At a time when a lot of classic rockers are artistically spent or content to simply ride on past glories, Blue Coupe is reaching their creative zenith. Dennis Dunaway and Joe and Albert Bouchard released their sophomore record, Million Miles More, earlier this year to great critical and public acclaim. Taking the fantastic promise showed on their debut, Tornado on the Tracks, they ratcheted up the quality even higher on Million, making it the rock album of the year, in my opinion.
It was a great honor to speak with legendary bassist Dennis Dunaway recently to talk about the creation of the record. Here's our conversation:
antiMusic: Before we talk about the new record, tell us about your impressions on the reception given to Tornado on the Tracks and at what point in this process did Blue Coupe start to feel like a real band as opposed to a jukebox which is sort of what you started off as.
Dennis:Well, we started out just plain having a lot of fun and between the history catalogues of each group, we had plenty of material to play. I mean our very first gig, we played for three hours and we'd never even rehearsed or played together before. I mean not as doing a whole show. We had sat in with each other. But, yeah, we played three hours without a rehearsal and the place was going nuts. I mean we could do no wrong. So we thought "Oh, this isn't so bad." (laughs)
And after a while…Albert claims that he's the one that said we should make an album, but I think I was the one that suggested it first. But whatever…we decided, okay, we should write a record. And Joe and Albert both mentioned that they thought that they should do something completely new and shed all of their past styles and everything and I was like, 'Well, I think it's been so long since you guys have made a record that doing what you do, whatever you do, is going to be fine. Don't worry about stuff like that."
And I said, "Not only that but let's face it, you can't play different if you try. You guys have your own distinct style and so do I and that's just how it is. I mean we would have to work to make something differently." So the first album went smoothly even though we were all working in a new way compared to the old days. We were working on the computer, trading ideas back and forth.
We knew we were going to go in the studio to lay down the drums in the real, traditional way as we did on both records, but the difference was communicating via email as opposed to just being in a room and hashing it out. With emails, there's a tendency sometimes for them often to be misinterpreted. And then somebody comes back with their response to the misinterpretation and you have to explain…so there's a lot of, in my opinion, wasted time. But we also learned how to avoid that happening.
But you know it was a whole new thing. It was like you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But the thing with first album was we were very limited on budget. Everybody's working during the day and we're doing it all in our spare time yet fans still have a tendency to compare it to Alice's latest record and whatnot. But that's okay. It boils down to the songs anyway. It's like anything. You put your foot in the water and see where it goes.
For example, on the first album Tish and Snooky were an after thought. We were finished with the recordings and then we thought, hey it might be good to have some extra background vocals on here. And I knew Tish and Snooky because my wife works with them at Manic Panic, the hair dye company. And so we got them to come in and that worked out so great, they're really the icing on the cake. And so the difference between that and the next album is that on this we wrote songs with their involvement fully in mind.
But mainly with the second one, we had a lot more fans who were happy with their pledges to help support the first album that felt that they really got their money's worth on the product and so the budget was bigger the second time around even though we took a big blow with Hurricane Sandy knocking out all of our computers right in the final stretch of the pledge drive. Usually the final stretch is when people hold out and then all of a sudden the cheques shoot up.
But still, the fans enabled us to do both of those records. And the thing that I really like, because you know I'm a person of fairness, and Joe and Albert are too, and really honestly I can say that every penny went towards making a better record. It wasn't like, "Hey we've got some pledge money, let's go out and party." (laughs)
antiMusic: For the first record, you guys all brought in your separate songs but for this record it was more of a collaborative process. Was it a conscious decision to work on stuff together this time or did it just happen more organically?
Dennis:No, I think that for the first record, we had more songs kicking around. I mean we have so many written songs that haven't been recorded yet it really is mind boggling. But the first time around I think we all worked on the songs, we collaborated almost as much but it just didn't work out where like on the second album, I know that Joe and Albert both…I feel a bit like a Bernie Taupin kind of guy, (laughs) but if you just give them a set of lyrics, they're going to come up with a song overnight. So I found that out on the first record.
For some reason all the years I'd been jamming with Joe and stuff I didn't realize it to the extent it was until we'd made that album together. Because we did the Dead Ringer album together, Joe and I, and we did Bouchard, Dunaway and Smith, so I was well familiar with his writing process but for some reason it just didn't hit me as much that if I give him a set of lyrics he's going knock out a song. Like "Hellfire Hurry".
On the first Blue Coupe album I wasn't as aware of that. So on the second album, that reflects in the songwriting. I gave Joe some lyrics and then he knocked out a song, where on the first album I didn't realize that as much. And we did a cover song on the first one, we did…oh, actually, you know what? I think it's interesting that no one has noticed, (laughs) I'll give you an exclusive here: there's a song on Tornado on the Tracks, that is the same song overhauled on Million Miles More. (laughs)
antiMusic: Are you kidding?
