Red Plastic Buddha
Chicago’s Red Plastic Buddha has a big sound that just feels right. Their garage rock aesthetic, as evidenced on their 2007 debut “Sunflower Sessions” (Spade Kitty), pays homage to the past yet refuses to be tied to their heroes. Singer/bassist/songwriter Timothy Ferguson calls their music “gas soaked,” and that is right on. There is passion here, with the added fuel of smart hooks, wry lyrics and a fat bottom (courtesy of David Kling on drums) that anchors the power pop riffage. You’ll hear retro-organ, psych freakout, and sweet melodies in every tune. This interview with Ferguson was conducted by email, though MySpace of all places. Who said it had no soul?
I was a kid in the ‘60s and there was always music playing. I guess that sound just seeped into my subconscious. It’s always humbling to hear those comparisons though.
We’re all very open-minded musically, and each member brings their own sensibilities to the mix. If anyone ever broke this band down into its components, they’d be very surprised to find Art Blakey, Ravi Shankar, Hawkwind and The Left Banke all bubbling away in the mix. My biggest challenge is to shape all those influences into a coherent sound.
We kind of blur the boundaries of psychedelia. I never want us to get locked into a certain way of doing things because we’d quickly paint ourselves into a corner. Being a “feel’”-driven person, I’m more concerned with creating music that appeals to people’s emotions or evokes a mood. I think making music should be like making love. If you’re thinking too much, you’re probably not doing it well.
There are people in this world who just do things differently, not as affectation, but because it’s their only way of being. The common thread running through the bands you mentioned was a real need to do things their own way. We share that. Welcome to freak nation.
Yes. More please. Seriously, it’s been wonderful to have people tell us that they like what we’re doing (and spreading the word). When we play live, there’s the instant feedback of people applauding and shouting. Recording is a much lonelier process and you don’t really know how people are going to respond. There was a big collective sigh of relief when the reviews started coming in, I assure you.
I really like the lyric writing process and for me, it’s the most fun part of songwriting. I’ve always admired the people who have a playful way of using words, double meanings, things of that nature. I like a lot of imagery, but need to improve that aspect of my writing. I’m drawn to Ray Davies, Syd Barrett, Peter Hammill, and Pete Townsend as lyricists. I hope someday to write a song that could be on par with one of them.
Wow, playing a riot. What a fun concept.
Being from Chicago and a leftie, I’d probably pick the Haymarket Riot of 1886. I used to work about a block away from where all that went down. I suppose we couldn’t do songs like “Clouds” though. We’d have to do our more aggressive songs or everyone would get all peaceful and contemplative and happy. Wouldn’t be much of a riot then, would it?
“Who booked this band, anyway?”
We don’t do a ton of live shows in the conventional sense. We have played International Pop Overthrow and most of the clubs around Chicago. It’s something we are doing more often now as a matter of promotion.
When we play clubs, our music is more structured. Although we’re very good at improvising, it is always a risky endeavor. Having all six people “get it right” when we’re working without a net is a lot to ask. We’re still at the stage in our career when we have to win over most club audiences. I always want us to approach club or festival dates loose but confident.
We do love to play private events and parties though. That environment is way more informal so we improvise more and simply try things. The audience is usually one that is already “won over” so they’re far more willing to stick with us when things go off the rail.
Our practices are a very creative and democratic environment and that’s the place where most of the real writing is done. Very often, someone will come in with a riff and will just start playing. Others join in, or not. Before you know it, something emerges. A vocal melody will suggest itself and later I’ll put some lyrics to it or write a change or something and presto – new song. Sometimes I’ll be the one to start it off with a vocal melody and all the lyrics, and we’ll work backwards from there.
Yeah, I consider myself Buddhist, and Todd Lazar is as well. Dave grew up in a Buddhist household. I think it’s a beautiful religion / philosophy, as it stresses getting comfortable with change and uncertainty and learning to truly live in the moment. Those are recurring themes in some of our new songs.
We’ve got a psychedelic showcase series in the works with one of the local clubs that’s due to start in August. We’ll host and have two or three other local psychedelic groups play with us. It’s a community-building thing, and there are a lot of great bands in Chicago. We’re playing the Michigan Peace Fest this summer (with Sky Saxon of The Seeds), and we’re waiting to get the final word on a few other out-of-town things. Stay tuned.
But as the point of it all is to create music, we’re planning on getting back in the studio sometime this fall. We’re working out the material for our follow up CD now and I’m very excited to get this new stuff recorded. We’re a stronger band than the one that recorded “Sunflower Sessions” and I’m anxious to show off what the new lineup can do.
Outside of The Red Plastic Buddha, I’m going to be producing the second Pralines record at some point fairly soon. I just know the two projects are going to overlap and I’m going to be spending all my free time in the studio. Producing one CD at a time takes a lot out of me. This is going to be challenging (but fun).
Hmm. There’s been a lot of nice stuff that I’ve found this year. My favorite is a band from France that I’ll bet most folks don’t know. They’re called The Moonjellies and I really love their sound. Very ‘60s, sun-drenched pop. They make me feel very good about life.
I also would recommend the new ones from The Warlocks and The Quarter After. I really liked the Black Angels record. I should also rave a bit about our Pamela Richardson’s new CD "Sainte-Fortunat". She’s a great songwriter and her voice is magic. This is her solo project away from The Pralines, and I think a lot of people are really going to love this CD.
I started playing after nearly losing it to a bad heartbreak. I let myself get very sick and one night, I just knew that if I closed my eyes I wasn’t going to open them again. I actually heard a voice tell me that if I got better and bought a bass guitar everything would turn out right. So I got better. I bought a bass guitar, and within a month I was playing with a band. I realize that this sounds pretty dopey, but it’s true.
I was always an angry mess when I was young, just raging at the world. Music gave me purpose and at long last I found my tribe. A sense of belonging is important to misfits like me.
So I took up music at the tender age of 30. It’s where I put everything, good and bad. It’s the framework I use to seek understanding.
Final gigs are so sad, particularly when you know it’s the final gig. I like grand gestures, so I hope we’re playing when the spaceships come or just as the next meteor strikes the Earth. I really admire the band on the Titanic that kept right on playing as the ship sank. We’re musicians. It would be good to go out being exactly who we are.
-- Mike Wood (13 May, 2008)