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Progressive Rock Interviews

Klaatu

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Dee Long of Klaatu from 2005
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Klaatu's music was obviously Beatles influenced, and most people hear a lot of prog in there, too. Where do you see the influences of the group coming from - and just how important were the Beatles to your sound?
There's no doubt that John Woloschuck, Terry Draper, and I were (and still are) big Beatles fans. John and Terry were also very much into "Genesis", and the "Progressive Pop" thing. John even tends to sing with hint of an English accent, in spite of the fact that he was born in, and grew up in Canada! But I think the biggest influence the Beatles had on us was the way they approached the recording of their music, in the later albums. When we first started recording at Toronto Sound Studios, there was just two of us, John and myself with Terry Brown engineering and producing. We had to hire a drummer for each song. We recorded "Hanus of Uranus" and "Sub Rosa Subway" before Terry joined the band.
Obviously two people can't make a lot of noise without overdubbing. We started out recording on a 16 track Studer multitrack, and moved to 24 track part way through the first album. Terry Draper joined the band so we could at least do basic tracks with drums, bass and guitar. Still, every song was run over and over on the multitrack and we would add parts one at a time, to produce a much more complex song then we could possibly play live.
This was certainly inspired by the Beatles albums like Sargent Pepper, even though they were working with 4 tracks tape machines they used to do many overdubs by copying the song from one 4 track to another.


We enjoyed immensely the power of being able to mold a song a bit at a time. This was the main reason we never considered going out to play live, or revealing our identities. We didn't think we could do the songs justice without more musicians than just us three, so we opted to stay in the studio and work in our own way. I remember meeting a friend, a trumpet player one night at Toronto Sound, he was recording with a large brass section. I told him Klaatu was three people recording our album at our own pace. He asked me why we couldn't get any more people to join our band! I was surprised, I'd never looked at it that way.

MSJ: When the whole "Klaatu is The Beatles" story first broke, what were your feelings - was there a certain amount of feeling flattered, humility - a combination of things?
We had just arrived back from England where we had recorded the symphony orchestra for the "Hope" album. The secretary at Toronto sound handed us a stack of photo copies of newspaper articles from all over the World. Remember, our first album sat in the delete bins at this point, 9 months after release we had not been noticed at all.

My first reaction was "it's about time someone heard our music". Honestly, I didn't take the Beatles thing seriously, I couldn't see how anybody would really believe that idea. I think we all felt what we were doing was something very special, and that sooner or later it would be successful. We read through some of the articles, and had a great laugh about it. Then we went back to work. I expected it to blow over quickly, and just figured at least someone had noticed us.

It was certainly flattering to be compared to the Beatles, but I thought it was pretty silly.
MSJ: When did you guys realize that coming forward right at the beginning, rather than holding to your convictions might have been the better idea? Do you think things would have turned out differently had you cleared things up from the start?
Personally, I don't think anything we could have said or done would have made any difference. There were good reasons we didn't include any pictures or names on the albums. We didn't like the music business much, and still don't. We did not want to get dressed in stage clothes, put on makeup, and try to look hip, we just wanted to record our music. I called it the "Fast cars and French fries" effect. I had a copy of an album by a British band, and on the back they asked each member what their favourite things are. They all included "Fast cars and French fries" as their favourite things. I mean, who cares! I just want to hear the music.
We had no intention of coming forward, it's a shame some people thought we were trying to take advantage of the hype.

MSJ: Starting especially with your third album there was a move towards more radio friendly music - "hits". How much of that was coming from within the band and how much was the external pressure from the label?
I think much of that pressure was our own creation, although the label certainly wanted more radio oriented music. Personally, I thought the "Hope" album was a mistake, but had little say in it.
John wrote an entire album on his own, and called up one day to say we were going to rehearse these songs for a few weeks, then record the album. I had no songs ready, I was caught off guard, and I think that was intentional. John very much wanted to write a concept album. I scrambled to write some songs, and came up with "Around the Universe in 80 Days", and "Madman". I like the song "Hope", and "So Said the Lighthouse Keeper" as well, but the rest of that album, to me, is a self indulgent piece of musical nonsense. I wanted to make songs that could be played on the radio, and almost none of that album could be, or would be played on the radio.

