"Entree" 1999 Sandee Owen

My exclusive interview with Chris Butler (10/99)

I was wondering if you could answer just a few questions ?

1) First off. You looked great on that VH-1 show and your projects sounded so interesting. My cable company doesn'y carry VH-1 so when Tracy told me about the show I was upset that I wouldn't be able to see it, but as luck would have it I was out of town to see Men At Work in concert and I caught the VH-1 show that night in my hotel room. Other than that, and Square Pegs, were The Waitresses ever on TV or in a movie?
" I have a tape of the {VH-1} show (I don't have cable) but still haven't watched it. When they were putting it together, they culled tapes from the BBC's 'Old Grey Whistle Test' + some lip-syncs from 'Solid Gold'...that's kind of as far as footage goes."
2) There still, after all this time, seems to be a veil of secretcy about why Patty left the group. Would you be willing to tell?
"That's complicated. Can I wait to answer this one at a later time? I'd like to gather my thoughts first. I can only offer an opinion as well, since she's not around to give her side."
3) In that same vein, why did Dave Hofstra and Ariel Warner leave after the first album?
" it is very hard to keep a combo together in the NYC area. good players are often in several bands at once...in order to make a living, to advance their musical skills by playing in different situations and to better their chances at being at the right place at the right time for a break thru. I came from the Mid West, where a band was a solid, all-for-one type unit, and was vexed by the jazz band model favored here. Hofstra was more interested in pursuing his acoustic bass/jazz/session work, and just did electric bass for fun....so he left to concentrate on those aspects of his career. Ariel was Patty's friend, and joined up to bolster her confidence and balance out the girl/boy ratio in the combo. my memory of her is very positive - she was smart and full of fun...but when we were recording the first album, she kinda choked when the recording light was turned on and had trouble doing her parts. to be fair, there was time/budget pressures on her that did not help her confidence, but our engineer, Kurt Muncasci (sp?) was very frustrated w/her (odd...since he and Ariel were good buds), and since we were in danger of going over budget, it was decided that Ariel should take a pass. needless to say, she was not happy about this...she stayed friends w/ Patty for years & and resentful about being fired, too..."
4) Other than the VH-1 show with Tracy, have you seen or worked with any of the other members lately?
" 'lately'...no, but there were several points of contact. Mars Williams contributed a segment to 'The Devil Glitch' project, and Billy Ficca was the drummer when I did a temp sub spot w/ The Washington Sqs. He also came and danced when a surf band I was playing in did the occasional gig."
5) I think that Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful is one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded. Every song is terriffic! My faves are No Guilt and Go On. Those songs helped me through a very rough time in my life. Could you tell me the inspiration for No Guilt?
" inspiration? I was simply desperate for a b-side! - Island Records (via their Antilles division) wanted to release 'Boys Like' as a single...so I needed another tune quickly. I thought about their reggae/ska/blue beat/rock steady catalog, so tried to write something using those rhythms...admittedly a white boy take on that genre. The verse lyric's tone came from a riff I used to do w/ a friend...we'd try to come up w/ the most deadpan, banal phrases possible, and the chorus's "i'm sorry..." slant/ideas came from my own experiences w/ recovering from relationships....never feeling superior...just recovered...more or less."
6) At www.CDUniverse.com there is a live Waitresses album for sale. Do you remember the show and was it a good one?
" I remember the show...vaguely....and I think it was typical of what we were doing at the time. We were hot, and excited playing...tho it took a listen to the cd to remind me/to realize just what a tight little ferocious combo we were!"
7) Every rock history book that I own says that there was a time when you left the band ... Did you?
" Patty left, we tried carrying on w/ Holly Beth Vincent, it didn't work out, I gave up, then Patty came back for another series of shows."
8) one of my other favorite 80's bands was Holly and the Italians. Are there any recordings (either official or not) of performances of the Waitresses after Holly replaced Patty?
" I have board tapes of some of these shows buried somewhere around here...haven't listened to them, and have no idea of their quality. I seem to remember that she had a lot of promise and it would have been interesting to see what we could have come up with w/her...but she had some raging personal problems that made that impossible."
9) What is your opinion of the Spice Girls cover of Christmas Wrapping? (Personally, I was very excited to hear it, but I was disappointed because they changed the lyrics)
" well...it's fairly true to the original...including Mel C. gasping for breath as she tries to sing the last few lines in one lungful! many thoughts...since this came out of the blue while I was doing a mess of arty-type projects and thinking of myself as oh so avant garde...it was disconcerting to have the world's most commercial band do your tune....kinda shoots down my progressive pretentions. The song was always more popular in England than here, so they would have been exposed to it quite a bit, and it was their way of adding to their hip quotient since the tune is perceived as wicked cool. Their version's okay...it's actually flattering - not embarrassing - yet of course I favor the original. re: lyrics. they asked to UK-ize a few of the references because of cultural differences....they don't eat cranberries with turkey...which kinda kills the ending gag/O. Henry twist, but hey..."
10) Did anyone else ever cover any of the Waitresses' songs?
" plenty of I Know What Boys Like covers/samples ranging from punk bands (Bouncing Soles, Shampoo) to R & B chantoozies (Pure Sugar)+ Jay-Z via Little Kim."
