Thom Beckman, Jim Freeman and Rodd Karp are a local, Seattle-area band called ’63 Burnout who do what they term Instro ROCK (“ROCK”, deservedly, with all-caps). Their sound combines elements of surf and rockabilly, and, well, their new record, Trouble At The Speedway is pretty dang bitchin’, if I do say so myself.
Of course, one recent record would be enough for most people — however, Jim ALSO just released a solo project for the holidays, Homeless For The Holidaze, a Christmas record that’s, well, above all else, really, really fun. And 25% of the proceeds go to homeless programs.
As a fan of both local music and instrumental rock music, I really dig their stuff — and luckily with the Internet, you don’t need to be in town to be able to hear them or pick up their record. Both Trouble At The Speedway and Homeless For The Holidaze are available for purchase at CDBaby, as well as through the band themselves from their websites, as well as the usual host of online music stores.
Part the First
At this moment in time, what is your favorite song?
Thom: Mike Ness‘ version of “Big Iron”
Jim: “Carol of the Tubular Bells” (from Homeless For the Holidaze. This is shameless self-promotion for a solo project but it is true).
What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?
Rodd: Ozric Tentacles.
Thom: Popstar Assassins.
Jim: This one’s a hard one. I love Daikaiju but they really aren’t that unheard of. Another band I love that is kind of under the radar is The Mystic Clits – their popularity is swelling, however. They are definitely up and coming.
What, if anything, is on any particular wall (your choice) in your domicile?
Rodd: A photograph of the Nesowadnehunk River in Maine with a tattered sign that says ‘Fly Fishing Only’ by Richard Procopio.
Jim: Absolutely nothing – seriously, I just moved into a new place.
Thom: Blood, slowly being cleaned from multiple walls.
Do you care to elaborate?
Thom: Yes – we were having auditions for a keyboardist. They didn’t go so well.
What’s the strangest thing you own?
Rodd: A stuffed Armadillo.
Thom: My stuff’s pretty normal, but I have a friend who owns a couple of used coffins.
Jim: My great-grandfather ran a speakeasy in Albany New York during prohibition. According to my grandmother, he had an old mechanical mantle clock that he kept bribe money in for the local police in case of a raid. I got the clock! Maybe not that strange but definitely unique.
Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)?
Rodd: I started playing drums and that’s been tremendously rewarding.
Jim: I participated in a blood drinking ceremony in Kenya with a couple Samburu tribesmen in order to become an honorary Samburu warrior. No shit – true story.
Thom: Probably the Trouble at the Speedway record. I actually listen to it on occasion.
Do you have trouble listening to the stuff you’ve made?
Thom: I don’t have trouble listening to it, but I’ve kind of heard it enough already, you know?
Rodd: I don’t really have trouble hearing stuff I’ve made previously. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m particularly proud of this recent record, but I do tend to enjoy the work I’ve done in the past, no matter how lo-fi it may sound now. It’s a ‘record’ of my progress so to speak and I don’t have any issues going back to listen to that stuff. I’m surprised at my abilities sometimes and I’m always trying to improve ways to shape songs. So I’ll listen back to tunes I’ve done and try to think of ways I might have approached a particular song differently.
Who’s your favorite visual artist (excluding yourself)?
Thom: Bob Ross.
Jim: Hmmmm…. Max Ernst and Rodin.
What are the five most recent films you’ve seen?
Thom: I recently did some music for a short film, so I was at a festival for a screening. I can’t remember the titles of the others though- I don’t pay attention to details very well.
What’re your top three movies?
Jim: I’m a sucker for life-affirming existential type crap. Probably sounds contradictory but it’s not really. I’m a huge Peter Weir fan. A few movies I really like: Amelie (effing awesome soundtrack); Life Is Beautiful; The Fisher King; Good Will Hunting; and Fearless. OK that’s more than 3. Sorry……
Do you own any original artwork, and if so, whose?
