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SXSW 2013

The Zombies Remember Their Odyssey

It's remarkable to still have The Zombies with us. And rather unimaginable, really. They first broke up in 1968, just before their seminal second album, Odessey and Oracle, was released. They never really sold any records in back home in England, but in 1964 and '65, they had two hits in the U.S. with "She's Not There" and "Tell Her No." A third hit, "Time of the Season," made it to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969, well after the band was broke and disbanded.
More than 30 years later, two of the band's founding members began a tentative reunion. Rod Argent, whom you'll see most often behind a keyboard, and singer Colin Blunstone have rekindled The Zombies from time to time since then, but this isn't a nostalgia trip. They're really good, and the new music they make, including their 2011 release Breathe Out, Breathe In, is more than respectable. It's a joy to hear.
At the South by Southwest music festival this year I was given the opportunity to talk with Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone. We talked about their early days of touring — playing six or eight shows a day, along with 15 other groups. We talked about the making of their most revered work, Odessey and Oracle, which was originally released 45 years ago this week, about breaking up before the album was released and about making music all these years later.

Bob Boilen: I want to go back to really early, to about 1964 when you came to the States. And I want you to think about this place, South by Southwest, where there are about, you know, let's say 2,000 bands playing nice chunky sets, 30 or 40 minutes. And regular sets are an hour or more. I want you to take me to — and all these people — to 1964 and coming to America. And let's say going to the Fox Theater with Murray the K. And what was that like? Describe that to people, because it's such a whole different ballgame, right?
Rod Argent: It was extraordinary. I mean we — I've just written a song actually Colin hasn't even heard yet. Which talks about, "We walked into the Brooklyn Fox at snowy Christmas Day and Patti and her Bluebelles, blew us all away." I'm just trying to remember the words. "She took us to Aretha Franklin, showed me so much soul. And helped us join the party with our English rock 'n' roll." And that was, that's pretty much it. But we went on stage. And we were part of how many acts, Colin?
Colin Blunstone: There were 15 or 16 acts.
Boilen: They were revues is what they called them, right?
Blunstone: I guess they were. And we had to follow Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, who were sensational. And we were only 18 and 19 years old.
Argent: We were little white kids, weren't we?
Blunstone: Yeah, this is our first time in America. And we had to follow this sensational act. So it was a little challenging. But, I mean, we were very lucky because we had the national No. 1 record at the time. So it did help, I've got to be honest with you.
Argent: But we played two songs. And then all the acts had to do this. We were on with Ben E. King.
Blunstone: Yep. The Shirelles, Shangri-Las.
Argent: Nashville Teens.
Blunstone: Yeah, Dionne Warwick.
Argent: And Chuck Jackson. Chuck Jackson had a big hit in New York at the time. And he was...
Boilen: Do you know when that was?
Argent: Well, I mean, what was...
Blunstone: "Since I Don't Have You?"
Argent: "Since I Don't Have You," even though that was originally The Skyliners. He had a version that was [a hit] in New York. A great singer. And we were pretty much in awe, because all our heroes were black, really, at the time. Apart from Elvis and some, you know, some of the early rock 'n' rollers.
Boilen: Yeah.
Argent: Who were the first people to dip into black music, really. And by proxy that's how we discovered it. And we were pretty much in awe. But they took us to their hearts, they really did. I mean, those words about Patti were really right. She said, "Oh man, there are a couple of people you've got to hear." She said, "You've got to check out Aretha Franklin, and you got to check out Nina Simone." And all that was magical, you know, that was magical input for us. And so I have to say, without wanting to be big-headed about it, a couple of the other white acts on the band, they didn't really talk to them very much, did they? But they sort of, they took us into their confidence, we thought.
Blunstone: They seemed to, yeah.
Boilen: Those were different times and in some ways, very segregated times. Music was one of the places where it would often come together.
Blunstone: Absolutely.
Boilen: Music often pushed the boundaries of race.
Argent: Completely. Even going back to Benny Goodman, when he started using black people in his band for the first time.