11) Where did you come up with the name The Waitresses? (I always thought a good tour would have been The Busboys opening for the Waitresses)
" thought of it sitting w/ my friend Liam Sternberg in a diner in Kent, OH. Needed a name for an imaginary band, and at another diner saw a waitress w/ a t-shirt that said "Waitresses Unite" = seemed to reinforce the idea since there was no 'real' band."
12) I read that The Waitresses were originally supposed to be a one-shot musical in-joke .... what is that about?
" I was in Tin Huey, and every once and a while would come up w/ a non-Huey song...needed a place to park 'em."
13) Have you finished your "Chris Butler" project? What a grand idea!
" still in the works = complicated since it's being created via the mails/across the country."
14) What does the backward masking on the EP "I Could Rule The World If I Could Only Get The Parts" say?
" there was a big to-do at the time about satanic messages on records, w/ nut politicians (like Bob Dornan) making political capital over this issue. they wanted records to be stickered, so we designed a sticker as part of the artwork. when the record came out, our Polydor publicist called me and said the record was on the cover of an Arkansas paper. sure enuff, a state legislator was pictured holding up the record proclaiming that 'this was the way to do this' to warn the kiddies. of course we had the last laugh, since our 'hidden message' said/sez "anyone who worries about background messages on phonograph records is a fool...everyone else...have a nice day."
15) Do you feel that The Waitresses distinct style was more due to your songwriting or Patty's vocalization?
" distinct style = a combination of things, of course...including the textures contributed by all the players. I did have a sonic + lyrical vision, but that's an ideal and is always altered when made by actual people. an un-answerable question, really."
**) By the way, I just want to thank you for the song "No Guilt". That song probably kept me from committing suicide back in 1982. I hated to hear you say that you wrote it just because you needed a b-side.
"that's not what I meant!!!!!....my reply was not meant to be as flip as it sounded!! there was a need for another song, but as w/ most of my stuff...there was also a genuine 'pure' idea that needed expressing...these are not mutually exclusive requirements!"
16) Can you tell me a little about writing "Go On"?
"when we were on Ze Records, the boss's girlfriend Christina was also on the label (quel surpris!!). she was very theatrical, very rich and more than a little screwy. i was reading plays, and there was a line (from Brecht?) that was 'i can't go on...i'll go on". so i wrote her a kind of Marlene Dietrich (sp?)/Edith Piaf world-weary lament from the standpoint of this type character + adding my own observations about women who stay in abusive relationships, etc. one of the better tunes on the LP, i think."
17) in "No Guilt" there is a line: "I've got a trick to get them to deliver" Do you?
"hell no."
18) some of my other favorite acts are Howard Jones, Men At Work and Human League. Did you ever work with any of them? "no as Waitresses...we were not in their league...but there was contact of a sort. i interviewed HJ for Keyboard World magazine when i was a freelance writer. he had a cool studio in the UK built into an old cow barn. he was a really nice cat.
i think i have the chronology right on this...the Waitresses were booked into The Venue...a club in London owned by Virgin Records. we arrived a few days early, and MAW were making their UK debut there too, so i/some of we went. all the ex-pat Aussies turned out for this one and and there was Fosters aplenty. for me...they sounded too much like the Police, and probabaly got on the radio specifically because the Police were between records and they filled this sonic gap!
i liked the Human League, and i confess i've written tunes using Don't You Want Me's structure as a template. also, Phil Oakey is responsible for one of my favorite all-time quotes: when asked by a BBC compere about his limited musical abilities (they recorded/composed using Fairlight CMI's and MIDI sequencers), he replied w/ a straight face - "look...i'm a pop star...i'm very busy...i do not have time to learn how to play a musical instrument."
19) Do you sing the male parts on Quit and It's My Car?
"i think so...all the males kinda bark these parts, but i hear a woman in Car so probably Patty and/or Ariel were in there too"
20) Tell me a little about the song Astronettes (I've never heard it). Was it available only on Bowling Balls From Hell 2?
"a silly little instant song recorded at Mark Price's (of Tin Huey) house/studio when both Patty & i found ourselves back in ohio. the musicians are from akron bands who were on hand. sax part was added in NYC by Pat Irwin of the Raybeats (and later still - the B-52's). i haven't heard it since it was mixed...can't remember a note of it. never showed up on any other release....fodder for some future box set?"
21) What was the single that you put out on Clone before you were signed with Ze?
"a 45 w/a pop song & an experimental song. me sing, me play, pre-Patty. fun, primitive, first recordings. harmless."
22) Who were the people that the albums were dedicated to? (ie: Greg Calbi, Gail Miller, and Lea Terhune)
"Greg Calbi = the mastering engineer who saved the record from sounding like fingernails on a blackboard
Gail Miller = my ex-girlfriend who got killed in a car crash
Lea Terhune = my college english prof./priestess/muse"
23) And this question is one that I've had since 1982. Just what exactly is going on in the background of Jimmy Tomorrow? I always assumed it was a movie or tv show, but now's my chance to get the real skinny on what it is.
"random tapes of found sounds 'played'/layered in by Mark Kramer, avant guard crank musician/friend, our first soundman. went on to start Shimmydisk Records and record every other musical crank out there from Daevid Allen of Gong, Ann Magnessin (sp?) to Penn Gillette (of Penn & Teller). now affiliated with The Knitting Factory here in NYC....and loathed or loved depending on one's personal experience w/ him!"

