The TV, Movie, and Music career of Billy Mumy: interviewed by Harvey Kubernik
Q: You have a new solo album released in summer of 2009, “Carnival Sky.” Explain the title of the collection and some background and information on the selections and how the album developed.
A: Well, as usual, the muse strikes when least expected. It had been less than a year since the release of my “Circular” album, and I wasn’t planning on recording again that soon. But, a fresh batch of songs started arriving out of the blue. The way I tend to work is; I record a song right after I write it. I don’t let em hang around too long before they’re recorded. Sometimes, I go back and revisit them months, weeks, or even decades later and tweak ’em, but they usually get recorded when they first arrive. I have a nice home recording studio, “Lumania”, and I play a lot of instruments, so… the opportunity to lay stuff down is always available to me. I wrote and recorded around twenty new songs between October of 2008 and I think late April or early May when the album was finished. I whittled it down to the twelve that felt the most cohesive, that I thought were the best… Carnival Sky differs from my previous albums in the sense that it’s the first time I’ve made an album with just my lead vocal on every track and no harmony. It’s also less “produced” in a way, although there are plenty of instruments on it… three songs are just guitar/vocal or piano/vocal, but it’s somewhat more “raw” in approach than my other stuff. The title “Carnival Sky” is from a line in the song, “Long Enough To Tell”, which is basically a political song. A lot of the songs on Carnival Sky are observations of other people’s behavior, of the political scene and the state of the world. There’s also some relationship songs in there, too. It’s an album about betrayal, time, outlaws, longing, government, mistakes, temptations, and hopefully redemption and peace… I guess… I had a very prolific couple of years, songwriting wise and a lot of stuff came out of me. It’s funny how it comes in batches and then kind of stops for a while. I’m not writing songs right now. Don’t know when the next one will arrive, but I’ll greet it with gratitude.
Q: Previously you released a solo album, “Speechless.” Tell me about the focus on that disc.
A: Actually, I wrote and recorded Speechless in two weeks! Right after finishing Carnival Sky. It’s quite weird, really. My friend Claudia Christian, whom I worked with on Babylon 5 for five years in the 90’s, moved back to LA from England and she called and asked me to write the music for a feature length documentary she and her boyfriend were producing on light and photography. I’m always open to making music, and the fact that it was free form, not your typical verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge type of thing felt liberating to me and I accepted the gig. I just hunkered down in my studio and within two weeks I’d written and recorded almost two hours of music. They were really happy with it and so was I. Some of the tracks on Speechless are from the film and some aren’t, but they all were written and recorded in between May 11 and May 25th, 2009. I really connected with several of my Les Paul’s on a pretty deep level, honestly, without sounding silly… I feel like the music is soulful and relaxing and interesting. I call it “21st Century Ambient Blues”. It all came out so fast. I found myself listening to it in the car a lot, so I sent it to the record company up in San Francisco, GRA, (Global Recording Artists), an d I thought maybe we could include it as a bonus disc with Carnival Sky or something like that… but Karl, the head of the label, liked it so much he wanted to put it out all on it’s own. So, we released two albums at the same time. They couldn’t be much more different from each other. Speechless is of course, all instrumental. I played everything on both albums.
Q: After a lengthy hiatus, there is a new Barnes & Barnes album out in the world. It’s been 17 years. How did this endeavor come to fruition? And, for the uninitiated, can you explain and detail a bit the legacy of this “conceptual” music duo with Robert Heimer. “Fish Heads” the first recording is entrenched in pop culture on so many levels. You have known Robert for years. Both of you dig The Doors.
