The Woggles
By Ronnie

An interview with Manfred "the Professor" of the Woggles is kinda like riding a roller coaster ride blindfolded. You don't know what your gonna get, but it sure is entertaining! As fervent in his beliefs as he is about the Woggles, "the Professor" is never one to mince words. Hell, the last time I interviewed him, I had enough material for two separate articles! So, sit back, read on and enjoy the ride...

E.C.: The last time I interviewed you was about 4 years ago. Has anything changed in the Woggles camp? Different attitude or modus operandi?

Manfred: The only thing that has really changed in the last four years is that we've written more songs and played more shows/places. We've been to Europe the last two years in a row and we hadn't been overseas there since the first time you interviewed us. The first time we went was due in part to a record we had out on a British label called One Louder. It's called "Wailin' with the Woggles" and is available as either an eight song CD or 10". That came out in spring of 98 and by that fall we toured England, including a 4 song appearance on a BBC TV show, Holland, France, Spain, & Italy. We also did one show each in Switzerland and Germany. Last year we returned and did shows mainly in Spain and Germany, although we did have gigs in France and Holland too. The shows in Germany were possible mainly from a low budget video we did at a show we played in Atlanta at the Star Bar. The video was us doing our song "Ramadan Romance," and tons of our friends/fans just dancing around in the audience.

Turns out that video got air play on MTV Europe as well as local video programs in Germany. A no name band like us would never be able to get that video shown here on MTV, so that illustrates one of the great things about being able to play overseas is that you are able to have a better access to the media than you have in the US. A couple of years ago independent filmmaker, Barry Norman, made a short that was wrestler Mick Fowly's (sp?) film debut. Titled "Deadbeats," it's finally making it to video. A couple of our songs are featured in the soundtrack, "Frosty," and "Hoodoo Healer." It's supposed to be distributed by Troma.

We also had lots of songs come out on a host of various compilations. Some were tribute albums like "Dickheads," a Dick Dale tribute record and "Takin' Out the Trash," a Trashmen compilation. Others just featured various songs of ours.

E.C.: Radio pretty much ignores "garage rock", has that description of the Woggles helped or hurt?

Manfred: It has probably done a little of both. For those audiences well versed in popular music it has probably helped, as they would be more likely to relate to and understand the mixture of influences we draw on and incorporate into our music writing. For those who aren't, it probably hurts, because the definition of garage rock varies from person to person. Too many, it describes any young teen band hammering out tunes in their parent's garage, and not necessarily a Lenny Kaye inspired definition. To those types, Metallica had a "garage rock" phase, and any band starting out has that sort of period, before they "learn" their craft/instruments. So any band, playing any sort of rock related music, then is, or starts out as, a "garage rock" band. That vagueness definitely hurts us, when we're trying just to get people to come to shows that haven't seen us before.

A similar situation applies to radio. First we have to discount commercial radio outright, because they aren't going to play a band "garage rock" or otherwise that's not associated with a bigger/major label. The only exception is a local music show on a commercial station. We have had luck with stations like that playing our stuff. They don't think of it as "garage rock." To them it's just rock music. I don't think "garage rock" is a term they're familiar with and if they are it's certainly the latter of the two definitions I listed above.

However, they play our stuff on the local shows, because, one, we're local, and two, they think it's really fun, or as they say, "It really rocks!" On these programs their ignorance is bliss, because it doesn't pigeonhole us into not getting played. College radio is an entirely different animal. There we occasionally run into programmers who refuse to play us on the basis that what we do is not new or progressive. These are generally folks who are very young and their frames of music references go back about twenty years tops. To them, we are a "retro" band in a 70s fashion. The term "garage rock" to them does not connote earlier rock and roll influences, instead it describes a lack of ability and imagination. Often these same types of programmers belittle us for not being "serious."

The type of college programmer that does play us is generally one who's frame of music reference is a bit broader and deeper. To them "garage rock" might represent not just a time period in the past, but also a contemporary genre populated by the likes of bands on labels like Estrus, Empty, In the Red, Get Hip, etc. These types of programmers view "garage rock" bands as carrying the torch of the type of rock offered up by the likes of the MC5, the early Stooges, or even New York Dolls, just as much as any early 60s one hit wonder teen band or the Sonics. I think these programmers would likely label "garage rock" bands musical sound as being fairly heavy, kind of punky, and overall kind of trashy sounding.

Personally I don't care for that really heavy sound. It's just too metal sounding for my tastes.

