Monday, March 18, 2013

Interview - William Hay(The Painted Ship)

"To me, rock n roll should be the sound of leather boots slapping against broken pavement. It should reflect the bold pulse and hot sweat that you find high on the inside of a woman's thigh"


If you're reading this piece or even this blog, you might be aware of the term 60's punk. If not, here's a very brief introduction for this short-lived style practiced in the period from 1965-1967(Some would say 1965-1966 or even only 1966). To put it in terms known to most, The 13th Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me, Them's(With Van Morrison on vocals) "Gloria" or The Kinks "You Really Got Me" are prime examples on this aggressive approach. Notably by the snearing vocals and the primitive, hard thrust on the guitar, sometimes there is also a pumping organ. This style was mainly(but not only) an American phenomena as the result of the British invasion, led by the Beatles and the Stones caused kids all over the continent to pick up instruments and start practicing wherever they could.. some times in their parents garages(hence the expression "garage rock"). The result was a very minimalistic sound, witch would get a close relative later in the mid 70's when the term punk got the worlds attention.

Probably the first band that triggered my interest regarding this aggressive sound was the Canadian band The Painted Ship, located in Vancouver. They were one of the finest groups in the 60's punk genre, but would also have a touch of psychedelic(most evidently in the strange "Audience Reflections") rock, helped much by the hypnotic organ. Bands don't get much better than this no matter era or style. You might not agree with that of course, but then again maybe music is not something for you.

The Painted Ship had a captain, and his name was William Hay.


"The Painted Ship":

Frustration / Little White Lies(1966)
London M 17351(Canada) / Mercury 72662(USA) / Mercury
MF 988(UK)

Audience Reflections / And She Said Yes(1966)
London M 17354(Canada)

With "The Worst":
You've Been Laughing(Demo)

The Painted Ship's first lineup(Frustration/Little White Lies)
From left to right: Ken Wain(keyboards), Rob Rowden(guitar), William Hay(vocals), Barry Rowden(drums)

Anders: In your home before you started in a band, what was played on the stereo on a typical evening? Did you hear music that would come to influence you in any way?

William: I listened almost exclusively to the Northwest sound. The Wailers. The Sonics. Paul Revere and the Raiders etc. I had an intense aversion to the commercial crap that dribbled out of the radio. As I've stated before: "To me, rock n roll should be the sound of leather boots slapping against broken pavement. It should reflect the bold pulse and hot sweat that you find high on the inside of a woman's thigh". This is rock n roll.

But, the stuff I heard on the radio was the exact opposite. Sweet. With inane, idiotic lyrics that didn't even come close to reflecting life as I saw it unfolding around me.
baby , baby
yes, it's love
you are my turtledove

My house was also filled with an entirely different kind of music. I played in a youth orchestra for 6 years. We played classical and semi-classical music. I played trumpet and clarinet. (I actually made it all the way to first, solo trumpet--the result of hard work not talent)

A: We hear a lot of the British invasion's influence on USA(by basically sending back their own music), changing the way new American bands would sound. Did you feel the invasion set the standards for how Canadian bands were supposed to sound too?

W: Yes, almost without exception, the playlists of local bands were composed of covers of the British bands. Not us. We did do some covers, I always enjoy covering songs that I really like.. but from the start, I insisted that at least half of our songs had to be original material. At the time, I was told by local musicians that this was stupid and self-defeating.

"I warned him that this band would be original, unlike anything he'd been in before"

A: You were called The Wee Beasties in the beginning. Can you tell me  how you got started?

