TIM HALL INTERVIEW:
May 22, 2006
Remember Cry Wolf, or their album Crunch? Vocalist Timmy Hall fronted Cry Wolf during their short late 80s/early 90s run. Like so many bands from that era, Cry Wolf never made it past cult status before breaking apart. As Tim states in this exclusive interview, his “hair metal” days are more less behind him, but he still writes music and is currently working with a new band named Fast Otto.
SR: Are you still writing music these days?
TM: I’ve always written, before Cry Wolf and after. I think I probably wrote my first song when I was 14 or 15, and I’m sure it was terrible. But yeah, I’ve been writing since the day Cry Wolf officially disbanded, although not on a daily basis. It doesn’t work that way for me. I have to have a solid idea; I’ve always dealt in concepts. So If I have a great title, but don’t know where to go from there, I won’t force it. I’ll let it come to me. “Face Down in the Wishing Well”, from the Crunch CD is a good example. That phrase popped into my head, and I thought, ‘man, I have to do something with that’, but I had to work my way backwards from that thought, which was the point of the song, and tell a story that was relevant. It took a year, but eventually it came to me in ten minutes.
Lots of stuff I’ve written has happened that way; I’ve written and recorded 4 album length CD/demos of solo stuff since the early 90’s, but I never forced any of it; I always have something in my head that’s half-written, and I have faith it will complete itself when the time is right, and it always seems to work out that way. The important thing for me is to keep learning as much as I can about music, and discovering styles I haven’t delved into yet, to keep the inspiration coming, as well as staying in touch with my roots.
SR: Do you still write music that could be considered 80s rock, or are those days mostly behind you?
TM: Well, that’s a pretty broad term to use, that could encompass anything from Asia to Stray Cats to Poison to King’s X, and a lot of ground in between, but I think I know what you mean. It’s funny, our record was released in the States in September of 1990, but I guess because of some obvious trappings, we get lumped into that genre. I do hear some links in the stuff I’ve recorded back to Cry Wolf, but then there are differences. That band was more like a Lamborghini, built for ultimate performance, and my stuff is more like a 65 Fastback Mustang. A bit more primitive, but not without its own merits of style. I’ve always been a blues kind of guitar player, and sometimes it’s blatant, and other times subtle, but that element is always there. The two big elements of what we think of as ’80s Rock’ are probably vocal and guitar styles inspired mostly by (to me anyway) Steve Perry and Eddie Van Halen. When those guys came on the scene, they raised the bar for singers and guitar players in rock bands. They were the yardstick. We were fortunate to have a guitar player (Steve McKnight) who could give anybody in that realm a run for their money, and it inspired me to push myself further to keep up with him, but in hindsight it probably wouldn’t have hurt us at all if I’d listened to the advise of some around us who thought I ought to try singing in a lower register. I’ve since then taken that much more to heart, and since I don’t (and never could) play like Steve, I’d say I’ve left it behind. And so has he. We all grow and change, you know.
SR: Do you have any plans on releasing a new solo album anytime soon?
TM: My main focus right now is playing in a band. I have a 3 piece band called Fast Otto, comprised of myself on vocals and Gretsch Duo Jet, Rob Thompson drums and vocals, and Tom Cloury, electric upright bass and vocals. We’ve been going through my backlog of material, and picking what works just right for the situation.
Of course it’s every artist’s dream to release their material on a great label that is committed to seeing the project succeed, but I’ve learned it’s important to do what’s inside of you musically, not follow trends and try to second guess markets/demographics and all that widget salesman nomenclature just to get ‘signed’, lest you end up diluting your vision to appease faces you’ve never seen. My plan is to get up every day and make the most of what talents and opportunities I have, and let the music take me as far as it can. Only the hand of Fate can determine whether it’s the EnormoDome, or the podunk bar down the street. I’ll be happy to be there, no matter which. If I’m standing and breathing, that’s success. Anything above that is Euphoria.
SR: How would you describe Fast Otto to someone that had never come across the band yet?