Dennis:(laughs) There's a puzzler for you.
antiMusic: Wow. I'm going to have to go back and listen now, start to finish. I didn't notice anything.
Dennis:It just changed so much that people don't realize it. And I thought, oh, well, if we use these same chords, and use this same song, we're going to have to change it around. Well we changed it around so much that no one's even noticed. Are you thinking or do you want me to tell you?
antiMusic: Wow, yeah, I want you to tell me cause I'm thinking and I'm still coming up empty.
Dennis:Okay, well I'll tell you that the first song is "Untamed Youth".
antiMusic: OK. (laughs) And that is like what on the new one?
Dennis:"Devil's Highway". They both started from the same song. If you follow the chords, you'll see. It just shows you how radically different a song can be by treatment. You know, we changed the lyrics and stuff but it's the same song, it started with the same song. Two different versions that went two totally different directions.
antiMusic: I would never get that and I love "Untamed Youth" but to me, yes it's about the same tempo in a way but…wow, that's amazing.
Dennis:Now, "Untamed Youth" originally had a ton of verses. It's like an early Bob Dylan song. It had something like 11 verses. And then, it was really hard to Reader's Digest condense that down to the time that it was. It was still long but we had to get that story line to still be coherent after that somewhat of a butcher job. (laughs) But you know I didn't want people out there getting out their sleeping bags. (laughs)
antiMusic: That's amazing. Just listening to it like that I would have never guessed that there had been any big editing to it, lyric wise.
Dennis:Yeah, well I don't know why all of a sudden, as of late I have been
writing these extensive story songs but I had a lot of them on Tornado. "The Darkest Night", that's a whole big story line. The other one on Million Miles More, and I kinda wish we had of done it the original way, is "Hallows Grave", because that had a lot more information about what the song is about. And I thought, well we'd better condense it and, then when we got Alice to sing on it, then I thought, after the track was done, oh, wait a minute, those other verses that we left out, he could have done something really good with them. And then after that album came out, people were complaining that that song, they thought it was too short. (laughs)
antiMusic: It IS actually now that I think about it, especially when you mention the possibility of other verses existing.
Dennis:I had LOTS of other verses there because I was in a band called Fifth Avenue Vampires, and one day I decided for inspiration I was going to walk in New York City from Central Park and walk down Fifth Avenue and walk all the way down to the end of it which is Washington Square Park.
And on the way I wrote a couple of songs which ended up on the album. I saw things that I thought were cool and checked them out on the Internet later and absorbed and observed and everything and you know, walked my feet off. (laughs) And I came up with a couple of songs that were on the Vampires album, Drawing Blood but there was one song, "Hallow's Grave" which at that time was a kind of dirge, sort of something that Free might have done in the early days. But it had lots of verses.
Now the inspiration is, I got to Washington Square Park and I'm thinking, wow, all these kids are jumping around and playing in the fountain and it's a family park now. Back when the Alice Cooper group first came to New York City, that was a scary place. They called it Needle Park and that's where all of the drug addicts hung out and stuff. So that was my initial inspiration about all this happiness, family stuff that's going on there and the ghosts from that Needle Park era.
So I went home and I Googled it, Wikipedia and all that and as I'm scrolling down reading about Washington Square Park, I find out it once was a burial ground. It was outside the city limits of New York City. And that's where they buried indigenous people and then when the Yellow Fever broke out, it turned into a mass grave to try to help cut down on the spread of the disease. And to this day, what most people don't know, especially when their kids are jump roping and hula-hooping there, is that there are 20,000 bodies still buried under there.
Dennis:Yeah. Also the other thing I thought was interesting is, there's a hanging tree there. Now a lot of students that go to school near there don't realize there is a big old elm tree they call the Hanging Tree, even though historically they say, geographically that couldn't be the actual Hanging Tree, it must be in somebody's back yard and cut down by now.
But they did have a gallows and they did have hangings in Washington Square Park at one point. So that's the lyrics. (laughs) "At the end of Fifth Avenue, in the morning, about two, in the dark, in the park, as I walk through the shadows of the moon." (laughs) And so then the idea of the characters walking through the park at dark and all of a sudden all of these spirits and skeletons come up out of the ground and there's a beautiful, striking young woman hanging from the branch of a tree and she says, "Hey, the show's about to begin for you, buddy." (laughs) So you know, not to be irreverent to people who are buried there, but let's face it I've got an irreverent sort of songwriting history. (laughs)
antiMusic: To be sure. You went with Kickstarter or one of those campaigns to help fund the record.
Dennis:Yeah, Kickstarter on the first album, then Indiegogo on the second one.
antiMusic: Did this method meet your expectations and would you go that route again in the future?
Dennis:Oh man I LOVE it. I love this idea that you cut out the middle man. In the old days you had this big gigantic corporation and it seemed like everybody in the world wanted a slice of the pie and therefore were trying to tell you what to do because they wanted you to make more money for them. Now this is direct. It's people who appreciate what we've done and expect us to deliver what they want to hear from us and enough to invest their money. And it comes directly to us and we use it in a smart way and we're very honest with it.
