Interview with a Drummer… and a Guitarist

Originally published May 20, 2003

 

Matt Orsman: Hello faithful readers! Matt Orsman here
with the very first FRACTURED FEMUR Interview! I am here with two of
the extremely talented members of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s band; percussionist Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz and guitarist Jim West!

Matt: Aloha Fellas, and thanks for taking time out
of your busy schedule to talk to us! First, I have to ask: How is Elvis,
and have you seen him recently?

Jim: I haven’t seen him but he’s probably a little
dusty.

Matt: It’s been four years since your last album, Running with Scissors, and three since you
last toured extensively. What do you do in the meantime?

Jim: I write music for various media-TV mostly. I
also record my own stuff, travel to Hawaii when I can and play around
in my garden.

Bermuda: Mostly relax. The tour in 2000 ran over
nearly a 9-month period, and I was very happy to be home and NOT have
to play drums all week long! I did eventually start playing and recording
again, and as always, I have some web design clients that kept me busy
each day, even if just for an hour or two. I also made some serious
progress in my archiving project, where I am converting audio tapes
of me & my bands from the past 30+ years, to CD.

Matt: You said “Bands” as in “more than one?” Who else have you worked
for?

Bermuda: Nobody quite as well-known
as Al, but some niche artists like Ray Campi, Rip Masters, Painting
Over Picasso, Bernie Pearl, and also members of The Rolling Clones.
Plus dozens of other nameless, faceless project bands in L.A.
Okay, they had names, and most of them had faces.

Matt: Jim, you recently produced an album by legendary
comedian Bill Dana. What’s “José Jimenez” really like?

Jim: Bill is a very gifted writer and entertainer.
He is in his late seventies now. He can definitely make me laugh!

Matt: You even have your own record label, Westernmost
Music. Any notables you publish?

Jim: Just my own stuff really, but I produced a CD
for Lily Wilson who is a very talented singer/songwriter.

Matt: Speaking of musicians: You all (or mostly all)
come from improvisational music backgrounds. When will we see the big
“Free Association” CD?

Jim: When Bermuda exacts his revenge by releasing
his Al rehearsal tapes.

Matt: Rehearsal tapes? Part of your “Archiving Project,”
Bermuda?

Bermuda: It includes a ton of Al rehearsals, demos,
live shows and studio outtakes. I’ve converted probably 500 cassettes
and reels so far, and have maybe 250-300 to go. It’s been really interesting
to hear some of my old work again, and of course there are some very
funny moments with Al!

Matt: You just started rehearsing for your latest
tour. Your concerts are nothing short of an extravaganza, including
extensive Multimedia presentations, and more costume changes than Cher!
In the past, you’ve even caught the audience in an inpromtu “snowstorm!”
How long does it take to plan the concert, and does it change during
the tour at all?

Bermuda: Typically, we’ll rehearse for about a week
to prepare for a new tour. That may sound like a short period when you
consider that some bands rehearse for weeks or even months. But we know
a lot of our material very well, so it’s largely just a refresher. That’s
not to say we don’t work hard during rehearsals, and for the Poodle
Hat Tour, we have a LOT of work to do, and it will take longer than
a week!

Matt: Tell me your best road story.

Jim: I have so many, it would
be hard to pick one… I do remember a certain crew member spiking
Rubén’s Phantom mask with raccoon urine…

Matt: (Laughing) Ewwww! For those of
you not up on your Al lore, Rubén Valtierra is Al’s traditionally
publicity shy keyboardist. He makes up for his anonymity by being
an intregal part of the schtick during the concerts. He’s a favorite
with the fans.

Speaking of the fans, I have some e-mail from some of your fans. Care
to answer? Here’s a question from William Sparks of Derby.
William writes “I’ve watched a number of specials where we see the
“Behind-the-Camera” view when you’re creating the Music Videos. It always
appears that the entire group is having fun. However, in normal work
days, do you still have all the fun?”

Jim: Making record and videos is fun but it can be
a painfully slow and boring process sometimes.

Bermuda: It’s certainly fun for me being onstage and
seeing a lot of the US and Canada at the same time. But we’re not always
hanging around together. Apart from being on the bus or getting ready
for the show, everyone’s got different stuff they work on or like to
do. Occasionally a few of us will catch a meal together, but we generally
don’t hang around together during the day.

