Played bass in Ubu from, 1976 to 1993. Currently a producer and a member of the following bands:
Poka Poka (psychedelic)
Toulouse (ambient)
U.V. Ray (jungle)
He has played with an astonishing number of people.

Mike DeCapite is a friend of Tony's and an Ubu fan. He is also the author of the novel Through the Windshield. He asked the questions.

This interview was conducted over the phone. The references to "This guy's stupid questions" refer to several questions I had sent to Tony earlier.


Mike DeCapite: This whole Ubu story has been told through David's point of view, which is sort of devised in retrospect. I'm just curious how much of what you were doing was organic to yourselves and came out of living on Prospect where you were and the times you were living in and how much of it came out of influences. How much was conscious and how much was unconscious?

Tony Maimone: At the time when we first started, I know that I was listening to a lot of different music with my friends, who all lived in that building with me. Peter lived across the hall, and we were always listening to Bob Dylan or Jimmy Cliff or Bob Marley or Howlin' Wolf, and this is just on Peter's end. Lots of Eddie Cochran from Peter.


Peter was really into songs. He was into a bit of experimental shit, but he was really into songs. And he was writing for Cream magazine, so he was getting a ton of records. I remember sitting around and listening to Rory Gallagher, or when those Springstien albums came out he came over and said, "There's this really weird guy, man, and you gotta check him out." And he wrote out the chords for "I Came for You" and we were pounding that out on the piano.
We went up to his sister-in-law's place and got this beautiful piano and brought it back to his place and…

Wait---you got a piano and brought it back to his place?

Yeah, we brought it down to his place in the back of his truck. And I remember I was driving down Cedar Hill and Peter was in the back singing "Tangled Up in Blue" at the piano, bouncing back and forth. I'll never forget him singing "I CAME FOR YOU---FOR YOU--- FOR YOU" like Richard Hell…
Anyway, Peter was a pretty big influence on me---all the music we listened to together. And his wife, Charlotte, was really into Eno and classical music. You'd go over to his house and the turntable would just be on, with all these people playing different kinds of music. And when Patty Smith's first records started coming out that blew everybody away, and of course the Television record blew everybody away.

Right but I'm talking about earlier than that---you guys were already involved in Ubu before that Television record came out, weren't you?

Right but I remember that really strongly----all of those people were listening to all that… Everybody was into Roxy Music. And right below Peter is where Scott lived. I'd go down there and listen to even more with him. I used to listen to music with Scott, like, way back in '71. We had a house on 23rd…

Oh really? I didn't know that.

Yeah, we had this big house between 23rd and Page, just one block over from…

Wait, how'd you even know him?

Oh, just because I'd visited his house, which was like a house full of musicians.

Were you playing anything then?

No I wasn't, I was just drifting. What was I doing back then? I think I was working at the steel mill or some shit, saving up money so I could get out of town.

To go down to Florida or something.

Yeah---to do something with my life and move to Fort Lauderdale!
Living on Prospect, though. Those guys weren't there at the time, but Prospect in '71 was pretty bleak. I don't know if Alan and that crew had the Plaza by then, but I kinda think not. I left town for a while, came back in '73 and hooked up with Scott again. When did Horses come out? '75?

'75 or '76, yeah.

Well, I didn't start playing with Ubu until the summer of '76 then. And I was listening to a lot of Miles Davis---the dark, really electric shit---and a lot of Velvet Underground. Darker pieces, like Peter Green's "The End of the Game". I used to listen to a lot of that stuff with Scott. And at the time I was playing a bit, hustling money…

What were you playing at that time? Were you strumming a little guitar or what?

I was on a schedule where I'd do a couple hours of piano and a couple hours of guitar and a lot of bass in between.

What put you on that schedule?

I did. I thought, "Wow, I'm already 23", so I thought I was way behind everybody. Like Scott had already been playing music for 8 or 9 years, since he was a teenager. And I definitely felt like the inexperienced guy. So I put myself on this schedule. When I came back from Florida I lived in Lakeview for a few months and all I did was play bass. Then I managed to save up some money, moved into the Plaza, got the piano, got some amps, and just started playing everything. I was only in a couple bands before Ubu but… I remember my dad telling me that somebody's brother's kid's got a band and they need somebody to play bass---it was like a fuckin' Holiday Inn band doin' "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree"… That song has a million fuckin' changes! All those Stevie Wonder songs… If you don't know that music… I did that for a couple months, though.
I remember coming out of one of those rehearsals in the winter and wiping the snow off my Mustang…

What year?

