VELVET GOLDMINE: MOE TUCKER IN HER OWN WORDS

May 28, 2009 – 4:11 am

Moe Tucker, drummer with the legendary Velvet Underground, has her own small label - one of her releases is Grl-Grup, a cover of Phil Spector songs; another release is a cover of the Velvets’ I’m Sticking With You and After Hours. Here, she takes time off to answer a list of questions submitted by Ben Harrison regarding life with and after the Velvets. This interview was published in BigO #150 (June 1998).

I was lucky enough to see your band with Sterling Morrison play in England in 1991 or ‘92. The show had a wonderful, intimate and celebratory feeling to it, firstly with how the band was interacting and then with the audience. Do you still go on the road and play such gigs?

First let me say that I like your feelings about the show you had seen. And yes, I still tour although I haven’t toured a lot in the past year or two. I’ve done a couple of tours with a group called Magnet. I play drums with them.

Do you have any preference - drumming or playing guitar and singing?

I prefer to play guitar! It’s fun playing with Magnet because I haven’t played drums in a band for such a long time, but I wouldn’t want to be a permanent drummer.

You played guitar before you joined the Velvets. How proficient were you at it?

I could only play a few chords.

How do you write? Is it a drawn-out process or is it spontaneous? What tends to come first - music or lyrics?

Actually all the songs I’ve written have been written in one sitting each. With some word or phrase changes here or there, of course. I’ve had songs where the music was first and songs where the lyrics were first.

Do you still have to have a day job?

No, thank god.

Are any of your children interested in music?

My 17-year-old son (the “baby”) plays guitar. He started about two years ago and has gotten quite good!

You’ll probably downplay it (and little is made of it in any material about the Velvets I’ve come across), but your position as a drummer strikes me as being very unusual for its time, regardless of the type of music the band was playing and the type of songs that were being written. In the first place there was your style of drumming. How did you come to drum like that and use that kind of set-up?

I always hated cymbals and wanted to stay away from using a cymbal for every accent. I also love African drumming and was trying to get a sort of African sound (deeper sounds).

Although it might not have been conscious, do you think of your drumming as being as “far-out” as the other elements of the Velvets music? It could be made out that your drumming was as much of a “statement” as what the rest of the band was doing in their playing, lyrics and approach?

I didn’t at the time, but now I do. And yes, I guess I was making my own little statement!!

The other thing I assume must have been unusual at the time was the fact that you’re a woman playing music. Was much made about this at the time?

Nothing was made of it at the time!! It’s only now that it’s made out to be so unusual. But then again, we weren’t exactly the centre of attention in those days.

What would you have done musically if you hadn’t been asked to play in the Velvets?

I’m sure I would not have done anything with music. I would’ve stuck to my job.

Do you think that other groups might have had difficulty accepting you as a drummer (or even just a musician, regardless) just by virtue of your sex?

No, not really. I think musicians, writers and artists are generally free of prejudices. I think that what’s most important to those people is what you offer rather than what you are: male, female, black, white, Christian, Muslim.

Would you think that much has changed for female musicians in this day and age?

Only that there seem to be more of them!

I’m struck by your patience when it came to many of the experiences you had in the Velvets. Have you found any similarities in this - especially in working with (strong-willed) male musicians - when it came to bringing up children?

I never thought about that!

Doug Yule stated that his biggest regret was that the Loaded album was recorded without you. The reason it was recorded without you was because you were pregnant at the time and it sounded like the manager wanted the rest to go ahead rather than waited for you. Does it irk you that the rest didn’t draw the line and wait for you?

It doesn’t “irk” me, it disappoints me because there are songs on that album that needed ME!

Do you like the songs on that album? And what about its overall sound/production?

I love a lot of those songs! I never listen to the album because - and this sounds awfully egotistical - they just don’t sound right with a regular drummer!

The period after Lou Reed left the Velvets is a gray area in terms of what we know about how the group continued, yet you and Sterling and Doug Yule continued. Were you playing gigs? How do you remember that period?

