Interview by Lee Sobel
(c) Lo-Fi Magazine #8, 1998
This interview with Lux and Ivy from The Cramps was done over 20 years ago now. Lux Interior passed away in 2009, so The Cramps as we once knew them are now, sadly, long gone. This interview is a reprint from a magazine I once published called Lo-Fi: Easy Living For Cool Moderns in which I covered rockabilly, swing, garage rock and other cool stuff. The Cramps have always been, and always will be, one of my favorite bands of all time.
Lee Sobel: Going back to the beginning: On Songs The Lord Taught Us, didn't you have a problem with the record company not designing the cover the way you wanted it done.
Lux: They didn't do anything the way we wanted it done.
Ivy: The logo wasn't the way we wanted it to be. You can’t even read the song titles on the back. We chose the photos they used, but in terms of the general look we just thought they did a crappy job.
Lux: They didn’t pay any attention to anything we said about anything. The logo you saw on the cover was purple but originally some copies got out that had a little black-and-white logo that was like an inch and a half wide in the corner like [high-pitched fly’s voice] ‘the cramps’. There’s always somebody in the art department at these record companies that wants to add their touch to it and the guy who owns the record company wants it to be his way. There’s always
like 82 people who want to be important by being a part of it. It’s great that Ivy and I are together; it makes things easier to stick to what we believe. Like somebody could say something to us that's totally stupid and I can look at Ivy and say “Uhh...is that totally stupid?" And she'll go, “Yeah, that’s totally stupid." And we know.
Lee Sobel: Did you find Epitaph easier to work with?
Ivy: Oh, totally. They are punk; it’s not just a punk label. You’d love their office if you walked in. They have a room painted with that weird metallic paint that you use on car models. They turned this big heavy engine into a reception desk. Brett Gurewitz, the owner, was the guitarist in Bad Religion, a significant touring band. There’s a level of understanding you don't usually get at record companies as far as relating to artists. Epitaph had done the vinyl version of “Flamejob,” so
Lee Sobel: Your new record is amazing. It feels like you put your body and soul into this one.
Ivy: That’s what we felt like when we made it. We just isolated ourselves and wrote all the songs before the other half of the band heard them.
Lux: I always have a "What Me Worry" attitude when we write albums -- we're just having fun -- but I think this time we were paying more attention.
Lee Sobel: I love the photographs you took for the new record. I love the design of it too.
Lux: The vinyl record has a different cover. It's a little more risqué.
we went to them directly for this record instead of going around to different labels and comparing them. They do crazy stuff too. They’re using this all-hearse car club for our in-store appearances.
Ivy: There’s a lot of really cool bands and labels that we like that it’s like a whole sub-culture — Desperate Rock ‘n Roll, Crypt. Without us, there might not have been that, I don’t know.
Lee Sobel: What do you think of the bands who have been influenced by the Cramps?
Ivy: The psychobilly thing in the 80’s was like mixing fast punk rock with rockabilly and that wasn’t totally
up our alley. We’re on tour with Guitar Wolf and Demolition Doll Rods and they’re really cool. The Oblivians, 5-6-7-8’s...I can’t remember a time when there were a lot of bands I really liked. Lately there are. In L.A. there’s bands like The Mummies, The Invisible Men and the Ghastly Ones. It’s a whole scene.
Lee Sobel: Your interest in fetish clothing certainly seems to have become more mainstream.
Ivy: Different trends seem to collide with us at different times. There will be people who like us because latex is in and then when latex isn’t in anymore they’re not into us anymore.
Lee Sobel: How does it affect you when you see stuff you’re into become mainstream? Now you’ve got people like Spielberg making movies about cross-dressing.
Lux: When Ivy puts on some of these clothes she’s got and stands in front of me I don't care if somebody’s doing it in a Spielberg movie. It doesn’t change anything we do. We get bored with stuff we’ve done and move on, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. I’d just like to see the world get a little more glamorous than it is. I’m all ready for Glitter Rock Part 7 or whatever it is.