W: I was attending the University of British Columbia. Puffed up with the bravado of a young university student I thought that I was writing poetry. Don't know why, but one day I had the thought that maybe I should combine the lyrics that I was writing with the music ideas that I had in my head. It was a bleak day in the library. No pretty women to pester so I somehow met Rob. He was playing guitar in a commercial R&B band. We talked and I told him of my plan to start a band and call it the Wee Beasties. (Anton Van Leeuwenhoek is credited with discovering- perfecting the first microscope. He called the creatures that he found with this new instrument: Wee Beasties)

Rob, said that he was interested in trying something new. I warned him that this band would be original, unlike anything he'd been in before, but he said that it would be fun to give it a try. This collaboration is a mistake. Let me be absolutely clear here. Rob and his brother Barry (R.I.P.) were VERY good musicians. Not good: very good. But not at all into the sounds that I wanted to do. I'm not placing any blame on anyone. Just saying that this was the wrong mix of people. A friend of mine(a musician) tried to warn me but I didn't pay attention. You were right Eduardo! Like many marriages in our situation, we soon break up over irreconcilable differences and I would recruit new musicians.

A: Why did you start playing in a band? Girls? Fame? Ideology?

W: Fame? Never. I think that fame in the entertainment industry is bullshit. To me it means that you settled for playing commercial bullshit; that you never attempted anything truly original and challenging. Besides, who needs it? 

A: How was the scene in Vancouver? Did local rock outfits like yourselves get support from the local radio stations?

W: You either played covers of the British bands or you played commercial R&B. Or you didn't play. Local musicians ridiculed us(well, me really) for my insistence on playing original "weirdo music". There was nowhere for us to play until the alternative San Francisco sound swept northward. Of course, we were never part of the "San Francisco hippie sound", but... suddenly people were willing to listen to stuff outside of the top 40 pablum. A few alternative clubs opened where we could play. And.. something else happened. Something important. FM radio was born with the mandate to play alternative music. Woooohoooo! We could now reach ears live and through the radio.

A: What kind of gigs did you get in the beginning?

W: As stated above, we were restricted to a few alternative clubs: The Afterthought, Retinal Circus. Other local bands played tv dance shows but we were never invited. Our manager was told that we could appear only if we played an acceptable cover song and if I promised to behave myself. I told them to "pump sand up their asses". I only mention this because I do get emails asking me why there are videos of other local bands but nothing of us.


A: Who was managing you back then?

W: Doug Hawthorne(R.I.P.), was the first manager of the band. He also had his own Transeuphoric Express light-show.

A: Was this light-show ever applied to Painted Ship gigs?

W: Yes, Doug would sometimes do a light-show at one of our gigs but not at all of them. The Transeuphoric Express was a separate entity and often illuminated other bands.

A: Coming from British Columbia you were closely located to Seattle and Tacoma, with their Northwest sound influenced by songs like "Louie Louie". Was The Painted Ship influenced by this movement in any way? Did you exchange ideas or come over and play at each others towns?

W: Our music was not influenced by my love for The Wailers and The Sonics but these bands did influence me in a profound way. They showed me that is was ok to do what you wanted. That there were people out there that were willing to listen to something other than top 40 crap. Yes, we played Seattle several times. Including some really fun gigs at the
University of Washington.

A: How would a typical evening on a Painted Ship gig turn out? Did you have any special antics?

W: I would like to take this opportunity to offer a sincere apology to everyone who attended one of our gigs. There is no excuse for my behavior. I understand this. You might find that a session or two of counseling would be helpful. A little mental tune-up. Sorry. As time passes I hope that you'll find it in your hearts to forgive me.

"It did often feel like we were like: a painted ship upon a painted ocean"

A: Did the name The Painted Ship come from the poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”?
“Day after day, day after day
we stuck, nor breath nor motion
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean”.

W: Well done, Anders. Yes, the band name must have come from the poem. Thank you, Sam. As I've stated earlier, I was reading and writing a lot of poetry (still am for that matter). I didn't consciously pluck the name from the poem; it just came to me one day. When it did I immediately realized just how appropriate it would be. It was going to be a struggle. I knew that "the suits" who ran the music business would pressure us to regurgitate some kind of commercial crap because it would be easier to sell. The name was a prophetic choice. It did often feel like we were like: a painted ship upon a painted ocean.

A: Both Painted Ship singles were released in Canada on London Records. Did they know how to handle an unconventional band like The Painted Ship?