Yes, we kept playing shows. When I think back on it I think Sterl and I just would rather play music than get a job and that’s why we stuck to it. The band was good, but it wasn’t anything special - just something to do instead of “growing up”!

The Velvets were ahead of their time, or times were behind the Velvets. Was there a point, years later, where you felt as if people or music had caught up?

I don’t think they’ve caught up YET!

It goes without saying that the Velvets inspired countless bands, but are there any that you feel have really captured and expanded what the Velvets were doing originally? If there was a spirit of the Velvets, which band is best keeping it alive, even if they’re unaware of it?

I really can’t think of any band that is anything like the Velvets.

In $ingapore in the early ’80s, Zircon Lounge recorded and performed Velvets songs; in the early ’90s the Padres (who’ve since become one of $ingapore’s big names) started out by playing Velvets numbers, and I’ve heard Livonia (who’re currently #1 on the charts here) play There She Goes Again too. Obviously you’re aware of The Velvets’ influence being international - but when did it first strike you this was the case?

Around 1981 when I was working on Playin’ Possum. I had decided I should start looking at some music magazines (Musician, Creem, etc.) just to see what was going on. I hadn’t listened to the radio in 10 years, and never bought records - except old ones. I noticed that in every magazine I picked up the Velvets were mentioned at least four times! This was a HUGE surprise to me. Up till then I had no idea that anyone gave a damn.

Do you think that people perceive the Velvets as being a group? When I listen to them it’s always yours and Sterling’s contributions that strike me these days, yet some people might have the misconception it was Lou Reed’s band.

I think Sterling and I have been much more “recognised” in the past 10 years or so. I think one reason for that is that John and Lou both continued doing music and were therefore in the public eye. And, two, most people don’t pay much attention to the drums or rhythm guitar!

Are you kept up to date on how the Velvet’s legacy continues to endure, like do you get to hear, or are you interested in hearing, the numerous Velvets cover versions out there? What kind of emotional response do you have to hearing these songs you were involved with… or is it something you can get used to?

I’ve heard a very small portion of the VU covers there are. I’d love to hear more! I’m always flattered, no matter how bad or good I think the rendition is.

Any fave readings of Velvets material by other people?

Sunday Morning by The Changelings and Pale Blue Eyes by Half Japanese.

Why do you choose to re-record certain Velvets songs? Is it for the pleasure of simply playing them, or is it to make it closer to the way you feel it should be played?

I choose all covers with two things in mind - a) I always cover songs that I really, really like and b) I cover only those that I think I MIGHT be able to sing half way decently!

In this regard, any comments on why I’m Sticking With You and After Hours are recorded and released as a single? Why these particular songs and any changes made to them?

I re-did After Hours and Sticking because they are HUGE favourites at live shows and I thought it would be fun to have another version of them.

There’s a trendy club called Velvet Underground here in $ingapore, and another in London, though nothing about the places seem to reflect their namesake, your former band. Is it irritating that people go to these places with no idea of who the Velvet Underground are?

No, it’s irritating that they get away with using the name!

Does it strike you that these VU clubs might be like some kind of Warholian thing where something has been appropriated, in this case the name of your band, and become something else in the process?

Most likely!

Did you absorb much of the art aspect of the Warhol scene - or was it something that was going on while you played music?

I always wished I could be in the audience just once while we were playing and the whole show was going on so that I could see/hear it as a whole. It must’ve been incredible! Especially in those days!!

The updated UpTight book ends with something about how the Velvets had yet to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do you think that that kind of recognition was important to Sterling who often mentions in the book the “crusade” aspect of the music?

It was very important to Sterling - not because of a crusade, but because Sterl wanted to be recognised and would have seen it as an accomplishment and as a way to ensure that his/our name will be there forever. Of the four of us, Sterl would have been the most thrilled by the induction and it infuriates me that those assholes waited so long!!!

I am particularly intrigued by the Grl-Grup EP. Why do a Phil Spector cover? And how did you (and the band) decide on which song to cover?

