The Five Best and Worst Musicians to Interview

dando.jpg
Evan Dando is not made of plastic
In honor of Evan Dando and his band The Lemonheads being at the Prophet Bar tonight, I thought I might share with the readers of DC9 some of the pitfalls of being a music writer. Sure, there are tons of positives: free shows and CDs and access to cool people (some of whom you may actually admire). But for every moment of fun, there have been some serious headaches, the biggest of which is the interview process.

Almost 99% of interviews are done over the phone. And that's where the trouble can begin. Bad cell phone connections, background noise and a host of issues can quickly derail any interview. The thing that ruins most Q&As is the testy or unresponsive interviewee. With that in mind, here is my list of the five best and five worst musicians I have had the pleasure (or pain) of speaking with.

The Worst

5. Aaron Lewis of Staind
This dude rambled on about Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. Need I say more? Plus, his country album sucks.

4. Scott Ian of Anthrax
This guy got pissed because I had the audacity to mention the fact that his band has had several lead singers. "In my mind, we've only had two," he said. Facts are facts, even in metal land.

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Joe "Guitar Face" Satriani
3. Joe Satriani
Even though it's been nearly a decade since Rolling Stone put out a list of the top 100 guitarists, Satriani was still pissed that he was left off said list. Can we suggest moving on?

2. Maynard Keenan of Tool
With one and two word answers to nearly every question, Keenan more than lived up to his band's name.

1. Evan Dando of The Lemonheads
By far, the biggest douche I've interviewed. "I didn't even know I was supposed to do an interview," Dando told me right after his road manager handed him the phone. He's often admired by the ladies, so I compared him to John Reznik of the Goo Goo Dolls. "I haven't had work done to my face. I'm not made of plastic," he replied, sounding like a petulant child. Every answer after that was either incomprehensible or inaudible. Afterward, I felt like I had just had an argument with a fifth grader.

The Best

5. Danzig
What a surprise! His handler told me, "He doesn't like questions about The Misfits." So my first question was, "How come you don't like questions about The Misfits?" Danzig laughed so loud, my ear still hurts. After that, it was a cake interview.

jourgensen.jpg
Al "Uncle Al" Jourgensen
4. Al Jourgensen of Ministry
Another surprise. Even with a bad connection, Jourgensen fought through it like a trooper. Funny, insightful and honest, the leader of Ministry was like a weird uncle talking about memories from the war.

3. Richard Thompson
Now, here's a real guitar player. When I asked Thompson if he ever got sick of playing any particular song, he said, "If I'm sick of it, I'm sure as hell not going to play it."

2. Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac
Seems that fairly close to the time of this interview, Buckingham had remarried and was trying to have a relationship with his 13-year-old stepson. When I told him I also had a 13 year old, Buckingham began a long series of questions about parenting. When I told him I couldn't spend my 15 allotted minutes talking about such things, he put me on hold, told his publicist to clear his schedule, came back and talked with me for almost an hour. When I asked him about being in a legendary band such as Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham deadpanned, "If you want to talk about being a celebrity, I will give you Stevie Nicks' phone number."

1. Roger McGuinn of The Byrds
One of my heroes lived up to the hype. I had received a long list of questions not to ask, so I just tried to have a conversation about McGuinn's place in music history. At the end of the interview, he asked if I had a copy of his three-CD set of traditional folk songs. When I admitted I did not, he asked his wife for a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote down my address. Three days later, I got a signed copy of the set in the mail. Simply incredible.


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Marianne
Marianne

Ignore the haters, Darryl. It's a fun read - a peek behind the PR-machine-controlled curtain - and well worth posting.

Ben Oliver
Ben Oliver

Great article, thanks for sharing!  I really enjoyed reading it. I have done about 20 or 25 interviews and haven't had a really bad experience yet. The only bad part is asking a question and they don't respond and there is an awkward silence.

oh crikey!
oh crikey!

mcguinn: possibly the most overrated sixties musician. but man, he'll talk about it and whip out the rickenbacker. and yes, evan = douche, and the slags lap it up. just ask courtney..