Matt: Here’s another one from William, that after
hearing about Rubén’s mask, I’m kind of curious about too. “Who
would you say is the prankster in the group?”

Jim: We are all pranksters to some degree. It’s part
of the road rules.

Matt: The very prolific Mr. Sparks has another question! “On your “Running With Scissors” tour, in which town did you have
the best time? Which was the worst?”

Jim: I don’t remember the cities so much. There were
good times and bad times but I guess I’d have to look at the tour itinerary
to figure out where in the dickens we were.

Bermuda: Every city has something to offer. I usually
gauge my good times by how many cool record stores, drum shops, and
sushi restaurants are in the vicinity. I like all the big cities, but
smaller cities turned out to be great as well: Hartford, Cheyenne, Davenport,
Johnstown, Portland (Maine, ) Halifax, London and Kitchener (Ontario,
CAN.) I manage to find something fun in every city. No bad places that
I can recall. If there’s really nothing else to do, it’s a treat just
having a quiet hotel room to catch up on emails and do a little surfing.

Matt: I’m from Wichita, and August 3rd will mark the
fourth time you’ve played here (to my knowledge.) Any Impressions?

Jim: Not to dis your city but I have only vague memories
of the place. The tours are like an endless chain of concert venues
and often we don’t get to see much of the city. Probably a lot of steak
houses and feed stores?

Matt: Less of both, unfortunately, than you might
think. I’d kill for a good steak. There are more legitimate theatres
in town than steakhouses, by about a 5 to 1 margin! Do you remember
much of our fair “Doodah,” Jon?

Bermuda: I have seen very little of the city so far.
It’s one of those cities we seem to arrive in time for the show, then
leave immediately afterward. Maybe we just can’t get a good hotel rate?

Matt: We’ll getcha hooked up this time. What town
has the best hotel food?

Jim: I would say San Francisco but the best hamburger
I ever had was in a hotel in Hong Kong.

Matt: Here’s another “fan question.” “When coming
up with new songs, do each of the band members get a say in how the
wordings go or is that just up to Al?”

Jim: Lyrics are all Al but sometimes he asks for
an opinion here and there.

Bermuda: He occasionally might run an alternate line
or word by one of us if he’s not sure which is better. It doesn’t really
qualify as legit input to the writing process.

Matt: And our next “fan question” comes from Jim Weeks
of Wichita. “Have each one of you completed your goals with where
you wanted the music to go?”

Jim: You always listen back and hear things that could
be better, but after it’s done, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Except maybe overdub on every CD.

Matt: Spoken like a true engineer! How about you,
Bermuda?

Bermuda: Completed, and then some! I had decided at
age 12 that I wanted to be a professional drummer, not really having
any idea of all the facets of the music business, some of them yet-to-be-invented
(such as cable-tv music channels!) I’ve performed and recorded a lot
of music before and during my tenure with Al, but it’s definitely him
that’s allowed me to be on TV, tour and travel through North America,
and apart from initially being labeled a ‘comedy drummer’ after the
first few hits, eventually gain a lot of respect for my drumming.

Matt: Speaking of Respect, you have some orchestral
credits to your name. Want to tell us about ’em?

Bermuda: I’d played with the California Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra as a
member when I was in my teens, and as an alumnus ever since. The
group is nationally renowned, and has played some classic venues
in Los Angeles. During their Anniversary concert each year, celebrities
participate in a Battle Of The Batons, conducting the orchestra
and vying for a “golden baton” award. Al was one of the celebs
in the early 90s, and of course won! But I’m not the only orchestra
member to enjoy some success in the rock world… Flea
from Red Hot Chili Peppers was also a member around the same time
I was, playing 2nd trumpet! He’s also been back a few times as
a celebrity guest. Very strange seeing him in
a tuxedo.

Matt: From what I’ve seen of the videos, it’s
probably strange to see him wearing anything!

Matt: How did you meet up with Al?

Jim: Steve and I go way back. He met Al first and
introduced him to me when Al was looking to put a band together.

