Members: John Klett, Tara Shanahan, John Terelle
Formed: New York, 1980
I remember back in 1983, when I was in eighth grade. My favorite bands were still Devo and the B-52’s. My father was an independent record promoter, and he would always be playing new and interesting things for me and for my younger sister. Because the independent promoters worked with a wide variety of hit-or-miss music, he’d screen each record to determine which radio stations would best appreciate this or that artist.
I had just gone to bed one night, when my father started a record. It was pretty quiet, but I could hear most of it. The first sound was that of an amp being switched on. Next was an ominous electronic bass sound. Then the beat kicked in. In the dark of my bedroom, the music took on depth and a sense of multiple layers that I hadn’t encountered before. After years of pop sameness even New Wave had become formulaic I was hearing something new. I sat still, afraid to move in bed for fear of missing what would certainly be thought-provoking lyrics.
“Look. Look, John, look. See Spot run. Run, Spot, run. Run, run, run….”
I laughed out loud, despite the fact that these growled monosyllables were run through effects to make the vocals deeper, scarier.
The music stopped abruptly. “Are you still awake?” my father asked from the living room. “Yes,” I answered, and my sister, across the hall, said the same. “Good,” my father said. “Now I can turn this up.” And he did. He set the needle back to the beginning of the track and turned up the volume so the house nearly shook.
“‘Up up’, said Baby Judy! ‘Up Up Up!’ Meanwhile, back in India…” He played it about six times, loud, before retiring himself. I’m sure I fell asleep with a smile.
The next day after school I put the record on. The band was called “The Hawaiian Pups”, and the record was “Split Second Precision”. It was a four-song record with extended versions of two songs, Baby Judy and Young Boys, on the flip side. Left to right on the back cover stood John Klett, Tara Shanahan, and John Terelle.
And though I kept the record and played it often throughout the remaining Eighties, I never heard anything more about the band. They had disappeared. You can no longer buy their records or see them live. Today, through a combination of luck and magic, I was able to find the members of the Hawaiian Pups and ask them some questions about the band.
To whom did you sell your souls in order to become rock stars?
John Klett: You have to realize that we had no intention whatsoever of getting signed. We were trying to get work producing and engineering and needed to pad out or demo reel so we had been messing around with stupid ideas and put them on the reel with the Bloodless Pharaohs, Station 7, the Dick Head Band and a cut I did in 1978 called "I Watch the World".
John Terelle: Nobody. We still own our own publishing forwhatitsworth. Our manager came up through the business in publishing, by the way, and to punish him for being so manipulative we named our publishing company Chicken Bunny Music so that he would have to introduce himself to all of his old publishing buddies as Barry Bergman from Chicken Bunny Music. (Hmmm maybe we should have spent more time worrying about our careers).
Did you have any rock star moments?
Tara Shanahan: Rock star moments? Enough to know that we couldn't handle them! If you ever want to know just how big an asshole you really are - have a rock star moment. It changes the way you look at things - and yourself, forever.
JK: If being a rock star is having a bunch of people all telling you how great you are and how those other two really suck and 'we can work together you and me' and generally going through whole days or weeks without ever hearing anyone say anything that is true... I'd say we were there. Spinal Tap came out right at the peak of our complete and total disgust with the whole thing. We sat in the movie theater crying because we were laughing so hard and everyone behind us was looking at us like we should leave because they were watching this documentary... or shall I say rockumentary... we were they only people that got it at the time.
When you first heard electronic/industrial bands like Skinny Puppy in the mid-Eighties, with their dark synths, strong beats, and distorted vocals, did you get an odd sense of deja-vu?
JK: Nah! - LIFE is one big deja-vu... nothing much is original even if they never heard us or anything like it... I think it all just wells up out of collective unconsciousness.
JT: The whole of Electronica and all its subsets. For me this is the true deja vu.
Did you have any arrows aimed at you for "Young Boys"? Was there a backlash?
TS: I'm not sure what kind of backlash you mean. Because the gay crowd loved it? Nah! We knew that. Because we were singing about women liking significantly younger males which was undiscovered country at the time? Nah! That was intentional - and apt.
When you listen to Split Second Precision today, are there things you would change?