Man, it’s hard to describe Barnes and Barnes. Robert and I grew up together and have always made music together. Sometimes “seriously”, like writing with America or for Disney, etc. but mostly releasing a quirky, novelty type of sound. I’m just going to assume people know about Fish Heads at this point and not try to explain that… but Fish Heads has been very good to us… from getting a record deal, to being on Saturday Nite Live, to film festivals all over the world, to Homer Simpson singing it, to it being a Quizno’s commercial, etc. Barnes and Barnes released 8 albums I think between 1980 and 1992. Some of it was in your face novelty rock, like “Boogie Woogie Amputee” and “Party In My Pants” and “Pizza Face”… funny stuff, and some of it was more “new wave” and just bold stuff. We covered a lot of ground in those years making films and albums and it was a lot of fun. We produced two albums for Wild Man Fischer… We produced Crispin Glover’s album… that project caused a lot of stress between us…Then we just stopped doing it. Mostly because I started filming Babylon 5, and I was gigging constantly with my “straight” band at the time, the Jenerators, and then I started releasing my solo stuff… We had kids and that changed a lot of things… Barnes and Barnes just faded away for awhile…Our catalogue was re-released over the years and we started going through the tapes for bonus tracks and stuff, and it made me want to revisit it. Love it or hate it, but nobody else sounds like Barnes and Barnes. It’s definitely a unique thing. Barnes and Barnes write and record from character’s point of view’s, you know? It’s like acting. When we record, it’s not coming from Robert Haimer or Bill Mumy’s personal perspective, but from Art and Artie Barnes’… it’s just… something totally different. I play and sing differently when “Barnesing”… Anyhow, we put out a “Best Of”, “Yeah: The Essential Barnes and Barnes” on Oglio back in 2000, and we actually got together and wrote and recorded a couple new songs for that… That really made me want to make a whole new Barnes and Barnes album. It took eight years to actually do it, though. But we’re both really happy with it. It’s called “Opbopachop”. It’s just come out a few weeks ago and we’re hearing great feedback from our fans… so, we’ll make a few new videos soon and see what happens.
As far as the Doors go… Robert worships them. He could teach a college course in “Doorsology,” We didn’t work together for many years, cuz he was busy listening to the Doors…
Q: You’ve also written all the songs and produced a new album by Sarah Taylor.
How did this happen? Talk to me about her work. You wrote a tune with Gerry Beckley and cover another by Neil Young.
A: Well, Sarah’s a great singer and I’ve known her forever. She introduced me to my wife Eileen back in 1979 when they were living in the same apartment building. Sarah’s worked with some of the greats like Quincy Jones, Joe Cocker, Mark Mothersbaugh, etc etc etc… One of those super talented vocalists who was always busy singing on other people’s projects or touring with other acts as a background singer… it was just way overdue for her to make her own album. We’d worked in the studio together many times over the years and what happened was, Sarah and her husband Pauly took over the old Little Feat/Jackson Browne studio in the valley and turned it into a really great room. They put a lot of time and love and money into it and as it was coming together, I suggested Sarah record a solo album with Pauly engineering it to get all the bugs out of the room. She wanted me to produce it and she likes my songs a lot. She sings ’em better than I ever will, that’s for sure. So, that’s what we did. Sarah assembled some fantastic players and I brought in Gerry Beckley and Weird Al Yancovik to play… Al’s a great accordion player… it took over a year to actually finish the album. I kept writing and we kept recording. “Man of Pride” is a Gerry Beckley-Mumy song. I cut it on my Circular CD Sarah really wanted to do that one, so we did. And the album closes with a nice version of Neil’s “Birds”. A very good song. Sonically, the album sounds fantastic. Pauly did a great job and their studio, Readymix, is a very cool place to work. I’m proud of that album.
Q: Even before you were a teenager, music it seems was the primary goal for you, not the 50 year acting career that emerged.
Can you discuss why music was just as important to you as acting gigs that arrived? No one can ever accuse you as an “actor/music” person. If anything, the music and your multiple albums and songwriting efforts and collaborations illustrate this?
A: I’ll never understand why people think you have to do only one thing. Or they think you can only be good at one thing. That’s so limiting. I like to act. I always did. I had a great time working on all those TV shows and films I made. But, what does being able to memorize dialogue that somebody else wrote and deliver it on camera in a believable way have to do with playing a musical instrument and writing songs? You know, Woody Allen can do standup comedy and also direct dramatic movies, right? Bob Dylan’s made a bunch of movies, etc. I like to act, but acting isn’t who I am. It’s something I enjoy doing once in awhile, that I did a lot when I was a kid, and I think I’m pretty good at it. But music is my passion and I’m a songwriter. Music has been the most important thing in my life since I was ten years old. Nothing even comes close. I’ve led the life of a musician since I was sixteen. I just happen to act and write and do some other things along the way. That always drives me nuts. Because I was on the Twilight Zone or Lost in Space over 40 years ago, people can’t take me seriously as a songwriter? That’s bizarre to me. You know, you just gotta do what you gotta do and you try to grab the opportunities that present themselves to you along the way. I’ve been lucky to work in a lot of different arenas of the entertainment business.