Boilen: And you were about to describe the fact that you said it, you said you played two songs. And that's — that really is the huge difference is that this was more like putting on a radio show for people. This is how, 'cause Murray the K was the DJ in New York when I grew up, [on] WMCA. And he, they would put on, you'd come out, do two songs. Did you use your own band or did you ...
Argent: Oh yes, yes.
Blunstone: Yes.
Boilen: But some of these revues you didn't. You had backing bands.
Argent: Yeah, yeah.
Boilen: Maybe by in the '50s, maybe in the '60s it was different. But it was two songs, you're off, two songs from another band. No?
Argent: No, no. We weren't off. We would — every band in, every act in the set had to do this. The biggest and the smallest, you did your two songs, then you had to stay on stage at the back and kick your legs up and down and dance on the stage. And everyone had to do it. And it was absolutely crazy. And I always remember that a couple of us were co-opted by Murray the K into doing something on the show [with] The Shangri-Las. One of their big hits was "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" and I was co-opted to walk up to the front of the stage and plant the smacker on Mary. So — and the other thing was Hugh, wasn't it? Tell him about Hugh.
Blunstone: Hugh Grundy had to drive a motorcycle on ...
Argent: "Leader of the Pack."
Blunstone: Yeah, Hugh Grundy was our drummer and he had to drive a big motorcycle onstage for "Leader of the Pack." And I think he really enjoyed that. But I think you enjoyed the kiss as well, didn't you?
Argent: I enjoyed it very much. That was my favorite part of the show. And there were six shows a day. It was it six or eight, Colin?
Blunstone: Six ... something like that. And the thing is we had to stay in the theater, because there were thousands of people at the back of the theater. And one of the guys, Paul Atkinson, our guitarist, went out of the back of the theater once. He was just pushed up against a plate glass window just by the crowd, and the police came in and they got him. His shirt was ripped off him. And the police got him out and they said, okay, we do that once. We're not doing it again, so we just had to stay in the building for all day.
Boilen: Stay in the building just one more minute. I want to describe the sound that came from, not just from you, which I want to talk about too, but what came from the crowd.
Argent: It's crazy, isn't it?
Blunstone: Wow. Yeah, it was, I mean it was wonderful.
Argent: Screaming and...
Blunstone: It was a lot of screaming, I remember. I think for the first two or three years we were together, I needn't have sung at all, because no one heard anything. And of course, they had very small PA's in those days. Really, I wish I'd have known that at the time, it would have saved me an awful lot of trouble.
Boilen: If the — and I was going to say — from your perspective, could you even hear yourselves?
Blunstone: Not very well, not really.
Argent: There was no foldback; it was almost non-existent in those days.
Boilen: Foldback is the monitoring system [so the band] could really hear themselves. It's the British term ...
Argent: So when the audience hears a band now, you know, obviously they hear in the best possible way. When we're behind those mics and those speakers and unless we have good foldback, it's very hard to pitch. You can't focus on your voice. You know, it has to be pretty good for you to give a good performance and we didn't use to get it in those days.
Boilen: And did you travel from city to city and do similar revues or...
Blunstone: Well, not on that first tour we didn't.
Argent: In '65 we did that.
Blunstone: Yes, and that first tour we just did Murray the K. And then we did the very first show of Hullaballoo. Jack Jones introduced us and I think we just sang "She's Not There." And they tried to get us dancing again, but to start with it was quite big dance piece. And then as they saw us shape up, it got smaller and smaller.
Boilen: But did you — which of the TV shows did you sing — actually sing on any? Or was it a lip sync?
Blunstone: No, it was all lip synching in those day.
Argent: But that was a joy for us because the actual sound mix on television in those days was terrible. And if you did live things, you know, the people — usually engineers from a previous generation who had no understanding of rock 'n' roll and didn't understand the sound mix and balance. So we were very pleased in those early days to, you know, just lip sync.
Blunstone: What was that live TV we did? I forgotten what it's called. With the — they had dancing girls and elephants. And it was like a circus.
Argent: Oh! That was...
Boilen: Let's bring that back. [laugh] You're going to give me an idea.
Blunstone: I can't remember. But what I do remember is Rod and I had to sing a very close harmony song, but Rod was over [at] the end of this room. And we were trying to sing a harmony ...
