Damin Eih, A.L.K. and Brother Clark interview with A.L.K and Brother Clark
Almost completely forgotten project from the early 1970s and its Never Mind album.
I was really happy when you instantly responded with big “YES” to do the interview, Clark. I was even more happy when you said that also A.L.K. (Allen Katzner) is available for an interview. Sadly Damin EIH (Dale Miller) is nowhere to be found. Where were you born and who were your major influences?
Brother Clark: Born 1953. Had 4 years classical piano, then came the Beatles/Stones and that was it for me. Became a guitar player in ‘64, had a crappy old Sears guitar that came with the amp in the guitar case- not quite a Marshall stack. First band I formed was DZG (1965) with fellow Robbinsdale Minnesota USA friends. Band was formed with anyone who had an instrument. My older sister had tickets to see the Beatles in 1965 and because she was pissed at me she brought my younger sister to the show instead of me – I still like my younger sister better now for obvious reasons. Even then, Minneapolis had a great Rock scene. In ’67 I saw two local bands that again amped up the juice, The Litter and Jokers Wild. Both bands played original music and had excellent psychedelic-raved guitar players, Zippy Caplan (Litter) and Lonnie Knight (Jokers Wild). That brought everything to a new level – original music and lead guitarists. Once I saw them, it was Hendrix, Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Roger McGuinn for me and those influences haven’t stopped. In ‘69 I saw Damin Eih and ALK play (under their real names) at a school event, knew who they were. Admired the fact that they were doing complex vocal-oriented original music but we didn’t connect at that point. However, great guitar-driven psychedelic-oriented bands who could sing three part harmonies always stuck in my head (think Byrds Eight Miles High and Beatles) and that proved prophetic…. as did the effect of Vietnam war on all of us draft-aged males.
ALK: Born 1951, started with piano lessons at 11 years old. Mostly dug sports but then my sister, 9 years older, bought an Elvis album – Blue Hawaii. That was it for me too man, I wore that sucker out within 3 weeks. Then the Beatles hit and I’m hooked—I’m a Lennon freak! Everybody was buying guitars, drums and portable small organs. Damin Eih (Dale) lived one block north of me and we grew up together and became very close friends. Dale got a guitar and then it was my turn. I bought a black pearl Ludwig 4 piece with hi-hat and two cymbals. You know damn well that was Ringo’s kit also.
Were you in any bands?
Brother Clark: From 67-on, I have always been in bands, still am today. Played parties and school sock-hops back then. Nothing original recorded with those bands until 1971, I still have recordings of the first song I wrote, circa 69, performed in 1971 with one of those bands, the Deke Rivers Band. As Never Mind listeners may have noticed, we were using whatever the best local “substances” were that came through town and this also influenced how the three of us got together.
ALK: Damin and I started playing together immediately and anybody that would join in was welcome. We ended up with drums, bass guitar and organ. We were all local Robbinsdale Jr. High School guys. We played at parties, school functions, garages, basically anywhere we could haul our equipment to. After Never Mind, though we were both done with bands.
What was the scene in your town?
Brother Clark: There were so many good Minneapolis bands back then that I am not surprised that some of them eventually broke through to recognition. By the late 60’s there were quite a few rock clubs including one in Robbinsdale where we grew up called Someplace Else (which I was too young to get into), as well as the University area coffee houses that Dylan played at. In the early 70s local bands like the Youngsters (who spawned one of the leading country songwriters of recent years) were playing around town, and the new wave of bands like the Hypstrz, Curtiss A, various preludes to the Replacements and Husker Du were playing at clubs like the Longhorn and the Uptown. By the time the Longhorn opened I could legally drink although I don’t recall that they checked ID much back then. And, you can’t overestimate the watershed club opening back then – the opening of The Depot in ’69, which is now known as the legendary First Avenue. Another key factor was the vibrant recording and distribution scene even back then. There were many local labels such as Twin Tone and phenomenal record stores such as Oarfolkjokeopus (now Treehouse Records) and the Electric Fetus. Even back then those record stores would sell local artist’s products- they still do today. When we released Never Mind the only store that would carry it though was a long-defunct Minneapolis north-side record shop whose owner knew us.
