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Rain Parade - Interview

  by Kimberly Bright

published: 4 / 5 / 2024

Rain Parade - Interview


Matt Piucci and Steven Roback from Rain Parade chat with Kimberly Bright about their creative process, history, and enduring legacy.

Rain Parade was among the best bands, and possibly the very best band, to come out of the early to mid-’80s neo-psychedelic Paisley Underground scene in Los Angeles. Green On Red may have given us Chuck Prophet, but Rain Parade set the trippy, jangly tone for the era from the moment of the release of their classic debut album ‘Emergency Third Rail Power Trip’ in 1983. Original members guitarist and singer Matt Piucci and bass player Steven Roback continued collaborating after the band’s break-up in 1986 and returned to playing live shows as Rain Parade in the early ‘10s. Last year they released the brilliant ‘Last Rays Of A Dying Sun’ and played as a duo in the UK supporting The Dream Syndicate. Luckily the full band will be touring the UK and Europe this spring and summer, their first European shows since 1985. Matt and Steven were kind enough to speak to Pennyblackmusic from their homes in the Bay Area in California. We talked about their history, methods of collaboration, working with the late David Roback (original band member and brother to Steven), and their upcoming tour. I omitted the tangential chat about places in Berkeley, California, like the Poetry Garden across from the site of the now-demolished rose-covered cottage where Beat poet Allen Ginsberg briefly lived. Pennyblackmusic: Thank you for talking to me today. I have heard so many good things about Berkeley, about how cool it is. Steven Roback: There are a lot of little cool things in Berkeley. Matt Piucci: We all went to Berkeley [University of California at Berkeley] as did Steven's brother and Sue Hoffs. Pennyblackmusic: When you went there after the band broke up, what did you study? MP: Molecular biology. SR: Architecture. PB: And that was related to what you did professionally? MP: Correct. I was a forensic scientist. PB: Okay, so you did DNA police work? MP: That is precise. Yes, I did work on O.J. and yes, he did it. PB: All right, well, I did not think to have that as one of my questions! MP: Well, at least he walked through the blood of Ron Goldman, and his footprints put it on his car. Anyway. I wasn’t there. PB: So your European tour is coming up. You were over in the UK last year, right? SR: That's correct. We went with The Dream Syndicate as an opening duo. It was like Rain Parade acoustic duo for about 10 shows. MP: Our drummer joined us for about half of those, okay, percussionist/drummer Stephan Junca. PB: And you got you got to play in Liverpool, was that one show or was it multiple? And then there was the Hug & Pint in Glasgow. MP: Yes. Liverpool Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle, London, Bristol, Leeds. Great club in Leeds. Oxted. Is that the name of that place, Steven? SR: Yeah, Oxted. It's south of London. I think it's Surrey. MP: I don't know if that's ten. Eleven, actually we played a show at a pub as well in London. The Betsey Trotwood. Fine pub. PB: So are you happy with the reception that the new album has had? SR Personally, yeah, I'm very happy. Happy just to get it out there and have a new album out and be active again, making music. It seems like the hardcore fans are enjoying it, and also some new people are actually finding it. PB: Do you think that, especially in the UK, the whole psychedelic thing never really went away, unlike here? It seems like it's sort of been a permanent culture there. MP: That was one thing that really surprised us when we started playing again about 12 years ago. We've always been somewhat hermetic, if that's a word, insular and just hanging out with ourselves, but we were surprised and pleased to learn that there were a few iterations of that style of music after us and those bands, a lot of them, like Ride or The Charlatans UK, or The Stone Roses, or My Bloody Valentine, all those guys said how much they liked us – guys and women – and that was flattering and wonderful. SR: On our tour we actually ran into some people who mentioned that, how much they were influenced by the band. This person we talked to is in Glasgow, Gerard Love [from Teenage Fanclub]. So it's really nice to run into people in real life. MP: It was great. I mean, he said, ”We wanted to be you guys,” which was very flattering, because they're great. We love Teenage Fan Club. They're a great band. Same thing with Mani from The Stone Roses, who also came to see us, and he said they loved us too. So that was it's flattering and encouraging and humbling and all that other good stuff. So we're happy about all that. PB: I'm not going to specify, but