CHAINSAW CAINE INTERVIEW:
September 26, 2006
Rock has produced its fair share of memorable characters over the years but few were as outrageous as the eye patch wearing and chainsaw wielding front man of Slave Raider, Chainsaw Caine. Perhaps age has tamed the wild man (or has it?), but he still delivers with his 80s tribute act Hairball and has branched out into booking and running his own digital download store. In this exclusive interview Chainsaw Caine proves that even domestication can’t stop him from always being Bigger, Badder & Bolder.
SR: What are you up to musically these days?
CC: Well for one thing, I’ve gone over to the dark side. I’m a partner in a booking agency in the Twin Cities called Absey Entertainment. I play in a popular 80’s spoof impersonation act called Hairball (www.hairballrocks.com). And I’ve got my own online digital download store where you can find some of my material and some of my groups at www.burnlounge.com/burntwincities. All music related business ventures and I’ve never been happier. I might have been happier in the Slave Raider days but I just can’t remember.
SR: I just checked out the Hairball website and those shows look like lots of fun. How are the crowds at these gigs, and did you ever imagine you’d end up impersonating people like Bret Michaels and Freddie Mercury?
CC: When Father Time told me it was time to give up my dream of being a rock star, he told me I could still dress up, pretend and poke a little fun. By the way, I don’t do the pretty boys. I leave that up to the other singer, Rockstar Bob. I still have some of the old Saw in me and he was never pretty. The crowds are huge. It’s a lot of fun. I have always been an entertainer first, musician second and the entertainer in me won’t stop. Don’t matter what I do as long as there’s an audience.
SR: When did you realize you should give up on the rock star dream, and what do you think of other bands from your era still kicking about with revolving door memberships?
CC: You know I had a nice run at it. I think Raider had all the potential in the world, it’s just the music biz. It’s not like if you’re a star athlete and you’re great at what you do you’re gonna be a professional athlete if you’re at the top of your game. It’s all up to you. In music, you have to be great, get a great management team, get the RIGHT label deal, have the moon in just the right position, get a great promotion team together, and then the public has to get it. That’s a lot of outside factors all coming into play. I spent my 20’s playing in cover bands with a few releases, and didn’t form Slave Raider until I was 29. So by the time we did our thing and ran our course, I was in my mid- 30’s. Then I did some solo work and another project called U.K.I. (The Unstoppable Kamikazee Idiots) with a release, all of which are available at www.burnlounge.com/burntwincities, suddenly, I had become an old man overnight. Never saw it coming.
As far as what others are doing, they probably want to entertain just like I do. That’s the only way they know how. More power to em. You’d probably expect me to bag on those guys and it would make for good press. The young Saw probably would have obliged you. Keep probing me tho, maybe we can get him to come out to play yet.
SR: Now I’m curious, what’s the difference between the ‘young Saw’ and the Saw of today?
CC: Age, maturity, wisdom, sobriety, a wife, 4 kids, two dogs, two cats, two new cars instead of a beat up rusty Dodge wagon with no muffler. Common sense, responsibility, debts up the wazoo, getting up at 7 in the morning instead of going to sleep at 7 in the morning and best of all I have a memory again. I heard I had a lot of fun back then, ‘I did what last night?”
SR: Even though you play in a tribute band, do you still write songs on your own?
CC: No. Not any serious writing anyway. I do some spoof stuff for Hairball where we change up some already existing lyrics kinda like Weird Al style. You know, like Heart “Bag O’ Fooda” and “What About Lunch” or Judas Priest “Livin In The Closet”. Harmless good natured ribbing stuff, unless of course you’re the subject or a huge fan.
SR: Why do you think so many artists from your era are now part of tribute/cover bands?
CC: The almighty dollar. Done properly, it’s much easier to market for a niche audience than just a straight up cover band. Original acts have never been able to make money gigging until they build huge followings through lots of free playing. Or start out as cover bands like Slave Raider did, then add in the original music. Most of the artists from my day still would rather make money playing instead of working a straight gig. When I first realized I couldn’t make enough money to support my family, I quit playing for a while and started roofing. Talk about a shock to the system after 17 years of full-time rock and roll. I never want to do that again.
SR: Do you think it is even harder to get people out to gigs these days then when you first started out?
