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Hall of Fame: LAST CRACK “Burning Time” Interview with Last Crack Singer Buddo

LAST CRACK "Burning Time" (Cover)

INFRARED MAG: Buddo, I have to say this is a huge honor. When we decided to do a Hall of Fame for albums. BURNING TIME was my first choice. Are you shocked that 25 years later, people are remembering this album so fondly?

BUDDO: A quarter century is a long time in human terms, and for a band that had very limited commercial success to still have fans and credibility is definitely surprising. I think the key to Burning Time’s longevity is the variety of musical and lyrical content that was about us as people and not about what happened to be the trending styles of the time. We were pretty myopic and self-involved. It’s like we created this bubble universe around ourselves and became totally engrossed in it. Maybe that’s why the material has some longevity to it. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone who listens to our music, comes to shows, and messages us with their Last Crack stories and comments.

INFRARED MAG: Let’s talk about the band. So, you join the band in 1987. The band gets signed by Roadrunner Records shortly after that. How did the band get discovered by the label so quickly? Was there a pressure on you from the studio to go ahead and get a CD out fast?

BUDDO: We had recorded a demo at Randy’s Recording in Cottage Grove, WI. I feel a little bad about my vocals on that… I sang a show the night before with a punk band I was playing with called “The Snot Rockets.” I was very hoarse for our recording day. Anyway, that demo-cassette started getting spread around through our friends and ended up in the hands of Jake Wisely. He wrote a strong article about the band in his fanzine. And that caught the attention of two New Yorkers: David Carpin came to Milwaukee to see us at the Jabberwocky. He offered us a contract that night. And the second person to see us was Monte Conner from Roadrunner. He came to our show in Madison at Bunky’s a couple weeks later. We’d been a band for about 10 months at this time. Monte’s offer was better than the other. So, we trekked to Chi-Town to visit a lawyer and signed that contract. Getting signed out of Madison, WI as a ‘metal’ band was unheard of before as far as I know. It was kind of written in the stars I guess. Bam! It happened.

We had no management or representation, so we really didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We played local shows and made a move to Minneapolis to try to expand our fan base and be a part of a bigger scene. But really, we were spinning our wheels because we were signed and not doing anything to make things really happen. That down time lasted too long. Maybe almost a year. Roadrunner seemed excited about the band and we went to visit them in New York, but the label was really busy with other acts. I think, mostly, King Diamond and Annihilator.
Philo (our drummer: Phil Buerstatte), was an indomitable force of spirit & went to work on how and where Sinister Funkhouse should be recorded. Phil was able to set a lock-out week at Prince’s Paisley Park and we recorded the whole album in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It is with much tribute that we give Philo due respect for the drive he brought to the band.

At Paisley Park, I sang all my vocals for Funkhouse in one long day. Probably 12 hours of vocals. We saw Prince a couple times. I used his olive oil to make popcorn in the studio kitchen and the next day there was a note on the olive oil: “Prince’s. Do Not Use.” Whenever we heard the click of high heels we knew Prince was close by.
We appealed to RR to help us find management and they orchestrated a meeting between us and Gary Taylor/Peter Karroll who were managing Annihilator. We liked their energy and felt we could relate to them so we signed on.

We didn’t tour on Funkhouse. We were kind of stuck in a doldrum again. Gary & Peter were working really hard on Annihilator and we were basically just playing shows in Madison & Minneapolis. Things changed when we were writing Burning Time. RR & management started getting much more serious about us.

INFRARED MAG: Do you feel a label like Roadrunner “got” the band overall? Where I can see the label possibly understanding Sinister Funkhouse #17 as a possible crossover of sorts. That album fit their business model to mesh today with the future. I do not see Roadrunner knowing (at that time) what to do with an album like Burning Time.

BUDDO: I agree. I think it was a risk for RR to sign us. I think we were the one ‘cross-over’ band on the roster at the time. They saw something with potential and decided to take that risk. We were label mates with some heavy bands. Even some death metal sorts. It was kind of strange for Last Crack to be in the stable with such heavy metal bands. Many shows we played were with some very heavy bands and sometimes it didn’t go so well. When the crowd just wants to mosh, and have a battle, Mini Toboggan or even Burning Time does not go over too well. I heard there were some offers to buy us out by bigger labels, but RR wanted to bundle 2-3 other bands in the deal so the interested parties lost interest. Doug Keough and I went to visit a major publicist/promoter in Manhattan to ask for advice or direction in how to make Last Crack POP! I remember the promoter saying, “I think it would take quite a bit of money to boost this band.” I didn’t hear anything else about it after that meeting.