it seems like a lot of guys over the years have copied things about Rain Parade down to the to the equipment. Do you know what I mean? MP: Well, yes, but that's what people do. I mean, we – Steve's brother and I – got the same gear as The Byrds who got the same gear as The Beatles, so, you know, there's nothing really new. It's just how you synthesize older ideas. SR: I think we're all inspired by a great instruments and vintage instruments and those classic sounds and people rework them in the different ways, but the basic connection is, we all love exploring music and playing these cool instruments. PB: In some places it's hard to find a Rickenbacker or a Fender or Vox amp anywhere, because of all the guys that are into the retro stuff. They’ve run the prices up to where they're really hard to find. MP: We don't actually use Rickenbackers. Steven's brother had them, but we haven't used Rickenbackers for forty years. But definitely it’s Gretsches. Our newest electric guitar is a 1971 Les Paul, which John Thoman, who is the been in the band since 1984, he uses that. It's very nice. We got a new guy who's got a bunch of old ‘60’s stuff, which is really cool. Steven just paid handsomely for a 1966 Jazz bass. SR: I think I got a great deal, actually. PB: Oh, really? MP: More than my car, probably. SR: I bought myself a present. MP: But it's really a beautiful instrument, and I've had the same guitar since 1982. PB: The Gretsch? MP: Yeah, it's a Gretsch Tennessean, which was a throwaway, almost, back in the day. I mean, that's their, quote, bottom of the line, unquote, of the Chet Atkins guitars, but I like it because it's very weird. It's got a unique setup and a unique pickup and fake F-holes, which lends to its sound. George Harrison and David Crosby played one also. PB: Is that the one that you played on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test ‘in the UK in 1985? MP: Yeah, same guitar. PB: Oh, that’s cool. MP: I’ve still got it. I use it primarily. I rarely use others. I have other guitars which I use, but that's the main one. PB: As far as the Paisley Underground bands, it seems like it was such a friendly little community, especially if you look at the sort of cutthroat environment in the LA music industry. Do you think that that's accurate? Do you think it was an unusually friendly, supportive community? SR: Yeah, I do. It was kind of an anomaly in terms of music scenes or. ‘The Industry’, which is so cutthroat. And we did kind of all know each other. We were friends from before we got all got into music. So some of us were. And I think it was as much about music as it was just about friendship. Hanging out in your twenties and trying to do something cool and making good music and sharing music that we all loved. So, it did have a pretty good vibe. It wasn't until a little bit later that things started to get a little bit more dicey, but the thing is, we actually most of us still remain friends. MP: Yeah, I feel closer to Steve Wynn and Vicki Peterson than I ever did, actually. I chat with those guys, and the guys in Green On Red remain our close friends. I think the commonality was influence more than sound. I don't think any of those bands really sound like one another. In the same fashion that what was sort of mislabeled punk in the middle '70s New York. You know, none of those bands really were punk. Not even the Ramones were punk. They were just, you know, The Beach Boys on glue or whatever they were. They were all original songwriters who were doing something different, and I think that's the common thread with the bands that you mentioned, who are all our buddies. I don’t think any of them sound l like us. I mean, some elements to The Three O'Clock are kind of like us, but that's about it, in my opinion. SP: I think we drew from a common ethos of the do-it-yourself vibe. That's kind of what we had in common, not necessarily the music or the specific sounds that we were going after. I think each band was pretty original in their own way, but it was more of the spirit of the time. MP: And certainly not confined in Los Angeles, as we found out when we started going around. A lot of those LA bands are actually from Davis, which is about an hour from here. My son went there, and that's where Thin White Rope and True West and then Steve Wynn went there. So did Kendra Smith. You know, pick a city. New York City had The Feelies and Winter Hours and folks like that, and of course, Georgia had all those bands too. PB: I wanted to thank you for saying what is an unpopular opinion about New York, because I think that's right about a lot of bands getting thrown into the punk label, that totally don't belong in it at all. MP: Yeah, for me, punk really is English – The Pistols and The Damned and The Clash. A little bit