Q: You’ve also done some work with composer Mark Mothersbough of Devo. It was a PBS TV series? Talk to me about this collaboration.
A: I first met Mark and the other guys in Devo through Barnes and Barnes. We did some gig together and had some mutual friends and we made similar music in the ’80’s. Mark continues to front Devo, but for over twenty years he’s made a great living scoring TV and film. Back in 1991 he called me on the phone and said he was doing the music for a Disney live action TV series based on Lewis Carrol’s “Alice In Wonderland”. He was looking for songwriters and wondered if I’d be into that. Well, I definitely was and I ended up writing and recording 105 songs for “Adventures in Wonderland” over the next two years. It was one of my very favorite gigs of all time. I loved it. My son was really little at the time; I worked out of my house on a Disney quality family TV show that I was proud to be a part of. Got an Emmy nomination for it. Mark and I also worked on some Wild Man Fischer stuff together and he did a thing in a Barnes and Barnes video back in the mid 80’s for us. Mark’s a very talented guy.
Q: How do songs happen? Not just the ones on assignment but the ones that appear. Like, I saw you perform recently at Kulak’s Wopodshed and at the piano you did a song about your wife Eileen going out of town and how you missed her. It wasn’t lame or a lament, but you’re past the 20-year mark with this girl so it’s working! It’s the antithesis of anything found on a Barnes & Barnes album.
A: Well, I am capable of writing you a song if you commission me to. And I think it’ll be a good song. But that’s a totally different experience than “receiving” a song… I’m very lucky that the muse visits me so often. I’ve had songs come out of nowhere while driving, swimming, sleeping, watching TV, etc… It’s a feeling that I can’t describe and don’t really want to analyze too closely. But it’s a great feeling. As far as “Don’t Have Anything”, the song you’re referring to… that’s on “Circular”. My wife Eileen is from Michigan and her mother still lives there. Awhile back, her mom was going through some health issues and Eileen was flying back and forth to Detroit quite a lot… it’s just a little real song about missing your lover and realizing that without her in your life there’s a void.
Q: Then, there’s some albums out with The Jenerators. It’s been you rock band. Who have been the members and what kind of material is it. You’ve had some residencies in town over the years.
A: The Jenerators were a really fun band that gigged around California for like 16 years. We had residencies at a club on the Sunset Strip called “Blak n Bloo” for a few years and we played a club, “Rusty’s”, on the Santa Monica pier, the second Saturday of every month for like ten years! But we played everywhere around here. The Palamino, The Troubadour, The Whiskey, etc… We opened for America on a little tour… The Jenerators were Gary Stockdale on bass and vocals, Gary scores Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! show, and has done lots of film scores… David Jolliffe on vocals and guitar, David’s an actor… Miguel Ferrer was on drums and vocals, Miguel’s an actor… and Tom Hebenstreit on lead guitar. Chris Ross played drums with us too. I played guitar and harmonica and sang and wrote the bulk of our stuff, but the other guys wrote too. It was a band of friends who liked to play. We had a local hit with Pussy Whipped… a raucous tune that borders on being a novelty song. The band recorded and released three albums over the years, mostly recorded live. The other guys never took it as seriously as I did. It was fun for a long time. Then it stopped being fun and we stopped doing it. Everybody was always busy working on other projects and it was somewhat of a hobby band.
Q: You also began a formal music-recording career as a member of Redwood. Henry Diltz in 1970 took photos of this band and you played around town, including The Troubadour and were mentored on some level by John Stewart. You saw some things in the 1970-1973 world around town in clubs and in the recording studio.
