Rebel Artists Become Passafist

[Image: Rebel Artists Become Passafist - Syndicate Magazine, July 1994 Page 14 Thumbnail]
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[Image: Rebel Artists Become Passafist - Syndicate Magazine, July 1994 Page 15 Thumbnail]
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Syndicate Magazine
July 1994, Volume 9, Issue 2
© 1994 Syndicate Publications, Inc.
Pages 14-15

By Brad Caviness

Photo by Ben Pearson

They arose from the dusty plains of west Texas seeking fame and fortune. Three sibling spirits, Waco, Reno, and Junior Caruso, better known as the Blind Willy Boner Brass Band, set out to make music from their hearts, if not from raw talent. They were first discovered by producers Lynn Nichols and Dave Perkins when they provided horn support on Chagall Guevara's sadly overlooked debut. But times change, and just as Nichols and Perkins are beginning to work creatively outside of Chagall Guevara, Waco and Reno also are looking to tyr something different. Actually, if you listen closely, Waco and Reno sound an awful lot like Nichols and Perkins, respetively, and if you ask them nicely, Nichols and Perkins just may admit to being Waco and Reno.

When the Caruso's appeared on the Chagall Guevara album there were three of them. What happened to Junior Caruso?

Perkins: Junior's making records for Warner Alliance.

So, Steve Taylor got custody of Junior in the breakup. Let's talk fo r amoment about the demise of Chagall Guevara. Steve has said that the band splintered over a lack of identity and a feeling that the band was quickly becoming a hobby. Do you agree with that or is there another side of the story?

Perkins: What the reality was, there was never a lack of ideas about what we wanted to accomplish, in fact there was probably-- [pause]--too many ideas. The frustration was over the fact, that as an artist, you can make the greatest record you're ever gonna make and the record company could still screw it up.

Like MCA's head of marketing getting fired just after your record came out?

Perkins: Yeah, exactly. The Chagall situation and my situation was one where we went after it heart and soul 110% and gave it our best shot, but then links in the chain that leads to success were weak links. What Chagall needed was a good, honest shot and we got part of a shot. We got afforded the opportunity to make the record we wanted to make. But after that is really where the game begins. And at that point everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

It was kind of a forced march for those of us with families all along. There was a certain contingency that was more able to pile in the van and tour for no money than the rest of us were.

I will say this on the backside, regardless of the pains of working through the disappointment each in our own individual way, I really believe we are, in many ways, still a creative unit.

Nichols: We actually recorded together not too long ago as a unit for a Mark Heard benefit record. That was good for us to kind of get together and do that. We did a song called "Treasure of the Broken Land," our own sort of version of it. We had good fun with it.

Would you say there is a possibility of a reunion on a larger scale?

Nichols: That certainly wouldn't be something I would count out. Truth be known, we never officially broke up. Did we break up, Dave? I don't remember that happening.

Perkins: Neither did Woody and Mia. [Laughs] We never did put it in the newspapers "I will not be responsible for anyone else's band debts but my own" or anything.

So you're still responsible for each other as a band?

Nichols: Yeah, so that's why we especially need this record to sell. [Laughs] We're really good friends. No lone left mad at anyone. We had frustrations and we had all types of emotions there toward the end. But I wouldn't count a reunion out as a possibility.

How did Passafist come about? What prompted your return to the Christian marketplace?

Perkins: Our intention was not to make a record that was mutually exclusive to one market place or another. Basically, an immediate opportunity arose for us. And we weighted that against doing demos and going out and shopping it in the market place at large, which could take months. Basically, we had an opportunity to make a record and we had the time to do it, so we did it.

Nichols: We don't look at it as we've gone away, I mean, we haven't gone away and come back. We've always been here. Even the Chagall record was out on Sparrow. It's not a matter of like, "Hey, we're back!" We've never gone anywhere really. We're making the same music we would make on any label.