For "Sir Army Suit" I wanted to do some songs! Oddly, most of that album was recorded separately, in that Terry Draper and I recorded most of my songs, and Terry Brown, Terry Draper and John recorded most of his. I would be called in to overdub a guitar or two.
I think it would have been a lot better had we worked together more often. At this point there was a lot of animosity between Terry Brown and John, and we all grew further apart in our hopes and desires for the band. Terry Draper and I wanted to play live, John didn't. We started a part time band called "Funn" and that just further increased the animosity.

John and Terry made enough money out of "Calling Occupants" to buy houses, I figure I made a total of 80 cents from "Little Neutrino". And that was one of my biggest radio songs at that point!
The music business is very strange, and not for the faint of heart.

MSJ: Do you know if any of the actual Beatles ever commented on the story? What they thought of the band and the whole rumor mill? They always seemed to enjoy playing with people's rumors, so my guess is they would have thought it was fun.
The only instance I know of was when I worked at George Martin's AIR studios in London. I worked there for about 4 years in the late 80s. A friend, John Jones and I ran a Midi music studio and a Fairlight series 3 at AIR in studio 5. As it turns out, studio 5 used to be Paul McCartney's smoking room when he recorded at AIR with the Beatles. One day, the guard at the door handed me a hand-written note, it simply stated "I'm going to do you!" signed "Paul McCartney". The guard laughed and assured me that Paul was kidding. "Do you" in British means "beat the crap out of you" in Canadian. A few hours later, I was working in studio 5 by myself when Paul walked in. He had two bodyguards in pin-striped suits with him. Why do bodyguards and thugs always wear pin-striped suits? Paul also had a black eye.

He introduced himself, as if he needed an introduction, and we talked for some time about Klaatu, music, and life in general. He told me that he had recently been on a TV talk show when the host played a portion of "Calling Occupants" for him, and asked if this was the Beatles. He had never heard the song, or anything about the band. When he spoke with George Martin later, George explained the story, and told Paul that "One of the chaps works at AIR". So Paul came in to chat. One of the first things he said was "So you're the guy from the Beatles clone band!"

I was quick to point out that we played all original music, only some of which sounded a bit like the Beatles. I also pointed out that we are big fans, and it's only natural to sound somewhat like your favourite bands. The Beatles sounded a lot like Chet Atkins and other American country stars early on in their career.

He was quick to agree, and I think just a bit flattered. We had a great talk, I'll always treasure that moment. What a very nice, and very down to Earth person he is, especially considering his history. Over the next few years he came in many times to talk. I got to work with him and George on a few occasions as well.

MSJ: How did it come about that The Carpenters covered Calling Occupants…? What did you think of their version?.
I thought it was great! We received a note from them in the mail, saying "We've been observing your band". We weren't so much "Carpenters" fans as we were fans of Karen's voice. You must admit it was a brave move for them to cover a sci-fi song, a bit of a departure from "We've only just begun".

Now if they'd only covered one of my songs!
MSJ: Speaking of Calling Occupants - do you have any views on extra terrestrial visitors?
Well, I personally know a few, and "Hanus of Uranus" and I stay in touch even today, in spite of the cost, you know it's long distance out there...

But in truth I think it's impossible to imagine that we are alone in this Universe. That would be absurd, I'm quite certain there is plenty of intelligent life out there, even though it seems to be in short supply on Earth these days. I doubt if we've actually had any visitors though, the distances are so vast, and without some sort of faster than light travel, we may never get to meet any of them.
MSJ: What was the thinking behind changing Hope from the original orchestral mixes to the album that was released? Do you think one is better than the other?
When we finished the first version, which is on the new Sun Set CDs, we had to deliver the album in time to fulfill our contract with Capitol. At that time the first album was still selling well from the aftermath of the Beatles rumours.