A: Now there was a really good band. Redwood worked our asses off from 1969 till 1975. We were young, but we were honest and we gave it 100%. We had a really big local following. Thought we were gonna be the next Crosby, Stills and Nash… but guess what? We didn’t become that. Those were amazing days around here. Redwood gigged 100 times in 1971 alone. We opened for people like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee at the Ash Grove… we opened for John, who mentored us and produced our early demos and really helped us get tight and professional… he’d just come out of the Kingston Trio and we were an acoustic trio… we were so lucky to have him as our leader… we worked with James Taylor, Russ Kunkel, Jennifer Warnes, David Blue, …oh man, I could list names forever, I can’t even remember half the people we played with. Redwood followed Billy Joel at the Troubadour one night and we got four encores! That was pretty cool. Then we went into Record Plant and cut a track with his drummer, Rhyse Clarke, I think his name was. He was really good. I could talk about Redwood for hours. We used to hang out at the Troubador all the time. I’d see Poco, I was at their first gig when they were Pogo…what an amazing live band they were! Neil, all al one and with Crazy Horse… Joni, James, Arlo, the Dirt Band, … great times. Too bad Redwood didn’t make it on a big-time showbiz level. But we did record a lot and there’s a double cd of Redwood’s stuff that’s out there and I think it’s pretty damn good. That’s definitely the best band I’ve ever been in. By far. Gary David on vocals, violin, viola, mandolin and guitar. Paul Gordon on vocals, guitar, piano and flute. I played guitar, harmonica, piano and banjo. Paul went on to write number one songs and Broadway musicals. Gary retired from showbiz and became an accountant. We still see each other and jam once in a blue moon. Redwood will always hold a special place in my heart.
Q: You written all your own stuff in a 9 or 10 album solo career, but you covered a song by Graham Nash.
A: That’s true. Graham’s “Simple Man” is the only song I’ve ever covered on an album. That’s on my “Pandora’s Box” CD from 2000. Graham’s “Songs For Beginners” is one of my favorite albums. He’s so pure as a singer. He’s interesting as a songwriter and honest, but he doesn’t get in his own way. He’s keeps it pretty basic, but it’s a bit unpredictable at the same time. I’ve connected with Graham over the years several times. What a great man. A fabulous humanitarian and a generous and kind person. I haven’t spoken to him since Nicolette Larson’s funeral and that’s over ten years ago. Nicolette was a dear friend. Russ Kunkel, her husband is besides being arguably the best drummer in the world, has been a friend for 40 years. Russ produced and played all the drums and percussion on my “With Big Ideas” album in 2005. My family stayed at Graham’s house on the beach in Kauai for a couple weeks back when my kids were little. What an amazing place that was! I’m a big comic book collector and I know Graham used to collect too. Of course I’ve seen him with CSN and he and Crosby and CSNY live as often as I could. I was at the Greek Theater in 1969 when CSNY debuted with Joni Mitchell opening for them. That remains one of the top five gigs I’ve ever been to. Pure magic. And now, 40 years later, they’re still out there doing it… but it makes you think how much more they could have accomplished as a group if drugs hadn’t become such a big deal for some of them. Anyway, Graham seems to be the constant there. The only one who’s never really cracked up. One of my very favorite voices.
Q: You are a self-admitted Byrds’ freak. I know at Hamilton High School you would scribble Byrds’ lyrics in class. How did that band influence or impact you or subsequent music or even equipment purchases? Is Chris Hillman the most underrated or overlooked musician in history? What kind of impact did Roger McGuinn and his 12-string Rickenbacker have on your life? You still have one.
A: Yeah, the Byrds were “my band” back in the mid 60’s. I used to draw their logo, you know the one from 5D, on my notebooks and stuff. Marta Kristen, who played my sister “Judy” on “Lost in Space”, turned me on to the Byrds in 1965. She turned me on to Dylan too. I would have found ’em on my own, but I’ll always thank her for that. See, it was folk music that made music the most important thing in my life. Specifically, the Kingston Trio’s catalogue. Of course, I came into that a bit late, but when it hit me, it hit me turbo hard. I was a folk music fanatic by 1965. Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, that kind of stuff. One of the things about the Kingston Trio, besides the fact that they had 14 top ten albums, 4 at the SAME TIME in 1959, was they had amazing harmony. Especially the original trio, with Dave Guard before John replaced him in 1962. Dave Guard was the genius in that band. His harmony parts were all over the place. Like… Crosby’s in the Byrds. So… when I heard the Byrds, doing folk songs, with these really interesting harmony parts that Crosby created… I was hooked. Also, they had electric energy and it just got you more excited. Hey, the 60’s were truly special!
