Hard Talk

Spiders & Snakes – Timothy Jay

Spiders & Snakes is a band that shouldn’t need an introduction. They’ve been around for more than a decade and they’ve been putting out quality music for the past fifteen years and their current album, “Hollywood Ghosts,” is no different. You get the best of both worlds with this release. Not only do you get twelve new songs, you also get a bonus DVD that gives you an interesting visual look at the fifteen-year history of Spiders & Snakes.

I’ve been in touch with the band off and on since they first formed in 1990 and, in all that time, I’ve never done an interview with the band. Since they’ve got this fantastic new album to promote, I thought to myself, “You know, it’s about time I did something more than a simple review. It’s time to get ’em on the phone.” I was really looking forward to speaking with them, not only because I’ve been a long time fan. But, drummer Timothy Jay also happens to be from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, which is an hour or so from where I live. We spent a little time talkin’ about this area and then we got right into the new album.

Paul Autry: Let’s start off with the new record. Tell us a little about it.

Timothy Jay: I think to describe what the record’s about, I think you do have to know something about the history of the band. In a nutshell, it’s twelve brand new songs written by the two of us, myself and Lizzie Grey, over the summer time. These are song ideas that were either coming fresh to us or song ideas that were playing around in our head for the last couple of years. But, going backward, the band broke up in 2001 after the “London Daze” record came out. We lost our bass player, Leigh Lawson, in August 2000. He died in the middle of the day, during a lunch break. He laid down for a nap and just didn’t wake up. It caught us in total shock. The record had just hit the streets, it had been out, maybe, twenty-eight days when Leigh passed away and it really created havoc. We had tours, we had interviews scheduled, we were in the middle of a music video shoot and we had to finish the video for “Elvis’s TV” without Leigh. We just lost all of our momentum. We tried pluggin’ in a replacement. If you read the liner notes on “Hollywood Ghosts,” I brought in a friend of mine from the East Coast, Joe Petro, to fill in some live dates. But, needless to say, the momentum was gone, the chemistry was gone and we pretty much just hung it up. “Hollywood Ghosts” was kind of like our re-forming record. Lizzie and I had gotten back together about a year ago and we decided to try some of these songs acoustically. We were having a lot of fun. I had introduced Lizzie to a song I had written called “Bill’s Cigar.” I was a big Bill Clinton fan and maybe even more so after the whole Monica episode because it showed that, first of all, this guy is just as red-blooded as the rest of us and just how cool was that that the guy hit on an intern? Strange White House years. Only thing is, he got caught. It wasn’t like he was the first president to have an affair while in office. So, I wrote the song “Bill’s Cigar,” kind of tongue in cheek and, in showing that song to Lizzie, we decided to record it. He said, “this is a great song, we’ve gotta record this.” After recording the song in August, we had more studio time left and I said, “Dude, let’s use up the rest of this time and just throw another song out there.” About eleven songs later, we had a full record. Doing it long distance, Lizzie lives out of state, so, having him come in for the sessions took some creative planning. He’s a trooper.

Paul Autry: Yeah, I’d have to agree with you there.

Timothy Jay: We were not planning on doing a record. It kind of happened spontaneously and we found out that we were having a lot of fun with it. You know, when you work with two people, as opposed to working with four or five people, you tend to get a lot more efficient with your time. Instead of getting four people to approve of an arrangement, you’re only getting two. So, it went pretty quick.

Paul Autry: And you and Lizzie have been together from the very beginning, right?

Timothy Jay: Yeah. I joined his band London in 1988, right as he was leaving the band. I stayed in London for about a year and a half, close to two years. He had left to form a solo project called Ultra Pop. When the London thing broke up, I ended up in need of a band. I ran into Lizzie and his band members in a club in North Hollywood called FM Station, which is now closed. God rest its soul, it was a great rock club. I approached them about drumming for them and they actually made me audition on vocals because, to be in Ultra Pop, you had to sing. That wasn’t my forte at the time and most of the bands I had been in up until that point, going back to the early 80’s, I never really had to sing lead. But, for Ultra Pop, they had to audition me on vocals. The first song they had me audition on was a song by Sweet called “Little Willy.” If you ever heard that song, the vocals are kind of like Queen. They stack the harmonies. They had me sing the highest part in a falsetto, which isn’t an easy thing to do, to begin with. But, try drumming and singing in a falsetto at the same time.

