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Non-Prog Interviews

Electric Prunes

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Mark Tulin and James Lowe of the Electric Prunes - January 2008
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

The Electric Prunes are back. How did that come about and can you catch the readers up on some of the history of the band?
Mark Tulin:

Well, first the Earth cooled and then from the primordial oozes emerged fuzz, distortion, feedback, vibrato and tremolo.  After several hits and numerous tours the band cooled in the late ‘60s and we didn’t see each other for some 25 years.  When Warner Brothers was looking to release a compilation CD James and I reconnected and, through the power of the internet, tracked down as many members of the original band as possible.

James Lowe:

Following a New Years reunion we decided to record together; to create enjoyable memories in place of some of our prior experiences.  Turned out to be fun and, to our surprise, there are people out there still interested in hearing music played by guys who started it all.  As a result we’ve recorded three CDs –Artifact, California and our newest one, Feedback and have played select shows throughout the U.S. and Europe.  The current band sounds better than ever and, as long as we have the passion and the energy, we’ll continue on –

Mark Tulin:

I think the ooze would be proud.



MSJ: These days prunes are called "dried plums." Aren't you afraid of keeping the "Prune" name?
Mark Tulin: Hey, if the name “Electric Prunes” didn’t scare us back then, it sure as hell isn’t going to bother us now.   And as far as the switch from prunes to dried plums, in the ‘60s the Prune Council, or should I say THE Prune Council, told us we presented a bad image for their product.    Well, we’re still around as Prunes while they’ve gone from prunes to dried plums.  


James Lowe:
Way I see it, we’ve maintained our integrity; they’ve sold out.



MSJ: I know artists are not crazy about having their music pigeon-holed, but how would you describe your sound?
James Lowe: You’re right about not liking to be pigeon-holed (in any sense of the term), but if we had to come up with a name for what we do, it would have to be PruneTwang.   Labeling music as this type or that type is something other people do.  The artist is usually just doing what they know how to do the best they can.

Names as descriptions can be useful but when they become prisons they are destructive.

MSJ: Who do you see as musical influences, both personally and as a band?

Mark Tulin: A band is made up of the individual members’ musical influences so it would be difficult to say we have any overall band influences.  Personally I have an eclectic list of musical influences ranging from Beethoven to Miles and from Howlin’ Wolf to Duane Eddy to Gomez to Eagles of Death Metal to a guy named Milt who plays harp in the NY subway.  Anyone you listen to is ultimately an influence, whether subliminally or overtly, as you internalize whatever you hear, churn it around inside whatever creative process you have, then send it back on its way so someone else might do the same.

MSJ: Where did the name come from?

James Lowe: Panic and a sense of urgency. It is about absurd …. And about as absurd as you can get.

MSJ: What's ahead for you guys?

Mark Tulin: In 2008 we’re looking to expand the number of live performances.    The reaction to our live shows has been most gratifying.    We have a belief in people following their dreams and the only way to get that message out is to take it on the road.  Truth is that after people get over the shock that we are around, alive and playing, they seem surprised that a band of our vintage can still bring it.    And, who knows, there could be more recording in our future. 

MSJ:

How do you see the world of music - both the sounds and the business - compared with when you guys first showed up?

Mark Tulin: Obviously, the internet changed everything.   The entire industry seems to be searching for the new paradigm.  When we first emerged onto the scene the reality was that without a record deal you didn’t stand a chance.  Now those same companies are fighting to stay relevant.   When we first recorded having 4-tracks to use was a big deal.  Now my home computer is a more powerful recording instrument than anything we ever had.

 

That said, while the technology is wonderful, the danger, as I see it, is in losing the heart and heat behind the music.  The ability to sit in your darkened dungeon of a room and create massive sound files is well and good, but if everything is too processed or looped the humanity of it all goes out the window.  Call me crazy, but I have a hard time understanding why people would go to concerts and stand for the performer or musicians to be syncing to a prerecorded track.

James Lowe: We used to agonize over the song order for an album. The whole album was a collection of musical stories. Now most people only care about a single track.  Too bad, too, because there is still nothing like experiencing the full spectrum of a good CD or album from start to finish.   The whole musical experience seems to have been turned completely inward and private.  Used to be music was everywhere – you would hear it coming at you from all directions while walking down a street.  Now, with ipods and ear pieces, everyone exists in their own musical world.  When there’s no sharing, there’s no growth.

