Popdose Interview: Eric Bazilian of the Hooters
Yeah, yeah, we know what you’re thinking: “The Hooters? Are they even still together?” Well, actually, if you’d asked that question between 1995 and 2001, the answer would’ve been a resounding “No.” After the tremendous success of the band’s 1985 breakthrough, Nervous Night, their commercial success in the States began a gradual descent; simultaneously, however, their stock was rising overseas. When the band took a break in 1995, singer-guitarist Eric Bazilian proceeded to keep very busy as a songwriter, working with everyone from Midge Ure to Jon Bon Jovi, but when the gang got back together in 2001 he was right there with them. The Hooters did a fair amount of touring in Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden, but it wasn’t ’til 2006 that the band finally started doing some shows in the U.S. The next thing you know, the band was back in the studio to record Time Stand Still, their first album in 14 years. Popdose had the good fortune to speak with Eric about the history of the band as well as his solo career, touching on subjects like the Hooters’ omission from the Live Aid DVD, what it’s like to meet three out of four Beatles, and what a glorious gift it was to have Joan Osborne record “One of Us.”
Hey, Eric, it’s Will Harris, with Popdose.
Hi, Will, how are you?
I’m not bad. How are you?
I’m great, thanks, but can you hold on one second?
In fact, can I call you back at this number in, like, two minutes?
Sure, no problem.
(Almost exactly two minutes later …)
Hey, Eric. So, uh, how are you now?
(Laughs) Much better, thanks!
Well, I just wanted to start by saying that I saw you guys years ago opening for Bryan Adams at Hampton Coliseum …
Ah, I remember it well.
… and then I saw you a year or two later at the Boathouse in Norfolk, VA.
Yep, I remember that, too!
Great shows both, but I’d say that the Boathouse show is probably one of the all-time best shows I’ve ever seen.
Wow! Well, I’ll take that. Thanks!
I’m not just blowing smoke, either. It was one of those shows where I walked out thinking, “I’m down with this band for the long haul.”
Well, I’m going to do the career retrospective thing in just a minute, but, obviously, I want to start by talking about the new album.
I know Time Stand Still was just released in the States a few weeks ago, but I guess it saw German release in 2007. So although the stock line is usually that bands are big in Japan, the Hooters are apparently bigger in Germany?
How did your fan base get so big over there? I know it’s been gradual, but …
Well, it’s funny, because Nervous Night didn’t really do anything at all in Europe, and then, for some reason, One Way Home — which was sort of the beginning of the end of the first phase of our U.S. career — was huge in Germany. “Johnny B” was a huge hit, and it’s still the kind of song they sing at football games. And we just started touring Germany, and it just kept growing over there. Germany has a much different live-music culture than the United States does. People actually go out and seek out live music there, which has faded quite a bit here.
I would say so. Unfortunately.
What led you guys to do a cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” on this album?
It came from a show we did — Rob [Hyman] and I did — a writers-in-the-round show for the Save the Music Foundation a few years ago. It was an ’80s-themed night: Rob and I [from] the Hooters, Cyndi Lauper, Patti Smyth, Desmond Child, and a few of the guys from the Fixx. And the assignment was that each artist was to do two of their hits from the ’80s, and then one hit from the ’80s that they wished they’d written. And, y’know, there were a lot of good songs written in the ’80s, but it was really hard to find one that we felt strongly enough about to actually perform, and one that we could find a way to do that was our own, without just parroting it. I mean, we could’ve done “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2,” which would’ve been a lot of fun for me, to do that guitar solo … (Laughs) … but to find something that we could really sink our teeth into and make our own? And “The Boys of Summer” just sort of came up. And that was sort of a sacred cow, in a way, because that’s an incredible record, and Don Henley’s vocal is really kind of unsurpassable. But I landed on a way to play the main theme on the mandolin, and it happened to be in a key that we could sing, so we did it that night, and it really brought the house down. So we started doing it in our live shows, and that was great, and then we figured, well, let’s try cutting it for the record, and maybe we’ll use it as an extra track. But it came out so well that we figured, “Hell, let’s put it in there with everything else.”