Oh this was like uh… It was…

No, what year was the Mustang?


What else could it be.

That car was beautiful. Anyway, I did pretty good---I moved down to Florida with a couple hundred bucks, a bottle of whiskey, and a little guitar that I didn't even know how to play. And I came back with a good stereo, a bunch a records, and a beautiful bride.

And knowing how to cut hair, so naturally you moved to Lakewood.

Did you ever hear any of that early Herbie Hancock stuff? Really electric and funky, like "Watermelon Man" and all that? I remember coming out of one of those Holiday Inn band rehearsals, wiping the snow off my car… and you know how snowy Cleveland gets, all quiet, and I'd be playing this funky shit really loud in the car and just feeling so far away from where I really wanted to be.

Where did you want to be?

I wanted to be playing shit like that!

But what I started asking a while ago, is the opposite of your musical influences. When you started playing with Ubu, how much of that music was about your life and how much was it about music that you were into at the time. That music seems really organic to me.

We were all living right downtown, all of us. And the pastime down there was just driving around. It'd get snowy and we'd drive around and drink in the car and just BE downtown. I lived downtown for like 12 years.
To answer your question… David always waxed really poetical about the flats and all that, but it's just true that those surroundings really did have a huge effect on me. When I start thinking about that stuff I just feel shifted…

That music seems like such a direct response to me, it's so atmospheric. Especially the first couple of records, it seems like the atmosphere comes first, before even the songs. It sounds so much like those streets, so much like Cleveland.

It's interesting to me when I look at what I've done, and those first couple of records just seem like… I feel like I've almost come full circle from the early seventies. I used to turn off the lights and play the piano, and that's "Dub Housing". I used to come home late at night and turn on an amp and play, and that's the beginning of "Codex". That stuff was really influenced by my surroundings.
Personally I was really influenced by what I was listening to. You'd never know that was listening to reggae and Miles Davis and Bob Dylan, but… Playing with Bob Kidney had a big influence on me, too. We'd sit out in his backyard and really go over those Robert Johnson tunes.


This was later, maybe early '80s. I probably met him in the late seventies and by the early '80s I was playing with him. He wanted me to join his band, but I was touring with Ubu and I didn't really want to stop doing that.

I think what I was asking was more about when you guys started writing music and would get together to put together songs, you guys were trying to recreate the atmosphere of your lives at that point, and…

Let me just stop you. The first place we ever rehearsed at was in that building over on Euclid Avenue around 62nd. It was a small room and it was dark in there, and it felt like the heart of Cleveland. And I think organically songs like "Sentimental Journey" came straight from that dark room with everybody being in there, looking into themselves, listening to what was going on around them and reacting to it.

There's something about those first albums. Like "Dub Housing"---what does that mean but hearing what everybody around you is doing? There's Tony on the other side of the wall playing piano with the lights off---"Dub Housing". It's all about you guys trying to recreate your environment and giving it some shape.

Yeah, for sure that's what we were doing. Absolutely.

As opposed to later on when it gets more cerebral and more about ideas about music.

And writing songs. "Let's write some songs."

The earlier records are great songs, but at the same time they're soundscapes. They're collages, paintings of what your world is like.

A song like "Modern Dance" or "Streetwaves", that's most definitely true. It's not an easy thing to go back and look at because I believed in it so much…

But then you'd made a couple of records, and you had a contract and you had to make another batch of songs. At some point it changes, and then you're not all hanging out together. I don't know though, were you ever all hanging out together?

I remember playing gigs and then going back to where David lives, then sitting out back on the lawn, getting high and talking and stuff, but those days didn't last that long. I mean, Tom got really disenchanted with David's Jehovah's Witness thing, and when he left the band it really really changed.

So was there a while where you were just looking for a guitar player.