E.C.: "Garage Rock" is pretty much a double edged sword. On one hand it is probably the purest form of rock and roll, a natural progression from its roots in the 1950's. But, on the other hand, you are pretty much stuck in a format. It's not like you can do a Sgt. Pepper on the next album. How do the Woggles deal with this?

Manfred: Well, first it's nothing that we are consciously dealing with. We don't consider what we do stuck in a rut or limiting at all. The music that we play draws on influences from jump blues, early R&B, a tad bit a country or hillbilly, surf instrumental sounds, 50's rock and roll, 60s teen rock and roll bands, on up through early punk sounds of the later 70s. We use about 50 years of pop music as a reference and draw from that. We don't live or wish to have lived in any of those time periods, but we draw from those musics things that we find relating to our experiences now, and fashion them into songs that express the ideas that we feel today.

In terms of Sgt. Pepper's or any album of that ilk, that simply represents stuff that for ourselves is not as interesting. It has it's place certainly, and we've all heard that and been exposed to plenty of similar records from various groups, but it's not our desire to recreate that or write those types of songs. We're also not a bunch of singer-songwriters. So we have no vision or desire to play that sort of music. We don't live in a vacuum, but we don't feel any compulsion to include hip hop beats or techno trappings to our music, because it distracts from the elements we like to emphasize and we enjoy.

I guess the other thing to keep in mind is that we consider what we do to be timeless and not quarantined in a particular time period. No one derides Bach or Beethoven for being moldy oldies and though what we do is a form of "pop" music, we feel that it should stand on its own merits subjects to its inherent limitations.

If, however, we felt some compulsion to create a new Sgt. Peppers, I suppose we could do that. It would not be the same obviously, but if you mean that creating a Sgt. Peppers is utilizing any of the song or production ideas that the Beatles made use of, then that's always a possibility in the sense of we do what we think is necessary for a particular song or batch of songs.

E.C.: Some of the 60's garage bands developed into a kind of psychedelic-garage rock? Would that ever be a possibility with the Woggles?

Manfred: If someone in the Woggles had a compulsion to write songs in that vein then something like that might appear. We covered the likes of Arthur Lee and he certainly has his foot in that genre quite often. Overall that type of music and sound is not something that drives any of us in the band very much, so it is rather unlikely. But as Caesar learns in "Battle for the Planet of the Apes", "Life is a multilaned highway."

E.C.: Tell me about the new album, "Fractured"? Is it the definitive Woggles release?

Manfred: Of course every Woggles release is a definitive release, until the next one! Each song is in a series of excursions and explorations for that perfect three chord orgasm of hook, chorus, and melody! One fun thing to me about the Woggles is that there is not one primary songwriter. Everybody's contributing songs and song writing ideas. You can get a sense of that by looking at the writing credits on any of our records. Every song that comes along is like a little baby that needs to be birthed. Though our critics may claim that we "don't know nuthin' bout birthin' no babies" I'm pretty happy about the children we've brought into this world.

On "Fractured," we were finally able to record some songs that have been mainstays of our live show from the past coupe of years like "Doin' the Montague," and "Believe Me Little Girl." Other songs were written over the course of the year prior to recording, but those had plenty of road tested miles before we forged them into posterity. Songs like "I'm a Tiger," and "Bleedin' me Down," fall into that category. Montague is a huge late night talk radio fan. He used to tune into Art Bell's "Coast to Coast," all the time. Inspired by Art, he penned his ode to the program titled, "The Kingdom of Nye." Art used to broadcast from Nye county in Nevada and jokingly referred to it as the Kingdom of Nye. An important part of what we do is fueling people's ability to engage in a big release through vigorous butt shaking. To that end we came up with a couple of straight up dance songs. "C'mon and Swim," is our version of the Bobby Freeman hit, and "Feelin' the Humidity," is our take on sweating while feeling for the groove.

E.C.: I've always heard good things about the rock scene in Japan. They seem to treat American rock bands like returning heroes. The Woggles have played the land of the rising sun a couple of occasions, right? I just get the impression that the scene there is more passionate, am I correct?

