Founding member of Pere Ubu, active in the band from 1975 to 1979, then again from 1996 to present.

       From the early eighties through early nineties, he played somewhat sporadically in a band called Tripod Jimmie with Lennie Bove, first in Ohio/Eastern Pennsylvania, then in the San Francisco Bay Area. Tripod Jimmie's first album was recorded live on a pier in Erie, PA. While unknown for the most part, TJ is unique and interesting band in its own right.
MP3s of TJ can be found on the MP3 page.


How were songs started in Ubu? Did somebody come in with a riff and then everybody added their own parts to it or was it more authorial-i.e., "here's what you'll play when I get to this part"?

In early Ubu, the songs either started as jams, or Tony and/or I (or Tim or Peter in the very early times) would work out a basic riff to get the ball rolling. Everyone was responsible and in control of their own playing. David usually did his part last. This became very ponderous and, after I left, I assume somewhere in the fall-apart stage, that method was scrapped. When it worked, it was awesome, with 5 or 6 strong, different personalities making major contributions. I think the problem with that was the destructive nature of some of us. The temptation to trash someone else's idea was too strong. The temptation to stand with your own thing to the detriment of others was just as strong. Result-deadlock. Remember this when we get to your last history question.
On pennsylvania, we were all asked to bring in ideas. In practice, I was the only one to bring in much useable stuff. About 2/3rds of the material came from that. The rest of the stuff came from a variety of places-stuff I figured out on the piano at Robert's house, a drum pattern that everyone loved except David, (which became Urban Lifestyle), something off Robert's answering machine, who knows... David directed, it was mostly his decision what was used how. He put the vocals on later at his house, made people change things to suit, and mixed it, with Paul (Hamman).

How about in Tripod Jimmy?

In jimmie, the songs were mostly started from a Lenny riff, then I put a guitar around that. We often had some sort of silly idea that would set off the process. Bald Electrician, for instance, came from Lenny's observation that electricians seemed to be thin on top, probably hair loss due to electric shock. "The more you lose, the better you remember". This was satisfying for me as a guitarist, because I didn't have to worry about holding things together, I could just let it rip. Not sure it worked as well from a song content stand point.

It sounds like you jumped rather abruptly into playing music before you joined the army. What were you listening to that made you decide you could/should start playing music? Was it something that you'd always wanted to do and just got around to or was there a major impetus for getting started?

I started playing at age 17 on bass. The reason is a little unusual, but may explain a lot. I wanted to race cars, but met with complete resistance from my family. I wasn't strong enough to overcome the resistance, so looked for something that had a lot of energy, and demanded the same kind of complete concentration. (Actually, I had forgotten about that until I was about to type "I can't remember why"). My technique quickly outstripped my esthetic, I overplayed. My friends talked me into taking up guitar. Technically, I have more talent on bass, and I can hear a strong bass influence in my playing. I think what you are referring to is the 2 lessons I took before I went into the Army. I had been trying to learn guitar, and figured I would have plenty of time in the Army to work on it.

In Tripod Jimmie, I hear a lot of guitar riffs that seem to have come from soul music---rhythmic, hard-strummed, full chords that accent the beat. Was this something that you were going for or influenced by? And how do you utilize what inspires you musically?

3-J was actively influenced by soul music. In fact one of the things I was thinking about at the time was what it would be like if some alien was exposed to all relevant information about R&B except actually hearing it. HE wouldn't have any cultural background to fit it to. He wouldn't have all the hidden keys. Kind of like "you say potato, I say potato, lets call the whole thing off". I don't have a direct line from what comes in to what comes out. Perhaps a closer line 20 or 30 years ago, but not now. I do all sorts of things to try to change how I sound, but I always sound the same.

What did you get out of the early Ubu rehearsals that made it gel for you?

When Ubu started it was highly unusual to start out writing music. Bands would develop a local fan base by having a great stage show. Only then would they dare to try a few "originals". Copy bands were the norm, actually, that's all there were. Think about it. A generation before the Beatles etc. made a major breakthrough being able to write and record their own stuff. They did this only after years of playing other's songs. Of course, playing and writing are two different skills, so many really good bands just couldn't make the switch. Ubu, on the other hand, started at the creative process. Worked great for me, I couldn't bring myself to play the intro to Smoke On the Water like it was on the record.

