Paul Leary: “My 1978 Les Paul Custom was so heavy I had to go to massage therapy every week just to loosen the knots in my back!
It’s been nearly four decades since the Texas Butthole Surfers first turned alternative rock by ear with their relentlessly bizarre brand of confrontational punk art.
Combining the distorted yelps, screams and exhortations of singer Gibby Haynes and the angular and utterly original guitar work of Paul Leary, this was not music created for the faint of heart and it seemed destined to stay on the fringes. of popular culture.
But with the arrival of the alternative rock revolution of the early ’90s led by bands like Janes Addiction and Nirvana, the Butthole Surfers eventually secured a recording deal with Capitol and, more unlikely, achieved true success. general public in 1996. with the hypnotic track, Pepper.
As his band infiltrated mainstream audiences, Leary also became a sought-after producer, overseeing the recording of gold and, yes, multi-platinum albums by artists like Meat Puppets and Sublime.
The success, it seems, has not made the artistic vision of the guitarist less unconventional. His twisted wit, penchant for crass humor, and his almost supernatural ability to make a listener squirm are all clearly shown on his latest solo album, Born stupid, a collection of weird and twisted songs that once again crept into the Billboard graphics.
This is your first solo album in three decades. Why such a big gap between the outputs?
“I had some pretty scathing reviews for my last solo record, History of dogs, which came out years ago, so I kind of kept a low profile on that front for a while. Born stupid actually it started off as a new butthole surfers album and then it didn’t really work out so i had all these song ideas and decided to finish them myself just to get them out of my head .
What is the meaning of the album title? Are you talking about yourself or someone else?
“Well, Born stupid was just resonating with me because I always felt that way. I’m not really stupid, but somehow I am really stupid.
“Growing up, I came from a middle class family and had good parents, but I went to this rich church where everyone had money, and everyone belonged to a country club… and not us. So, I have always had this desire to be part of this rich team.
To my ears, it’s not really a rock record. Some songs almost sound like the music you would hear at a carnival or a circus.
“I am an old man. Rock is a young man’s game. I tried to make all these rock riffs like I did back then and felt really stupid doing it. It was like, ‘Wait a minute, do we really wanna see my old man rock me?’ Unless it’s the Rolling Stones or ZZ Top, I know I don’t want to see it.
What are the main guitars you used on the record?
“I have a white Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt 1964 Stratocaster made by John Cruz that was given to me by my friend Kaleo Wassman of the Pepper band. This is the most wonderful Strat I have ever had my hands on. It has quiet mics, so it’s really quiet, and it sounds right, but it’s not harsh like some Strats.
“I also have a few Danelectro guitars, including a life-size 4021 double cutaway with the bat head. This thing is so much fun to play! And then I have one of these old small scale Sears Silvertone Danelectros, and it’s so cheap and homemade and it just has the sound.
What about amps and pedals?
“On this record, I used two amps. A new Magnatone Twilighter and Fender Twin ‘Drip Edge’ from the late 1960s with factory installed JBL speakers. I wish he didn’t weigh 5,000 pounds because it’s really hard to lug around. But if I leave it in the same place, then I’m fine!
“Regarding the pedals, I used an old Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer. All the paint has been removed and it looks like hell, but none of the moderns really sound like that. And then I also have one of those Soviet-built 90s green Big Muff pedals.
“John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, who produced the album Butthole Surfers Independent worm lounge, gave me this pedal to play on his solo record Zooma.
“And this is one of those pedals that I’ve probably owned 10 of and they don’t all sound the same. Finally, I have an old orange and blue Super Fuzz pedal from the 60s that I have had since the early 80s.
“Gibby Haynes, the singer of the Butthole Surfers, and I ran into a pawnshop or something, and we bought him with the band’s funds and took him to practice and we got together. and then after practice there was almost a big fight over who should bring him home!
If you had to choose the guitars that marked your time with Butthole Surfers, what would they be?
“When the band started, I played a horrible black Gibson Sonex resin body guitar. But it was super cheap, and it worked. Then one night I dreamed of a white Stratocaster and I knew where to find it in the dream.
“So I woke up in the morning and drove from San Antonio to Austin, to Ray Hennig’s Heart of Texas, and bought this white Stratocaster that was the sound of Butthole Surfers for two or three albums. . It’s on the first videos and all that. I never really liked it so much, until I listened to it later, after losing it in a pawnshop.
“After that I bought a 1978 Les Paul Custom, which was a tobacco explosion, and the finish had turned into a chewing gum. It was disgusting to the touch, so I had Mark Erlewine [of Erlewine Guitars] do it again.
“I chose a Pantone Green Pea Soup color that I liked, and it did a terrific job of making it look like it came from the factory like that. So that was my main pressure for many years. For a while I had to go to massage therapy every week just to loosen the knots in my back because it was so heavy.
One of the songs on Born stupid, Gary Floyd revisited is a complete reinvention of the rave-up Gary Floyd from the 1984 Butthole Surfers album, Psychic… Helpless… Another man’s bag. Why did you decide to revisit this song?
“I ride my bike every morning and my head plays music like a jukebox all the time. I just started to think about those lyrics, going with the dumbest kind of Muzak type elevator music.
“In the ’60s they were doing this kind of music where they had a choir doing backing vocals, so I also tried to integrate and imitate that as best I could. I almost didn’t put it on the album, cause I thought maybe it was right too much stupid, and no one would understand!
You’ve produced some very successful records for bands like Meat Puppets and Sublime. As a guitarist yourself, do you prefer to record the guitars over the rest of the process?
“Guitars are no more fun than anything else. For a long time, I tried to bring my guitar amps and my guitars, and let the guys choose from that, but more often than not they were following what they were used to and what their sound was.
“I had to record the Edge once for a remix of the song Elevation that was used in a Grave robber soundtrack. And I was working for producer Chris Vrenna who played drums for Nine Inch Nails and U2 wanted to play the roles themselves and since they were on tour they flew to Los Angeles on their 707s.
“It was great fun watching Edge work because he had three or four guys helping him set up his stuff in the middle of this giant editing room in Trident Studios.
“The Edge comes out and they tie the guitar around his neck, and the four guys are standing around him like a band. And then a take and boom, it was done. compliment.
“After two days Chris Vrenna said to the band, ‘Hey, did you know Paul Leary is doing this engineering?’ And Edge turns to me and says, ‘Oh, you’re the Jackofficers guitarist.’ It really blew me away, as not many people knew I played guitar in this band, which was a Gibby Haynes side project, for a while. I guess he’s a big fan!
What’s the next step for you?
“I’m already starting to work on another solo album. I also have another group called the Cocky Bitches. We released an album a few years ago on a little label called Slope, Arizona. I was proud of it, so we’re making another one. I hope to have something by the end of the year.
- Paul Leary’s new solo album Born stupid is now available via Shimmy-Disc.