Shakin' with the Sprags
A conversation with bassist Scott Hunt and guitarist Dusty Whitman
by Steve Howell
Steve: Do you still consider The Sprags the Jedis of rock?
Steve: That's what you said last time.
Scott: Did I?
Scott: That's great!
Steve: As far as styles go, I know you said that you didn't really like categorization, but you mentioned that if you had to be in a category it would be modern rock. Would you still consider The Sprags to be in that genre?
Scott: I don't know.
Dusty: What about modern rock?
Scott: Well, I think that's what we'd want to be. We'd want to be a new rock 'n' roll band instead of a throwback. We get put in that category all the time, like a retro band. Even people who hire the band, and they don't know what we really do. They just hear from other people. They're like (imitates an audience member's voice) "Oh, that band that does that kind of '60s style rock. You know, The Sprags." (imitates a booking agent's voice) Oh great, we'll them over and they'll do like Beatles and Kinks and da, da, da, da, da. And, we get in there and we play our stuff, and they end up hating it.
Dusty: They don't so much hate us, but that one time in Cleveland at the fish and chips place they did actually ask us to stop playing.
Steve: When was this? When you were first starting?
Scott: Oh, I don't know if it was when we were first starting.
Dusty: It was '99. (laughs) They politely asked us to quit playing. It was the only gig we played all summer.
Scott: Yeah, I don't know. I think that we're considered a throwback band, but I would rather be considered a new band. We're trying to do something original. We're not ever sitting here trying to craft songs and saying, "What would Lennon do? Or, what would Marx do?" I mean, Richard Marx. (laughs)
Steve: I don't know if I respect that.
Scott: You don't have to.
Steve: The last time I spoke with you, you mentioned that Toxic Shock was kind of an inadvertent attempt at a satire album.
Steve: But, I wondered if there was a particular concept as far as the new one went.
Scott: I think the concept of the new one is like the grandness or whatever. We tried to produce the songs up. Really be poppy about it. I think that's what we tried to do. That's the catch on this one, but I'd say it's the least conceptual Sprags album -- to me it is. But, I think it's the most ambitious. We spent a lot of time and tried to make the sounds cool. What do you think D? What do you think the catch to the album is?
Dusty: I kind of like the way everybody comes into their own a little bit. I think we've changed a lot on it; for the better. I think we're tighter and fuckin' writin' better songs than we've ever written. The other guys have been getting involved a little bit to.
Steve: That's what I was going to say. This is the first album that every member has written a song on, isn't it?
Dusty: It's the first one Mark's done on a record...
Scott: And, when Rob was in the band too, that was like right at the tail end of The Sprags (editor's note: The Sprags broke up for a short time in 1998) is when Rob started putting songs into the lineup. I don't know if he'd been writing songs, but those were the songs that he would bring to the group.
Dusty: We did "Derby."
Scott: So, we never really got the chance to record it with Weaver, but I mean, if we would have done it on a Sprags album, there would have definitely been a Weaver tune on there.
Steve: He never mentioned that.
Scott: We never got to record anything with him. I mean, I think we played three of Rob's songs out, or maybe even four or five.
Dusty: No, we played two.
Scott: No, we played "Derby"... I can name a bunch of them right now. We played "Derby Down"...
Dusty: That we actually played out though. We always played "Derby."
Scott: We might have played these out. We played a lot of shows, you know, so we might have played these out, but I remember like Rob bringing these songs, like "Derby Down" and there was one called "Peter Coyote." Remember that one? Yeah, I have a great fuckin' rendition of that to. And, then, there was, what was the other one you were thinking of?
Dusty: All I can think of is "Derby."
Steve: But, this was the first Sprags album (Spil Phector) that everybody's had a songwriting credit in the band though, isn't it?
Dusty: Yeah. We all wrote a song together to. "Walk in the Mall;" we all wrote that one together.
Scott: That was a first time to for that.
Steve: As far as production values to, I was talking to a couple of different people and they said there were some interesting things going on as far as the sonics of it. What did you do exactly?
