THIS IS JUST TOO MUCH. I KNOW “MAKE A WISH FOUNDATION” IS HIDING SOMEWHERE. JOHN POPPER HAS ALWAZE BEEN SUCH A HERO FIGURE FOR ME. HIS WORDS AND HIS MUSIC HAVE MOVED ME MANY TIMES. AND NOW, WE PHILOSOPHIZE IN UNISON. IT’S JUST CRAZY, ALMOST AS CRAZY AS GOING OUT AND GETTING TATTOOS. BUT WE ALREADY DID THAT. JUST ASK HIM TO SHOW YOU HIS.
IT IS A DREAM COME TRUE TO HAVE JOHN PLAY A 1ST THURSDAZE GIG. AND I WILL BE SPARKLING LONG AFTER THE FACT. I AM PROUD OF THE FACT THAT WE HAVE BECOME FRIENDS AND ALLIES. THIS WILL NOT BE THE LAST TIME WE TALK WITH MR POPPER. HE WAS IN TOWN, RECORDING THE NEW BT ALBUM. IT WAS AUSTIN GROWN. HERE IS AN EXCERPT FROM OUR CONVERSATION:
int by R&W
trans by W and Sandy
AUSTIN DAZE: – Please tell us about the new album.
JP: It’s amazing. We are considering doing it here or in California. We’ll see. We’re not even sure which producer we’re getting yet. It’s down to three and we’re just writing like madmen right now. We’ve got about fifteen in the can. We want to keep it a rougher album. We want it to be more towards our core audience. To stretch out a little more because it’s the mood we’re in. It’s more of a love song vibe. Basically we’re doing a really rough rocking kind of album and then there’s some sexy crap thrown in there as well. At the last minute I got sappy. Like the normal Honeysuckle contribution to the repertoire. I think our drummer writes a lot more rock songs than I do.
AD: You write all the songs for the album?
JP: So far I’ve written all the words. The guys have all pretty much been even on the contributions so far. I think I’ve got the most songwriting experience, but Chan has written about half the music. But Ben and Thad are really chalking it up because they’re working hard. They should, they’re the new guys. They should be putting their stamp on this band as hard as they can now. And I really feel like they are. What’s cool is that we really keep growing as a band every album. Their first album Bobby just died so there was a real … they had to show that this was a different band. It was Thad and Ben’s first album. They had a lot to prove, but they certainly aren’t satisified. The second album they thought was an improvement, and we definitely congealed as a band. I think this album I’m sensing Thad is really getting enthusiastic. It’s about the dreams getting entangled. Now I’m not the emperor of the band. I don’t have to worry about every aspect. Ben can sense something and I want to follow that instinct as long as it’s good and the songs are really amazing. I really think we’re growing as songwriters.
AD: When I was in High School I use to get your Newsletters. I really like the the grilled cheese sandwich recipes.;
JP: Yes, we would take the time to write them and now everyone has kids and we’re so busy all the time but we would write every mailer and it was like bi monthly. That means twice a month we would be writing a letter to everyone. I vowed at one point and I put it in my mailer that I would call everyone back who mails me their phone number. I have stacks from this day unopened from 1996, because it got so overwhelming. Eventually I had to retract that statement. We needed to let part of that go as the band grew. It is great to see that your paper has grown and is thriving.
AD: We put our heart into what we create with the paper each and every time that we like to see where every paper is going.
JP: I can relate to that, but let me ask you this highlander, as Sean Connery teaching (what’s his name) to sword fight (IN THE MOVIE HILANDER)
Do you love it so much that you’re prepared to forget about it? There’s a weird irony there. You have to love it so much that you let it go. Let it do what it’s going to happen.I had the same relationship with the band. I almost like to love something that much and I almost killed all of us. And it was very bad for me. The thing that I care about it was the art of it, sucked me in as well. And it was about me being so good at controlling it, that I controlled it too much. And I had to step back. It was good because it was healthy for me. I felt better, but it was also better for the work and that is the thing I’ve learned in my old age. Not walking down and fucking them all, you’ve heard the c.. from the bull story, right? “Let’s run down there and fuck one of those heifers. And the bull says no son let’s walk down there and fuck them all.” It’s kinda true it’s the confidence the patience the faith that you know it will work out because you know that it is real, you’re not just manufacturing out of your head, you’ve already done that and see that’s a fun time. When you know it’s all you and there’s a lot of power in that. A lot of control .Cause you know exactly what’s going on. But there comes a point where you just gotta let it take hold.
