Strange vibes come from Mars (an interview with Beatniks from Mars)

Everything is interconnected. I will never stop claiming that. I might not be original here, but who the heck cares, right? So to make long story short…one day (and about 20 years too late) I’ve discovered the legendary Factsheet Five magazine.
I love to browse the issues, learning about the various publications of bygone era – and there is was. Among the avalanche of info one bandname has caught my eye. Beatniks from Mars, that sounds quite interesting…let’s check them out!
Right…but it was not that easy. However, I am used to do this kind of detective work, so after a little search I’ve found a track on Youtube called “Ballad of the Grower”. What a track!!! Now I can’t leave it unnoticed.
Well, it’s turned out, the contact was impossible to find. The only ray of hope was my comment under the video.
And by sheer of luck, after some time it’s been noticed and this is why you have the chance to read this interview with the band you should already know about..but I guess you don’t.
Nevertheless, I’m glad to help to correct this problem, and helping me is Mr. Lawrence White, the vocalist from Beatniks From Mars. Are you ready?

First of all, Lawrence, thank you so much for your time answering these questions of mine. So, to kick off this little interview, how are Beatniks doing in the end of 2022? And while we are at it – who are the Beatniks at the moment, what’s the current line up?

Good timing. At present I am writing lyrics for a tune that drummer James Caulfield came up with. We are in contact with guitarist Jon Hirschman and bassist Dan Photos as well. All were members up the late 1990s. There were several years when I worked with other musicians including Cobraflex Dreamgazer and Cody Kendall on the tune “Blog Zombie” which was a track for a screenplay I wrote.

For those who have no clue whatsoever – what part of the world, what country, city is that Beatniks call home?

The current lineup are all in NY State. I was forced to leave my studio in Soho, Manhattan after 9-11 for health reasons caused by the terror attacks.

In one of your e-mails you’ve mentioned more than 40-years history of the band – and you’re not kidding! I am always amazed by the band going for so long… but there’s always a starting point. Therefore, let me ask you the usual nosy question: How did Beatniks From Mars come to exist? What was the proverbial spark to ignite the whole “Let’s start the band” motion, and what year we are talking about here? Who’s come with the band name and is there any significance in it?

I had formed a group called Raw Edge and we recorded an album, but it was not satisfying. My goal was to find musicians who could be spontaneous and eclectic. Like some Bohemian on Mars receiving a jumble of radio signals all mixed up. I was interested in finding people who could slip in and out of genres easily and with professional chops so when we came together, the name Beatniks Form Mars seemed work for us.

Also, when I first formed the band I was a staff photographer for Rolling Stone Magazine. I had worked with them in San Francisco and moved to NYC to set up an in-house darkroom in their elaborate offices on 5th Ave. During the years I worked there I photographed groups like heart, Patti Smith, Ramones, ACDC, Pete Towshend and so on and hung out with writers like Curt Loder, Paul Nelson, Ben Fong Torres etc. I was in the Rolling Stone Magazine band, “The Dry Heaves,” which was completely insane but we had a lot of fun. The greatest opportunity was to spend an afternoon with Frank Zappa which both of us enjoyed.  I now live in a heavily cultured area in upstate NY where I work for a beautiful magazine covering the arts by writing and photographing such legacy musicians as Tom Rush and Jon Pousette-Dart, Paul McCartney and YoYo Ma. I also work with the NYC Ballet. It is an awesome way to create a living.

How hard was it, back then, to start a band..I mean, getting instruments, to find a rehearsal space…did any of you have any musical upbringing or previous experience in other bands?

A drummer with a kit and car is golden. Fortunately, we were in that position with James so we could get to gigs in the outer boroughs of NYC. We seemed to enjoy CBGB the most, but Nightingale Bar and McGovern’s Bar in the city were also home bases. It was a lot of fun in those days and there were a lot of really great bands to share a bill with. We played a lot of gigs with Blues Traveler and Spin Doctors and members of the SNL Band. Most of our music is recorded live at CBGB. I loved Hilly and Louise who managed the venue and the affection was mutual.

We’re talking 1970s…which, for me, of course, that’s completely a different world (being born in 1977 in a commie country of (now ex-)Czechoslovakia…but that’s after music of flower power era, funky, disco and many others…did those genres have any influence of forming your musical style?

Yes, absolutely! Jazz, rock, R&B, classical, various ethnic styles all fascinated us and were influential to our writing. I think that is what was satisfying for our audiences. We were like a buffet of music not one dish.

What was the original line-up of the band and how has it changed over the years? Is there anything like “the classic” line-up marking the essential era of the band?

The members I am in contact with now are the players that were with the group the longest, particularly Jon and Jimmy, We played with several bass players through the years including the original player Tom Hood. but Dan stuck with us, and it is cool that we are all alive and remain creative.

I have to say I was introduced to your music via the “Ballad of the Grower”. Listening to couple of your other songs, I would be quite reluctant (or clueless, lol) to put you into a certain genre. I think you yourself would be the best to characterize the music you, guys, play. So, where on the musical map are you located?

