Dr. Demento -
Iíve taken my traveling microphone to the headquarters of Rhino Records in west Los
Angeles, and here to meet me at Rhino are all four members of Firesign Theatre. Hi Guys!
Firesign Theatre - (in chorus) Hello
Dr. D - So we have Phil AustinÖ
Phil Austin - Hi!
Dr. D - and Phil ProctorÖ
Phil Proctor - Hello!
Dr. D - David OssmanÖ
David Ossman - Iím here.
Dr. D - Peter Bergman
Peter Bergman - Yo!
Dr. D - Yes, all gathered together. You all gathered together a few months ago to make a new album. Your first in some time, right?
DO - Seventeen years.
Dr. D - Seventeen years for all four of you together, and itís a new Rhino album, as you might guess, called "Give Me Immortality Or Give Me Death". How do you guys write? Do you all write together?
PA - Yeah.
PB - Left to right, usually.
PA - We have one big pen that was designed for us years ago that four hands actually fit on.
PB - Salvador Dali' did it for us.
PA - Yeah, it melts.
PB - It melts, but hey, you know, thatís LA for you. How do we write? Well we write in ensemble, although each of us will bring in individual pieces that weíve dreamed about---
PP - Or characters ---
PB - Or written independently and then we throw it into the pot and the idea is that basically try to do a "yes and"ó"yes thatís great and how about this". Rarely do you hear anybody say, "No I just canít go with that". We used to have big fights about the "noís", now we kind of sense that theyíre in the air and immediately find a way to work around it and make it better.
PA - I donít think we used to have big fights!
PB - Yes we used to have big fights!
PP - Thatís nonsense!
PB - You started them!
PP - No! No! You! Youíre the one that---
DO - All right guys! Hereís the important thing. If you have a funnier idea than I do, go ahead.
PA - Thatís right.
PB - Hey are you talking to me?
PP - And then whatís really interesting is that we might---
DO - Well youíre the funniest guy in the world, arenít you?
PP - He is the funniest man in the world. We give that award out at each writing session. We might spend hours struggling over one PArticular idea or the right way to say something, but when we go into the studio with the material that we finally agree upon, the characters usually come alive, start speaking for themselves, and we discover that the material can often be improvised and rewritten and come out in an entirely different way or just the exact right line that thing we couldnít quite find in the writing session will come poPPing out of our collective heads. The final take has that final polish to it and thatís really exciting. So that our writing is an organic process that is finally only realized when we accept the take that weíve just done and say "Thatís it, now lets move on to the next piece." Very exciting.
Dr. D - So do you do different takes of things and then pick the best?
PP - Yes.
Dr. D - Just like musicians.
PP - Yeah! Like jazz.
DO - It isnít that we pick the best, itís that we reject it if it doesnít work. So we do it again and then do it again until we have a take that we like.
PP - Weíre not comPAring takes. Weíre not saying, "Gee, that was a funny line Phil that you did, weíll drop it in. We just keep working at it until it all comes together, musically almost.
PB - "Immortality" was made without any cuts. There is no razor blade, thereís no digital cuts in this. It is layered right from the begining Ďtil the end. Itís done completely in linear fashion so that as we end one scene, we begin the next right in process.
Dr. D - So did you record the whole thing at one PAss?
PB - Not in one PAss, in a series of PAsses, but in serial. Absolutely. One after the other.
PP - Yeah, starting at the beginning and moving towards the end. We would take a break to do writing. Maybe take a couple of days out of the studio when weíd reached a certain point where we had to make some decisions as to where the characters were going or where the story was going. But sometimes we would simply take a piece of material and say "We really have to put a commercial in here, so what have we got?" and weíd look into our little bag of commercial stuff that weíve been working on and run into the hall and write it up and go in and lay it down. It was an amazing process.
Dr. D - How has the process of writing and recording changed through the years, like from 1968 to 1998?
PA - We started out working in Swedish originally.
PB - O yah, yah. Don qui don.
PP - Dah reso shavalde naw shatotalqui, sha shal.
PB - No escalvalnie, Que PAssa?
PA - Nah.
PB - And then we went to four track from Swedish.
PA - Went to four track from Swedish, recording entirely in railroad cars for a long time.
PP - Which is a tough language.
PB - Oh yeah, and then boxcars. I lost all my money in boxcars.
PP - Bull's pizzles and all that stuff.
DO - Remember the topless era?
PP - Who could forget that? None of us had any roofs to our houses. We had to work really hard to make enough money.
PB - And there was no front side of the album in the topless days. Then sixteen track.
