How did your musical partnership with Chloe Orwell come about?
When putting together Big Hello (’96-’02) Chloe answered an ad I had in a local Chicago entertainment weekly. I was looking for a vocalist who played guitar, male or female, as long as they were good. I’m lucky she answered. We clicked immediately and have been together ever since.
Our newest album and our third is Waiting For The Robot. Thirteen rock songs with big nods to glam and pop. I sometimes call it “sarcastic glam rock” with titles like, “I’m So Happy That You’re Out Of My Life,” “The Scary Side Of Me,” “Kiss This Goodbye,” etc.. So if you need a feel good revenge song to make you feel better about breaking up with someone, these songs are for you. Of course there are other upbeat songs as well such as, “Dirty Glitter” and “Miss You On Tuesday” which have been getting lots of radio airplay. I’m proud of all of my releases in my lengthy career (Screams, The Elvis Brothers, Big Hello) but this third Handcuffs album is the best I’ve ever done. I’m really proud of this one.
Did you have specific goals for it in terms of sound or direction as it relates to your first two releases?
When starting on a new album, we (Chloe and I) select 15 or so that we think fit together for the sound of that album. Our first album, Model For a Revolution has a sound and a character but since it’s our first, it’s kind of a mixture of everything The Handcuffs were trying to convey. Rock songs with melody and hints of glam. It was a definite departure in sound from Big Hello (three albums) which was pretty much straight ahead pop/punk/rock. The Handcuffs mix retro inspiration with updated current production. We don’t want to be a retro time piece and, clearly, we’re not, which is probably why a number of current television shows have used our songs. Our second album, Electroluv is a step forward from our first and I think it’s the most pop of our releases. Our third and newest release, Waiting For The Robot, definitely was inspired by early Bowie, T. Rex, Mott The Hoople, etc. along with newer bands like Goldfrapp and the Ting Tings, etc.. Lots of underlying acoustic guitar and piano along with a Les Paul and Marshall bringing in the heavy. A good example of this is the song, “Eight Down”, about a friend who has used eight of his nine lives and needs to get it together before it’s too late. “Robot” is our most consistent yet and the response has been great.
You do a number off fun unorthodox things most drummers would never think of, who is your biggest influence as a player?
I am a self taught drummer. I’m lucky because I have natural timing and a good ear for music, and basically could just play drums from day one. Early on I thought I should find a role model to follow and I related to the drumming of “some drummer” named Keith Moon for a new band called The Who. Haha, who knew what they would turn into at the time?! They were just another 60s pop band at the time. As a kid, I liked to entertain, my family loved humor and so my personality and love for entertaining comes out in my drumming. Moon and I were a natural fit even before I saw him perform on television appearances. I always liked taking that surprise left turn in my drumming. I really think about and plan out my drum fills and intros on recordings. I try not to do the typical drum fills unless a song really calls for it. Another favorite drummer of mine was jazz musician Gene Krupa who was the first drummer to bring drums to the forefront as a lead instrument. Other influences for my drumming are guitar players and comedians where timing, dynamics and accents are very important. It all relates.
What were the first few records you bought as a kid?
I grew up in the single/45 era so a number of my first records were singles by Paul Revere and the Raiders (“Hungry”), The Who (“I Can See For Miles”), The Beatles (“Help,” though I mostly played the rocking b side, “I’m Down”), etc. It seems like the songs I was attracted to were songs with strong beats or heavier riffs. The first few albums I owned were by Paul Revere and The Raiders (Just Like Us), The Rolling Stones (High Tide and Green Grass), The Kinks (Greatest), The Beatles, (Magical Mystery Tour), Vanilla Fudge (first LP), etc.
You have been in a string of well regarded bands, how important do you think each band’s commitment to image was key in their ultimate success? (does this come from a love of British Invasion for you?)