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

and then some has been busy! but mcguinn overrated? don't think so.lots of 60's icons can't hold a candle to the songwriting and guitar chops of mcguinn.

guest
guest

ok, i don't mind the topic here... but if you don't have the interviews, it's not really all that fair. i mean, we don't even get to see which questions you asked or how you asked them (i know some of them are in there... but if you don't have the full transcript, why give us info that can't be proven true).... and my biggest complaint is that YOU are interviewing the musician and yet the ones that you "enjoyed interviewing" the most seem to be ones that wanted to talk about YOU or did nice things for YOU.... i think the most important thing would be the end result of the interview (how good the article was) and not whether they sent you an autograph or interviewed you about 13 year olds or whatever. this is an interesting topic, but a lot of this comes across as very "tmz" gossip bullshit, to me.

Bret Miller
Bret Miller

Worst: Sascha from KMFDM who hung up on me a minute in.  Challenging: Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, turned into memorable talk. Best: Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke, endlessly interesting. Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, very friendly and humble.

swearwordguy
swearwordguy

Sorry Darryl, but you're the one that comes across as a bit of a douche here.  McGuinn made #1 because he mailed you a signed copy of his folk song album?  Uh, okay.  Danzig made the list because it was a "cake" interview?  Right.  And Dando?  I totally get him dissing you after you compared him to the Goo Goo Dolls singer.  I've met Evan several times and he's been nothing but gracious and accomodating and insightful.  He even signed a Ray poster for my six-year-old daughter at a Seattle show this past November.  My friends hung out with him in January in Madison after a show and sang John Prine songs in the alley with him while they all laughed and smoked cigarettes.  If you come at him with douchebag questions you're gonna get douchebag answers.  Maybe you made his top 5 list too.    

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

glad you had a good story about dando, but you are one of the few. the guy has a long history of being an asshole. and he started off as an asshole with me. i did not compare him to John from the Goo Goo Dolls. I mentioned that both Dando and Reznik drew a lot of attention from the ladies, which is true. and then he went all crazy about Reznik being made of plastic. Look, the Goo Goo Dolls have sucked for a long time, but I will put their Hold Me Up Cd up against anything Dando has ever done.

swearwordguy
swearwordguy

Dando's farts sound better than Hold Me Up.

swearwordguy
swearwordguy

True dat, true dat.  Sorry, thought it was an actual article for the Observer!  My bad.  Hey, at any rate, you're getting a lot of feedback, which is a good thing.  And I learned to read the captions at the top of webpages.  I'm just a huge Dando fan, love his work, think he's a vastly underrated songwriter and a unique talent, so I get a little prickly when people pile on him.  And admittedly, he brought a lot of it on himself.  But he seems to be settling into his place in alterna-rock history with some grace these days, and his material, though sparse, still hits a hell of a lot more than misses.  Cheers, mate.  I am the douche here. 

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

It is a blog post, you moron. I had no agenda. I was asked to rate the top 5 and bottom 5 people that I have interviewed over the past decade. And that's what I did. Bottom line: it got oyu to view the post (multiple times) and post a comment (again, multiply times). in other words, the POST did its job.

swearwordguy
swearwordguy

Yeah, well, so is your article, actually.  Stupid breeds stupid, I guess.  Cynthia pretty much hits the nail on the head.  It just comes across as you having an agenda and not really putting much thought into how your writing comes across.  Better subject for a personal email to a friend, or maybe a blog.  But there's so much of this sloppy, amatuer journalism going around out there these days that it isn't really any surprise.  Do your thing, man.  TMZ or Enquirer may eventually hire you.

Michael Toland
Michael Toland

I've been lucky in that nobody I've ever interviewed has been rude or uncommunicative - almost all of them were nice. The closest was Mark Olson of the Jayhawks, who didn't know he was doing an interview and was trying to prep for the band's show. But even he was polite and didn't give blow-off answers.