Lee Sobel: Did you ever think when you were starting out that The Cramps would become as big as it is?
Ivy: I didn’t contemplate it one way or the other. I never really thought ahead. I did it for the moment.
Lux: I remember coming off the stage the first night we played at CBGB’s November 1, 1976. We opened for the Dead Boys. I said, “Gee, we could do this again!”
Lee Sobel: Have you been back to CBGB’s in the last few years?
Ivy: We did a gig in 1993 when they were having that 20th Anniversary thing with bands that had played there, like Guns N Roses.
Lux: I wore all vinyl. I had vinyl gloves on, long-sleeve vinyl top, vinyl pants and very tall spike heels. It was taking too long to get on and I kept drinking. I drank about two bottles of wine. I went out, sat on the stage and said, “Hello, everybody, here we go with our big set,” and I thought, Oh my god, I’m gonna throw up. It was so filled with smoke and unbelievably hot. I had all the vinyl stuff on. I can’t believe I got through it. I was having so much fun ‘cause we were back at CBGB’s.
Lee Sobel: I know in interviews I read a while ago you talked about drug
experimentation. Do you find yourselves doing less of that kind of thing now?
Lux: We never don’t do anything. We never have any rules about anything. But it’s a lot of work doing this band and we take it as a real responsibility. We don't want to turn to shit like many people do and turn alcoholic and fat.
Lee Sobel: You have remained amazingly thin, that’s true.
Ivy: There’s nothing dangerous about drugs and drinking. The danger is in the way you use or abuse them. I do think it can be good to shake up your current state of consciousness, because the way a lot of people think is a product of years of programming. If you need a chemical to shake loose the cobwebs, then it can be a good thing.
Lux: I think it’s dangerous for some people not to take drugs.
Lee Sobel: You’ve probably had some amazingly surreal performance experiences. I know you performed at Napa Mental Hospital once.
Lux: That was pretty weird. People were coming up to us and talking as we were performing. People were standing there yelling in our ears. I remember this one woman screaming at us, “I HAVE AN UNCLE WHO’S IN THE BUSINESS. HE CAN GET YOU SOME GIGS. ‘CAUSE I THINK YOU’RE REALLY GOODI” — while we were doing a song. I remember this great big tall black guy who weighed about 300 pounds and he had a cowboy hat and a Sex Pistols t-shirt. He looked like a football player or something and he said, “This is so great. I never thought punk rock would come to me.”
Lee Sobel: Any other bizarre performing experiences you can remember?
Lux: The bizarre occasions are more the norm. I think of the time I chopped a hole in the stage with the microphone stand and I didn’t realize I’d weakened the stage to the point I had. I jumped off the drum riser at one point and went through the stage and just disappeared. The band just stood there looking into the hole with a wire going into it.
Ivy: I hadn’t seen him go through it. I just looked over and saw this hole and him gone.
Lee Sobel: Do you ever get nervous about Lux on stage?
Ivy: Oh yeah.
We were in Atlanta and a whole P.A. fell on top of him. It didn’t break his bones, but he said it knocked the wind out of him. It was really scary. Even before this band he was reckless and it always scared me. I’m afraid he’s gonna get hurt.Luckily he’s really coordinated, I guess.
Lux: The only time I ever got hurt seriously — besides the time I got punched in the face by one of our dear fans — was when I smoked a bunch of dope right before we went on, just to see what that would be like, and I couldn’t remember any of the lyrics.
Lee Sobel: Ivy, does anyone ever try to bother you when you’re on stage?
Ivy: I got my name from that song with the lyrics, “Look outman, she’s pretty as a daisy, but look out man she's crazy.
Lux: We try to provoke people. It's a fun thing to do. I remember one of these jerk stage divers once knocking Ivy off the stage and she fell like six feet onto a monitor. That made me angry.
Ivy: And it was a security guy that did it. He shoved me and I just crashed. I got bruised from head to toe.