Yes, I grew up in that overwhelmingly important era of 60s British Invasion so I wanted to be like my heroes. The excitement of Carnaby Street, mod haircuts, velvet and striped jackets seems so alien and other-worldly compared to the drab Midwest. The image just stuck of how a band should look and I’ve always been image conscious with all of my bands. Not that I try and dress everyone like Austin Powers, but a cohesive look of some sort is important. Example: If you have three or four band members wearing black straight legs, jackets and a boa or two, you don’t want a sloppy guy with a beard, wearing blue jeans and a flannel shirt. People will think he’s the gardener for the band. But, on the other hand’ four sloppy guys with beards works also and they don’t particularly want a guy in a jacket and boa standing next to them. So yes, I think image is important and having the band look like the band sounds is an important part of the whole package. And rock and roll didn’t invent the image thing, it goes all the way back to the big band era, country and western bands, folk groups, etc.
Playing with The Romantics seems like such a great fit for your drumming style, was it something you had thought about ever before it happened?(in any way?)
I never really thought about it or dreamed of one day playing in The Romantics. In fact my former band, Screams had a major album release on Infinity/MCA in 1979, about a year before they did, so I had been around. It’s a case of we all grew up in the same era and liked the same bands. The Who, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, etc. I knew where they were coming from, I learned their songs and it works. Bottom line is that I’m a good drummer and it’s just an added plus that I fit in so well with the image. I got The Romantics gig through my friend and fellow drummer Clem Burke of Blondie, who had been playing with The Romantics and he suggested me as his replacement when Blondie got back together and became too busy with their own touring. Clem was a good fit with The Romantics and to this day I get people thinking I’m Clem because of our similar look and drumming style. We both were influenced by Keith Moon, The Beatles, etc. and, coincidentally, we are the two drummers that get identified stylistically with that. It’s not like we are influenced by each other thoughit seems that it would be that way. We were both playing in bands and releasing records before we even knew each other.
Which of their tunes are your favorites to play and which song did you find the most difficult to get down?
I enjoy playing all of The Romantics songs and I never really had any difficulty learning them. The original drummer Jimmy Marinos, plays left handed on a right handed kit so some of the original drum fills seemed a bit odd to me before I knew that – meaning that some of his fills start opposite or end opposite of what a right handed drummer like myself would naturally play. So, I had to change what comes naturally to me to get the same feel as the original.
Gene Simmons once said “when the drummer sucks, even the fat girls know,” what did he mean?
I have no idea what he meant, but I do know this: A good drummer can make a bad band sound good and a bad drummer can make a good band sound bad.
Can you give us side one of the seemingly reasonable sounding, Elvis Played Drums On This; Greatest Hits, including all your prior bands?
I have done quite a bit of session work for other bands with some nice stand out drumming bits. A few albums that I can recall: Jay Bennett and Edward Burch, The Palace at 4am album and The Spanic Boys, Sunshine album. I also played on Torture and their latest, yet to be released and Three Hour Tour – 1st album, 1969, B Side Oblivion, Looking For Tomorrow, all released on Parasol. A Brad Elvis drums greatest hits, side A:
Screams – “Angeline’s Toys”- from Screams, self-titled album (Infinity/MCA/Universal) – 1979
The Elvis Brothers -“Fire In The City” – from Movin’ Up (Portrait/Sony) – 1983
The Elvis Brothers – “Don’t Take My Guns Away” – from Adventure Time (Portrait/Sony) – 1985
The Elvis Brothers – “I’ve Got Skies For Her” – from Now Dig This (Recession Records) – 1992
Big Hello – “Sister Mary” – from The Apple Album (Parasol) 1998
Big Hello – “If You Don’t Stop Your Crying” – from The Orange Album (Break-Up Records) – 2000
Big Hello – “Slingerland Drums” – from Apples and Oranges (Break-Up Records) – 2001
The Handcuffs – “I’m Not Laughing” – from Model For a Revolution – (OOFL Records) 2006
The Handcuffs – “I Just Wanna’ be Free, Man” – from Electroluv (OOFL Records) – 2008
Three Hour Tour – “Heaven And Hell” (by The Who) – from Looking For Tomorrow (Parasol) – 2010
The Handcuffs – “Kiss This Goodbye” – from Waiting for the Robot (OOFL Records) – 2011