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History of "Schwump," the recording name used by Barry during the 1970's
Interview by "Paulie."
P: Please tell us about the early years of SCHWUMP. I understand you were a musician relatively early on, and performed as a street musician.
S: I started in high school with a band known as "The Acid Indigestion." But we were hardly street musicians, just a bunch of crazy kids from the suburbs. Among the instrumentation for that band was me on vocals and harmonica, one guy playing a bug sprayer; another bouncing a basketball; and still another playing a bowl of "Rice Krispies" (Snap, crackle, pop.) Later on in college, I did a one-man band act, with a set of trap drums and various percussion instruments. I played college concerts and parties. I was actually approached by a band member of Frank Zappa's The Mother's of Invention to come and meet Frank, but I was too paranoid to do it. I continued playing my drum act for many years until I discovered the autoharp in the mid 70's. Up until then, I composed music while playing the drums. I wouldn't say I was ever really a street musician though.
P: According to the Residents' website (www.Residents.com): "In the mid-70s one of The Residents traveled to Portland, Oregon, to meet an unusual radio show host by the name of Schwump. He had apparently attracted the band's attention when they heard about his all-frog opera, which he'd broadcast on his show." Is this true? Please tell us about how it came to pass that you met the Residents.
S: I was working on a musical, "Adventures of the Titanic Toad," which was to feature a lot of Schwump songs based on a story about a toad named Tad, who left his home in search of adventure. But the Residents had not heard this or of me until a fellow named Bill Reinhardt introduced us. Bill was the program director at KBOO FM in Portland; the station where I had my weekly radio show. Bill used to play the Residents on his own show, and had the brilliant idea that The Residents and Schwump should meet; and so he arranged it all.
P: I know about the autoharp, how do you play the frog?
S: The frog will actually be a toad, and it will be an actor dressed in a toad costume. This will be a musical stage play.
P: According to legend, the "First Four" unreleased Residents recordings were broadcast on KBOO, were you and/or Bill responsible for this?
S: It would have been Bill Reinhardt.
P: There's a promotional photo of you from the production of the Residents movie "Vileness Fats." Could you tell us about your role(s) in the film?
S: I only had one role as I recall before the film was cancelled. I was a midget miner in some underground cavern, surrounded by giant balloons. I was in blackface, in a striped prisoner-looking outfit, and wore a miners' lantern on my head. The set took up a huge space in The Residents studios/living quarters, I think was in the basement area.
P: It's been said that you performed "Mammy" in Vileness Fats, is this true?
S: I vaguely recall singing "Mammy" but I don't think it made it to the film. It may have been in a rehearsal.
P: Do you remember any of your lines outside of this?
S: I don't recall having any lines.
P: According to the Cryptic Guide to the Residents, the 3-song "Aphids in the Hall" single was culled from an 8-song tape. Could you tell us about the circumstances of this recording?
S: The basic tracks to recordings were made by only one of the Residents and myself. Everything else was added later. We made the three songs from the "Aphids' single, in one afternoon, and then worked on the other songs throughout the week. The idea was to produce a full album. I can recall two of the other songs.. one was a sad love ballad that I wrote, that the Residents later pumped up into a loud rock song, with Snakefinger doing the lead. Another song was a not-so-great version of "God Bless America." I don't know how that came to be, but it was not good, and I am glad it was never released. The album cover was the still of me in blackface from "Vileness Fats."
P: Will we EVER get to hear those other 5 songs?
S: I personally hope these songs are not heard, as I don't feel they are of neither Residents, nor Schwump quality.
P: I think it's unfortunate that you don't want that material released, especially since Snakefinger is sadly gone. Is it that the material is substandard, or that it's "dark" as you've mentioned?
S: I didn't like how I personally butchered "God Bless America." I was ashamed of it, actually. And I didn't like the Residents' version of my song, "Singer of Sad Songs." It is a slow, sad ballad. The Residents cranked it up so much that it lost its' whole feeling. So on that one I am coming from the point of view of an artist whose material has been altered drastically by somebody else. This was not the case with any of the songs on the Aphids single. I think the post production by the Residents in those songs was masterful!
P: How about the all-frog (well, toad) opera for that matter?
S: As far as the Toad musical goes, it is possible if I can sit down and try to rewrite it. I lost the original draft back in 1976-77. But now that I have much more material to work with, I think it would be a great musical/performance piece. So, it is possible it will be done.
P: In your first full-length CD "Kick in the Butt", there's a live song from 1975, please tell me more about this.
