The Tubes prepare to embark upon their most extensive tour of the UK for some years as they celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Fee Waybill, frontman for The Tubes, to discuss his on stage persona’s, his love of Monty Python, and their upcoming live shows.
NRR: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review. It’s really good to talk to you today. So we’ve got some questions for you about your upcoming UK tour and The Tubes.
The Tubes have always been known for the creative and artistic elements of their live shows and your on-stage persona’s. Where do you find your inspiration for your shows?
Waybill: Well, gosh you know …everywhere. I mean other artists, movies, life, everything. We try to come up with a theme for our shows and this particular show was kind of inspired by the film noir period of Hollywood.
We went to a film noir festival and we saw all of these great Raymond Chandler movies, you know stories … “The Big Sleep” and “Maltese Falcon” and it was just so cool and so dark and seedy. So I incorporated some of those kind of characters in our show.
We’re still playing the hits you know. We’re gonna play the hits because that’s what everybody wants to hear and your favorites, but I’m doing a Sam Spade/Humphrey Bogart kind of character, and an Edward G. Robinson prisoner kind of character in a straight jacket. It’s all kind of dark.
Every year we come up with a new show, like last year’s or 2013. Actually, we came up with this show about a year ago and we are going to hold onto it through the euro tour, but our last show was based on kind of a Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren kind of show. So you know it’s just everything, everything influences us.
NRR: You’ve always been known for your outrageous live shows. With having such emphasis on the visual elements of your shows. How hard was it to translate that into studio recordings?
Waybill: Well, it wasn’t hard. I mean these were the songs that we had “What Do You Want From Life?” or “White Punks on Dope”. Our kind of sarcastic approach to writing lyrics, it just fit right in with what we were doing. You know it was easy.
NRR: How have your shows been going so far on the 40th anniversary tour. Have you played much this year?
Waybill: It’s been going well. We’ve been doing a lot of shows in clubs, and we play in casinos. We’re actually on this rock of the 80’s tour package where there’s a bunch of 80’s bands playing outdoor festivals and stuff.
We can adapt to whatever. If we’re playing a casino and it’s all over 21 then we are doing one kind of show, but if we’re playing a festival where there’s kids and families then we reel it in a little bit. We don’t do nudity, we watch our language, we will figure out what is required for the particular venue and then that’s what we will do.
On the 80’s tour we are only doing about maybe an hour. Normally our set is over two hours. The set you are going to see in the UK will be over two hours and it will be seedy and it will be bondage, and it will be the dildo in Quay Lewd’s pants, and it will be language and it will be you know their will be no restriction …right, because we are in a club, you know we are in a club that is playing to adults.
You know but when we play to a festival crowd we will reel it back in. We will do a non-stop 50 minute set of all the hits. Just blast right through it and there won’t be a lot of comedy or it won’t be a lot of me ranting about some particular thing that I’m on about this week. So you know we will do what’s required.
NRR: What’s your favorite track to perform live and why?
Waybill: What’s my favorite track to perform live …I don’t know. I really like to sing “Amnesia”, I usually get the audience to sing along with me. I love singing “Talk To Ya Later” because you know that’s usually the big encore closer and everybody sings along with that too.
I love doing “White Punks on Dope” because the character is so whacked, you know Quay Lewd I mean I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m wearing those 18 inch platforms, I don’t know. All kinds of stuff has happened. I’ve like stepped on something on the stage, a chord or something and I go down and completely hit the deck and lay there and it’s funny.
There is no rules for Quay Lewd. Sometimes I fall down in the middle of the song, sometimes I wait until the end and then walk like a duck on the sides of those big shoes. Everyone thinks that’s really funny.
I kind of like that because there’s no rules. Quay Lewd can throw up on the whole front row and they think oh that’s part of the show then, that’s part of his deal. He can do anything he want’s pretty much, say anything, do anything, you know like I said within reason. If there’s a bunch of 3 year old’s in the front row then I’m not going to throw up on them, but that’s the most fun.
NRR: With regards to your various different stage persona’s. How did they all come about, what made you come up with that idea to have all of these different characters on stage?
Waybill: It’s just the way it’s always been. I was a theater major. When the band got together I was a theater major and you know a couple of the guys where artists. Roger was a Jimi Hendrix kind of guitar player, loved the psychedelic stuff and the other guitar player Bill was a blues player. He just wanted to play the blues and so we had all these different influences.