Rodd: Yeah, that Richard Procopio piece I mentioned earlier, a lot of stuff that my dad made like paintings, sculptures, drawings, etc… some pieces that my wife’s Uncle did, and some other stuff.
Jim: A couple of pieces but nothing that anyone would really be interested in.
I don’t know — I’m always interested in people’s artwork, even if I don’t know who they are! What are they like?
Jim: OK, the artwork. There’s an artist from Alberta, Canada by the name of Audrey Mabee who I commissioned to do a large painting of a couple cats that were very dear to me. The other piece I have is by a Native American artist from San Diego named Robert Freeman (no relation). My Dad liked his artwork so I bought him the painting as a present. When my passed away, I kept it in his memory. Throughout this whole interview I’ve been trying to portray myself as the cool indifferent rock guy and now you got me to reveal my true persona as a sentimental dweeb. You are good – Barbara Walters watch out.
What is your favorite game?
Rodd: Yikes! This is a tough question as I’m a pretty big gamer, and especially enjoy legit games that pay real money. There’s really no way I can answer this as I play a zillion games all the time.
Thom: Pitfall II
Jim: Chutes and Ladders. And of course, Twister with my bandmates.
What sort of pie do you enjoy?
Rodd: Pumpkin, pecan, apple, lemon meringue, etc… All kindsa pie.
Thom: Is this a joke question?
Jim: It’s not the kind I should probably mention in an interview like this.
Just so you know, you guys are the only ones so far to take this the dirty way instead of the delicious, dessert-y way!
Rodd: Just got back from band practice. We mentioned the pie question and yes, we all held back from answering this one ‘dirty’. It’s the first thing that popped into our heads.
If you could say one thing to David Byrne, what would it be?
Thom: “How did I get here?”
Jim: Thanks for coming to our show.
Do you have a favorite part of True Stories? I love that film. (Mine might be John Goodman’s rendition of “People Like Us”, one of my favorite Talking Heads songs ever, second only to “This Must Be The Place”, which IS my favorite song by anyone ever, heh.)
Rodd: There are many favorite parts, but I tend to enjoy the little things in life. For example, one of my favorite parts is David describing the electronics manufacturing building behind him as having a “‘multi-purpose shape’… a box… it’s cool.” or something to that effect. My favorite Heads song has to be ‘Memories Can’t Wait’.
Describe some horrible/otherwise amusing local commercials.
Rodd: I hate commercials. So, I like to make fun of the words and jingles. It’s a rotating cycle of mockery and hatred.
Thom: I have Tivo to take care of that crap. I miss the old Glen Grant Chevrolet commercials.
Jim: This doesn’t really answer the question but I love the cigarette commercials from the ’60s and early ’70s.
What are your five most favorite books in the world?
Rodd: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, Neuromancer by William Gibson, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, and I guess the two I’m currently reading… Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride by Michael Wallis, and Ordeal by Hunger: The Story of the Donner Party by George R. Stewart.
Thom: I only read books when they come in video game form.
What is the most boring thing you’ve ever experienced?
Rodd: I try not to get bored. I’m not sure.
Thom: I have a 30-second attention span, so I get bored easily. I went to a Yes concert many years ago. I actually really like Yes, but for some reason it just didn’t mesh with my state of mind that night and I almost fell asleep. I passed out at a Bowie concert in the 80’s, but that was for different reasons.
Jim: zzzzzzz…. huh?
If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?
Rodd: Plaxico Pujols.
Jim: You can name your child anything can’t you? Anyway, too much responsibility in child naming for me.
Well, you can, but the person who helped out in the child’s creation might have something to say about it, too!
Rodd: Jim said tonight at band practice that he thought of Butthole McFartskin as a name he would name some child in the world. Remember that, Jim? When you said that?
That was awesome.
What would be a better weapon, a gun that fires dogs or a gun that fires cats?
Rodd: Tough call. Both are self cleaning. I’d have to go with cats.