TM: Hmmm….well, Tom calls it ‘eclectic’, and Rob refers to it as ‘Bluesabilly’, my take on it is this; it’s all about songs, and the songs I’ve written are varied in styles because basically everything you hear gets taken in, processed, and sometimes without you even realizing it, resurfaces in your compositions, hopefully with enough original thought injected into it to avoid plagiarism. I’ve heard it said that Paul McCartney’s nickname for the Beatles was “Plagiarists Extraordinaire”, I don’t know if you can help it; your influences are going to come out in your style. My original favorites musically were the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival, but I’ve always been a fan of good songs, so anything I heard along the way that I really liked is etched into my memory and will no doubt reappear in what I mistakenly think is a moment of brilliance! LOL.
Just to give you an idea; we have a very straight-ahead barroom rock and roll tune called “Rockin’ Cradle” that could probably be compared to a band like Social Distortion, a very ‘spy guitar’ laced dark and moody thing called “Bad Girls and Lonely Guitars”, A Latin jazz influenced tune called “Diabla Bonita”, a Stones “Tumblin’ Dice”-ish tune called “Into the Sun” and a couple of hard swing tunes in a Brian Setzer kind of vein called “Little Meteorite” and “Devil’s Dice”. Plus a lot more.
You can’t call it country, but its got some twang at times. You can’t call it jazz, but some of the tunes definitely swing, and there is the occasional ‘outside’ note or two. You can call it blues, but usually with some kind of a twist. And there is certainly a healthy amount of rock and roll delivery to all of it.
SR: Do you plan on recording/releasing material with Fast Otto, or is it move of a live thing?
TM: Recording is definitely a priority, along with launching a website, and the site will be the first place whatever gets recorded would be made available. The current lineup has only existed a month or so, and we definitely have our work cut out for us.
SR: In this day and age of the internet, do you think it is easier for a band to get noticed or is the help of a major label still needed?
TM: Well, like I was saying before, if you have a great label behind you 100 percent, committed to seeing you succeed, it’s probably the best scenario possible. But the Internet has definitely made it a little easier to get yourself out there and be heard and seen. In Cry Wolf’s time it was tough enough to attract labels. It’s only gotten worse with time. The cool thing about the Web is now everything is just a Google search away, and it makes it really easy to go ‘niche’ surfing. If you dig surf bands, rockabilly, jump blues, whatever, stuff that isn’t bombarding your senses via the big pop marketing machine, it’s a click away, you can find whatever you’re into. ‘Course you need a good pop up blocker, or the pop giants will find there way into your search, which just goes to show what major label muscle can do for you. Goliath is still Goliath, but David is getting smarter.
SR: How did you first get involved in music?
TM: When I was pretty young, I used to hang in my room and listen to a lot of records, like most kids my age did, I suppose. And the radio. When I got into the Beatles, something about the bass really spoke to me. McCartney is just so musically gifted. I always liked the stuff that had really cool grooves going on in it. Then there was CCR, something about the guitar sound, the vocals, the grooves (again), I used to listen to Magical Mystery Tour, Willy and the Poorboys, Green River, and Sgt Pepper over and over.
Somewhere along the line, when I was 8 or 9 I started asking for instruments for Christmas gifts. First I got a drum kit, but it was a really cheap one with tin shells and paper heads, and I trashed it. I think when you’re a kid you want the biggest thing, like drums, of course. After that was a cheapo acoustic guitar, and eventually a Silvertone electric and a little amp. After a while I graduated to a Fender Mustang and a Deluxe Reverb. But I didn’t have a teacher, and I didn’t really know where to start, so I didn’t learn much. About the sixth grade I developed a passion for football, and ridiculous as it sounds, that became my dream. But I was never big enough of a kid to seriously make the team, so by the time I was in Jr. High my focus went back to music.
By high school, I finally was in a band, and I started singing, mostly because no one else would do it. By the end of High School, I was starting to develop vocal tone and range, along with my ear. I would play pool and listen to “Day at the Races” and “Night at the Opera” by Queen and pick out all the harmony parts and do them. I was also getting into Paul Rodgers and Lou Gramm a lot, and singing to their records. I had a 3 piece band in the early 80s and did everything by ear, both the singing and playing. That is I would pick around on the guitar until I found something that worked, and kept it.
By the time I got into what would become Cry Wolf with Steve, Phil (Deckard) and Paul (Cancilla), I was just singing. In all honesty, I was musically ignorant from the beginning all the way until the end of Cry Wolf. I couldn’t spell a C Major triad to save my life. I didn’t even know what “triad” meant. I knew nothing, except what sounded good and what didn’t. When the band split up, I figured I’d do it all myself and write some tunes for a while. That’s when I started playing guitar again, and decided to learn about the 12 tones. I may have opened a can of worms that will take the rest of my life to master, but that’s okay.