But it also gives you a direct link your fans. And it gives you a direct responsibility that is inspiring. You know somebody's going to be listening to what you're doing.
antiMusic: You got famed producer Jack Douglas in as the executive producer. What sort of effect did he have on the project and what sort of input of his really impacted things in your opinion?
Dennis:Well, first of all, we thought it was really a long shot even though Jack was the engineer on School's Out and on Muscle of Love and he also produced Blue Oyster Cult's biggest selling record, the live one, On Your Feet or on Your Knees. So we all knew him. But we had all kind of lost touch with him officially for many years.
But Albert shot him an email and we thought, okay, well, we can't really insult him by offering him the amount of money that we have in our budget so, we'll ask him if he knows anybody that would mix our album for that amount and we get a reply. It says, "We'll make it happen." And so then we're not sure if that means he's going to get somebody or what.
But still at that point, the record had, because of two reasons, Hurricane Sandy which set us back. I mean we had computer crashes and stuff. So that threw our timing way behind to the point that our tour that we had booked to promote the album actually ended up delaying the album because we were out playing instead of finishing the album. (laughs) So anyway the album had sort of, it had dragged on too long and we were losing a little bit of our momentum.
And then we talked to Jack Douglas and he said, "Yes, I'll be involved and I'll get Warren Huart", who produced The Fray and both of them did the Aerosmith albums together. So this put the wind back in our sails. All of a sudden man these songs that were questionable (laughs) we were digging in fast and furious and nose to the grindstone. So just having Jack say he was involved was a big deal and that happened because all the fans made pledges.
Warren Huart actually mixed the songs. But all of those were with Jack Douglas over his shoulder or at least listening to what he did and putting his two cents and doing things like, when the band had a couple of questions about direction, Jack would jump in there and he would kind of be the final say. Very much like Jack Richardson did with Bob Ezrin did on the Alice Cooper albums. You know, we just had someone who had the final say.
Say for instance the ballad, "I'll Forever Stick Around", that song had troubles in having too many instruments added. Joe and Albert are both so multi-instrumentalist that, I mean, the next thing you know you've got the Philharmonic Orchestra on it, which wouldn't have been bad (laughs). But I mean, another way to put it is…well I thought the song should be a guy spilling out his feelings about somebody that he loved. And it's me doing that about my wife. We've been married 39 years now.
So I didn't want a circus parade coming through the middle of the song. (laughs) That's a little bit strong, but that's how I felt because I thought it should be like somebody opens the door and sunlight comes into the room and a breath of fresh air. And that's it. It doesn't go anywhere much beyond that. So Jack Douglas agreed. And he said, well, okay, he'll do the orchestration on it. So he got his guy out in L.A. and they're the ones who put that orchestration onto the song and stripped it down to the way that I wanted it to be.
So that speeds up things. It saves a lot of discussion about everybody thinks about what would be best for the song. And that's the great thing about this band. It's just like the Alice Cooper Group. Everybody…there were a lot of, not heated arguments, just passionate expressions of ideas of what somebody thought each song should be. And that's good because everybody's looking at the same goal. Everybody wants the song to be as good as it can possibly be. I like that. I like that kind of collaborative artistic mix…it's work at times, but everything comes out better in the end with that. Usually, the sum is greater than the parts.
So Warren Huart really did the hands on mixing of the album and he's quite respected. I mean, if you look at his resume, man, this guy is unbelievable. He works on music all the time. He mixes all kinds of bands. He's got Spitfire Studio out in L.A. and him and Jack Douglas were doing a new Aerosmith album while they mixed our album. So they actually mixed ours, forced ours into their incredibly busy schedule because Jack Douglas wanted to do it.
antiMusic: I'm amazed at how varied the material is on this record, much like it was on your debut but perhaps slightly moreso, and yet it all sounds like Blue Coupe. Do you have any parameters to what you want to portray the band as or is it a matter of a good song no matter what it is, will win every time?
Dennis:Well we wrote 35 new songs for this album and then we whittled it down to the 13 that made it on there, even though "More Cowbell" was already recorded. So we whittled it down to 12 songs. Not only that but "Hallows Grave", that had seriously 8 to 10 different versions because we wanted to get it out of that dirge that I talked about earlier that I did for the Fifth Avenue Vampires. It was in 3/4 and we wanted to make it more progressive and we kept coming up with new demos that just didn't quite do it.
And finally Joe was the one that just took everybody's ideas and made the demo that was the template for the final one. And then Alice adding his part. That was interesting too. I didn't expect it as much as it was. Alice was very, very careful that he do exactly what I wanted him to sing on it. You know Alice was talking about phrasing on this line. I said, "Alice, change the words. Do what you do. I trust your lyrics. Do whatever you want to do with the song. It's yours. Go in the studio and do what ever you want." But NO, he wanted it specifically to be exactly what I wanted. And he did it, of course. I think people agree that he pretty much knocked it out of the ball park.
antiMusic: There's so many songs on Million Miles More that I love, perhaps none more than "Train of Thought". Tell us about this one and Dennis, I love your basslines and the bass production on this one.