CC: Absolutely. Most drinking age laws in states are now 21 when a lot were 18 or 19. The legal limits are .08 instead of .10. You got smoking bans popping up all over. Can you say Big Brother. Then you have more competition from Casinos everywhere, more people are staying home with their computer games, internet, and in home movies. And of course, the invention of Meth. I’m glad that wasn’t around when I was younger.
SR: How did you get into music and when did you realize you wanted to make a career out of it?
CC: I have always been a huge music fan. When I was 3 years old I used to listen to my parents phonograph for ever. I danced to Lawrence Welk in our living room and went to the V.F.W. with my dad and danced for quarters from the ladies there. When I got out of high school, I just started telling people I was a singer until I got into a working band and never looked back.
SR: The Chainsaw Caine character was over-the-top, when did you decide to take on this outrageous personality?
CC: Just like a fine wine, Chainsaw developed with time. I spent the first nine years of my career in Wisconsin with a band called Grey-Star. Ruby Starr, who recorded with Black Oak Arkansas on “Jim Dandy To The Rescue”, was the other singer. We recorded two records and played all around the U.S.
I decided to go out on my own in 1983 and moved up to the Twin Cities. I have a wandering eye from an injury I had in my teens. Consequently, I always had trouble with eye contact off stage. No one could figure out where the hell I was looking. When I started the new group in Minneapolis I decided to turn a negative into a positive. Thus the addition of the eye-patch and the birth of Chainsaw. The Slave Raider name is from early pirate history. From there I just got more and more into this new persona which eventually completely took over. I mean, I really became this guy full-time on and off stage. This was both a good thing and bad at the same time. Chainsaw Caine was one wild and crazy maniac with one thing in mind. Party till you puke. I consider myself fortunate to have survived. People tell me to this day how much fun we had and how I gave them some of the greatest times in their lives. I just wish I could remember more of it.
SR: That sounds similar to Alice Cooper’s problems in the early 80s. How did you finally separate the onstage and offstage personalities?
CC: After the breakup of Slave Raider, I did a solo project and recorded an EP “The Devils Drivin My Car”, which of course is available at my digital download store www.burnlounge.com/burntwincities. After a year of doing shows, I finally had to come to grips with the reality of the fact that I couldn’t make enough money to support my new family. I had gotten married and had three kids by that time. I began to try to figure out what I was going to do to make ends meet. I quit playing, got a job roofing and began to settle in for a more normal lifestyle.
After about five months of that I got an offer to become a booking agent for bands. This was my saving grace. After a year developing my business skills, I went back out to play as a weekend warrior. I got back together with the guys from my solo project and formed U.K.I. We played out for about 8 years and recorded one self titled CD. You know where you can find that by now. Just as Chainsaw developed over time, Mike Findling slowly got his life back. I realized with the responsibility that comes with family, I had to make sure I was not putting myself at risk anymore. I had other people to think about. I could no longer afford the luxury of the selfish lifestyle that was once Chainsaw Caine.
SR: Was it difficult to take the stage sober when you returned and to continue to keep your two identities separated?
CC: I have only been sober the past five years. So I have been performing that way only in Hairball. During my transition periods of the 90’s, I just gradually slowed down. I still did foolish and risky behavior, just not as much or as frequent or as extreme. I was a major stoner. I loved pot and probably never played a gig until Hairball in which I wasn’t stoned. I still drank some beers too. It’s the coke and crazy stuff that I began to get away from. I never thought I could be happy without pot. I found out I was wrong. Some of my most favorite parts of my life have now come with sobriety. I still love performing and while I’m not the wild man I once was onstage, I’m a lot more consistent. I’ve been told a lot that I still have that presence. That just comes with the fact that I’ve been performing for thirty years now. Yea, I’m an old f***er. Like Jethro Tull said, ‘You’re Never Too Old To Rock And Roll, Just Too Young To Die.”
SR: You mentioned earlier that after Grey-Star you relocated to the Twin Cities. How come you didn’t head to Los Angeles like most aspiring musicians of the time?
CC: The Twin Cities is a major music market, maybe #3 or #4 in the nation. At that time there was also a big money market in cover bands which is how Slave Raider started out. I also had a former agent I worked with here to help me develop the project and didn’t know anyone in L.A. or New York.
SR: What was the Twin Cities scene like in those days? What bands impressed you the most?
