Fuzzy Memories: A Conversation with The Fuzztones’ Rudi Protrudi, Part Two
Continued from Part One…
Bill Kopp: Throughout The Fuzztones‘ history, you’ve again and again managed the tricky feat of writing new, original songs that fit the aesthetic of stuff from 1965-66. Is it a conscious effort to do that, or by now are you so immersed in the style that it just happens that way?
Rudi Protrudi: Both, actually. Sometimes something just pops out. It’s almost as if I am not even writing it, but it is almost like I have antennas, and it just picks up something. And then other times I have to really concentrate on how to put something together that will fit a certain sound that I have in my head. I have different ways of writing material to trick myself into doing it, because I am not really what you would call a prolific writer. I don’t write a lot. Maybe I will write one or two songs a year on average. Up until the point where we did Preaching to the Perverted,at that point I had a whole lot on my mind and I was turning out songs left and right. And that was the only time I ever did that in my whole life, which is interesting because I did it way later in my career.
Sometimes I will have an idea for a song; maybe it’s just a title, maybe it’s a whole line or even an entire verse. And then I’ll think, “Ok…what kind of music will fit this?” And then I’ll trick myself into thinking, “Ok…what if the Electric Prunes did this song? How would they approach it?” Then I would work with a chord sequence that sounds like the Electric Prunes. Then once I have the melody, I would say, “Ok, now that’s how the Prunes would write it, but now, how would, say for instance, The Seeds play it? And maybe I would add some guitar licks that are based on a Seeds sort of feel. And then I’ll say, “Ok, the drumming could be a lot more like…”
BK: The Music Machine.
RP: Yeah! I will just put things together so there are elements from different bands that I like. To me, there is a certain skill in trying to cop people’s styles without using their licks.
BK: That is perfectly put. That is exactly right.
RP: And then you mix them together and you put your lyrics with your personality over top of it and, I believe I also have my own guitar style. I think that some members of the band have a very distinctive style, too. And then we put that together and the finished product always ends up sounding like the Fuzztones. We have our own specific sound, that I think if you turn on the radio, if you know who the Fuzztones are, if you are familiar with us, and you turn on the radio and hear a new song, I am positive you could tell it is the Fuzztones within the first verse.
BK: I would agree with that. Talking about your signature sound, the Fuzztones have found interesting ways to keep things fresh while remaining true to that aesthetic. Horny as Hell was a good example: putting some horns on it and using some Hammond-type organ sounds on there as opposed to the Vox and Farfisa and whatnot. When you change it up like that, is it to keep yourself amused and interested or to offer something different for the fans, or both?
RP: Well, it’s both, but it starts off as amusing myself. When we started in 1980, I can guarantee you nobody wanted to hear garage music. And we were not popular, whatsoever. Tinapeel was quite popular and we had steady gigs and made a lot of money. We played at a lot of very big venues, and it was a conscience decision to break that band up and start the Fuzztones. So we went from $1,000 a night in 1980 to $10…and that is not $10 each! And we did that for two years, with a lineup that no one had ever heard because no one paid any attention to us. The lineup that everyone thinks is the original Fuzztones is not. That’s the second lineup; the [one people know] is the second lineup. We started off as a four piece for two years and we played some dumps that I cannot even remember. The Great Gildersleeve [radio program] played us some in DC, but we were not popular. We did not do well until about 1983 when we switched bass players and added a guitar player, and all of the sudden it was like “Whoa!”
It wasn’t just because of that, because actually no one knew who we were were or anything. Our music got fuller but it wasn’t all that different. I think what changed is just that the climate was right. It was time for that kind of music. There were a couple of different bands that were playing the same sort of stuff in other areas of the country, like The Unclaimed in L.A. and The Lyres in Boston, The Chesterfield Kings in Rochester. And I don’t think that any of us even knew about each other; we just pretty much started at the same time. There was something in the air that it was time for this stuff to return.
BK: I know there are only so many notes to work with, as they say, so this could be a coincidence, but one day it hit me: the central riff on “Bad News Travels Fast” is the same lick as Jethro Tull‘s “Locomotive Breath.”
RP: That’s right.
BK: Coincidence, sly inside joke, or something else?
RP: It’s no coincidence. I was in a cover band in 1972. It wasn’t entirely a cover, we actually did a record, an original 45 with two songs in 1972. The band was called Springhead Motorshark, and funny enough, by the way, there is a band called Britny Fox, and they ripped off the name. They had a 2003 album called that, and no one can tell me they thought of that name.
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