Dennis:"Train of Thought" started with a set of lyrics that I gave to Joe and the song really is about where you read about so many young people who are taking their own lives. That's the root of the concept of that song. "Train of Thought" is them contemplating this act. And when they're on the train of thought, the conductor takes their ticket and they say goodbye to their friends at the station and they're either going to end up committing this terrible act or they're going to change their mind. Well on the train of thought, the conductor is telling them, hey, life is worth living. "Give it a shot."
You know it's a heavy subject. Joe wrote a song that was quite a different feel and I didn't think that the feel of the music quite matched the mood of the lyric. But he had this great, what you're saying is the bassline, Joe actually wrote this on the piano…bong bong, the main riff. But that only happened for a couple of bars at the end of each chorus. It seems like it's kind of light for the subject but when you land on that rift, THAT is the feel. So I took it and edited his demo so that riff was the whole thing. And then I sang a scratch track and that was the guideline.
Now the one thing that didn't happen on "A Runaway Train" which Alice did on Welcome to My Nightmare 2, I wanted that song to have a chorus. (laughs) I even came to the point of suggesting we get some background singers to imitate a train whistle on it. Bob Ezrin didn't quite see eye to eye on it but that's what I decided to do on THIS train song. So we got Tish and Snooky to do those wooo-woos and forlorn train whistle sort of effects. And of course, they really shine on that.
Tish and Snooky are…I joke with them…you know the movie 20 Feet From Stardom, about background singers? It's an incredible movie. Well I tell them they're 2 feet from stardom. (laughs) The great thing about them, we bring them in, we explain an idea, and BAM they nail it. They just get it. Even with some pretty abstract ideas, that I've thrown at them, they just get it. And in New York City, they're just background singers but we're trying to pull them up a little bit more in the spotlight.
We had a song that didn't make it on Million Miles More just because we had so many songs that they recorded, which was the Theme Song from Mothra. Well, Albert wanted to do this because we want to use the concept as a lead-in to "Godzilla" on stage. So anyway, Albert recorded his version of the Mothra song. He brought Tish and Snooky in and said, "Okay this is the Mothra song" and they already knew it. They already knew it in Japanese and they nailed it, he said, in one take. He said they did a run through to get the levels and they did one take. So that's just who we're working with there. It's amazing. So we've got sisters` voices who blend so well and then we've got Joe and Albert, the brothers' voices blend so well and the overall thing is pretty amazing.
antiMusic: "Everybody Goes Insane" is another of the standouts for me. Tell us about this song and again, Dennis, I love your basslines on the verses.
Dennis:Oh thank you, thank you. I thought they were a little bit under in the mix but… (laughs)
antiMusic: Oh really, I thought they stood out…
Dennis:Well you know there was a point where Bob Ezrin brought in t-shirts for everyone in the control room while he was mixing. Mine said "More bass". A couple of the other guys' said "More guitars". (laughs) Oh, Warren, I mean his mixes made all of the songs shine. I'm not complaining about any mixes.
But that song was a song that Joe wrote and I didn't think the verses matched the theme of the chorus. The choruses were great. That's just such a great hook. It'll get stuck in your head. It'll be stuck in my head now just because we're talking about it. So I rewrote the verses even though I kind of wished I had another shot at it. (laughs) You know, I spent my life being an artist, a painter and stuff, all the way through two years of college and they used to say, a lot of artists can't hang their own work on the wall because you can't walk by it without wanting to get out a brush and some paint. (laughs)
You know the Alice Cooper group was like that, too. It's like a recording is like a snapshot of something…like a river going by because we would always keep adding, changing songs around. Songs, usually when they're recorded, are in their infancy. It's like, oh, do you want to lay down another…or do you want to take another shot at this bass part here on the recording? And you think, oh, I don't know man. I'm tired or whatever. But the reality is, hey man, if this song was a hit you'd be playing it for the rest of your life. You might as well play it one more time now. (laughs) So it's a snapshot.
So that song I would probably have a couple of little variations on it but again that's Joe Bouchard there. That adds up to the variety of it. All three of us, we're not afraid to write any kind of song. I mean I don't care what it is. I even told Joe an Albert that I thought we should do "Cities On Flame" polka. (laughs) Do diddi didda pong, pong pong. Yeah, well just for the fun of it. (laughs)
antiMusic: (laughs) I'd love to hear that. Perhaps the brightest spot on the record is "I'll Forever Stick Around". What a beautiful song! For a guy who is responsible for a whole genre of music that was considered morally questionable by older generations at one time, this seems at odds with your public image. Did it feel funny baring your soul as you did on this track?