SR: Was Cry Wolf your first serious band then?
TM: Not the first, there were others, but it was the one that actually amounted to something more than local notoriety. The 9 years that we existed were definitely some of the best times of my life, but there were some intense lessons I learned in that time also, things I can’t really go into, but things that changed me permanently.
SR: How did Cry Wolf first come together?
TM: We’re all originally from the (San Francisco) Bay Area. I was in a band/project with this drummer I knew from High School, who taught in a music store. He was always talking about this whiz-kid guitar player who taught in the store also. When the guitar player we had didn’t work out, we got Steve to come down. I didn’t think he’d be into it, but he was. A little later we needed find a new bass player, and I had seen Phil’s band play and thought he was the perfect guy for the job. The five of us (we had a keyboard player at the time) decided to make the “big move” to L.A. in 86. Shortly thereafter, we had to replace the drummer, and I knew Paul from the trio I had in the early 80s, so he came down. A little bit later, the keyboard player left, and the band was officially born around 87. So when I say “nine years”, I’m going back to July of 84, when Steve came on.
SR: What were those early days of trying to get noticed like?
TM: Well, once people heard us, it wasn’t too bad. But in the those days, you went down to the Strip on a Saturday night, and there’d be 1,000 people on the sidewalk from Gazzari’s down to the Whiskey, and 998 of ’em had big hair, cowboy boots, and a biker jacket. The first review we ever got was written by a guy in England who got hold of our demo; he almost threw it away because in the picture all you saw were 4 dudes with long hair, and he thought because we weren’t pouring on the glam junk, you know makeup and stuff, that it would suck. But after he heard it, he ended up writing a small review in a British mag that raved up and down that we would be the “next big American band”.
Likewise, our live show was what got us noticed over here. People saw us open for some other band, and were surprised. It was like “Where did you guys come from?” I started meeting people who said they had our demo, and I asked where they bought it, and they’d kind of get embarrassed and say it was a copy a friend made for them. We originally made 1,000 copies of that first demo, and we either sold them at shows or gave them away as promos. We sort of built an “underground” following.
SR: How difficult was it building an underground following when there were so many bands competing with each other?
TM: Well when I say “underground”, it really wasn’t intentional. We were trying to get signed, and all the labels in town were looking for the next Guns N Roses, and we weren’t doing that sort of thing. Labels weren’t knocking down our door, but people and some critics seemed to really dig us.
SR: How did Cry Wolf eventually get signed?
TM: By playing live. We met a Japanese girl who knew a promoter in Japan who wanted to bring over L.A. bands, and put them in a few clubs he was booking. Sort of his way of ‘bringing the Strip’ to Japan. We were the first band he did this with. So before we went over, our manager set up a little deal with him to print up copies of our first demo, mentioned earlier, on red vinyl, and sell them at a few of the more ‘obscure’ or ‘hip’ record stores around Tokyo. Also some live footage of us playing the Whiskey or the Roxy was shown on some TV show he went on, and he did a little press advertising our upcoming shows. All this groundwork led to all 4 shows being sold out.
When the jacket for the 12″ got printed, somehow somebody at Sony Music in Japan got hold of it, and called our manager about us. The first day we were there soundchecking in this club, these two guys from Sony arrived. We were there 10 days, and when we returned, our manager was faxed a proposal from Sony for a Japanese release. We went back a second time for a month after our Japanese CD got released, did 13 cities and some TV and press. It was the better of the 2 experiences we had, the other being our American deal.
SR: Explain the thinking behind releasing the self titled album in Japan and then releasing essentially the same album under the name Crunch in America.
TM: None of it was pre-meditated. When we went over there, we thought it would be fun, and we’d come back and pick up where we left off. We had no idea we would get an offer. No one in the States was biting, and we wanted to keep momentum, so we took the opportunity that was presented to us. As far as two titles, we were on two different labels, and for obvious reasons, neither wanted their product confused with the other; hence the title “Crunch” for the U.S. release, which happened a year after the Japanese one. The title came about for two reasons; we hoped it would give a little insight as to what we sounded like, and it started with the same consonant sound as Cry Wolf. There were a few differences; the guitars were completely re-recorded, and the Japanese version had a Beatle cover (“I Am the Walrus”) and the U.S. version didn’t. We originally wanted to do cover art for the Japanese version; but Sony didn’t want it; they wanted our picture on the front.