Argent: How can you do it?
Blunstone: ... with dancing girls. And they had these feather boas, and they kept flicking them round my face. And I'm — and these dancing elephants and things. I can't remember what the show was called.
Argent: And they keep flicking their trunks all over.
Blunstone: I know. I just couldn't tell you; it was terrible. Absolutely terrible. And when it was shown in England — luckily in America our section was blocked out because the President made a speech to the nation right on our section — and we were so pleased.
Argent: We were.
Blunstone: But back in England — they showed it in England. Rod and I were just both desperate, mortified. And we both met up in this — without knowing; we didn't call one another — we went to the same pub to get drunk. And we just ... this is the end. That was just terrible. But anyway, we survived.
Boilen: When we think about 1962 at a point where you're what? 17, 16, 17, 18 something like that.
Argent: It was '61 when we formed.
Boilen: '61 when you formed. There wasn't a wave of bands; we take that for granted now. I want to just talk about the idea of what America defines as the British Invasion that was a few years later. That invasion probably involved 13 groups, right? Compared to the 2,000 you might come and see here. But I just want to talk about the idea of being a teenager and being inspired to form a band as a teenager. Of course, it was not a given as it is now.
Argent: Well, it was for me. Because I grew up the first 11 years of life, only liking classical music. 'Cause the popular music of the early '50s was pretty bad actually. And then my cousin who plays bass with us now, and for 20 years was a bass player with The Kinks ...
Boilen: His name?
Argent: Jim Rodford, I'm sorry. And he was in Argent as well — a founding member with me of Argent. He's a few years older than me, and he had one of the first electric bands in the whole of the South of England. I saw him play — well, two things. He played me Elvis singing "Hound Dog," which completely made me fall in love with rock 'n' roll. And the second thing was he was in this group. I went out to see them. I thought, I just have to be in the band one day. I really have to be in the band. And I was thinking about that constantly until I was about 15. When I met a guitarist at my school, he said he'd be in the band. I went to a guy, a good friend of mine who was playing — who was building a bass. Never played a note in his life, but was building a bass. And I said, is it nearly finished? And he said, yes, it's nearly finished. I said, would you want to be in a band? He said, yeah. He said, I've got a mate who plays guitar and sings a bit. And he said ...
Blunstone: That was me.
Argent: That was Colin. So, and anyway we all met up for the first time. Jim Rodford — the aforementioned Jim Rodford — he took us with all his band's gear. He loaned us all the band's gear for the first rehearsal. Showed Hugh, the drummer, who I saw playing in the Army Cadet Core Band. I thought he had the best sense of rhythm of all the people that I'd seen there. Showed him that his first pattern on the drums, and we had our first rehearsal. And on the first rehearsal I was going to be the lead singer, Colin was the guitarist. And that was it. After about half an-hour, we had a break and I wandered over to a beaten up old piano, and I starting playing "Nut Rocker" by B. Bumble & The Stingers. Colin raced over to me and said, "You have to play piano in the band." I said, that it was a guitar band. Bands are guitar bands, aren't they? You know, we were looking at The Shadows and some of the instrumental bands that were around at the time, and then after about 20 minutes, Colin started strumming the guitar and singing a Ricky Nelson song. I can never remember what that song was.
Blunstone: Well, I think it might have been "Poor Little Fool."
Argent: Or "Hello Mary Lou."
Blunstone: I think "Poor Little Fool."
Argent: And I thought, "This guy sounds great." And I said, "Well, I tell you what, okay, I'll play piano, but you've got to be the lead singer." And that was it. That was the band.
Boilen: Wow.
Argent: With one change where the bass player became a doctor in Canada. He emigrated to Canada. Chris White joined, and that was the band. So many bands started like that, and you can go back to earlier periods of music as well. I know that Duke Ellington's early band which became seminal to so many jazz musicians, was formed by a group of friends in Washington. They were called The Washingtonians, and that's how they started. So many bands start like that. I was reading an article by Dave Grohl the other day where he said, just get into a garage and suck. He said, just play and learn how to interact with other musicians, and just play for the joy of it. And that's what we were doing. That's still what people should be doing today. Not closeting themselves, you know, with, in their bedrooms with a few drum loops and things. Just make your mistakes and learn the joy of playing with other people. That's what we did.