Matt: That’d be Bassist Steve Jay, right? You’ve mentioned
in other interviews that you and he were actually bandmates when he
introduced you to Al. How long have you guys known each other?

Jim: We met way way back in Florida, in the mid seventies.

Matt: You must have been, what, twelve? How do you
feel now?

Jim: I feel like a nice, cold beer

Matt: Sooo. . . Tell me about the first single.

Jim: Well, Al’s first single happpened before my time
so you better ask him about that. I believe it was “My Bologna”.

Matt: Ha-Ha! Actually I meant the first single from Poodle
Hat
. It’s an Eminem parody called “Couch Potato,
” Isn’t it?

Bermuda: It’s not so much a single, as the first
track Al is presenting from the new album. But getting permission
from a notorious, well-known, and recently honored artist like
Eminem was a real coup. The track is a dead-on copy, I
know we’ll be accused of borrowing Eminem’s masters on this one,
but it’s all us. Al’s vocal is perfect on it.

Matt: Rolling Stone recently reported that the
first track off the album would not have an accompanying video.
So, what WILL be the first video from the album?

Bermuda: The other current parodies are Nelly, and
Avril Lavigne (isn’t she Jewish?)

Matt: Couldn’t tell ya.

Bermuda: So if there’s a video, it will probably be
one of them.

Matt: Wow. You just said *IF* there’s a video. The
fact we might not see Al on TV just boggles the mind. Speaking of which…
how does it feel to be a cartoon? (Editor’s Note: Al and the band
appeared on the Simpsons episode EABF12, which first aired in the US
on April 13, 2003.)

Jim: It was nothing short of an incredible honor to be animated for
The Simpson’s.

Bermuda: It’s very surreal for me to see myself on TV at all, so being a Simpson character
is a trip! I got a ton of calls and emails from friends & family,
and all my drumming buddies are envious. These
days it seems like you’ve really ‘made it’ by being on the
Simpsons!

Matt: I can dream I suppose. What one thing have you
learned from Al, (and vice versa!)

Jim: I have learned to not make fun of the accordion
and those who make their living with it. As far as vice versa-I once
showed Al how to make a power chord on the guitar…

Matt: Ever eaten a twinkie-weiner sandwich? How about
a Jellybean and pickle sandwich?

Jim: No, no, no but I have eaten cobra soup.

Matt: Really? Did it have much of a bite? Sorry…
couldn’t resist.

Matt: Ok. . . Forgive me. I have to ask. When was
the last time someone asked you “Jim West? Where’s Artemus Gordon?”

Jim: Oh probably about two months ago!

Matt: Anything else that annoys you to no end?

Jim: I don’t let things bother me that much but people
who talk all the time and don’t listen kinda annoy me. And restaurants
that smell like Lysol.

Matt: Bermuda, there is an internet rumor going around that you’re dead.
Are you?

Bermuda: I don’t think so… I’ll check my pulse. (Checks Pulse) Yep,
I’m fine.

Matt: Good thing. Hard to keep rhythm if you
don’t have a pulse. If you weren’t Drumming, what would you be
doing?

Bermuda: Almost certainly something in the music
or entertainment industry.

Matt: The FRACTURED FEMUR is, by default, predominately
a theatre website. Any experience trodding the boards?

Bermuda: Not me, but I got to see OTHER people trod
the boards. I’d played for some high school productions and the stage
was eye-level to me.

Matt: Jim, ever had any comments from the artists
parodied about your skills as a guitarist?

Jim: No, not really. Maybe they are embarrassed because
I had to learn their mistakes! Only kidding… Generally I’ve heard
good comments about the tracks.

Matt: What is your FAVORITE Weird Al track? Any particular
one stand out in your mind as a “keeper?”

Bermuda: It’s impossible to say, I have many favorites
for many reasons. It’s slightly easier to say what my favorite album
is: typically I like our most recent works, so Poodle Hat qualifies
as my overall favorite Al CD.

Matt: Can’t wait to hear it! How about you, Jim?

Jim: I like “I Wanna Be Your Hog”. It’s Al at his
most sincere.

