Cheap Trick 2001
Interview with Bun E. Carlos
By Ronnie

Power pop will not go away, and Cheap Trick is living proof. I've followed the band from its Budokan days to its recent "That 70's Show" appearance. They are the ONLY group that I saw in high school and will still catch live today, having seen at least 9 of their shows in over 20 years! Disillusioned with the recent musical scene of overpriced "reunion/farewell" shows, it's refreshing to see a band that is still vitally dedicated to rock and roll. And more importantly, one that "walks the walk" with their live show, not having to concern themselves with fitting into spandex outfits that no longer fit! I recently talked to drummer Bun E. Carlos about Cheap Trick's new album; their influence on band's today and the "farewell" tours the other bands from the 1970's.

Right: Bun E. Carlos in the '70s

E.C.: First, how's the material coming along for the new album?

Bun E. Carlos: It's coming along fine, we've got about 18 tracks down and were gonna do some more at the end of this month.

E.C.: Is it going to be a return to that "classic" Cheap Trick sound like on the 1997 Cheap Trick album?

Bun E. Carlos: Yeah, yeah...

E.C.: Is it also going to be on the Red Ant label?

Bun E. Carlos: No its not, I don't know what they're doing this days, haven't heard from 'em.

E.C.: So, do y'all have a record deal for the new album?

Bun E. Carlos: We're shopping it & it'll either be a label deal or our own.

E.C.: Is there a proposed release date that you are aiming for?

Bun E. Carlos: Well, first were gonna put out & we did a 25th anniversary show about a year ago and we're putting the video and the audio from that out.

E.C.: Its great hearing Cheap Trick do the theme song for "That 70's Show", how did that come about?

Bun E. Carlos: The guys from Fox got a hold of us & I guess they wanted a real band to do it, instead of the guy that had done it for the first season. We went out and did a couple of different versions and that's the one they used.

E.C.: You were in the video as well, too?

Bun E. Carlos: Yeah, it was lots of fun.

E.C.: A lot of your contemporaries from the 70's, like Kiss, are doing 'farewell' tours. Will the day ever come when Cheap Trick does one?

Bun E. Carlos: Oh, I have no idea (laughs)...I hope we'll just ah...sneak out of there without telling anybody...but I don't know.

E.C.: Despite problems in the past with record labels, you guys have never really slowed down on your performance schedule. Are the live shows your main motivation?

Bun E. Carlos: Yeah, I think so. Its what we do best. We make good records, too...but we consistently do better with the live shows than with the records.

E.C.: I've seen Cheap Trick from the huge arenas to the intimate clubs, which type of gigs do you prefer?

Bun E. Carlos: Well, for paying my taxes I prefer the huge arenas. For the customer, I think a small theatre is probably the best, you know they sound the best and they look the best.

E.C.: Marilyn Manson performed a cover of "Surrender" on MTV's New Year's Eve Bash. Did you have a chance to hear it?

Bun E. Carlos: I haven't heard it, but Rick and Tom heard it, and they said it was...interesting (laughs). I heard he got most of the words right, so that's what counts. A lot of times, a band's covers they get the words wrong.

E.C.: Has there been a Cheap Trick tribute album yet?

Bun E. Carlos: Ah, not that I know of although some fans of ours have done a couple and sent them to us. But, there hasn't been a major label one that I know of.

Right: Cheap Trick in 2001

E.C.: At the Trickfest in 1999, Cheap Trick did an all covers show, with songs by the Who, Kinks, MC5, etc. Will that ever be released on a CD?

Bun E. Carlos: I doubt it...we did it, but there were a few 'clinkers' in there. That was just something for the hardcore fans.

E.C.: Because a lot of people were raving about that show...

Bun E. Carlos: Cool...

E.C.: What was it like playing with John Lennon on the 'Double Fantasy' sessions in 1980?

Bun E. Carlos: That was real cool, he played us a tape of him doing this one song, "I'm Losing You", and we kind of whipped together an arrangement of it and did it. It was real neat, he was playing rhythm guitar and singing live along with the tracks. It was kinda like a...definitely a highlight of that decade for me! You know, sitting there, drumming by him [John Lennon]...that's cool.

E.C.: That was just you and Rick, right?

Bun E. Carlos: Yeah, me and Rick and Tony Levin and George Small on piano.

E.C.: Until, the Lennon box set came out, we had to just imagine what these original versions sounded like. But, about 5 years abo I found a bootleg that had three of the songs listed: "I'm Losing You", "Moving On" and "Beautiful Boy". Are those the only three tracks you played on?

Bun E. Carlos: Mmmhuh, "Losing You", "Moving On" and Rick maybe on "Beautiful Boy". I went home cause we were going to Japan the next day. I wanted to go home and do my laundry, so I took off before he did.

E.C.: So, is that why your session work with Lennon ended, because of your scheduled trip to Japan?

Bun E. Carlos: Yeah, we went to Japan. After the trip we got in there and John was sitting in this booth and he just said, "I've done 22 songs out of 24 and I'm done cutting tracks."

E.C.: Were you ever given a reason why the tracks you played on for Lennon weren't used?