Lee Sobel: I remember when I saw you in ‘79 at Irving Plaza and Bryan Gregory stormed off the stage and Lux seemed really mad.
Lux: I think that was the time he said something like, “I saw the way you looked at me, Ivy."
Ivy: This happened a lot with him. Like he broke a string at the Whiskey in L.A. It’s weird because he had this really fearsome face and persona, but he was really a big sissy. He’d freak out if a string broke on his guitar and just run off the stage and we’d have to drag him back out. The scariest looking guy in the band was just a wimp.
Lee Sobel: Do you keep in touch with him? Ivy: Not since the early 90’s. He’s supposed to live out in Orange County now. He lived in Florida for years, then Dallas, then somewhere in Southern California. We don’t really keep in touch with him. We just don’t have much in common. That’s what led to us breaking up. There’s a lot of myth about the circumstances of his leaving the band and disappearing. He never disappeared. He was living in L.A. and everyone knew where he was. He was still under contract to I.R.S. Records and Miles Copeland tried to create a myth about him.
Lux: Bryan was a lot of fun when we first met him. He was a real character. He was as weird and wacky offstage as he was on. Just walking down the street we were like a gang or something. The typical thing that happened though was that as soon as we started having any success, it was like the “Spinal Tap” kind of thing, he started wearing robes and carrying the Necronomicon with him, satanic things like that. He was a guy who couldn’t really read a ketchup bottle, but he started carrying these occult books to make people think he was a heavy dude. He was hanging around a lot of druggy people who were telling him he was great. He’d say things like, “Why are you writing stupid songs about werewolves and human flies. We should write songs about politics like The Clash.” So it became a real culture clash. He was hanging around a bunch of dorks. He just didn’t understand the whole thing.
Ivy: It was totally like “Spinal Tap,” even down to the girlfriend who became the lighting director with no experience and her making his clothes
Lee Sobel: How did you ask him to leave the band?
Ivy: We had a show in Palo Alto the night before he took off with all of our gear. We did a sound check and it was miserable. The songs didn’t sound like they were supposed to. We said to him, “You just seem like you can’t stand doing this anymore.” At the time we had a month of gigs ahead of us and we thought, why don’t we just go out with flying colors and break up when it’s over. At the time we didn’t think about firing anyone, we just thought we’d break up. We did that show and the next day all the equipment was gone — the amps and a guitar the record company had rented for him. He’d taken it all and sold it, I guess. At the time we realized we didn’t have to break up, since he left us. Nick still wanted to do it. We did too. If anything that
last year had been a drag since Bryan hadn’t wanted to do it. We thought we could get it going and have everyone really into it. That’s when we got Kid Congo, who’d been at all of our shows and was really into the band.
Lee Sobel: Once Bryan left did he ever come back to you and say, “Gee, I really made a mistake, I really want to be in the Cramps.”
Ivy: He did. He said, “Are they still playing the same shit?” He told Nick he only wanted to do it because he wanted to make some money.
Lee Sobel: You’ve been with your new players, Slim Chance and Harry
Drumdini for some time now.
Ivy: This is Slim’s third album with us and Harry’s second and we've toured together, so we have a kind of telepathy, a real groove going. It’s a lot easier having people in the band who are really into it.
Lux: There’s always a lot of distractions on the road, like somebody wantsto do a pile of drugs with you or whatever and these guys are real solid and dedicated.
Lee Sobel: You originated the two-guitars-no-bass sound. I was curious what made you finally add a bass player to the band?
Ivy: It started right before “Date With Elvis.” We did “The Surfin’ Dead” for the movie Return of the Living Dead as a three piece. We were between members. So I played
both bass and guitar on that. On “Surfin’ Dead” I used all these multi-tracks of guitars and bass. It was just something I wanted to do. Then when we made “Date With Elvis” we wanted it to come out during the commemoration on Elvis’ 50th birthday, I played bass as an experiment. It was even a 6-string bass, it wasn’t a regular bass. We always had a stark sound, a real prehistoric sound...I mean, we don’t have any kind of formula for what we do.
