Interview: Dūrocs’ Scott Mathews and Ron Nagle, Part One
File Dūrocs under Records You Probably Never Heard. Released in 1979 to critical plaudits but commercial indifference, the sole album from the “group” of the same name quickly went the way of the cutout bin. But the music therein was more deeply-layered than one might expect. While the music – the instrumentation and arrangement – was firmly rooted in pop tradition, the lyrics were often something else entirely. Bent, off-kilter subject matter and a wry take on the world made Dūrocs an oddball release, albeit one that’s well-worth revisiting now, some thirty-plus years later.
And in that endeavor, we have the folks at Real Gone Music to thank. Working with the duo of Ron Nagle and Scott Mathews (they are Dūrocs; the outfit was never an actual band in the strict sense), RGM has remastered the original album (good thing, because it was a bit muddy sounding) and released it in an expanded format, appending it with eight previously-unreleased tracks from around the same period.
Nagle and Mathews both had careers before the Dūrocs’ late 70s album, and both continue to this day. They might be one of the most successful songwriting teams you’ve never heard of; the list of artists with whom one or both has played, written for and/or otherwise collaborated is staggering; go read Scott Mathews‘ bio for a small taste. And Ron Nagle – a member of Nuggets-featured sixties garage-punk band The Mystery Trend [“Johnny Was a Good Boy”] is perhaps even more highly regarded for his work as a ceramic sculptor, a point of view that informs his musical work. Here’s his Wikipedia bio, which shamefully fails to mention his music except in passing. Nagle’s website is here.
Perhaps their most well-known non-Dūrocs work is The Tubes‘ notorious showstopper, “Don’t Touch Me There,” A Spectorian/Nitzschean extravaganza of the first order. (What? You don’t know that one? Watch [an ever-so-slightly NSFW] live video here).
Though their experience on Capitol Records could well be termed (at worst) a disaster or (at best) unsuccessful, Nagle and Mathews are surprisingly sanguine about the entire episode. But they are also quite willing to address the many reasons for the project’s lack of success: some internal forces, some external. But the one thing all of the contributing factors seem to have in common is that they make for good – and often very funny – stories.
I sat down for an interview with the duo a few months ago; armed with a dozen or so questions, I didn’t expect the conversation to go very long. But the candid responses Mathews and Nagle gave me provided more than a window into the situation they encountered in 1979; I also got a better feel for what it was like to be a newly-signed act in one of the music industry’s (last) heydays. The Dūrocs story touches on an odd assortment of other narratives, from The Knack to Sammy Hagar to Blood, Sweat & Tears to Tina Turner.
So while you probably don’t know Dūrocs’ music, and you might not know about Ron Nagle and Scott Mathews, they’re all worth checking out. As it turns out for me, a conversation with this pair is every bit as entertaining as the time spent listening to their music.
Here’s Part One of my five-part interview with Dūrocs. — bk
Bill Kopp: While the production aesthetic on Dūrocs is pretty much of its time, the music itself is less clearly pegged to a particular era. In a lot of places your music reminds me of a British group who were working around the same time, The Motors.
Ron Nagle: I had never really thought about it in those terms. Back in the day when we came out, we were sometimes compared to The Buggles…
BK: In your music I hear a sort of late 70s throwback to early Brill Building pop styles. Do you think that’s an accurate characterization?
Scott Mathews: Yeah, that! Completely. That’s exactly where we were coming from. Our heroes were Leiber and Stoller, and everybody in that building.
RN: Goffin and King, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann…
SM: That’s exactly the setup. The Dūrocs were actually, originally, going to provide for Capitol Records services as producers. And then they suggested us putting out our own record first. Which was…fine, y’know. It wasn’t exactly the ultimate game plan, but it was meant to be one of many records we would make for Capitol.
BK: Musically the songs on Dūrocs are fairly mainstream, though with some interesting arrangement touches. But it’s with the lyrics that you guys really set yourselves apart.
RN: That’s what it is. It’s pop music, but there’s this little – for a lack of a better word – humor, and a cynical twist. There are certainly a lot of soft spots, too, in terms of emotional stuff.