We would write songs about stuff that impressed us, about the bondage clubs in San Francisco. We wrote “Mondo Bondage” and so I wanted to kind of do that character from Pulp Fiction, you know the bondage geek in Pulp Fiction.
Like in this current tour, the tour noir tour, you know I wanted to do Humphrey Bogart, you know I wanted to do Sam Spade and do this kind of a trench coat, gum shoe kind of guy or the game show host. I used to love to watch game shows. We actually went to the set of the Hollywood Squares and that was the cover of our back album of Remote Control because it was all about television.
So I just come up with these things from one show to the next. Our last theme was “La Dolce Vita” was the Fellini movie. I always loved Fellini and Marcelo and Sophia and so I wanted to do like a Marcello Mastroianni kind of cool Italian guy character who morphs into this kind of a punk, trojan kind of weird Italian guy with a bull’s head, you know like from “Satyricon”.
So you know all these influences, all this media, all these visuals you know they all just kind of coalesce into something and just late at night I go …oh this is perfect I’ve gotta do this and an idea will come that oh I’m going to do Marcelo and you know that I’m going to have a big cigarette holder and this cool white suit and a little hat and dark sun glasses, and be this really cool Italian.
Then during that show I sang a Pavarotti song, you know because I love Pavarotti and we kind of did this wacky arrangement and so it’s just the world you know.
NRR: Going back to the media there. I was interested to know, obviously back in ’77 when you guys came to the UK you caused quite a bit of a stir, you know censorship and some of your shows got banned. What do you remember of the media’s response to The Tubes back then?
Waybill: (laughing) It was great. You know we had a Welsh manager and he said you’ve got to go to the UK, they love parody, they love sarcasm, they love you taking the piss out of this kind of American culture and society and they love that and they did, they loved us. You know we did whatever, 6 nights at Hammersmith Odeon and did a live record and they just love sarcasm and parody.
You know it’s like Monty Python. Monty Python never would of made it in the United States. Just the culture just doesn’t get that kind of sarcasm, that kind of parody, that kind of humor. I was such a huge fan of Monty Python.
I actually have done Spamalot the play, the musical at a Summer stock theater and because I know Eric a little bit and so I got to play King Arthur. The greatest time I ever had doing King Arthur in Spamalot the musical, just brilliant, just brilliant humor.
So they loved us, we always did really well when we went to the UK. We tried to be as sarcastic and irreverent as we can possibly be and they just eat it up.
NRR: Do you have any plans to release any new material with The Tubes any time soon?
Waybill: No, not really. Nobody really cares to be honest with you, they don’t, people don’t care. I mean all these bands releasing records they are not any selling records. Everybody wants to hear the song they grew up with don’t they. They want to hear the hit. They want to hear the song they went to college with.
You know “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore” I can’t tell you how many people said oh that was my wedding song, you have to play “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore” we got married to that song. That’s what they want to hear. They come to the show and they want all of those memories to bubble up.
We are actually going to play a couple of new songs in the set, and it’s just because we like them, because they are good rock and roll songs you know. I doubt seriously that anybody is going to give us money to make a new record any time soon.
NRR: The last thing I’ve got to say is do you have a message for your fans in the UK?
Waybill: Well I have to say we have not played anything other than London in a long time in the UK. I believe it’s been about 10 years.
I think it’s since 2004 when we actually got out there and we played you know Leeds and Wolverhampton and then Manchester and Bristol and Brighton and Southampton and even the Scottish dates. I am so looking forward to being out there in the country, you know out there in the Midlands. It’s just going to be so great you know.
London is like L.A. you know, they’ve seen it all. Everything, they’ve seen it all. They’re jaded, they’ve seen it all and we don’t play L.A very often because it’s just you know … We get a lot more appreciation from those fans out there in the wilderness (laughing) who don’t get to see a show every 10 minutes you know and they just love it. We’re gonna pull out all of the stops when we get there, we’re gonna save your city OK … when we get there.
NRR: Ok that’s brilliant. Thanks for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review and we look forward to seeing you when you get over here in August.
Waybill: OK, I’m looking forward to it myself, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.
The Tubes will be on tour throughout the UK in August. You can catch them at Bristol, The Fleece on August 3, Brighton Concorde 2 (August 4), Southampton, The Brook (August 6), London Clapham Grand (August 7), Manchester Club Academy (August 8), Glasgow, The Art School (August 9), Leeds Brudenell Arts Club (August 11), Edinburgh Liquid Rooms (August 12), and Wolverhampton Robin 2 (August 13).
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Photo credit: Janice Kang