W: London had a Vancouver office. That's why we chose it. At the time I thought: "we're doing something original, different, they'll love us". Looking back I realize just how naive I was. To put it succinctly: they didn't "handle us". We were told that they didn't understand our music and they didn't think that it would be all that commercial so they weren't going to put any money into promoting us. They told us that they'd put the songs out and see what happened. Which is exactly what they did. No more; no less. Still, credit goes to the Canadian division of London Records. They did release our second single. London-Mercury refused to do so in the U.S.A. or Europe. They complained that the songs were:" far too weird and way too primitive". It was suggested that I take a rest from performing-touring. Rest and relax. And, seriously rethink the musical direction of the band.

"I had just finished my Tantra training and initiation when I wrote "And She Said Yes". Was this a coincidence? Or was this song an exuberant celebration of my new found understanding of the exciting possibilities within the male-female dynamic?" 

A: You've told me before that you are and was into meditation. Could you tell me more about that? Did meditating in any way help or influence you in songwriting?

W: I've always been an esoteric boy. It's just part of who I am. I studied Jungian psychology at university and I've been involved in several closed-door esoteric societies for years. Meditation is nothing weird or exotic. It's just a tool that people everywhere on the planet have used throughout time. You definitely don't have to pay big dollars to have someone special give you the secret word. Just google meditation and you'll find lots of free and useful information. Some folks like "The Relaxation Response" as an easy introduction to the subject. Just be cautious. There are many frauds and fools in the "spiritual business", and it's easy to get lost when you're walking unfamiliar paths.

It's hard to define exactly... but I'm certain that my esoteric training influences my writing. For example, I had just finished my Tantra training and initiation when I wrote "And She Said Yes". Was this a coincidence? Or was this song an exuberant celebration of my new found understanding of the exciting possibilities within the male-female dynamic? "Frustration" is a song that examines the necessary tug-of-war between individuation and enculturation. My study of Jungian archetypes
must have contributed something to this tune.

Certain types of esoteric studies are ingested and become part of one's psyche. In the same way as the foods we eat are incorporated and reflected in our bodies.
-------Put those potato chips down, Anders!

A: Did you have any particular favorites in poetry of those into esotericism, like for instance W.B. Yeats? Were you ever into/interested in the esoteric philosophy of organizations like the Golden Dawn?

W: William Butler Yeats... Yes, I read-studied his work. Especially, his attempts at a new understanding of Celtic spirituality. I'm also fond of the paintings and poetry of William Blake. I suppose I spend most of my time reading the works of the ancient Celtic bards and the Norse Eddas. This can be very rewarding for those who understand the deliberately disguised esoteric information.

I'm aware of the Golden Dawn(the infamous esoteric group --not the current political movement). I've known people who've walked that path but it has never resonated with me.

"They told me that I should be delighted. I wasn't delighted"

A: Can you tell me anything about the time when the first single Frustration/Little White Lies came out?

W: The nonsense that surrounded the release of our first single illustrates perfectly the serious problems that existed within the band. When I brought the basic ideas for Frustration and Little White Lies to the guys to work on I made it clear that Frustration would be the a-side. All agreed.

But, there is a problem. The other guys in the band do not like the song. Not one of them has anything good to say about it: "Too weird. Too strange. Not commercial enough". I find it more than a little amusing to read their recent comments on the song. Seems like they love it now. Oh, Yeah.

But back then things were very different. Without telling me the other guys in the band tell our manager to have London/Mercury put Little White Lies on the a-side of our first single. I know nothing about this until I'm driving in my car and I hear the dj announce: "a new song from a new band, The Painted Ship". And then he plays Little White Lies.

I'm pissed. This is a huge betrayal. That little voice spoke to me: "don't get mad;get even". Without telling the other guys I phoned the dj's and asked them to please stop playing Lies and play Frustration instead.

The dj's tried to talk me out of it because Lies was placing in some of the top 40 charts. They told me that I should be delighted. I wasn't delighted. Piss on the top 40 charts(have you noticed that I piss a lot? strong kidneys!). I was persistent with my demand and the dj's finally agreed to play Frustration instead of Lies. To the surprise of many, Frustration found supportive ears.