Yeah, when I first saw it on the track listing I thought, “Didn’t the Ataris do that?” But you guys definitely made it your own.
Yup. And the Ataris did it, what, five or six years ago?
So has it replaced “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” as your most requested cover?
And, actually, you name-checked “Lucy” in the lyrics of “Ordinary Lives” on the new album.
Yes, we did.
Did you intend that song to be kind of a summary of your career?
“Ordinary Lives” really was one of those songs that just emerged full-blown. We didn’t really think much about what we were saying when we were writing it; it just sort of popped out fully evolved.
Was that the case with a lot of the songs on the new album?
Yep, a lot of them. And then there were a lot of songs that we labored over, and they didn’t end up making the record at all. (Laughs)
Would it be fair to describe “Catch of the Day” as a shanty?
I’d say that would be very fair.
How did that one come about?
Well, I think … I’m trying to remember where that one was born. Most of them were born at my studio, and that one was just sort of goofing around. I’ve always had this metaphor for songwriting as fishing; I speak a lot to students who are aspiring songwriters, and that’s my usual routine. Sometimes you pull up a big one, sometimes you come up empty-handed, but if you don’t go out there every day with your pole and your bait and get in your boat and go, you’re not going to catch anything. So we just sort of wrote a fish song based on that. But it’s true. That’s what it’s like: every day you write a song, and it really is like the catch of the day.
You know, the riff of “Where the Wind May Blow” actually reminds me of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.”
(Sheepishly) Uh, yeah, it’s very much like that. I wasn’t thinking about that at the time, but a few months later we were mixing it and I was like, “Omigod, did we just plagiarize Blue Oyster Cult?” But, uh, of course, ours is a much more sophisticated riff.
Of course it is. It also has kind of a dark melody, but you guys have always had a fairly dark musical streak running through your material.
Some of it, yeah. It’s a balancing act. That one was actually kind of a goof, in a way. It was our nod to A Mighty Wind, where the idea was to write a song that sounded like some old folk song we’d dug up and done a “trad., arr.” arrangement of.
Is it weird going the self-released route after so many years on the majors, or did you see it as the only real way to go in today’s musical climate?
Yeah, it’s the only way to go. We couldn’t have found anyone to get behind us at this point in time. But, hey, maybe they’ll be chomping at the bit for the next one. I don’t know.
I’d guess the fan reception has been pretty strong.
It’s been great. It’s been phenomenal. In a way, it’s been better than it’s ever been.
When I was talking to our site’s head honcho about the album’s U.S. release, we were both wondering if you had to battle the issue of the diehard fans having already bought German import copies.
Well, you know, I’m not worried about those few hundred people who’ve done that. The idea here is that we’re trying to recapture our old public but, more importantly, to get a whole new one.
Are you guys touring the States at the moment, or are you still in the talking stages of doing a tour?
We’re doing gigs as they make sense. For us to just get in a van and start playing at small clubs and coffeehouses is just not something we’re about to do. We’re playing out live, but we’ve got to be a lot more selective about what we do than that. But, y’know, we keep hearing about new gigs being added — we’re playing New York in a couple of weeks, we’re playing DC, plans are being made for a summer tour in Europe — and God knows I’d love to get on that bus and cover the U.S. again. I feel as though we’ve got a lot of unfinished business here.
I see you guys are playing the Birchmere. That’s a great venue.
Yeah, it is. Well, I’ve heard it is; I’ve never been there. But they’re actually taking the seats out for us, I understand.
Okay, time to do the retrospective thing, which I’ll start by saying that one of our other writers mentioned to me that he’s got a friend who’s been a fan of yours since the Baby Grand days.
Your 1983 debut, Amore, got a belated CD release in 2001. What are your thoughts on that record? Are you still proud of it, or do you just consider it an artifact of where you were at the time?