WHY DO A PHIL SPECTOR COVER????? Those songs are just so damn wonderful!! I defy anyone to listen to Da Doo Ron Ron without wanting to dance!!! They are SO MUCH FUN!!!!!!!!!! I decided which songs to sing by what I said earlier (although I must admit I was very nervous that I would just totally blow the vocals).

I really enjoyed your vocals on this CD and am wondering why you didn’t do more vocals in the Velvets. Is it because whoever wrote the song got to sing?

I never wanted to sing when I was with the VU. I was MUCH TOO nervous about singing to try that!!!

You might like to provide some background on the Changelings on your website - like how did you hook up with them and what it is that makes you want to record with them?

Good idea! I’ll tell you the story - a mutual friend sent me a CD of theirs on which they did Sunday Morning. I absolutely loved the whole CD and wrote to tell them that. They wrote back, etc. etc. When I was ready to record I thought they’d be great to have in the studio  - keyboards, violin, Regeana’s wonderful voice. And I was real happy to find that they are very, very nice people. They were great in the studio!

Is Lakeshore Drive Records owned and run by you? If so, when was it started and what made you decide on such a venture?

Yes, Lakeshore Drive is mine. It’s not officially a company, but we needed a label name fast so we just used that. I’ve had my own label before - Trash Records - on which I put out Playin’ Possum and a single. I had no desire whatsoever to look for a “real” label for these two new CD’s. I’m sick to death of thieving labels!

Lastly, your forthcoming children’s songs project - how did that come about?

Clay Harper - who co-wrote the children’s thing- owns Casino Music, which owns the studio I record in. I had worked in the studio producing an album and Clay asked me if I’d sing a song or two on the kid’s album. Phew!

Note: The Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1996. Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on August 30, 1995. Click here to order Moe Tucker’s releases.

  1. 7 Responses to “VELVET GOLDMINE: MOE TUCKER IN HER OWN WORDS”

  2. Wonderful interview ! Thank you for being aware of a true rock n’ roll Classic. Whenever I had the challenge of finding a drummer for one of my bands i would usually write something like… “Searching for the love child of Moe Tucker and Charlie Watts” Moe is so wonderful and a truly kind human being, I wrote her once at her web page (The Taj Moe hal) to thank her for the great show she did, and she wrote back !!! not many take the time to do that… Forever a fan.

    By Revolutionarybum on May 28, 2009

  3. Great interview–thanks for sharing.

    By Olly McPherson on May 28, 2009

  4. My band opened for Moe and Half Japanese at CBGB’s. It was a real honor given the stature of her work with the Velvets. She was very gracious and a real gem to share a stage with. Thanks for a wonderful interview.

    By David on May 29, 2009

  5. It’s good that you should share this with the world. I am glad.

    But would you care if the interviewer didn’t approve?

    I am that interviewer and BigO has mysteriously and sadly failed to acknowledge my existence for several years. Unfortunately this also appears to be the case for many of its other former (unpaid) writers. Maybe the appearance of this interview is sign that this unfortunate situation will change.

    Until then it seems like a supreme irony that you laud the work of great people like Moe and yet your gig listings consistently fail to carry details of shows that I KNOW get submitted - shows by original artists and young bands who carry on the Rock and Roll legacy. Instead you limit your gig listings to expensive shows at Malaysian casinos by the likes of Celine Dion or Air Supply.

    You got old. But not gracefully.

    By Ben Harrison - Moe Tucker's interviewer on May 29, 2009

  6. Nice interview Ben.

    By Mark on May 30, 2009

  7. thanks for saying so Mark.

    wouldn’t normally want to do a Q&A cold, but for Moe it’s worth making the exception.

    somehow i didn’t find time to articulate my theory that her influence on many electric guitarists of the 20th century is deeper than many realize.

    By Ben Harrison - Moe Tucker's interviewer on Jun 1, 2009

  8. Thanks for this interview. I’ve always loved the Velvets, but the loudest (and most obnoxious) voice has always been Lou’s. It’s great to hear Moe’s voice. Her drumming was revolutionary.

    By Jonathan on Jun 19, 2009

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