more political. I think that's really a lousy label for the music of the middle ‘70s in New York City. But that's the way it goes. People like labels. PB: There were people that in the UK who, I think, got labeled psychedelic that I think probably shouldn't have been, who were maybe more garage. MP: Yeah, I mean, I heard that term about UK people like Echo, The Teardrop Explodes, and even U2 before they got super big. PB: When you were in college with, with David [Roback], were there any particular bands that you were both listening to at the time that were in that area of Minnesota (Northfield, MN)? What all were you listening to and what shows were you going to then? MP: Well, yes. David [Roback] lived in New York, I believe, and it was either ‘75 or ‘76, and he had seen a lot of those groups, but I had older brothers, and they had all the classic records. I think David was more of a collector than I was. When I first met David, I went to this dorm where had a huge picture of Jimi, Hendrix. I'm like, OK, I get that. He was nutty about the Blue Öyster Cult, who I came to love, but all the, you know, Dylan and Byrds – and for me, especially The Byrds. Of course, anything that begins with a B. All that ‘60s stuff. My brothers had all the records. Steven's older brother had those records, too, so we are definitely children of the ‘60s, in that sense. SR: I think you’re thinking of my older sister, actually. MP: I'm sorry, your older sister and you. You know, I think his sister is roughly the age of my older brother, so they had all that stuff. Creedence, not so much the San Francisco stuff, which I later learned to love, but definitely the East Bay, San Francisco stuff, the Creedence, and Sly and the Family Stone. PB: I’ve noticed that college towns everywhere, and this is probably true about your college town in Minnesota, they usually have incredible record stores. MP: Yes. I went to school in Minnesota and didn't quite make it through, got bit by the music bug. So I think the Talking Heads, that for me, it was important to my life. I saw The Byrds when I was about fourteen and then The Talking Heads when I was probably nineteen, and those two shows were just life-changing for me. There were some good bands. I mean, my old band, which never put anything out, played with Hüsker Dü and The Replacements. They weren't very good, and then when I moved to Los Angeles, they put out records, I'm like “Wow! This guy's got good!” There was a great store in Minneapolis called Oar Folkjokeopus that was owned by a guy named Peter Jesperson, who later became The Replacements’ manager. PB: That must have been quite the culture shock being an LA boy going to Minnesota. MP: Oh, I'm not from LA. Steven and David are from Los Angeles. SR: It was it was reversed for him. MP: was born in upstate New York and lived in New England, and then my parents lived in Chicago, and then I went to Minneapolis, and I've moved every five years until I settled here. Here being the Bay Area. I came here in ‘86. In California I couldn't believe how big the plants were. Like, “We have plants like that, but they're really small!” You know, for Steven and David that obviously was what they grew up with, but it was definitely a culture shock for me. PB: What happened with the album you were putting together in 1988 that didn’t get released? SR: That's not really true. PB: What's the story about that? And what happened to it? SR: So we did take a break after our last studio album on Island and we got together and made some demos to just to kind of try to feel out a new direction and see if we wanted to make a new album. So we probably recorded about twenty demos. It wasn’t an album. They were just demos. I think somehow word got out, rumour got out that we were making a double album. I think we were nonchalant about it, didn't say anything about it, let the rumour grow, and it kind of took our life of its own. Eventually what happened is we put some of those demos together with some of the outtakes from the ‘Crashing Dream’ sessions into an album called ‘Demolition’, which we released ourselves. MP: It’s a CD. It was never on vinyl. SR: We weren't really planning on doing a double album. It's just kind of one of those strange rumours that takes on a life of its own. MP: Then what basically happened is – it's not like we haven't been working – Steven had this band Viva Saturn that I was intimately involved with. They were mostly his songs, but it really was essentially the same people, and then I did a couple records that he was very heavily involved in, called The Hellenes that was in between the last Rain Parade album, and this most recent album, I think. Collectively we put about five or six records out where we were working with one another, so it never really stopped. I mean, I