CD Cover The Early Characters
The Early Characters consists of the 1987 unreleased album recorded with Chip Douglas in Hawaii and bonus tracks from various early recording sessions.

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  • Monkees Night
    at the The Firehouse Pub

    Chip

    Back row: Danny Solazzi, Chip Douglas,Chris Roselle
    Front row: John Grecco, Larry Muhlgeier Volcano Hawaii May 1987


  • Interview with Chip Douglas,Tuesday May 19th 1987
    Lisa Mikita and Judi Zalewski interview Chip Douglas in Volcano, Hawaii about The Characters recording sessions for The Early Characters album.

    Lisa: How did you get involved with The Characters?
    Chip: The phone rang. It was Danny Solazzi. "Hello my name is Danny Solazzi, I'm with a group called The Characters". I had heard of them from (Monkee historian) Gary Strobl. I guess Gary had told Danny about me but Danny was familiar with my work from The Monkees I guess, so Danny started calling and said "We wanna make an album and we'd like you to produce it". So we talked back and forth. Should I come there? Should you come here? So they decided to come here. I told them there is a studio down the road (Rain Studios) that I like a lot. I like the fellow that runs it (Ken Chickasyue). We get along. I have been using that place every now and then for different little things I was doing on my own.

    Judi: It must have been a shock to get a call like that after not producing for a while.
    Chip: Yea, I was surprised. You get to feel forgotten about, living way over here in the middle of the Pacific and everybody sort of thinks you are retired, which I sort of was. Just little phases of things. When I was producing other people I would never go out and perform on my own in bars. I had never really done that until much later after I was out of doing The Monkees and I came over here and finally started sitting on a stage by myself and playing, which is something I never did. I was always in groups so I had to catch up with that. Usually most people start that way and then they get into a group later. I had never done that, I was with groups. So I did that for a while. Then I had had enough of that. It's nice to produce an album again because I feel I know what I am doing. I wish I knew what I know now when I was working with The Monkees. Just little things. Not so much that the experience has taught me that, just the times. You need plenty of drums and lots of this and enough vocals so you can hear. You know I always kind of knew that but now its almost second nature. I know what to do.

    Judi: Do you notice a difference between working with The Monkees vs. The Characters?
    Chip: Oh yea, a lot different, a lot easier with The Characters because they are rehearsed, they have their music pretty together. I've added a few little changes, ideas that occurred to me and little places where we tighten up this that goes with that. Little chord changes that weren't quite right. Things like that but not much. Generally with The Monkees we got a demo and listened to it and then everybody went out and started to play something. We started to work it up in the studio as best we could. That was kind of hectic rehearsing and recording but we got it done. These guys, they have been together and they are all pals and they play well together. They have their own music and one fellow sings and everybody else gets behind so it works pretty smoothly.

    Lisa: When you first heard a tape of The Characters material what was your reaction?
    Chip: Well it started out with Maryann and it just has that real sixties-sounding guitar part in the beginning of it. I thought gee, these guys are really into the early approach of things. I was very surprised. I knew from talking to them that they didn't like synthesizers and all of that approach to music and I wondered what they were like and then as I began to listen further, the ideas of the songs were really good to me. I like all of Danny's tunes. Danny has got good ideas. He seems to have a big future ahead of him writing songs because he is always coming up with these clever little ideas to write about. I think Danny's stuff is a lot better and a lot more there to enjoy than ninety percent of what's going on today. There is a lot of great songs and stuff now, but then I hear a lot of trashy things, like Danny says just songs that people write just for the money and don't really care. It's not a real experience, it's just something they are piecing together for the money.

    Lisa: When you are producing the songs since they have a sixties tone are you taking the same approach as you did on The Monkees "Headquarters" and "Pisces Aquarius Capricorn & Jones Ltd" albums?
    Chip: Yea just a couple of guitars, bass and the drums and we are actually getting into a couple of sessions where they want to get a piano player involved (Wendell Ing) at this point just on a couple of the tunes.