PA - Well Doc really , the big, big, big, big, big secret is --- eyeball hats.
PB - Eyeball hats, Doc.
PP - Eyeball hats.
DO - Yeah.
Dr. D - Oh yes!
PB - We wandered in the desert for three full decades until we discovered eyeball hats, and now we can see the past, we can see the future, and now we can ---
PB & PP - eyeball the present.
PB - So weíre right there.
Dr. D - On the back of the new Rhino CD, thereís a photo of all four of you wearing these marvelous eyeball hats.
PB - Oh yeah?
PP - You havenít seen them, have you?
Dr. D - How long have you had them?
PB - How long have we had them? Well I was born with them. I had mine surgically removed as a child.
PP - It grew back.
PA - But then he found it in the desert, he found it again.
PB - It grew back. It grew with me, it kept in PAce. We actually found them in one of those weird catalogs that Phil Proctor uses to stuff up the cracks in his house. We ordered them and we were so impressed we decided to make them a major theme of the album which shows how reckless we are as writers.
Dr. D - Are you going to be selling them at your gigs.
PB - Of course.
PP - Absolutely.
Dr. D - I kind of jumped the gun. Are you going to be doing some live shows?
PA - Well, now that youíve brought it up ---
PB - Now that youíve brought it up, yeah! Weíre just gonna sell eyeball hats, right?
PA - Wanna buy an eyeball hat?
PB - Now weíre gonna go onstage and sell eyeball hats. Good idea Doctor!
Dr. D - Whereas Firesign, in the PAst, has done things that kind of looked back to old time radio in various ways, on the new album, you imagine what radio might be like on the radio on December 31st, 1999.
PA - We were hoping that the album kind of comes up to that point.
PB - That last day.
DO & PP - Yep, yep
PB - Basically, "Immortality" is the last day of the century, December 31st, 1999, on a super radio station called "RadioNow" that is so hip Doctor, it changes its format every five minutes.
Dr. D - Just like so many of the rest of them do these days, or so it seems.
DO - It was logical for us to think to 1999 because itís been around thirty years. 1969 was the year the world ended ----
FT - As we knew it.
PB - Thatís when they changed the water.
DO - Yes, and so we had to celebrate our anniversary in a logical way. That was, if the world ended then, then what was going to haPPen at the end of the world? Thatís what this album is about.
PP - It brings it around full circle.
PA - Well wait, this albumís about a lot more though, isnít it? For instance, I mean, you guys made this album, answer me this question.
PB - Anything you want to, Mister Janitor.
PA - If I wanted to have sex with my hat, how do I go about doing it?
PP - Buy the book.
PB - Well let Dr. Onan Winquedinque, world famous psychologist and author of a book called "Sex With My Hat" tell you how to do it. Heís on the album.
PA - Heís an old hand at self - love.
PB - He is. Heís an old hand at self - love. Heís the one that taught Bill Clinton.
PA - Well see Doc, on this album, you might actually learn something, if, in fact, you purchase an eyeball hat, which will make the translation much easier.
Dr. D - How does one purchase an eyeball hat?
PB - Oh, I wish we had a marketing number for you. I wish we could give you one of those fulfillment house numbers, one of them big 800ís, but we donít have it yet. Right now we have the only four eyeball hats in LA, but weíre making arrangements. Stay with us.
PA - Well they can visit the site.
PB - Visit www.firesigntheatre.com and you can learn all about it.
DO - I must say that these hats were made by a comPAny called Elope, which is in Colorado. I believe they were made in China, but hey ---
DO & PP - Isnít everything?
PB - Made by children ---
DO - Ah-h-h come on now!
PB - ----in prison ---
DO - No! No! No!
PB - ---without a sense of humor, in China
DO - No! No! No! We donít buy that.
PA - Wait, wait, wait. Is there a stain on there? Oh itís from The Gap. Look, and there is a stain on it.
DO - Letís return that.
PB - Oh look - (reading the label) Kathie Leeís Sweatshop Emporium. I canít read it.
Dr. D - It really does look like the beany baby people tried to make an octopus, but it kind of outgrew itself, put on a bikini, and then grew eyeballs at the end of its tentacles.
PB - Who is this guy?
PP - You do have an interesting imagination Doctor. Lucky youíre on the radio.
PB - I should mention that the eyeball hats are made in Colorado Springs, which is the home of the extreme right wing too, by the way. "Focus on the Family" is there. All those people that are just left of The Taliban, one of my favorites.
Dr. D - Thanks guys and stay demented!