Heather Perkins Interview (in progress)
Your Dangerous Household Objects was one of the first underground, home taper cassette albums I purchased back in the late 80’s. I’d been home taping for a few years at that point and it really opened my mind and I’m feeling that same thing with your new album. First, if you don’t mind, take us back to the beginning and how you started on your journey to become a famous hometaper.
A long, strange but not entirely insane journey into the world of home-taping.
I was always interested in music and recording. I listened to records for hours as a kid, classical and comedy but mostly rock. All kinds. Radio wasn't quite so genre-bound in ye olden times, and that inspired me. You could hear James Brown, BB King and Sly & The Family Stone along with The Beatles, Iron Butterfly and Jefferson Airplane. I lifted records from my brother, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, and Grand Funk Railroad. My Mom also had cool records, the cabinet under the hi-fi had Tom Lehrer and the Smothers Brothers alongside Beethoven and Debussy. Later on I discovered Pink Floyd and Yes. Bless the band Heart and Joni Mitchell for showing me gals could do it too, and bless Neil Young for showing me that you could make a song with only a few chords, and that a guitar solo could be a single note instead of a million wanky ones. I did childhood piano and clarinet lessons, sang a little in choir, and got my first guitar at age 12.
I lugged a battery-powered Panasonic cassette deck everywhere in my tweens and teens. At first I used it to record songs off the radio, but later I used it to record weird sounds I liked, nature sounds and eventually my own tentative teenage music. I still have some of those old tapes. I'm almost scared to listen back, But it must be done!
During high-school I continued my musical journey. A friend showed me how to do sound-on-sound on a Sony 2-track reel to reel. I spent hours trying out keyboards at a local music shop until they threatened to banish me, and I bought my first synthesizer, a Mini Korg 700s. We would go to the park with a battery powered Gnome synth that my friend built, and blast it through a Pignose amp, annoying I'm sure the people that had gone there for peace and quiet. My friend Ole recently told me that we also did an impromptu jam after-hours at the elephant house at the Portland Zoo, which honestly I don't recall. Sorry, elephants!
More of the same through college at Evergreen in Olympia. I got to play with an Arp 2600 as long as I wanted. I was baffled by the space-ship sized Buchla modular (and I remain baffled by modular synthesis to this day.) But it sure was impressive to look at! I did some trippy multi-media shows with my friends. I was a DJ on KAOS FM, which is where I discovered R. Stevie Moore. He is the first person I'd heard of who made their own record, without using a commercial studio or dealing with a record label. The record was a 12" EP of "Dance Man/Manufacturers," and I became obsessed. I played that record on the radio a LOT. (I also played a lot of commercial stuff, like Yes and Neil Young. I don't think I had yet fully grasped the concept of public, non-commercial radio. But I had a blast)
The notion of recording at home was so attractive to me. I already had a music room in my college apartment with all kinds of instruments in it. Near the end of my time at Evergreen a friend leant me a TEAC 4 track reel to reel, and I was in heaven. Mostly recorded stupid stuff, but I had a blast.
After college and a year out in the desert I ended up in Eugene, OR in 1980. I started a string of manual labor jobs - shingle mill assembly line, paper delivery, apartment cleaning, chimney sweep, landscaper, bar DJ, stagehand, and dozens of restaurant jobs, usually multiple jobs at once. I got my DJ gig and was asked to join my first band the same year, 1984. The band was a rock/funk/pop band called Transister, and yeah, there were mullets and spandex. Hey, it was the 80s.
By then I was living by myself in a rented house on 38th and Hilyard. In 1986, after a gig in Portland, the band told me that I was out. Just like that. Although looking back I saw it was a great thing for me, at the time I was devastated. That's when I decided to take out a loan and set up my own home studio and make music by myself - be my own band. I already had a guitar and a Pro-One analog synth. I took out maybe $1,500 - a huge amount at the time - and got a Tascam 246 Portastudio, a couple of cheap Peavey mics, and a Yamaha RX15 drum machine. I quickly also bought a Casio SK-1 - the first sampler! And I either had or was about to buy my pre-scarred 1974 blonde Fender Stratocaster and my beautiful Guild acoustic. I still have the Tascam, and I still have the guitars.
So I was off and running. I named my studio "Land-O-Netws!" a riff, for some reason, on Land-O-Lakes butter. Newts, because I had a huge tank full of newts, creatures I have always felt a deep affinity with. I didn't learn until decades later that the skin of these newts contains deadly poison. Two of those newts, Fluffy and Snowball, lived into the 21st Century, I reckon they were each at least 36 years old when they finally passed, within a few weeks of each other. Who knew?