Yeah, for a while. And Scott and I had been playing with Doug's brother Pat and we wanted him in the band because he was a great guitar player. But David wouldn't go for it.

David doesn't seem to like guitars.

I guess. We got Mayo Thompson, who wasn't really…

How'd that happen?

David just invited him into the band.

How'd he know him? Just from Red Krayola?

Yeah. I didn't really know the Red Krayola the way David did. I had heard 13th Floor Elevators and I'd heard Red Krayola, but David was into that. I was like, "Hey, David, this is great, but let's have Pat in the band, too." But David wasn't going to go that way. And that was definitely a major intersection in the life and times of Pere Ubu.

So that was between "Dub Housing" and "New Picnic Time".

"Picnic Time" was Tom's last record. The next one was "Art of Walking", and if you go back and listen to that one it's way different. There's actually some good stuff on that record, and I've grown to like it more as time has gone on, but it was definitely a move away from the rock changes that Tom was really good at.

It's a move away from what's really organic to something more conscious.

Yeah. Intellectualizing it. Which Mayo was just so good at---he could talk about things… He had just produced this record for Blood Ulmer and he wanted me to play like Blood Ulmer's bass player who's like one of those virtuoso machinegun bass players. "Give it more lift! Give it more lift!" And then add Anton Fier to the equation for the next record and it's just too much.

So wasn't "Art of Walking" before "New Picnic Time"?

No. "Art of Walking" was after and is the one that Tom wasn't on.

No, Tom isn't on "New Picnic Time", is he? I thought he left after "Dub Housing"?

No, he's on "New Picnic Time". But it's funny that you say that. Even though he's on "Picnic Time", he wasn't really into it. I think he had already decided he was going to leave. There's some quirky funny little songs on there that are okay.

There are good songs on all of the Ubu albums. But after the first two or three, they're just not as cohesive. It sounds more intellectualized.

Tom is still on "New Picnic Time", and there's still a certain amount of the organic flow of the songs on there.

How did you feel while you were doing that record?

I still was way into it. When you're just a beginner and new to the studio and stuff, you're just so excited about playing piano or organ, playing guitar. I was getting to play all these different instruments and I was way into it.

Was a lot of that stuff created in the studio?

No, most of it was rehearsed.

Was that a big shift for you to go from rehearsal rooms to the studio?

Not really because I was way down with practicing. I was really into practicing. When it came time to record, I knew every single thing I wanted to play.

But the band at that point… Was it still like a marriage or were you all pulling in different directions?

We weren't pulling in odd directions yet. I was way into the idea of playing some guitar and getting to switch up instruments. Scott was still… It got to the point with "Art of Walking" that he wouldn't know what to play. If you go back and listen to some of that stuff it's way arty, and Scott would just stop playing, which I thought was pretty cool---to just stop playing. But David wasn't into that. David and Scott were always bumping heads. I guess I was a little bit with David at that point but I guess Scott saw it all coming early than I did. He would just say "I don't have anything to play to that." And for me, I can play to anything.

Well, you're playing a melodic instrument and he's playing a drum.

I know a lot of drummers who can play to anything. I always thought that in a lot of ways Scott was a really uncompromising drummer, who could only play if he felt a certain way about something, and I always respected and admired that.
One of the biggest changes between "New Picnic Time" and "Art of Walking" was that Tom and I could sit down and relate to each other. I remember the places we were at when we wrote a lot of these songs. We would just sit down with an instrument and bang it out. And Mayo and I never got to that point.

When, say, you and Tom sat down to write a song, you didn't have the words.

No, David always wrote the words afterwards.

Did he have any part in writing the music on any of these songs?

We always talked about it---"this is good, this is good, this needs a change"---but that kind of talk was a lot less in effect back in the early days. And as we got older, there were more and more request about what we should do to the music. It was always fun, though. I wrote a lot of David's stuff, too---I'd go into a room with him and, say, Chris Cutler, and that was something that we always did. David always talks about having a hand in the music.

A directorial hand, not a creative hand.

In the beginning he was just another person in the band, talking about "let's try that, let's try this."

Don't you think there's a difference between people all living in the same place, working towards the same goal, and not hanging out together, just getting together to make a record.