Dennis:No it was actually because Cindy and I have been together for so many years. She was with the band all along. She did the costumes. She was the therapist, the cook, and the mom. So I've written love songs for her before but they were never good enough. And I got tired of my old joke. If she heard someone else write a love song, like Ian Hunter, she'd say, "Why don't you write a love song for me?" And I would say, what's wrong with "B.B. On Mars"? (laughs)
So finally I wrote one and I thought okay, you know what, this really isn't what Dennis Dunaway fans expect from me. This is definitely the opposite. But I've always had a tendency and this is a bit of the Glen Buxton rebellion in me, to do the opposite…if someone says okay, here's a rule. I want to break it. But I can always hear Glen Buxton echoing in my head every time I sing that song live, "Ah we don't do sappy girl songs." (laughs) but this is different. I finally did a song for Cindy and she's very proud of it when I sing it to her.
And our audiences have grown up as we have and I was very worried about doing it live. How does a trio do that live? Well, we do it with Joe on the keyboards, and Joe and Albert both singing backgrounds, very pared down. And you can see people snuggling up to each other out there when I'm singing it. And it got a very strong warm applause afterwards. It usually does. Only once, I think in Toledo where it kind of was the pee break song, you know (laughs). But generally people get all mushed up and corny about it and it makes a great break in the middle of the set because Joe will be playing keyboards and Albert will come out front and they'll do "Joan Crawford Has Risen From the Grave" or we do a keyboard version of "Desperado" or something like that. And then I do this.
So it's kind of this nice little lull in the middle of the set and then we kick right into this rocker, "Modern Love" where during this psychedelic break in the middle of that song, we all have wireless, and go running out around the audience and outside or the men's room or whatever. (laughs) And all of a sudden it wakes everybody back up again. (laughs) But thank you. I did put my heart and soul into that song.
antiMusic: "Hallow's Grave" features a guest appearance by some guy named Cooper. Never heard of him but it was nice of you to give an up and comer a shot at the big time. Tell us how it came to be that he sang on this track.
Dennis:Well I hounded him to death. (laughs) I joked that he came crawling to me and I couldn't turn him down. (laughs) I told him it would do wonders for his career. (laughs) No, I asked him if he wanted to sing a song on our album and I didn't even tell him which one. He said sure. And then I thought okay, well now we have the next obstacles which is him being able to fit it into his incredibly schedule and which song. So I sent him a couple of songs. I thought he wanted to do "Train of Thought" at first because his middleman who responded to one of my emails got confused between the song titles and said, "Train of Thought" and I thought, oh great. That'll be cool. Let's face it any of the songs would have been cool…
He wanted "Hallow`s Grave". So what we did was we edited a little bit because the intro was pretty elaborate. And we decided, well if Alice is singing on it, we'd better, you know get down to business. And anyway, it really came down to the deadline. We said, "Alice, you know, I know you said you want to do this but we're really up against the wall here on getting this done."
And then because of the hurricane and everything, that gave us another grace period. When Jack Douglas got involved, he said "Well, we'll do that song last just to give Alice more time." And then lo and behold Alice rented studio time in Phoenix, took the song into the studio and nailed it. Him and his wife and with one guy in the studio and they nailed it and then they sent it to get my approval. And I said, "Wow, approval? It's great!" (laughs)
antiMusic: I also love the vocal/keys riff that anchors the song. Was that something that came out while the song was first written or was it added on later?
Dennis:No actually it was a ….you mean the ah ah ah part?
Dennis:Well that, going all the way back to the dirge, where Albert was saying, "Well this has to be more interesting." I said, "Well there's going to be background vocals and stuff." So I sang it on the dirge version but it was more of a forlorn, faraway with tons of echo, very moody kind of thing. Well Albert just took that melody and made it more solid. And then, you add Tish and Snoooky on there and it really became THE hook of the song.
antiMusic: "Prophets, Dukes and Nomads" is an amazing track and perfect way to kick off the record...perfect sequencing for the whole album by the way.
Dennis: That was Joe's idea. We had a bunch of different song orders and he came up with putting that first, which I never would have thought of and then I go, EUREKA! That's it. (laughs) But you know, Joe and Albert are both so proficient at making great demos. You know, I write a song and I do a rough demo. The Alice Cooper group didn't deal in putting that much credence in a demo. A demo was just a general idea of the song and then we would get together and turn it into a song.
But Joe and Albert don't work that way. They take demos for face value and they both try to make demos that are as great as a record. So if I throw out an idea, then the next day I get back a different version from Albert, and a different version from Joe and then I changed their versions and sent it back. There's a lot of sending back different demos. But I'm at a disadvantage because I can't make demos as good as they do yet. And I don't think in those terms. I think in terms of, hey, this is just the template for the song. I mean, it's not even a template. It's just the idea of a song.