    At this point Danny and Larry stop by and ask Chip about getting the songs to Wendell Ing

    Judi: We were talking about if you were trying to get the same sort of sixties sound out of them.
    Chip: Well they have their own sound, all I'm doing is tightening it up, adding a few bass lines a few chord changes and a couple of stops and breaks and added little things. Actually, we haven't even begun to get into the actual vocal sound of things, but where I can help them is background vocal parts. There are a few places where I could see some of the other guys singing in there to back up what Danny is doing would help. That kind of thing. A few harmony parts hopefully, but yea I guess you could call it a sixties sound although not really because nobody's ever heard these tunes before, but it's definitely Beatle-like, two guitars, bass and drums sound and an occasional piano part there in the background.

    We're sort of having discussions about that now. I keep telling them that I don't really want them to have a featured piano part to start a song because there is nobody in the group who plays the piano. If we are using a piano it should be kind of background filler type stuff, but well, we are going to be doing a couple songs in the next couple of days that actually start off with a piano supposedly. We'll have to see how that goes, we may wind up doing them some other way, I don't know yet. But Danny has an idea in his head, he wants it to sound like this one tune (Siobhan) to have sort of a Motown-like piano part kick off. So okay, we'll see what that sounds like. I hear it a different way. I hear it more featuring the guitars and having the piano as the added thing that's thrown in for a little for a little spice, but he really wants it to kick off with this featured piano thing. So I just kind have been against that. Were having, well you know, he's doing it the way he wants to and stuff and were going to see how that comes out, but I kind of feel well then they will have to get a piano guy in the group for the stage. You know, to be there with them, as a╩fifth kind of member, which is good maybe, I don't know. The Beatles didn't have, you know, an extra piano player until much later Billy Preston and all of that stuff but they established as just the four of them and what they could do as a four piece group and I'm kind of taking that approach.

    I tend to think they are like The Beatles or The Who or The Turtles or somebody like that or The Monkees all wrapped up in one and the Kinks, they kind of got that sound going. They can really run the gamut as far as the spectrum of what they sound like. I mean they have Maryann which sort of has a very young sort of almost juvenile sound to me, and then there are other things to me that sound like the Rolling Stones. Much more sort of get down or however you describe it. So it will be interesting to see how it sells. I hope they can get a good deal with somebody. We may have to send out a flyer to the fans"Please write this record company, we really want The Characters to be with you ". That type of thing. Who knows what it will take. I don't think they will have trouble getting a deal. That's one of the unknowns at this point. We have to get some good company behind them, and if they had a good push from a major, a lot of advertising, they could probably sell millions. Hopefully.

    Lisa: Do you have a favorite song of theirs?
    Chip: Well not exactly a favorite. I have my ideas as to which one might be a single. I like a lot of them. You know, I like Puppet on a String a lot and I like Three Blocks Away and I like I Need You Tonight. That seems to be, it has the most interesting kind of music in it. To me, thats one of the stronger possibilities for a single maybe that might get some place for the record just to see what might happen. We don't know. They like Maryann a lot. They are putting all their╩hopes and dreams in that song. I like it too. I think it's a good one. I just wonder when I think of all the stuff that?s going on today on the radio and suddenly along comes Maryann. Well, maybe, I hope so. It doesn't matter to me, whichever anything that gets to be a hit because then the album will sell. I could see they might possibly have two or three singles off this album by the time it's all finished, I don't know. It depends on how the vocals come out too. We haven't done a lot of the vocals yet, so that's one of the unknowns how all of that will come out, but I'm sure it will be fine. I know what it's supposed to sound like. Just have to get it in there.