ALK: It seemed that just about everybody wanted to be cool and play. Being a year older and wiser than Brother Clark, I could go to that place called Someplace Else, a non-alcohol local club for young kids to hang out and listen to local talent. I never played there but could have. The bands I liked were the Byrds, Dylan, Moby Grape, Pacific Gas and Electric, Moody Blues, Buffalo Springfield and all the British stuff that hit America. Most of all worshiped the Beatles. I went to as many local clubs as I could by bus or someone’s car.
Can you elaborate the formation of your band?
Brother Clark and ALK: We were all Robbinsdale Minnesota boys, and as noted we were in bands and we knew who the players were. Through a mutual friend, Brother Clark met ALK. Our first meeting was specifically to practice the art of friendly substance enjoyment. We kept going on that path for a few months. Eventually we started jamming. Brother Clark’s primary guitar band gig (which became Code 7) was ongoing at that point. ALK had sold his drums and was dabbling in acoustic guitar and writing original tunes. So, we started working on tunes, both of us playing acoustic, we figured out that we could sing together. ALK mentioned that Damin Eih was in the Navy, having had to make the difficult decision of enlisting to avoid getting drafted into the army and ending up on the ground in Vietnam. We were all in the same boat and one of the most exciting nights of the year was getting high and watching the draft lottery numbers come up. After a few months of the two of us jamming, ALK mentioned that he and Damin had been considering putting an album out based on songs that Damin had already written. That kicked into gear. ALK knew that Damin had recordings of the songs and somewhere along the line Damin sent an acoustic solo 2-track recording of his concept for Never Mind to ALK. When we popped that in the ten dollar Radio Shack tape player we were shocked…. maybe not the right word. It was the most ambitious set of original songs from anyone local that we had ever heard. It reminded us of the Moody Blues meet the Beatles, meet Led Zeppelin circa LZ III with the rich 12 string sound. There was enough material there for more than one album. We needed to form a band and play this. ALK took it as a challenge, he had been sort of writing a few songs (including rough cuts of Thundermice) but this upped the ante for him to get material together. Brother Clark wasn’t concerned about where he fit in from a material standpoint, there was clearly enough good material here, and he had his own “heavier” band going. ALK pushed to get the recording project going. But how were we going to pull that off? Damin was on the east coast locked into the service for months, we didn’t have a bass player, we couldn’t play in local clubs to get our shit together, we didn’t have money, we didn’t have a following. It didn’t look promising.
What was the concept behind the band?
ALK: Damin Eih put it together and I just came along and gave it my all my, talents that Damin knew included pretty darn good vocal ability, drums and the surprise of guitar work and songwriting as well. I was corresponding with Damin, trying to get him fired up. We decided to stick to three piece. Damin had the concept album pretty well baked –
Brother Clark: Right, the band was formed to get this recording done, period. I agreed to play bass, even though I hadn’t done that, didn’t own a bass, that didn’t matter. After all. Jeff Beck Truth had Ronnie Wood playing bass, I figured I could pull that off. The issue for ALK started to become how to get any of his material onto the record, some politicking started, with me in the middle. Not a bad problem to have though- too much material.
Please share your recollections of the sessions.
ALK: Everything always starts in someone’s basement, garage or a getting high party at someone’s parent’s house. We grabbed the Damin demo tape and learned every song as fast as we could, took a few weeks. At the same time, I worked on arranging and finishing up enough of my material, including one Brother Clark helped write. We knew that we would have to fight to get material cooked into that Damin Eih stew. So, the start of a plan to meet to actually get the three of us together somehow to rehearse was hatched. We needed to get to Maryland to see if we had any chemistry as a threesome, nail down songs, get vocal parts worked out, it all had to happen quickly. We finally found a two week slot where Damin was off duty- we bought tickets and hit the road.