Boilen: And getting out in front of people. Do you remember the first time you took that ...
Blunstone: The big step.
Boilen: I don't know ... were you in a basement doing this? You described ...
Blunstone: Well, we were still at school. We all went to school in one city called St. Albans. Although it's a city, it's not that big. That was the connection but we didn't live that close to one another so we would just rehearse at the weekends.
Argent: We'd take our stuff on the bus.
Blunstone: Yeah, we would the stuff on the bus. And one time I went with the drummer on a little scooter, a Lambretta scooter with his drum kit and my guitar. So we just got there any way we could.
Boilen: Where's the Instagram?
Blunstone: And — but I remember our very, very first ... our very first gig. It was in a little village called Lemsford. It's probably only 150 people live there. They had a youth club and we played there. And ...
Boilen: Isn't that where you met Janie Jones?
Blunstone: Shhh. I was absolutely thrilled. There were probably 30 or 40 people there. It wasn't an audience; it was a dance. At the end they always used to like to lower the lights for a slow dance, so everyone could have a smooch. So we played The Shadows song ...
Argent: "Nivram."
Blunstone: "Nivram."
Argent: It was cutting edge at the time. And it's a bass solo.
Blunstone: There's a bass solo in the middle. And the guy who built the bass, I mean he was okay. But he wasn't great, and as the lights got lower, he lost the fretting on the bass.
Boilen: He didn't see it?
Blunstone: He was playing a semi-tone difference to the rest of the band.
Argent: He played it perfectly but with semi-tone and out of tune.
Blunstone: And just let me say that — I thought it sounded really modern. Really cutting edge. It sounded great. But he was actually playing a semi-tone flat for the whole thing. But that was our first gig, and we weren't gonna let a little thing like that put us off, you know. It was great fun.
Boilen: Let's talk about the first time you walked into a studio. How long did that take?
Blunstone: Oh, everything was in an evening. We did everything in an evening.
Argent: That's right. Four tracks and mixed and everything in an evening, yeah.
Blunstone: But the first session we walked into was in West Hampstead Decca Studios where all the Decca acts recorded. Tom Jones, Lulu, Moody Blues all recorded there. It was an evening session and when we walked in the engineer had been at a wedding all day. He was blind drunk, absolutely blind drunk. Which is okay, I don't mind someone being blind drunk. But as time passed he became more and more aggressive. And so, sort of 45 minutes into a 50 -ear career, I thought, "This music business is not for me. I don't like this, this really is very difficult." Then we had a bit of luck. He collapsed. He was absolutely out cold. And we — he had a Zombie on each leg and a Zombie on each arm — we carried him up three flights of stairs. We took him into a black London taxi, put him on the backseat. I never saw him again. And his assistant took over, who was Gus Dudgeon.
Argent: He went on forever as a session engineer.
Blunstone: He went on to produce all of Elton's stuff, Kiki Dee, David Bowie. But he was only the assistant engineer on this first session.
Boilen: What a stroke of luck.
Blunstone: His first session ...
Argent: ... became a number one around the world
Blunstone: ... was our first session, and on that session we recorded "She's Not There" and I think three other tunes. Everything: backing vocals, mixed and in the car and on our way home by 11:00.
Boilen: And the [new] record, Breathe Out, Breathe In. How would you have done — how did you do that record?