I’m proud of it as an artifact of the time. It is what it is. There are some gems in there. It’s funny, but I get a lot of questions from people who message me on MySpace and ask me about this song or that song [from Amore] and “Do you have plans to resurrect songs from it?” And for the most part the answer is “No.” But I’m proud of it. Good lord, it’s like … well, I mean, I’m sure even U2 feels the same way about their first album. Like, “All You Zombies” has survived; though it’s gone through some changes since then, it’s still there. We still do “Blood From a Stone” from time to time.
Are there any versions of songs on Amore that you prefer to their later rerecordings?
Oh, “Hanging on a Heartbeat,” definitely. Yeah. And, in fact, “Blood From a Stone,” too. They weren’t broke, and we fixed them. But that “Hanging on a Heartbeat” is definitely the definitive recorded version.
Was the success of Amore more or less what led you to work with Cyndi Lauper on She’s So Unusual?
Actually, we’d already done Cyndi’s record when we did Amore.
Yeah, we worked with Cyndi in ’82, and after we worked with Cyndi that’s when we went off and made our record, in ’83.
Okay, moving on, 1985’s Nervous Night became the band’s signature album—
—in America. Not in Europe.
True enough. How do you feel Nervous Night has aged over the years? I mean, do you listen to it and go, “Oh, gag, that sounds so ’80s,” or are you comfortable with it?
I’m very comfortable with the sound of it. I don’t think it sounds dated at all. The snare drum sound has that ’80s digital reverb on it, but I still think it’s a great sound … (Laughs) … and if I had that digital reverb now, I’d be using it! Songwise, there are definitely some that succeeded better than others, but, y’know, the real standouts — “And We Danced,” “Day by Day,” and “All You Zombies” — I’m totally behind them. I totally stand for what they said then and now. I don’t think we possibly could’ve done them better, and I can’t see how we could do them better now.
You guys opened Live Aid in Philadelphia, but you’re not on the DVD set. Did no one have decent footage of your performance?
No, that was … you’d have to ask Sir Bob about that. He had nothing to do with us being on the bill in Philadelphia. That was a local thing; that was Larry Magid at Electric Factory that made that happen. I don’t know if you’re aware of the Rolling Stone article that was written about us at the time, but the opening line was, “‘Who the fuck are the Hooters?’ asks Bob Geldof.” But ironically, the week after the Live Aid DVD came out, he opened two shows for us in Germany. We, uh, did not give him a good dressing room … (Laughs) … but we were very nice to him, and he was sheepishly polite with us.
Has anyone attempted to market T-shirts that say, “Who the fuck are the Hooters?”
I think we should do T-shirts that say, “Who the fuck is Bob Geldof?”
One Way Home, like you said, was successful in Europe but not so much — at least comparatively speaking — in the States. Were you guys panicking, or was CBS doing the panicking while you just kept on doing what you were doing?
I don’t even think they were panicking. I don’t think they cared at that point. They were on to the next thing. That was really the beginning of the end of the record business as we knew it. But we were disappointed. In retrospect, in a lot of ways, that’s my favorite Hooters album, just in terms of the overall musical impact of it. I think it’s where we really started to find ourselves and started to push the envelope as far as what we could do on a record. But on the other hand, in retrospect I think the new album is more what the American public expected for a second Hooters album than One Way Home.
I think One Way Home was definitely the first occasion where critics could use the adjective “mandolin-heavy” in a review of a Hooters album.
When Zig-Zag came out, I was working at a record store, so I listened to it incessantly at the time, but, once again, it actually sold less in the States than its predecessor.
Yeah, but it got us to Sweden. (Laughs)
Well, there you go. You know, I have to say that “Heaven Laughs” is one of the two songs that I’m demanding to have played at my funeral.
That’s cool. And I actually have played it at a funeral.
I’ve thought in retrospect that the album could’ve been massive here if only there’d been such a radio format as Adult Alternative at the time, but at the time I envisioned the suits at CBS scrambling to figure out an angle to market a guest spot by Peter, Paul & Mary to “the kids.”