Brother Clark: I bought a bass and we were on the road for our first meeting a couple of months later. The sessions were in Damin’s kitchen, three of us playing acoustic, no drums, I might have plugged the bass into a stereo or something, can’t recall. We clicked right away. Within about a week, we had the album worked out, every part. Turns out, we shared a mutual theory of everything, very eastern-religion oriented, based on shared vibrations- literally what is now known a string theory. The whole album from the “birth” song Tourniquet, to the play on words “reverse-birth” song Re-(turnNaked) that closes it out fell into place, especially once we figured out how to work ALK’s songs into the flow. Back to Minnesota ALK and I went- still didn’t know where to record, had no label, didn’t matter, we were ready to go and we had the faith.
How do you usually approach music making?
ALK: The drums were a bitch to drag around and I was falling in love with Gordon Lightfoot. I thought my word-smithing could be rather good so off I went searching for the all-mighty acoustic guitar. At least with that, I could take it anywhere at any time. I locked myself in a room and learned to play then started writing goofy shit. It wasn’t until after the Never Mind album that the really good stuff came naturally. I wrote over 80 songs. Songs about dreams, war, love, peace, friends, family, and a troubled man that was going to have a hard future. I can shed some light on Damin’s feelings about a lot of his songs and how he put things together. I knew some of the women involved in Damin’s life and there is a lot of that mixed in. Damin was heavily anti-war as we all were and still are, he was also very cynical.
Brother Clark: Well, ALK snuck a couple of good ones into Never Mind. Much of Damin’s life view is evident in some songs like Party Hats and Olive Spats. Damin wove in lost loves, heroic myths such as Gone and pure psych such as Take Off Your Eyes. Mix in that we all liked the same diversions and we pulled it together very quickly. ALK had started writing songs from a much different viewpoint. I at least found him to be much more positive, he was married, had a child and was writing from a different perspective than Damin. So, you get Thundermice. ALK and I finished Marching Together shortly after getting back to Minnesota from that trip. Next up was getting into the studio and Damin had a few connections that made that happen.
Where did you record Never Mind? How did you get in touch with Demelot Records?
ALK & Brother Clark: We can only guess as to the genesis of Never Mind as a title, but again the combination of eastern religion and cynicism over being shipped off to war, screwing up Damin’s love life…This played out later too as Damin wasn’t optimistic about where the album or the band was going to go. Demelot came about as the rock arm of a small local record company, Narthex Records that was focused to releasing religious music. Tony, the engineer there wanted to branch out. Someone on Damin’s side knew Tony, so we cut a deal to get the recording done and print t a few hundred records, with most being designated as demo copies to be sent to radio stations and labels. We still have copies of two reject letters we got from Columbia and a junky mass-distribution label in Minnesota.
What were the circumstances behind your album and what do you remember from recording and producing it?
ALK: It went so fast. Low budget everything—cheap microphones, drums, Teac reel-to-reel recorders with a small mixing board. I don’t know how the hell Damin got this thing put together. He was a genius, but he always wanted and needed total control. Although Brother Clark and I had been jamming together for several months, once Damin figured out that we could actually pull it off we were running. Damin sent me an acoustic tape of the songs he wanted and I picked a few of mine. Damin had worked up special effects such as the album lead in and drone fade outs- he knew what he wanted. Production was minimal, all done by the band. We had everything laid out in advance. We trusted each other enough that we really didn’t get into critiquing takes or anything like that.
Brother Clark: I put together bass parts from the tape. We went out to the east coast to rehearse and that was it. We walked into the studio and recorded the whole thing in 4 days. Entire process from “We are a band and we are going to do an album” was 11 weeks. Most songs were one or 2 takes of rhythm section, no click tracks, come back and lay on background vocals and leads- we just went for it. Damin also spent a lot of time recording his 12 string at half speed and then merging those tracks back in at regular speed which accounts for the high-pitched tinkling guitar sound on a lot of the songs. Before we recorded the album, we had never played any of the songs together other than the three of us on acoustic guitars so it was about as fresh as it gets. This was also the only time we played together as a band- once and out.
What gear did you use and what can you say about the cover artwork?
ALK: My old drums were gone so I borrowed a small set. Tried to get the right sound and pitch (cheap kit) and it could have been better. The cover art work is also all Damin’s…. I think that cover about sums up where Damin was at – lone wolf stoically watching from his stone perch but part of the universe somewhere.