    Danny's been complaining about feeling kind of hoarse lately and kind of ragged in his voice. Maybe it's the laid back vibes over here or something, I don't know. There is times when I've seen him and he's really up and ready for a good clear vocal. We've been working late at night and rehearsing all day too and he's been singing away while we rehearse these tunes and that gets tiring. We do it over and over and this little part you go over about ten times to tighten up some little break. Stuff like that. That's what wears╩you out really. I think if we do vocals we will have all these tracks done if we get in there early in the day and start singing.

    Judi: Danny said that you were helping them out on the harmonies
    Chip: Yea, I had a few ideas there. We haven't really gotten to that stage. That we can kind of add in the studio. I don't think it's that much required there, but there are a few little parts that I think would be nice in there so we've yet to get into there. The other guys, we might get background parts out of them if we concentrate on it. We'll have to see. I think Danny would not even have to be there. We'd have to send him home (laughter) and then I'll work with the other guys so they won't feel intimidated. When Danny is around they might feel a little intimidated I think, but after it gets on tape, then it would be easy to work up whatever we came up with, so we'll see. It's exciting. I'm curious to see where it's gonna go and how it's gonna sound. I'm very hopeful.

    Judi: What made you want to produce them when you heard their demo?
    Chip: The fact that they said they would come out here and do it with me here. It's kind of a problem for me to leave right now. My son Tyler is not in school yet and someone has to watch him, so for that reason, I thought it would be better if they came here. Plus it's just easier here. There is not a lot of distractions and the studio time is a little more inexpensive than over there. There is a good guy to work with here. He knows all about his studio. His studio is clean and first class. He doesn't allow smoking or drinking in the studio. All the equipment is clean, and all the contacts are working. Some of these studios you spend five minutes trying to get one switch to make contact.

    This place where we mixed the MFQ album, all the switches were real dirty, you had to keep trying the switch to get it to kick in clean. That helps having a nice studio. Plus their material I just listened to the songs. I like Danny's songs, he's got good ideas. Three Blocks Away might as well be another planet. That was one of the ones that grabbed me. I thought hmmm interesting idea. Stuff like that. It will be a good album.

    Lisa: Working with The Characters in the studio now is a lot of it individually? Does one person go in and put down their track or do you try to record it as a four piece?
    Chip: As a four piece. If there is a real good take and somebody makes a little mistake, we will go in a punch that in and clean that little mistake up. Or sometimes Chris will want to do his guitar solo over. Usually it's been Chris mostly that wants to do a part here and there. Last night we were adding a guitar part to This is Goodbye and we thought of another little guitar thing that might be nice behind one little passage so we put that in. Little tiny things like that. So This is Goodbye has about four of Chris' guitar parts on it only two of which we'll use. We overdubbed a guitar line that goes in there in the interest of getting a better sound for that particular line. It's good that we did because we changed the line as we did a little bit. We overdubbed it one night then we went back in and changed part a little bit to be a little different musically towards the end. So, that type of thing. But not much.

    We don't spend a lot of finagling with all the overdubs. It's mostly pretty together as a four piece. I have been urging Danny to sing as much as he can live and try to get as good a vocal as he can and sometimes I hear on some of those early takes they are almost ninety percent complete with a good vocal and then you just hang out in this little part and not worry about it because he tends to think of it as a scratch vocal and we'll just do a good vocal later, but I believe in that live vocal on certain songs. Maryann is hard for him to sing, it's a real high one, so we have to do that on a good day. That's one of the ones that's really up in the clouds as far as the vocal goes. I think it's the highest one that has the highest notes and the most highest notes for him so it's one of the more difficult I think so that definitely we will overdub the vocal. We did a track of that last night (Monday, May 18, 1987) then we discovered this one little place where the bass doesn't quite work and the guitars aren't jiving with the drums exactly in one little spot so I guess we will do it all again tonight. But that's the only time. Last night was the only time we went in and didn't quite get the track we were going for. All the rest of the time we were doing one track per night.