Anyway, I never saw the original five Byrds live. I saw them in 68 at the Newport Pop Festival, that was McGuinn, Chris Hillman, and Gram Parsons with Kevin Kelly on drums, I think. Then I saw the Clarence White era Byrds several times… He was an amazing musician. I have a 65 telecaster with a B Bender in it that Gene Parsons installed for me. He actually did it as a favor for Fred Walecki who owns Westwood Music. Gene had stopped installing b benders by then, I got that in ’83, and I knew he was friends with Freddy, so I asked and Fred got it done for me. It’s a great guitar. And I’ve tried to emulate that Clarence White thing on a lot of recordings over the years. I use it quite a lot on the new “Carnival Sky” album.
One of the very best gigs I ever saw was the Byrds at the Ventura Theater. I think it was 1990. It was Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and David Crosby with John Jorgensen from Hillman’s Desert Rose Band on guitar and the drummer from that band. They were trying to reclaim the name Byrds, cuz Michael Clarke was touring with bands calling themselves the Byrds… anyway… that’s definitely one of the very best shows I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure they were better at that gig than they ever were in the original run. Gene Clark was great though. A really good writer. Chris Hillman was a great and interesting bass player and he of course became a fine writer and singer. He’s certainly covered a lot of ground, from the Byrds to Manassis with Stills, to the big hits of the Desert Rose Band, to his own indie released solo stuff… I bought my 1968 Fender Precision bass because he played one just like it. I sold my comic books to buy that bass back in 68. The Notorious Byrds Brothers album is still a record I listen to all the time. And the ver y first electric guitar I ever bought was a Rickenbacker. I still have ’em both. The Byrds were a big influence on me. I really wish McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman would get together again. That would be really great. I think. But I hear McGuinn won’t do it. Still, you never know… could happen.
Q: Can you briefly discuss Rod Serling and the cultural impact of “The Twilight Zone” and reflect on your now-legendary “It’s A Good Life” episode. Can you give me a theory why that specific episode still resonates? I would imagine at your autograph appearances you still dialogue on “TZ.”
In addition, you must have learned some things about directors and producers that you applied to subsequent acting jobs like “Papillon” and even your music career. It was a black and white series but the messages, images, and the music were very colorful.
A: You know, I’ve worked on over 400 television shows and 20 films… some of em have disappeared completely from the consciousness of society, and some of em have been tattooed on the id of society. The Twilight Zone has never stopped running all over the world, so a lot of people have seen those shows. Rod Serling was a true visionary and an extremely gifted and prolific writer. I’m so glad I was in three of the original TZones. They hold up really well. I think that’s a testament to mister Serling mostly. Although, the directors, producer and camera work as well as the actors who appeared in that series were all really good.
I’m not sure why “It’s A Good Life” resonates so strongly. But the thought of a little kid who can read your thoughts… and if he wasn’t pleased with your thoughts could mutilate you or simply eliminate you from reality? That’s pretty scary. That’s a real good story.
The coolest thing I think I ever did as an actor was being asked to return to that character for a sequel 40 years later. We did “It’s Still A Good Life” in 2003, with Cloris Leachman and I reprising our roles and with my daughter, Liliana, starring with us. Not a remake. A true sequel. Returning to Anthony Fremont with Liliana doing such an amazing acting job… I think that’s the highlight of my acting career in a way.
Q: There is also “Lost In Space.” Another syndicated series you were one of the stars of. Couple of memories of that show that was filmed in color. You played a music set at the Hollywood Bowl in a “Lost In Space” promotion. Why does that show register with fans?