Thom: A cat that fires guns at people would be some shit to see.
Jim: As a weapon, it’s cats hands, er, I mean paws, down.
What is your favorite meal?
Thom: Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich. It’s good for the heart. Not so good for chickens, though.
Jim: tofu with miso
What is reality?
Thom: No, what COLOR is reality?
Jim: Everything/Nothing… oooooooooooooh… deeeeeeeeeep! But seriously, hell if I know.
Rodd: Ask Philip K. Dick. Reality is interesting.
It’s funny you mention that (or maybe not, since you ARE in Bloodhag and all) — his quote about “Reality is what doesn’t go away when you close your eyes” is the reason why I started asking this question!
Rodd: Ha! Yeah, well he tended in his writing to blur the distinction between what everyone perceives as reality and what could actually ALSO be reality. Scanner Darkly, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, etc. Hollywood has cashed in on his legacy for sure, because it’s such an interesting topic. As for what I really think reality is, it’s going to be different than what everyone else thinks it is. I’ve come up with some interesting hypothesis when I was younger regarding changing the past and the future by what my actions are in the present… it all made sense at the time, honest.
Part the Second
What is it about the Northwest that seems to lend itself so well to instrumental and surf rock (particularly since there’s no surfing up here!)? The Ventures leap instantly to mind, but there’re so many others as well.
Rodd: Actually, there IS surfing up here. I would have to hazard a guess and say that due to our proximity to large water, and our desire to see the sun every once in a while lights the fire that is surf rock.
Thom: It’s a self-perpetuating scene. The bands help each other out and we’re all fans of each other’s work. That support helps keep it going.
Jim: Just to echo Thom and set the record straight – there is surfing up here out on the coast: Westport, etc. In reality “Surf Music” really doesn’t have a direct connection to the sport of surfing. The term partially relates to the big swell of reverb that’s used in the music. But… interesting question about the NW. Certainly does seem like we have more than our share in instro going on.
In the ’50s and ’60s, instrumental music was as much of a mainstay on popular radio as vocal stuff — do you see the potential for an instrumental rock resurgence?
Rodd: I see the potential for creativity to continue as long as people care about what they do. There’s so many folks out there that dig this stuff that it will always be viable. If by resurgence you mean commercially viable, that’s a different question, and one I don’t really care either way. I tend to like things that are a bit more obscure and out of the mainstream anyway.
Thom: No. People have become too accustomed to having vocals with their rock. Casual music listeners just think something’s missing when they don’t hear vocals. They just don’t get it. But who cares, really? That’s just more reason to do it. I actually really like the fact that instrumental rock is kind of a lost art. It makes the bands that do it a little more special.
Jim: No way – never. Pop music has become completely $$$ driven. Record companies push “idols” and vocals give you the “audio face”
Do you have any favorite “lost” or forgotten instrumental/surf-rock bands that you wish got the acclaim they deserved?
Rodd: I don’t have a favorite.
Thom: Nothing in particular. I’m always discovering weird stuff.
Jim: I’m sure there are some great bands out there that fell through the cracks. I’ve always liked The Royal Coachmen.
You’re all adept and accomplished musicians — what got you into music in the first place?
Jim: I didn’t start playing an instrument until I got into my thirties. I guess the answer for me is “Middle Age Angst.”
Thom: I thought it would make me cool. I was wrong.
Rodd: Being exposed to music at an early age. I have always loved music and I’m happy to have tried making it.
Do you recall what your first record was?
Rodd: It wasn’t my first record, though I do remember buying an Eagles 45, back when singles were on 45’s. But my folks got me a lot of those Disney records that you’d listen to while flipping through books and when Tinkerbell made her sound, you’d know that it was time to flip the page. But, it was my parents (mostly my Mom’s) interests that got me interested. Off the top of my head, my influences in the 70’s were: Neil Diamond, Gordon Lightfoot, Abba, the Eagles, Randy Newman’s “Short People” made me laugh and laugh because of the puns, Diana Ross, and Rush… there are many more, of course. Roger Whittaker’s 45 of ‘The Bluest Skies I’ve Ever Seen Are In Seattle’ with the backside being ‘Whistlestop’ (What I would pay to hear that one more time, it’s so hard to find!)… the list could extend really quite a ways, but just given what I’ve mentioned, you can tell that it was all over the map.
