Interview with Lou Lander
(Vocalist, guitarist, co-founder of United Wonder)
INTERVIEW WITH "JUNIOR" JOHNNY LABATT
Concerning his role in unearthing the United Wonder masters, and what it was like to
live with Producer John K. Labatt.
INTERVIEW WITH JESSY LABATT-GIRSCHEINSCTIER
John K. Labatt's daughter shares tales from the crypt.
- J L-G
|INTERVIEW WITH MUFF BLOOT, President and CEO, Messenger Studios
When "Little Jessy" came to me, crying, distraught, obviously desperate, and willing to do….anything, I asked myself the question that men have asked themselves from the beginning of women:
How much is this going to cost me?
Her proposal was simple, straight-forward. She would be willing to go against her dead father's wishes, speaking here of course of the late great John K. Labatt, uh, she would be willing to blatantly defy his dying wishes, and exhume his corpse, and remove from under his pillow ALL of the original UNITED WONDER master tapes, which he had insisted be buried with him. Something about, "YOU can't take it with you, but I'll bet I can!"
Anyway, Messenger Studios would then be free to produced the long-demanded UNITED WONDER anthology, onto CD and various internet media. And in return, the studio would pay Ms. Jessy Labatt, uh, actually Ms. Jessica Labatt-Gerschweitzer, or something like that, and her half-wit brother, Johnny, a formidable sum, which I will not disclose publicly, at this time.
Seeing Jessy standing there, trembling with anticipation, in her cheer-leading outfit, I could not help but think, gosh, time has not been kind to this girl. She really should be wearing something more, tent-like, um, but whatever. After some consternation and negotiation with Jessy, and Johnny, and our own board, we agreed.
And when the children of John K. Labatt returned the next day, tapes in hand, I had our resident sound engineer, Mr. Roger Pedacter, verify the authenticity of the recordings, and then we paid them a deposit of sorts.
Mr. Pedacter, who of course originally came to us almost twenty years ago, having been the trainer and keeper of the Miani Dolphins LIVE mascot, uh, he maintained the tank and saw to the feeding times, whatever, until of course the mascot was stolen, and Roger was out of a job. We hired him at that point, feeling he had proven himself, and he certainly has shown to be a faithful, long-term employee, um, affordable, paid in dollars and small fish.
Well, Roger has gone to work revitalizing these great songs, and despite the horrid decomposition of some of the tapes, given the circumstance of their storage you understand, we believe he has put UNITED WONDER into a format where they are presentable to the entire world once again.
And so, it is with high hopes that we are releasing a 5-CD boxed set, for the whisperingly low price of $135, and four pounds of various sushi. Art is art. And business is business. I am delighted that the two concepts have met here, on my watch. God bless America.
- Muff Bloot, President and CEO, Messenger Studios
|INTERVIEW WITH SHAMUS O'BALDY (Folk-Acid Music Historian)
While people today think of "Folk Acid Music" and "United Wonder" almost synonomously, I have researched the influences back to their original roots. I speculate as to the part that two particular individuals may have played in the foundations of our beloved band.
I speak first of Gieuseppi Lablonski, the renouned accordian player, with the Polka Dots Polka Band. He opened people's minds to rhythmatic inversions and thematic overtones never before dreamed of in art. I speak second of Yilmaz Demirbag, whom you may remember from the scene in "Oz Backwards", dancing in poppy fields. His unmovable grin brought to the forefront both joy and optimism, (not to mention him being the poster boy for the power of opium and hashish.) His flute-playing, while enchanting, had the annoying habbit of drawing snakes, causing women to flee, and hence, his value in the commercial marketplace diminished accoringly.
United Wonder ventured into some unique musical moments. For obvious openers, there's "Your Shadow Leads the Way." Those seeking evidence of extra-terrestrial life may rest their case upon the seven minutes and twenty-two seconds recorded therein. And in public, UW was all the more vulnerable to the random eccentric. On one occasion, Dr. Borland found five or six notes in a row that actually sounded good, and at the same time, the smoke machine that was making Lou Lander ill also phased his guitar into accurate tuning. The result was two different songs playing at once, and they both sounded good! Like "playing in tongues."