SR: When you re-recorded parts for Crunch was there any talk of recording new songs for the album as well?
TM: Yeah, we really wanted to do that. By the time the record came out in the States, some of those songs were really old to us, and we had newer stuff we wanted to put out, but the powers that be wouldn’t go for it.
SR: Did you end up touring to support the Crunch album? If so, who did you play with and how did they treat you?
TM: Most of the tour dates we did were club gigs; we never got a support slot on a major band’s tour. We did play a few shows with other major bands; the most memorable would have to be an outdoor show in Florida in the pouring rain which also featured King’s X. And they were very nice to everybody.
SR: What eventually led to Cry Wolf disbanding?
TM: Uhh…you had to ask that one didn’t you? That’s ok, I knew it was coming. I have to be honest here, and it won’t be easy but…
What caused us to disband was the fact that we never were a band in the first place. This sentiment was indirectly voice by at least one member almost from day one. Relationships, if they last long enough, will be put to the test. Our big test came in 1991, when in mid-tour, our equipment truck was stolen. It was the first and only bad blow this band ever received. One was all it took. This incident in itself was a revelation; it revealed who was in for the long haul and who wasn’t.
First Paul left. That was a hard thing for me to accept, I’ve known him since he was in high school, and was so happy when he came on board. Paul was the ‘rock star’ of our band, always crazy and unpredictable at parties, and one of my best friends. And a great drummer. I had to accept that he was out, I couldn’t try to talk him out of it. We replaced him, but the chemistry wasn’t the same, and it never would be.
Next our manager bailed, left us clinging to a bad record deal, which no other manager wanted a part of. We got ourselves out of the deal, and basically went back to square one.
Then the second drummer left, and we reinvented the band under a different name and with a different sound, but it wasn’t the same chemistry at all. Ultimately, personality conflicts and disbelief in an ongoing future for our efforts caused other people to bail, and I was left holding the phone. Literally. I hate to sound sour grapes here, but simply put, and in my opinion, some people involved gave up on us too easily. Maybe I’m being a little selfish here, this occurrence helped open my eyes to the ritual of “cutting your losses”, but I never could look at Cry Wolf as a “loss”.
SR: What was the name of the band Cry Wolf morphed into and did anything get recorded?
TM: The name of the band was Shed, and we recorded lots of stuff. The musical direction was decidedly darker and more “twisted”, if that makes sense. I guess we were going with the flow of the whole ‘Alternative’ thing that was happening in the early 90’s. Sonically it had a few things in common with Alice in Chains and Saigon Kick.
SR: Having been a part of both, what are your thoughts on the rise and fall of both the 80s hard rock scene and the alternative/grunge scene?
TM: I think the more things change, the more they stay the same. Every generation is going to have their thing. You know, there’s this adage that youth is king. Well, in American pop culture, that’s very true. Whatever the “target demographic” is, 13-25 or something like that, they run the game with an iron fist. They’re the ones spending the big money. This is their time, and their style. Seems like every few years we get bored with what’s in the forefront and then there’s a reaction to it, something opposite. Like Nirvana was to Winger. Like Kiss was to John Denver. Things that were once the mainstream, as time passes, become “niche music”, as people get older and sort of lose interest in the current pop mainstream, they start to investigate these smaller streams of genre specific stuff, and I think the 80’s “Hair Metal” or whatever it’s called is now one of those genres. I’m not sure Grunge is far enough gone to be in the same ballpark, but what do I know. The thing is, you can only be so old to pull that stuff off, at least that’s my opinion. You’re never too old to do jazz, country, especially blues, or whatever. But youth is king in popular music, and when it’s time to move on, you gotta roll with your age and evolve. It’s only natural.
I was going to say there’s nothing sillier than seeing a guy in his 40s doing hair metal, but now that I think about it, I guess it would be natural, like a guy in his 60s playing surf music. But there’s a difference between nostalgia and progression, if you want to grow as an artist and a musician, I think it’s wise to branch out.