So Capitol gave us something like 6 more months to finish. We took the test pressing we had made, and cut it into four pieces with a hacksaw! We each took a piece home, vowing that nobody would ever hear it. Honestly, I thought it was boring. The orchestra played the notes that Doug Riley wrote for them, and I felt that rather than take the music to a new level they merely doubled what we already played. Doug could have used a bit more imagination, and he was writing the score on the plane trip to Britain. It was a half hearted attempt all around in our opinion, and I still think so.

The final version has a lot more character, and at least it isn't quite so boring. I hope I'm not upsetting too many friends of Klaatu by saying this, but I think it needed saving, and we almost succeeded in saving it. Almost...
MSJ: So, I understand there isn't much chance of a Klaatu reunion, but are there any more archive material besides the new box set that might surface - live recordings, etc?
There is only one live recording that is worth hearing, which is from our recent Klaatu Kon in May of this year. It was the first time we played together in around 23 years. It will be coming out next year on CD and DVD.

As for the earlier live recordings, they are strictly cassette feed from the mixing console, and they sound terrible. I doubt anyone would really want to hear them. There may be other bootleg recordings, but I don't know of any worth hearing.

There were many tracks that I heard that were considered for the Sun Set, but were not included. I thought some were very interesting, but the idea was to use only tracks that were really Klaatu, rather than personal demos, and to find an alternate version of as many of the released songs as possible. I think there might be the potential for another alternate collection some time in the future, but it would truly be for the die hard Klaatusians.
MSJ: How did the whole Sun Set come to be, and how much of a role did you have in picking tracks for it? What do you think of the result?
Strangely, I haven't actually heard it all the way through! I had only a small role in choosing the songs, I live in BC, way out in the country, and it took around three years of listening, talking and arguing to get agreement from John and Terry over the recordings that were chosen. My position was that anything that sounds good enough should be included to give listeners the most for the money possible.

They mailed me CD-Rs with potential candidates for me to hear, and for the most part I had no problem with any of it being included.

There are certain songs that I think are absolute doo-doo, and many I really love, and I have heard all the versions on the Sun Set at one time or another over the last few years. At some point I suppose I should sit down and listen to it!
MSJ: What have the members of the band been doing since Klaatu ended?
John is an accountant, and last I heard Terry manages a bar. Terry has been making his own music for years at home, but I'm the only one who has stayed active in music for most of the years since Klaatu split.

I co-owned a studio north of Toronto for some years, called ESP. We worked with many of the top Canadian people like Dan Hill, Alfie Zappacosta, Lisa Dal Bello, Glass Tiger, Rational Youth, Strange Advance, Doug and the Slugs, and even a few international acts like Alice Cooper.
Then I went to Britain where I worked with George Martin, Dire Straits, Duran Duran, and many more for about 7 years in total. I came back to Canada to work with Klaatu again in the early 90s, but the record company went bankrupt before we got to record again. I got into computer programming for a few years, created a drum looping program called the "DeeSampler", and then hooked up with Bullseye records Canada.

They packaged some of my old demos into a two CD set called "Been Here Before", and then helped me to record some new music. At the moment I have a CD called "Outside" and a new DVD album called "Outside of Time and Space" available every where CDs and DVDs are sold.
I also have a side career in technology, with a new version of the DeeSampler about to come out, that allows you to trigger sound samples and video clips from a Midi keyboard.
Recently I appeared on the G4TechTV show "Call for Help" with Leo Laporte to show off my videos and the new DeeSampler.

There lots of info about my insane videos, my weird career, and a free version of the DeeSampler on my website, www.deelong.com.