"Dangerous Household Objects" was one of the first two cassettes I made, it was sort of a double-release with "Burning Through," both made in 1987. The former was more experimental music, the latter song-based. They came out very quickly. I loved recording at home. The act of recording was as much music to me as the actual music. Two of my old bandmates played on a song on "Burning Through," no hard feelings! Then I had two tape albums, and I thought "Huh. What do I do with these now?"
I was in the music store when I picked up OP Magazine. I don't remember if I was guided to it by the staff, or found it on my own. I flipped to the back and saw the ads for hometapers. I saw that I could send a cassette to someone, and get a cassette back. This was a huge revelation for me, and opened up the entire world. Literally. I was incredibly fortunate to do my very first trade with the legendary Don Campau , I sent him my two cassettes in trade for his amazing double album " Pinata Party ." His letter was so gracious, and he was incredibly helpful in my musical journey, and still is to this day.
And that's how the whole thing started for me.
Is my memory mistaken or did you work at Musak with Robin James of Cassette Mythos?
No, but wouldn't that have been something! It was Amy Denio who worked at Muzak, in Seattle WA.
I believe it was OP's John Foster, though, who worked at KAOS as Program Director (or station manager?) and dubbed me the "weak link" for playing too much commercial music as a DJ there. But that also could have been David Rauh.
My star-crossed moment was taking the Program Director job at KAOS after Lynda Barry graduated, but sadly I didn't really know her apart from her amazing "Ernie Pook Comeeks" in the school paper. The PD job for me mostly is consisted of taking multiple DJ shifts (under fake personas and voices) because staffing a small college radio station with volunteers over the summer is HARD. Especially in Oly WA in the late 1970s!
You and I have a few similar watermarks — portable reel-to-reel machines in our youth, old school radio shows, loans for our first 4-track. Ole has been around for a while. You did the Betty Boop Experience album together.
Yeah, we do seem to have sprung from similar leanings, if I may mix metaphors.
Ole and I have been making music together on and off since we met - in 1973! - he's actually coming over now so we can geek out over our new album release (cassettes just arrived) and go have a celebratory drink. He's a really good friend.
I got your TAPE package yesterday! We will be circling back to that, I’m sure.
Here’s my review of Dangerous Household Objects in 1988’s GAJOOB:
"This tape is amazing! There are so many sound sources (through the aid of a cheap sampler and digital delay), interspersed so expertly, weaving in and out, along with snippets of melody and spoken word. Recording quality is perfect. These works are in the same vein as NONE OTHER, but subtle and patient and often strangely humorous in their execution."
Do you have your masters and do you plan on making your older albums available on Bandcamp or elsewhere? Did you continue to separate your experimental and song-based recordings on future albums?
I remember getting reviewed by you in Gajoob, it was a big moment for me! It was a great review, probably my favorite.
I do have all my duplication masters, the final master mixes I used to run off copies for trade. I also have a lot of the 4-track masters of the individual songs too, as well as the old Tascam 4-track, which I had fully refurbished a year or so ago, so it still works! I just digitized everything from the dupe masters, and that was a trip!
I did sort of separate song-songs and more experimental tracks once more, on my 1988 tape "Why I Did It/Binky's Revenge," a 90 min. "double album," one side for each kind of music, but didn't do it again after that. I think that was the tape I did right after 1987s "Burning Through" and "Dangerous Household Objects." After a while I realized the two styles were becoming one. Now I'm just a shameless "genre-bender."
I was thinking of starting to release my old 1980s/1990s stuff on Bandcamp, either tape by tape as an archive, and/or by putting out one digital release of my own favorite tracks, like a "Greatest Non-Hits" situation. But since last year I have been working with Matas of the BigBandAlone label in Lithuania, and they seem to be determined to put out a vinyl LP of their picks from my old cassette stuff, which is pretty exciting for me. The're a small label and I'm fine with waiting to see what they do. I don't want to undermine their release by flooding the market - ha ha ha I can't believe I just said that! - with my own releases of my old stuff. But since the LP is a ways foo, if it can happen at all, I might ask them what they think. If we did it right it might be fun to do a coordinated release.
It's been interesting to listen back to my old music again. Some of it I really like a lot, and some of it I might feel less strongly about. But it was all part of a journey I am still on, and a part of the journey that will always be my favorite. Some songs I might even re-do just for fun. I'm also listening back to and digitizing some of my favorite music by other tape traders from that era, so that's been fun.
Discogs lists the following albums:
Plus there was It's a Tacky Tacky World with Ole in 1992.
And now two new albums in 2021. What are we missing?