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17 Pygmies interview with Jackson Del Rey


First I would like to say thank you for agreeing to this interview.

You are welcome.

17 Pygmies were born from members of Savage Republic, Radwaste and Food & Shelter. I would like to ask you how did you come together to form a new band?

This may sound a bit odd, but a band reminds me of a plaster cast. If you break your arm, it’s a good thing because it holds you in place and helps you heal. But, if you leave it on too long, your arm shrivels. so, I think at least for me, my old cast (Savage Republic) was starting to get a bit restrictive and I thought it was time to try on a new cast, I mean band. Fortunately, I found Debbie Spinelli and Michael Kory (the three original members) were ready for something new as well. So we all got together in a garage (so we could call ourselves a garage band.) but once we started playing, we realized our future lay in strange covers of TV and film music. For the record, we also did a killer cover of the theme to Mission Impossible, but Alas, never recorded it.

"Hatikva" is your first EP, that was released in 1983 on Resistance Records. Your music was way ahead of time. Song Lawrence of Arabia is one of the songs from this EP, that is very interesting. To No Avail is another one, that is way ahead of time. It's like a mixture of Middle-Eastern music, post punk and 60's psych music. I would like to hear your thoughts about "Hatikva"...

Hatikva was about not asking “Why?” it was about asking “Why not?” Why not record a version of Lawrence of Arabia? Why not record a Brazilian samba? It’s all music and it’s all good. We liked it and we thought other persons might as well. Some did, but I still think it very sad that what emerged from that era of music is now called “indie” or “college” rock. It’s all just boring to me. I hate it when people say we helped “invent” indie rock. in fact, I would argue we tried to prevent it from happening. 17 Pygmies is not and will never be about inventing or even playing in a “category” of music. Oh well.

"Jedda by the Sea" was your first LP from 1984. The whole LP is full of different directions that blends together well somehow. Can you tell me more about this release?

I always think of Jedda as the “Esperanto” of world music. It’s about creating a musical language that persons from all different cultures would relate to and hopefully even appreciate. The funny thing about it is that people did. Jedda had no promotion budget. We just thought it was a waste of time and money. To this day, the only reason any listener would know about Jedda is by word of mouth. It’s kind of like what William Burroughs said, namely, that language is a virus from outer space. It passes from one person to another by human host. So, I hope in some way, that to hear Jedda is to, well, be infected (but a good way) by a strange but somewhat familiar (and wonderful?), flu bug.

One year later you released an album called Captured in Ice. This album is a bit different then "Jedda". It's more poppy and rich in melody also more dreamy...

Few years later you released an album called Welcome. You went more towards Progressive Rock on it. I would like to hear your thoughts about these two releases.

Captured in Ice was our lone foray into indie/college rock. What can I say? We were young, lonely and wanted someone to like us. After Jedda we were all feeling a bit on the “outside” of the “scene,” so to speak. I imagine we handled it, by putting out a poppier release and hoping for the best. So we did. and lo and belond, we were liked! However, once we were accepted into the club, we basically rejected the Los Angeles nightlife scene and decided we were better off living in isolation. And so, to make sure we would never be mistaken for an indie band again, we recorded Welcome, an album about a bunch of sociopathic circus clowns, and assumed we would be left for dead. The funny part was that welcome was actually picked up and released by Island Records! Life is funny that way isn’t it?

In 1991 you released another album called "Missyfish". What were you doing from 1991 to 2007 when "13 Blackbirds/13 Lotus" was released?


I would like to here some of your thoughts about this album.

13 Blackbirds basically picked up where 17 Pygmies left off (Missyfish.) In fact the first two songs on 13 Blackbirds, “13 Blackbirds” and “Tree of Life” were instrumental outtakes from Missyfish. Missyfish, by the way was a demo recording of our planned second record for Island that never came out. It was actually a very interesting experience to actually record and release the “album that never came out.” Of course after that, it was full sail ahead into whatever was waiting on the other side of the music horizon.

Your latest project is around "Celestina" concept. Now I would like to know how were you influenced to create this kind of conceptual album? I have to say, that I was really amazed how good it is. I really love it! I would also like to know, how did you record it and how are you satisfied with the result.

Well, I’m a science fiction fan and wanted to make an album of songs that reflected classic science fiction stories and film soundtracks. I also wrote a movie script that I hope gets made someday. To answer your second question, one of my favorite bands is Pink Floyd and I was wondering, since so few persons have even tried, how hard it would be to recreate their sound. The answer: It’s very hard. Amazing what they do really. Of course, in my defense, Celestina was recorded on an mbox1, so all things considered, I’m quite pleased with the results.

What are your future plans? Touring? Another album, perhaps?

Well, there is definitely going to be a Celestina III. The entire suite will be 33 1/3 compositions in length (that is why the tracks are numbered sequentially.) As for touring…well, you never know. We are always threatening to tour Europe (no shortage of offers) but…”stuff” (see above) always seems to get in the way…

Thank you for your time. Do you have anything else to say about the band or yourself, that I didn't ask?

I have tiger blood and Adonis DNA? Nah, I guess that was Charlie Sheen. Thanks for your interest. It is really appreciated.

the band or yourself, that I didn't ask?

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
© Copyright 2011

1 comment:

Shiro Ga-Ren said...

'Bout fucking time these unsung geniuses reformed. I can still blow away the unsuspecting listener with "Lawrence" or "A Moment in Ceylon". Years ahead of/behind their time.
A show they did at the Lingerie on Sunset remains a treasured memory despite the blowout I had with a psycho girlfriend that night.