Paul Autry: Yeah, I saw the live performance of that song on your DVD and I totally forgot I had that song. So, before you called, I was actually listening to that instead of the new album, which is what I should’ve been doing.

Timothy Jay: We had done “Little Willy” in Ultra Pop and, to make a long story short, as soon as I got in the band, Lizzie and the bass player said, “You know, the band sounds different. Timmy hits the drums so much harder than Ernie. The band sounds different.” Lizzie says, “Yeah, let’s change the name to Spiders & Snakes.” I remember we had a band meeting at Lizzie’s apartment in Hollywood about changing the name and as soon as he said Spiders & Snakes, I said, “Yeah, that’s that old Jim Stafford song,” which I remembered because I’m old enough to remember hearing that song on the radio when I was growing up in Pennsylvania…on A.M. radio no less. So, in 1991, we changed the name to Spiders & Snakes and we’ve had the name ever since. From London to Ultra Pop to Spiders & Snakes and I’ve been with Lizzie almost 20 years now, on and off. It started in 1988 and we’re still going strong in 2005.

Paul Autry: One of the things I noticed about the band and, I don’t know, I tend to view music a lot differently than other people do. But, I would compare Spiders & Snakes to a band like Enuff Z’Nuff because they’ve been around for quite a long time and I don’t think they get the credit they deserve. Yet, year after year, they’ve continued to release good quality albums. How would you view that comparison?

Timothy Jay: I would say the similarities between both bands, we both love pop, both of the bands love the Beatles, we both love Cheap Trick. I think Chip’s about my age, so, we probably grew up listening to most of the same stuff. I think you also have to realize that they’re a mid-western band and we’re a Hollywood band. So, there are those differences. But, in terms of what I know about those guys and their work ethic, they’re very hard workers and I know Lizzie and I are as well. So, there’s a similarity in our work ethic and our musical influences.

Paul Autry: How would you say the band has grown from release to release, up until your current release, “Hollywood Ghosts?” I mean, from what I heard of your discography, you haven’t really ventured too far from what the band was originally all about.

Timothy Jay: Probably a function, again, of what Lizzie and I love, we’re both Beatle freaks, we both love Sweet, early David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, early Alice Cooper and I think that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I think we have stayed pretty close to our roots although, when you record music, you’re not doing it by yourself. You’ve got the influence of producers, engineers, the label, the labels who are paying for it. If there’s a sound difference in our seven records, it would have to do with the style of the producer. A producer’s kind of like a movie director. He’s the guy who’s steering the ship. He’s telling you to do it again. He’s telling you to not do that again. He’s telling you to do that better…again. Or, he’s telling you, try this instrument or try this arrangement. You listen to the difference between “Arachnomania” and “Arachno II,” which was recorded in Arkansas, to “2000 Retro,” a lot of that style change was the producer’s influence. Me, in particular, speaking about the influence of a producer, he took a lot of my drum parts on “2000 Retro” and pretty much made me simplify. I came from a metal background where busy is better. I worship guys like Tommy Aldridge, Carmine Appice, and John Bonham and here, recording “2000 Retro,” I was in the studio with a real producer who wanted a pop sound and he was also a drummer. His name’s Dino Maddalone. He basically forced me to simplify my drumming and I think there are parts on the record where I think he was right. If you listen to a song like “Loss For Words,” he came up with a great drum pattern that he wanted me to play. Fast forwarding to “Oddities: The Glitter Years,” we worked with Kim Fowley, who is famous for producing The Runaways. Kim had a different approach than Dino. Moving from that record to “Astro Pop,” we worked with a guy named Martin McMartin, who wrote for Flipside Magazine and a producer named Mark “Anarchy” Lee, who played guitar in a punk band called The Humpers, and their approach could not have been more drastic than Kim’s or Dino’s. They didn’t believe in click tracks. They didn’t want the big guitar solo. They didn’t want any overdubs. They wanted a live sounding punk record. Get us in the studio, get us good and liquored up on beer and, literally, they made us drink beer, except for our rhythm guy who was sober and couldn’t drink. After about two cases of beer, they have us record the record. They made us play as fast as we could play. Even in our headphones, while we were tracking, I can remember them yelling, “faster, faster,” which, as a drummer, you never wanna speed up. But, again, giving the producer what they wanted. We recorded that way and, for a lot of people, that’s their favorite Spiders & Snakes record because it does have that punk edge.