Scott: Well, I think it was only bound to happen, because I had become better over time. I know that, and Dusty's always been naturally good at it.
Dusty: I've gotten better in a way that I accept things... Here's how we're better now. Like, I hear a song in my head, and then, we actually get it to that realm of how I envisioned it. We're getting better at perfecting the hand a little bit. That's the art of it.
Scott: The way to produce is to simply formulate an opinion on how you want something to sound and make it happen by articulating to somebody what you want. You know how you can say, ³Oh, I want it to sound crunchy or creamy.² So, thatıs like a real abstract word, but that can convey a lot in production. So, you only need to be able to talk the talk abstractly and then just have an opinion about what sounds good; how you want it to sound.
Dusty: But, kind of hitting the ideal a little bit more. We're doing that more. We're hitting the ideal of what the song should be. They're seeing more of the potential.
Scott: Everybody wanted to put into it. Everybody had an idea about stuff. If I don't have an idea about something, I can't very well argue it like, "Oh, I don't want to put the guitar in." Well, why? What else are we going to put in there? When you're in a band situation you have to learn to live with what other people are going to put into this and say, "It's not killing me to do it, so I'll learn to love it." If somebody in the band loves it, they can always get me to sway over to lovin' it.
Dusty: It was really a huge group effort.
Scott: We were always there. That was the other thing.
Dusty: We produced it. It took us nine months to do it.
Scott: We were always all there. Every once in awhile, somebody would be missing, but only for a session. They wouldn't be missing for weeks.
Dusty: Not like the Alice In Chains guy.
Scott: He's dead, isn't he?
Dusty: Oh, did he die? I just thought they hadn't heard from him in three weeks before they went over to find out what was going on. (laughs)
Steve: As far as Ken [Dudley] being the co-producer, does he have a hand in a lot of [the songwriting]?
Scott: No, not on this one as much. Ken will usually like... he might have like a counter melody or something, but on this one especially, Ken did the string arrangements and came up with all of those different parts.
Dusty: Ken's a classic finisher.
Scott: Ken's classically trained though.
Steve: Oh, he is?
Scott: Ken was going to school to become a conductor or composer.
Dusty: In fact, I like the way Ken is kind of the closer on the deal. Ken's the decisive one after everybody's got their ideas down. Then, we all stand there while basically him and Scott... Ken runs the computer and he's got fuckin' sweet programs to make everything...
Scott: See, we had "Walk in the Mall" starting the album, and Ken was pretty adamant about "Cookin'" being the first one, and Dusty had said something earlier. So, that's why we went with "Cookin'" first. We just thought it was the better song. It was the most interesting song to, because of the production of it, because it had the backwards shit at the beginning. It kind of had a suction sound to it, like it's sucking you into it. Then, as the song progresses, like on the first verse, we all come in. Then, on the second verse, Mark Mikel sings with Dan. Right off the bat, just Greunke and Dusty -- like different people singing at different times and different things keep happening to the song to keep you interested in it.
Dusty: It's a great taste of what's to come [on the new CD]. It's a great sample of everything that's on the record. I think it's been well received as the first song to.
Scott: We've had a couple reviews so far, and everybody just rants and raves about Greunke especially. Greunke's adding a lot to the pool.
Steve: As far as your own hands in the production process, as far as mixing goes, is that basically Ken, or do you guys all have a say in that?
Scott: In the mixdown?
Scott: In the mixdown, usually Ken and I mix down.
Dusty: And, the mastering.
Scott: Yeah, the mixing and the mastering, Ken and I just do together. Then, we play the mixes, and then, if somebody else thinks we can do a better job or brings up the point again, then, we'll have to go back and remix it again. But, especially with recording, you just get arguments and people pulling different directions. Like I said, having Ken there... and it's my house, so that's why I'm there, but Ken does a lot of the work though mixing wise, and like he's not in the group per se, so he's a lot more unbiased.
Scott: Exactly. He doesn't have any ego or anything. He didn't write the songs.