We just sort of liked the heavier quality, it was even more of a primordial
sound with bass, so that’s how it evolved. It wasn’t a decision, it just kind
of happened. I still do like the bass. I can kind of do more when there’s a
bass, because I can do rhythm and crazy stuff. Also, the thing about the
bass is Slim’s still playing it like a guitar. He has that wild solo on “God
Monster.” So we haven’t changed what we do or our idea of things. Like
when we do songs like “TV Set” there’s a deeper frequency because it’s
on a bass. When we had two guitars with Bryan he played bass lines
on guitar on things like “Jungle Hop.” He used it like a bass almost.
Lee Sobel: It was so unusual to do that, but now you have a number of bands who use two guitars and no bass.
Ivy: In our case it just kind of happened. We didn’t have a bass player and instead of waiting around to get one we just said let’s go.
Lee Sobel: How did you like doing the “Peter Gunn Theme” on the Mancini tribute “Shots In the Dark”?
Ivy: We collect that song. There's certain songs like that and “Harlem Nocturne" that pretty much doesn’t have a version I don’t like. There probably wouldn’t have been an excuse for the Cramps to do it.
Lee Sobel: I know you’ve been involved in a few movies, like “Return of the Living Dead.” Weren’t you supposed to contribute tracks to the movie “Cry-Baby"?
Ivy: Well, we were told that it wasn’t on spec and they wanted us to do the songs. We made these real quick demos on a boom box and found out there was a horde of bands that were submitting demos. Ours wasn’t one that made it.
Lux: The people who were doing the music for the film — it wasn’t John Waters — it was some music company of baboons out here in Los Angeles, typical record company/movie company type thing. They gave us the titles for three songs and said, “Here, do something with these." They got a whole bunch of bands to send in songs, listened to all of the songs and got a bunch of ideas from them and then they recorded their own versions of them, ripping off all the other artists. So we put out our demos.
Lee Sobel: It seems that your new record, “Big Beat From Badsville,” has a lot more rockabilly and psychobilly on it.
Lux: Side two of the vinyl record or the second half of the CD is almost all rockabilly. We invented the term “psychobilly” in 1976 in our advertising, in our posters we called The Cramps that. Then later it became an actual kind of music. When it's real fast I think it loses what rockabilly had, which was this kind of real groovy backbeat. All the psychobilly bands are real cool though. It’s a lot more fun than the other types of boring pop music.
Lee Sobel: I know you guys are big into collecting. What are you collecting these days?
Lux: Anything cool. l’ve got like 80 3-D cameras. I’ve got a 3-D camera that’s 100 years old that I still take pictures with. We’ve got about 3 or 4,000 movies on video tape. We have a million 45’s — mainly rockabilly and
rock ‘n roll instrumental 45’s. These are things that we cherish. We have almost all of the Sun 45’s —- like 200 Sun 45’s & 78’s. We found most of our stuff in junk
stores for a nickel. Back when no one was collecting this stuff it was real easy to find.
Ivy: Back then there were no reissues. You had to find the original. Now there’s almost no excuse to not have good influences because there’s a lot of stuff that’s available.
Lee Sobel: What do you think of compilations like “Born Bad” and “Songs We Taught the Cramps”?
Lux: I think it’s great for the fans to have that stuff. Some people get a little too carried away talking about we got “Human Fly” from “Green Mosquito” and we’d never heard that song until about three years after we'd
been playing “Human Fly.” Some people have taken this to an anal kind of Star Trekkie thing. It’s like saying, “Oh, I heard Howlin’ Wolf — he got all his stuff from Chuck Berry.” I mean, we’re playing the blues.That’s what real rock ‘n roll is. It comes out 9,000 different ways, whether it's The Velvet Underground or The New York Dolls or Charlie Feathers — it’s still the blues. It has a real simple song structure and that’s what’s great about it.
Lee Sobel: How do you go about writing your songs?
