The Midi Skirt Interview
by Johnny Winters

JW: I'll tell you what, Rusty. I'll keep my talking down to a minimum, asking a few questions to get you talking, and let you do most of the work... you know, like real interviewers do.

RS: Is that legal?

JW: For those of you who don't know, I'm the only person who's ever interviewed Rusty Spell, at least since he's started doing solo work. I believe someone--Mary Waters?--anyway someone interviewed him back in his glory days of 'nikcuS, but no one will touch him now.

RS: At least Lori Burton did a review of the first Mnemonic Devices album. That was something.

JW: Anyway, my point is, Rusty and I now have this sort of thing going where we almost resent having to talk to each other and do this thing because it reminds of of two things: (1) That no one really cares about Rusty's music--

RS: Johnny!

JW: It's true--and here's the worst part: (2) That the only music I get to do any real work on is stuff related to 'nikcuS Productions. Ever since I quit my job at Listen! magazine, I've been stuck with you guys.

RS: Aren't you doing that complete life overblown history of 'nikcuS right now?

JW: Yes, I'm still in 1990, near the end of that year. Six more to go. Anyway, your Love and Letters stuff won't get too much exposure in there, so it seems we're wasting time at the start of this interview--an interview which is supposed to be about a very present thing.

RS: Yeah, well, you can always cut stuff out--piece it together like you're supposed to, make it interesting.

JW: Oh, who has time for all that junk? [pause] Besides me, of course, who's simply too lazy.

RS: [impatiently] "On with the show," as they say...

JW: Yes, indeed. On with the game. Show. So, talk away: background stuff first.

RS: Okay. Good. Well, it sort of started back in March of this year (1998) when I finally went out and bought myself a MIDI-compatible keyboard. Noby was living an hour and a half away now, and there was no way I could use it anymore--and besides, it was always a rush when I used his stuff since, you know, it was his room and all and I couldn't be hanging out there all day. I still thank Noby for letting me bum off his equipment all those years. So I bought one. Didn't I talk about all this in another interview?

JW: Yes, I think so, but who can keep up with all those anyway?

RS: I'll cut it short: I decided that Debi and I would become the permanent lineup for The Mnemonic Devices, we re-recorded all the older incarnations (the first two albums), and now it was time to make a new album... this time, with all the time in the world at my fingertips; this time, entirely at Love and Letters Studios (which was sort officially opened, not the semi-studio I had before) instead of Noby's House Studios. Well, I took six months and two days to make this one; that was the span. The actual number of days I worked on it was twelve. So I could have finished it in less than two weeks if I had wanted to... technically, but it wouldn't have turned out the same way. I let songs soak and changed them up a little after hearing them a few times. [pause to think] Mind if I see how many span of days and actual days it took for the other albums?

JW: [falling to sleep] No, I don't care. Here's the notebook of information...

RS: Great. [looking] I Don't Remember took a span of three weeks with --- actual days. 20CLP took a span of two months and two days with --- actual days.

JW: That's fascinating.

RS: Hey, Johnny, I'll just write this interview by myself if I have to. I know your M.O. by now.

JW: Bull. I'm an intricate character.

RS: Back to the album. Yes, so I took a long time with it. I made like demos and stuff for myself that I'd listen to. I did something I'd never done before with this one: I actually didn't use a few songs I'd made for it.

JW: Would you mind listing those?

RS: Sure. I made one called "Skip-Trip-Hooray." I made it all far-out sounding (at least for TMD) because I wanted this album to be way different from the earlier stuff, kind of zanier or something. It still is to a degree, but this one was perhaps too much. I'm going to use it on the next Rusty Spell album, because I really like it. The next one is a song that's tentatively titled "Slacker in the Dark." Everyone hates the name "slacker" and I'm not sure if I'll use it or not use it for that very reason--but the song itself is an instrumental. It originally had lyrics to it, a song called "Let It Bleed." I recorded it with lyrics and it sounded like a jumble of crap. I may or may not use the instrumental for the next Rusty Spell album.

