Lions & Ghosts | Interview | Michael Lockwood | “Buried treasure from 80s L.A.”
Los Angeles’ buried treasure Lions & Ghosts recently digitally issued their debut album, ‘Velvet Kiss, Lick Of The Lime’ from 1987 and also released a new single, out via Sparkle Plenty/Deko Entertainment.
A quartet from Los Angeles consisted of frontman Rick Parker, guitarist Michael Lockwood, bassist Todd Hoffman, and drummer Micheal Murphy. The band took its influences from The Beatles, T. Rex, The Byrds, and more. Their love of memorable choruses and lyrics with a psychedelic twist shone through on their debut album. The band toured a good deal, supporting acts as varied as Gene Loves Jezebel, Love and Rockets, The Church, The Alarm, Dramarama, Guns N’ Roses, amongst others. Chances are, if you were at a cool show in the late 80s in L.A. at the Hollywood Palladium or the Palace, you saw Lions & Ghosts opening for someone.
Would you like to talk about your background? What kind of records would we find in your teenage room?
Michael Lockwood: Well, we would have to look way back in time. My room was filled with records of the day. I was an avid consumer of music. I think I bought an album every week. I had Bowie on constant rotation. I was always looking for something new. I discovered Cheap Trick, Starz, Be-Bop Deluxe, Patti Smith, Television, Kate Bush, The Damned, The Tubes, Montrose, Blondie, and The Ramones. I loved all the AM Radio singles that were out. Elton John, Thin Lizzy, Fleetwood Mac, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, America, Jim Croce, Ambrosia, Player, Wings, and the list goes on and on. Let’s not forget every Beatle record ever made.
Were members of Lions & Ghosts in any other bands previously? If so, please share some words about it.
Rick, Todd and Michael were all in Banner, a three-piece mod band. I believe Todd had played with the San Diego band Voices; if I remember correctly, Michael Murphy played with Concrete Blonde before joining Rick and Todd. From 1979-1980 I played in a band called Rox. It was a very melodic rock—twin guitar melodies ala Boston and Thin Lizzy.
How come you changed your name from Banner to Lions & Ghosts?
Your guess is as good as mine. I joined Lions & Ghosts just as they had changed it. I believe there was a significant musical shift for them. That may have had something to do with it. The name Lions & Ghosts fit very well with the new musical direction.
You were inspired by good songwriting in the vein of The Beatles and T. Rex. Would you like to talk about what was your typical creative process within the band?
It always seemed that someone would bring an idea to rehearsal. Everyone would go to work trying things out. It was very loose and creative. The heavy load was on Rick as he wrote all the lyrics. I think his lyrics are thoughtful and full of imagery that leaves much room for the listener to interpret the way it suits them.
How did you get signed to EMI in 1987?
We had amassed a good following in Southern California. We played quite a lot from LA to San Diego and quite a few times in San Francisco. We started working on demos and getting those out to everyone. We were asked to go into the studio with Gary Goetzman, a movie producer, and record a new song we had written called ‘Passion’. He wanted to use it in the film Modern Girls. At that time, he brought in Michael Goldstone, A & R at MCA, who was interested in signing us. Soon after, John Guarnieri at EMI America also made us an offer. We had a little bidding war going on. At the end of the day, we went with EMI America. It made the most sense to us at the time.
Can you elaborate on ‘Velvet Kiss, Lick Of The Lime’? It was recorded at Tony Visconti’s Good Earth Studio in the Soho district of London.
It was a complete stroke of luck for us. We were able to secure Peter Walsh to produce, engineer, and mix the album. At the time, his wife was pregnant, and he could not leave the UK. So we came to him. He lived in the countryside and chose to record at Tony’s studio in London. He came in by train every day; we stayed in Earls Court for a time and eventually moved to Soho Square above McCartney’s MPL offices.
You must have received a high recording budget as you were there for several months recording your album…
We were there for about three months. I would have loved to have stayed forever. Honestly, I cannot remember what the budget of the record was. In those days, budgets could be pretty significant. If you think about it, we traveled halfway across the globe, stayed in a lovely flat, and recorded in a world-class studio for three months. We had a top-name producer and Bowie’s right-hand man arranging and conducting the string section!
How was working with Peter Walsh?
Pete was fantastic, a very kind and gentle soul. We were fortunate to have him help us through our first album experience. It was stressful for us. Young and inexperienced, playing in the big league. We had such a ritual. Very tight schedule, which is not shocking considering we were in the UK. Lunch was very prompt, and we took a break when the pubs opened late afternoon. Like clockwork, we would stop whatever we were doing and go over to the French House (which is still there) to have a beer. Then back at it for a short period. We always finished early so Pete could catch his train and return to his wife.
