Interview by Sue Ashcroft
Since the '70's San Francisco rockers The Tubes have been wowing audiences with their quirky blend of AOR, glam, theatrical and even nonsensical music. They are, without a doubt, my favourite band of all time and I was thrilled to have a catch up recently with frontman Fee Waybill. Not only did we chat about the upcoming unprecedented (for them) 9 date UK tour, but about such diverse topics as fleas, poetry, Dave Grohl's leg and Game of Thrones.
S: You're just about to kick off the 40th anniversary tour, 40th anniversary of the first album being rereleased. Now you're not the only band to be doing a 40th anniversary tour this year, We've just gotten back from Toronto, where we saw Rush, Kiss are doing a 40th, Motorhead and ACDC. What I want to ask you is, do you think there are any bands that are around at the moment that will endure to do a 40th anniversary tour in the future?
F: Boy that's a toughie... I don't know about that.
S: I Mean I know you're really good friends with Dave Grohl, do you think anything that he does will be still going.
F: Well actually yeah, I think if anybody, the Foo Fighters will still be around, I don't know when they started, its probably already been 10 years for them and actually I just texted him the other day after he broke his leg.
S: That was in Gothenburg, I had friends that were at that show.
F: Right and I texted him to see how he was doing and he texted me back from a hospital in London, he had just gotten out of surgery. Everyone was speculating "oh they'll continue, he'll continue, he's a trooper" you know, "he'll do it in a wheelchair" or whatever and I text him I said "Dave, you know, what's happening? There's no way you're continuing" and he said "No fucking way, I'm going home!" So they cancelled everything, they cancelled Glastonbury and Pinkpop and all these huge festivals.
S: What a shame.
F: Interesting because, when I broke my leg, I broke it in exactly the same place that he did, the right fibula, right above the ankle. That was in Leicester England, back in 78 and the same thing happened you know. The show stopped, I went to the hospital, got a cast on my leg and then the next thing I know, they're asking me to do the show in London in a wheelchair! And I just went "nooo, not yet, not gonna happen". People expect a big show including running around and changing clothes and dancing, you know?
S: Saying that, Bette Midler did part of her show in a wheelchair, where they were all dressed as mermaids. You could have done sushi girl in wheelchairs.
F: Yeah, I couldn't have done that, I just couldn't.
S: No, it's not very practical is it.
F: No and I think the fans would rather postpone and rebook the show and rebook their ticket, than just sit there and pity the guy because he's in a wheelchair and on drugs because he's in pain. So you know I'm not surprised that they decided to call it off and just reschedule. I mean they're huge they can reschedule any time they want, but I understand, I get it, there's only so much you can do, but you know I would not be one bit surprised if they were around in 30 years. Dave's in pretty good shape, they're all in good shape. They're all great players and certainly the music will endure. They're a great band; they're my favorite band pretty much.
S: Yeah, well they seem to have consistently good albums don't they? And they don't bring out anything and people go "oh my god that's rubbish" and then lose favour with the public, that's never happened to them and he seems to be such a nice guy, he just doesn't seem to have many enemies, which is a good thing in the music business.
F: No he's not an ego maniac, he's really a nice guy and it's funny, I was just watching - there was an old interview with him on CBS 60 minutes and it was back before, when they were right in the middle of doing the Sonic Highways album and tv series on HBO and it's funny because they said "well what's your day like Dave?" he said "my day? I'm pretty much a chauffeur, I drive a minivan around with 4 girls in all day long. I'm either driving the girls around, or else I'm doing a gig with the Foo Fighters, that's it, that's my life." And you know, he's got 3 lovely daughters and a lovely wife and they have a nice home and I fully believe it you know, here's Dave driving around in a minivan, going to soccer practices.