Let's get to some of this guy's questions. He says, uh, "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'?"

I think in the very beginning it was way way up on improvisation. We would start improvising, and then the challenge was to remember what you were doing. We'd be playing and something wouldn't get taped, and then it would get forgotten. That was always a great source of frustration. Then as time went on, people would bring in an idea and in the beginning it was usually Tom and me.

You keep talking about Tom and you or Scott and you.

It's interesting because Alan was very adamant about not being a musician, so his roll was like David's in that he would react. I didn't get together with David to do stuff outside the band, either, though. It was never "Hey David, let's go out and get a coupla drinks and pick up some girls, maybe go dancing."

I don't think anybody ever did that with him. Next question… I don't really like this question, but he says, "You had never played a musical instrument before joining Pere Ubu. What got you into the band as a musician?"

I'd played guitar when I was a kid, then I'd played bass with a rock funk band in Cleveland. I told you about that guy---I named my dog after that guy! That was my first real band. Then after that I played with Friction, which was Peter Laughner and Anton Fier. And after that it was Pere Ubu. That's for the record.

When you first started playing, what was your life like? Where was your money coming from? What were you doing with your time.

I was tending bar at the Picadilly Inn. They had a penthouse and there was a club up there. They had a disco place downstairs and a rock club upstairs.

Didn't Television play there?

Television played there, Johnny Thunders played there. It was so cool. What's his next question?

His next question is, "The bass plays a lot of leads in Ubu songs. Considering that at the start you were probably the least experienced member of the band, this seems like a pretty backward approach, but it worked out well. Why was this the approach taken? Was the outcome part of the Ubu vision or was it more a result of the personalities involved?"

That's totally what you were talking about earlier.

Yeah, it's kind of a stupid question, but go ahead.

Tom used to play bass, and I actually used to play guitar way back when. I was never trying to play guitar on the bass, but I was in to playing melodies. And Tom was really good at laying out a really strong rhythm part. It was easy to jump off and play that stuff, and Scott's such an amazing 4 on the floor drummer, that with those 2 going it was really easy for me to jump off.

Those songs are really bass heavy, but they're not bass driven. That must have had something to do with all the reggae you were listening to.

I was always into reggae and dub and Motown, funk, soul… I feel like I'm just learning to play that stuff now.

His next question is, "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 did he work with the band in early Ubu, versus late Ubu?" Do you want to skip that one?

I think one of the main reasons that David's always been the focus of Pere Ubu is that David always did the press.

This is kinda cool. This guy says, "In doing these interviews I have often heard the phrase 'serving Ubu', referring to musical approach, implying that there is a higher power at work. What do you see as the guiding principles of Ubu, the rules that all involved must obey?"

That's funny. We should think up a good answer.

He says, "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?"

Yeah, the band always wanted to get into the studio.

That's interesting, though, because you guys were always, no matter what record was out, such a great live band.

To a large degree, we never were totally successful at capturing that live spark in the studio. We were never that successful at it.

Really? You don't think so?

It's hard. It's hard just to capture the sonic qualities of it. "Modern Dance" has a great sound, I love the sound of that record, but live… It couldn't be controlled as much, so it was wilder, and had that little touch of anarchy that I felt got mixed out of what we did in the studio.

So do you feel like there's some element of Ubu that's never been captured anywhere?

I think the live records come pretty damn close. I think those live records for better or worse give you a good taste of the energy that was involved.

Oh, this is kinda cool. This guy's next question is, "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')"

There was sort of a network at that time, and it was magical.

A friends network?

Yeah, very friendly. If you needed a place to stay people would put you up. If you needed to have your hand held when you went to sleep there was someone there to hold your hand.
Personally for me, going on the road was a revelation. It was like, "Oh so THIS is a job that I can do. Get in a van, drive to a city, set up some amps, play some loud music for a bunch of people who are going to go nuts, then kick back in the van and drive some more." I was just blown away by it. Maybe the network wasn't as together as it is today, but there were loads of people coming to the shows. There were so many people interested in the music. It was awesome! And that was really what set the hook in me. I was never going to be able to do anything else because what else was there to do?