Dusty: Especially if you've got a vocal in a song. I'll be standing there listening to a mix, and then, I'll start critiquing my vocals while we're in the studio and not listening to the part I was supposed to listen to. I'll listen to it again, and it's like a totally biased ear. Our idea was to have 100 percent unflawed tracks on it, and it took us a long time, but we got it.
Scott: That was the one thing though that I'll say against the album. For the making of the album, there was too much second guessing all the time as to where in the past [it was more like] "Oh well."
Dusty: I don't want to call it second guessing all the time though.
Scott: Well, we got it done, but it was more painstaking than it was in the past.
Dusty: Yeah, but we got a lot better on it. Like the harmony on "Breathing," it took us -- me, you and Mark -- a hell of a long time to get it. Not even out of indecisiveness, but perfection.
Scott: It's like when you do the song so many times, and then you hear the song back, sometimes it's hard to enjoy the song because you remember what a pain in the ass it was to record it.
Dusty: I think you're having post-partum depression. (laughs)
Scott: I might be. No, but I always thought that the whole time we were doing it. It took a lot longer. Obviously, it took nine months, as to where Neighborhood Sounds was like one week of recording, and then we mixed it the next week. Holiday was recorded within a two-week gap. Let's Get Lonely was another long project; a lot of second guessing there, but this one the most. But, I like the sound the best on this new album -- the actual sound of the production. I think it's the cleanest...
Dusty: And, the loudest.
Dusty: The loudest by far.
Scott: I mean, when you've got Mark Mikel in there to, and he's a meticulous son-of-a-bitch, always wanting to redo stuff, and (imitates Mikel) "That could be more in tune" or "You're flat!"
Steve: Does he have perfect pitch?
Scott: No, he doesn't have perfect pitch.
Dusty: I get mad about that shit.
Scott: He knows a good note.
Dusty: On a take where you know you're banging that fucker, and you think you're banging the fucking note every time, and every time you make an adjustment, you're barely changing it. Then, you start getting mad. But, I'm the only one that ever really does that, where I get fucking pissed off towards myself, but Scott and Mark will be standing there going, "No man, you've got to sing that part over." And, then, I'll sing it, and they wonıt say anything. I can just see them shrug, and then I do another one.
Scott: What are you talking about? Your vocals? Dusty is a great fucking singer man. Always gets in there, always gets the take right away. I mean, seriously, we work on other peopleıs vocals a lot longer than we work on yours.
Dusty: Well, but I mean certain parts where you get frustrated.
Scott: The thing is though, Dusty's the low guy in the harmonies. I'm the high guy. But, we always fuck with Dusty. We change his part, and say, "Remember what you've been singing for a year, that's wrong. Here's what you want to sing now." Then, weıll hum the new thing. Then, he'll be like, "Shit," because he's been singing that one in his sleep for the past year, so that's why. If it takes time, it's our fault. I'll take blame for Dusty's...
Steve: So, it was nine months to record the album?
Scott: That's not all the time. That's a few days a week working on it.
Dusty: But, that was working pretty solid on it for a long time.
Steve: When did you guys start working on it?
Scott: I was going to say March or April. March of last year. I might have even been May, because I had did an album in there, and then I did [The Sprags'] album after that.
Steve: As far as Blaise Barton went [Scott], did he have quite a bit of influence as far as techniques go for production? (editor's note: Hunt went to Chicago after the Sprags split in 1998 to work with producer Blaise Barton, who has produced such musicians as Bob Dylan and Liz Phair.)
Scott: Mastering wise, but he mastered things differently than we master them. There's two ways you can master something. You can either make it compressed and loud, where the loudest noise isn't as far away as the quietest noise. You take that whole signal and boost it up, and it's loud, loud, loud, loud, loud the whole time, but the way we do it is dynamically where our loudest point might be louder than that and also, the quieter is more quiet. You can take the same song and compress it, or you can leave it super dynamic. There's two ways to make it sound loud. A lot of people were bitching about mastering, like, "Oh, we can't get the CD loud enough." Our CD, we pop it in, all these other CDs sound great. We pop in ours, it's a little mousy CD. How do you get it loud enough? Those are the two ways. That's a lot of what mastering is. It's like getting shit loud enough, then just finally EQing, which is just to your own ear. What's your preference? What should it sound like? Sometimes we put in CDs that we like, and listen to the CD and match the volume sonically in levels and EQ.