Of course, Lou's disorientation was a constant source of social awkwardness for the band. When he met Jimi Hendrix at the NTID concert (the UW band was really peaking at the time), he shook Jimi's hand earnestly and told him "Man, I heard about your accident with the lobster trap! Too bad, man. You really could play them drums!"
Whatever the true roots of "Folk-Acid" music, United Wonder somehow defined it for all of us to get our fill. And then some. In fact, I've had about all I can take.
|INTERVIEW WITH ROB BOLTON (Co-founding band member) -
I'm thrilled that the CDs are coming out, and thanks so much to Roger and Muff at the studio, and to the Labatt family for making this all happen. Right. Now to the list of questions:
MUSICAL INFLUENCES - At the time of United Wonder (1978-1981) I was particularly into Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues. Each were very experimental in expanding the musical experience, and each were very philosophical, truth-seeking bands, which is where my head was. As far as acoustic-sounding singer-songwriters, I was into Chris Smither, Bod Dylan, and Townes Van Zandt. Before all that, my musical roots began with the Dave Clark Five and the Searchers, and when I got more into pop-style with "The Boltons", their style came through.
FAVORITE UNITED WONDER SONGS - Well the later ones were more coherent, and were written around the certainty of the bible. Songs like "The Sword" and "Chasing the Wind", and Lou's "Out of the Darkness, Into the Light". But honestly, I like the "seeker songs" like "Give Me Time", "When I Was Younger", and "Summertime Rock Star". Even amongst the less serious, more "fun" songs I like the production numbers like "Riding Into Now" and "Love You Madly." Lou did a lot of ballads, which were all great, and my favorite remains "Free With Love."
FAVORITE PLACES TO PLAY OUT - Well, anywhere was fine with me, but I would say our "home base" was this artsy coffee house called "The Park Avenue Project". It was perfect for us. People came there expecting not just entertainment, but art, and that's what we were about. During the summer, we loved playing outdoors, and we played four or five years at Custer's Pig Roast, which had a huge, very appreciative crowd.
MEMORIES ABOUT THE UW EXPERIENCE - Well, it was just a thrill to finally be able to create good music, and have it be appreciated. It validated our whole "artsy/seeker" persona, and so it was meaningful and lots of fun too. But I also remember it always seemed like an uphill battle. Our equipment was unique, and some of it was prone to technical problems. And we worked with some pretty irresponsible people too. Still, it was all very well worth it.
MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS - Well, I had my acoustic and electric guitars, which I could barely play. I picked up an imitation Hoefner Beatle-bass, and that was fun , and helped accent lots of Lou's songs. But the instrument I loved most was this Conn Synthesizer. Now you have to remember that in 1978, synthesizers were very rare, and in fact Korg hadn't developed a polyphonic one until they came out with the Delta around 1982 or so. But this Conn Synthesizer, besides having an auto-beat (which we never used), and a cool bass-chord section, had an amazing selection of over 100 voices. Most of them sounded ridiculous or cheap, but there were a handful that made us sound like the Moody Blues. When people started hearing Lou's very competent guitar playing along with these other sounds, it was amazing. And then when Bob Borland joined and put his Arp synthesizer effects on top of it, we were off to the stars. Songs like "Give Me Time", "Your Shadow Leads the Way", "Brand New Nation": people couldn't believe it was all coming from just three guys.
WORKING WITH THE OTHER BAND MEMBERS - When you get artistic people together, each is so sensitive and yet committed to promoting their perception of beauty that there will always be disagreement. Lou and I were just great for each other, and most of our disagreements were "professional" about how to accomplish something really solid and yet really special. We did our level best to enhance each others songs. My only frustration with him was that I was writing more songs than we could possibly do, and he didn't fall in love with all of them. Probably just as well. As for Steve Phillips, he was only with us for three or four weeks, he helped record the first album, a fine musician, but he didn't want to play out, and so he slipped away. Bob Borland was a trademark "free spirit". Nice guy, but drifted with the wind. He could tell you ten minutes before rehearsal that he was planning to come, and still forget to show up. So he was hard to do business with, but worth it when he was there.