MSJ: Your sound is still well rooted in the original era of the band. Have you made any concessions to modern technology, or have you resorted to the old-school instruments for that vintage texture?

James Lowe: We continue to utilize basically the same synthesizer-free instrumentation we always did and, regardless of what we do or what instruments we use, somehow we always end up sounding like us. We like that same “pulse” to things.   At the same time we would be idiots not to take advantage of technological advancements.  We record analog and mix digitally.  We used newer pedals (mixed in with some very old ones) in order to get the right sounds.    Old-school is cool but you still have an obligation to turn out the best music you can.

MSJ:

On the new disc, the song "African Bees" really stands out in my mind for its shall we say "unusual" lyrics. What's the story on that track?

James Lowe:  It seems there is always something to be afraid of. Something, the powers that be warn us about … killer Asian virus or citrus weevil … this guy just encounters an imported bee strain that likes chicks ……. Not exactly “killer bees” but sexy, none the less.  He rightfully laments, “they look in your windows and pee in your trees …” CNN may pick up on this one? 

MSJ:

Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales - would you agree?

Mark Tulin: Ah, crap, I already answered part of this in another response.    Downloading songs is great (we offer it) if you view it the same as we used to when 45’s were the big thing.  But, again, downloading single songs in lieu of listening to a complete CD takes us right back to where we were before LPs became more popular than singles – Artists just need to be able to crank out one good song that becomes popular.  The album ceases to become a self contained entity and, instead, is just a bunch of singles in one housing.





James Lowe: As far the major labels go, they have only themselves to thank for being so behind the technological curve.  Maybe they should look at what worked for them in the past – developing artists rather than discarding low selling (which has reached a bizarre quantitative level now) and letting musicians and music people make decisions rather than Wharton MBA’s.

MSJ: In a related question how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

Mark Tulin: I have really mixed feelings about this.  I’m all for the freedom all that implies.  And, if you can really play, it can be great P.R.  At the same time, a lot of the on the fly recordings are awful and do not present the band in a good light.   If we were all Paul Allen we could go out and play and not care about making money.  Unfortunately, we are not in that position.  If everyone recording a gig knew that by dong so they might ultimately be preventing the band from continuing to be able to tour, things might be different.  Then again, maybe not; these days immediacy seems to trump content or effect.  Anyway, it would be nice if someone asked every now and then. 

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought, or what have you been listening to lately?
Mark Tulin: The last CD I bought was  Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945  by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.    We are contributors to Viva Radio and  ask bands/musicians who visit our web site (www.electricprunes.net) to send us their music.  So, much of my listening time is spent checking out what ends up being a varied selection of new, weird, wired and wonderful music.    In actuality, these days I’m spending more time making music than listening, but, when all else fails, its Miles Davis, Dylan and Bob Marley.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Mark Tulin: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band a few weeks ago in L.A.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Mark Tulin: Only reason to hate this question is because most of the time there are more Spinal Tap moments than one would like to believe.  I guess one that springs to mind was in the ‘60s and we were playing a big international event (something like hemisphere 1967); it was akin to a mini-world’s fair.  We were playing this large venue but the promoter didn’t tell anyone.  So we walk out on stage in this very elaborate theatre to find something like 8 people in the audience (how those 8 got there remains a miracle).    Band and crew outnumbered the audience.  We gave tambourines and other percussion gear to the 8 and had them join us for a jam session.

MSJ: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?
James Lowe: Yeah, come to www.electricprunes.net and buy a tee shirt  or a poster or god forbid, a CD!       

Mark Tulin:
If there is music you love you have to support it.  Live music only exists if live people show up.  New recordings only happen if people buy them.  In a perfect world all artists would have sponsors and everything they did would otherwise be free.  Sadly, that’s not how it works.  Nice words and good thoughts are all well and good but if there’s no action there’s no music.  And while I’m on it, a word for the “’60s Generation” -   What the hell happened to you?  Pisses me off that an entire generation that seemed so vital is now content to stay at home and watch TV.  The music you love and loved is still out there.  Can’t be rock and roll has given way to Celine Dion.  If that’s true, just shoot me now, shoot me now …..
 
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