Argent: The thing is, that over the years I've done a lot of record production and I've had thankfully a lot of success with it. There was a European artist called Tanita Tikaram in the '90s that [was] a record that I produced. It sold 1/2 million, et cetera. So I've done lots of production and gone through all the techniques, but on this particular album, Breathe Out, Breathe In, we decided not to try and be incredibly retro and go back, you know? Because you can't go back. But to try and embrace some of the things which worked so well in the old days. So we decided first of all to almost have no overdubs. We had almost no overdubs on the album, which means that we can do everything live, which is great. Secondly, we decided, from my point of view, that the keyboards should be as organic as possible, so I basically just played piano or organ or electric piano on the record. Thirdly, we decided that, as much as possible, the rhythm track will be played with everybody together so that we got some real interplay and the feeling of freshness about what we were doing. So typically, even though it took longer than it did in the first place, typically this is how each track would happen: I would go to the drummer's place, prepare him by playing in the track. We would typically play as much, do the rhythm track in three hours, so it wasn't a long day session. [Recording] the rhythm track would be three hours. And then we would leave it. Then we'd have a separate day where I'd work with Colin on the lead vocal and we'd give that a lot of attention, a lot of time, 'cause we wanted to make that as good as possible, so that would take a day. But not long days — we're talking about very civilized hours. You know, like 10:00 'til 6:00 or something like that and we'd have lunch and everything. But you know, it was very fresh and easy. On the third day, we would explore harmonies and we would put all the harmonies down because we wanted to explore harmonies in the way we always used to in the old days. So we'd try to get that parameter in. And then we would, the engineer and myself would, then mix it on another day. And I mean that's four days, but they're not four long days. And in the way that stuff is done nowadays with millions of tracks, we just didn't do it like that. And so we tried to make it very much about capturing performances, just as in the old days. So we, in many ways, tried to go back to what it felt like the best of the old thing.
Boilen: You said something that interested me which is that idea, that the idea of exploring harmony. And I think one of those things that connects people to a record like Odessey and Oracle for example is just that. There's such pure voice on that record. And so beautifully arranged. I was thinking of "Rose For Emily." I want to know what you came into the room with, and what you discovered in the room. In other words, how much of it was, you worked your butts off in trying to figure out the arrangement beforehand? Or how much was inspired? Talk about the sessions for Odessey and Oracle.
Argent: Well, we had to prepare things very well because we didn't have a large budget for the album, so we typically used to rehearse in my front room actually, around the piano. If it was one of my songs I would usually write many of the parts as integral to the song. Like, for instance, on "Care of Cell 44," the bass line was written by me because that was part of the song. So a lot of it wasn't just experimental on the day of recording. Same as "She's Not There," and many of those things. We'd work out the harmonies around my piano and we'd prepare absolutely as much as possible. But because on Odessey and Oracle we had eight tracks or at least seven because it was two four-tracks working together, for the first time we had all this preparation because each of the sessions was only three hours long or something like that. At the same time we had these extra tracks which meant we could overdub whatever spontaneously occurred to us.
Boilen: But did you think that through ahead of time? Or when you walked in there you realized, oh, now we can play more?
Argent: Everything we prepared we would put down. And then, for instance, on "Changes" I suddenly heard, [singing] "dah-dah-dah-dah-dee" on the top and we just whipped in and did it. That sort of spontaneity was part of the record too.
Blunstone: We always were a harmony band right from 1961, and there weren't a lot of harmony bands around. And we're lucky to have Rod, who's a very fine keyboard player. He understands harmony. He was in the Cathedral Choir, so he again understood harmony from that. But this led to a very interesting way that we did harmonies. Sometimes musicians would say to me, "Well, how did you get that harmony on that particular track?" 'Cause normally most people will, someone will sing the top harmony, and someone will sing the bottom harmony and someone sings the melody. But we didn't do things like that because I was a very, very inexperienced singer. And so sometimes I would — and I've got quite a high voice — so I would naturally drift to the top harmony. We would try and establish what I thought was the melody, and that could be quite different to what the melody was. But we had to fix that. And then Rod would try and set a very easy harmony for Chris, because he had to play bass at the same time, so he would be playing a different note to the note he's singing. I don't know how bass players do this, so Chris' harmony very often would be just a straight line. [Sings a single note] "Ummmmm," like that. And then Rod would have to fill in all the holes. So his harmony would be [sings notes at seemingly random intervals] "la-la-la-la-la-la," like that.
Argent: Sometimes.
Blunstone: And when you hear them all together it works. And so our harmonies were quite unique. People find it very difficult to copy because of that.
Boilen: As a fan of the band in those days, the singles in America did really well. Did they do well at home?