You still do that now, though, right?

I don't have as much time now as I did back then. I want to run my studio. But I still want to go back out on the road. I do it whenever I can but now I don't want to go on the road for 8 weeks because I've got this studio.

Also when you've been going on the road lately you've been doing it as a hired gun. If you were going out on the road doing something that you started it would be different.

Poka Poka just went to Washington, that's one of my bands. And it's great, it's fun, but on that level I can't do it as much since we're not making much money. Going out with Crust was like going out as a hired gun. I love drum'n'bass, it's the music that I really really love, and it doesn't feel like a hired gun thing. Now when UV Ray goes to Europe next month, that won't be as a hired gun---that's something I'm a member in. So I'm not really going out as a hired gun anymore. I'd go out and play with Crust for a plane ticket because I believe in it that much.

So when you go out now do you still feel that same sense of excitement?

Absolutely. Absolutely. And going to Europe just amps that up to the 10th power. I remember going to Europe with Pere Ubu. That was a real… congealing event for that band. It really pulled the band together because we were a certain way, then we got on a plane and went to Europe and took a boat across the Channel and went to Germany and played in this place where people were breaking the windows so they could listen to sound check, or going to play in Berlin or Amsterdam… There were a lot of adventures, and it did pull the band together in a certain sense, but David was already changing by then. When we went to Europe the press went nuts over Pere Ubu, the same way they always go nuts over whatever the flavor is that week. I remember at Rough Trade one of the first couple times we were there they got David a 4-track machine so he could work on things in his room and that was the beginning of his solo record. It wasn't like "Why don't you guys go into this studio and bang out a 7" for Rough Trade?" And David just went along with it solo. He did the same thing with the press. Scott and I always wanted to do press, but it all got directed towards David.
So there's that, which is the bitter, and then there was this sweetness of going to all of those fantastic places and playing for all those people who were so into the music. It was like a dream come true. It was great to get to travel, which is something I've always liked to do, but then at the end of the day I'd have something really positive to do, some work that made sense.

This guy wants to know about Peter, but you don't want to talk about that, right?

I would just say that Peter was one of my major musical influences, and one of my best friends. Back then, when I moved into the Plaza I didn't know anybody. But Peter lived across the hall. And as soon as I got a bass amp and started playing it he was right there knocking on the door. So I open the door and here's this guy in a leather jacket, "Hey man, what's up?" with a 6-pack of beer and a reggae compilation record. "Hey, did you ever hear any of this stuff?"
So he'd come over to my house all the time, and he really showed me how to relate with an instrument. He showed me how to do it just by doing. I could play something on the piano, and then he'd come over and play, say, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" in an Eddie Cochran style or whatever. He was awesome as far as I was concerned. He was so generous with his knowledge and talent, across the board to anyone he met. And I'm just speaking for me now, but I'm very very grateful to Peter. From the time he came over and just started playing with me, then all of the sudden it was okay for people to ask me to play with them. It was definitely Peter. I have so much respect for him.

These questions are really stupid, so I'm going to skip some of them. [pause as he reads ahead]. I can't believe some of these questions, so I'm going to skip all of them.

To recap this, though, I would say that I had a really great time playing in Pere Ubu. It was great to write all of those songs with those guys, to go on the road with them, and I have a lot of really great feelings about Pere Ubu. I'm listening to myself talk, and to me Pere Ubu isn't just David Thomas, it's all of us being in that band. It's all of us being out at SUMA with the Hamanns, all of us playing all of those shows at the Pirate's Cove.

I think that's what this guy's trying to address is that the way this story's been told is all about David Thomas and his vision, which is completely skewed.

I know and it's good to hear myself say that. But as a band it was a great time. Like when we played the London College of Printing, it was mayhem! And David would always tell me that I was too loud, and maybe I was, but everybody was so into it! I wasn't gonna fuckin' turn down! I can't help it, though. I'm passionate about that shit.
When I start to think back on all the years and all the travel, sure there was a little friction with David, but I don't care about that so much. I think about Peter and Tom and Scott And Jimmie Jones… All those guys, it was a pleasure to play with them and the good times way outweighed the bad ones.