Dave and I have worked together on-again-off-again for years, not only in Chagall, but other things as well. We actually, at the time of this happening, had a producer's reel out shopping around for various pop and ccm labels to do some co-production. When R.E.X. came along, they had heard a song Dave wrote called "Christ of the Nuclear Age," which they really liked. It was kind of more in an industrial directon, which was a copmletely different direction from Chagall and different from what Dave and I are known to do together or on our own. Dave and I decided we might do this project together kind of as a fun thing that's completely different from what we've been doing.

Why industrial? Why not just concentrate on writing good songs without all the bells and whistles?

Nichols: The industrial sort of genre has some interesting things about it. The groove factor and the kind of up-in-your- face, hard-hitting, aggressive nature of it is intriguing. The downside is a lot of the music sounds exactly the same. The challenge for us was to mutate the genre a little bit, to bring some worlds together. Listen to the guitars from most industrial records, they mostly lean toward a metal stance. We don't necessarily lean toward a metal stance on guitar. Also, we bring in these African guys to layer their rhythms on top of the techno base. That's not exactly something that's been done in that genre. We saw some ways that we could sort of push the envelope a little bit within the genre.

For example the little snippet of "I'm in the Mood for Love" at the beginning of "Christ of the Nuclear Age"?

Nichols: Yeah, right. Good ear there, not everyone would hear that.

Is that a way of bringing in something really different?

Nichols: We wanted to really pick up all those jazz fans. People love those old standards. Mel Torme fans...

Perkins: There's something for everybody.

A lot of the songs seem to deal with the concept of addiction or of the world becoming more insular and folding in on itself. Your press spoke of "Lov-E900" being about 900 numbers as a sort of "legalized mind prostitution" and other ways we find to exploit ourselves. Was that a theme you were trying to express or was it just the way it worked out?

Perkins: No, not unless Lynn planned it without telling me. [Laughs]

Nichols: We didn't lay out any broad concepts. We just wrote the songs as we went. The way they unfolded is just out of our own observations, our own feelings about those topics. Some people I know say, "I'm gonna write a song about this right now," or, "I'm gonna write an album with this theme." It's out of your own life, your own gut, your own observation.

"Glock" is obviously about guns.

Nichols: It's obvious, though maybe a strange point of view. We kind of tell a twisted story. Kind of throwing another log on the fire of awareness. There's also no easy answer. Controlling guns today won't solve all the problems because it's something that is really much deeper rooted.

Perkins: Within the religious community, you get people who adhere to the philosophy that gun control is the beginning of the loss of freedom. We've just gone too far for that to be a consideration.

Nichols: It's a multi-level thing. I mean, murder is sin, something that's in people's hearts. Guns need to be controlled. No doubt. It isn't the answer, the final, ultimate thing. But it's certainly something that should be done.

"Emmanuel Chant" is very different from the rest of the songs on the record. The lyrics are more emotional, more psalm-like.

Perkins: That's exactly what it's supposed to be. Do you remember a movie called Soylent Green? It's like a post- apocalyptic society and the population has gotten so far out of control... it's like that old hippie poster that's an illustration from above and basically people are standing or sitting on top of literally every inch of space on the earth.

With all the mayhem that's going in the world right now, it really kind of reminds me of some of those prophetic films about what it would be like if things continued on. And it's almost like we're getting there. That song, to me, is really like a prayer going up from the cacophony of life as we know it and are getting to know it with all its various injustices and pains and atrocities. Out of all the noise, there's this prayer for personal resolution.

I guress this pretty well identifies you as a pair of aging hippies afraid to let go of youthful ideals. ...


... Maybe not. Is this type of music, this persona something you're likely to continue in?

Perkins: It depends on how the public treats us.

Nichols: If we get drummed out of town... I think it really depends on the money. If the money's good, then we'll probably stay. Otherwise we'll be on to the next thing.

Whether they move on to other things or not, other things are definitely coming to them. Nichols was nominated for a Grammy this year as producer for Phil Keaggy's Crimson and Blue. Perkins is doing work as a producer for a number of projects, including Pam Mark Hall's new record. They also mentioned the possibility of an EP's worth of unreleased demos and live tracks by Chagall Guevara.