INFRARED MAG: Before going in the studio for Burning Time. Were you personally happy with how things have been going so far? Was the band on the same page with the direction of where the music was heading?

BUDDO: We were doing our best. The amalgamation of our personalities was trying at times. But our differences are what made the band unique. We had pretty different tastes and influences we were trying to get into our material. Not being on the same page became our strength. We lived together in Minneapolis as a band in one house. We were pretty stir crazy because it seemed like all we had been doing for two years is waiting. But we wrote a lot of what would become Burning Time while we were living together in Minneapolis. Personally, I thought the situation was stressful and maybe too single focused. It was a definite transition from living in my own apartment in Madison, knowing a lot of friends and just knowing the city. Living all together in the house in Minneapolis was like being in a microcosm whose sole focus was to practice, write and play a gig. I always felt. “I’m not doing enough. We’re not doing enough!”

INFRARED MAG: Lyrically, Burning Time seems like a very personal journey into your life. When you listen to songs like Love, Craig or Mini Toboggan it is like you are opening your life to us. Was this easy for you as a lyricist to put that experience from mind to paper?

BUDDO: That album was the culmination of a lot of background work musically and lyrically. I searched through many journals to find what I thought to be my best words to use in those songs. I think it achieved presenting a diverse emotional and provocative landscape that, somehow, has endured time. I try to struggle with central issues that are as close to the cores of love, frustration, defeat, suffering and celebration as I can pull out of myself. I know I’m onto something ‘good’ when I feel like I am writing as a witness and not an author. I think you have to risk and dare to pull something real and deep from inside in order to create something worthy.

INFRARED MAG: Let’s be honest, the music industry is soaked deep in greed. Roadrunner signing any act, is for that act to make them money. Sinister, while it built a following, I have to think Roadrunner wanted a bigger one? Was there any pressure on you by the label at this point? Roadrunner is notorious for having their execs go in the studio and sort of steer a band in a direction. Did anyone come in the studio any time before, during or after and tell you they needed something to change or that you should have “hits”?

BUDDO: RR didn’t give any input on how we should or shouldn’t write. Really, they just let us do our thing. I don’t remember ever having RR tell us or even describe what kind of material to write. They were a little concerned about our live show. They wanted more ‘energy’ or ‘events.’ On tour I was once told on the phone to “Do anything you can without getting arrested” to make our shows more exciting. But, I think Last Crack has a huge introspective quotient. Yeah, we have the power too, but half of our material is less aggressive.

There were two other times that I can remember RR getting ‘executive’ with us. One was when they decided to pull the mix for Funkhouse out of our hands with Randy Green at Paisley and move the mixing to New York under the hands of Genya Ravan and Monte Conner. Philo flew the 100-pound duffel bag filled with our 2-inch tapes from Minneapolis to New York. The last ‘executive’ event I remember was when we were deciding which song from Burning Time we should release first. I really thought “Blue Fly” would be a great icebreaker and I thought it was the most commercial song on the album. Doug Keough and RR believed “Energy Mind” should be the first, and so it was. Maybe “Blue Fly” was too ‘fluffy’ for the first real release of Last Crack material? We’ll never know!

INFRARED MAG: The album seems to romance drug addiction and depression in this odd positive feeling of sorts. The lyrics seem to be drenched in both light and darkness. Were you ever worried how people would perceive your art?

BUDDO: I never worried about exterior perception of what was created and released. I think question 5 answers this.

INFRARED MAG: I may be way off the mark on this, and if so, I apologize. When I hear the last track on the Burning Time album, it seems like it was not an ending, like it was going to continue. Like this is part one of this journey?

BUDDO: I felt that “Oooh” was the perfect ending to that work and time period in our lives. It really felt complete. Like there was nothing more to say or do. And I remember thinking to myself, “We’ll never do anything better than this. Maybe it’s over.” That feeling, plus all the other things that were going on contributed to my leaving the band back then.

Even though none of us had made any real money at all from Last Crack I felt ‘retired’ at the age of 29. I felt like I worked and suffered and compromised a lot to make some poignant visions come true. And I felt exhausted and complete at the same time. At that time, I thought I was done and could not exceed what had been done. I’m not sure how the other guys were feeling about the future of Last Crack. But I’m pretty sure they were still fully into it and ambitious. Sadly, I was always the one that needed convincing and persuading about the band’s potential and quality.

INFRARED MAG: Do you think people in 1991 were ready for Burning Time?