MSJ: I asked about the band's influences, but who are your own personal musical influences?
In my solo music there's certainly still some Beatles and Klaatu influences, as well as ELO, and 10cc. My biggest musical hero would have to be Jimi Hendrix, nobody did it better. There's certainly a bit of his vibe in some of my songs, I'm first and foremost a guitar player, and I like to think I can wail pretty good when I'm in the mood. I've been a big fan of Led Zeppelin as well, and Frank Zappa plays a huge part in the way I look at music. He was a genius.
MSJ: Are there musicians out there with whom you would like to work in the future?
The musicians I'd like to work with the most, are old friends. In fact I had the chance to play with a few of them back in March of this year. We did one set at the Brunswick house in Toronto for the Bullseye Records Canada 20th anniversary. We had only a few rehearsals, and it was my first time on stage in 23 years, but I had a great time!

The performance will be out on CD soon from Bullseye, we're calling the band "Dee Long and the Short Notice", the CD is called "Long Live and Prosper".

As to working with other musicians in the studio, I think that is unlikely. At this point I have a state of the art studio at home on Seton Lake, my own drum looping software to play the drummer's part, and I can play and sing the rest myself. It saves a lot of wear and tear on the ego. I don't have to worry that the drummer will show up drunk, or the guitar player will get upset that his part isn't loud enough. I do it all myself, and love every minute of it.

I would consider working with John and Terry on a new Klaatu album, but I'm not holding my breath waiting!
MSJ: What's next on the horizon professionally for you?
I hope to start on a new "Dee Long"CD soon, right now I'm doing theme songs for online podcasts, check out the podcasts from www.cyberwalker.com and www.techphile.ca.
This year one of my videos "Outside" won the grand prize in the Videomaker short video contest. I've entered two this year, sure would be nice to win it two years in a row.
The new DeeSampler will be out soon, and I'm always looking for work in TV and film, especially in the area of theme songs. They generally pay better than Klaatu songs...
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Wow, this might come as a shock, but the last CD I bought was probably a decade ago, and I think it was a few Jimi Hendrix CDs. I only had them on vinyl years ago, and the first three albums are my favourite music on the planet. I haven't bought music from a "new" artist in decades.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended as a fan?
Even better, the last concert I actually paid to see, was probably 20 years ago, and it would have been either "Frank Zappa" or "King Crimson". I gave up listening to music and going to concerts many years ago, I'd rather spend my time making my own music. Nothing has caught my attention in decades, except maybe Lenny Kravitz, and the occasional song in the movies.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
That is so easy! At the Klaatu Konvention in May 2005 we played our first set of music together in a long time. We did six songs, just the three of us with Maureen Leeson singing backup vocals. It was a great time, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The audience was amazing, and our exit from the stage took some time, they just kept applauding.

We all finally found ourselves in the hallway behind the stage area, very hyper and excited from the show. We started to walk and talk about the show, and we were babbling away to each other when we realized we were lost. Somehow we'd ended up in a loading bay at the far end of the hotel from where we were supposed to go next! Fortunately one of the people from "Fans First" running the Konvention found us, and used her radio to tell the others we'd been located. Since we had a bit of time to relax before the next event, she asked us if we'd like anything, I asked for a scotch and a few minutes later one appeared.

I actually said to the others that this has to be the most "Spinal Tap" moment of my life, standing in a loading bay, somewhere in a hotel in Toronto drinking a scotch, and completely and utterly lost...
MSJ: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Klaatu was a wonderful time for the most part, making the first album was a dream come true. From then on it became more of a business as time went on until it was doomed to self implode. It's a shame, because I think we could have continued to make even better music than we did.

That said, I really enjoy working on my own, I think personally my solo music on "Outside" and the new DVD is the best I've ever made. I hope to keep making music until I'm forced to stop! To that end I'd like to implore your readers to take a look at my website, www.deelong.com and if you like what you see and hear, please consider buying a copy of each. That way I may get to do more, and I sure do like playing guitar and trying to make each song better than the last.

But Klaatu is likely what I'll be remembered for, and that's ok too. We had a great time!
 
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