JW: It looks like you're piling up some things to use for this next solo album. Is this, in fact, the long-awaited "followup to Mailbox album?

RS: I'm not sure yet. I'll talk about it later, near the end. Dramatic structure, you know.

JW: Okay. Any more songs you made for this one?

RS: There was one called "Talk Show Host" which was basically a little lyric introducing a theme song I'd recorded for the radio/internet talk show host Georginia. I'll include it on a Rusty Spell album with just the theme, not the intro. I had this song called "Death, Behold" that was going to be on the album, but I sort of grew to hate it. It won't be on my next anything because I erased it. Debi's son Ryan, liked it, but he's just a kid...

JW: Which brings us to the chidren's album...

RS: No, it doesn't! Focus, Johnny! [deep breath] One last one I was going to use until the last minute was something I'd recorded for Debi to sing. It was one of her poems set to music. But when she started singing it, she said she didn't like how it fit with the poem--or, more specifically--it didn't fit. So I didn't use it and doubt I will use it anywhere. I see why Debi didn't like it much, so I didn't argue with her (like I do about other things she doesn't like).

JW: Let's talk about the songs you did use, then. The first thing on the album is "Wedding March."

RS: I wrote this as a new wedding march, for people who were sick of "Here Comes the Bride."

JW: Okay, so what's the deal with "The Emperor's New Song"?

RS: Well, by the time I figured out a little of what the album was going to be like, I decided I'd better write a song that could fittingly begin it. This was it, changing themes all the time.

JW: You say by the time you figured it out... normally don't you have a very set idea of what the album's going to be like?

RS: Normally, yes. I normally have the type songs I want mapped out. And I know what order they're going to come in and everything. This time it was different in that I was just writing songs. I put them together later... and then started mapping to a degree, writing notes to myself like "slow song here," so that I could offset some things. It got more structured as it went, but right at first it was just me playing around randomly with my new keyboard. And, again, taking my time. I never rushed to finish anything like before, where I gave myself a little bit of a deadline.

JW: The next song was Debi's lyric-writing debut, wasn't it?

RS: Yes. I'd asked if she wanted to write any lyrics for the album and she wrote down a few lines for the song that eventually became "Dreams In a Jar." I took it, added some lines, and sorted it so it would actually be a song and not just... a few lines. It worked pretty good; I'm almost tempted to call this one "the hit." I don't think there is a hit, though. Anyway, originally the title was "I Wish," but Debi didn't like that title, so she picked a line out of the song and we named it that.

JW: The next song is a mostly-piano instrumental. Not very Mnemonic Devices sounding, adding to this feeling of "not like the others." Why is it called "Michael's Theme"?

RS: It was me just messing around with piano chords that sounded all sad and stuff, something that might be used in a movie--a made-for-TV movie about cancer or something. And it hit me that it sounded like something from Highway To Heaven or Sam's Son or some other Michael Landon vehicle. So I called it "Michael's Theme." If he were alive I'd sell it to him. I miss Mr. Landon.

JW: The next song, "Cut It Out," could almost be an instrumental.

RS: True. In fact, there were originally lyrics throughout the entire song, but I liked how the music sounded so much that I let it be just it for the first half of the song. It also let me narrow the song down to the better lyrics, since most of them were crappy. I do like the music a lot; I kept listening to it over and over. I purposefully tried to make it sound different, using different instruments than I normally use.

JW: The next song that features Debi, "Beautiful." Sounds like a commentary on jerks or something.

RS: Maybe, but the commentator's not me. That's something I like about TMD. It's pretty far removed from me, unlike Rusty Spell. The album is in that sort of literary world of other people and their problems that I don't necessarily have, or wish I didn't have. I do sometimes. Like almost everyone's leaving each other or at least hating each other on this album, for example. The only really positive song is "Rock-a-Bye Moon," and it's about two people who want to escape from the world.

JW: Talk about "Cacophony."

RS: I got the idea from something someone--I think it was Shoenburg--said when people were complaining about his hard-to-take music. He said, "Stand up and take your cacophony like a man!" I thought that was kind of funny. So I started and ended with this annoying big noise and put some bubble gum in the middle.