    Lisa: Has it been going quickly?
    Chip:The actual recording itself doesn't take any time. My whole theory is it only takes three and a half minutes guys to do a good take. The rest of the time is spent arguing, discussing"well, should we do another track or not? " "Well I don't think so but I just want to do my other guitar part from last night." We spend all the time talking and the actual playing of the music they will do one take, come and listen and say its not quite good enough and they will go back in and do a good one. Two takes for everything. So for that reason, I know this album ought to be successful because it's not one of those albums spending hours and hours on one song and trying to get it. They get it quick because they have played this stuff a lot. Other things they are less confident on. They haven't worked out parts, but generally it's quick.

    Judi:You have about a month to work with them and get to know them. How do you feel about each one of them individually?
    Chip:I love them.I think they are great. Very talented. Talented in a different way. Like Chris has these great guitar solos but they are not the usual screaming progressive fusion guitar solos you hear nowadays. Everybody does that. It's almost so common it's like dirt. Those kind of play a million notes and you see the guys fingers flying all over the place. Chris has these well thought out melodic solos that other young aspiring guitar players would be able to learn and would really get into. He's sort of like George Harrison I guess. He has interesting things that are melodic and simple, yet good and not that simple. There is a couple of places were it just blows your mind because he will throw in a few notes and it stands out because the rest of his solos are more melodic and suddenly he'll do a little run. It's just little bits and pieces of that here and there. I always liked that style of guitar playing. It's a thrill for me to work with these guys because they are like The Beatles or somebody. They just don't have a John Lennon and a Paul McCartney. They just have a Paul McCartney but that's okay. The only thing different about them to me from the Early Beatles is that they don't have two lead singers, they just have one but that's okay. Most other groups have only one anyway.

    Lisa: After you get everything down, how long do you think that it will take to mix everything together?
    Chip: It's hard to say. I don't know, maybe ten hours. An hour per tune maybe if there is ten tunes. If there are twelve tunes it should take about twelve hours I would guess. We can do things that will save time for the mixing, like last night we had one guitar solo that was late. Chris was working on this guitar solo. The second half had a problem where it wasn't matching right with the drums the way he was playing it so we were really trying to get the second half of it anyway so we got a good first half of it and we did one solo that had a lousy first half but correct second half so we are gonna put the two of them together. You can always combine the two solos onto one track, for the final mix and then use the one track in the mix. It's when you don't combine things that takes up the time in mixing because you make mistakes and you forget to add this guitar here and pull the other one out just right but if you do that on another track just combine them. I think you save a lot of time and stuff like that. But we've yet to get the vocals on there, that's the thing, ya know were wondering. But that may take some time. Depends on Danny on a good day, how many tunes he can do. So far we've got one song with one complete vocal on it and that's Puppet on a String.

    Judi: That's their first song.
    Chip: Yea, that's the first song we did. The second take, they came in and did one take and said, "No, the guitars sound wimpy change the sound, do this do that". Okay so we changed the guitar sound and boom put a quick vocal on it and there it is.

    Judi: They always open their sets with that.
    Chip:Oh do they? Well to me they ought to open the album with that. I think it's the first one we did so why not? As opposed to Maryann which is a good one too, but the thing about Maryann is, I don't know, the way it starts with those semi sixties guitar parts. I thought, gee is this the right thing to open a 1980's album, where as Puppet on a String is more of a driving, lively thing? I always thought Maryann would be a good opener because that's what always opened their tape. I kind of got used to hearing, but Puppet on a String, why not? That's a good one. I'll play you a rough mix of it after the interview.

    Lisa: Are they going to be finished before they head back?
    Chip: Well I hope so. I keep hoping they will stay another month and finish up and get it real good. I don't see why it should take much more time. That's the goal, to get it finished up and get it done. That?s what we wanna do so we will try and do it.

    Lisa: We have seen them live numerous times and the audience reaction makes the shows so much better. They did one show in particular where the fans were just hysterical. The show was 50% better than any other show they had played, the power and energy.