A: I played the Hollywood Bowl in 1965. It was my very first gig ever! It’s been downhill ever since! It was “Scout Day”. The bowl was packed with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and Brownies. Packed. Lost in Space had just started airing and there I was promoting the series onstage at the Hollywood Bowl in that crazy silver spacesuit with an acoustic guitar. Art Linkletter was the MC of the show. He introduced me and I walked out and played the Kingston Trio’s “Tijuana Jail”! A song about going to Mexico and gambling and drinking and being thrown in jail! Isn’t that great?! What blows my mind is the fact that no one, not my parents, not the promoters, no one suggested I play a different song. I could’ve played “This Land Is Your Land” or something a bit more “appropriate” so to speak… but nope! I played Tijuana Jail. That cracks me up. We did 84 episodes of Lost in Space from 1965 through 1968. The first season was in black and white and the rest were color. Big-time color.
Q: People like yourself and Don Grady have been good examples of an active and productive life and multiple careers after being a “child star.” Is there anything you can attribute this to since so many of your contemporaries did not adjust to a world after the small screen life as kids and teenagers? You did not get trapped by fame or notoriety. Is it because you always had the music or a piano? My theory is that you went to L.A. public schools and not private ones. Where did the work ethic come from?
Although it must have been pretty cool to split from elementary school and fly to France to be in a film with Bridget Bardot. My friend Jeff Morrison was in class with you at Canfield Elementary and the teacher explained one morning to the fellow students, “Billy has gone away for a while to make a movie.” How was that hang?
A: Man, I know a lot of child actors that turned out swell. And yeah, a lot that didn’t. I don’t know what the deal is there. I was never allowed to get a big ego or a swelled head about what I was doing as a child actor. I really wanted to be on TV when I was little. I liked acting and doing all those different shows and playing all those different characters. It was an adventure and it was fun almost all the time. You know, I’d play a scary mutant in the Twilight Zone then I d be Ozzie Nelson’s neighbor, then I’d do an old time western, then I’d do a Disney movie, then a Hitchcock thriller, then a Bewitched or something. It was good. I liked it. Like I said, I never thought of myself as a celebrity when I was a kid… Sure, I got mobbed at Disneyland and a few places when Lost in Space was running, but it all turned out okay.
I still have a lot of the same friends I had back then. They grew up with me coming and going. I’d leave to do a show. I’d come back and we’d play ball or skateboard. Being the first American actor to get an onscreen kiss from Brigitte Bardot was cool. Working with Jimmy Stewart on that film, “Dear Brigitte”, for a couple of months was really great. He was wonderful. The kind of man you strive to be.
Q: In September the Beatles catalogue is released digitally. You have always loved the Beatles’s catalogue. Why? What is it about this band and the recordings? Do you have a favorite LP or a few songs?
A: Hey, everyone loves the Beatles. There’s an intangible there. They are in a category all their own. It was legitimate magic. I don’t know. Amazing songs. Amazing vocals. Amazing playing. Amazing production. Amazing recordings. Amazing management. Everything came together for a long time there. I don’t know. I feel like a fool trying to analyze that. Like everyone else I have plenty of favorites. Strawberry Fields… Across the Universe…Mother Nature’s Son…No Reply…Within You and Without You… Fool on the Hill…She Loves You… shit, man… everything they did was amazing.
I do have a Beatles story and it drives me nuts. Back when I was on Lost in Space, Angela Cartwright and I were invited to see the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. And, we were invited to meet them after the gig. Okay? Okay. Well, I didn’t want to go. Let me say that again.
I didn’t want to go.
I remember saying, “It’s just gonna be thousands of people screaming nonstop. I’d rather stay home and listen to the Kingston Trio.” Or something like that. I LIKED the Beatles in 1965, but I was a folk music snob and I didn’t really get it then. So, I passed on seeing the Beatles and meeting them. And Ange has this great picture of her with all four Beatles… and every time I see that picture, I know I could’ve been right next to her with them. But… I wasn’t. And sadly, that’s my Beatles story.
Q: Why does their music have durability and even more of a cultural reference these days?
A: Cuz it s the best music ever made and it’s positive and it’s truly magic.