did briefly to go to school and have a kid, but we've still been working together. SR: Both of those projects have been pretty much all the same people, so it's not really Rain Parade because it's been either, mostly Matt’s songwriting in the Hellenes or mostly mine with Viva Saturn. So it's got a different twist. MP: Even though we did collaborate on writing on a few of those. Steven: Yeah, we did. We wouldn't call it Rain Parade, because Rain Parade has a slightly different approach. With Rain Parade, we're much more, I think, collaborative directly on every aspect of music, and it's much more meticulously arranged in production. The style is different. Viva Saturn, I would say, is little bit more experimental where I could just say “OK, Matt, go record some guitar parts and then I'll figure it out later.” And we would review the raw footage and mix it together. So it was actually created in a different way. PB: I only listened to one Hellenes album, and that one, I think more than Viva Saturn, reminds more of Rain Parade. MP: Is it the most recent one or is it ‘I Love You All The Animals’ with the Ensor picture on it? One was released in about 2000 and the other one was released about 2016. PB: This would have been ‘The Hellenes’, the one from 2000. MP: Steven produced that and he plays on it. He produced it with me. There's several songs that we wrote together. The difference would be that that's a little bit harder edge than Rain Parade. A little bit more gnarly guitars. He was heavily involved in that one. The more recent one, he was not as involved with, and then when I was finishing it up, we sort of got back together. Although there is one song that he wrote with me on that, and that led to reconnecting with Jim Hill, who's a really important person in our musical lives. He was our sound guy, he engineered our EP. He was introduced to us by the guy who signed us, who has signed us again. Jim worked on the second Hellenes album, and he also worked on the ‘3x4’ album, which is the album that we did with all the other of our pals from the Paisley Underground. Jim produced and helped us with this most recent record. ‘Last Rays Of A Dying Sun’. We realised that we missed him and that we really had a great working relationship with him and that he was kind of perfect for us. He's a good foil, and he's an outstanding engineer. He's been doing movies to make money. A lot of huge ones, in fact. SR It's really important to have a producer that you like and that you trust and that you can just be open around and bounce ideas off of. It's just such an important relationship, and and we kind of came back to Jim Hill because we were such good friends and we have similar musical aesthetic. Yeah, it's a good match. MP: Yeah, we let him run wild. He loves that. He got into this to produce rock and roll bands. This is what he loves and we let him do his thing, and he helps us do ours. It's really great. He's coming out here next month, and we're going to be working together. I've been recording some new material. PB: When you add layers to your songs, is he helpful to let you know when to add more, add different colors or does he help you dial it back a little bit? How does that work? MP: Oh, yes. SR: Yes and both. Yeah, he's a good foil. I mean, we have all kinds of ideas. Sometimes we end up putting too many things on a song. He's good at subtracting things. One of the important concepts in music is removing things. Creating space, keeping space. He's also really good at coming up with ideas, for adding elements too. PB: It seems like you guys have a good partnership because you never seem to go over the cliff. It's never too much. It's just enough, and it's always interesting. It's not just verse, chorus, verse. You've got exotic little elements in there, but it's not overwhelming. MP: Yeah, I mean Steven and I, as writers we really don't like to sort of blowthem out. I mean, obviously some songs come in all sorts of sizes and shapes and directions and ways that they emerge. It's not like building a house. You don't have to build a foundation first. You can build a really cool closet and then move from there. But anyway, we definitely go through each other's stuff, and I think that's why we, at least for ourselves, have enjoyed it, because we each have different strengths that play off with one another. So I'll do certain things with ideas of his, and he will do certain things with ideas of mine, and sometimes we just append things. SR: Really I think we also helped keep each other sort of tethered to some standards. Having worked together for so long, if something is not cutting it, Matt will let me know. Like “That lyric is terrible, mam” or some music that is completely indulgent and ridiculous. We'll let each other know. MP: Yeah, I think