BUDDO: That was an interesting and confusing time in music. We had the 80s-hair metal starting to wane. We had Fear and Black Flag. We had Metallica. Speed metal was taking off. And then we had the dawn of the alternative greats: Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden, Faith No More, Mother Love Bone/Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Chili Peppers, etc. Truly, I think that time was as good as any for Burning Time. Many things could have been done differently for Last Crack. But we were a weird animal. We were more metal and less mainstream than most of the above alternative bands. I think we even had ‘inklings’ of hair metal in us at points. As I analyze here, I’d have to say that we as a band had an identity crisis. How could we not confuse people? I think our identity was finally formed AFTER the band broke up. A legacy of Burning Time has created the identity that evaded us through our creation years.

INFRARED MAG: As an artist making an album that is obviously very personal. Do you feel that the songs translate good in a live setting? Do you feel it takes away the emotional connection you had in the studio with that song or memory?

BUDDO: Our material is multi-faceted and this makes for a ‘moody’ show. I’d have to admit that performing live for me is an internal experience, and that’s probably not good. Really, I think the other guys perform much better live than I do. As much as I try to reveal truth, passion and sincerity through lyrics, I always feel that I am hiding something or being guarded when onstage.

I’ve tried to be more involving onstage, but it feels fake. It’s hard for me to fire up a crowd with things like, “ARE YOU PEOPLE READY TO FUCKIN’ PARTY?!”

INFRARED MAG: Let’s talk about the opening to Kiss A The Cold. Did the woman in the beginning of the song know what she was being taped for? Was she aware she was being taped at all? Also, did you ever share the song with her afterwards?

BUDDO: We practiced in little house in rural Oregon, WI for a summer. A ‘partier’ of sorts owned the house and let us jam there. Well, sometimes there’d be these great parties. Sometimes there’d be these great parties at 1pm on a Tuesday. We were set to practice one of those nights without knowledge of a spontaneous party breaking out. I got there early to do some personal recording on a 4-track. So, at 2pm on a Tuesday I find 20 or so people in the house as I slither into the basement. After about 30 minutes I get discovered by this lovely semi-clad woman whose eyes look like a kaleidoscope. She comes down and sits on the couch and just starts talking, and talking. Really, just to herself. So, I pushed “record” on my little micro-cassette and let it roll the whole side of the tape. She had no idea. The 30 seconds used on the album was an edit I made. We called her from Eldorado Studio where we were recording in Hollywood. She didn’t remember any of it, but I assured her it was in proper decorum for what we were using it for. She gave permission and it was added. I felt that segment totally captures the spirit of Kiss a the Cold.

She has come to a couple shows since then. It’s been about 10 years since I’ve seen her.

INFRARED MAG: Do you think if the video for Energy Mind debuted on 120 Minutes instead of Headbangers Ball, it would have changed anything for the album? It just seems that while Jane’s Addiction was taking off, that bands like King’s X, Bullet Lavolta, Mind Funk and Last Crack were hindered by an industry that did not know how to market their uniqueness.

BUDDO: That’s a hard one! As I said before, Last Crack has “metal” in it. I loved 120 minutes! But I think we were just a little too metal for that. Sadly, I don’t think we really fit on Headbanger’s either! Again, with the Last Crack identity crisis.

(Before we go further, I have to admit. I know this interview was supposed to be about the album Burning Time. I got carried away with talking to someone I hold in such a high light.)

INFRARED MAG: So, Last Crack continues with Shawn, and you form White Fear Chain. Was there any animosity back and forth between the two bands? Also, as a musician who made an album that reflected his beliefs and life, did it bother you that they would be playing live with someone else singing the songs?

BUDDO: I was not aware of any rivalry or animosity between us. I think we were just moving on trying to find that ‘perfect’ thing that you can never get. I had psychologically severed myself from the music and Last Crack at that time. I was really glad they were continuing as a band. I knew that they would want to and have to perform ‘my’ songs. That was just accepted. Songs have their own life to live. But I was a little miffed that they decided to keep and capitalize on the name “Last Crack” when the singer and drummer were no longer in that band. In my thoughts, this was a new band with new chemistry.I aimed to humble-down and start anew. And Philo seized the moment and continued upward in the industry through a connection with our booking agent to play drums with White Zombie. Phil’s indomitable force had to keep moving UP! His story is one of its own, and deserves so much more elaboration. He was our initial, solo business leader, incredible drummer and brother. Sadly, we lost him in May, 2013.

INFRARED MAG: When you hear fans and critics that say, “Last Crack should have been huge” or “Last Crack was so ahead of their time”. How do you respond to this? Do you feel that if Last Crack started out in say 2008, and put out Sinister Funkhouse #17 shortly after, that it would have been different?