Here's my exclusive interview with Tracy Wormworth (8/99) - Bassist for the Waitresses:

1) Any chance for a Waitresses reunion tour?
"Unfortunately, the Waitresses could never reunite. Patty Donahue, the lead singer, died a few years ago."
2) I was wondering what you think of The Spice Girls cover of Christmas Wrapping?
"Yes, I've heard that cover of Christmas Wrapping. The leader of the Waitresses, Chris Butler, played it for me at his house. I thought it was cool, but I'm definitely partial to our version. It's my favorite Waitress song."
3) If you don't mind talking about it, how did Patty die?
"Patty had cancer. I don't know any details. I see so many people that remind me of her in the street, and sometimes that can be comforting, because you know the person's spirit is still around and active."
4) On the album Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful you are not listed as the primary bass player, but as an additional musician; however, isn't that your smiling face on the back cover?
"Another bass player, Dave Hofstra, played on that album. He quit the band and I started playing with them after that. We took a publicity photo which they ended up using for that album cover."
5) In "The All Music Guide to Rock" it says that after Patty and Chris left the band the remaining members stayed together for awhile. Did you do the singing?
"Actually, Patty and Chris didn't leave at the same time. Patty left first and for a time the rest of the band (including Chris) stayed on as The Waitresses. Chris hired Holly Beth Vincent to fill in for Patty and we did a few gigs. Patty simultaneously did gigs as Patty Donahue and The Waitresses or something like that, so it was pretty weird. Eventually, the group that stayed after she left broke up."
6) That same article says that Billy Ficca lead the band after Chris left. Any truth?
"Billy as leader? He'd get a kick out of that!"
7) Holly Beth Vincent? Was she in Holly and the Italians?
"Yes, but don't ask me what she's doing now."
8) Did you tour with the B-52s last summer? (1998)
"Yes, I did do the tour with the B's last summer. We had a great time."
9) I found some info on the web that says that Patty left midway through the recording of Bruisiology after an argument with the rest of the band. What was the argument about?
"That's not very accurate I'm afraid."
10) You looked great on VH-1 recently.
"I actually couldn't bring myself to watch it. I'll have to call them for a tape. I hope it was OK."

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