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FM to WEB: Strawberry Alarm Clock - interview

Dimitris Antonopoulos talked with Strawberry Alarm Clock's George Bunnell. Read about their new project, time travel and tips for new bands!
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Dimitris Antonopoulos: First of all, it’s really nice to have you back! So, let’s start the interview with your NEW album 'Wake Up Where You Are'… Tell me the story..
George Bunnell:
Thanks Dimitris! Our producer, Steve Bartek has a recording studio (he also plays guitar and flute with us off and on.he was my song writing partner back in the 60's and played flute on our first album).
This enabled us to freely write and record whatever we felt like doing. Every band should be so blessed.  We also were getting asked to play live shows so we had to put together a set and of course re-learn some of our old songs.
We rehearsed in Steve's studio and we would start each day by rolling the tape and jamming. This got us all comfortable with hearing ourselves back and with developing our sound and working together as a band.

This led to the idea of recording a dozen or so of our old songs just to see if we still sounded like we did back in the day. The cool thing with that was we went back and dissected those songs so we could be true to the originals.
It turned out to be a great approach. We re-discovered our old harmony parts and instrumental details. Our stuff was complex and there's no way to reproduce it without intense focus. It's not like a roots rock band where you play the riff and the chords and one guy sings.
It also made our ability to play the stuff live much tighter and richer.
Anyway, we chose about eight of the old songs to finish off with real mixes and all. We really had no intension of releasing those songs on an album. We did it for our own edification.
We were, however, writing new material that we did intend for an album. We had been recording those songs simultaneously. Two of those are 'Drifting Away' and 'Wake Up'.
Then a trio of projects came our way:
World Citizen. We were asked to write that song as the theme for a short documentary about Garry Davis and his World Citizenship.
Charlotte's Remains. That song was written by Rudy Protrudi and The Fuzztones. They asked us to record our own arrangement of their song for an upcoming album of classic 60's bands playing Fuzztone's songs.
Mr. Farmer. This came about through our friendship with Mark Tulin of the Electric Prunes and our keyboardist Mark Weitz and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins and of course Sky Saxon. Mark will explain this one better, but after Sky passed away in 2009 his wife Sabrina who was already friendly with all our bands, put together a tribute show for Sky. Billy Corgan helped organize it with Tulin. They brought in Weitz and the new SP drummer. They called their band Spirits in the Sky. Also playing that night were the remaining Seeds and about half of our band SAC. After that show Corgan took Tulin and Weitz along with guitarist Dave Navarro on a short tour to continue the tribute. After that Sabrina Saxon started to put together a Sky Saxon and the Seeds Tribute album. Weitz first requested 'Pushin too Hard' for the SAC but the Prunes had beat him to it. His second choice was 'Mr. Farmer'. Thank God that's what we got!
It was at this time that Steve Bartek came to us and said he had to beg off the band. He had several other projects going that he wanted to pursue as well as bunch of film scoring work with Danny Elfman (that's Steve's real job).
He was not going to be able to accommodate us any further with his studio nor his full time participation with live shows and rehearsals.
It was his idea to get all the stuff we had completed, mixed and mastered and release it as an album. That's what we did. Mark did the cover art work (back in 1967) and we almost called the album 'It's About Time', which is in his original artwork. I decided the better title would be 'Wake Up Where You Are'. It's a line from our guitarist Howie Anderson's song 'Wake Up'.

D.A.: Is there a 'key' track really..? Your fav maybe..? And why?
'Wake Up' has a lyric befitting of our times now and then... 'Mr. Farmer' is a cool track. 'Drifting Away' was written by Mark Weitz... It's about losing his wife of 39 years to cancer and his struggle to find his way back by letting go... It's a beauty.

D.A.: You are one of my fav bands of the sixties. I think that 'Bird's In My Tree' is a masterpiece. Can you tell me a few words about the making of etc..? How do you feel looking back at 1967 really? Touching from a distance..