BUDDO: Time machine question! Who knows if we would have been signed in 2008? The industry has radically changed. I think we could have been ‘huge’ if we would have kept plowing through, writing and touring. I think Burning Time represented a maturity in our musical relations. I’m sorry it stopped when it did. It’s one of my life regrets, but I won’t pull a Papa Mugaya. At the time that is, we really just do the best we can. I know we all hurt because we didn’t achieve the success we’ve seen our contemporaries rise too. That’s a shame. But we have kind of a golden egg with Burning Time. I mean some strong satisfaction. Not financial though. Our first ever royalty checks came last year to the tune of $50.67 each. Universal Music Publishing finally tracked us all down.

INFRARED MAG: Are you a fan of seeing your music on streaming sites and ITunes? What about your videos on YouTube?

BUDDO: Yes. Music created should be heard. The old Zen koan about, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” I used to think, “Of course! A tree fell and that makes sound!” But I now know that it doesn’t. If no capacity for hearing registers the event, for all practical purposes, it didn’t exist. It’s a two-way relationship. Without both, there is none.

INFRARED MAG: A lot has changed about the concert experience as well. Where in the past, you would stare fans face to face and get the intimate emotion of that moment. Today, they are carrying recording devices and wanting to snap a ton of pictures. Does this bother you? That most people do not see music as an event or coming together anymore, that they see it as sitting in a crowd with a cell phone in hand either texting or taking a video of your song to rush it to YouTube.

BUDDO: This is our current nature. How can one rebut what is? It doesn’t bother me at all. Let it roll. But this kind of fits right in with my own introspective skew.

INFRARED MAG: When did conversation open back up between the band and you? I mean, you break up with them and almost a decade later, there was reunion rumors. Were there any plans to go into the studio and do a full studio album?

BUDDO: After I got back from teaching English in Japan we re-kindled our friendships. I realized that the tree falling in the woods makes no sound without a set of ears to hear it. We re-united, played the show, and started writing. We have some recorded from that time. Yes, we got derailed a few times since then. It’s pretty difficult for us to hone in now like we used to. Everyone had various projects through the years and now we have families, jobs, etc. Right now, it seems we have some nice momentum going and we want to re-visit what we last recorded and write more NOW! It feels fresher now having exorcised all our personal projects and having a little more wisdom through time. We are much closer people with each other now. And there’s a deeper respect in knowing we basically have that inalienable chemistry between us. We cannot be our best without each other. And we all have tried! When we get to a point in the (near) future where we have our ducks in a row to record and release our next material we are looking into the possibility of employing “Pledge Music” or some other funding help to get it off the ground.

INFRARED MAG: Were there any tracks or samples that were left behind during the recording of your first two albums, that could see the light of day? Have you approached Roadrunner Records about putting out a deluxe version of Burning Time for its 25th birthday?

BUDDO: There were no extra tracks recorded at Paisley or Eldorado. We went in with what we got out. There are some periphery tracks floating around that we did at other studios or home studio.
We haven’t even thought about approaching RR for anything current (old or new).A Label from Europe bought the rights from RR to ‘one-time’ release Funkhouse and Burning as 2006 reissues.

INFRARED MAG: I am going to put you on the spot. During that era of the band what was your highest high? Also, what was your lowest low?

BUDDO: There are two ultra-high points:

I loved imaging, creating and realizing the Burning Time cover shoot. To me that was a huge achievement. To be able to take a vision, make all the logistics, and actually make it real. I think the solo man in the dark wilderness concocting light is a perfect image. That was a trip. I had the idea and asked Minneapolis photographer Dan Corrigan to do the shoot. I knew of a farm field on the outskirts of Madison that I used to bike by a lot. I loved that setting with the woods and the field. That would be my canvas. I found a huge stage light bulb and affixed it to a metal rod. Burned incense to make the smoke. It was in January. It was freezing. The snow was perfect clean. It was the night the US started bombing Desert Storm. A new moon in the sky gave no ambient light. Totally dark and cold. Dan was a little concerned about my idea and where I was taking him. I had rented a gas generator to fuel the light. My set-up was planned but impromptu. Dan waited in the car with the heat blaring. I opened the truck and dragged out the generator. Dragged it another 20 yards east on the road. 90-degree angle north into the 2-fooot deep, fresh snow. I didn’t want any tracks in my frame. Now pull that 100-pound generator due west just out of frame. Hook up the extension cord to the light. Retrace my steps back to the generator and start it up. Immediately, with the engine roar, a flood of light fills the area. Dan gets out of the car and starts taking light measurements. “I think this is going to work!” he says. I strip off my parka and snow pants. I ask, “Ready?” And the man takes a conjuring pose to the light amidst the darkest night of the year. Click, click, click. Incense blowing in the light breeze. Capturing the idea. Cold, warm and complete.