CROWD RESPONSE - Like I said before, we were exploratory and artsy on purpose. We had no desire to fit any stereotype whatsoever. In radio terms, we were "underground FM", not "AM". People who understood that loved us. We played some gigs where people sat there with little tape players on their laps, trying to record us. But we also had good friends who wondered why we played what we did, and why we didn't just pursue more standard songs. We were constantly being told by them that we had too many slow songs. We pretty much held our ground, and built a base of appreciative "encouragers."
CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE - Lou and I were both "seekers" who questioned both the normal establishment, and also, and this is important, we also questioned the college-based liberal thought processes of the day. For people in their early twenties, we had both been around a lot, been through a lot, and didn't buy all of the tacit assumptions of the times. When you're ready to put aside worldly thinking, and selfish thinking, and ask honest questions of God/nature/your conscience, whatever, well, it's a good place to be. Once somebody put a bible in front of me, and presented Christ, it all made great sense. Our early songs may contain some biblically inaccurate statements, but they were pre-salvation, seeker-mode songs. So at least we were groping in the right places. I mean, check out "Give Me Time", written two years before I got saved. Another excellent example would be Lou's "Another Stoned Rider", which he later re-wrote into "Child of Light." For my journey anyway, I couldn't get to the one without the other.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS - I thank God for our "United Wonder" years. Yes, I've moved on, but it's still a part of who I am. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. - RKB
|INTERVIEW WITH ROGER PEDACKTER,
(SOUND ENGINEER AND ORCHESTRAL ARRANGER AT MESSENGER STUDIOS)
It's a dream-come-true to finally present United Wonder's full catalog. I must say, tho, that this project presented more challenges than expected, and the final result is not 100% pristine. But everything is listenable, interesting, and for the most part exciting and often even wonderful.
As resident engineer at the studio, I have a dual duty. First, I must record the artists, or else take their existing recordings, and make their sound as dynamic and clear as possible. Second, as a studio musician, I add "commercial enhancements", to further present the songs to the more novice listener, a segment which seems to grow each year. The enhancements usually come in the form of light percussion, or else subtle piano, bass, or synthesized orchestra. Having been here twenty years this September, I have worked with "The Boltons" band through their entire career, and I think to the benefit of their presentation, which is only right, as Muff says, "They're the band that's paying the bills." As other lesser know soloists have used the studio, I am often placed in the position of having to create a silk purse from a sow's ear, and to be honest, I feared for some of that with the UW project.
United Wonder's fine career pre-dates my employment here, and it would be easy for me to criticize the recording quality of their master tapes. The equipment available back then was very limited, as the band sang into low quality microphones, played guitars with mediocre pick-ups, and recorded it all onto TDK cassette tapes which hissed like a nasty cat. By the time their first studio album was recorded, I'm told that Lou Lander, appalled by the tapes poor reflection of their abilities, flat out refused to record any more, and so everything from then on was captured from live shows. Now LIVE shows aren't always the best sources for quality recordings either, and I'm told that their "sound engineer" would basically turn the tape on (sometimes halfway through the second song), and then let the tape run out as time elapsed.
This all being said, it is amazing to me that the tapes could still carry the never-ending soul of the band. They aren't just named United Wonder, they truly ARE United Wonder. There's an enchanting call to the whole thing: amongst the provocative lyrics (from original to Dylan), the tender or driven guitars, and the versatile keyboards, the result is a sound like no other. This being the case, I resolved to fight for every song in their catalog to be presented today at its very best.
The first album was the most difficult. Despite the original studio setting, the mixes were still wrong, and Rob had to be brought back into the studio to double-track vocals on three songs, as the original tapes had him completely buried. I also added light percussion to the hits, and tuned everything into the proper keys with the multi-speed deck. I thought we'd have a time-saver on the hits, as the Warner Brothers CD release from 1997 included 14 songs. But I found that they had used too much compression, and while they softened the hiss and took out the peaks, the dynamic range was lacking. So even the hits were re-mixed, and it took multiple tries to bring the ring into the guitars on "Riding Into Now" and "Summertime Rock Star". But at last, success! Lou's cover-ballads were a delight, as I added subtle enhancements to "About Her Eyes", and "Tangled Up In Blue". I think you'll find the result to be moody sweet. The keyboard playing of Steve Phillips helps several of the songs. Steve's the shy music major who was with the band for just four weeks. He feared playing in front of audiences, but he left some nice notes behind, adding dimension to "When I Was Younger", "Another Stoned Rider" and others. "Ivan the Ugly" was a complete rescue operation, as the original tape had de-composed so badly, and the final result is just passable. But everything else came along just fine, and by the time "Love You Madly" rocks out, the first album is a stunning success.