JT: I listened to SSP just recently after not hearing it for a long time, and what most affected me was that I was finally able to hear it as a piece of music because I've forgotten where all the mistakes are. It struck me that it was really quite a nice piece of work!
JK: It isn't perfect and it is really naive but that's what is good about it. I'd rather do something new. I was thinking of a Baby Judy 911 where Baby Judy turns out to be Osama and is running everywhere... Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Ohio... but I don't think I could get anyone to sign on to that... WAY WAY too dark and evil and sick... but at some point this just rose up and presented itself to me like a bad pay-per-view porn channel that somehow unlocked while channel surfing with the kids...
TS: Hey! I was thinking the same thing about Baby Judy and 911. Maybe the Nah Nah chorus (Klett's) would be a more New Yorkish response -- me being a very pissed off New Yorker right now and not all that comfortable - or interested - in flag waving.
JT: I just finished transferring most of The Pups demos from two track analog tapes to DAT because we were getting rid of the last good sounding tape recorder here at the studio. Besides having to clean the playback heads after almost every song I also came to realize that, contrary to Klett's memory, there were actually some really good little pieces there on the second and (omigod) even the third set of demos that we did for Portrait. It was a shame. It was classic record label misfuckingupstuff. All the people who had signed us to the label had either left or been fired and the new regime had no idea what to do with us. Instead of resigning us they signed a band called Bang Bang remember them? (Me neither.) Plus it probably didn't help our case that we hadn't allowed the label to use our crappy video. I think they were kind of pissed about that since they paid for it and all. I still have some rough footage from the video and can attest to the fact that it was godawful. I seem to remember that Klett was the last to have the final cut which he took from the studio here and proceeded to put on the roof of his car while he loaded the trunk with other stuff and then drove off with it still on the roof, so who knows where it is now. I can tell you that the guy who directed it ended up organizing networking parties for financial professionals in Philadelphia in the late 80's. This is the absolute truth and is no lie.
TS: I could probably watch the video without crying now. Actually, it's probably funnier than Spinal Tap. Videos were a relatively new abomination at the time. In fact, we had to go up to CBS to watch them because none of us had cable. They wanted us to pick a producer....Oh hell. I have it all written down somewhere. If we had made a "The Making Of" Young Boys video, we probably could have wound up as action figures instead of ...uh, us.
JK: I think we were the only band in the early eighties who actually went in to MTV and REMOVED our video before it hit air. We told them we needed to make a couple more edits - and we did - the whole thing.
"Baby Judy" is different from the other tracks on SSP, and it's the track that seemed to generate the most interest. How did "Baby Judy" impact the overall reception of the album?
JT: It's funny because it seemed to me that all of the songs were different from each other which came partly from the fact that we barely knew what we were doing, and partly from just trying to get from point a to point z in a creative way. "Baby Judy" didn't impact the reception of our album in a commercial sense at all thanks to our record label. But of the people who did hear The Pups the greatest reaction always comes from "Baby Judy" and the phrase that constantly gets repeated is "life threatening".
JK: Well, college radio played that cut so much the record was "banned" at some stations and at the 1983 New Music Seminars there was a panel discussion about getting the "consultants" to pick up records for commercial airplay and the question that came up in fairly strident tones was why a cut like Baby Judy got ZERO play on commercial radio... and of course we knew. We had a no tour clause in our contract so CBS had no way to funnel the required $100,000 in "tour expenses" to the consultants who were the owners of the bridge, the gatekeepers and toll collectors that stand on the path to commercial airplay. The only band who ever broke through that blockade without paying the toll was Pink Floyd. ...but that is history - it's not like that any more - payola is dead (and excuse me while I go laugh)...
JT: There is a particularly malevolent trend in our modern packaged, "branded" culture that stresses consistency and recognizability over creative urges in music. Hence boy bands. I think radio is in a terrible place and music overall seems to have reverted to a late 50's packaged feel overall.
JK: The trend of the major labels trying to shoot the Internet instead lowering CD prices to something that might encourage people decide to just buy the product instead of downloading and paying nothing at all just impresses the hell out of me.... remember how the labels promised that the price would go down in ten years seventeen or eighteen years ago? This is not a musical trend but since when has anything really been about music?