lyrically, that's usually the other way around. He's usually the one with lyrics who will make mine better. Of course, everything happens, but I tend to take some of his musical ideas and mess with them. Anyway, every conceivable permutation of collaboration from nothing to complete 50-50 has taken place. We learned a long time ago that we just weren't going to worry about where a thing began. It was only going to be where it ended. So now for any subsequent stuff we do we just split the song writing and don't worry about it. It really does end up being a collaboration. They're hard, but it's very exciting. Collaborative art is difficult but rewarding. PB: Could you tell me about how two of the songs on the new album in particular fleshed out? The title track (‘Last Rays Of A Dying Sun’) and ‘Got The Fear.” MP: The title track, the Hellenes did it a little bit, but that's a really good example of how things work. We had an old song called ‘No Easy Way Down’ that the guy in My Bloody Valentine Kevin Shields cited as what he got his style from, which was flattering. Thank you! That sort of vibrato, spooky, whammy bar thing, and the previous song was kind of in a minor field, and I wanted to do one that was happier. So I got that going, and I had some verses and a sort of half-baked middle section. Like we said before, Steven was like “Dude, that line isn't any good, man. We’ve got to change that.” So he dove in and he helped me rewrite and sculpt the lyrics better. Then the second section of that song, the trippy one where there's all the sitar and all that stuff, it really was not very developed. Steven got under the hood, and wrote some lyrics and came up with melodies and we sort of agreed on an approach. Then Jim dove in. Jim loves to play with sonics, so there's weird percussion. Stephan Junca is a really good percussionist, our drummer, he plays – I don't even know what it's called, some weird stuff – and then Jim has a lot of treatments. The old adage about Brian Eno, treatments and manipulations. So that's how that emerged, and we're very happy with that. You want to take on ‘Got The Fear’, Robes? SR: I agree about ‘Last Rays’. Matt had that killer vibrato part. Similar in a way to ‘No Easy Way Down’, but it had a slightly different feel. It was a little bit more happy. MP: It's a major key instead of a minor key, so there you go. SP: The rest just kind of came together. It's a good example of collaboration. Then on that middle section, somehow we came up with this kind of churning easterny [part]. That's everybody's contributions, Stephan and also Derek See, our guitar player that we've been working with, and John Thoman our other long-term Rain Parade guitar player. MP: That’s true. The wicked guitar break at the beginning is Derek. He's a very accomplished guitar player. SR: Those guys are all instrumental. ‘Got The Fear’, that has kind of a weird history. That actually was originally from that session I was referring to, that sort of post-Rain Parade demo session that ended up being released as ‘Demolition, but we never actually recorded it. We had a demo. We did it live, but we never liked it. It was always too bombastic. I don't know. It was just over the top, so we decided to bring it down. We always liked the song and thought it was a really strong song, so we tried to give it a little bit more of an acoustic-y kind of churning feel. I think the lyrics speak for themselves, and it's definitely about coming down, William Burroughs. MP: That is from Burroughs actually. I think he was talking about marijuana. SR: Yeah, it’s about paranoia, definitely. MP: Sort of the Alice Cooper “Ballad Of Dwight Fry” thing. The wicked guitar of John's remains in there, but it was a little bit too “flick-your-Bic” sort of thing, and we contained the beast a little bit more. So we're really happy with the way that came out too. SR: It's a little bit of an outlier in terms of our style, I guess, but I think it also kind of shows how far we will go sometimes not just to try new things. MP: But it does contain the two elements that I think are fundamental to almost all Rain Parade. Steven's got that wicked bizarre bass line. Steven's a weird bass player. He's unique in his approach, in a good way, and then my Gretsch guitar. Those are the two. I mean, obviously, Steven is a very good piano player and also a good guitar player, and he'll write different things, but I think, fundamentally, the core of Rain Parade is that: his bass and my guitar. Everything else kind of goes on top of it. Even though, just like the Paisley Underground, that is limiting. That's an answer, but it's not the whole answer. Steven: Yeah, I would strongly agree with that. That the core of Rain Parade really is and always has been from the very beginning Matt’s Gretsch