Steve: Did The Sprags actually break up for a while then, when you went to Chicago?
Scott: Well, we didn't have a drummer.
Dusty: Yeah, we didn't play for a solid year. We broke up.
Scott: We had planned that all of the guys would come out to live in Chicago.
Dusty: I actually started making plans to move to Chicago, but then, Bickle and Weaver didn't want to do it, because Bickle was always real serious about school.
Scott: Weaver had already left the band. So, we wouldn't have had Weaver anyway.
Dusty: Yeah, but we were talking about it before the recordings.
Scott: Yeah, we asked way before that, because Rich Seng (editor's note: The Sprags first manager) came here, and he asked us flat out, "If you guys want to make it, you can make it, but you have to go to Chicago. Come to Chicago, and we'll book you in good clubs."
Steve: Who was Rich Seng? I didn't really know a lot about him.
Scott: He's an old manager of the band.
Steve: Yeah, I knew he was the old manager, but I didn't know how he teamed up with you.
Scott: That's a whole other interview.
Steve: Is he still around?
Scott: He lives in Chicago still.
Steve: Was he always in Chicago, or was he here for awhile?
Dusty: He went to high school here.
Scott: Yeah, he went to high school here and then moved to Chicago, but he doesn't have his record company anymore. He hasn't gotten back into it.
Steve: What was his record label?
Scott: He left his record company to pursue Catholicism. But, then he dropped out of that...
Dusty: He went into seminary for about two years.
Steve: Was the label in Chicago, or was it around here?
Scott: His label was in Chicago.
Steve: What was the name?
Scott: Simon Seng. Simon Seng Records. It was an independent label, but they had a lot of compilations. Rich is the guy who invented the free CD idea.
Dusty: Yeah, he did the Music of Toledo's, remember?
Dusty: "Nobody knows who you are. Great music of Toledo."
Scott: You know how Pepsi puts out CDs. He invented that.
Steve: I remember Rob talking about [the compilations], because I think he and Mark did something for Pulled Groin.
Scott: Right. I recorded that at my house actually. Yeah, I recorded the first Pulled Groin. That was a horrible recording, but that was a fun, fun time. Jason Beebe came over. He played on there, Mark Bickle and Rob, and then, I recorded it.
Dusty: Was Tommy?
Scott: Tommy drummed on it. Then, Greunke came over, and me and Greunke did the yells in the background. I think Jason Beebe was originally in the Pulled Groin group.
Steve: Yeah. Now I guess as far as the recordings go, you've done the last three or is it the last two albums at your house?
Dusty: The last two.
Scott: Holiday was there to.
Dusty: But, that was under completely different conditions. The studio wasn't built.
Scott: Holiday I recorded on Mark Mikel's crappy gear that he gave me. He gave me his old four-track, and I recorded on that and my crappy ass board.
Steve: Was that cassette four-track?
Scott: No, it was one-quarter inch, but I also used cassette four-track on that. That's what Blaise Barton lined up all the tracks... He took the virgin tracks of everything, lined them up on a computer and then mixed it that way to get the best sound out of it. I did pretty good for how crappy the equipment was.
Steve: That was another thing. How did you hook up with Blaise Barton?
Scott: He was working with Rich Seng, mastering his stuff and working for us for cheap money. I mean for a guy that masters Liz Phair's stuff and Bob Dylan. [He] recorded some Bob Dylan stuff, and he was cheap. I don't know if he just liked Rich... I think he just liked Rich. Rich is a very likeable guy, or a hateable guy, whichever one you'd want. I think [Barton] just liked him and started giving him a real cheap price, and that's how I got in there cheap, and thatıs how I got to meet him -- through Rich.