AD: There’s always a lot of fear in letting go, almost to the point that if I do let go then it won’t get done.
JP: That’s a real fear, and the cool thing is….it’s weird that I call it “The cooling” is because it’s kind of true. It does need you to live. That’s the thing when you gotta go you’re not sitting back going AAAAAHHH now I don’t have to worry about it. You got to worry about larger things and you’re trying to keep the ball sort of going. It’s just vaguer. You still have control, but you’re still trying to control it. You have to deal with this sort of…. It’s a mild frustration you have to get use to. Where it’s not always going to go your way, it’s going to go less your way, but still the inertia you have by & large this is your way because it is your paper getting bigger and bigger and you want to continue to get bigger. You want your dreams to entangle into your dreams. It’s not just your motivation, it’s their motivation. I think any business is like that, and my band is a business too. Yes, it was us that had all the posters and t-shirts first before anyone else, us who made sure that we mailed the mailer, We did a lot of it by hand and Gina was there, flyering at all the shows.
AD : What do you think about Austin?
JP: I think Austin is going down the road of New Orleans, Which I kind of think down the road it’s going to. I’m a little scared for that. Ultimately Austin won’t be that big of a city and it’s not a port.
AD: Yeah, things are changing a lot.
JP: SXSW, it’s not the cause but it’s the flag. We’re worried about making our record down here during SXSW because I go outside and it’s like Disney Land and I’m wearing a Mickey Mouse Suit, pictures immediately “hey it’s one of those musicians we came here to see, Wait, where’s my camera”. I feel like a grizzly bear in yellow stone park you’re being sighted. It’s different now because I can go in a bar and they understand what your there to do. There’s a certain espirit de corps just around the whole town everybody likes musicians and it’s not like they’re big foot. Not like during SXSW, people are coming here to see musicians.
AD: One of the great things about Austin is you can go out and see all these famous people and really the people from Austin are so used to it that everybody is treated the same.
JP: There’s a certain spirit from that, everybody is a little crazy and I think everybody sort of gets that down here you know as long as you’re not doing something really terrible , people don’t mess with you. What I love about Austin is South Austin. It’s strange to me and I’m fascinated by it, it’s got a really funky flavor.
AD: What’s your favorite thing about Austin?
JP: Right now, the girls, there’s a lot of beautiful, interesting women. The music, there’s this real sense of when you walk into a place and when someone is playing you can play with them and it’s not that big a deal, the band will really give you a tune to play. The weather is warm. Austin is different than any other city in Texas, I can tell you that much. Its like New Orleans as it is to Louisiana. It’s where the cool people congeal.
AD: One of the things we talk with musicians about is health care for musicians. How musicians don’t get health care. What do you think?
JP: There’s only one thing I trust less than the government and that is my music union. I grew up believeing in my heart that they were never going to take care of us. Everything you do they get 3 % dues, even now I get bills from them . Every time, and what do they really provide? When I’m 65 I think I get some shoes, shoes from a musicians program. I always believed, cause I knew I was going to have a wild west job where there’s not any rules, I knew I would have to take care of my own ass. And what we as a band have done is we cover each others medical bills. I have formed my own band’s union. The band is really communist when it comes to that. Up until recently, we were splitting the publishing that way. It’s really a collective. Somebody told me something really smart one time, He said, “Whenever you get a collective, one guy always ends up doing all the work.” I love doing the work, but again it wasn’t as good for the art of it. I started monopolizing the work, because I was the emperor my decisions were not questioned and my decisions were not well thought out, only thought of by me, because I knew how to get around everybody. I became too good at it. That’s the problem with ego.
When you’re too good at it, you wind up running out of room. And something had to give. I mean Bobby and I were ready to die any day. I think he was right there with me. Let’s go for it, more and more. He loved the fact that I was working because he loved to party. I should have partied more, he should have worked more. That’s not to say that he didn’t work. And I sort of partied in my work. It’s a way to hide.