SR: Does that mean a Cry Wolf reunion would be out of the question? Would you have any desire to step back into time to do something like that?
TM: You know, honestly the only thing I can see that would warrant it would be some kind of miracle, like one of our songs ending up in movie or something, becoming a hit, and giving us real exposure. We’re kind of obscure, we didn’t quite make it over the hump and into a wider realm of notoriety. There would have to be a large enough audience for it, to make it a legitimate ‘demand’ thing for us to come through with the ‘supply’ end of it. And that’s only one side of it, we’ve also all evolved since then, I don’t know if I can picture myself singing “Red Shoes” or something at my age, without feeling silly. As far as if by chance we all ended up at the same party and got up and jammed a couple of the old tunes, for the fun of it, well that’s different. I don’t know how the other three feel about it, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they felt the same way. Mind you, I’m very proud that we achieved what we did, that span of time will always be one of the best memories I’ll ever have, but the sad truth is we fell through the cracks before most of world even heard of us. I consider myself lucky to have been able to sing in front of such a kickass band, great players, great background singers, great showmen, our forte was our live performances, whenever we played in front of people, it was the highest I’ve ever been. And if we started something new, totally fresh, I’m sure it would be awesome, as there was so much potential just flushed down the drain when the Shed thing fell apart, it was very frustrating for me. But to be honest, I doubt that everybody would be interested in it, unless there was a legitimate ‘reason’ for it, in other words, simply doing it for the love of this band, let’s just say I’m very skeptical.
SR: You mentioned that with Shed you were taking a stab at the alternative scene. But I’ve always wondered, did musicians like yourself honestly feel at the time that the new scene would embrace people that were part of the 80s rock scene?
TM: That’s a good question; and honestly the thing we may have had as an advantage was that we were still relatively unknown, outside of our local fan base and modest record sales. Funny, we played a couple of shows, and some people saw us who had no idea till about half way through our set who we were. I used ‘alternative’ as an adjective earlier, and the music was congruent with that whole movement, but most of it was born out of anger. We were pretty pissed at how the previous year or two had gone for us. So in one way, we may have looked kind of fickle, but in another, we were just reacting to our situation – that is, the demise of the original band and its prospects.
SR: The last Cry Wolf question. How did you get the name for the band?
TM: We held a contest in a local music mag, offering tickets to a big show (Motley Crue at the Forum, IIRC) to the one who offered up the best name. Simultaneously, it helped us develop a mailing list! I don’t really remember who came up with it, only that it was the only one all four of us could live with. There is no special meaning to it.
SR: I was listening to Imperfection the other day and it has a very laid-back feeling to it. Are your other solo releases much the same?
TM: Wow, you and I must have a different idea of what ‘laid back’ is! LOL. Only reason I say that is because I wrote that in a very very dark period of my life, and to me, it’s pretty intense, emotionally at least. I almost can’t listen to it, it’s too personal. But it’s probably the closest I’ve come to feeling like an ‘artist’. The first 3 or 4 tracks on it are probably the angriest, most intense thing I’ve ever done. I always thought it would have made a pretty good “CWII”, but it didn’t turn out that way.
To answer your question – no, the two after it and the one before are different stylistically. The first one, “Crevices” was really primitive sounding – no guitar solos, but it has a nice gritty thing about it, and it does have a “cynical” vibe going on. Probably not one for the shred crowd, but then again, I’ve never thought any of my stuff was. The third, “Tumble”, has a pretty strong “Austin” kind of sound to it; songwriter stuff with a Southwestern kind of flavor. And the fourth – “Little Meteorite” is pretty much all blues type stuff, with a lot of swing feel on some of the tunes – lots of walking bass and stuff.
SR: For anyone wanting to check out your solo albums, how would they be able to purchase them?
TM: Anyone interested can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also hear some of the more recent stuff from Tumble and Little Meteorite on Soundclick at www.soundclick.com
SR: Do you have any regrets about anything that has happened during your musical career?
SR: Do you have any last words for your fans?
TM: Well, I’m not sure I’m really anybody worthy of fans per se, but to those who were there and remember us, and to those we never got to meet, thank you. Although it seems that Cry Wolf just fell off the face of the Earth, music has always been a daily part of my life since those days. And I’m looking forward to making new music and seeing new faces, as well as familiar ones from the past. God Bless.
Thanks to Tim Hall