Steve: As far as the title goes for the new album, I know Mark [Bickle] came up with the last one?
Scott: Yeah, years ago.
Steve: But, as far as Spil Phector?
Scott: Dusty was talking about Phil Spector one night, and he slipped up, [and] he said Spil Phector. So, he coined it.
Dusty: Yeah, I said, "That would be a great name for a band or a record," but the funny thing about that is I said that after we had just started recording. We were probably three months into recording, and we thought we were a lot further than we actually were. Me and Greunke and Scott were driving around listening to like... We had four tracks. We had them on a CD player, or burned on a CD -- early recordings of it. Wasn't that when it was?
Scott: When what was?
Dusty: When I said Spil Phector instead of Phil Spector.
Dusty: I was describing one of the songs as Phil Spectory and said Spil Phector instead. Then, I caught myself and said, "That would be cool." The cool part about that whole thing is then we tried to model a lot of the production after Phil Spector.
Steve: That's how I thought maybe it started was like production-wise... Since I started hearing people talk about the production, everybody's been saying how good the production is.
Scott: That was the one thing I knew about the album that would be undeniable would be like the sound, because I knew we spent the time and made the sounds...
Steve: Yeah, because I didn't know if that was a conscious decision before you guys started recording.
Dusty: We had about five or six songs done.
Scott: It was always a working title. We had to sell Greunke on it a little bit, because he was like, "Is this a good enough name?," and we're like, "No, but what else can it be?" (laughs) We'd thought about other names...
Dusty: But, nothing ever seriously though.
Scott: Yeah, I can't remember
Dusty: Bias Rocks.
Steve: As far as the cover artwork goes -- the Ritter Planetarium -- whose idea was that?
Scott: It was my idea to go to some kind of place, because to me Spil Phector wasn't Phil Spector, it was some geeky guy like (does mock intellectual professor voice) "Today I'm going to discover the flouroform Spil Phector of this solution." It had a spectrummy kind of sound to it. So, I said, "We'll go to... fuck lab coats. I don't want to be in there with beakers and shit like that." I said, "No." And, we're in this big like... You know where the evil guy would be in Spider-Man cartoons always. They'd always be like, "He's camped out in the whatchamacallit, the mountains or the planetarium." Then, they said, "OK, we've got the planetarium booked," and I'm like, "Great!" I get in there and I'm like "This is the fucking planetarium!?" It's just like this little carpeted room with a ball in the middle of it. I was like, "What the hell is this?" I thought it was going to be like Doctor Evil's lair. Then, Mark Mikel was the one who suggested, "Let's take a picture over by the console."
Dusty: That was me.
Scott: Oh, was it?
Dusty: I called that to. I named the album and took the deciding pose. But, Scottie had the sweet fucking silhouettes on it. That was the picture that Dudley took that we turned into the space-looking one on the inside cover.
Scott: Everybody put in on it; every little bit. We all just went to the planetarium, and it wasn't what we expected it to be. It wasn't for me. I was like so disappointed. I was like, "What the fucking hell is this?"
Dusty: Yeah, but the bench shot. We didn't ever love the bench shot at first either.
Scott: There's a bench shot on there to. Kind of like The Lovin' Spoonful. Actually, Mark Mikel made the cartoon.
Steve: Oh yeah.
Scott: Mark Mikel drew that, and Greunke made the heads big to make it like charactery.
Dusty: Yeah, the four covers is fucking cool to. We made four covers and then the other thing that me and Scott were talking about was that no local groups ever put themselves on the cover, so we wanted to have ourselves on every fucking cover. Then, we put four covers [in each CD], and all four of us are in them all. There's no individual shots in this CD. They're all group shots.
Steve: I guess that kind of goes with everybody contributing [songwriting] to the album.
Scott: I think the disc looks good to.
Dusty: The sharpest looking thing. It's the slickest.
Steve: Where did you guys get the discs made like a reel-to-reel? Did you send away?