Bun E. Carlos: They really didn't fit in with the rest of the record. It was a little bit harder & that was what I figured out. And then about two years later, a couple of people that were at the sessions said, "they had the sessions guys put on some headphones and play along with your stuff". And I was like, "what, that's real weird!?" I just figured it was because they didn't fit in with the rest of the tracks. They would have stuck out or something.

E.C.: Have you done any other session work with prominent musicians?

Bun E. Carlos: No, not really...I've done live work with people. Studio stuff mostly with Cheap Trick.

E.C.: In the 70's everybody tried to categorize Cheap Trick. Some called you 'punk rock', 'new wave' or even heavy metal. Did you find humor in this?

Bun E. Carlos: You know, putting the thing in categories...I mean, when I grew up listening to music in the late '60s and early '70s, they really didn't have categories. It was rock music or hard rock music, but didn't get into all these sub-genres and stuff. You know, we were a loud band and we played some heavy stuff, and we played some rock stuff and we played some pop songs. So, if they want to call us one or the other it made no nevermind to me. We weren't a punk band, but we came along at the same time that a lot of punk bands did. We liked the way they played rock stuff & it was changing times.

E.C.: Like Ringo Starr and Charlie Watts, you are really underrated as a drummer. It's probably because you aren't considered a 'flashy' drummer. Is your style just to be the rock solid drummer?

Bun E. Carlos: I just try to play what's good for the song. The more drum licks, the dopier it sounds, usually. I mean, usually the less you play the better it sounds ten years later...although I didn't plan things like that. That's just the way it fit best.

E.C.: Who influenced you?

Bun E. Carlos: I'm a big fan of Charlie Watts and Ringo and I went and saw them live in the '60s. I saw Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell and Keith Moon, too. But, I'm not Ginger Baker and I'm not Keith Moon that's for sure. But Charlie Watts and Ringo, I have no problem being compared to those guys (laughs).

E.C.: I've noticed something about the influence of Cheap Trick on the new generation of bands. Groups like Oasis say they are influenced by the Beatles, but the very first time I heard their first record, I said, "they're just doing Cheap Trick!"

Bun E. Carlos: We're all influenced by the Beatles, I mean everybody that grew up when I was growing up & so, its not hard not to be influenced by the Beatles. Cheap Trick, we had a lot of records on the radio, so people say they are influenced by us, but when I go listen to the stuff & usually I can't hear it.

E.C.: One final question...has there been any news on further remasters by Sony?

Bun E. Carlos: No, they've remastered the Greatest Hits...and we just put out a different 'greatest hits', its called "the Authorized Greatest Hits" because they let us put it together. But, otherwise they are just kinda sitting on things. We don't know what they're doing.

1-23-2001 At The Roxy, Atlanta, Georgia

To use a Cheap Trick saying, "the house was rockin" at the sold out show at the Roxy Theatre in Atlanta. It also happened to be lead singer, Robin Zander's birthday, bringing a strange coincidence. The very first time I saw Cheap Trick live was twenty years ago, and it also happened to fall on January 23, Robin's birthday. Anyway, there was plenty of confetti and silly string flying around, plus a person in the crowd with a "happy birthday Robin sign".

The show started with only Bun E. Carlos onstage, going right into the drum solo quickly recognized from their version of "Ain't that a shame". Rick came running onstage just in time for the solo and he didn't slow down for the entire night! Over the years I've seen Rick has become the consummate entertainer - with his theatrics, facial expressions and of course the throwing out of tons of guitar picks. All without missing a beat on his guitar. The band proceeded to do a blistering version of "Ello Kiddies" from their first album. The set list covered the entire career of the band, from their first album in 1977 to their latest from 1997 - with the curious exclusion of most of their '80s albums. I mean, where were "Tonight Its You", "I Can't Take It" and "If You Want My Love You've Got It"?! But, I can't complain, because they did some songs I've never seen them do live, such as "Heaven Tonight" and "Southern Girls". Of course they played the hits like "I Want You To Want Me" and "Surrender". And their newest "hit", the theme song from "That 70's Show". Rick introduced the song and said, "you're missing it tonight [Tuesday, the show's airtime], I hope you have your VCR's set!" At one point, Robin lead the band in an acoustic version of "Oh Caroline", with Rick introducing Robin as one of his favorite lead singers. The only strange part of the evening was Tom Petersson's solo vocal on "I Know What I Want". He seemed to be very out of breath; Robin and Rick's backing vocals seemed to carry the song. The personal highlight for me was "Downed" which is my all time favorite Cheap Trick song! The encore started with another acoustic version of "Voices" from the DREAM POLICE album. Rick played an amazing solo, true to the album version. The band ended the night with "Dream Police" and "Goodnight Now". Then Rick proceeded to lead the crowd in a rousing version of "happy birthday" for Robin.

The night was over much too quick & but, I guess that's the sign of a truly great rock show? Cheap Trick is one of those rare bands that seem to get even better with age. I just hope they follow the Rolling Stones as a touring machine well into their 4th decade of playing. But, unlike the Stones, Cheap Trick never just "goes through the motions". They truly seem to live for the stage.

Set List:

Aint That a Shame
Ello Kiddies
House Is Rockin
I Want You To Want Me
I Know What I Want
Wrong All Along
That 70's Song
Eight Miles Low
Oh Caroline
Southern Girls
Dream Police
Never Had A Lot To Lose
Goodnight Now
Happy Birthday to Robin!

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