“I am so connected to the sound of strings”
Tony Visconti arranged and conducted a sixteen-piece string section for several tracks, was that your idea? Was it difficult to make it happen?
All of us were big Tony Visconti fans. He has made so many incredible records and still does. He was approached earlier about working with us, but unfortunately, he was unable to. We would see him almost every day at the studio; he was always cordial. Towards the end of the record, Tony’s manager, who was also the studio manager, came into the control room and told us that Tony would love to write some string arrangements for us. It was a huge compliment, and we were beside ourselves. I believe that we talked to Peter, and we all decided which songs would be appropriate to write the score for. ‘Passion’, ‘When the Moon is Full’ and ‘Street Angel’. The day we tracked the strings was probably one of the best days of my life. I am so connected to the sound of strings. To this day, I most often include strings in my productions.
You played quite a lot of shows, would you recall some of the highlights from that period?
We played endlessly. There was always a show on the horizon; we were constantly rehearsing, writing, making posters, and making shirts! We played fantastic shows at Scream, a club in downtown LA. It was a big beautiful old hotel, those were some of my favorites, and the crowds were always great, some of my favorite shows were when we opened for acts that were touring from overseas including The Church, The Alarm and Love and Rockets. Opening for Dramarama, and Guns ‘N Roses were memorable gigs as well. The latter was at the Roxy the night they were signed to Geffen. I remember us being so happy for them. We thought our time would come and it did soon after.
How do you recall working on your second album, ‘Wild Garden’?
It was strained and stressful. We had to put together material quickly. If you think about it, we had our whole lives to prepare our first record. We had a year to write and record our second record. We also started to alter our direction sonically. It was a poor decision because our first record did not perform as we hoped. I suppose we blamed the music; we should have stuck to our guns and continued down the path we had carved out. The demo process was enjoyable, and I hear that in the recordings, but it did not translate to the album ‘Wild Garden’. Rick’s lyric imagery was the same, but the music was more Americana and rock/blues-based. Sadly I don’t hear the same magic in ‘Wild Garden’. That said, it does have some moments I am very fond of, such as ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ and ‘Flowers of Evil’ and ‘Mermaid’. Looking through the credits makes me smile, and we were lucky to have such a talented crew of friends and family to make that record. Benmont Tench, Michael Penn, Ian McLagan, and Pete Comita just to name a few.
How was it to work with Thom Panunzio, Tony Berg and Stan Lynch?
Thom was fun. He had an old-school way about him and got great sounds. We started the record with him, and Tony came in later. We had been friends with Tony for quite some time; I had met him through my then-girlfriend Pinky. He was working A&R at Jet Records. This was before Lions & Ghosts had signed with EMI. Tony had a great home studio which was rare in those days. We spent a lot of time with him and his family. Stan Lynch, ah, that was a great day. I cannot remember why but Thom could not make it to the studio that day; I think he was sick. So he had Stan come in and sub for a day as producer. What a fantastic day that was. I am not sure if we got anything done.
You had some tension and bassist Todd Hoffman left the band. Was it difficult to get someone to fill his place?
I would say it was impossible to replace Todd. He is a very solid guy. He was part of the anchor of the band. I can’t remember his reasoning for leaving, but it was easy to see that we were not having fun doing what we had done before. We put a lot of extra pressure on ourselves, which did not wear well.
Lions & Ghosts disbanded after finishing the touring for ‘Wild Garden’. Would you like to share a bit more about the circumstances?
It was inevitable. Tensions continued to mount throughout the whole process of making that second record. Todd leaving the band left a huge void. We had a few different people come into the group after that. I think we all wanted to bring our friends to make it more fun and perhaps fortify our position in the band. Pete Comita from Cheap Trick came in to play bass for a bit. What a great musician. Then Mark Gould came in, a charming and gentle guy who can be seen in the ‘Arson In Toyland’ video. Rick’s friend Chris Stanco came in to play rhythm guitar which was fun and helped fill out the sound. There were some near misses as well. My friend Jason Falkner was up for joining the band. It would have been so much fun, but it never panned out.
That didn’t stop you at all and Rick Parker released a solo album, ‘Wicked World’, in 1991 and became a mixer, engineer, and producer for numerous artists, including David Poe, Chris Shiflett, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Miranda Lee Richards (his wife), Junkyard, and more. You have recorded, produced, played live, and written with many noted musicians, including Aimee Mann, Carly Simon, Fiona Apple, Jon Brion, Bijou Phillips, Susanna Hoffs and more.
