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Was (Not Was): Work the dinosaur

May 15th, 2008

Was (Not Was): Work the dinosaur

MAY 15, 2008

By BILL FORMAN

A post-apocalyptic Swan Silvertones? Motor City exiles Was (Not Was) pick up where they left off.
 
"Why do they even give you a "Do not disturb' sign?," asks David Was, while recounting a recent hotel staff invasion. "I could have had a dead chick in the room! I'm a rock star, dog!"

Was is kidding, of course, about the rock star part. Being back on the road with nine-piece, avant-soul outfit Was (Not Was) would be just like old times, except for the fact that there's no tour support, no quarter-million dollar videos, and "no promo guy with a cocaine-lined suit and a truck full of televisions out there to persuade radio to play records anymore," says Was. "So that's different."

And yes, the L.A.-based Detroit refugees are still playing their 1989 Top 10 single, "Walk the Dinosaur."

"That was a fluke that, while I appreciate having bought a house from it, was never our intention," says Was. He chalks up its success to "an accident of fate and too much money going around in the '80s, which led our label, Phonogram, to think, "Let's invest a couple million dollars in these idiots.'"

Much to Was' amazement, Boo!, the group's first album in 16 years, was released last month by Rykodisc to enthusiastic accolades.

"I expected the press to come at us, especially in England, where they're vitriolic, and say, "Didn't they shoot these old sods years ago?' But instead, they're saying this is our best record. As usual, the parallax view is somewhere between my corrosive self-criticism and the world's over-praise."

The album runs the gamut from "It's a Miracle," which Was likens to "a post-apocalyptic Swan Silvertones," to the bizarre "Green Pills in the Dresser," featuring Kris Kristofferson's one-take vocal delivered after getting instructions nearly as absurd as the lyrics Was had penned for him hours earlier.

"I pushed the studio button and I said, "By the way, Kris, if you were intending to put any nuance into your performance, don't bother. I'm gonna run a sound effect of a cattle stampede over your vocal.'"

Other potential classics include "Mr. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," written with Bob Dylan while David and Was (Not Was) co-conspirator Don Was were producing his Under the Red Sky album.

"Don comes in saying, "Hey, David, we gotta write that song for Paula Abdul. Gemma' — Don's wife, Gemma, was working with Paula at Virgin — "Gemma says it's like writing a check for a quarter-million dollars each.' So Dylan says, "A quarter-million?' He says, "David, get some pen and paper, we're writing a song for Paula Abdul!'

And I sat there for the next hour. It felt like I was in some grad student's psychology experiment, with Dylan throwing out lines and testing me to see if I'll say, "What, that's a line for a song?'"

Next album, Was hopes the band will stray from the "organic soul" vibe and go head-to-head vs. Gnarls Barkley.

"I kept arguing, "Let's cut some shit at that tempo and take our rightful place back, making fun, funky-ass dance music.'"

Stranger things have happened.

Learn more about Was (Not Was) on Amazon and iTunes

Click Here to learn more about the song Don Was wrote for Paula.

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