Yeah, well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was, creatively. It was great. But y’know, it’s ironic that Don Ienner wanted to put out “Give the Music Back” as the first single, which I totally agreed with. And to this day, I think the course of history would’ve been different if it had been. That’s one of the hidden gems from the past, actually. That’s one of the few songs on the album that knew what it was talking about.
I always thought that “Brother, Don’t You Walk Away” and “Deliver Me” was a great one-two punch to start the album.
Yeah, it was nice, but the problem with “Brother, Don’t You Walk Away” — and I still have a problem with it — was that it was just so … well, “whiny” isn’t the word, but it was kind of an upper-middle-class bleeding-heart-liberal song. It’s like, “Oh, God, there are these poor, homeless people! What are we going to do about them?” It wasn’t “Here, do this,” it was just middle-class guilt. Maybe I’m being harsh. (Laughs) I’m definitely being harsh.
Well, it’s easy to be harsh in retrospect.
Yeah, but I was pretty harsh even back then! In one of his big Rolling Stone interviews Bono said that, for 80 percent of the old U2 records, he wishes he could rewrite the lyrics because he felt like they weren’t finished. And I think that’s some of the clarity that time brings. A lot of our early stuff, I definitely feel like we didn’t finish it.
You mentioned “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2″ a minute ago. How was it to participate in Roger Waters’s staging of The Wall in Berlin?
Awesome. It was so cool. He called us personally and asked us if we’d do that. He was a fan. He’d come to see us in London, and, y’know, a year later, we get the phone call from him. In fact, he’s coming to our show at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York.
And I meant to mention this while we were talking about One Way Home, but you got to meet Paul McCartney in the midst of doing promotion for that album.
Yesssssss! Another of life’s high points right there!
Are you still coasting on that even now?
You know, I still am. I’ve met all three surviving— well, now, there are only two, but I’ve met the two surviving Beatles. Paul we met in December of ’88, and then I met Ringo in 2002. Or was it 2003? One of those. But yeah, that was amazing. Too bad I didn’t get to meet John.
But you did get to meet George?
Yeah, we met George just a few months after Paul. And the incredible thing about that was that he recognized us! Rob and I were standing at the elevator in this TV studio in London, and I hear the voice behind me: (affects an acceptable Liverpudlian accent) “Hey, aren’t you the Hooters? I’m George. Love your music.”
Wow. And then I guess he had to pick you up off the floor?
(Laughs) Yeah, basically! And it was the same thing with Paul! We did Top of the Pops with him, and he’d just gotten offstage after his rehearsal, and I was waiting while all of the crew shook his hand and told him how great he was, and then I took my shot and stuck my hand out and said, “Hi, Paul, I’m Eric from—” “Oh, from the Hooters? Yeah, I recognize you from your video!” I mean, wow …
So with Roger Waters, did he come to learn of you because of your profile being so high over there at the time? Because I know that Cyndi Lauper also participated in that staging of The Wall, so I didn’t know if it was a case of her letting him know about you guys, or …
No, no, he actually came to see us at the Town and Country Club in London. That was in ’88. It was a sold-out show, and … it’s funny, but when we were recording “All You Zombies,” I kept saying, “Man, I hope Roger Waters hears this.” And when we played at the Town and Country, the crew was loading out, I was hanging out on the stage talking to somebody, and our road manager came over to me and said, “Uh, Eric, you better go up to the bar. Somebody wants to meet you.” So I walk in, and there’s Roger Waters. “Hi, I’m Roger Waters, and I’m a fan!” (Makes a sound approximating that of his own head exploding) And that was just totally from him hearing us on the radio in England, in London. “Satellite” was our big hit at the time. That was our 15 minutes there.
You switched to MCA for Out of Body. Did Columbia actually drop you, or was your contract up and you opted to move on?
We got them to drop us. I think it was mutual.