and my bass playing, because that was kind of where the initial kind of magic was happening. If you go back to songs like ‘This Can't Be Today’, even actually everything on the first album, the second album, we sort of came up with it all in that configuration. MP: Of course, Steven's brother was a huge part of that first record in terms of the conceptualisation, instrumentation, approach, writing. SR: He was just involved at every level. MP: But three songwriters is just too damn hard. It doesn't last. He wanted to do his own thing, so he did. PB: For my last question, since melody and experimentation are so important to Rain Parade, do you have any guilty pleasures, musically? MP: I'm not sure what that means, really. I mean, do I like ABBA? Yeah, actually, I do. SR: I'm a sucker for lots of sappy songs, anything that has a good melody. MP: He was a big Queen fan and would never deny it, and I thought they were awful until I saw that movie and now I kind of like them. SR: I was when I was a kid, yeah, about fifteen years-old. MR: I mean, that was the key. We had very few, disagreements on what we liked, for all three of us and for Steve, and I, which is the vast majority of Rain Parade’s history, he and I. I do think that when you're young, it's very important as an artist to say, “We're not going to do that.” You know, obviously, we love the blues and we love Chuck Berry, but you won't find any blues in The Rain Parade. Not really very much, even though it's a very important style, etc. etc. etc., but we wanted to do something else, right? So as you get older, I think you get a little bit more...Like, there's bands that I hated that I don't hate anymore. I couldn't stand like The Cure and that kind of stuff, but I sort of like them now. So, guilty pleasures? I don't know. I mean, we'll listen to anything. I like Steve and Edie [Lawrence], for crying out loud. SP: I'll confess I, especially when I was a kid, I used to like musicals like ‘West Side Story’. Huge fan of that. And even ‘The Wizard of Oz’, the music from ‘The Wizard of Oz’. That actually really, really influenced me. I would play them on piano. I guess I have a show music streak in me. MP: Isn't your uncle or your cousin involved in that stuff? SR: My cousin. Julius Wechter, he was actually a marimba player. He played with Herb Alpert and worked with a group called The Wrecking Crew, which had different configurations. They were a well-known group of studio musicians in LA in the ‘60s. MP: Duke Ellington said there was only two kinds of music: good and bad. There are genres we don’t really like. I'm not a huge reggae fan, but who doesn't love Bob Marley, you know? SR: You should have a guilty pleasure. Let’s see. Jackson 5? MP: Oh, for sure! SR ‘ABC’. MP: Well, that stuff's amazing. That's not a guilty pleasure. I can kind of share. I'll stand for guilty. SR: That’s a great question. PB: It's just that when people now talk about cool music from the ‘70s, they weren't playing Talking Heads and stuff like that on the radio, at least on AM radio. So if you were on long road trips with your parents, we weren't listening to that stuff. We had to listen to Kenny Rogers and The Carpenters and people like that. MP: I liked some of the Carpenters. Anyways music wasn’t so balkanized then. SR: Everyone listened to AM radio, and it was one source. MP: It's great that all that stuff is available, but like a guy I knew once said, the internet is like a library where all the shelves have been knocked over and the books are all lying all over the floor. It's craziness. A zoo. Which is why we really wanted to put out something physical, and I think people do want that. I mean, when we were kids you could hold a record in your hand. I mean, how do you hold the download in your hand? You don't, and it’s kind of like watching movies on TV. It's not the same experience. SR: Holding and having an album cover. One of my earliest memories, most important memories, is just holding a Beatles album and looking for the clues. PB: I really like the album cover for the new album [‘Last Rays Of A Dying Sun]’. I think it's really interesting. MP: That artist, her name is Emily Wick. She lives down the street. Check her Instagram and social media stuff. She's got a ton of those. She is a very, very cool artist. SR: There’s a whole series she’s worked out. MP That one's a little bit unusual for her because they're usually dark, but we liked it because it reminded us of Pink Floyd. We thought it was a good image. PB: Thank you. Photos by Billy Douglas Rain Parade will play the following UK dates in June: Bristol Strange Brew 14.06.24; Leeds Brudenell Social Club 15.06.24; Manchester Night & Day 16.06.24; Nottingham Metronome 18.06.24; London 229 19.06.24

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