This interview appeared in the February 1998 issue of Exotica/EtCetera:
Exotica/Et Cetera: Let’s start with the important stuff. Is Pea Hicks your real name?
Pea Hicks: Well, not really. “Pea” is short for “Peanut,” which is the first name I received. Soon after that I was officially named “Dan,” but I rarely use it. Besides, there’s already a musician named Dan Hicks…
e/e: Where did your interest in weird instruments and sounds come from?
PH: I guess originally from working as a theater sound designer. My sound effects designs were always much more like music to me than anything else, and since I would use anything and everything I could find in order to make sounds, I gained a fairly liberal sense of what could be a “musical instrument.” Also, growing up in the land of Harry Partch, I’ve worked with many of his collaborators and students, and I’ve been greatly influenced by that. San Diego in general is something of a center for interest in odd musical instruments, and I guess I just sorta picked up that bug.
e/e: How did you put the CD together? What motivated you?
PH: Lucas was released on Vinyl Communications Records, a sort of coop indie label that has been a San Diego area staple for odd music for about 10 years. VC started out as a punk label but these days just about anything goes.
As for Lucas… the idea just sort of evolved. Onginally I had done this sort of guerilla art project in the local thrift stores. I was inspired by the random tapes that I would find with odd things written on the outside; you buy them for a quarter and maybe you’ll get something interesting, maybe not. The context of uncertainty and lowexpectation made even the most mundane tapeletter sound interesting and often hilarious or touching. Anyway, I became interested in this contextual effect, and decided to try to take advantage of it for my own experimental music projects. It was called the “Poor Music Series.” I’d put together tapes of odd material, record copies on cruddy old tapes that I found in the thrifts, write things on them like “Grandma playing organ 1972” and disperse them back out into the tape bins. The idea was that, if someone bought one of these tapes and thought it was legitimately someone’s grandma from 1972 (even though it sounded much more obscure than that), then if they were anything at all like me then they might just think it was the single most “weird” thing they’d ever come across. Of course, there was no easy way to get feedback from people, but I would go back often and check on the tapes and they usually sold within a week….
Anyway, the idea for doing a collage of the best “real” found material I had came in an odd way. I conceptualized a CD a couple years ago that was released on Vinyl Communications. I thought it would be funny to put out a CD of a bunch of bands doing “covers” of Merzbow pieces (“America Salutes Merzbow;” he was probably the leading exponent of “Japanoise” music). It was originally a joke, but enough people took it seriously so that it actually happened and became one of VC’s big sellers. Anyway, one of the tracks on that CD was actually a bit of noise that I found on a thrifl store tape. The kid who made this tape was named “Lucas,” and there was a spot on it where the batteries were going dead on his Fisher Price Tape Recorder and the distored sound that resulted sounded remarkably like a Merzbow track so we stuck it on the CD. The CD had contact info for all the bands, so for the contact info for Lucas we just put “Write to Lucas c/o Pea Hicks…” I got a postcard from some record label in England, addressed to LucasÑthey wanted to hear more of his stuff and possibly put out a CD! Well, this got me thinking: if I actually did try to put out a “Lucas” CD, what would be on it?? I figured I could just make a big collage of all my favorite foundbits from the thrifts. It took me awhile to get around to it (and about three months to put together), but that’s how the Lucas came about. Somewhere along the way I decided to do all the song accompaniments too, just to break up the spokenword stuff and make it more “musical.” I sent a copy to that label in England and never heard back from them so we just put it out on VC… As far as technical stuff goes, it was all done on my computer, which makes tricky editing like “Luscious” pretty easy to do (if you’ve got the material and the ideas to begin with).
e/e: What’s your favorite track on Lucas?
PH: I think “Grandma James & Family.” It’s very eerie and Tom Waitsish, and I like how it ends on an interestingly awkward note. BTW, as with most of the Lucas collages, I used a lot of different people’s recordings to make larger composites, so that’s not really Grandma James’ “family” singing in the middle. Also, the little girl who takes the solo in “Silent Night” isn’t related to the other singers, and the guy and gal in “Luscious” also have nothing to do with each other.
e/e: The A and B speaker ‘love letters’ on “Luscious” is amazingÑand eerie when listened to in balance.
PH: That’s one of my favorite things on the disc, but unfortunately very few people experience it correctly because it comes pretty late in the game and it takes such patient concentration to get through it (of course these are also the things that I like about it!) But the subtlety of the interplay between those two completely unrelated recordings was pretty astonishing.
e/e: What do you think about Lucas? Is it pure whimsy, or is there another statement there?
PH: Well, obviously it’s got a lot to do with just laughing at people being silly or stupid; in that way it’s no better than “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” But I tried to sneak in as many different emotional thrulines as possible. I initially became interested in people’s home recordings because my family had left a lot of these and I enjoyed listening to them enough to be curious about what other people had done in this area. But I certainly had a lot of respect for most of my “victims,” and I tried to elevate their ramblings into something maybe a bit more significant. I put some effort into “composing” the collage so that it has a certain flow into certain thematic areas in a logical yet subtle way. I suppose more than anything I look at it as one possible history of consumerrecordingtechnology. It was interesting to see how people used this technology in different historical periods. The early recordable phonograph records mostly had people singing songs on them, because that’s what they thought records were for. Later, when portable openreel and cassettes were developed, people tried to do something practical with the technology, so you get a lot of tapeletters, etc. Eventually cassettes became so disposeable that kids got hold of them and all hell broke loose. My favorite cassettes are the Fisher Price “Discover A World Of Sounds” tapes that came free with Fisher Price Tape Recorders. On one side there’s a little audio program meant to demonstrate the kind of things you could do with a tape recorder. On the other side it just says “Record Your Own Sounds.” So what happens??? The kids just go nuts!! These tapes are pretty surefire, as opposed to all those kids’ storybooktapes that say “Record Your Own Story” on the bside. Those ones rarely contain anything interesting because there’s no direct example for the kids to follow. Suffice it to say that most of the goofy kidrecordings on the Lucas CD came from FisherPrice tapes. I have tons of ’em.
e/e: Have you counted the number of times the word “jerk” appears on Lucas?
e/e: Good answer. Any new projects in the works?
PH: Right now i’m in preproduction with the new Optiganally Yours CD. The first one did incredibly well; the new CD will sound quite different, but it will still sound like OY.
e/e: Great. Make sure you drop us a copy.
PH: Will do.
e/e: And many thanks.
PH: My pleasure.