One critic called BFM a cross between the Sex Pistols and The Marx Brothers. I liked that but we respected Frank Zappa greatly and his influence is evident in our work like Downtown Hustle and Mama Made a Monster to name a couple. In Jon’s virtuoso guitar work you can hear influences that go from Page to Segovia. I agree that no single genre would describe us and that is how I prefer it.

The line “grow it where I can not where I want to” was nothing short of genius 🙂 I admit, I’ve laughed so hard listening to it, it is still hilarious! This brings us to the theme of lyrics. Where did you find inspiration for your songs’ lyrics? I can kinda guess about the “Grower” lyrics back in the day…but overall… is there any unified theme/approach to the songwriting in the songs of Beatniks From Mars?

Ballad of the Grower was written to be a soundtrack for a film about Marijuana farmers back when it was still very illegal. I had a number of friends in the trade, so I just transposed their experiences into the lyrics. The film was never made but the song became on our most requested along with Where’s My Beer which is kind of a rock anthem.

The majority of indie/alternative or generally underground bands are usually connected with one thing – relative obscurity. And that’s also with the issue of their musical output. Personally, I have found only one tape of Beatniks, namely “Naked” tape from 1990 on Hound Dogma Records. Other than that…nothing. Nada. But I am quite certain you have other releases…am I right?

That is right. We were part of a group of bands called Brooklyn Beat and we put out a CD with them. However, the quality of records at that time and audio tapes were lacking in my opinion. Fortunately, all of the recordings are on DAT tape and this includes several pieces that have never been released to the public in any form. Now that digital media is it give us a chance to share that work and to create new recordings where we lay down tacks independently and share via internet and then mix on an IMac without running up huge bills. That was one part of the old school method that was super expensive and restricted creativity.

Currently my headphones are occupied (on repeat) by your fan-fucking-tastic (no, I am not afraid to use this word) song “Shoulda Known”. This one I can’t put into a time frame…what year was this song released and how did it end up on “The Brooklyn Beat: Down Home” volume 6 compilation? I’d say it’s quite different from the other stuff I could listen from you – was it deliberate detour from your “traditional” (if I can call it that) output?

Thank you. Shoulda Known is one of my favorite tunes. Recorded in DeSau Studios on Murry St. in Lower Manhattan with the great Jerry Williams who recorded the Beastie Boys as engineer. Recorded live in one take.

Can we imagine bands without playing live? OK, we all know the various bedroom projects and one-man bands, but we’re not talking that…we’re talking proper band doing proper live show. From what I could find, you did play the legendary CBGB club back in the 1980s. Call me jealous!!! Of course, most of the people would be interesting in discussing this…but let’s get back to the very first public gig… how do you remember it?

CBGB was a long hall with a stage and dressing rooms in back. To get to the legendary toilet you had to pass by the dressing rooms which somehow helped make the experience more tribal. It was our church with beer and some of my best memories come from those gigs. Where’s my Beer and Mama Made a Monster were recorded on video there.

Any interesting memories from frequenting this (and other) music clubs?

We also liked playing in bars with no stage, so we were right in the middle of the audience with them. Interesting note: we played a biker bar in Queens one summer night and were placed near last on the bill. All of the other bands hit the stage with their hardest power metal riffing tunes which would seem like the proper path to take in a biker bar. However, against the wishes of the band I put Ballad of the Grower as song #1 on the list. The guys were troopers and played it right. When we got to the second chorus time, all the bikers and their women were singing with us. From that point on it was through the roof and the guys did not challenge my set selections again.

I can’t help to notice – I’ve already mentioned the name of “Hound Dogma Records” and I see the video to “Blog Zombie” from 2013 was produced by Hound Dogma Productions… I guess that’s your own record label/production company, is that correct? I am going only by the info I’ve found on Discogs, but the only other band released on this label was Raw Edge. Did Beatniks have anything to do with this band as well?

I mentioned Raw Edge before which in my mind never really clicked artistically or energy wise. But the label of Hound Dogma has been constant throughout. Keep in mind I am the exact same age as Rock and Roll. Saw Elvis live on Ed Sullivan and was onstage photographing AC/DC on their first tour. Hound Dogma is perfect for our label in that it speaks of heritage, rock and roll and intelligent humor.

As mentioned in the beginning, we’re almost at the end of the 2022. Any plans for the Christmas season as a band…and what about plans for 2023?

I want to record more music and the guys seem to agree. I also want to create more films and still hope that my screenplay for Blog Zombie gets picked up with the amazingly talented actor John Byner as the main character. The thesis of the piece is totally different from Mr, Robot. The theme does delve into the dark world of online trolls, gun running, and paid disruptors, but it is basically a story about a family under enormous stress and how they deal with it.

Contact: lwhite18@nycap.rr.com (Lawrence White)

Other links for the Beatniks from Mars:

https://gajoob.org/beatniks-from-mars/audio/73/find-a-lady

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64o2pPlQcik

Discography:

“Naked” – 1990 (See cassette cover below)

“Nice Planet – “1991”

“Trouble in the City” 1991

About the author

A father to two little perpetuum mobiles called kids, Rudolf is a main force behind The Rubber Axe webzine, a bookworm, musick lover and a movie fan - not to mention his virgin forays into the comics and board/card games.

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