Paul Autry: That’s the one I didn’t hear.

Timothy Jay: Moving on to the next record, “London Daze,” we went back to working with Dino Maddalone. Lizzie wanted to do more of a retro, 80’s metal thing and, again, it was totally different from the punk vibe of “Astro Pop,” different from the glitter vibe of “Oddities: The Glitter Years,” different from the pop vibe of “2000 Retro.” Lizzie wanted to go more Headbanger’s Ball 1989 and we did that. Brian, who’s the owner of Cleopatra Records, came up with the idea to include some Nikki Sixx tracks from the original London on the record and we’d call the album “London Daze.” That was easier said than done because most of those demo tapes were gone. We had to go on eBay to find Lizzie’s old demo that he recorded with Nikki Sixx. We finally found a 5th generation cassette. One of the mastering engineers at Cleopatra had to go in and doctor up that cassette tape, take the hiss out of it, take the noise out of it. The end result was pretty good work. It’s a cool little collector’s item and it was a great idea that Brian had because a lot of reviewers wanted a copy of “London Daze” just to hear the Nikki Sixx demo.

Paul Autry: I thought that was a really good album. But, the one thing I wanted to ask you is, what was the deal with the whole everybody’s painted silver thing?

Timothy Jay: It’s so funny because when I read interviews with former band members who have now gone on to other bands, say that that was their least favorite phase of Spiders & Snakes. I’ve got to admit that got to be annoying. But, it was Lizzie trying to be creative. Lizzie wanting to do something different, try something crazy. Sometimes the crazy ideas are the ones that work. I will say this, by doing it, it turned some heads, it got people curious, it got people to come back into the interest of the band so to speak because, at that time, we had just finished up the “Oddities” record and we were back down to a two-piece once again. We kept going through guitar players and bass players. When we got our rhythm guitar player at the time, it was Johnny G. He came from sort of a sleaze/punk rock kind of background. With the “Astro Pop” thing going, we needed something to go with the punk sound. We figured, why not go with punk sci-fi, which explains the silver make up. Was it original? No. Garry Glitter had done that same look probably 30 years ago. It wasn’t fun, that’s for sure. It was a lot of work.

Paul Autry: You had mentioned that “Hollywood Ghosts” was a spontaneous thing and you weren’t really thinking of doing an album. So, what led to the addition of the bonus DVD that comes with the release?

Timothy Jay: Well, I’ve gotta take credit for that. I’ve worked in the industry for years and I’ve learned the value of what they call added value packaging. That sounds so un-rock ‘n’ roll, huh? But, added value packaging is giving the customer, like you and me, more bang for their buck and since the cost of DVD replication has come down in the past ten, fifteen years, even CD replication has come down, that we’re able to put in the second disc. If you think of how many American families can now afford DVD players since the early 90’s…I mean, you can get ’em for $59.00 now. What we found is that if you stick a DVD in with the album, a kid’s gonna grab that one instead of the one next to it, without one, for the same price because he wants something free. I said to Lizzie, “You know, I’ve been collecting videos for this band for fifteen years.” At one point, I was gonna put it out as a video compilation before videos became obsolete. Working at Cleopatra, I was fortunate to meet a lot of people in the industry who are very good at DVD authoring, people that have worked with George Lynch, people who have worked with Ratt, people who have worked with stellar names and they’ve gone on to produce really great looking DVD’s. Having access to those people, I asked ’em, “Hey, can I pay you to do a Spiders & Snakes DVD?” I literally sent a suitcase through UPS, a whole suitcase of videotapes, I had every format you could possibly think of…and we put together a 15-year documentary. I think it tells a pretty fun story. If you just click from video one to the very end, it shows us going from a full-on glam band with lipstick through our grunge/metal-look with beards ‘n’ all to our silver face paint, sci-fi punk rock years through our “London Daze” hair metal years, all the way back to square one where it’s just me and Lizzie playing in jeans and a t-shirt. So, it shows the whole history. My favorite part of the DVD is the slideshow because it shows still photos from our history. But, Kari Pearson remixed an old song called “High Society” and she mixed in 5.1 surround sound. So, to hear that song in 5.1, for me, was so much fun. She didn’t tell me she was gonna do it. But, she did a great job.