On the new record, Trouble At The Speedway, what’re your individual favorite cuts?
Rodd: Hmm… I like “Orange Guitar”, “Skull Shifter”, and I’m particularly proud of the way we covered “Pipeline” and “Sleepwalk”. Those sound really great to my ear.
Jim: Oh man, this is a really hard question. Thom writes great music. There really isn’t any filler material on the recording. The album has 2 cover tunes – “Pipeline” and “Sleepwalk” both of which have been covered a thousand times by other bands but I think we were able to achieve something different with each of those tunes. You know, I’m gonna say “Sleepwalk” – Rodd’s drumming on our recording makes the tune. Without his contribution it would have ended up as just another cover.
Thom: I like “Skull Shifter” a lot.
Where’d the name “’63 Burnout” come from?
Jim: I’m not sure. I think it was Thom’s nickname in 7th Grade.
Rodd: Thom. He was born that year and the second word is his outlook on life in general, though you can’t really tell because he laughs a lot.
Thom: It sounds all hotrod and cool, but it’s actually self-parody.
What is it about instrumental, rockabilly and surf that draws you?
Rodd: The lack of words. Oh, and it also can be really fun stuff that is exciting and gives off a certain vibe that makes me happy.
Thom: Hard to answer, really. It’s like- why is your favorite color blue, or red, or whatever? It just is. I do love the fact that there were bands in Seattle clubs playing “Pipeline” 40 years ago, and here we are doing a bastardized version of it decades later. I like being part of that lineage, however corrupt.
Jim: Well – I can’t say the Fame and Fortune until Simon decides to produce American Idol Instro Band. But seriously, I really like all kinds of music. If the tune rocks, I will love to play it vocals or no vocals. For me, the instro rockabilly and surf genres tend to be a very musical and very raw/real at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, I love Punk Rock, for example, but punk is kind of like vomiting. Instro rock and surf is what you get after the puke has been maturing on the floor for a while. Cultured puke, if you will.
How did you get into surf rock?
Rodd: I was pulled into it by the black hole like pull of Thom. He asked me.
Thom: It slowly crept in to my playing, and I’m not sure how. I finally gave in to whatever demon had invaded my body and said “OK- I’ll play it!”
Jim: I never in my wildest dreams thought I would play surf music. My background is mostly from the singer/songwriter side of things – Neil Young, etc. About 7 years ago I met a guy at an office party for the company where my wife worked. He heard I played guitar and wanted to jam on some surf. I blew him off for months because I thought it would end up being 2 hours of “Wipe Out.” However, he was persistent and I finally conceded and, man, I’m glad I did. My eyes really got opened up to the genre. After a couple of months, Raga and I formed The Seamonkees – the rest is history… (boring insignificant history but it is my history nonetheless).
The new Christmas album, Homeless For The Holidaze features 2/3s of the band on it — how did that come about?
Rodd: I wasn’t invited to be on it because I suck at drums. Ha! No, Jim put this excellent record together and asked Thom to be on it. It’s a great album and part of the proceeds go to a great cause.
Thom: Jim asked me to play on the whole record, but I was too busy working with Axl laying down solos for “Chinese Democracy”, so I only had time to do one track.
Jim: Well, Thom paid me to play on Ghosts of Christmas Past (in fact he paid me a lot). Rodd had better be on Volume 2 or I’m gonna kick his ass. Actually, I had better find a spot for him on Volume 2 or I’m gonna kick my own ass.