S: Yeah, well that's the thing, I think if you have the kind of home life that keeps you really grounded, that's going to endure. I remember Eric Martin telling me a story about how he had been to Brazil I think it was, or Rio or somewhere and played at a gig in front of like 100,000 people, it was just crazy and all the fans were going mad and he said "and I got home and got out of the taxi at the end of the drive, I walk in the driveway with my bags. My wife comes out and goes "Hi honey, don't forget its trash night"" and he says "as I'm putting the trash out with my face hitting the floor thinking, oh well, back to reality, my neighbor comes by and says "hey eric, your grass is getting a little long, is it not about time you mowed your lawn?""
F: I mean I fully agree, it's the same way with us, you know I live in Venice Beach and I have a little house and my cat and I deal with my neighbors and the kids and the cats, you know.
S: I heard about your cat - how did it go after the flea men went? I listened to your interview with Alan the other night, have you gotten rid of the fleas yet?
F: Yeah, they're gone thank god, Fleabusters. It's epidemic proportion here, everybody's talking about it, you know everybody's got fleas and it's very green, there's a lot of trees and so there's raccoons, there's skunks and possums and the flea guy was saying "well yeah, these things are full of fleas, nobody's treating them, so the fleas bite them for a while and then they jump off and..."
S: Yeah yeah, if your cat or dog are going to be outside for any length of time it only takes one really to start it off.
F: That's it, you know, usually in the winter it gets cold and it kills them all, but we didn't have a very cold winter this year, we didn't have hard rain and you know it's been very drought like conditions here in California - you can't wash your car. It's against the law now to wash your car, with a hose running outside. You can't hose off your driveway and now they have regulations for watering your lawn, you can only water your lawn 3 times a week and only for 5 minutes at a time. I mean they're not really going around enforcing this, they're really not going to peoples houses and going "oh that's a fine, you watered your lawn 4 times that's gonna cost you 100 bucks" but you know, everybody knows, there's big signs up everywhere, there's signs on the freeway: 'severe drought' it's getting pretty bad over here.
S: And everyone in the UK is complaining because we've had 2 days that have been really hot!
F: Two days that were hot?
S: haha yeah and everybody's going 'oh no I can't stand this heat' after weeks and weeks of going "oh it's so cold and I'm fed up with this weather" and now they're all complaining about the heat. They're never happy!
F: It's funny my brother lives in Phoenix Arizona and he called me up the other day and goes "its 117!"
S: How do you cope with that! Oh my god!
F: Can you imagine if it ever got that hot in the UK? People would just drop dead in their tracks.
S: When you were saying about you know, not playing a show in a wheelchair (which is absolutely right), you've always been a very visual band. How many costume changes on average do you still do in each show and is it a lot less than you used to or is it about the same?
F: Well I think in our current show there's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... eight! Eight or nine in the show that we're doing and yeah, that's pretty much it. Not quite as many as we used to do before but yeah, I'm still doing different characters and different costumes. The shows gonna be about 2 hours maybe, 2 hours and 20 minutes or something? And it's funny we always, I mean and it was longer when we first started this sort of show there was another 3 or 4 songs in the set and it just was too long. People were... past 2 hours it gets a little bit tough. After 2 hours everybody goes "ok well I get it now, I got it, ok"
S: Do what Rush do, they have a 15-minute break and do two sets.
F: Well we don't really like to do that, we don't want to take a break. We like to blast right through without stopping. There's always instrumental segments that we've put in, so that I can have a little time to change clothes or whatever. Roger always does a song in the set. He'll do one in this show and we always do an overture at the beginning and then there's kind of a reprise of the overture at some point in the show. It's all kind of manufactured so that I have time to go and change and it also gives us an opportunity to highlight the players. Prairie is going to do a drum solo, he always does.
S: He's my favorite drummer of all time.
F: I know, the guys amazing and he'll definitely do a solo and Roger is going to do a song and there's a couple of other songs he has extended solos in. So you know, everybody wants to get their little bit, their showcase in. We have such good players and after 40 years I think Rodger and Prairie are better, way better now than they were when we started and through the big time years when we were working so hard.
S: So how many years is it now that you've had this lineup?