Lux: All different ways. But it usually starts with us listening to music and getting excited about something and then we try to do something that’s got that thing -— whatever that thing is.
Lee Sobel: Do you have songs you’ve done that you wished you could have done better or are you usually amazed at how good they came out?
Lux: We’re usually more amazed at how good they came out, because that’s what we’re shooting for — to do something better than what we had in mind when we started. We usually say, “Wow, that’s cool I mean, if we’re not surprised by it and think it’s really great then we think, “Why should anybody else?” Sometimes the record company releases songs that weren’t supposed to be released.
Ivy: Like “New Kind of Kick.” We’d written that song like two days before it was recorded. We just whipped it out in the studio as just a practice thing and l.R.S. put it out. They didn’t have legal rights to, but that was cleared up later. It’s not even demo quality; it could have definitely been more powerful.
Lee Sobel: I know “Drug Train” has the same riff as “Twist & Shout.”
Ivy: It’s the same recording but on a whim we were sitting in a coffee shop across the street from the studio and we just thought, let’s do something different with it. Let's call it “Drug Train” and we just wrote all these lyrics on a napkin. Lux just put a new vocal on it. Later we did a new mix of the original and put it out. We just did it as a surprise to the rest of the band. Maybe they didn’t find it funny, I don’t know.
Lee Sobel: How did the re-release of your first album “Songs the Lord Taught Us” with the outtakes and additional tracks come about?
Ivy: We re-mastered it, because the original mastering was horrible. Those extra tracks were salvaged, because the original multi-tracks were disintegrating. It was a real tedious process. We wanted to make it better than the original release.
Lux: When it originally came out, Miles Copeland thought we were gonna be around for about a year and he wouldn’t give us the money to go to somebody decent to master it.
Ivy: This real old man mastered it and said things like, “I don’t know, there’s a lot of distortion on this thing.” He’d hear all this fuzz and it was too foreign for him. He probably mixed people like the Carpenters or something.
Lee Sobel: I know on the re-release there’s some arguing on the beginning of the alternate take for “Teenage Werewolf.” What was going on there?
Lux: When we started doing that recording I was like throwing some chairs around and at the walls of the studio and kicking stuff, trying to get in the mood to be a teenage werewolf and as we went into the intro the band was laughing like this was gonna be great and right then this guy had walked in off the street and saw me throwing stuff around the studio and ran in and said, “Lux, calm down, calm down.” He tried to stop me from doing what l was doing. He was like a friend of somebody at the studio and he tried to stop me and I flipped out. We were just ready todo the perfect version of the song and he ruined it.
Lee Sobel: You made the record in Memphis, right? At a studio that had all vintage equipment?
Ivy: Yeah, at Ardent Studios where the Box Tops recorded in the 60's.
Lux: I loved the gigantic microphone they had there for the vocals. It was about the size of a football.
Lee Sobel: How did you like working with Alex Chilton?
Lux: Well, Alex was fun but we were on I.R.S. Records so that was horrible. We could never get any money and we had to sleep on people’s floors and wait till the record company sent money and they wouldn’t send any. Alex was fun but he was drunk and stoned half the time. He was having problems with his album that was coming out at the time and he was depressed about that. So it was fun and it was horrible.
Lee Sobel: Your second record, Psychedelic Jungle was much less rockabilly than Songs the Lord Taught Us. Was that a conscious decision to make a more 60’s garage punk influenced record?
Lux: With the second record, Miles Copeland said he wasn’t going to give us our advance and we just wanted off the label before we even recorded that. We made the record pretty fast, but some of the songs were left over
from the first recordings. It has a kind of left-over feel to it. Then other songs like “Beautiful Gardens” we just made up on the spot. We recorded that in a little room about fifteen by twenty feet. I was in the room with the band. We couldn’t get any money and we had to do it ourselves.
Ivy: While all that was going on we were also having a lot of fun doing shows and enjoying being the Cramps. We’ve always enjoyed it.
Lee Sobel: What happened with Nick Knox?
