Sunday, May 22, 2011

Zeke Speaks

Here's a transcript of an interview I did with Ed Volker of the Radiators shortly after he announced he was leaving the band last year:

ED VOLKER: My story is that after 9/11 the road started squeezing tighter and tighter. There was the enhanced security, and our fortunes started waning a little bit so we weren't playing multiple nights when we traveled, so there was a lot more roadwork which meant a lot more riding from town to town. After Katrina the finances started getting even tighter. Over the last few years I've been more and more compressed and I'm just exhausted from the squeezebox of the road. I'm looking forward to a quieter, less stressful life.

John Swenson: So you've been wrestling with this decision for a while.

E.V.: Yeah. It started about five years ago, slightly before Katrina. The band has made difficult economic decisions in order to keep on rolling. Compared to other friends I know we've done remarkably well. But the price you have to pay for that is you make less money and you work harder. The road doesn't soften up and meanwhile I'm certainly getting older and I'm not snapping back like I used to. I've been debating it seriously for about two years. It just got to feeling like it's time.

J.S.: Was there a straw that broke the camel's back?

E.V.: Not really. Nothing dramatic. Just going through the same changes we all must go through. Watching your pennies and living on deadlines and gotta get to the airport... just... the road, y'know? More than anything else. I love the guys and I love our music. It wasnt an emotional thing of 'I cant work with this guy anymore' or 'You're playing the song wrong,' nothing to do with any of that stuff. I thought this was the most caring and fair way to make my departure, to give a lot of lead time so if the rest of the guys want to continue on with the Radiators in some fashion or another it's with my blessing. Whatever anybody does it gives us all some lead time to decide waht the next step would be.

I've gone through variations of three large feelings. One is relief to finally get away from it all. Another is complete heartbreak because a large portion of my life has been dedicated to the Radiators and the music. And the other thing is I'm scared. I don't know what the future's gonna bring. I've had a posse to work with for the last 33 years. Actually far before that I ran with the Rhapsodizers and before that it was the Dogs. I've been running with possees since I was 15. This is a major life change.

J.S.: Have you thought about what you'll do?

E.V.: I have all these little interests. I have a great affinity for being out of the public view, working underground, the true underground, the artist's cave. I've been doing a lot of archiving of my old songs. I have various interests, books that I study. I'm not making any plans at all. I'm thinking of taking six to 12 months of not being in the public eye at all, doing any performances whatsoever.

J.S.: So you wouldn't mind if the Radiators continued on without you.

E.V.: Not at all. It all remains to be seen.

J.S.: Are you thinking along the lines of doing a Last Waltz type event?

E.V.: There have been some discussions. There was an idea of doing a studio album. It seems more fitting that maybe we do three nights in a row at Tip's for our swan song and make that the project. We could call it some kind of variation of Work Done On Premises because our first recording, barring the single at Luigi's 'Suck the Heads,' our first complete work was the LP Work Done on Premises recorded in the spring of 1980.

It all remains to be seen. Man proposes, god disposes. This all presupposes that all of us are healthy enough to make it to Tipitinas in June of 2011. We'll see. We don't know what's going to happen.

J.S.: It strikes me that this is the end of an era of New Orleans music. Not everybody would agree with me when I say that the Radiators were the carriers of a particular type of New Orleans culture but to me that seems very clear that the end of the Radiators would mean the end of a specific type of New Orleans rock culture.

E. V.: We embodied the idea of the eclecticism that defined 60s bands like Little Feat and the Dead, and the early Stones, but we did it in our uniquely New Orleans fashion. There was nobody quite like us in the way we mixed things up. We seemed to have our fingers in lots of pies. In that way we were unique. While we were a part of New Orleans music we were something apart from it as well. We didn't have a set approach or style. We had Dave's country rock thing, then riffing on the Meters with 'Suck the Head' then a Merle Haggard song, a Blind Willie Johnson song. We covered a lot of different song spaces.

J.S.: You are also a direct link to an era of New Orleans music that no longer exists because you actually played with Professor Longhair and Earl King.

E.V: That's so much a part of us that I take it for granted.

J.S.: The new wave of very interesting eclectic New Orleans rock bands doesn't have that connection. That's been cut. You guys are the last link to that. These new rock bands could just as eaily come from San Francisco or Portland, Oregon or Minneapolis or Brooklyn New York. In fact, some of them do come from other places.

J.S.: Looking back, does anything stand out?

E.V.: It's a kaleidoscopic merry go round or rather roller coaster I should say.

J.S.: You have a close relationship with the MOM's ball dating back to the Rhapsodizers.

E.V.: Before that. The first MOMs ball there was live music Camile and I were in the band. It was a band called Sweet Magnolia. As long as there's been live music at the MOMs ball -- the first year there wasn't -- I've been in the band.

J.S.: What is the band's legacy?

E.V.: That's a tree that has lots of branches. What will it be remembered for? Part of it is the eclecticism of the music, part of it is the good heartedness of the shows and part of it is an extension of that in that our fans became communities onto themselves, kind of floating communities. About eight or ten years ago when a lot of people had more disposable income I guess people would fly around to catch us in various places around the country. There was a lot of community spirit there, sort of like the fans created their own Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs wherever they went.

J.S.: The connections between those people don't necessarily end even if the band isn't there to conduct the service. What kind of feedback have you been getting?

E.V.: They're kind of in a state of shock. I don't really do a lot of social networking. My idea of social networking is Terranova's and walking on the bayou and hanging out with friends on my porch. I don't really go on line to see what people are saying.

J.S.: Will Jolly House continue?

E.V.: Jolly House is a nice little thing. We played last night at Chickie Wah Wahs. I don't know what Reggie's going to do and Joe's still with the Iguanas. I want to get away from ambition, the way the Radiators lifestyle for me was a driven-ness. I'm not going to translate that headline deadline reality to any other entity. I like playing with Jolly House but I have no plans or ambitions except to do the occasional gig.

J.S.: You must be happy about what you achieved.

E.V.: Oh yeah, I got to live my dream. When I was a kid, first starting to get turned on to music when I was 10 years old, when I first started to write songs I would design my own LP covers and write the whole back cover and list all the songs. So back when I was 10 years old I was dreaming of having this reality and I got to do it.

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