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After the release of the 1984 heavy metal rockumentary This is Spinal Tap, the band promptly sank into hibernation. Obscurity, if you will. Their time had come and gone. The dream was over. But like a phoenix from the ashes, or a bum from a dumpster, they have risen in 1992 to plug themselves into the biggest hype machine that would still speak with them: MCA Records.
Album CoverTheir new album, Break Like the Wind, smells of gratuitous celebrity appearances, overblown production values and piles of money thrown at a series of nagging problems. In short, the state of heavy metal today. Their drummers continue to die inexplicably, the latest being Ric Shrimpton, younger brother of Mick Shrimpton, whom you may remember spontaneously combusting on-stage in their film.
Nailing down an interview with the three primary members — the Tap triumvirate — was next to impossible. Press days were canceled, smoke screens thrown up by publicists and managers. We began to wonder if they even existed at all, or if they were just a gigantic farce played out by attention-starved actors for the benefit of themselves and a pandering media. We decided to write the interview ourselves. Unfortunately, halfway through composing our tale of revenge, the phone rang. It was Tap, calling from a limo on their way to Spring Break at Daytona. Our plans were ruined. We had to talk with them. After all, it was their dime. We began the interview speaking with David St. Hubbins.

Congratulations on Tap's new album.
You like it?

It's turning some heads out there.
It's turning various appendages, and heads being among the top three, I think.

What's it like being quoted by someone every waking moment of your day?
You mean, people we run into on the street, or by other performers?

In the media, actually.
It's nice to see they know we're still alive, as lived vicariously through our public influence.

Before the new album came out, you hadn't been heard from in quite awhile. Were you washed up?
We did split up, yeah, in a difficult way. We came to a series of musical differences, and career upsies and downsies. All that added up. You know, it was rather insurmountable. Derek got stuck in Japan for nine months — eight months — Nigel went off to join the Swiss Army or something. I'm not sure if he was in the Swiss Army. Take everything he says with a grain of salt. I moved to the States. I remained in Pomona, California, where I've been coaching soccer teams. And also managing local bands, making demos, stuff like that. Keeping busy.

What's been the biggest change you've noticed since you guys are on the comeback trail?
It's not like we've been away. We've done a lot of listening, keeping areas open, and then—

But you've been away for eight years.
That's true, but during that time, you know, we've seen every next big thing become everything's last big flop. You know what I mean? We've seen it come and go. All we know is if we stay true to our goals, and don't go try making any vast improvements on what we feel is basically a good, you know, generic approach to what we do, then I think that's what we'll do then.

Your new album has all these famous people playing on it: Cher, Slash, Joe Satriani, Jeff Beck. Is this a way of keeping generic, or just another cheap ploy to sell records?
A cheap ploy that works is a ploy of genius. To answer your question with an old quote, which I'm sure I should place with its utterer someday.

What was it like working with Cher?
Oh, it was great. It was great in one sense that she insisted on me not being anywhere near her when she sings. In fact, the papers said I had to be 100 yards away from Cher when she's actually doing vocals, which would be a house and a half down the road from the studio where we were doing it.

But it was you who sang the duet on Just Begin Again.
Oh yeah, it was me, but I put my bit on first, and she came in, did her bit, and they asked if she'd like to hear my track, and she said no. She's very professional. Beck is an old friend, Satriani's an old friend, Lukather, Waddy Wachtel, all these people we've known through the years, it's nice to play with them again. Dweezil Zappa, we'd never played with before. Genius. Brilliant guitar player. And of course Nicky Hopkins, who had done the original tracks on "Rainy Day Sun." Leading session man in Britain.
And so we did this track. He came in and did it. We had it back in, and he came and he sat and he listened to the track, and we said "Is there anything you'd like to change?" "Nope, did it right 25 years ago. No use going back." So he charged us a triple session, but he was worth it. Even though he didn't play a note. He just came in and said, "That's fine. Move it on."

Who writes most of the songs? Who wrote the anthem Majesty of Rock?
It was basically my work, I think. It works different ways. Some songs come purely — Springtime is purely a Nigel tune. Clam Caravan is very much Nigel. Just Begin Again is Derek's tune. Words and lyrics. But I think basically, we're at our best when we come in all fresh-faced. We've already shucked away all the chaff, and we're left with only the golden bran that is at the heart, the kernel of rock and roll.

And it does work on you like a bran.
Yeah, it does make you shit, I suppose. Yeah, that's the other thing that makes it like a bran.

In the song Majesty of Rock, what are you striving for when you say "The scoring of the goal / The farmer takes a wife / The barber takes a pole / We're in this together." Are you guys looking, scraping for something more meaningful there?
We were scraping for one more rhyme. For "roll." It's always the last thing. I mean, really, it's the last thing we could come up with. We'd already used "hole."

You guys have maintained the big hair look for a long time. There's a lot of concern for the environment right now. Do you feel that the hair products you use are harmful?
I use a completely natural chamomile soap. I can't say the name. Doctor somebody. Chamomile soap. You can use it as toothpaste. It's that clean. You can get in the shower with a toothbrush, wash your hair and your teeth at the same time. The suds will trickle down into your mouth and you can continue brushing, and as it trickles down further, do the rest of your body as it runs. It's an all-over washer. So I don't do anything to the atmosphere. I've never used a conditioner, because if things were honest a conditioner would be called "shampoo remover." You want to talk to some of the others?

Yeah, put Nigel on.
Nigel seems to be nodding off. Nige? Nige? Want to talk to The Nose? Want to talk to The Nose, Nige? Nige? Just a minute, we have this special thing we break under his nose.