So that particular song, I thought Albert wrote it all along. (laughs) Because the first demo I heard was him. Because somehow Joe's went into my junk mail or something. I don't know what happened. But I kept getting Albert's version so I thought he wrote it. I didn't even find out until we put the names on the record, the song writer credits, that Joe wrote it. (laughs) That's how similar they are too. And their voices are similar. I can tell the difference, but most people can't. But anyway, so I thought, "Prophets, Dukes and Nomads", this is definitely a fantasy, that's something Ronnie Dio would have a subject of or something. And that's very Blue Oyster Cult. And I didn't think the lyrics during the verse did the chorus, the possibility of the concept of the song, justice. So I rewrote some of the verses.
There really did seem like there would be throwaways. Like "Used Car" was another one. It just wasn't gelling. But then when we got Jack Douglas involved, then all of a sudden everybody's creative juices starting flowing full tilt again (then) those songs came tighter.
antiMusic: Is it ever misleading when you look at song credits then because that's just attributed to John Elwood Cook. It's too bad that not everybody that's involved in it is going to get a writing credit.
Dennis:Well, that's how it's always been. I mean in the Alice Cooper group it was pretty atrocious how shabby the songwriting credits were. I didn't care about that back in the old days. I thought, hey we should all have our names on it because everybody is in a room writing a song. How do you then go back, three weeks later and say who did what and who deserves their name on it and who doesn't?
Glen had as much to do with a lot of those songs as anybody but he never got his name on because he didn't do lyrics or melody or chord structure. He did the feel of the song and the direction of the song came out of that. Like Michael Bruce has said before, that my name wasn't on a lot of songs that it should have been, like "Billion Dollar Babies" and "Desperado" and stuff like that. But on the other hand my name was on songs that I'm thinking, well I didn't have to do as much with that song as I did with this song, but I didn't care back then. I thought, okay, you guys decide because I'm going to think about what our next song is. That's how I was. All I cared about is --- I was driven to this --- what are we going to do next?
But also Michael said and I agree with him, it was kind of a wash. (laughs) I got credit where I maybe shouldn't have and I didn't get the credit where I definitely should have. It kinda works out pretty even…same with Michael. Same with everybody in the band. Alice would change a couple of lyrics and get a writers credit. (laughs) Or he might change all of the lyrics, whatever was needed, you know?
antiMusic: "Hellfire Hurry" features another rookie. Some guy called Buck Dharma. Was the idea to just have him contribute to a song on the record or was this written with him in mind?
Dennis:I've been pushing for that. You know I've all along, working with Joe in particular, I've always said, you guys should get Blue Oyster Cult back together. You guys should bury the hatchet. I said, I'm friends with Alice, we're all friends. Too many years have gone by. So anyway I said, how about if…, I'm getting Alice to sing. Why don't you ask the guys and BOC…
antiMusic:…Dennis, I have to stop you right there. I just have to say I exactly agreed with your comments until I heard Blue Coupe. This would be a crime to break up this band right now. Or even to infringe on your time. So while I would love to see the original Blue Oyster Cult or the original Alice Cooper group back together, I would hate for anything to disturb the good ship Blue Coupe. So I'm sorry. I just had to say that. Continue. (laughs)
Dennis:Well, thank you, that's very flattering. It's true; people are always saying, 'Hey, why you don't get back together with Alice? Well, that's never been my decision. I've always been right there to work with Alice. But I do agree with you. If I were working with Alice today, I wouldn't have the artistic freedom I have with Blue Coupe. And you know, that's what it's all about for me. I want artistic freedom. I want the artist to make the decisions, not the business. But still, I said, let's get Buck Dharma. Now "Hellfire Hurry" is the perfect example. I wrote the lyrics, sent them to Joe. Next day he came back with that song. (laughs)
Dennis:Yeah. And then, you know, I didn't realize that either until the second album because then I started looking at the record credits for Blue Oyster Cult and they've always worked like that. Jim Carroll wrote lyrics, Patti Smith wrote lyrics…(laughs)…and then they'd make a song out of it. Same with John Elwood Cook. Even though he has a lot to do with the feel, and the chords and the melody of the songs that we do of his. You know he's just a neighbor of where Joe and Albert grew up, right on the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York, in the Thousand Islands area. I call it the Thousand Bouchards area.
Dennis:Because that's where all their relatives are from. We just played the Clayton Opera House up there. This great old opera house from the vaudeville era that they've sunk a ton of money in to restoring to its original…even to the point of testing the old paint, under layers of paint and testing that to get the exact formula I guess and stuff like that.
But John Elwood sits on his porch and writes these songs that are just so infectious and very offbeat in their lyrical content. You know, we did "(You) Like Vampires". That's John. "Modern Love" is John. A lot of songs on Joe Bouchard's solo album are John Elwood Cook's. And several of those are ones that we were working up to as possibilities on Million Miles More. But we just have so many songs that we decided we could do a whole album of John's music---easily. He's a shy guy. He doesn't like to play his songs for people but Joe would go over and sit on the porch with him with his guitar and he kinda loosened up and let Joe do some of his songs.