Paul Autry: I guess you’re in good company. I just got the new Judas Priest album and it’s got a CD/DVD as well. So, if a legendary band like that is doing it, it’s a good thing.

Timothy Jay: Yeah. I’ve gotten letters from kids just because of the DVD, it’s great. We’ve never had a DVD out before. So, if you wanna know what the band looks like, check it out. There’s also some cool interviews that are on there, there’s a whole section of interviews and it’s interesting because, again, it shows us being interviewed from 1990 all the way up to 2005. So, you see us at the beginning and you see us with someone the male readers might know, Jasmine St. Clair. She’s an American porn star.

Paul Autry: Lucky you!

Timothy Jay: She’s famous for having the most participants in one scene. Jasmine is a friend of ours. She interviewed us at a place called Club Vodka, which is right in the heart of Hollywood…and that interview is on there as well.

Paul Autry: I haven’t watched that yet. I kind of just breezed through the DVD this week because, well, this past month, I pretty much bought every Steven Segal movie he was in, with the exception of two. I’m on a Steven Segal kick. So, that’s what’s in my DVD player right now. But, I did check out some of it. I loved the live version of “Little Willy,” that was the best.

Timothy Jay: That was our little punk rock phase we went through and our producer at the time was at that show. He was sitting up front going “faster, faster, faster!” So, we’re playing that song at lightning speed, which is tough on a drummer, especially if you’re trying to sing at the same time. But, that was a fun show, I remember that show. It was sold out. The club held 500 and I think there were 600 people there that night. There’s pyro going on everywhere, there’s flames going up all over the stage. Needless to say, this was pre-Great White.

Paul Autry: What do you hope to accomplish with this album that maybe you haven’t accomplished with past releases?

Timothy Jay: That’s a really great question and the answer is, we wanna use this release to get us over to Europe. We’ve toured this country a number of times and I love playing here in the States. But, our dream is to go to Europe. We had the chance to go in 2000 when “London Daze” came out. I had maybe a dozen dates booked and there was an interest in possibly going to France as well. But, that all disappeared when we lost Leigh. So, we’re hoping we can get the ball rolling and get some interest and get a booking agent to get us over there. Lizzie’s afraid of flying, so, I’ll have to make sure he has plenty of beers on the trip over there.

Paul Autry: I’ll tell you, you wouldn’t get me on an airplane in this day and age.

Timothy Jay: Well, to each his own. There’s really no other way to get there.

Paul Autry: I’m not afraid of flying. It’s the falling out of the sky that would bother me.

Timothy Jay: Yeah.

Paul Autry: Before we wind it down here, I’d like to ask your opinion on file sharing.

Timothy Jay: I think it’s like anything else. Too much of any technology is probably not good. People need to keep it in perspective. My thoughts on file sharing, one of the principal reasons I wanted to put a DVD on this release is it’s something you can’t download. One of the reasons I wanted a bonus disc was in case people had downloaded the whole record. This is one little thing that is a little harder for them to get on the internet for file sharing.

Paul Autry: Final thoughts or words of wisdom?

Timothy Jay: Words of wisdom? Have fun as much as you can. What I’d really like people to do is to check out the website. Read some of the reviews, check out some of the interviews, listen to some of the music, there’s some video clips that they can watch for free…and send us an e-mail and let us know what you think.

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