Best interviews: Richard Thompson, who's simply a total pro; the Skeletons, who took me to breakfast, talked eagerly and asked me to drive them to a bank to cash their check from the night before; Wayne Kramer, who gave me very thoughtful and honest answers to every question; Jason Ringenberg and Warner Hodges of Jason & the Scorchers - both very nice guys; Wammo from the Asylum Street Spankers, who invited me to his house and spent most of the hour or so I was there playing me records from his collection of 78s; and Rick Wakeman, who takes the prize as the absolute nicest guy I ever interviewed.

I also remember interviewing Grant Lee Buffalo. Grant Lee Phillips gave me smart-ass, self-consciously ironic answers to nearly every question. But as I was walking away, he pulled me aside and dropped the act, clarifying some points in a sincere, open manner. Not sure why he didn't do that before.

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

that's funny about wakeman cause I interviewed Jon Anderson yesterday and he was totally cool as well.

Cristy
Cristy

That's a great story about Lindsey. I requested a cover band to play one of his tunes - sadly, for me, they did a FM song.

Lilledeshan Bose
Lilledeshan Bose

Totally agree with your #1. Evan Dando hung up on me after he thought that I referred to "Hate Your Friends" as his first album. (Which it is (full length, but he meant they released an EP before that.) But who hangs up on a journalist? We always have the last say. 

Phil Freeman
Phil Freeman

Worst interview I've ever conducted? Joey DeMaio of Manowar actually hung up on me when I asked broader questions about their career, rather than limiting discussion to their new album and their upcoming show in Cleveland (it was for a Cleveland paper).

Some of the best I've ever done have been with Henry Rollins. I've talked to him multiple times, and it always winds up being an extra-long conversation; the first time, in person, we spoke for 45 minutes about his new album etc., and then after I turned off the recorder when spent another hour just geeking out about old jazz albums. I also had a really good interview with Danzig - I asked him whether he preferred 50s Elvis or late 60s/early 70s Elvis, and we had a pretty interesting exchange about how good the early 70s albums really are.

and then some
and then some

henry is not at a loss of breathe. unfortunately..

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

but Henry gave me one of the best  quotes ever. When I asked him how he could remember the dates and opening bands for just about every gig black flag ever played, Rollins said, "Because my mind is unclouded by pot smoke."

Cynthia
Cynthia

This is really unprofessional. I am somewhat amazed how it is you think you have the right to slam people in this manner. The only person I now consider a douche bag after reading this is YOU and your huge ego that was obviously hurt otherwise this would have been a non-issue to most REAL journalists.

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

My ego was not damaged in the least. And what about the five I praise? and believe me, testy interviews are an issue to all journalists.

Cynthia
Cynthia

True but all journalists don't let their stories be the topics of their hissy fits. This is not even news worthy it is useless gossip. I work in media, I know a rock star or two and I also know they can be assholes but that is no different from anyone being an asshole. Are you nice to everyone you meet? The grocery store clerk, the guy the bank, whatever, how about to people that want you to write stories about them and you just snub them because you dont think they are news worthy? I would rather see news about the guy playing down the street that no one knows about yet than your gossipy crap about spoiled celebrities. BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD!

and then some
and then some

hon, this guy works for the dallas observer. you comprehend that, yes??

BiggerMouse
BiggerMouse

 You have a grocery clerk, you are doing GOOD!

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

I've never had a hissy fit and my banker and grocery clerk are pretty nice people who want my repeat business.

amucomm
amucomm

Doing interviews for 30 years, some very good and not so good memories...