Manfred: We've been lucky enough to get to tour Japan four times now. The most recent tour was last fall and we were lucky to play 8 shows again. The new cities we went to included Takamatsu and Kochi. Because it is so very expensive to travel around Japan, a tour is normally 3 or 4 shows. Even really big bands like Sonic Youth or Beck would only play 2 or 3 shows if they tour in Japan. We felt very lucky that we were able to play 4 shows the first couple of times. The last two times it was really unbelievable that we got to play 8 shows each. What was also a lot of fun is that after each nights show, and the shows are always over by 10pm, it was time for a Japanese style tour party. That meant going to some sort of restaurant and eating and drinking for the next 4-5 hours. Sometimes I had no idea what I was eating, but I didn't ask what it was until I had tasted it, just in case the name didn't sound as good as the taste. While we've been there I've had squid, octopus, cow tongue, eyeballs of this and that, guts of this and that, and all sorts of little squishy things that I have no idea where they came from. On the more typical side I've also had lots of noodles and rice. The biggest surprise for me was biting into a pastry that looked like a jelly donut and tasting cold curry. That was my biggest eating disappointment. Otherwise it tasted good, and all stayed down.

With all the shows we played with a who's who of Japanese Garage Rock greats. Normally each night there would be a lot of bands on the bill, but each band only plays 30 minutes. In our various trips there we have played with Teengenerate, Guitar Wolf, Jackie & the Cedrics, Supersnazz, 5678s, Evil Hoodoo, Mad 3, Magnitude 3, Kings Brothers, the Bunnies, Accel 4, the Havenots, Lulu's Marble, Gasoline, and many others that I can't recall offhand. There are definitely people who are in to our brand of rock and roll music and that's a welcome sight. There are certainly thousands and thousands more people there into Japanese style pop music, and of course thousands upon thousands who are into pop groups like the Spice Girls. Thankfully there are a few hundred left over for rock and roll. Most of the time over there all the shows we did were either sold out or packed pretty tightly with folks. We weren't playing in stadiums or anything like that, just rock and roll clubs, but the kids were there and they were definitely in to it. We'd start playing the first song of the set and they'd be going off like bottle rockets leaping into the air and jumping all about.

We try to make it a point to go out into the audience during a show, but as often as not during the shows in Japan we'd go off stage and they would literally pick us up and put us back on stage- even the Mighty Montague!

E.C.: Was the song, "Takamatsu Twist" influenced by your visits to Japan?

Manfred: We were fortunate enough to play in Takamatsu with the fantastic Accel 4 the last time we were in Japan. That town was fabulous! The club was like a '50s rock and roll club and all the kids who were there were there to have a good time! Both the dance floor and the set was scorching! It was great! That night we stayed in an old Japanese farmhouse. Our visit to Takamatsu made such an impression on us that we decided to create a new dance craze in its honor. And that is how the "Takamatsu Twist" was born. You can hear it for yourself on "Fractured."

E.C.: What is the band's views on videos? Has Telstar demanded one?

Manfred: I've already mentioned a video we did for "Ramadan Romance," one of the songs off of our One Louder release. We are happy to do videos as long as they work to promote the band and represent what we're all about correctly. Some abstract theme sort of thing wouldn't be appropriate for what we try to accomplish.

Telstar hasn't demanded one and given that they have an almost nonexistent promotion budget, they probably won't be clamoring for one. However, we may try and come up with another. We've talked about trying to do one for "Doing the Montague." So far the idea is to try and incorporate video footage of us from around the world playing that particular song and folks chiming in on the "Hey Hey Hey" chorus. If we get it together, it'll be done by Craig Zearfoss, who is the fellow responsible for video taping each years Sleazefest in Chapel Hill NC. Sleazefest is a yearly 3 day event in Chapel Hill that features like minded bands to us that run the gamut from rockabilly to surf to garage, but in all instances have a real emphasis on making a show and event out of their performances.

E.C.: You've got some organ on the new record. Have you ever thought of adding one live?

Manfred: Over the years we've had organ players. The last one was Anacondra, Misstress of the Serpent. She played with us back in 1995. She left the Woggles to do a doctorate in religion. She played with the Woggles and saw God. She was responsible for whipping Montague into shape back when he first joined the band. She had something against wearing panties on stage. Apparently she didn't like the fact that they might show lines beneath her dresses. I was not aware of her aversion till one night when I was rolling around on the stage. I think maybe it was time for her to be summoned by the Lord.

The main reason we don't have an organ player all the time is simple economics. It's hard enough being able to squeeze the dollars out on tour with four, much less five musicians. Occasionally I've toyed with the idea of playing the organ out on tour, but we've decided against it because it would really cut down on the visual aspects of what we do live.

E.C.: Even the Troggs (one of THE premier garage rock bands) had a ballad. Although there is a slow song on the new album, its not really a love song. Will we ever see a ballad from the Woggles? Is "Up on the Rooftops" a new direction for the Woggles?