I’ve heard that Joe Hardy’s production methods were different from what you’d been used to prior to that, but was that a good or a bad thing?
I thought it was great at the time. I mean, y’know, I think that if the songs had been better, it would’ve been a much better record. But Joe was great. I loved working with him. In some ways, he was one of the easiest producers I’ve ever worked with, because he’s so facile in the language of music. He’s someone who can say, “Um, that guitar part? I don’t know what it is, but you might want to play the suspended 4th instead of the major 3rd there.”
That’s pretty specific.
And he had an incredible arsenal of instruments that he pulled out for us to use. No, he was great. But, y’know, I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anybody that I wouldn’t gladly work with again.
That’s really saying something.
How did Ricky Martin come to record “Private Emotion”? Had he heard it himself, or did someone pass it on to him?
That was Desmond Child. I’d gotten to be good friends with Desmond, and after “One of Us” happened, I had people hunting me down because they wanted that thing. And Desmond had first contacted me about working with this woman he was developing named Billie Myers, and we did her record; I wrote “Kiss the Rain” with him and her. And then he and I wrote Robbie Williams’s first single, “Old Before I Die.”
Which I didn’t realize until today, when I was doing my research.
Yep. And I had played Desmond a bunch of Hooters stuff, and he really liked “Private Emotion.” So I actually cut a track for Robbie Williams to sing. But that relationship — Robbie and Desmond — they did not get along famously. (Laughs) So that went by the wayside. But six months later Desmond told me he was doing a record with this guy who was in Menudo and thought it would be a great song for him. So I said, “Hey, go ahead!”
The Hooters went on hiatus in 1995, and like you said, given the success of “One of Us,” you weren’t exactly resting on your laurels.
I’m guessing you didn’t exactly see the level of that song’s success coming.
Well, I’ll tell you: I wrote that song one night — the quickest song I ever wrote — to impress a girl. Which worked, because we’re married and have two kids. But we were in the middle of writing Joan’s album, which was a group effort with Rick Chertoff and Joan and Rob and I, and I did a demo of “One of Us,” this wacky little demo which I ended up putting as a hidden track on the CD of my first solo record, and I played [it] for them. And it really hadn’t even occurred to me that it was something that Joan might do, but Rick, in his wisdom, asked Joan if she thought she could sing it. And I think it was better that he asked it that way rather than “Do you want to sing it?” Because the answer to that might not have been yes. But she definitely said she could sing it, and we did a little live demo of a guitar and her singing it. And when I got into my car and popped the cassette in, I started practicing the Grammy speech that I should’ve gotten to give.
How crazy was the sudden rollercoaster of success that the song experienced?
I don’t know if “crazy” is the word I’d use. It was astounding. And miraculous. To write a song and have it find its voice and its audience like that — that is nothing short of miraculous. And just the way the song came about … I’m eternally and immeasurably grateful for that song.
I know it didn’t come about for that reason, but given its success, it makes me think of Paul McCartney’s comment about how he’d write Beatles songs by saying, “C’mon, John, let’s write ourselves a swimming pool.” Without being specific, I’m guessing it’d be fair to say that you earned a pretty penny from the song?
Um, the song has done well for me. And it came when I really needed it.
You referenced it a minute ago, but during the band’s hiatus you also recorded a solo album. Two solo albums, actually, neither of which is readily available anymore. I looked for them on iTunes, but no luck.
Yeah, y’know, one of these days I’ll get around to it. I gotta get that happening. I will get that happening.
To bring everything full circle, what finally led to the full-fledged reunion of the Hooters? I know you’d been doing sporadic reunion dates here and there, but what actually led you back into the studio?
Well, after touring off and on for three years in Germany, we had to make another record. We’d sort of milked that as much as we could, taken it as far as we could, and the only way to continue as a viable artist was to make another record. We didn’t book a tour for the summer of 2006, I sent my family off to Sweden for the summer, I stayed home alone for two weeks, and Rob and I wrote a bunch of the new album. A lot of the songs were stuff that we’d done individually in the years before, but “Morning Buzz” I wrote the week after I wrote “One of Us,” and “I’m Alive” was from the summer of 2005. But we did the rest of it, went in and started cutting tracks in the fall, then finished it in the spring.