Argent: Do you know that was a major source of disappointment to us? And one of the things these days it's so hard for people that are young now to understand, you know, because the media is so instantly communicated now, you could have a hit in Australia and know it within a few hours. In those days it wasn't like that. We only judged things by the way things were in the U.K. We found out much later that we had hits all over the world apart from the U.K.
Boilen: And you didn't know then.
Argent: We didn't know it, no.
Boilen: Isn't that amazing?
Argent: What it led to was a situation where basically our income was for the majority of the band was mostly defined by our U.K. gigs. And because we only ever had one hit record in the U.K., and that wasn't a huge hit, "She's Not There." And then the income for most of the band wasn't that great. But because Chris and I had written the material, and because it had been successful all over the world, this sort of terrific stream of income was coming through for us. So we had no financial problems. But the other guys had to, you know ... were pretty much by the end living hand to mouth, and they had to make decisions. That's one of the reasons we broke up. Our guitarist got married to a girl who was the choreographer on the original Murray the K show over here. So he met an American and he said, "Look, I'm going to marry her. I've got no money. I'm going to have change my career." And then Colin followed and so did Hugh, and that's one of the main reasons why we split up.
Boilen: But to paint that picture when you're going into the studio which is, do you remember months and years is what when you walked into to record Odessey and Oracle?
Blunstone: It was in, it was '67 and it was spring to summer. You know, it was nice weather. I couldn't tell you exactly.
Argent: It was virtually as The Beatles had walked out.
Blunstone: We were the next band in.
Argent: Abbey Road.
Boilen: Literally.
Argent: After they were doing Sgt. Pepper.
Blunstone: And one of the reasons why there's such a lot of mellotron on Odessey and Oracle is because they left the mellotron behind. We didn't have a mellotron. It was just there. And some of the percussion instruments were lying around on the floor. So we thought, "Yeah, okay."
Argent: Some of the engineers were lying around on the floor as well. We used them.
Blunstone: Yeah, we used the same engineers. Geoff Emerick and Peter Vince were, you know, amongst the best engineers in the world, and we were so fortunate to use these same engineers that had just finished Sgt. Pepper.
Boilen: And you think about those times ... Your record, think about even The Rolling Stones, Their Satanic Majesties Request. You think about Pet Sounds and people now would think, what smash success records those were. Monetarily those were all flop records.
Argent: Yeah, even Pet Sounds. Which is extraordinary.
Boilen: Nobody bought Pet Sounds back when Pet Sounds came out. Nobody. I mean, a few.
Argent: Even though Sgt. Pepper really came out as a result, almost, of Pet Sounds.
Boilen: That's right. And Odessey and Oracle was not a big-selling record.
Blunstone: It wasn't, no.
Boilen: And there was a, well, a lot of records in that period that fit that mold of Sgt. Pepper. None of them did well.
Argent: I always say on stage that Odessey and Oracle sells more year in, year out now than it did when it first came out. With the No. 1 hit record. It's crazy.
Boilen: And the attitude of the band. You're hand to mouth, you go into a session to record this record. The record comes out — did you break up before the record comes out? Let's talk about that chronology.
Argent: We broke up before the album came out. I mean, we put the first single out and I think the guys in the band said, well, yeah, especially the ones that weren't writers said, "Well, let's give this thing a chance." And if the single doesn't happen in the U.K. We're only talking about the U.K.
Boilen: The single?
Argent: The single was "Care of Cell 44." It came out, it got great reviews, but it just didn't do anything. So we then split up, and we did an interview with a very iconic radio DJ at the time, Kenny Everett. He was an iconic DJ in England. And he said, "I love you guys." He said, "Well, wouldn't it be wise to wait until the album comes out before you split up?" But we didn't, you know, we've gone. And in fact, it was 18 months later before, because one DJ in the States loved it; loved the single, "Time Of The Season."
Boilen: Who was that?
Argent: It was a guy in Boise, Idaho. I can't remember the guy, but he played it and played it in a way that can't happen now with records because everything's so instant. But in those days it was possible for a huge fan — that playlist didn't govern everything, you know, so he played what he loved.
Boilen: What they would call "break" a record.