Brother Clark: The back cover collage and text were contributed by a couple of Damins’ buddies. Gear: Dale had an Epiphone 12 string, and borrowed a Gibson hollow body that he used along with a FuzzFace on a few songs. I used a Hofner Beatle bass, my Guild D50 and Les Paul Junior. Amps were a Fender Bassman and a blonde Bandmaster. Other instruments that snuck in included the studio’s piano and other things like triangles that were lying around.
How many copies were pressed?
ALK: We struck out on getting anywhere with labels. When we decided to lay back and see what happened, we split the remaining copies up between the three of us. I think Damin may have handed some of them out at Halloween just to get rid of them.
Brother Clark: 300 copies were printed. 25 copies went to an independent record store in Minneapolis. The rest were intended as demo/promo copies. Almost all of my copies were given away or sold to people we knew (other than much later when collectors started calling). Damin may have launched his into the Ganges. Damin’s Halloween copies… now that would have been a surprise in the treat bag.
Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
Brother Clark: Damin’s take on the continuity of life with birth represented as the fetuses choice to become part of the “living realm” by removing the tourniquet that separates us from other realms.
“Sing a Different Song”
ALK: Break up of a Damin relationship with his first girl Kathy, with overtones of time for a change in all things most of all the war.
“Take Off Your Eyes”
ALK: Another Damin relationship song fueled by shared substances.
Brother Clark: Shared substances unlocking truth.
ALK: I was sitting on a picnic table at Lake Independence in Minnesota with my Martin D35 sunburst beauty. A storm was coming in and I looked up and it came out in seconds. The whole bowling in the sky’s deal came from the sound of a super hard strike at the Chalet bowling alley in Robbinsdale where I would hang out and play pinball all day when I was in Jr. high school. The harmonies were supposed to sound heavenly. Well that’s all folks, you can’t make this kind of shit up:
Brother Clark: ALK’s best. We needed a bridge between the pieces of this one. Damin couldn’t stitch together the parts in a way that satisfied him, so I grabbed my Les Paul and laid down the lead guitar part.
“Monday Morning Prayer”
ALK & Brother Clark: Simple A cappella and clearly pissed off that morning. Who the hell knows.
ALK: This is one of my favorite 12-string songs ever. Maybe California Dream’n intro and Lightfoot’s Carefree Highway are right there also. Brother Clark: Zeppelin-influenced acoustic English ballad with Moody Blues finish
ALK: After Vietnam war this was my way of saying let’s get it together. Brother Clark threw in the chorus.
“Kathryn at Night”
ALK: Here comes Damin’s great and jealous relationship with Kathy – disintegration in front of your eyes.
“Party Hats & Olive Spats”
ALK: Anti-war, anti-hate 60’s special. This mother f**k’r starts innocent and then violently knocks you out. Should have been a great hit in a small club, so we thought.
ALK: Damin Eih at it again. Just can’t get enough wild stuff, he’s a great tinkerer. Brother Clark: The opening song played almost note for note in reverse as Damin returns to the Void.
Is there a concept behind the album?
ALK: All Damin. I was lucky to get songs on it.
Brother Clark: Well, almost all Damin. Absolutely conceptual. Once we figured out where to pop Thundermice into the mix it was ready. Sgt Peppers meets the Moody Blues.
How did you decide to use the name “Never Mind”?
ALK: Damin knew he was ahead of his time, or at least he wasn’t lining up with anyone’s time.
Brother Clark: The title was Damin’s multi-nuance summary of his life at the time. I have no idea where Damin and ALK came up with “Brother” Clark. Must have sounded right?
I really like the multi-layered acoustic guitars and heavy use of cymbals.
ALK: Just look past the mistakes and rough breaks and really dig it. I think that the sound came about as a compromise of three different starting points. Damin was angling toward a very acoustic-oriented sound and you couldn’t get that 12 string out of his hands. I pushed him forward into electric mode once the drums kicked in but remember until we were in the studio The other guys had no idea what I was up to.