JW: "Our Hurricane" sound very familiar.

RS: Okay, you got me. So I sort of almost stole the melody and rhtyhm and delivery from a Modest Mouse song or two... but it's far enough from it for legal purposes, I imagine. If they want to sue me I'll give them credit or whatever. I doubt they'd mind... even though I picked up their twang--or whatever it's called up there, the way they sing.

JW: People might think the next song is a Christmas song.

RS: Just based on the title--and, no, we're not going to talk about the upcoming Christmas album right now. It's not a Christmas song. It was originally called "Come and Gone." It was called that for about twenty minutes. "Christmas Afternoon" is the thing the song is about; the metaphor.

JW: I hear you're proud of "I've Got To Go."

RS: Yeah, I just like it a lot. I think it's because I managed to have a narrator who's kind of a creep but likeable anyway. And the timing--the spacing--of the words are nice, too. Just misleading enough at parts. And it's one of my few dance tunes, so...

JW: We've made it to the last song, "Rock-a-Bye Moon."

RS: The last song, and the first I wrote. I wrote the lyrics as far back as September 1997, based around what Debi called the crecent moon once. Then I did the music first, too, back in April. There's that older version of this song on Experiments and Outtakes, you know.

JW: And not to make yourself your own critic, but I hear you're proud of this song, too.

RS: Well, I hate to say it, but I think the lyrics are just perfect. I don't know if I've ever written perfect lyrics before, but here's one song anyway. No line is a throwaway. Everything means at least two things.

JW: Well, I think it's a good album, Rusty... and I like the cover design, too.

RS: Thanks. I probably shouldn't have used the Delia*s models again, since I used one on I Don't Remember. It may have made sense if they were also on the first one, something I could put on every one. Of course, I don't know if it's legal to use them at all. They'll tell me if it's not, I'm sure.

JW: So, now that the roles are clear at Love and Letters Music concerning who's doing what in which band and who's involved and all that, how much of a part does Debi play?

RS: Little stuff here and there. Some of the suggestions she'll make like I've said in this interview. Occasional lyrics. She sings pretty often, though I still sing the majority of the time. She probably does more than I know.

JW: Well, we've come to the end of the album, so I'm sure everyone wants to hear from the horse's mouth what's next.

RS: Apparently no one does, but I'll say what's next anyway. I've already started work on the next Rusty Spell album. I don't feel like I need a rest since I didn't work hard and quick on this one. It didn't wear me out. Plus, I just bought a guitar, and so I'm going to be playing it a lot and coming up with songs in the process of learning it. As to whether it's going to be the followup album--that is to say, the one that will be another "real" album that follows some kind of theme and isn't just a collection of songs (or a side-idea: like Covers By Casio and Experiments and Outtakes were)... no, I don't think it will be, though it may end up being that way. For example, I'm doing some things with it like redoing some Rusty 'nikcuS songs I've wanted redone since I adlibbed them with the band. I'm also including a slightly-redone version of "Railroad Boy" that I put on the Merritt tribute CD. And, of course, the songs from The Wedding Album that are going to be here. So it's a collection of weird things already... but Mailbox wasn't too strongly focused either, so it's possible that it might be called the "real" album. Heck, I might even call it Charles Grodin like I changed my mind about doing.

JW: Anything else?

RS: One or both of the groups will do a Christmas album, if not for this Christmas, then the next one. Debi wants to sing "Santa Baby." We'll also make a children's record sometime, mostly originals, some old ones. I want to do some tunes from Mickey and the Beanstalk; those are some of the best. And then there is the idea for an all-covers album (which may not happen) and an all-Merritt album (which most likely will).

JW: Any new bands, or just the two?

RS: I still want to do Paint My Scum, but I need a computer first. I was going to wait until I got a computer to release this album, but I went ahead and did it since it won't be until after Christmas. And that's it, baby.

JW: That's it?

RS: That's it.


Copyright (c) Oct 1998 by The Mnemonic Devices and Johnny Winters