The second album, "Not So Fast" was the easiest. The two openers, "I Know My Garden" and "On the Run" took some work to get the harmonics pleasant, but the rest just flowed. I added enhancements to each of the first six songs, and wound up particularly pleased with "Magic In the Air" and "It Doesn't Have to Be So Fast". Of course, "Brand New Nation" and the second, wilder version of "When I Was Younger" are brilliant performances, and it's amazing to me that those were captured so well LIVE. The second half of the album is mostly acoustic, and we had worked on that last year, putting seven UW songs on Rob's "Acoustic 1980" CD,
The third album "Your Shadow Leads the Way" put up a real fight. First of all, three important recordings were lost: superior versions of "Set of the Sails" and "Take What You Can', plus a Lou Lander gospel rocker called "His Everlasting Love". The latter is nowhere to be found in any format, and so the world will now do without it. We did our best to enhance the other two using weaker performances, and the result is interesting, but not demanding. The prizes here are "Your Shadow Leads the Way" and "Give Me Time". Lyrically astounding (one talks about meeting a version of yourself from the future, the other wrestles with the inevitability of one day having to accept Christ - I mean, who writes about these thing?), and musically both solid (Lou's guitar) and mystic (the synthesizer goes places ahead of Star Trek.), these songs set an other-worldly tone for the whole album. Then you put in Lou's tender life-tales like "Every Night" and "The Crack", and more of his cover-ballads "Rising Sun" and "Shelter", and you've pretty well constructed a 12-song national anthem to creative folk music. So we added a little bass here, some harmonica there, and some light percussion to keep people from having to wait. To cap it all off, we found a LIVE version of "Free With Love", complete with one of Woody's better intros, to sign it off.
The fourth album was when everybody had gotten saved, and so the songs are biblical and focused. For the most part, so are the recordings. It has been asserted that Rob's second band, (the one with Bruce Tesch, Dana and Donna) generated superior recordings of "Salvation Rock" and "Chasing the Wind". I'm not so sure. These UW ones are just fine, and we've polished them up a bit. Lou's two mega-rockers are United Wonder at its wild best. It is amazing that all of those notes are being played by just two (or at times three) people! And LIVE no less! I speak of "Out of the Darkness" and "Child of Light". My duty was to march them along with proper percussion, and brighten up the dynamics. Done deal. United Wonder in 1981 was not the tentative trio of 1979. Note the difference in Rob's singing, and the tightness of the timing. Creativity remained, but now in better focus.
It's been a challenge, a pleasure, and a privilege to work on this project. My God continue to bless our little studio, as we bring you the best in genuine folk music. And United Wonder is the beginning of that best.
- Roger Pedackter
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|INTERVIEW WITH LYMUS PINSKY, FAN CLUB PRESIDENT (Self-designated)
Yo, dude, I mean it's like, wow, yeah. I mean, the day that Jessy leaned over that casket to kiss her daddy goodbye, it had to be the hand of the Lord that made her left ruby ear ring fall off. So like, when she figured it out later, well, exhuming the body was no big deal, and that like started the trend that brought back UW. Wow. If that isn't mysterious ways, I don't know what is.
Meanwhile, I've been holding the folk-acid fort with my newsletter and web site. Dozens of wonderizers from all over the globe, and even beyond, still dig this band. And now, with the box set coming, well, it's like it's the year 6001, and we will forever stand! Until now, we been held in dis-illusion, staring at our own faces, poisoned in the bushes, ravaged in the corn, learning to love pain. And then when the bottom fell out, we all became so withdrawn, but like stoned riders in the night, we carried on the fight and kept on keepin' on! Right on, brother wonders!
And now, the power that once ruled is coming back to Springfield! The Children of Light will be Lovin' this madly! Talk about Riding into now! I mean, younger is younger, but this is free with the good stuff.
So yo, dudes, dudesses, wonderizers: THIS IS REAL!
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