Is everyone in the band happy with the final result?
If they’re not, too bad! (Laughs)
Man, I almost wish I didn’t have a couple more questions. That would’ve been a great closing line. I presume that the relationship between the band members has stayed pretty strong over the years, even when you weren’t playing together?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. And I think we all sort of knew we’d end up back on the bus together, so to speak. And so we have. Thank God.
I’ve got one quickie that’s actually more for another piece I’m writing than this one, but do you have a favorite music-related book? Biography, autobiography, reference book, whatever.
Absolutely — Recording the Beatles. That is the Bible. That is the Torah of recording. In fact, I’m going to build an ark for it, with a stand and a whole set of blessings that you’re supposed to say before you take it out, pass it around the room, and have everyone kiss it.
So is this Mark Lewisohn’s book?
No, no, this is the big one. This one’s by … wait, I’ve got it right here … it’s by Brian Kehew and Kevin Ryan. This one supplants all others. It’s only available online, it’s $100, it weighs about 20 pounds, it comes in a two-inch tape-reel box, and it’s the undisputed final word in Beatles recording. There’s a whole chapter on the talkback mike they used! There’s a life-size foldout poster of the console! It’s the one. I mean, the Lewisohn book is great, it’s just very incomplete and, at times, inaccurate. But you can actually find this at RecordingTheBeatles.com.
I got one last year by Richie Unterberger called The Unreleased Beatles that’s really good.
Oh, I don’t know that one!
It basically covers any song that was never officially released, including live tracks and stuff that was only in filmed performances. It’s really, really specific, covering every bootleg he’s ever gotten his hands on over the years.
I don’t think you can order it through his site, but if you go to RichieUnterberger.com there’s a link to order it on Amazon.
That’s great! I’ll check that out. I actually had an amazing experience a few weeks ago. I went to Sweden and Norway for a week to participate in a John Lennon tribute. It was a series of shows that a friend of mine put together, mostly Swedish artists. You may have noticed that there’s a little connection there.
Well, I was wondering, since you said you sent your family there for a week.
Yeah, I’m married to one. We spent every summer there, every other Christmas. My kids are bilingual, I speak the language, love the music, love the country. But this friend of mine put together this tribute, and the drummer for it was Alan White! And for the first show, he got Klaus Voorman, who also did the poster! And I was in the room when Klaus and Alan saw each other for the first time in 37 years. That was deep, lemme tell ya. And the last show, Tony Sheridan played!
That’s awesome. Well, you’ll appreciate that one of my prized possessions is a copy of the Beatles’ Anthology 1 signed by Pete Best.
Oh, cool! That’s great. Yeah, they tried to get him, but he was, uh, not so cooperative. But Tony was great, and Alan is just … I mean, I’m also a huge Yes fan, so the highlight for me was, during soundchecks, to play “Close to the Edge” with the drummer for Yes!
I actually just got a two-disc DVD documentary about Yes.
What, about Topographic Oceans?
No, it’s actually about the entire history of the band.
Oh, really? I’ve gotta check that out.
I’ll drop you an e-mail with links to both that and the Beatles book I mentioned. Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. I’d love to tell you that I’ll be at the Birchmere show, but I’ve got a two-year-old, so my schedule is not entirely my own. But if you get to the Norfolk area, I’ll definitely be there.
Oh, you actually still live in the Norfolk area? I had a cousin who was a DJ in Norfolk, at WNOR, in the ’60s. He actually took me to see the Beatles in Baltimore in 1964.
Wow. I can barely wrap my head around that: not only did you meet three Beatles, but you actually saw them live.
Twice, actually! And you know what? Sometimes I have a hard time believing it all myself.