F: Gosh with Dave (Medd) on keyboards it's been... well we had two keyboard players for a while, with Gary was in the band and he decided he wanted to go his own way and that was 06 so that was 9 years ago. It's been 9 years. I think its 04 or 06, something like that since we played anything other than London and the tour before this last one, I remember we just played London. We played the O2 Islington and then last time we played Leicester Square theatre and then this time, I've never played this place in London, This Clapham Grand.
S: I don't think I've ever been there either.
F: We're getting good response to sales and interview requests and stuff, I think it's going to be good this time and I think it's gonna be a good tour. If we can get across the channel! Cause you know you've heard about all this freak out at the port?
S: Yes, it's very bad at the moment.
F: I'm worried about it, we're driving our last gig is in Germany before we come to the UK and we have two days off so we were gonna drive and now I don't know if that's the right move to make, they've been having so much trouble. Hopefully in another month they'll have this straightened out.
S: Yeah, they should have by then. We'll keep everything crossed. Last year you published a book of poems and songs, have you always written poetry as well as songs?
F: Pretty much, I mean not, I've been writing lyrics for forever, for years and years and years. I wrote a majority of those lyrics with the band, but mostly song oriented type of lyrics and then I dunno, I started writing poetry a couple of years ago late at night because my ex and I had broken up, because you know I got married to this girl and I loved her and then we got divorced and then we got back together, then we broke up again, then we got back together. It was that sort of relationship. I guess It was a couple of years ago, we were not together and we're still friends obviously and we work together, we run a business together and so she said that she'd been seeing this guy and she thought maybe he was the right guy and she said that the he had asked her to marry him! She'd only been seeing this guy for about three months and I said "aw no no, you can't! Don't do it - it's too soon!" So actually I started writing poetry, not song oriented poetry, just poetry and texting to her. I started texting her late at night, poems about whatever, you know, unrequited love and I started doing it and I kept on doing it and I did it for a whole summer, year before last. Anyway, I kept writing poetry and all of a sudden, she dumped this guy and said "I can't believe it, let's get back together". My poetry helped to get us back together and we've been back together since. Then she says "you've got to put all this together in a book" and so, I looked at it all and then kinda went back. I have a giant pile of lyric books, I used to use the lined notebooks to write lyrics and I would always keep them. So I had a big pile of them from gosh, going back from like, back to the Tubes days, from like 1980's, so like 30 years. So I went through them all, little by little I and picked some. Not all of the song lyrics you write end up getting to be songs and I had quite a few that had never been used that I thought were interesting, so I kind of went back an re-wrote some of them, kind of updated them a little bit, made them make a little bit more sense and I added them to the pile for the book and so now I'm working on the second book, I've used up my supply of my old lyrics that never got turned into songs. I don't have that anymore to draw from but I've been writing more, I've been writing a lot of poetry lately, I'm up to like maybe 30? I have 30 poems for the new book, but they're all kinds of different topics, I mean they're social topics, they're love, hate, all kinds of different subjects, it's not all so orientated around her, around Elizabeth and around our lives together, so it's more interesting you know. When shit happens I end up writing something about it, you know the freak out in Paris, the 'je sui Charlie' thing and I wrote about that and I've got a bunch of stuff that I've got from sitting there watching tv late at night or watching Game of Thrones or something else that inspires me.
S: Aww so are you a fan then?
F: Oh god yes.
S: So are we, we've just become completely addicted.
F: Yeah I love it, I haven't written that poem yet, but its coming. And the last show of this season...
S: Don't tell me don't tell me I haven't watched it yet.
F: Oh you haven't seen it yet?
S: No, no - we're very late converts, we only recently bought the bluray. We're just trying to catch up.
F: do you guys have HBO over there? You guys don't have home box office in england?
S: We do, we do but we just hadn't got into it because we'd been away a lot and people had been talking about it and been like yeah, yeah whatever, we'd seen like maybe 1 or 2 episodes and hadn't got into it and we said you know what, now we've got a bit more time on our hands, we want to get into this. So we've been binge watching it. So, we're starting season 4 tonight.
F: Oh well there's only been 4 seasons right?