Unfortunately, I am unfamiliar with how Rick’s path led him to where he is now. He is thriving, and no wonder; he is very talented and creative. He has always had a great pair of ears. His production and mixing are so good.
I was a bit lost after Lions & Ghosts. I was unsure of what to do. Michael Murphy and I had a project called The Love Administration that was an all instrumental duo. Very fun, and we recorded some enjoyable stuff. I floated for a bit, wrote a lot, and worked on my singing, but I did not want the responsibility of being the singer. I have always enjoyed being the right-hand man. I started a band called The Bitter Pills, which later morphed into Wink! Both were excellent power pop bands with a cast of good musicians. My close friend Roxy (Michael Marquesen) was the singer in both bands. Sadly he passed away a few years ago. These groups yielded interest in local labels, but we never connected the dots. I spent a year writing and singing at the 8121 which used to sit next to the Château Marmont under the name Light Bachwood. I recorded about seven songs that were never released. I became burned out on the music scene and switched gears working in the world of photography, but after a time, I became disillusioned with that world. I found it to be very similar to the music business. Then a tiny miracle happened.
My friend Jason Falkner came to me and said that his bandmate Jon Brion (The Greys) was leaving his position as Aimee Mann’s guitarist, and they thought I would be a good fit for Aimee. I was so excited by this opportunity. I was familiar with Aimee’s work in ‘Til Tuesday and her first solo record. Jason and I went and saw her perform with Jon at the Roxy. It was a great show. Soon after Aimee came to meet me, she had Jon and Jack Joseph Puig in tow. We walked around Sunset Boulevard and may have stopped at the Sunset Grill. I handed Aimee my Light Bachwood demos (on reel to reel), and we parted ways. Later that day, Aimee called me and asked if I would come to the studio. She and Jon were working on her second solo record, ‘I’m With Stupid’, and they had me play on ‘Long Shot’, which opens the record. Aimee and I talked all night. I probably could have spoken ’til dawn. She was amazing. This began our working relationship for years; we spent most of the 90s on the road or in the studio. She afforded me so much creative room; I grew so much as a musician and a producer because of Aimee. This is something that has become priceless. I am so fortunate for this by-chance relationship.
When I was not working with Aimee, I started working with Fiona Apple, Susanna Hoffs, Carly Simon, and others. There are many great stories and experiences that I could fill with hundreds of pages.
Michael, you recently partnered with your manager Jeff Keller to start a new record label Sparkle Plenty which is distributed through Deko Entertainment. Would you like to tell us more about it?
During the pandemic, Jeff Keller reached out to me via Instagram. We sent messages back and forth about our meeting each other when I was in Lions & Ghosts years before. Eventually, we started having Zoom meetings which led to Jeff managing me. Within weeks of us signing on the dotted line, he came to me with the proposition of starting a label that Deko Entertainment would distribute. This has been such a wild ride. We are releasing the sophomore record by Bird Streets, which I produced in part, and has such a great group of artists supporting John Brodeur on this: Aimee Mann, Pat Sansone, Ed Harcourt, Jody Stevens, and Patrick Warren, only to mention a few. Obviously, we have re-released Lions & Ghosts first record and a brand new song called ‘Gurl I Luv You’ that Rick and I wrote and recorded this last year. We have a lot of great projects in the works.
The digital reissue of ‘Velvet Kiss, Lick of The Lime’ includes bonus tracks which were not featured on the original album. What can you say about those tracks?
I have included two b-sides that were only available on promo records around the same time of the album. ‘Be Yourself’, which was an early Lions & Ghosts song. This version was produced by Peter Walsh but was not included on the original album. The song ‘Beneath The Joke’ was also a B-side for ‘Contradiction’. The second single from ‘Velvet Kiss, Lick Of The Lime’. ‘Beneath The Joke’ was produced by Tony Berg and the band. It is the precursor to ‘Wild Garden’ and is telling in its sound where we’re headed. Also included are several dance remixes of ‘Contradiction’. One by Steve Churchyard, and the others were remixed by a duo out of New York, Justin Strauss, and Murray Elias. Put on your dancing shoes!
Can we also expect a CD and vinyl reissue?
At this point, we have decided to do a digital-only release. None of these recordings were available in the digital domain, so we concentrated on that first. Never say never. We will see what the future holds.
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
I have had a lot of words proceeding with this question. I am surrounded by girls in my house—my daughters, my soon-to-be wife, my mother, and even my dog Athena Grace. Needless to say, I never get the last word.
Groove on Jacks & Queens, and thanks for tuning in, Sparkle Plenty
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