Posted December 24, 2009


By THE BARMAN

It's the un-drummerlike hour of 7am when The Wonder of Technology (Skype) rubs up against The Tyranny of Distance (half a world's distance away) and JP "Thunderbolt" Patterson picks up his phone in New York City.

The Dictators and Manitoba's Wild Kingdom drummer has just released his second solo album, the enigmatically named "The LP Is Dead", on Michigan-via-Argentina label No-Fun. It's a bonafide killer set of punchy power-pop gems, as catchy as a tropical disease and way more fun. So what better reason to put through an early morning wake-up call?

"It's actually not such an early hour for me," Thunderbolt says over our digital line. "There goes my daughter's light on in her room."

So where are you right now?

"I'm at home a coupla blocks from Madison Square Garden, on 29th Street. I bought this back in 1990 and I actually lived on the Upper West Side for a few years so I've been in Manhattan forever."

The figurative 'forever' excludes tender years spent growing up in the distinctly un-rock-and-roll environments of Afghanistan, Zambia and Rwanda, where JP's father was in the US Foreign Service. That's an unusual background for most rock and rollers, even allowing for the fact Joe Strummer's dad was a diplomat. But wait up: A drummer with property, a family and a distinct sense of melody and arrangements? We're exploding myths here.

In that vein, I advance the comment that "The LP Is Dead" is chock-a-block full of hooks - and Thunderbolt is clearly chuffed.

"If I don't hear hooks when I'm writing it, I scrap it. You have to be able to hang your hat on it right away. I worked hard on that thing."

In his other job, Thunderbolt is a jobbing actor with 20-plus years of appearances in productions like "The Sopranos". All that went on the back-burner over the last 12 months which were largely devoted to this album, the follow-up to the seriously good instrumental "Thunderboss", a joint project with Dictators bandmate (and heavy metal guitar god) Ross The Boss.

"The whole point was I was going to make an instrumental record first and then I was going to make the singing one. I wanted to get my feet wet. I always to do that instrumental album 'cos I'm a huge Jeff Beck fan and it was a good way to get going.

"We came back from the last Dictators tour in October 2008 and realised thereto was going to be another hiatus coming up. I had a bunch of songs in various stages of completion. I spent December and into January doing writing and pre-production in my apartment. Most of February and March and April was tracking, May and June was mixing and stuff.

"I went out to Jersey to a studio called La Chateau Bow Wow to record it. It's run by CJ Scioscia, who has worked as tour manager for the Dictators for years. I went into production with 'The LP Is Dead' right away. Dean Rispler is playing everything I'm not. CJ, my engineer, is also playing some guitar and bass."

The unavailability of Ross The Boss this time out wasn't going to throw a spanner into the works.

"Ross has re-entered 'the metal wars'," Thunderbolt says of his erstwhile bandmate, currently fronting a band known as Ross The Boss working the metal festival circuit. "Working with Ross is difficult right now because of his schedule. So I fired Ross right away (laughs). Dean was my bass player in The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black back in the '90s. I heard him play guitar back then and knew he could do it.

"Dean is playing all the lead guitar, probably 85 percent of the rhythm, 90 percent of the bass and all the keyboards. He does a lot producing now, producing a lot of those baby Brooklyn bands. So this was a good opportunity to show off his guitar playing.

"I did take after take of vocals because I didn't want to pitch-shift. Dean came in with all his solos really well thought out and structured."

JP is clearly a man with a work ethic. Determined to write a great album, he cleared the decks on the personal and professional fronts.

"I told my family, I'm probably checking out here for a while, and even when I'm here, I'm not going to be here.

"I write on guitar so I work out the harmony parts and just teach them to people at quarter speed because that's about all I can muster. I play guitar, keyboards and bass enough to write and maybe bass well enough to play in front of people.

"When I do pre-production at home, I sit at the drums and have a guitar and practice amp set up next to me. A lot of it comes from me coming up with a drum pattern that I like first. You can always tell people like Dave Grohl who write from that perspective because the riffs leave a lot of room for the 2 and 4.

 

"About that time I was making the album I was reading a book about the recording of 'Exile On Main Street'. That's probably my favourite record. But those guys were tremendously fucked up during the recording of it.

"For my schedule, I would get up, catch a 10am train to the studio. It's a 45 minute ride to Jersey. I'd get home at night. I'd typically sleep for a few hours and wake up with something running through my head, and write."

Patterson says writing lyrics was the toughest part. Some took a while, others fell into his lap.

"The song 'The LP Is Dead' literally wrote itself in 15 minutes. Writing lyrics I knew was the thing that was going to be the toughest for me. I still have the piece of paper that song was written on. I think that's my favourite song.

"It's a metaphor for changing times. The LP has really been dead for years! (Laughs) I wanted something to symbolise how things change these days, spending all my day on the computer. That's where it flew from.