S: No five - there's been five seasons so far.
F: Oh really? Shit I can't keep up. I mean I am caught up, I watch it every night and the cable company here has it all online on demand.
S: well you see they did have when we started watching it, but there's only the first season that's on it, they took the rest off for some reason. I think it was just enough to get you hooked and then you have to go out and buy the boxed set like we just did. So anyway no, love it, absolutely love it.
F: Yeah I'm a big fan, the last show of this season was a complete freak out, I won't spoil what happened, but it's a total freak out.
S: Well it was bad enough for us watching yesterday afternoon, we watched the red wedding, well it was the two weddings, but oh my god!
F: HBO does a good job. I mean it's complete fantasy bullshit you know, but you get hooked on it with the dragons and stuff.
S: I think it's the complexity of the characters though, but some of them are just like what you would class as 'normal' people. You know there's humour in it, sarcasm, there's love and you know, fucked up relationships and it's just, genius writing.
F: Oh I know, it's really good. So you know, if something catches me, If a line, even just a one off line that somehow strikes me. I'll put it in my phone, put it in my notes and then just go back. When it hits me I write it down, so I don't forget it and then I'll just go back later, some late at night, after about 3 vodkas and I'll go "ok this is how this is supposed to go" and then it'll come out. So yeah, back on track (ha, ha!) I'm actually looking forward to doing this tour, it'll be great, it's been a long time coming, it's been years since we've played anywhere besides London.
S: What are you looking forward to the most about coming back to the UK?
F: Well you know, the people there were always just so warm. It's always been so great to play there for us.
S: Yeah, you've always had a really good following over here haven't you?
F: Yeah we have a good following, we have people that enjoy what we're doing and so that makes it a lot; even though we're playing smaller venues, which I like better actually. We're playing a couple of big outdoor shows in Germany, festivals. I mean, we can pull it off, but that's really not where our joy is. Playing to some 10,000 people, that can't really tell what's going on, because they're so far back, but no, I love playing the smaller venues, I love playing clubs and I love being able to see the eyeballs of people standing right in front of the stage and seeing that twinkle in their eye and when I'm going crazy and whatever, escaping from my straight jacket and they're just looking at me going "oh my god! What's going on? What the hell are you gonna do next?" So I like the anticipation and the surprise. That's kind of always been the best part of the Tubes I think, because we have great players, but then you get all this extra stuff. So I think that's why we still have people out there that wanna come and see us, even though they've seen us however many times before. They wonder "well what are they gonna do this time? How insane is this guy gonna get this time?" So, it's gonna be fun and I'm really looking forward to it.
S: Have you any plans in the future to release the Tubes video on blu-ray?
F: Well you know, we've tried and actually we have renewed interest, I mean we kind of put together this whole thing, Mike put it together and it's really, really interesting to see but we just could not find anybody who would produce it for us and give us the money we needed to get all the original masters of the clips. Because we have a lot of copies and you can't really copy a copy you know, it looks shitty, so we needed to get the original masters and we couldn't find any body who wanted to invest because they didn't figure we'd sell enough on the back end. But now we have a new company that could be interested in doing it. It's actually Kenny Ortega who has a production company KO Productions. So we've been talking to him about that, he's right in the middle of stuff, same thing as always, he's way too busy and he just finished a movie with Disney and he's got another project on the line ready to go and he's expressed interest so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we can actually pull this off in the near future when we all have time to spend on it.
Well that's fantastic news! The Tubes Video was the party staple for my friends and I during the early '80's and to see it fully remastered on DVD and/or bluray would be just spectacular! Fee and the boys embark on their 9 UK dates on 3rd August at the following venues:
August 3rd The Fleece, Bristol
August 4th Concorde 2, Brighton
August 6th The Brooke, Southampton
August 7th Clapham Grand, London
August 8th Club Academy, Manchester
August 9th Art School, Glasgow
August 11th Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
August 12th Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh
August 13th Robin 2, Bilston
For tickets and up to date news check out www.thetubes.com
(photo by Jürgen Spachmann)