But the damage had been done. The first guitar player and drummer are replaced.

A: Do any tapes or acetates of unreleased PS material still exist?

W: Not to my knowledge. An albums worth of original songs was recorded for the London office of Polydor. The Who came to one of our gigs. We talked after the show and John Alec Entwistle gave me the name of an English producer that he thought would like to work with the stuff we were doing. The producer and I talked, and I sent him a rough tape with some of our songs. He liked what he heard and agreed to pay for an albums worth of tunes. We were getting ready to release an album out of England when the London producer got a directive from Polydor headquarters telling him that all North American acts must be handled out of a North American office.

The producer phoned me and we talked it over. He told me that if I came to England without the band that he'd set me up with some very good musicians and we would record. It was a fabulous offer but I couldn't just desert the other guys in the band so I declined. The producer was disappointed but he told me that he understood and that he'd send the master to the head office in Chicago. Somehow, somewhere the master disappears. Forever. The music is gone.

This was a horrible setback but we rallied with a plan. We'd record a live show. Sometimes magic is in the air. Who knows why? Maybe the stars are aligned. Maybe the women are especially playful. That show was one of those nights. It was lunacy at its finest. A full, all out assault on sanity. We took the audience to Pluto and back. And... we had it on tape!

The Fates can be cruel.
The girlfriend of one of the guys was moving the day after the gig. They borrowed the van and while they were busy moving stuff in and out of apartments some asshole stole her stereo system, her albums and ... our tape.

The Fates can be cruel.
John Entwistle(left), Keith Moon(at the drums), William Hay(with the hat). A cover of Satisfaction was played at the time of the picture. (Taken from the PS myspace page)

A: There is a picture of a Painted Ship button posted on the Painted Ship facebook page saying "The Painted Ship sails" which I find interesting. Having a button for the band was very common for 70's punk bands, but was it that common for bands not called The Monkees in the 60's? Also.. (coughs) do you still have some of these left?

W: We had buttons, buster! Some of the Vancouver and San Francisco bands had buttons. We had thousands made and gave them away at our shows. A few years ago I found a bag of about 20 of them in the attic of my parents house. They were in a suitcase along with some other stuff that I'd long forgotten. They all had the same defect; a scratch on one side. Perhaps that's why I'd kept them. Sorry, I gave them all away but, if I find more you will get one. 

A: When/why did The Painted Ship get dissolved?

W: I docked the Painted Ship in 1973. I'd just grown weary of the constant battle to do our music the way that we wanted it done. But, the wobbly Ship was docked not scuttled. She is still seaworthy. I have written more songs and I have received some very kind and generous offers from musicians who'd like to do some recording. 
We'll see. 
Perhaps the call of the Sirens will lure Captain Will back to the sea.

A: You recorded a song, "You've Been Laughing" with The Worst. Can you tell me more about this?

W: I met Greg Johnson(R.I.P.) the singer/writer for the Vancouver bands The Worst and The Fiends at a Plan 9 show. We got to know one another over the following months and he tells me that The Worst is planning to do some recordings. Greg wants to cover a Painted Ship song, but he wants one that he hasn't heard. I gave him a couple of choices and he liked You've Been Laughing the best. I sang some backup vocals with them and did a fun take on the song. If anyone's interested you can find it in a few places including SoundCloud. I liked The Worst. Good people and talented musicians. 

A: Thanks a lot for your insight and taking your time for this interview William. Any last words you would like to share? For instance to the kids influenced by 60's bands like The Painted Ship?

W: It's been my pleasure, Anders. Thank you for your interest and support. Advice for musicians drawn to playing garage-punk and psyche? Just this: be brutally honest with yourselves. Understand that you're doing this for the love of the sound. You will receive little, if any, help from those who run the music BUSINESS. I promise, it will be a humongous struggle. Last words? Garage-punk and psyche forever! hell, yeah.

1 comment:

Reno said...

Painted Ship still inspires the youth of earth!

Notice the Painted Ship citation under influences.

I want a PS button!!