S: I have a friend, Harland Hokin, who was a musician for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in Ashland, Oregon at the time, and he invited me to perform for all the acting troupe during one of their days off. It was a wonderful concert. I sang, played the kazoo, and did light rhythm by slapping my knees. Harland played a huge electric organ, and Phil, whose last name I can't recall at the moment, played the stand-up bass (editor's note: the name is Phil Neuman). There is a recording of the concert, and if there was enough interest, I could release it.
P: How about your other early live appearances?
S: My other live performances were throughout Southern California and Oregon; mostly Portland. I probably have played hundreds of live gigs; From poetry festivals to live over popular radio stations in Portland and L.A. I did the usual tavern scene and actually performed in a band, with guitar, bass, piano, slide guitar, and me on the drums. The band was called "Schwump." I have recordings of a few of our songs should there be interest in that as well.
P: After the release of "Aphids in the Hall," you seemed to disappear until the late 90's. What happened during these "mystery years"?
S: Big question.. I will take it in sections…From about the mid-70's until the early 80's I was going through personal crisis, and I did literally hide out from the world. I needed to regroup myself physically and emotionally. I won't go into all the details, but I was going through spiritual stuff, and had to go it alone for about seven years. Then, in the early 80's I returned to Southern Calif., and finished a college degree that I had abandoned in the 70's. I then took the homeless route, and lived in my 1969 VW bus for about a year and a half; still maintaining my artistic integrity. That is something that is hardest to do for anybody not having tried it. It means to fight to keep your own vision, while the world is constantly trying to get you to accept theirs. Its what separates true artists from phony pop ones. After my homeless stint I landed in Pasadena, California, and though the 80's lived a simple life of rediscovering myself and my music. I wrote some wonderful stuff during that time. Then in 1992 I moved to my dream town, Sierra Madre, California where I always wanted to live. I have thrived here, because it is such a pleasant little town. But the only danger in living such a pleasant life for an artist, is that life can get too easy, and the source for material, which is often pain, can dry up. But I feel I need not to suffer for the sake of suffering, so my material will take on the new form, whatever that might be. Since moving to Sierra Madre, I have become involved with theater; that is, live theater. I have performed as an actor in numerous stage plays, and have pursued the possibly of being a character actor for TV and film.
P: You mention that you're still performing live now, both music and theater. Do you have a preference?
S: I would like to make a living doing acting because I am good at it, and I don't mind people telling me what to do. That is part of the business…Being able to take direction well. I love music and music making, so I don't think I could make a living at it. When money is involved, other people tell you what to play and when/how to play it. I couldn't stand that. As Ricky Nelson once said about others telling him what to sing, he said, "Then I'd rather drive a truck!" So I like both mediums, but if I had to give up one, it would have to be acting.
P: I understand that you were involved in some other artistic endeavors during this time, at least one booklet of poetry exists. What else was happening in the world of Schwump at this time?
S: There are actually three finished volumes of poetry, hundreds of other poems in unbound form, plus a children's book. I am surrounded by water color paintings, and misc 3-D works which I have done. As you know, I have a series of hand-painted neckties from Portland in the 70's. Now I am playing regularly at a local coffee house in Sierra Madre. I get to do all my songs including Aphids in the Hall! The violinist that appeared on the new Aphids cassette, performed with me live, and we do have fun doing it. She is a great violinist! And as I said, I am perusing acting. I most likely will appear in a toy commercial on television within the next few months. I wonder if anybody will recognize me? I am also helping to run the theater which I perform in. I really don't like doing administrative stuff, but we can't do only things we like to do all the time, so...
P: Rather suddenly in the late 90's, you reappeared with your first CD "Kick in the Butt". What made you decide to restart your musical career?
S: Great question. I wrote and recorded this song, "Kick In the Butt,' and knew it was going to be important for me, but I didn't know just how. Then, one day, a local talk-radio station in L.A. was looking for bands to perform in some promotional thing they were doing. I made up a band name (because I actually did all the parts on "Kick in the Butt," myself) and sent them a tape. Well, they didn't use my "band' for the promotion, but a very popular talk-show host on the station, Larry Elder, loved the song! He started playing it every day on his talk show! This was a strange place for a musician's song to be played; but then, I guess I am a strange kind of guy. Anyway, this was encouraging for me. So I got together my old tapes of songs I had been working on for the last ten years or so, and with the help of a friend, Chris Aruffo, created the CD. I did all the artwork, and we went to Kinkos where the CD liners were printed. My friend, Dan Haas, then literally hand-cut all liners and we put them by hand in the CD jewel boxes. "Kick In The Butt" was truly a labor of love. It was one of the best things that had ever happened for me in my musical endeavors.