Q: I know you have their autographs. Musically speaking, can you discuss each one of them? Is there an overt Beatles’ influence on any specific songs on your solo albums?
A: Yeah, I have a great autograph collection. Me discuss the Beatles individually? I’m not sure why anyone would want to hear that…
The generalizations are true. John was outspoken. Paul was commercial. George was spiritual. Ringo was a rock solid interesting drummer. Individually, they’re all great musicians and writers and singers and at times truly amazing and brilliant. Well, I won’t say Ringo was ever a brilliant songwriter, but John, Paul and George certainly were. But when the four of them were together… onstage or with George Martin producing in Abbey Road studios… they laid all those songs down and they’ll live forever and they’re just insanely special. Some things just can’t be put into words properly to do them justice. Can you describe an orgasm? I can’t describe why the Beatles are so great. They just are.
As far as the Beatles influencing any of my recordings or songs… sure they have. I would think they’ve influenced most everyone in one way or another. Listen to “Cherokee Books” on my “With Big Ideas” album. That’s got a lot of Fab in it.
Q: What is the biggest difference in recording at home and recording at a location-based studio. Is it an inspiration thing? Does it become second nature? You have recorded some very interesting people in your home studio.
A: I’ve recorded in most of the great studios in LA. It’s great to go into a session with players and record. But I’ve always had a home studio. Since I was about 19 I’ve had multi track recorders in my house. I like to work when the inspiration strikes. That’s one of the reasons I’ve worked hard to play so many different instruments. I don’t want to have to call people and work around their time frame when I’m inspired to record music. I’m open to that. But now I’ve got a really good sounding studio in my house and I do like to play different instruments. It’s like acting to me. I’m “playing” the bass player… I’m casting myself as the keyboard player… you know what I mean? I like to work fast and I hear those parts in my head most the time, so I just play ‘em and get ‘em the way I hear ‘em. Sometimes that’s not the best way to work though, other players can bring new levels to your music, too.
Q: You’ve had a relationship with Marvel Comics and DC Comics over the decades. Talk to me about it.
A: Well, I’ve written comic books for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Innovation, Epic, and other comic book companies. I love that medium and I’ve been fortunate to work in it. Besides my own characters, I’ve written, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spider Man, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Star Trek, Hellraiser… bla bla bla… lots of others. I have a great comic book collection and I still read the new books every week. It relaxes me. A lot of those characters have been a part of my life forever. You should check out the last couple years of Captain America. It’s great stuff.
Q: You’ve been making music videos for many decades. Talk to me about the evolution of the form. From the cheap ones you’ve been in to what it does as far as a promotional tool. You’ve just done a new video with Barnes & Barnes.
A: Well, actually we’re about to do a couple. We haven’t yet, though. Barnes and Barnes are considered pioneers of the rock video with Fish Heads and our early films. There was no MTV when we started out making 16 mm films. Rolling Stone Magazine named Fish Heads # 57 of the best videos ever made. For awhile, they were a must to promote your projects… and we chose to do them in a guerilla way most the time… but we did a couple with a real budget… it’s not as big a deal as it used to be… now there’s Youtube so everyone’s a director. I’ve enjoyed making all the videos we’ve done. Sometimes I think I should have gone into producing videos for other acts. But, you know… there’s only so many hours in a day…
Q: What is on the calendar for 2009 and 2010 for you?
A: I don’t really know, Harvey. I’ve got several projects in various stages of completion… a lot depends on powers beyond my control… I don’t like to travel much any more. Back when I was playing guitar in Shaun Cassidy’s band in 1979, we hit 30 states in 30 days. Airplanes, hotels, airplanes… I like to stay home. I can only hope for continued good health. The rest is cake.
Q: You have just done a radio project.
A: Right now I’m about to launch a weekly one-hour radio show. “The Real Good Radio Hour with your host, Bill Mumy”. I’ve got seven shows in the can so far and it starts airing in September on the Internet station KSAV. I’d like to see it expand to something more than that. But I’m really enjoying putting these hour long shows together. They focus on different styles of music and concentrate mostly on the pioneers of those styles. I hope you’ll check it out.
Thanks, Harvey. Always a pleasure talking with you.