Now we've opened the floodgates. He'll send us a hundred songs. (laughs) Great ones too. So that's great. But when he comes to see us at the Clayton Opera house, we don't even know he's there. He's kinda like a ghost in the corner. Because he's kind of a shy guy that way. A really interesting guy. He knows an awful lot about antiques and stuff. He has the ability to write a simple song that's catchy. We have the tendency to get complex on everything. Oh we need a bridge here. Oh we need an intro. Oh we need a guitar break that goes to a modulation. You know, it's always …everything gets complex, where you listen to John`s song and you go, Oh, you know what? That's in the groove, catchy and it just flows.
antiMusic: The record closes with "More Cowbell" and I think it's funny that it's a song about cowbells but it was written by you. What did Joe and Albert think when they heard it?
Dennis:You know what I think? I am really a conceptual artist who happens to play bass. And I had the concept of that song a couple of years ago and I told Joe, actually, it could have been on Tornado if they would have written it. I said, "Hey I got the concept of the song, but I think you guys should write it." And they were like, "Ah, I don't know, I don't know."
So I kept bugging them about it occasionally for a couple of years. And finally, we were up in Toronto, no I'm sorry in Hamilton, Ontario and we were going to play at a club called This Ain't Hollywood on New Years Eve. And that afternoon…LATE that afternoon I told Albert, I said, "Well you know the More Cowbell song" And he said, "Yeah." I said, "I wrote it. I gave up on you guys. I wrote it." And so I played him my demo and he said, "Wow. For some reason, I just didn't get that that's what it would be like." I said, "Well, I only talked until I was blue in the face. (laughs) But here's the song now." And he said, "We've got to record this live." And I said, "No kidding! That's what I've been telling you." And he said, "I mean tonight." I'm like, "TONIGHT? It's New Year's Eve afternoon. Where are we going to find somebody on New Years Eve who isn't already booked or planning something?" And we did. He came in, wired the whole room and because I told him it is a call and response tune, we need to hear the audience. He hung mics all through the hall and got a great bass sound. So that day at sound check we had Gord Lewis who is the guitar player from…
antiMusic: Teenage Head.
Dennis:…Teenage Head, (laughs), that's right. They're legendary up in Canada. So we had soundcheck and Gord was going to sit in on it with us and so, Joe had never even heard the song. So I ran over the song at soundcheck and this goes back to that thing about simplicity.
Before I even got through the song, Joe stopped me and he had an idea and then Albert had an idea and then they started working out these complex parts and I said, wait a minute. I said, 'You know why it's so hard for people to write a simple song? They're like, "No, why?" I said, "This, this is why! (laughs) It's what you're doing to this song and I haven't even played it all the way through yet. (laughs)
There's no way we're all going to be able remember all of this good enough for recording at two o'clock in the morning after everybody's drinking bubbly and everything. Let's do it the simple way because that's all the song needs, in my opinion. And then later we can make it more complicated. And anyway, at 2 o'clock in the morning we played the song and that was the recording. That's what's on the album.
I really love the riff. It's got those complicated two or three parts that sounds exactly like you were saying…someone didn't want to leave go of another part. (laughs)
Well, there are a few concepts that I wanted to incorporate in the song, even before I wrote it. I wanted it to be something that was call and response because I wanted it to be a live song that everybody got right away. That was the goal on a lot of the tunes on Million Miles More. We wanted to be able to play new songs and have people feel familiar with them somehow. We wanted them to connect. We wanted to have some songs where people were singing the chorus having never heard it before. So I thought, okay, what is an infectious thing that people all know? And it's that military thing dah dah …., the old sergeant calling out and the soldiers marching and answering it.
So that was kind of the idea I wanted to incorporate into the verses and then I wanted, I thought, okay, the concept is so simple, it's so elementary I better have something clever and tricky to offset that or else people are just going to go, oh man. (laughs) So that's when I came up with the riff.
antiMusic: At this point you guys have quite a few songs and quite an extensive back catalog it must be a nightmare to put together your set list.
Dennis:(laughs) It is. We do 2 hour sets and we still have to decide what to leave out. I don't think we've ever done the same set twice. We like to mix it up. And the on top of that we might throw in "Pipe Line" and "Wipe Out" or something like that. I mean, who knows?
We were walking to the stage in France, an outdoor festival and somebody called out "Fallen Angel". Blue Oyster Cult did a fast, real snappy version of that song. And Bouchard, Dunaway and Smith slowed down the tempo and did a different version of it. So we're walking to the stage, but Joe and Albert and I had never played it together and so walking to the stage, Joe explained the chords, just a refresher on what the chord changes were and we discussed the arrangement, WHILE we're walking to the stage and like three or four songs in, we played it. And there's a YouTube post of it and it is one of the tightest songs in the set.
That's just how these guys are. Joe and Albert are both music teachers. So imagine being a student, you're the only student in the room and you have two teachers. That's me.
antiMusic: (laughs) I don't think so, my friend.
