writing, recording and engineering this CD.
DT: That's no lie! Writing, recording, playing, singing, doing the artwork, beating the other musicians (laughs) and overseeing the business stuff...oh, and the engineering...but I was helped out in major ways too. These guys I call the Flyers really made it happen and were very inspirational and supportive to a crazy shell-shocked monomaniac like me. I'm very lucky to have some really good and cool friends. Chris
Gooseman, another great friend, was absolutely instrumental in mixing and mastering the thing...I'm still learning so much all the time doing this.
AO: Church Of Dreams has some songs with contemporary themes, but with a very kind of 60's-informed feel...was that intentional, or did it just happen or what?
DT: Well, I did grow up in the 60's, and that's my reference...I was listening a lot to Psychedelic bands as I was writing these songs, the great Dukes Of Stratosphear CD, the Nuggets Collections, late-period Beatles...not that I'm gonna be able to write like that, I just sort of stumble along into a song (laughs), but that stuff was certainly floating around in the air then. Of course at my place it often is...I did a lot of the original tracks in my studio at Shabby Road, and my friends would drop over and play and the whole song would change. Having someone like Vino, Charlie or Danny, any of those guys, playing just spins a song around sometimes and makes you have to completely rethink it, which is cool. I realized after a while that it wasn't really a Dr. Toddzilla solo CD, not really, and hence the christening as the Flexible Flyers. As I said, I'm just very fortunate to know these folks. They've all listened to the right stuff too, we're all flying in approximately the same airspace.
AO: Mention has been made of your, ah, overindulgence of certain substances in your past, and some of the problems you faced due to that. Do you mind talking about that, and does it tie into your state of mind you had while writing?
DT: I don't really mind, it was a long long time ago...I did take amazing amounts of LSD and other Psychedelics, I was fascinated with them and really thought that it was the way to reach cosmic conciousness at the time. Well, hell, if it had really worked we'd all be out beyond the confines of time and space, right? Which would've been great! I think there were rather a lot of us hoping for that. I might have been a bit intense about it. As it was I did sustain some damage, certainly. I had to learn to talk all over again, I was in and out of institutions for a while, I was considered schitzophrenic by some doctors but it's all worked out and I really don't regret it. I learned an enormous amount. Those experiences do change you though, and many of my songs are reflections on that. The first song, "Isobel Is Flying", is partially about myself and the idea that we can pick up our broken selves and trancend. There's a lot of hopeful songs on the CD, some dark ones too, but a good deal of them are based around hope and love, I think my relationship with Cynthia inspired a lot of that. And if some of the songs are a little crazy, well, chalk it down to the brown acid (laughs).
AO: Your bio is pretty colorful...Street Theatre and Lightshows for the MC5?
DT: The Street Theatre was at Western Michigan University in Kallamazoo where I used to drop into classes in the 60's...we lived there in a crazy commune...which was pretty radical stuff for a stuffy Midwestern town. You'd have a guy in camo with an M-80 chasing a guy dressed as Uncle Sam down through the mall...or a group of us dressed in alligator costumes rising out of the pool at the school and menacing the students. Fun stuff! We just wanted to make everybody's day a little more surreal, make them question their reality a bit. We also did a lightshow company, did lots of shows in Kalamazoo and some in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor...we did shows with the MC5 several times, partied with them too, some crazy guys. Later when I lived back in Ann Arbor again I got to know a lot of the people at the old White Panther house. Around that same time I kind of fell in with the Schultz Food Band, some of them were living at the commune, many of those circles intersected and overlapped. I started writing poetry for the group and then got into playing later...it was pretty freeform, free jazz, everything you might play was right, which was a wonderful introduction to improvisational music...pretty cool for a 16-year-old in '68.
AO: How the heck did that translate into playing blues with Snooky Pryor, Madcat Ruth and Big Dave and the Ultrasonics?
DT: It translated pretty directly. The Food Band's Sax player Rob Baccus was a wonderful guy and had an amazing record collection. He was nice enough to take the time to play a spaced-out young hippie music from Lightnin' Hopkins, Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, John Coltrane and Muddy Waters amoungst others. That was the start of it for me...later when I got myself together a bit I played with Boogie Woogie Red in Ann Arbor at the old Blind Pig occationaly, some of the other older players like Uncle Jesse out in Hamtramack, guys who were very nice to me and taught me a lot of the ropes. And I was lucky enough to study with the amazing Jazz teacher Morris Lawrence at Washtenaw College, too, which was a great opportunity.
AO: And yet you wound up being the Touring Bassist for Hard-Rockin' Boogie Guy Michael Katon!
DT: Well, heck, I played in a LOT of rock bands as well! Besides, Mike plays mostly Roots Rock and Blues himself...just really really loudly!
AO: What's Mike's take on the Flexible Flyers?
DT: I think he's bemused by the whole thing. Our tour schedules don't conflict or anything, since the Flyers are just playing very selective shows, in different configurations...
AO: Do all the players ever gig together as a group?
DT: God, I hope not, 'cause then we'd have like five drummers at once! (laughs) No, really, we have a couple of working units that I assemble depending on the show and peoples availability... a lot of these guys have bands of their own, like Billy Mack, who I in fact play bass with in HIS band. And Vino and Charlie are in the Buzzrats, who I play with in the studio sometimes. It's sort of like a Co-Op.
AO: Or like a commune?
DT: Ah, like a commune! Back to the 60's again! Except this time I get my OWN toothbrush!