Jim, the arrangements on the album are very clever — “Tiffany Sequence m.22 (Fa La La)” and “The Stripper’s Holiday” really stand out to me in particular — how did you come to combine some of these songs?
Jim: Thanks! The rumors floating around are that I had a very troubled childhood and that the project was suggested by therapist as a way with dealing with my fear of Santa. While there is some truth to these allegations, I should mention that the project is an outgrowth of doing some Christmas shows with The Spaceneedles. We would play quirky versions of holiday tunes mostly from The Ventures Christmas album only with sax and trumpet thrown into the mix. This kind of planted the seed for the whole thing. I started hearing different combinations in my head. One thing I really want to point out on Homeless For the Holidaze is that a lot of wonderful and talented people participated in the project. Final arrangements were all very collaborative – Doug Zangar and Mark Bentz played huge roles. The album wouldn’t have happened without them. In general, I tend to think of music in a very cinematic and three dimensional way. I think it’s an amazing achievement if you can paint a picture and create an image with music, especially instrumental music.
How did you choose the charities to donate the proceeds to?
Jim: The individual charities haven’t actually been selected yet – I need to get some $$$ coming in first (hint, hint to your readers to buy the CD, LOL). 25% of the net proceeds are being dedicated to programs that benefit the homeless in the greater Seattle Metropolitan region. Many people have supported the project and made amazing contributions with their talents and time. If it ends up making any money, then I thought it was important to give something back.
Jim: The only way to put it is that Raymond Scott was a genius. Not only are his arrangements complex but everything is very musical too. The playing on his original recordings is also absolutely amazing. As I mentioned before, music is very visual for me and Raymond Scott’s compositions create visual images. If I hadn’t run out of time and money, there would have been a Raymond Scott medley on Homeless For the Holidaze entitled “Where The Hell Are the Motherfucking Batteries.” The arrangement was all worked out but we didn’t have enough time to chart out all of the parts for the recording session. It will probably end up on Volume 2 if there is one.
Who’s the fellow at the beginning and end of Homeless for the Holidaze?
Jim: Hmmmm…. good question. He is a “self-medicating” paranoid schizophrenic friend of mine who lives on the streets of Seattle. I purposely want to keep his name/identity anonymous partially because he represents the many nameless/faceless folks who are living on the streets year round. I recorded him live out on the street in a local neighborhood.
Trouble At The Speedway was recorded in only 2 days — do you think you’ll record your next album in that break-neck speed as well?
Rodd: We worked at what I felt was a comfortable pace, and part of that is because we were prepared going in. If we can be that well prepared every time we record, and barring any technical issues, I think we can put out quality work in a fairly short amount of time. It mostly comes down to how much money we can afford ourselves to give us the luxury of more studio time. Personally, I’m very proud of this record and it’s the best one I’ve ever played on, sonically and cohesively.
Jim: More or less but we have talked recently about doing something different on the next album which may involve more studio time. Rodd hit the nail on the head when he said that we came in prepared to lay down “Trouble At The Speedway.” This made a big difference because I think we were able to let things fly without thinking too much. The arrangements were worked out ahead of time and we knew our individual parts. If you end up trying to work out kinks in the studio, everything gets bogged down and the feel can get stale pretty fast. Rockin’ and thinking don’t mix.
Thom: The next record will have a seven-figure budget, so we’ll drag it out over a year and spend the money on blow.
Was there anything you think you would have added with more time in the studio?
Rodd: I think maybe some SFX inbetween tracks or something. Just things between the tracks maybe to give it a ‘story’ feel or something like that. I think we nailed the music stuff pretty well.
Thom: Nope. We didn’t limit ourselves to two days, it just worked out like that. We were really well prepared though, and we didn’t do many overdubs.
Jim: Rodd mentioned that we discussed adding some minor sound FX. There was an idea for the song “Trouble At The Speedway” that I think is pretty cool. We should probably do a remix and get it out there. In general, that’s about it. If we had started tinkering with things in the studio I think we would have ruined the whole feel of the album. Floyd Reitsma from Studio Litho did a fantastic job of capturing what we did in sort of a snapshot kind of way.