Argent: And he broke it. And it took him months.
Blunstone: But even before then, the album wasn't going to be released in America. But Al Kooper from Blood, Sweat & Tears had just become a producer, an A&R man at CBS, and he went to Clive Davis and he said, we have to get this. He bought it in London.
Argent: He said, "Whatever it costs you."
Blunstone: Yeah, "You've got to get this album."
Boilen: Isn't that amazing? Otherwise we may not know who they were.
Blunstone: And Clive Davis said, "We already have this album and we passed. We're not going to release it." So, it's because of Al Kooper that the record was even released in the first place. CBS were not going to release it.
Argent: On such things actually does this business rest ...
Boilen: The other part of painting this picture is, and especially for younger people who don't know the era well, is that it was only the age of singles. Even though we think of these classic records in 1966 and '67. Really...
Argent: Albums were just becoming important.
Boilen: Right. In '66 even a group like The Beatles could release a record and it would be different in the States than it would be in England. It was not this cohesive thing that we think of now. There was no FM radio, so all the radio, like in '66 and previous in America were all 45 driven songs. You'd have you guys playing. You'd have the, you know, the Singing Nuns, you know, have Tony Bennett. You know, you'd have this one radio station that everybody listened to, is this weird variety of stuff. But the idea of doing something completely ... I mean like The Doors or maybe Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" were some of the very first things that were like, this is really different stuff. And then when FM radio came to be in '67 and people started owning those FM radios in '68, '69, that's when you started to hear what I'd say was the more interesting, more artistic, more creative, more challenging music. And I think had the technology been a little different a little earlier that would have changed a lot of people's lives, including the money that wound up coming to you all. And ...
Argent: Absolutely.
Blunstone: Possibly it would have, yeah.
Argent: And I remember I was touring in the very late '60s, early '70s when the explosion in FM radio started and was really happening. And do you know at that time it was basically driven by the enthusiasm of the DJ's?
Boilen: That's right. They carried the records into the studio with them.
Argent: Yeah. They would play again, you know, no huge playlist. They would play what really turned them on. I remember the first time I heard the Crosby, Stills and Nash album. This guy played it and said, "I love that. I'm going to play it again." And he'd play the whole album again. And you know, that could not happen now.
Boilen: That's right.
Argent: But it happened then. And did the audience go down because of that? No, it did not. The audience was enormous because people respond to the honesty, the enthusiasm of people that are really into the music. And what, and that's what they love. Nowadays I think it's a self-defeating circle, a vicious circle.
Boilen: Well, and the fortunate part of nowadays which, I think having lived through a bunch of these times, in some ways is the most exciting time. You know, as much as FM radio was such a remarkable thing. You'd turn on the radio and you'd hear The Velvet Underground, you know. Now I can turn on and go anywhere and hear some amazing bands from Mali. Just like you can do at this festival. Or hear somebody who did something in their bedroom in Seattle. And the gatekeepers aren't as important anymore. The gatekeepers then really did keep you from hearing things, like not putting out Odessey and Oracle if it wasn't for somebody. But now anyone who has a good strong voice can tell people about music. Your friends can tell you about music. You can go get it, you can listen to it without having to buy it. There's so many access points. And I think also the technology having changed it allows people to try and make music. That idea that you said, just get out, like Dave Grohl said, just do it. Just make whatever, what was the phrase he used? Or he used...
Argent: He said, "go into a garage and suck."
Boilen: You could, and in this case mostly bedrooms. And I think that's fabulous. And I think some of the music coming out these days is some of the most exciting. Which if it's okay it leads me to something else. This is a group called Foxygen [plays "San Francisco" by Foxygen], maybe any of you know it? Can you hear the direct line to the creativity and things that you were...
Argent: It sounds very late '60s.
Boilen: Yes. And I want to try to think about having gone into that studio in '67 in spring, summer. We're sitting here in 2013 and there's a band from the West Coast of the United States making music inspired by the music you made then ... Can you even begin to imagine any of that?
Blunstone: No, absolutely not.