"'Almost Summer' is a track about lost love and the like. 'Dynamo' is supposed to be a novelty track. People yelling at the guy on the street that he's no dynamo. So you could say that there's a fair bit of that self loathing on the record!"

Nailing the album was one thing but finding the right label to put it out was another. A chance meeting with No Fun Records honcho Claudia Leo at the National Association of Music Merchandisers was critical.

"I met Claudia last January at the convention in Anaheim California. I go to it to make appearances for my drum company. It was supposed to be me, Marky Ramone, Carmen Appice and Nicko McBrain from Iron Maiden. Claudia came because she's a big punk rock fan and wanted to meet me and Marky.



Claudia and Thunderbolt.

"Of course Marky didn't show up - which was fine with me. As far as I'm concerned, that''s one punk rock drummer too many. I talked to Claudia. She wondered if the Dictators were gonna be playing again. She promotes stuff - she brought the New York Dolls down to Brazil and Argentina.

"I told her, no, didn't look like the Dictators were going to be playing this year but I was starting this record. I got done and I targeted them. If No Fun wanted to do it, I was going to make it work."

Claudia is an expat Argentinian based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and her South American connections open a whole lot of fresh doors. JP is mindful of the slavish devotion accorded to the Ramones on that continent, is perplexed that the Dictators haven't been there. The good news on the 'Tators front is that the band is stalled but not dead.

"Richard and Andy have had some meetings. There's some stuff going on. We might be playing. The line-up is the question.

"There's a chance we might be doing some Manitoba's Wild Kingdom shows. The question is around Andy's involvement. There's a precedent (for him being absent). The Dictators played without Andy for a while when Mark Mendoza joined, then both of them were in it.

"When Wild Kingdom did our big promotional tour for the record, Andy had gone off to Ireland to produce this band, I think, called The Golden Horde. So we went out and played with a different bass player, opening for LA Guns and Kicks."

As to what form touring behind "The LP Is Dead" will take, odds are it will be more than a bare bones affair.

"The plan is being worked on right now. It was easy enough to play the instrumental things as a trio. There's so much singing on this that Dean and I are talking about doing a bigger revue.

"I might not even play drums. Dean thinks I should just sing and get another drummer. There's a question on that because I can sing the songs from behind the kit. There will be two guitar players, keyboard player, drummer and a bass player and I have these two sisters I want to use as background singers. Six foot tall gorgeous redheads who front heir own bands and have been singing since the womb."

I asked JP about the "old" Manhattan music scene which has withered under the weight of urban renewal and his opinion is there's rock and roll work around if you look.

"The 'scene' is in Brooklyn. It's economics. A lot of the kids who'd move to NY would move into a shitty apartment on the Lower East Side. For economic reasons, 10 years ago everyone started moving to Brooklyn.

"I was actually in the old CBGBs space six months ago for the first time since it closed for a John Varatos party. I guess it's good that he (the clothes retailer who inherited the space) retained he flavour of the place, as well as some of the furnishings and walls."

Thunderbolt relishes working with different people. One of them is so-called psychedelic harp player Erin Hill, who purveys a brand of psych-pop that crosses over to work with Kanye West and the Fab Faux. Erin and The Space Rats are recording a pop album that JP says is "180 degrees from anything I usually do" and he was scheduled to do a charity benefit appearance with her on Christmas Eve.

 

"I also did this tour with Richard Lloyd back in the Fall. Richard is quite the character and one of the great NYC guitar players, Everybody loves Television so to go out on tour with him was great., We did about 14 dates, criss-crossed the Great Lakes region and then went south. There's a chance we're going to do a quick trip up into Canada."

There's also a likelihood at least one song from "The LP Is Dead" will end up as a film clip.

"I have a couple of guys who are filmmakers who were at my release party last week. 'The LP Is Dead' is the single. Also, that song 'One Beverage' is about my local where I'm on the jukebox.

"It's called Billy Marks West. I believe I thank them on the record, because of my propensity to get free drinks. They do an after hours in there. When all the bars in NY close at 4am, they black out the windows and lock everybody in.

"There's a pretty interesting mix of frat boys, hustlers, travesties and pimps. It's a pretty photogenic crowd,. So there's talk that we might go in and do a clip for 'One Beverage' on the fly."

And of course if you're wondering, the imposing bloke on the album cover is a blood relation.

"That's my grandfather again! 'Thunderbolt Patterson'. The 'Thunderboss' cover was him as a wrestler but he was also an All-American football. I believe it's from 1928 when he was an All-American at Syracuse University.

"He actually wrestled in Australia for years. He was would go to Australia and New Zealand. It would be him and three other American wrestlers. They would fan out and tour. He was known as Jake Thunderbolt, the Bad American. He would beat up a local guy for 45 minutes - and then lose!"

"The LP Is Dead" is out no on No Fun Records and is reviewed here. It ain't on vinyl. Buy it from No Fun Records here.

READ OUR THUNDERBOSS INTERVIEW

BACK TO THE BAR