How did you all sequence the record? Is there a storyline to it (even though it’s all Instrumental)?
Rodd: No, I don’t think there’s a story line to it, and there wasn’t anything really democratic about how it ended up the way it ended up… I think trial and error with different arrangements during performances sort of solidified the way the songs appear on the record. Some songs sound sort of similar; Obviously, you want some space between those and not have them back to back.
I know that you all have been in a bunch of other bands as well — what are some of them, and how are they different than ’63 Burnout?
Rodd: I started in a band called Bloodhag and they play really short, fast heavy metal songs about science fiction authors, then I got into Attacko with Thom, which was Rock and Roll. Then, darkness came and I just dinked around a bit with some friends, and now I’m doing this thingy. I hope I play drums till I’m really old and stuff. With Thom and Jim. They’ll be super old by then because they are my elders.
Thom: Other bands I’ve been in were not as musically focused. Everyone’s on the same page in this band, which makes it easy. I did a couple of acoustic solo records and the second one has an early version of “Trouble at the Speedway”. That track really became the idea for this band.
Jim: I haven’t been doing the band thing all that long. The lineage is really short.
My first real band was The Seamonkees. We played very traditional surf music – mostly Ventures covers with a few originals, a couple of Los Straightjackets tunes, and the obligatory Dick Dale and Link Wray song thrown in. In The Seamonkees, I played mostly rhythm guitar along with Raga as the main lead player. Samantha Wilder played bass with Tyson Stroh in drums. We had a very successful run as a festival band but didn’t hit the bar scene that often. Our fan base consisted of kids under 12, “kids” over 60 and people with Downs syndrome (I don’t mean this as a bad joke – I’m serious).
Overlapping with tail end of The Seamonkees and going on a few years after that, I played bass in The Spaceneedles which played a mix of everything instro – surf, R&B (think Booker T), funk, jazz, ska, reggae, etc. Playing in The Spaceneedles was great for me in order to build up my chops. We sometimes crashed and burned in that band but we were always pushing things to the limit and trying something new. We also had a revolving door of drummers that rivals Spinal Tap.
The one thing I want to mention about ’63 Burnout is that we are sort of genre-bending. There’s a surf element and there’s rockabilly element, maybe a little bit of spy, but we don’t fit neatly into any of those boxes. I think of us as “Instro ROCK” with the caps. I can definitely hear that — it’s not straight-up anything but rock, which may offend purists, but, well, purists can use some offending sometimes! I think “surf” or “rockabilly” provide handles to grab onto going in, but you guys do much more than that, too.
Rodd: Exactly. I think it’s always a challenge to describe our sound without pigeon-holing us into a particular genre. It just can’t be done. We’ve each brought our backgrounds into this and have a sort of blueprint of what we’re doing, but we color outside those lines constantly, which is really a blast. Screw staying in the lines. Pre-fab art is teh suck.
Also, Jim, I think the “Downs syndrome” part might need a little explaining — it sounds interesting!
Jim: We had a couple of gigs in The Seamonkees where Downs Syndrome kids/young adults flocked to the stage when we played. At one of the shows there was a group from a state facility on a field trip at a local festival. There were about 20 kids – they thought we were huge rock stars. They loved the music. We thought it was just a fluke but it happened more than once. Since then, I’ve just assumed there is something about the beat. Most surf tunes cruise along at about 160 beats per minute vs. about 130 for a regular rock song.
Do you have any other projects you’re working on that you’d like to mention?
Rodd: Other than my top secret stuff? No.
Thom: I have another guitar record I’m planning, but it’s too early to talk about the details. ’63 Burnout is writing another record…slowly.
Jim: The next year is going to be busy – at least I hope. However, I think I’ll keep my mouth shut on the specifics at this time.