Second best high was recording with Dave Jerden at Eldorado and living in the condo we rented about 4 miles north of the studio. I ran to the studio everyday past the Hollywood Bowl. Check in at noon. Check out around midnight. We stayed 6 weeks. I took 3 days for my vox this time. Jerden was a polite master. And Bryan Carlstrom & Annette Cisneros were our engineers. The team was sharp, relaxed, and efficient. That entire experience was what I had dreamed of since I’d ever had dreams.

Lowest? I may sound repetitive here. The lowest point was living in Minneapolis after we relocated from Madison. It was an indoctrination into the microcosm. We were signed, but doing nothing substantial. Six guys living in Minnesota (we had one tech, Willy Whitaker living with us). I remember struggling to figure out what was going on. There was displacement. There was no business activity going on. We were signed, but nothing was happening. I went to the DOT of Minneapolis to change my license from WI to MN just so I could verify that really, truly, I was HERE. I felt like I needed some ID to justify my existence. And now, that seems crazy and kind of pathetic. But I needed to re-assert My Self. I lived in the basement of our house. In the root cellar. It was a 6 x 10 cell. I made a door, painted it red, and inscribed “The Vault” on the outside. In the spring, mold started growing under my sleeping bag and the smell became unbearable. I had to empty the room, clean everything and air out the mold. This is where the idea of “Dirt Messiah” came from. That house had some magic for us. We endured each other, the climate, a foreign home, the ghosts that our visitors swore they heard or saw. That was really where “Burning Time” came from in my experience. So, the lowest becomes the highest.

INFRARED MAG: Last Crack made an album 25 years ago, that is still reflective of what is going on today in this world. You watch the news tonight and listen to songs like Wicked Sandbox, it seems just so sad that while technology has advanced, that humanity has sadly went backwards. I mean lyrics like “To build or destroy, only you decide which joy” and then hear about Trump talking about building a wall. Do you ever think like this? Listen to a song and play the lyrics to what is going on now?

BUDDO: I think the messages in that material are perennial. There’s no way and no era that the humanistic story won’t apply. It’s boiled down to the essential struggles: Greed, love, ambition, surrender, addiction, power, and just simple being in intimate moments. The themes seem to be basically standard. The personal struggles with the themes are what make us unique. I’ve been a Buddhist/Taoist for so long. The strange trick for me is to make it highly personal and impersonal at the same time. There’s a pulse that can be read.

INFRARED MAG: What if Last Crack did not let you join the band in the 80’s. What was your backup plan?

BUDDO: I went to UW-Whitewater and flunked out because I played drums all day and wanted to be in California. I moved to Milwaukee to try to make a band. I went back to college at UW-LaCrosse and managed Dean’s List in philosophy. I met bands from Austin, TX in LaCrosse.. Zeitgeist, Glass Eye, and The True Believers were the best unsigned bands in America, and my band in LaCrosse opened up for them. So, I quit school again and moved to Austin. Now, it’s good to remember that sometimes things do not happen quickly in life. I auditioned my ass off in Austin. And I was sure to not associate with any band ‘metal.’ I made some great friends like Jefferson Brown (solo artist) and Philip Peeples (Drummer for the Old 97’s). But the karma was not there to make things click. I moved back to WI on Christmas Eve Day 1986. I just abandoned everything in Austin. Quit music. Stored all my gear in my parent’s basement. Back to school at UW-Madison. Now it’s English Literature. And 3 months in I start looking for a band to sing for. I had two potential leads: a college band, and a high-school drop-out band. The high-school drop-out band became Last Crack. Of course, my back-up plan was always to move to Hollywood and become a rock star. There was no other option in my heart. Anybody can be ‘normal.’

INFRARED MAG:  In closing, if you could sum the whole-time period up in one sentence, what would it be?

BUDDO: I can’t do this in one sentence.

“What’s your name?”
“Buddo.”
“Buddo? I never fucking grew up? I never grew up? Certain ways it took me a while.”
“You don’t want to be helped?”
“Sweetheart, if I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be!”
“Before, when you were saying ‘Thanks’, were you saying ‘Thanks’ to God?”
“Yes. …. Yes, I was.”

 


I have to say thanks to BUDDO for this. A story to end this off with. In 1991, my father died, this CD was the only thing that spoke to me in that dark period. I actually wrote him a letter when Metal Edge had the White Fear Chain ad in their magazine. BUDDO actually mailed me an EP Cassette and the book “Myths to Live By”. I found out in this interview that WHITE FEAR CHAIN has a CD out.

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