Scott: No, we have designers.
Dusty: Did you think of that one?
Scott: Yeah, I thought of that one, but I mean, that's been done before. They had to do the reel thing, and I said, "Could you make it so it looks like it's three-dimensional?" You know how tape is where it's like two pancakes and tape in-between, where it was kind of angled so you could see the tape. But, they couldn't do that, because if you do that, it's not circular anymore. It becomes oblong. So, we just had to go with the straight thing. But, we have really good graphic designers to that help. I mean, we have an idea...
Dusty: I thought that was kind of their idea, but that was your idea, wasn't it?
Scott: What? That?
Scott: But, the way that it looks is not... they made it look so good.
Dusty: Yeah, but the concept part. You could hire any monkey to put some ink on a disc.
Scott: Any monkey.
Dusty: Those fucking monkeys spent hours and days. We gave them a three-day deadline, and they couldn't do it. (laughs)
Steve: [Dusty], is your sister one of the designers?
Dusty: No, photographer.
Steve: I knew she was a photographer.
Dusty: Her and Sergio.
Scott: Pictures were hard to. Everybody thinks they look like hell in every shot. I mean, you get a picture and Dusty's like, "Hey, do you like this one?" And, we're like, "No, I look like an asshole, you look great, but I look like an asshole. No wonder you chose this one." Then, another guy would say, "What about this one?" "No, Scott looks good. Thanks Scott, but everyone else looks like hell." It was hard to pick out pictures. That was painstaking designing it, but it came together. We did it quickly at the very end. You wouldn't know it took nine months, but like one month was just dedicated... We had the CD in final running order, and it was out a month later. Usually bands get shit recorded real quick and maybe wait like seven months, fighting about what's going to be on there, how it's going to be made, getting somebody to make it. We were able to do that in three weeks.
Dusty: So, it's strictly our fault that everything was so slow.
Dusty: It actually, physically took us nine months to record that. It's such a long one. I mean 38 minutes... for us that might as well take a whole album.
Steve: What kind of pace were you working at as far as on a weekly basis?
Scott: Probably three or four days maybe, and I was working three days...
Dusty: [I was working] 65 hours a week at the time to. So, we busted our balls on this.
Scott: There wasn't a lot of long sessions either.
Dusty: Three or four hours at the most.
Scott: No, eight hours.
Dusty: We had two Sundays or Saturdays. We only had two solid seven-hour sessions. We fuck around and hang out too much. We yap and fucking talk about movies, but it is still work though. Like right now, we're bored. If we didn't have jobs, it would be a lot faster.
Scott: You'd be able to get there at 10 a.m. and go until 8 p.m., and you'll have a shitload of songs.
Dusty: That's why I took a job where I'm good to go every fucking night.
Steve: Where do you work at?
Scott: (answering for Dusty) Roto-Rooter.
Dusty: No, I work at USA Baby.
Steve: USA Baby!? (laughs)
Scott: Haven't you seen the commercials? He's the baby in the crib.
Dusty: It's furniture; baby furniture. Mattresses. Car seats. Strollers. Fucking play pens. Cradles. Basonnets. Bedding.
Scott: He's a baby paraphanalia pusher. (laughs)
Steve: Was the whole CD recorded in your basement?
Steve: Was it still recorded on the Studer four-track? (editor's note: The Sprags used the Studer on their last LP, Toxic Shock.)
Scott: No, now we switched back to the tape machine that we used in Neighborhood Sounds; an Otari. A half-inch eight-track Otari, so we could keep continuity, because there's eight tracks. On the four-track, we'd record four tracks, and then, we'd dump those four tracks into the computer, make a stereo balance of it, make it into mono again, put it back to another four-track, which would leave three tracks left, we'd record on those tracks, dump those three tracks in, line them up with the original four tracks. Do you see what I'm saying?
Scott: This way the four of us when we got together, we could conceive a song, record a song, finish the song, all on the same reel; boom, it's done. All Ken and I would have to do is mix it and be done.