Ubu put a lot of thought into having 2 guitarists or just one. What do you remember about that debate, and what the issues were? How did this affect song writing? Do you and Jim Jones play on any of the same songs on the latest album?

Actually, I'm not sure how much thought was put into how many guitarists. We started with 2/3 and 2 left. Under the Ubu technique of going with what's happening, we got 1 replacement. 1 guitar, 1 bass. Later, after I'd left, I asked to come back, and David decided that the form was 1 guitar. The number of guitars didn't affect the song writing as much as the personalities involved. Jimmie had 1 guitar, and I got to rip up because Len was there so strong. In Ubu I couldn't do that because I didn't trust the song to still be there if I took off for a while. More basic than that, the song structure hung on me. Any leads I did had to still act as song structure. In Ubu I was a rhythm player that played leads, in Jimmie I used a "lead" style of playing to push the rhythms. Strangely, even though the people are different in Ubu now, I'm still primarily a rhythm oriented player. And yes, Jones and I play together on virtually all of Pennsylvania. Most of the really tasty leads are his.

David Thomas seems to be, in many ways, the focus of Pere Ubu, if only because he's been the only consistent member of the band through the ages. How do the musicians in Pere Ubu work with him on musical ideas?

In the times I've worked with David, he has ideas, themes, subject of interest, phrases, etc ready, but, for the most part, doesn't tell us. He'll tell us enough to give us a hint of a direction, but not enough to unduly influence our processes. We (mostly me on PA) bring in musical ideas, and flesh them out into songs, with his input. The farther along the process goes, the more direction he gives. Then he takes the stuff away and puts words to it. Then back to the band for any adjustment. THEN we relearn the songs for performance. Not the best way to do it, but with the constraints of all our locations, schedules, etc, it works remarkably well. PA had 1 week of rehearsal/song writing, and one week of studio work, followed by a few more days of mixes/ fixing. I think we put it on the road with a day's rehearsal.

Tripod Jimmie is a very different band from Pere Ubu. You took issue with me calling the music simpler, pointing out that there were "just as many voices in TJ as in Ubu." I certainly don't think that simpler music is somehow lesser music, and didn't mean to imply that, but your answer brings up an interesting idea: it suggests that the main components of a song for you are voices, and how they fit together. This is different from the rhythms, harmonies, and melodies that are generally considered the basic components of songs, and I'd like it if you could elaborate on this a bit.

Actually, I wasn't taking issue with Jimmie being simpler, but your reason for it. Jimmie was simple on purpose. How far could we deconstruct the song structure while still having a rich, complete song? Pretty far as it turned out. The main components of the songs were voices, but the rhythm harmonies and melodies etc. were considered, used as "voices". Kind of like, every component of the song was put together like the voices in Ball Of Confusion. How big can we get with 2 voices, 3 instruments and a demented taped player.

Tripod Jimmie was not only a friend's three-legged dog, but also a tape deck on a tripod that you put on stage with you to play parts. How did you work with TJ as a sonic element? It's obviously not playing a harmony or rhythm part in the traditional sense---it's not a drum machine or a midi sequencer---but it is playing a part in the songs.

Ah, Jimmie. Think about the difference between playing with people, and playing with a machine. When you play with people there is the moment. All the changes that small timing movements, change of attack, mood etc. do to make music so wonderful. When people play with machines, they don't interact, they "play to". By not playing to we gave Jimmie life. We played, jimmie played, it was different every time, there was interaction. Jimmie had parts, in for the chorus, out for the verse etc. He didn't have notes, harmonies, rhythms etc. that had to be in exactly in THAT SPOT! Someone once said that we were Jimmies back-up band. The possibilities were endless. In one song, Jimmie played a mutated part of Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique. So we jammed with a dead person. A first, as far as I know. By the way, we got the idea from Allen Ravenstine. He used a tape deck into his synth a little in the early Ubu stuff. We just went a little more extreme with it.

All of the music I have heard you do has involved a band: any interest in solo guitar pieces? What do you get out of being in a band that you can't get out of playing solo? I'm sure there are trade-offs, what are they for you?