G.B.: I remember Steve Bartek and I sitting in his bedroom (we lived next door to each other as kids). And I had the verse chords and "open the door man, let all the good air come in". Then Steve came up with the bridge chords and "come live a better life".
From there we just traded line by line until it was done. We did write one more verse. But we lost it. It ended with "now I am so high, I'm la da da da da da da..." The record company wouldn't let us say HIGH! When we brought the song to SAC Ed King played an amazing signature guitar solo and Mark did his usual colorful organ playing... It came out nice. But we wanted it to be longer. The producer kept it short. That's why it's longer on the new album.

D.A.:  Any memories from 'PSYCH-OUT'..?
A couple of things stand out for me..
First off, Dick Clark loved Bird's in my Tree. He had us record a version of it for the movie. It didn't make it into the final cut. And he owned the second recording we did... I've never heard that one after we recorded it.
When we did our on screen take of Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow they yelled cut half way through as the camera panned away.they told us to take a two hour break. Well, during the break Randy Seol figured he had enough time to go to traffic school.he had gotten a speeding ticket.anyway he was gone too long and they called us back to finish our scene. If you look close at the end of the song you'll see it's no longer Randy who is sitting on the chair playing bongoes. It's ME!
That's not all we did. Mark put a Strawberry Alarm Clock bumper sticker on the front of his organ and Ed King is playing his Telecaster guitar not a Vox...pretty funny!

D.A.:  Here’s a hard question... ‘cause Ι am having a conversation here with 'the real thing' and NOT just another band, you know. So, any regrets maybe..? Looking (again) back in the sixties?
My only real regret is quitting the band towards the end of the third album back in 1968. We had all agreed to fire our manager Bill Holmes and when half the group decided not to, Randy and I quit. Holmes and producer Frank Slay were taking the band in all the wrong directions. They had creative control and we were kids. The only power I could exhort was to quit. And so I did. We were also being ripped off at every turn. I guess if I had stuck it out things may have gone a different way. I just felt boxed in with no way out once the band was no longer in solidarity.

D.A.: Can you tell me 5 of your fav albums ever?
Sgt. Pepper, Surf's Up, Muswell Hillbillies, Tommy, Roger the Engineer/Yardbirds.

D.A.:  The Beach Boys are back with a new album! You're back with a new album too,and we're in 2012! So, any memories from the tour with the Beach Boys and the Buffalo Springfield..? So many i guess from such an important era.
G.B.: We did two US tours with the Beach Boys and The Buffalo Springfield.The BB's 5th Annual Thanksgiving Tour in 1967 and The BB's 6th Annual Easter Tour in 1968.
Both have numerous humorous stories!
One that sticks out in my mind is on The Beach Boys private plane. Dennis Wilson had requested that the Playboy magazine' s Playmate of the month come with us on one of our flights in the South. Remarkably she did. Before we left the ground she went to the restroom. While she was in there Dennis Wilson tried, to no avail, to get us all to take off our clothes and be naked when she came out! He decided he would do it by himself. When she came out of the bathroom he had me get up from the table we were at so she could sit down next to him. Well, when she saw he was naked she screamed and quickly ran back into the restroom... The BB's road manager Dick Durea came running back to see what was wrong and saw Dennis. They made us all get off the plane so she could come out and that was the end of that!

D.A.:  Let’s take a trip (!) with a time machine for the next 24 hours, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..? Past or future really..?
I like the here and now! There are so many pitfalls with time travel.. But I love time travel movies. Like the one with Christopher Reeves, ‘Somewhere in Time’.. I guess I'm kinda goofy!

D.A.:  Is there a change for an Athens gig..? We love you here in Greece..
Where there's a will there's a way!
I'd love to come to Greece.I guess it would have to be a large venue and a multiple billing... Better get Karl Anderson on this one!

D.A.: For the end..A good advice for a new band..?
The best advice for a new band is to stay together...don't break up!
It takes loads of practice.you want to be tight and right!
Make good choices.
Don't lose your way.
Watch out for bad associations.
Make sure you have all the components.
A band is the sum of it's parts..it's a team..it's not one individual.everybody should be respected for what they bring to the table.

Thank You Dimitris!


George Bunnell