I still use the tattoo that I got when I was with you last time. Every morning I get up and I look at my tattoo that’s written backwards that says, “I will be brave.” If I can remember to be brave, my day works out. That’s the key. Trying to find things that just don’t feel comfortable but that are good. And that’s using your brain. And I don’t know why people forget to make decisions in their personal lives. I guess you figure that someone will take care of it for you. And the truth is that you have to have a hand in it in some conceptual level and figure out what you are doing. I really believe that the only people that are going to take care of my band members are us. No music will, no medicare will. We pay the social security because we fucking have to. We went and got ourselves a corporate IRA.
AD: Austin claims to be the live music capital of the world. And the way I see it is that everybody is making money off it. I’m thinking that fact is valid, our city should make affordable health care.
JP: Your city should make affordable health care anyway for everyone below wage. But because they’re musicians? You become a pirate, you cannot expect the British Crown to pay your medical. You have to bring your own doctor. And I’m not even suggesting that I have the solution because I think it’s the way things are for a reason. There’s this huge level of equalizer. Well, here’s the health care that the majority of us can deal with and fuck everybody else. That’s kind of how it always has been. The majority, if enough people are satisified that there isn’t rioting in the street, that’s generally what we get away with. And I think if you’re going to take a weird job, you should expect no support from anyone. The National Endowment for the Arts is a good idea for classical music, but you can’t possibly pay them enough to keep a symphony going. It’s too important of a legacy. But if you want to ask me what makes Charlie Parker play well, it was his need for money to get heroin. He wanted to sound good and that’s what drove. Like that’s what he knew how to do, that’s what he had a knack for. He lived it and that’s what came out of his horn. And there’s something about that desire to feed yourself, the survival instinct of it all. I’ve got two ways home. I’m going to make it or I’m going to die making it. And that makes your music.
I was talking to some reporter in Holland and he was talking about how great their health care system was. Actually their social security afforded everyone a nice apartment, a really nice and a pretty substantial pay check. He said that’s why all their bands suck, because they have no reason to try. Because they can kick it in their house and get stoned now. If you were to build that, you have to work your butt off and that fuels you when you’re tired and you’re starving and you’ve got to work and you don’t want to work. And by starving, I don’t think that none of us starve. I’m talking about the western concept of starving. Which means you don’t have very much. It throws you back into what the hell else are you going to do. Well, you’ve got no choice. And that is sometimes the most important ingredient that will force you to be brave. If you can be brave without it, then God bless you. Sooner or later, that kind of courage comes out of necessity. I’m not saying that people need to suffer. I think people will. And that component has been adapted by people to use.
AD: And you turn that suffering into creation?
JP: That’s the great deal about suffering, suffering is loyal to things that will always be there. It’s the human component to make it into something good. I will never put my faith in a government or a union. It’s not because they’re not trying, it’s because they are incompetent. We as a system executor tend to be incompenent. Human beings can design the most perfect car engine, but because of quantum physics, we will never make one that runs any more efficiently then they do now, which is about 60% efficiency. A bicyle is about 98 percent. You just can’t get that 2 percent. You can design it in theory, but you deal with gravity and uneven terrain and the load and the wind blowing this way or that way …
AD: Now that you have made it as a musician, and you have for a long time, is it like better on top or is it a case of greener grass?
JP: My grass seems pretty green. I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. First of all, I wish my personal life was a little more sorted out. That’s kind of what this decade has been about for me. Well, at least getting into that. My twenties were more about my career. I would say that what I do is just different. There’s good things about being famous and bad things about being famous. It’s just an adjustment. I will always refer to myself as fringe because I live on the fringe of society. And there, I admit it, I pay my taxes. But also it’s hard to find a place to be sometimes. That’s why I love Austin so much. . I used to live in Quaker Town, PA. Going out was kind of weird and it was an adventure. Like going to the movies you could be very assaulted or no one would mess with you. And that’s the thing about fame. As soon as you think that everyone knows who you are, no one does. You can literally get a patch where no one could give a crap who you are. And then you get used to that. And as soon as you think that’s the case, it can get really crazy. Sometimes it has to do with when your tour is out or where you are. The thing you learn to do early, especially if you’ve got friends, is not to put stock in it. It’s like the government. It’s very unsteady and so you’ve got to be ready for both, so I kind of go into a situation, I feel it out, I see how it is. I always like to people watch anyway and it’s kind of hard to do that. For me, what’s cool is actually going out and meeting people on a personal level. I learned to deal with crowds early on.