P: It's clear that a large portion of your new recordings are computer-based.
S: The last CD, "Not for the Masses" and the new "Aphids" cassette have a lot of computer stuff. I have also been told that "Masses" sounds self-indulgent. That is probably true. I have fallen in love with computers, so I end up using them more. But I am slowly returning to my own roots, that is just autoharp and simple percussion, along with basic tracks made by hand. Technology is a temptress for me, and I have to be careful. But, I am striving to pull away from using the computer so extensively in the future. Thanks for this question!!!
P: You use the autoharp a lot, is this your instrument of choice when writing music, or do you use the guitar and computer as well?
S: No, I compose chiefly on the Autoharp. Only stuff from "Not for the Masses," was composed on the computer. And I do not play the guitar at all.
P: Really? Seems odd that a folkie like you would NOT play the guitar... What instruments DO you play?
S: In order of proficiency: Autoharp, harmonica, all percussion instruments, jews harp, slide whistle, wash tub bass, kazoo, keyboards.
P: Your most recent music appears to be folkish, and even kid-oriented. Is this on purpose?
S: No, I rarely do things "on purpose." It was just time for a kids' album ("Schwump In... The Big Green Sea"). People have told me for years that my songs are for kids. Some are, but I don't write them for kids. I write to tickle my own fancy - I write because I want to hear the song myself. I really am my biggest fan! And folk music for me goes back to the days of Peter Paul and Mary, and the Kingston Trio; two groups of folk musicians that I listened to extensively as a kid.
P: That's interesting, going from such basic and earthy music as folk to doing the eclectic stuff we hear from Schwump.
S: I am basically a pretty moral person. I think deeply about things. I have a lot of love themes that are weaved deep inside my songs. That is why they are bright, even though the subject matter may be a bit weird at times. Folk music is in my heart. But my head has been around the block a few times, so both things have to work together.
P: Many of your songs deal with animals, could you tell us more about this?
S: I have no explanation, really. I like animals I guess. I suppose some analyst could figure out something, but it really has no specific basis.
P: You did the art for all 3 of your CDs. You seem to have a theme of "critters" in your work, and send thanks to "all the little creatures in my head" in your first CD. Could you tell us more about this?
S: I heard voices in my head for a long time. I learned to deal with it. I will tell you that I think substance abuse had something to do with it. To put it simply; when one uses mind-altering substances, the little guard in front of our minds, called our conscience, is put to sleep for a while, so that we can play in never-never-land, without guilt. But while the guard's asleep, the psychic creatures do creep into our unguarded minds, our subconscious. So that when the drug experience is over, and we awake again to consciousness, we have now a "little friend' inside our head which does not belong. It can be a creative spark, or a tortuous mind thorn. But eventually, the creatures leave. So it is with me, anyway.
P: So would you say that the critters are helpful or harmful to you? It seems to provide inspiration to you to a certain extent.
S: This is a great question. It would depend on your point of view. Now that they are for the most part gone, I am at peace much more so. But a lot of the excitement of creating has left, because I have less to battle with inside myself. When I write a new song, it is more from heart and intellect than critter inspirations. A songwriter like Paul McCartney, who I happen to admire greatly, went down the tubes, songwriting wise, for the most part, when his life became more simple. When he left the Beatles, and took control of his own life, he still had the ability to be successful commercially, but I think it is pretty much agreed on, that his songs lost their "soul." My songs still come from my funny view of the world, so I can still write the same, though not quite as inspired possibly, like "Aphids in the Hall." But who knows? Maybe there is another "Aphids" just around the corner.
P: You also seem to incorporate a lot of smiley faces in your art, it gives a feeling of warmth and positivity to the recordings that they accompany.
S: I like bright and happy stuff. It makes me happy. I do not like to create dark things. I have had darkness in my life, and had some very dark songs which fortunately have not survived. "Home" from the Aphids single and tape is an example. I guess I am child-like in many ways. Though having to be a responsible adult does put a kink in it.
P: You have released 3 full-length CDs in as many years, and August 2001 saw a cassette release of re-recorded versions of the "Aphids" single. What's next for Schwump?
S: Who knows? I love the fact that I know as little about what is coming next as you do! That's what I mean when I say I do very little on purpose. I like my life and art to unfold like a flower. You don't know what it is until…it is!
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