CC: When I first got to the Twin Cities everyone told me metal would never work here. They had the Prince movement going on and The Replacements and Husker Du were doing their thing, whatever the hell that crap was, Critics loved them though, hated us. But the fans didn’t. We played the first year outside the Twin Cities to develop the act and when we came in, we just took over. Within 6 months we were drawing huge crowds. And I’m talkin rabid, foamin at the mouth kinda fans. When we released our first recording of “Take The World By Storm” independently, those people haunted the big radio station KQRS into finally playing us on a nightime rotation. That station never supported independent releases, but had to give in to the demand.
In 1986 we attended our first Minnesota Music Awards and won all four Heavy Metal category honors. Prince performed at that show and I still remember when we made our entrance all decked out, Jerome from The Time who was at the door said, “Damn, would you take a look at that, what the hell is that.” We sat next to Soul Asylum and they won for Best New Band. They busted the award up and were using it for an ash tray. Now I liked those guys. Everything else I hated cuz that’s how I was in those days. I just loved to verbally abuse everyone else in the biz, it was my thing. Obnoxious, outrageous, outspoken. My calling card.
SR: How many enemies did your outspokenness get you? Any war stories about dust-ups with other bands?
CC: Are you kidding me. That was a joke right. How many of those sissy boys were gonna stand up to The Saw. I mean, you’ve seen the pictures haven’t you. 6′ 2 190 lbs. with a Chainsaw in hand. Nobody said nothin not no how. Intimidation was my game and I played it well.
SR: I always thought Slave Raider’s strong point was anthems. What goes into writing a catchy anthem?
CC: Writing is an art that develops over time and ends up just flowing out. By the time I started writing for Slave Raider, I’ll bet I had written 300-500 songs already. There was one extremely emotional time in my life where I had written about 150 songs in a three month period. You can really write when you’re screwed up. Except it’s all depressing crap. That’s what made Kurt Cobain such a good writer. He was totally messed up. I never really understood that. Fame fortune and the greatest job in the world and you’re bummed out. Maybe that’s what kept me from being a great writer. I was having too good of a time. I didn’t hate my life. I had a positive attitude.
Anyway, back to the main part of your question, I loved big sing-along chorus hooks and that’s the kind of stuff that was coming out of me at that time. The guitar players I worked with fed me music hooks that set me up for those types of tunes. I just listened to what they did and let the melody flow out. Then I started putting lyrics to the melody.
SR: The Slave Raider albums go for huge money now, any plans to reissue them? Or how about releasing some stuff you have in the vaults?
CC: Jive has the rights to the first two Raider discs. No plans for anything Raider. No shows, no releases. I believe that chapter is closed. Yea, I wish I would have stashed some of those first two discs. I’ve seen em go for over $100. Even Bigger, Badder, Bolder has sold for a lot. Did I mention you can download that at my digital download store at www.burnlounge.com/burntwincities? Always sellin baby.
SR: Is Jive still in business, and is there no way of getting the rights back if you wanted to?
CC: Jive is still one of the biggest. I’m sure there’s always a way if we wanted to get them. But it would cost I’m sure and we’ve all moved on.
SR: It seems like every 80 rock band is returning for one last try. Can you ever picture Slave Raider doing the same, or is there some bad blood there?
CC: No bad blood. We did our fair share of reunion dates with the last one being at the Minnesota State Fair with Poison in 2003 or 2004. That was a nice show to go out on. I just don’t think there’s a market to support what the band would want to make.
SR: What are the former members of Slave Raider doing these days?
CC: Lance Sabin is one of the owners of IPR, The Institute of Production and Recording. The number one ProTools school in the nation. Nicci Wikked is a computer consultant and I’m told is one of the tops in his field. Letitia Rae works at Blue Cross Blue Shield and Rock is teaching drums to about a million students in Madison Wis.
SR: I never saw Slave Raider live, but with Chainsaw being so abrasive in the earlier days, what was a typical live show like?
CC: Without a doubt, the live show was Raiders strongest area. First off, the players in the band were world class. The Rock on drums was an incredible foundation. The guy never put his sticks down and was very visual with all the usual tricks as well as a fire solo complete with tons of pyro. Audience participation all night. From singing sections of the songs or the established question “What d’ya say” response “F***in A. An occasional Chainsaw chop up of Michael Jackson, political figures, sports figures of opposing teams or anything current in the news and hated. But mostly it was about the audience and getting them involved to create a party atmosphere. Never before or after have I seen a band and audience bond in the way we did with The Raid.