Some of the best, all in person (many several times) - Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Bill Monroe, who refused to talk into a recorder but took me on a stroll along a river, Kenny Rogers in Las Vegas, Beck in L.A., Johnny Cash in Switzerland, Hoyt Axton, Kris Kristofferson, Reba McEntire, Jeff Buckley, Neil Diamond, Joan Armatrading, The Chieftains, Loretta Lynn, Earl Fatha Hines, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Delbert McClinton, Michel Camillo

Some of the not so cool ones: Amy Grant (who was a complete biatch, and hang up the phone), Suicidal Tendencies (full of it), James McMurtry, who resented that I asked 1 question about his dad Larry, Kenny Wayne Sheppard (formula answers), Mark Chesnutt (let me wait till 1am, after I had to show up at 7pm and gave me 5 minutes). 

But in general the bigger an artist, the easier the interview, they actually know what you are doing for them, so they participate at least if you ask "intelligent" questions and not the fan magazine stuff, like favorite dish or color, which has nothing to do with their job being a musician. 

Joe
Joe

1.  I didn't see any unnecessarily short answers from Keenan, and none were one or two words, but they would have been justified after the first couple of questions about his other bands.  He obviously didn't want to compare/contrast to Tool or APC.  Otherwise a fine interview.

2.  You brought up the Rolling Stone list to Satriani, he replied with his opinion and you're telling him to let it go?  Not a fan of his music but he's right, RS is useless.

3.  Who wouldn't be pissed when compared to that Goo Goo Doll guy.

Yeah, there's a reason these guys got irritated with you.

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

Like any journalist would have, I cut the short answer responses out of the stories about Keenan and Anthrax dude, figuring a bunch of questions followed by a "yes' or a "no" would bore a reader. The comparison of Dando to the Goo Goo Dolls guy was in the context of having a lot of females admiring them both. It wasn't a put down. And Satriani went on and on and on about the list. I cut 3/4 of that particular answer for space!

and then some
and then some

'and anthrax dude' that's priceless. still hate you though.

Joe
Joe

So you're publishing a report dogging these guys for being bad interviews, provided links to said interviews, but cut out the parts you referenced that made them bad?

and then some
and then some

at least there is some measure of honesty, even if it does throw the observer's general scope under the bus.

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

Most of these interviews were used for print stories. Out of a 15-20 minute interview, you might leave out 80% of what was said just editing for space and content. When the answers are one word, those don't make it to print, but I can still bitch about it. It would be impossble to publish any entire interview, even with straight Q&As. Also, there are bad connections where the meaning is unclear and those are, of course, edited as well.

Mervis
Mervis

Please share the rest of the MJK interview so we can determine whether he was being an ass or your questions were shite.

Darrylrs
Darrylrs

sad to say, that recording is long gone, sent away to the dustbin of history.

Marianne
Marianne

Nicest person I ever interviewed: Mark Knopfler (at the height of Dire Straits fame)Biggest jerks: Hall and Oates (during the mid-career slump)

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

Worst:  Chuck Berry.  Don't even bother.Best:  Bill Kirchen.  He comes through Dallas fairly regularly.  Nicest guy, great stories, helluva player.

johan
johan

I remember waiting outside for a re-formed MC5 show at Trees some ten years ago. Various musicians were touring with the two surviving members, including Evan Dando and Marshall Crenshaw. Dando was standing around with some skinny, model girlfriend, apparently wired on something. When a fan approached him, asking him nicely if he's sign a copy of "Hate Your Friends" Dando said he didn't have time. And whoever that fan was --- and I'll never forget this --- told Dando to his face: "You junky asshole." 

I high-fived that fan, went inside, and enjoyed one hell of a loud show.

JesseHughey
JesseHughey

I think I've got hearing damage from that show. One of the loudest I've ever been to. He sounded great, junky asshole or not.

and then some
and then some

is that so? boy, you're word is gold, innit?

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

 Evan Dando and the MC5? How did that happen?

johan
johan

Wayne Kramer and Michael Davis, the surviving members, used to go on tour, inviting various musicians to come along and sing vocals for the long-departed Rob Tyner. Lots of notables have done this. If it makes you feel any better, I don't think Dando got to sing "Kick Out The Jams."

BadGuyZero
BadGuyZero

Mark Arm of Mudhoney was on that tour as well.

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