I don't have any interest in solo work I think in terms of ensemble. No trade-offs. I just can't satisfactorily play alone.



The Ubu box set includes "Steve Canyon Blues", recorded in 1972 by you and a few other musicians: what were you going for in those early recordings? What changed when you joined Ubu? And how much did that have to do with the people involved in both projects?

In Steve Canyon, I brought some people together, showed them the song, gave them an idea of what I wanted, and let it happen. It changed my life. I had no idea that would happen. It turns out putting cool people together and turning them loose with high expectations is way cooler than telling everyone what to do. DING! So I kept my mouth shut, took credit for it, and there you are. In 6 hrs. it changed me from an unsuccessful rock guitarist, to a slightly successful experimental guitarist. And it was a whole lot more fun. At one point, I gave a guitar to a nine yr old, and had him make noise. Sounded good. Ubu was more so. 5 or 6 REALLY strong individuals turned loose. I went from the director to probably the least dominant person (altho Allen was convinced he was the least dominant). In the long run it turned out that the Steve Canyon session had the advantage of one person directing. After a few years the anarchy factor put Ubu into a state of paralysis.

How long did Ubu play its regular gig at the Pirate's Cove? Did the group rehearse in addition to this weekly gig?

I can't remember how long we played at the Pirates Cove. A year or two. We were always rehearsing for the purpose of song writing.

It's interesting to me that there is so much early Ubu on tape (at least relatively). Did the group consider recording music an important part of making it---as opposed to trying to just be a live band?

Early Ubu used taping as part of the process. It was (is) impossible to separate the act of playing from listening to it to decide it's (what you're playing) merit. The only way to compose on the fly is to have a way to monitor it. Taping. Also, folks have always liked to tape Ubu.

When Ubu first started touring, what was that like? (I ask this as somebody who's grown up in a time where there's a pretty secure network of clubs to play in, all readily accessible, and when it's not such a novel thing to be running around the country with "my band")

Touring then, for me at least, was about like touring now. I wasn't responsible in either case for finding the gigs. For the most part, we don't play the same venues over and over, so it's always a new variation on the old experience. A few wonderful shows for audiences that appreciate us, a bunch of shows in places that don't know us for people that don't care. That's not right. We will play in a town somewhere, and it will be in some small club, and the staff won't know or care about us. The place will be about a quarter full, mostly with people with nothing to do. Most will hate it. But always, ALWAYS, there will be a very few people who have been waiting all their life to see us. Could be Madison, Wi, or Sydney Aus., it's the same. It can be so unpleasant, but so important. Almost like a sacred duty. The hardest thing, by far, to deal with in Ubu is the schizophrenic reaction we get. I can't begin to describe what it's like to present our music to a group of people. A musician plays to people for the reaction. When the reaction is so strong, and varied…

A lot has been made of Peter Laughner, and his truncated life. Anything you'd like to add to what's already out there?

I don't know what's out there. Peter and I developed that noisy guitar sound kind of at the same time. I think he was probably a little better at it. He could just about get away with doing it on acoustic guitar. I was more compact, he was more self- indulgent. He would go off, and we'd be "come ON already". Then we'd hear the tape, and it would be magnificent. Don't want to talk about his personal problems.

The early recordings by Ubu are pretty sophisticated for a band on its first time in the studio. Did anybody in Ubu have any experience in a professional studio before you recorded the first singles? Was there a lot of input from Ken Hamann? What had recording at home taught you that you took with you into the studio?

Allen Ravenstine had done electronic music in the studio, and had some recording gear. I did Steve Canyon. I think some others had done a little something or other. Remember that Tim (and later Tony) had never played a musical instrument before. Ken wouldn't tell us anything unless we asked. We'd do something, wonder why it didn't sound the way we thought, then he'd tell us why. He didn't want to unduly influence the process. The home recording was a compositional tool. Actually, the studio, at the beginning, was more of a reporting device than an instrument.

Ubu filled out early live sets with covers of psychedelic songs from the sixties. Any you'd care to mention? Ubu also never recorded any covers. Why not?

Ubu did covers entirely to fill time. That's no longer necessary.

So what was going on in Ubu that made you decide to leave when you did? And now that you're back, what do you notice that's different?