Meeting them at a gig, I have the best opening line there is. That’s the problem, too. Your best foot has already been forwarded and from there on, it’s all down hill. You’ve heard me rhyme and I’ve said something poignant, and so you do what you can. And so does everybody else. And you realize that about people, that they’re scratching themselves, too. And that’s a very human thing. And I think that’s very attractive. So I’m learning about that stuff, but as far as getting treated well, I get treated very well and I’m very grateful for that. I just came from Turkey, we were on an Airforce Reserve Tour, with soldiers and I can’t tell you how many people deserve to be treated better than me. I really thought my job was silly. And I think a lot of my job is silly. The attention that’s made over it. I love playing music. Music matters to people. It’s a little intangible so I think I get a lot of attention because of that. But what I found is cool is that I get to talk to a marine and he’s a fan and I’m telling him I’m proud of him and that matters so much to him. I’ll never really get to understand why that matters so much to them. It gives me something useful to do. So then using fame actually holds a little more weight. That’s something to be whipped out and used for something. I think for a long time for me it was a great way for me to hide. I was very big on hiding. I fought a lot of bullies when I was little. I was a bully magnet. I think I learned how to handle groups of people by entertaining them to keep them up in front of you.
I had a wrestling class. I didn’t want to wrestle. So they made me the wrestling manager becaused they had a mandatory sports program. This place was like a prison camp. So I had to tell them jokes once a practice and the rule was I had to stand on the mats and I would tell a joke. And if they didn’t think it was funny, they could tackle me. People were never going to laugh because it was a chance to jump me. So I sort of had to tell the joke backing up. Start the joke and somehow make my stance part of the joke and I tried to make it funny because the longer they laughed, the longer I had to think about and the better chance I had to escape. I think that really is where I learned how to perform and that was quite physically frightening.
Some guy the other night was telling me he liked my work and said, “I know you hear this all the time” and I put it out to him that I know I hear this all the time, but I also know this is the first time you’ve told me and that’s the thing you’ve got to try to remember when you’re talking to people. The truth of the matter is that it’s important for them to tell you that. That’s what you should have been illiciting them to do to tell you that. When they finally get to tell you that, it does matter. So you have to deal with the fact that you’re hearing it a lot and that can cloud you and numb you. You just have to consciously remember and try to see them … the older I get, the more I want to see them as people, rather than sharks, but a throng is the easiest thing for me to deal with. “If you want peace, then live alone. If you want to hide, then find the stage. Each a brief but perfect home to accommodate your rage.” That’s from, oh shit, uh, “Look Around.” It’s been a while since we played that song. That’s the next thing. Old age ideas. I’m going to have to deal with the big problem that I have to deal with, forgetting words. I’ve been senile since I was born. I had this kid say, “Do you do all those flubbers on purpose?” I said no, I actually forget. It’s really fucked up. And he liked that. I think that made him more comfortable. That’s my work. That’s what improvisation is, trying not to fuck up. It’s basic, it’s kind of soulless, so what you’ve got to do is let it go. People tend to remember the good parts and always sort of forget the little oops. There’s plenty of those. What happens is that the mistakes become a part of the canvas in the background.
I have a unique take on it because my sound is pretty recognized at this point, so BB King is kind of a hero in that regard. He’s 86 and he’s playing because he’s BB King and no one else in the world will sound like him. He’s got a gig forever. I’m going to try to go that route. Tom Petty is someone I love because you know it’s Tom Petty when you’re driving along. It doesn’t matter how old he is. He’s Tom Petty. You know that sound. That’s a pretty unique place to occupy. Now you don’t have to play so precise, I get to play a little more emotional and that’s been an adjustment, but it’s pretty natural. I don’t have to show off my technique. Now it’s about what I’m going to say. It’s a lot funner. For me, actually, I get more into the music that way. It’s just scales, it’s math. At my best moments, I’m not thinking at all. That’s when I’m really on. The more you think, the more you work, the more you suck ass.
AD: There’s this amazing fiddle player named Warren Hood and I asked him what he thought about when he was on a solo and he said I’m not anywhere but in the solo, not thinking beyond that.
JP: Exactly. When you’re not all there, that’s when you do well.