Dennis:(laughs) Well, I'm playing Joe`s bass parts and sometimes Albert will say, "Hey, you know you're playing a B there and it should be a B Minor." (laughs) But the thing that's great about it is Joe is just a workhorse, a creative workhorse. We all work hard, but Joe is doing the rhythm, the lead and singing most of the lead. And yet he knows when we're doing a song that I may not be familiar with, he will always turn so that I can see his chord hand, so I can see what chord he's going to because I can be there if I can see that. And he'll always turn to Albert for cues. We always give cues, all three of us.
You know, I've worked with musicians who thought giving cues was a sign of weakness and I'm like what? You've got to be crazy! (laughs) Giving cues is showmanship even. But it's a necessity if you want to play tight, you give cues. And you watch for cues. You know you can close your eyes during this one segment but toward the end you better open your eyes and see what's going on. (laughs)
Yeah, so, we have the ability to throw in songs we haven't played in a long time. We have the ability to go out on a limb, you know, play a song that hey, this could be a train wreck (laughs) But even when we get lost, it's funny. We did a song one time…we got lost in the middle of it, to the point where we had to stop. (laughs) We got lost to the point where we had to stop. And then, Albert just counted us back in and you know what? Nobody in the crowd afterwards mentioned that. Nobody noticed. (laughs) That's the ol` "Keep smiling and never leave them see ya sweat". I told Albert, nobody noticed but it would have been better if you hadn't shrugged your shoulders when you did the countdown. (laughs)
antiMusic: Last question, Dennis. You can't really pigeonhole Blue Coupe. Your material is, not all over the place but so varied and so wonderfully diverse. Where can you see this band going? Obviously the upside is straight up. I can only imagine what your next record is like but are there really any parameters or do you have any angles or views on where this band goes from here?
Dennis:Well, we're building a name. Even with our credentials, we are building our name because we go to a new town and people just don't know who Blue Coupe are. Once we play in a town, we're in like Flynn. We're really popular in France, England and Canada and the places that we played in America. So once we play in a town, word gets out and then people start showing up. But it seems like the initial thing, talking a club owner into bringing us in, in a new territory is proving to be tougher than we thought it would be.
I swear sometimes I think if we said we were a Blue Oyster Cult tribute band, we'd get in easier. I'm telling you it's too much explaining, well, blah blah, blah. Then once we play all of a sudden, "Oh hey yeah. Let's have Blue Coupe back."
And we're doing everything ourselves. We don't have a roadie. We don't have a booking agent. We're doing everything ourselves. But the three of us are so productive; we don't have a slacker in the band. I do things and Joe does things and Albert does things and between the three of us, we keep the ball rolling pretty good and we get offers. Especially from places where we've already played. We keep getting offers back.
We could just go to France and Canada from now on I think. (laughs) They love us in France. They think we're geniuses. (laughs) Must be some kind of a translation thing (laughs) that's in our favor.
But we love to play. So as far as the future of the band, it really is a Million Miles More. That is symbolic. We've been a million miles…I swear if you add up all of the miles, say if the three of us go to a town an hour away, I count it as three hours because each of us traveled for an hour or each of us traveled 60 miles. So I add it up like that. But if you add it up like that, we really have been over a million miles this year. (laughs) Think of how many miles we've been in our career.
But we plan to do more. We love it. I don't care if we play Lincoln Centre, we love it. We play some tiny club in some town and people show up and can't believe that we're playing there, we love it. We just love getting up and playing. So building the name and getting to the point where we can play theatres and sell them out, that's our goal right now. And making a better record…our next record is going to be better, you know (laughs)
antiMusic: It's hard to imagine.
Dennis:It's going to be better. (laughs) We already have songs.
antiMusic: Well that's true, you said you had what…30 or 35 for the last record so…
Dennis:I mean even NEW songs that we've written. (laughs)
antiMusic: Oh my god.
Dennis:(laughs) I know. I bet I have at least 200 songs that aren't recorded yet but which is more fun to go back and the one you wrote 10 years ago or to write a new one? Well the new one is always the most fun.
antiMusic: Yeah, right. Well then talking about touring, there's always Eastern, Ontario Dennis…
Dennis:Hey we've been working on that for a long time. We've also been working on Montreal. We've finally we found a club in Toronto. I mean Toronto was a hard nut to crack. And you wouldn't think so, like I told you Varsity Stadium, the Alice Cooper band sold that out, 24 thousand people. It was the most they'd ever had. For some reason the Toronto club owners just aren't getting it yet. Except the Rockpile up there. We love that club and we had a great show up there a couple of weeks ago.
Actually Alice almost showed up. He was in town and it came really, really close to happening, but then it didn't. But we had just a great show. Every time we play there --- it think this was the third time we played there, we draw more people. So that's what we're doing right now. We're building our name.
Morley and antiMusic thank Dennis for taking the time to speak with us.
Preview the songs from the album and purchase it here.
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