Matt: Sixteen seconds of pure bliss. (Editor’s
note: It’s track 7 on the UHF soundtrack.)
We
have a couple more questions from the fans. Michael Rafone of Oaklawn
asks “Have you ever said anything you regretted in public, and if so,
would you pose nude on the cover of a magazine to apologize?”

Jim: I once told someone that this club was a pit,
not knowing the owner was standing right there. As far as the question
about posing nude-that would be something I would publicly regret!

Matt: The song says “It’s All About The Pentiums.
” Is it really? What computer do YOU use?

Bermuda: Let’s just say “It’s All About The AMD k-6”
wouldn’t have made a very smooth title!

Jim: I’ve been a Mac guy since I started with computers. I have a new
dual 1 gig processor, G4 with a DVD burner. it rocks. I also have
two PC’s-a Dell and a custom made box. They are great but the
Mac is my main squeeze.

Matt: I knew I liked you for a reason! Now,
let’s make it two for two… Did you get to keep
the cowboy outfit from the “Dare to be Stupid” video?

Jim: No-wish I could have though!

Matt: Bummer. Would have been quite the chick-magnet,
not to mention being collectible as heck. So, do you guys collect
anything OTHER than “Weird Al” Merchandise?

Bermuda: I collect Bermuda Schwartz merchandise. Which,
not surprisingly, has a lot of crossover with Al’s stuff! My and his
archive totals – so far – just over 1, 050 unique, audio & video products
from around the world.

Matt: I love swag (Artist memorabilia
sold at a concert). What one thing would you love to see sold
at a “Weird Al” concert that has never happened?

Jim: My CD, “Coconut
Hat
!!”

Bermuda: I remember something that should NOT
have happened. It was in 1984… the venue had cooked up their
own merchandise for some reason, and based on Al’s then-current
hit “Eat It” made black panties with the words ‘Eat It’ printed on the front! They
were quickly ‘yanked’ before they could be sold, and I doubt that
anyone’s got a pair… except for me! They’re
quite comfy!

Matt: Poodle Hats. Coconut Hats. Do any of you actually
wear hats?

Jim: I occasionally wear a sporty topper when piloting
my sloop.

Matt: Sounds very tropical. Speaking of which, Jim,
you play Hawaiían Slack Key guitar. I have a Les Paul CD called “Lovers’
Luau” where he plays Hawaiian songs. Is Slack Key something similar?
Where might we have heard it before, landlocked in Kansas as we are?

Jim: Slack key is a rural Hawaiian sound that came
in to being in the early 1800’s. What Les Paul was doing was more like
mainland Hawaiian music of its day. My CD Coconut
Hat
is a modern approach. Another good source is anything
on the Dancing Cat label.

Matt: I notice that you have some soundtrack credits
on your curriculum vitae, Jim. What have you been working on recently?

Jim: Most recently, “Fighting
Foodons
,” an animated show on Fox, Saturday AM. Not sure if
it’s still on-it might have run it’s course.

Matt: What is the strangest Instrument you’ve ever
played?

Bermuda: French Horn. Well, it’s not really fair to
call that a strange instrument, nor is it fair to suggest that I played
it. I kind of blew into it once and got one bad note from it.

Matt: Better than
me. About all I can play is iTunes. What is in your CD player/iPod/mp3 player right
now?

Jim: Mostly my own stuff — I keep my library
there for quick access.

Bermuda: Poodle
Hat
! I LOVE that album!!

Matt: Does your band actually have a name? Want
one?

Bermuda: The name changes with each tour, usually
reflecting the name of the current album in some manner.

Jim: Hmmmm. . . Poodles Without Hats?

Matt: How about Weird Al and the Belawalkers? (Editor’s
note: Bela is Weird Al’s Poodle.)

Bermuda: Now you’re amusing me.

Matt: Any wisdom to impart on our readers?

Jim: Don’t take anything personally. Do a good job
at whatever you do. Think before you speak. Don’t assume anything. Always
wash your hands after picking your nose.

Matt: Mahalo, Fellas! We do appreciate taking time
out of your busy schedule to talk to us! Ladies and
Gentlemen, “Bermuda” Schwartz and Jim West! Give’ em
a hand! (Thunderous Applause!)

Go to the “Weird
Al” Website!