Brother Clark: I pushed further with my psychedelic guitar hero worship to add an even more electric sheen. ALK has a rare taste filter built in. He didn’t want to step on Damin’s acoustic vibe in certain parts, but we wanted to lay in a sonic shimmer that had more balls. Focus was always first on lyrics, harmonies and song structure. The instruments had to wrap around that. Listening? We tried to leave hidden things to be discovered. We knew it would take a while to wade through that water. We all like music with dynamic range, where you have to be ready to use your volume knob to get the right experience. Don’t hear that approach much anymore at least in rock.
Did you do any concerts?
ALK: We didn’t know what to expect, In my early years I played with guys that were 4 to 5 years older. I was considered to be a good drummer early on… we never played anywhere as this band. Damin was always chasing the quick fix and he was so depressed when the labels bounced us right away that he disappeared.
How about Party Hats and “OliveSpats”/”Tourniquet single”?
ALK & Brother Clark: Just different cuts of the same songs from the album mix. Actually everything was printed at the same time as the album. The single was a second shot at trying to get air play, the singles just showed up around town later.
Is there any unreleased material?
ALK & Brother Clark: Maybe, but good luck finding any of it.
Brother Clark: There were two half-done songs that were rehearsed and didn’t make it into the studio. One of them was on Damin’s demo tape. One was a semi-finished ALK composition where the only copy is on a solo practice tape I have. The first one, called “Bonfire”, was part of a full orchestral symphony Damin wrote called “Voyage Bizzaria”. He had me go through his hand- written sheet music for all the instruments, the whole nine yards. I should have taken a copy. I recently finished writing and arranging Bonfire and ALK’S start on the second one, “Puffy Clouds”. But with no Damin in sight, I don’t know if there is anything else anyone will hear. I am recording both of them for future release but these versions won’t be from the whole band, just layers on top of the original recordings- we shall see. ALK and I have to think about that. For kicks I did a juiced up Take off your Eyes with my current band, you can download it at http://www.myspace.com/seedymusic.
ALK: A no-hit wonder, other than Damin, we hadn’t really meant it to go anywhere.
Brother Clark: Damin went chasing the next dream he lived in, whereabouts unknown, rumors abound. I went back to my other music projects, finished school.
What currently occupies your life?
ALK: I have a large property on a river in Wisconsin. Be retiring soon and look forward to more golf and outdoor activities. I’m also going to be kicking tires in Arizona this winter and looking for a new place to live. My job as a sales executive for a steel company has burned me out.
Brother Clark: Family first. Also about to release 5th album from DYRC and Code 7, my other music projects-kept them going all these years. Play a few shows live and sneak in a couple of tracks from Never Mind every time. Also run an internet-based software business. See 10+ rock shows a month, mostly at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Younger crowd in clubs rightfully starting to act like we are too old to be still into it and having fun- which has it’s odd points considering many of the bands they are watching are nearly as old as we are. Maybe I’ll start telling them I’m just a janitor doing clean-up.
Is there any particular moment you would like to mention?
ALK: I miss Damin a lot!! Brother Clark is a super guy. I would give anything for the 3 of us to lock ourselves away for a year or two and see what would happen. At almost 62 years of age my voice isn’t there. Oh well, good ole O.L.D.
Brother Clark: Short, quick, special, pure joy and won’t happen again at least in this realm.
How was it back then?
ALK: It doesn’t get any better. The fresh music back then will never, never ever happen again. Brother Clark: Everything was tumultuous, but youth was smart and going in a much better and more coherent direction than the USA is going now. The music was incomparable- we were very fortunate be alive during those times. Glad that we lived in a place and time that was a big part of the music scene and fostered a vibe that still exists.
Thank you both for taking your time. Would you like to send a message to It’s Psychedelic Baby readers?
ALK & Brother Clark: Thanks to all of you for keeping that era alive through your love of music. Keep digging, with the internet and folks like It’s Psychedelic Baby at work there will always be more surprises.
You got it baby (Never Mind) A.L.K, Brother Clark & channeling Damin Eih…
– Klemen Breznikar