Nigel Tufnel: Hello, Jim?

Jack, actually.
Hello, Jack, how are you doing?

I'm fine. Sorry if I woke you up.
As am I. Is it freezing cold up there in San Francisco?

No, it's very nice, actually.
It's a very nice city. As far as living there. I might live there. I don't like L.A. at all. Fucking shit heap.

We've been reading some of the other interviews you've done, and apparently one of your guitar solos was substituted at the last minute.
No, only a bit of it. They removed about two-thirds of it. There's a third of it left on "Break Like the Wind," and they replaced the part they took out with a bit from Beck, Satriani, Lukather, you know, et cetera.

Did you feel sabotaged?
Oh, completely. No, worse than sabotage. More like, you know, putting a dagger in the back. You know, I thought it was a joke at first. They said "It's a birthday present." They erased part of my solo, put these other chaps on, and then coming in for the mix, I noticed the other guys' names on the sheet of paper and I thought it was a joke. Like a tribute.

Is this the first time a member of Spinal Tap has tried to sabotage another?
Well, again, you know, it's all in the eye of the beholder. We don't generally do things like that to each other. We'll have disagreements still, rolling around a bit. We don't punch any more, but we bite. Scratching here and there. You know, that's part of the band. You know, if we weren't doing that we'd be fucking Peter, Paul and Mary, and you know, who'd care? Not me.

There's a trend about musicians, once you reach a certain level of success or maturity that you start giving back to people, you start—
What? What do you give back?

Charity work, things like that. Are you guys going to do some of this?
What an awful idea. Um, you mean, you don't get any money?

You'd do benefit shows.
Well, you know, I have my own charity that I'm working on. Basically it's an animal rights group. Animals don't talk. They don't tell you things. They say with their eyes, they communicate with their faces. They seem like they want to be in other places. You look at their little round ball of fur, and he would look at you "Oh, I want to be in Rome," or maybe, you know, Venice, someplace.
So we work out getting money and getting these poor animals to travel there. And they go all over the world. It's been pretty much roadblocked by problems in different countries. So it's a theory that I'm really working hard to make it a reality. But that's alright. It's been a long time. Maybe it's time to give it back, and I choose to give it back to our feathered friends, our furry friends, our scaly friends.

When you played the Gavin Report here in San Francisco, did you know that you opened up the show by saying "Hello Oakland?"
Oh, really? Did I say that?

I don't remember who did.
You know, usually Derek does those announcements. He always mucks it up. But we're really sorry if that's true. I think he meant "Hello Oprah," as in Oprah Winfrey.

She was there?
No, but that's a good excuse, isn't it? You'd have to talk to him about it. We're traveling around, we just got back from Australia, and we're going to Florida to do Spring Break, and Tuesday there's New Orleans, and so we've been traveling a lot so you must forgive us if that happens.

Well, I'm sure this is probably the two billionth interview that you've done.
Uh, in fact it is literally.

Really?
Yes. We'll be sending a box of chocolates.

Thanks. That's very nice. Is Derek there?
Yeah, he's here. He's off in his own little world. Would you like to speak to him?

Is this Derek?
Yes.

Derek, congratulations on the new album.
Oh, thanks. Congratulations on the third consecutive interview.

You guys have been auditioning lots of drummers. That's been a big problem, hasn't it?
The auditioning, no. The dying, of course, yes. I would find that is a two-parter, and the second part would be yes.

So who won the contest to be your guest drummer?
In every city we're playing in, we're holding drummer auditions. Each of the winners gets to play with us. God have mercy if something happens.

Do you have to take out some sort of insurance policy?
Oh, we've got a blanket policy.

You've written some songs on this album.
Begin Again and Sun Never Sweats.

And you also do vocals on one.
Yeah, I'm lead on Cash on Delivery. David wanted a voice that was more — brutal.

The terrible saga of Viv Savage. He's not with you anymore.
No, he's dead. He was very close to Mick Shrimpton. I'm really holding my fingers together like this. He goes to pay his respects at Mick's grave, and he's standing, kneeling around the grave, and the fucking grave explodes.

He wasn't the drummer though. He was the keyboard player.
Right, you see, it turns out that he had been a drummer as a boy, started keyboards at 15. The curse, somehow, if there is a curse, knew he was hiding that he played drums.

At the Gavin Convention we bumped into somebody claiming he was Viv Savage.
You know this is weird. I mean, there's a tribute band playing all over the place, with a Viv Savage lookalike.

Really?
Yeah, and he gets work.

Off of the work Viv Savage did for you.
He is a Viv Savage lookalike. He is going around doing that—the Viv Savage Experience.

In your records Smell the Glove and this new one, we were looking at some of the liner notes. It seems all the songs that Spinal Tap records are written by people other than yourselves.
If you look at — actually you're looking at the old album. If you look at the new album, you'll see that each song is credited to Smalls, St. Hubbins, Tufnel. The last album, there was this contractual deal where they made the movie, and Ian Faith, our manager, had us sign these papers. He said "Don't worry about it," and they gave the actual publishing credits away to other people.

So these people — Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer —
Just you know, sitting there picking up their checks. Like McCartney does, you know.

Is there a possibility of litigation here?
Where money's involved, there's always a possibility of litigation. You can only keep so many lawyers alive at one time.

So this team isn't writing songs for you any more?
No, never did. Never did.

That was just a—
Rip-off. You're familiar with that?

I work in publishing.

from Issue 12 of The Nose. © 1992 Jack Boulware. Posted with permission.

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