    Judi: It's also interesting to us since we've heard so many of their shows, we can pick up on little changes that they have made.

    Lisa: Maryann changes every time we hear it. They add different backing vocals, then no backing vocals.
    Chip: I've got an idea for that that we haven't tried yet. The first day they came we were sitting around and I had Larry and Chris do back ups sort of the same as that song Roxanne kind of hold out (sings) "Maryann, Maryann" they hold out another Maryann behind there sustaining. They seem to be able to do it together. They had a little trouble finding the right notes for a while but I think it will be something that will add something there. It's a good tune.

    Lisa: What's been the hardest part about working with them?
    Chip: Trying to get Danny to do this one song (Tell Me) of mine (laughter). It's kind of a pretty good song,it's been through some changes. He doesn't like it, parts of it, but really I shouldn't really be bothering putting this song in their album but I kinda think it's got possibilities for them. I don't know why. It would just be one to be on the album. I don't know, I guess I have alternate hopes of starting a small song writing career. You know when people say, "Hey we like that song on The Characters album, would you send us some stuff?" you know, that type of thing, but I think it's a good one for them. I like the guitar parts and stuff but he doesn't like the words of it and I have rewritten it about ten times, and he kinda just well, he's got his own songs, you know. You can't blame him in a way. And he kind of started to rewrite it too and he had an idea for how it should go and I kind of didn't think it had as much impact as what I had in mind. So we may get that one done, I don't know we are just kind of get fans to write in, "Were curious we wanna hear Chip's song how does it go? " If nothing else, maybe I could talk him into doing it as a demo. Maybe I'll send it to the new Monkees or the old Monkees or something like that. There may not be room for it. We are talking about eleven songs, unless we had twelve tunes on their album, it could be the 12th tune. But we might only have ten, I don't know. It just depends on the record company and how many they want to release. Albums used to have twelve songs, now there are three on one side and four on the other. It's ridiculous those songs that are ten minutes long! Their songs are all about three minutes, three and a half minutes, so they are not too overly drawn out. They're very complete musically. They hold your interest. This one song that was a little long, it's called Your Cover is Blown, have you ever heard them sing that?

    Judi:We haven't heard them do that. They don't play it live.
    Chip: They don't like to play it live. I think it's because of the arrangement. There is this kind of double chorus that happen in it. It goes something lie (sings) "Baby get off my back, leave me alone, you can't fool me any longer your cover is blown". And then it goes to this other part (sings) "I told you baby, but you never learn, you can't do nothing about it the tables are turned" and he puts those two choruses together and it occurred to me it's just too long so we are using "the tables are turned" line at the very end of the song and just doubling the chorus towards the end. It makes it a little better. It's a great song. It's the one that's sort of the most Rolling Stones-like. If that was on their album and wasn't a single, I bet Mick Jagger would put out a version of that. It's very Rolling Stones-like. I think it should be in there because of the contrast of the it's a little nastier. He sings it a little different. He sounds exactly like Mick Jagger on this one version we did the other night. I was telling him, "Well, you don't wanna sound too much like Mick". I mean a little bit goes a long way and then people accuse you of imitating Mick. We will see how that one comes out. We are either gonna do that one again or I'm gonna edit together this one version which wasn't quite right and I think I can fix it just by editing it, but they are horrified by the thought of splicing a take you know, "What do you mean start cutting up this tape? We will do it again". I said you might not have to cause it had a good feel. The way it kicked off was really great I thought. I saved that take. I insisted we gotta save that, we can erase the other take which didn't have the right energy to it or something. So they may do that again tonight or tomorrow or something like that. Just the way this one started, I thought was pretty good. It just need to have the vocal finished up and have the arrangement edited together right, because it's the long version now and I can just shorten it and have it do it right I think but I won't know until I get in there and start taking these two little place out. It's a good one it's got a good solo. We put sort of a little triplets thing in there where it goes (sings) "ba ba ba ba ba ba". It does a little thing in the middle of the solo which kind of gives it a little kick here and there. So you'll have to hear it when it's all done.