Ivy: Nick was with us for thirteen years and we made great records, but his heart wasn’t in it the last couple of years. He went blind in one eye due to an illness. At the time he left the band we’d just finished a tour with him and Candy Del Mar. They were both fired on the same day. Nick wasn’t really contributing; we’d have to give him ideas for the drum parts. He and Candy couldn’t stand each other — they’d say they hated each other, but then later they’d be drinking together.
Lux: It was a love-hate relationship.
Ivy: They’d always come to us saying how mad they were at the other one. We had this idea that we were going to have Nick fire Candy and have Candy fire Nick. Then we thought we should do this more seriously. We did this New Year's show in San Francisco and ended it with them. It was kind of killing me and Lux because we wanted some interaction with the band that we weren’t getting. It was dragging us down. That’s probably why the Cramps have endured because we don’t let people drag us down. I know some bands stick together even if they don’t get along. That’s fine if it works for them, but we don’t do this for money. We’re not fearful, we're willing to take the risk. This band has to feel right — we have to get along with everybody. It’s important to us because it's our lives.
Lee Sobel: Do you keep in touch with Nick at this point?
Ivy: He just kind of fell off the face of the earth.
Lux: Nick wanted to just retire. He was really getting into football and sports. He didn’t want to talk about music anymore. We love Nick and he was a million laughs over a million years. Some people change over the years.
Ivy: I think if anything, me and Lux are the freaks because Nick didn’t plan on doing this forever. Well, we don’t plan on doing this forever but we don’t feel like doing something else instead.
Lux: I knew it was over when we got a tour lined up in Japan and got excited because we’d never been there before andNick just said, “Oh, do we have to go? I don’t want to.” There’s nothing wrong with that. He was doing something for a long time and he wanted to do something else.
Lee Sobel: How about Kid Congo?
Ivy: We did a lot of fun shows with him. When we did Psychedelic Jungle he was new so I did a lot of the guitar parts. He was new in the band and didn’t have time to learn stuff. When we made “Smell of Female” we recorded that live, but a lot of that guitar had to be re-recorded. We just realized that it worked fine live, but he wasn’t cutting it during recording and I had to re-track his guitar parts on some of it -- not all of it. I love the stuff he did with Gun Club. There’s a really unique style that he has, but it just didn’t work for us.
Lux: He’s a slide guitar player. We needed someone to play real guitar, not just slide guitar. We love Kid, he’s great. It just didn't work out.
Lee Sobel: Do you have a favorite album?
Ivy: Our new one.
Lux: I have a least favorite album. I think Songs the Lord Taught Us is my least favorite because the songs were so great live, but I don’t think that record captures it at all. We get told all the time it was such a great album, but I think it has such a dull sound.
Ivy: It has a soft mushiness to it. We like a hard rockin’ thing live.
Lux: In a club those songs'll rip your ears off but when you put the record on you keep trying to turn it up because it never sounds loud. I like the performances and the songs but it seems like it should have more of an edge to it. I’m not putting down the album or anything, it’s just we’d been playing those songs live a long time and we had the expectation that the second you put the needle down our album would be frightening sounding.
Lee Sobel: Do people bug you when you go out?
Ivy: When we go out to shows sometimes we just want to see a band and people will shove their records in our face because they think there’s something we can do to help them. We’re trying to listen to a band and someone will be yelling in your ear and your ear ends up ringing not from the band but the person yelling in your face.
Lux: Yeah, usually it sounds like this: (shouts) “HEY, YOU KNOW I’VE GOT THIS BAND AND YOU KNOW WHAT I’VE BEEN UP TO LATELY? I WROTE SOME SONGS AND CAN I SEND YOU A TAPE?!” We love our fans, but it can be distressing because you just see all these people lining up and we can’t talk to people all night. That’s why we hate doing in-stores, because people will wait in line forever to see you and then all you can do is say, “Hi,” sign your name, “Hi,” sign your name.
Ivy: I put on wigs and go out incognito, but people just say,
“Hey, Ivy, nice wig.”