What type of music were you listening to when Split Second Precision came out?
JK: I was playing in a couple bands in the "Hoboken" scene, The Individuals, Riff Doctors and others and I was seeing and listening to the db's, Bongos, REM (pre-Murmur), Switchboard, Pylon, The Feelies, The Raybeats, Pere Ubu (Tara HATED Pere Ubu), Mitch Easter (Let's Active), Television, Big Star... and all kinds of other stuff and genres really... Wendy Carlos, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Philip Glass, Steve Reich.. endless and eclectic... jazz... you name it.
JT: I was mainly listening to The Talking Heads, The Police, The B52's, Elvis Costello, The Cars, Devo, The Pretenders, Cheap Trick, Joe Jackson, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Television, Patti Smith, The Feelies, The Bongos, (you know, good all round pop music.) Also Eno, Gary Newman and the Tubeway Army, Thomas Dolby, Larry Fast, Fripp, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Pere Ubu, The Proof, Novo Combo, The Only Ones, The Jags, Human Switchboard, (you know, good all round pop) Also, James Brown, George Clinton, The Eurythmics, Michael Jackson, Kokomo, Giorgio Moroder, The Time, P-Funk (you know, good all round pop) Also, Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, Stockhausen, Milton Babbit, Morton Subotnick, Tangerine Dream, Steve Reich, Charles Wourinen, Iannis Xenakis, John Chowning, Max Matthews, (you know...) Also Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Soft Machine, Captain Beefheart, The Residents, Love, Tonto's Expanding Headband, Lothar and the Hand People, Can, (yes, I know you know) And I will aways have a special place in my heart of hearts for Todd Rundgren, Pink Floyd, and the albums Low and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.
What are you listening to now?
JK: Bjork, Aphex Twin, Beck, Ween, Minor Threat, Fugazy... uhhh... Cliff Edwards, System of a Down, Square Pusher, Gorillaz, Chemical Bros, MISO, M.M.W., Albert Ammons, Coleman Hawkins, Django Reinhardt... whatever... plus a lot of the same crap I listened to twenty years ago... and a lot of other stuff I can't think of right now... JT: Chemical Brothers, Madonna, Underworld, ATB, Bjork, Raymond Scott, Moby, Fluke, Buddy Guy's latest album, William Orbit, U2, lots of Reggae and Dancehall, Clara Rockmore and Lydia Kavina, Luna, (you know....).
You're still working in the recording industry. What have you been doing lately?
JT: I make sound and music for cable TV. Our main clients are MTV and Nickelodeon. We do what they call on air promos. If you happened to see the promo on MTV where the camera goes through alternate TV and computer screens and ends up in people's eyeballs then you've heard my music. If you watched the Video Music Awards when they used to use music to open them, then you've heard my music. If you subscribe to The Movie Channel (few do) then my music is under the guy in the striped suit that ran around in circles and the blue dog thing. I also composed the theme song for Club MTV (ancient history) which was released on the first MTV Party To Go album and is the most royalties I ever made on a piece of music. Also the Viacom logo which is the most money I made on anything period. (notice I haven't retired yet.) If you watch Comedy Central at all (few do) we also made the Comedy Central Holidays and Shocktoberfest in Southpark stuff. And they just won awards! Most recent is a piece for Showtime for a new channel called Show W (as in Women). It's for a Show open called Broad Perspectives (gettit?) and I actually quite like how it came out.
JK: I am doing some more "engineering support" work. That is like being a ghost writer for some author who needs help on a chapter. I can't discuss that work other than to say that I think there are 50 million cd's out there - at the very least - with my engineering work on them and little or no credit to me.... which is fine.... stuff would have sold anyway and I get paid for getting someone out of a rut and don't have a lot of idiots calling me - what more could one want? The only recent credit of any note that I have is for a DVD-A 5.1 surround remix I did of a Willie Nelson release called "Night and Day". The audiophiles have been really liking it and it has gotten great reviews for how it sounds and so forth.
Would you do the Hawaiian Pups thing all over again?
JK: Sure - if I had the time and a gun
© Copyright 7/2002 Eric Ewing. All Rights Reserved