    Judi: We are looking forward to it. Lisa: Everything we have heard has always been live.
    Chip: Yea, it's great. They sound great recorded. I had a hard time getting with the guitar sounds at first. When you're individually hearing these guitars at first, they all sound too distorted to me and they like that kind of dirty sound, but then when it starts getting together and becoming a unified thing they sound good. So we've been down a few of those trails. Now it's quite smooth. We just go in and set it up and start recording and the sounds don't have to be fiddled with much. We generally have the same settings and it all sounds comfortable. I'm anxious to get this wrapped up and get it out there and see if it will sell a bunch. Who knows? Could sell 500,000, could sell 100,000, could sell five million for all we know. It might be the next big thing.

    Judi: Lisa sent a small piece to Billboard magazine about the album Lisa: I sent it to the audio tracks column.
    Chip: Thanks. Yea, we gotta send Billboard and Rolling Stone and all those magazines an album as soon as it's done and let them review it. I don't think they will have anything bad to say about it. I can't imagine who would. Danny's songs are clever and good. Whereas a lot of the stuff out today is terrible compared to the stuff Danny writes.

    Judi: We say the same thing. We wonder how these groups get record deals with the kind of stuff they put out.

    Lisa: One thing I noticed about Maryann, is the first time I heard it I could sing along with the chorus. They played it at the LA convention and I was singing the chorus to myself the rest of the afternoon after just one time listening to it.

    Judi: They had the audience at the LA convention asking them to play Maryann.

    Lisa: During their Monkees set kids were asking for Maryann.

    Chip:Oh yea? Yea, that's a good one. I don't know what will be a single. I wonder if that was their first single if that would do it for them. I don't know it's just hard to say. I like the way I Need You Tonight goes. We've done some work on that and it's pretty much the same as the way they did it, but something we did in the chorus just tightened it up there. The way the two guitars are working together (sings) "Shut off all the lights" kind of just grabs you there a little bit. I tend to like that one. That's just one of them. To me they have three or four singles by the time this thing is out there a while. It's not unusual for groups to be releasing four or five singles off the same album.

    Judi: When we were out in LA we were at Gary Strobl's and he played us a tape of the song Terri Garr and it caught me as being similar to Maryann.
    Chip: Oh yea? I was trying to talk him into doing that, well, maybe a little further down the line, some little project. He could sing it real high, so we will see. Would you like to hear a rough mix of Puppet On A String? It's a rough mix but even if it's not mixed it doesn't bother me as long as the stuff is all there on tape I can mix it and they won't have time to go looking for a record deal anyway I don't think, until they get done with whatever they are doing in New Jersey and they have to go back to LA again or whatever. So I don't know we may be faced with that. We may be able to get rough mixes but to really do it good it may take a little time and I don't know what the time is going to be like, how quickly we move along here. We still have Maryann to do, Siobhan,Troubled Times, possibly The Restless Kind. Did you ever hear that?

    Judi: No, is it a new one?
    Chip: It's called The Restless Kind. We gotta get that one in there. It has a kind of (sings) "da da da da da da" kind of a riff and he sings "I'm just the restless kind". It's good and fast and lively.

    Judi: Are they still working on September Never Came ?
    Chip: No we haven't been working on that one. That will probably be on the next one I guess. There is certainly a lot of stuff in the works.

    Judi: Danny's been talking about it a lot recently.
    Chip: The Marilyn Monroe tribute. Yea, he likes Marilyn. He has several songs with Marilyn Monroe mentioned in there. He's got another song with the words "I knew a girl in high school, she looked like Marilyn Monroe" or something like that. Have you heard that?

    Judi: I don't think so
    Chip: And he's got one called Heaven Can Wait , but it's not about Marilyn Monroe. So anyway, we will see how it goes. I should get over there to The Characters rehearsal.