SR: Tell us about the other ‘dark side’, your involvement with the booking agency. Does that make you appreciate the other side more then before?
CC: I joke about going over to the dark side (the business side of music) because I went through so many agents/managers and just didn’t feel they really cared that much about their artists. Plus they always had the money and artists are always broke. Probably nothing to do with no sex and drugs for Ian, David. A lot of the business people have never been through what it takes to be a rocker.
Enter the new breed. Chainsaw, agent for the little guy. In all seriousness, I feel because I’ve been there, I can better understand the needs of the artist. I know if a band turns down a gig because they don’t like the place or the staff or whatever the reason, that’s okay. Let’s move on to the next place. Some agents think it’s crazy to turn down anything and you should take work when it’s offered. They don’t understand the dynamics of entertaining and the fact that it has to be fun too. That’s a big part of why we rock, to have a good time. It’s certainly not about the money until you get to be my age.
But for me, I was in my 40’s and still playing for $100 a night. It wasn’t until the audiences quit caring. That’s when I hung it up for a few years. Everyone got so spoiled by MTV and concerts on TV and overexposure to major shows where they had seen it all. My guitar player in U.K.I. (Unstoppable Kamikazee Idiots) was doing somersaults while playing and people were just like, yea well, seen that before. Man, for $100 a night it was no longer worth it. I want to turn people on. Give them a great show and have them appreciate it. Now with Hairball, that’s happening again.
SR: How involved are you with the day to day operations of your download site? Also, what are your feelings on the whole mp3 controversy?
CC: I can’t answer the mp3 question because I don’t know what controversy there is. As far as my digital store at www.burnlounge.com/burntwincities this is my newest passion. I got involved in June 2006 and with the industry changing from CD to digital this market is set to explode. Burnlounge is the only company out there that lets the fans and musicians come together and get a piece of the profits. I got involved as an artist at first to be able to put my music on my own store site and get a much larger royalty than I could with any record company. I can distribute my music through the internet with no manufacturing costs. Buyers can sample the music before purchase and then I can sell the newest Red Hot Chili Peppers at the same time. I am also able to get others involved by building their own stores, teach them marketing strategies and profit from the business they do. I have found not only are artists involved, but people like Dale Earnhart, Jr. Danica Patrick, Pro basketball players Jason Kidd, Shaquille O’Neal, Football and baseball players, doctors and lawyers. Some of the major artists like Kenya West, Kiss, Metallica, Ted Nugent, James Brown, Willie Nelson, and Justin Timberlake all have bought stores. Anyone interested in teaming up with the Saw can register through my store. I finally found a music business related venture out there I can really sink my teeth into. Maybe Sleaze Roxx would be interested in opening a store. Get a hold of me.
SR: As far as the mp3 controversy, I was talking about Metallica vs Napster, the RIAA suing downloaders, etc.
CC: That’s where Burnlounge comes in for the good of all. Legally licensed with all the major and independent labels so all the labels and bands get paid. Then the fans or retailers make a share of the profits. That’s why Metallica is a Burnlounge Retailer. They see the value this has on a struggling industry. The free download sites out there are getting shut down and rightly so. Besides, they come loaded with viruses and spyware. Nothin is free baby.
SR: Are there any new bands in the mainstream today that impress you and have the same energy the 80s rock bands made famous?
CC: For the first time in my life I am not on top of upcoming artists.
SR: What are some of your most outrageous musical memories?
CC: In New York shooting the video for Youngblood I went to an all-nighter after the shoot and when I came out the vehicle we were in had been stolen with my stage clothes and chainsaws in it. I figured great, now I’m gonna get framed for murder or something. In London while recording “What Do You Know About Rock And Roll” we got hit with a 3000 pound phone bill at our flat because the phone was left off the hook all night and seemed to run units all night long. In Bismarck, N.D. the guys had to drag me away from a second floor railing because I was sure I could make it to the pool if I jumped. There was at least 10-15 feet of concrete before the pool and in my state would never have made it. Just the usual 80’s rock stuff.
SR: What would you like Chainsaw Caine to be remembered for when your career finally comes to an end?
CC: Just that I entertained and gave as many people as possible good times and great memories. Thanks for the opportunity to share my past and present with you and your readers. Take care. The Saw.
Thanks to Chainsaw Caine