A couple things were going on to point me out of Ubu. For one, I liked touring and everyone else seemed to hate it. Ironic, since I never went on tour again until I rejoined the band. For another, David was going thru a religious phase that I resented having my name associated with. Remember, back then it was publicly seen as a band, not DT and the Ubus. Those were side issues, really. The big thing was New Picnic Time. I felt we'd made certain mistakes on Modern Dance, certain other mistakes on Dub Housing, and New Picnic Time would put it all together in the definitive Rock album. Instead, it was a new thing. I was Very disappointed. If it didn't happen then, it wasn't going to happen. So, I went off to do it myself. And failed, obviously. Ubu is an entirely different entity now. Amazing, since it's still very much Ubu. People think it's David's band now, but it's not. David serves Ubu, as we all do. Back in the day, it was anarchy. Now it's very much under David's direction. I may be the only one who thinks so, but to me, the musicianship in the band is at it's highest level ever. Then, I was, probably, the most accomplished musician in the band. Now, I'm probably the least. I'm speaking strictly about the ability to have technique available to serve inspiration. Everyone who ever played in Ubu had lots of creativity. No-one in their right mind would try to rate, or quantify creativity in Ubu. The process is different now. Most importantly, no one has any notions of popularity or monetary reward. While this can be frustrating, it's also liberating.


How much attention do you pay to picking gear---are you picky about what you play through or do you like to use whatever's available? Has this changed over time? (I'm pretty impressed with the clean sounds off of, say Dub Housing, which almost seems like a board recording in places)

I use whatever suits my fancy. Some guy in Cle bought out an entire year's production of white Gibson Flying V's. I thought that was wonderful, and started begging people to get me one. It took several years... A few years ago, I was thinking about the nature of the electric guitar. Originally it was supposed to be a way to make the acoustic guitar audible in a big band. It was supposed to sound like an acoustic guitar, only, well, loud. Of course, people started realizing what the possibilities were, and the electric guitar got a life of it's own. Nothing has really changed, tho, since the humbucking pickup back in the late 50's or early 60's or whatever. Everything since then has been a development of either the Gibson Humbucking sound, or the Fender sound. But. Great strides have been made in amplifying acoustic guitars. Why not run the whole sequence again with the new acoustic technology? So I had a guitar built with just one pickup- a Mike Christian piezo bridge pickup made so the heavy metal guys could play their obligatory tender acoustic number without switching guitars. Only I use it--that's right--as an electric guitar, with the amp sound, distortion etc. It SCREAMS! Has more dynamics than any guitar I've ever played. Amp wise, I use a rented, or Ubu standard issue Twin Reverb amp. I've had a variety of amps over the years. Have no special preference. I use .012-.054 Stainless roundwound strings. I pick really hard, and the heavier strings sound better under those conditions. Also, it discourages the old string-bending cliche.

What equipment were you using early on, and what are you using now?

In the day, I used a Fender Telecaster Deluxe, with whatever as a backup. The Tele was a real piece. I used to vibrato by shaking and twisting the whole guitar. The neck got so loose it wouldn't tighten up any more. I had to glue it in place. The intonation changed with the intensity of picking (something all guitars do, but not as much). Made the overtones really wild. You couldn't tune it with an electronic tuner, the signal was too weird. A friend has it now, he had it restored. Not the same. It's really amazing to me that I can use almost any guitar, amp, whatever, and I still sound the same. I even switched to metal finger picks from flat pick, and I still sound like me. Huh!

I know that you use pedals, but only from them not having shown up at the last Ubu show I saw. What do you like to throw in the gear bag?

I use pedals for two reasons. One pedal, a Digitech RP6, I use to have a good sound that I can plug into any clean amp and be workable. By the way, I use a lot more distortion than it sounds like. My picking style overpowers the distortion. Yes it does. The other use of a pedal is for an instant volume change. Any EQ pedal, or whatever, will do.
The whole idea is to have sturdy, reliable gear that will go on the plane without extra baggage charges, and can be replaced anywhere. The whole idea is to be a sturdy, reliable guitarist that will go on the plane without extra baggage charges, and can't be replaced anywhere. -Pops

....Fade out.