Manfred: Well, I think "Up on the Rooftops" is a ballad and a love song, so there! As far as seeing more ballads that's a possibility, mainly because it's the pause that refreshes, and if all you do is race 100 MPH to the finish line, then you're bound to leave the audience way behind. The idea is to pace the people along with you, so that at the end they can give a little extra too.

E.C.: Speaking of the Troggs, the other great 60's garage band is the early Kinks. Do you get inspiration from these bands? What do the Woggles listen to in their spare time?

Manfred: Sure both those bands are great! I actually got to see the Troggs back in 1985 as part of a "British Invasion" reunion tour. They played alongside Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, Herman's Hermits, Badfinger, and Gerry & the Pacemakers. Kramer must have a room in hell for him, where he'll have to listen to the lounge drivel he foists on audiences today. Herman's Hermits contained not one single original Hermit, much less Herman (Peter Noone)! All the good players in Badfinger had committed suicide by then. Gerry needed a pacemaker and if we'd been given the chance we'd ferry him halfway across the Mersey and dump him in.

Ah, but the Troggs! They were unbelievably unrepentant. At the time they still had all the original members (since then I think the drummer has passed away) and where all the other bands were happy and smiley to make their repertoire family friendly, the Troggs kept to a strictly adult songbook with blue movie hits (?) like "Strange Movies," a song inspired by watching soft porn on television late at night. Rednecks kept calling out for "Wild Thing" throughout the set, but the mighty Reg Presley (the singer) kept them at bay.

Years later in 91 or 92, I got the chance to interview Reg for a free weekly that comes out in Athens GA called Flagpole. I've got to say that he was incredibly charming and down to earth. His whole reason for beginning a music career stemmed from being a brick layer and figuring that there had to be something easier than that. Our bass player had the chance to speak with Ray Davies of the Kinks briefly after we played a gig in Boston two years ago. Ray was there because his girlfriend is a fan of ours and she had brought him. After the show, while the rest of us were clearing the stage and loading out, Ray introduced himself to our bass player and the two went next door for a pint of beer. Ray's quote for us was that," It was so much fun, I wish I'd brought my video camera."

All our brushes with greatness aside, yes we think both those bands are great, and yes they are influences, but we don't stop with them, we also look to what inspired them and so on down the line.

At any given moment we're all listening to all sorts of things. For myself I prefer to think of specific songs that get stuck inside my head and are the current top ten of the moment/week. Right now my top ten is the following:

1. The Devils-Devil Dance
2. Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant- Hop, Skip, & Jump
3. Bobby Bland- 36-22-36
4. Oscar Brown Jr.- Work Song
5. Accel 4- Kawasaki 8
6. Gino Washington- Out of This World
7. The Hatebombs- Workin' Like A dog
8. The 45s- Get Out
9. Julie London- Go Slow
10. Detroit Cobras- I'll Keep Holding On (I forget which gal does the original)

E.C.: Would the Woggles ever sue Napster?

Manfred: Sure. For myself, I am totally against anyone uploading our material and then letting others download it for free. It's just another way for people to take advantage of an artist's work. In our experience I have not seen any positive correlation between that type of piracy versus added exposure. Exposure in this case being a greater show attendance or record sales.

E.C.: I've always seen the Woggles as the rock and roll version of the Revivalist Preacher, getting the message across to the flock at any costs. Is that the bottom line? I mean, when it is all said and done in some day in the distant future-will you look back and be satisfied even if the Woggles don't have a million seller or a radio hit?

Manfred: Well, you've come pretty close to hitting the nail with that one. Realistically, there can be no million seller if the music industry is geared towards the new next big thing from whatever the latest trend or fad is. For us, our desire has always been to play, write, perform the songs that inspire the passions of life. Whether there are 15 or 150 in an audience, the idea is to play the songs and give those that are there a show. The financial rewards are extremely small for what we do, but the interpersonal rewards are great. It's on a person to person basis that you feel that you are having an impact with what you do. It's not so much a fan base the Woggles have, as it is an extended family.

E.C.: With the infestation of Rap, does rock and roll have a future? Was Pete Townsend correct when he said, "rock is dead, long live rock"?

Manfred: The first answer that comes to mind is a more appropriate quote, at least for me, Mark Twain's famous "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." So as things cycle in and out, rock music will no doubt have a comeback in terms of sales. What it will be like at that point I don't know, but very likely it will have precious little to do with what we do. That is unfortunate to me, but I think realistic.

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