Argent: This took us by surprise, didn't it? It was Chris White, the original bass player, who first called me up many years ago and said, you know, a lot of people [are] playing Odessey and Oracle. I thought he was just making it up. And I didn't listen to it, you know, I don't know if Colin did, but I didn't listen to it for about 20 years. And I couldn't even remember, you know, I mean I have my memories of it. Eventually when people started talking about it, Paul Weller from The Jam started talking about it. A lot of people then, young bands, and right up until the present day. The Vaccines last year, a very hot indie band in the U.K. made a video on the net saying it was their favorite album. You know, all that's gone on. And when that started to happen I went back and listened to it. And it was better than I remembered it. It's good, to be honest.
Boilen: It was pretty good, right? [applause]
Blunstone: You know, to commemorate the 40th year that the record came out, we got the surviving members of the band together and we played a concert, along with our present band, of the whole album. And you know, as Rod said, we don't listen to it very often, so we couldn't really remember it very well. And we were a little bit worried about the two other guys. Chris White and Hugh Grundy hadn't played since 1967. So we were going to do a concert in a big hall in 2011. And we thought, we should all get together and just go through these songs.
Argent: We were being very smart, weren't we?
Blunstone: We were being very smart. We've been playing regularly. We're the pros. And we'll just see how Hugh and Chris play, they might not be able to play anymore. Anyway, to cut to the chase: They'd really, really rehearsed. They knew all these songs backwards.
Argent: They were note perfect.
Blunstone: Note perfect.
Argent: We were all over the place. [laugh]
Blunstone: Rod and I had had to listen to it. And they were absolutely on the money, weren't they? And I just thought it was so funny. We were terrible when we played.
Argent: But when we did it, we only had two production rehearsals but we decided that if we were going to do it at all, and it was Chris' idea to do it. He said, "You know, we should really do it." We never played this live. We decided we wanted to replicate every single note on the original record, otherwise there was no point in doing it. And because there was a bit of overdubbing on there, we got Darian Sahanaja from the Brian Wilson band to come in.
Boilen: He's brilliant.
Argent: He's lovely. On the two production rehearsals he came in, and I was trying to teach him. He would say to me, "Why aren't we doing that little bit with harmony in it?" And I said, "Well, it's not on the original." He said, "I think you'll find it is." And you know, and we did. He was actually great. But we got the band we tour with now to do part of it. And Chris and Hugh obviously played, you know, the main parts of it. And we did, we reproduced every single note that was on the original album.
Boilen: Wow. [To audience] And if you haven't seen them live, it is an astonishingly wonderful show.
Argent: Oh, thank you very much. But on that first night when we, we booked one night at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in the U.K. And it sold out, so then it became two nights. And then that sold out and so it became three nights. And just before we went on stage we suddenly thought, "Oh my God, if this doesn't work ... ." Because people kept saying, "Do you know who's standing in line?" Paul Weller has got tickets for all three nights. Robert Plant is here. Who else was there? Snow Patrol and God knows who else. And I suddenly thought, "Oh my God, if this is a disaster ... " You know, after the first two songs, we've got to be in front of these people, we're going to have a whole night to play. But in fact, within I would say a minute we knew it was going to be really great fun.
Boilen: Playing that Foxygen song, hearing your music back in the day. Can you think of what the nugget is that makes what you do so universal?
Argent: You know, we've often thought about this and I think one of the reasons is, the fact that what Colin often says gave us difficulty in the early days. And that is, when we wrote and recorded music, we never tried to play what was the current fashion in the day. We never thought, "Wow, we've got to make sure we get to the hook in 30 seconds otherwise radio won't play it." We just took a musical idea and tried to make it work for us. And if we could get excited about a result, we thought you'd stand some chance of that reaching out over the radio waves and actually touching somebody else enough to go out with their hard-earned money, 'cause you were talking about kids only in those days, who had to make a decision if they were going to buy a record or not, you know. And that's how we always worked. And that's how we still try and work today. And I think in the short term it meant that maybe we missed out commercially, instantly on the instant radio side of things. But in the long term I think it's meant that some of the stuff we did then hasn't dated — it sounds of its period — but it hasn't dated as much as maybe some of the other things from that period did, and it can still speak to people today.
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