Steve: When you guys are recording, do you usually go for close micing, direct to the board, distance micing, or does it just depend on what a song calls for?
Scott: That's the one thing that we at least all have in common is what would be the best thing for the song. If it requires me not to play bass or Dusty not to play guitar, then, that's just the way it all happens; whatever is best for the song. We don't ever try to add something in just because he doesn't have anything to do, or I'm doing four things, and you're only doing one, so you've got to do more than one. It's never like that.
Steve: As far as the songs go, I was never really sure how you come up with the song ideas or the actual storylines in the songs.
Scott: For Dusty and I, we tend to write a lot together. We at least run the songs by one another, and Dusty's obviously a great lyricist, so a lot of times, I'll come up with a lot of music, Dusty will add a little music and a lot of words, and that will be that. That's how we normally do it. I don't know how we come up with subject matter. How do we come up with subject matter?
Dusty: It's completely arbitrary.
Scott: Yeah, like if I bring Dusty a song, sometimes I'll say, "Here's the chords. Here's the melody. Then, I'll say (sings a lyric) 'In the night.'" I know that, but Dusty will have to craft words to lead up to "In the night." Dusty's a completely different writer than me. He's got a book of lyrics. I have books of music, so I don't have lyrics all the time.
Dusty: I'll tell you one common threat though that I just fucking realized right now, sitting here. At least three or four tunes on it -- while we're talking about the themes -- it may not be like a theme record, but "Like the Rollin' Stones," "Blue Vs. Blue" and "Cabbage and Leeks" are all about basically the band.
Scott: "My Lovely June."
Scott: There all about the struggling band. There are like four songs on there that are kind of about that, but I don't think we tried to do that. They just happened to dovetail in certain ways.
Steve: As far as the music itself, is it something that you normally write out before you go into the studio, or do you just play an idea to each other and not write anything down?
Dusty: I think that two-thirds of it were preconceived and already rehearsed; most of them [the band] already played out. The other 30 percent was like, the song would be written, the idea would be down, and then, it was up to each guy to perform on the song. Like, I remember having to perform on "No San Francisco." I had to write a part on the spot almost. Mark helped me on that. Then, Dudley just laid the icing on the cake. Scott always had this idea of the song, then it was kind of up to each guy to come up with a melody that would go with it.
Steve: You guys seem to be pretty strong supporters of analog equipment as opposed to digital, even though you still incorporate some digital equipment, but it seems as far as the recording, such as on the four-tracks...
Scott: Two reasons. The first reason is we think it sounds better. The second reason is that it's romantic. You take the tape and wrap it around and put it on. Hear it roll, see the tape roll and you see it move as to where digital recordings, you don't get any of that vibe to it.
Steve: Are most of the tracks usually cut live, or do you guys usually do a lot of overdubs?
Dusty: The way we've done it on the last three are we kind of do a studio-live raw version of it where all four of us play all of our instruments, and sometimes, like if Greunke's got a real complicated lead, then, he'll play like another melody, and then, he'll dub solos. I don't do a lot of overdubs, because I play kind of a nuts and bolts part. I try to perfect my rhythm parts, Scottie perfects the bass parts and Mark's the fucking money on drums. You'd be surprised at how he critiques himself to. When it comes to studio time, he'll stop a song. We probably do about seven or eight raw takes, setting up almost like live where we do a guide vocal, like somebody's singing in the room, but it won't pick up on the mic.
Scott: Toxic Shock was more live. This album is more piece by piece. Like Dusty and Mark would start a song and then, I'd usually wait on the bass. There was a set... There were like four or five songs where Ken came in to produce the session so we could, all four, be out there to play our instruments. So, we've got like four or five tracks that are live Sprags sound, but the other ones are recorded two tracks at a time or something. I'd wait on the bass, because if I don't hear it on the bass, I'm not going to get a good bassline. I've got to know exactly what I'm going to do.
Dusty: But, the earlier sessions we recorded rehearsed basic tracks.
Scott: A couple. Maybe like "Cabbage and Leeks" or something.
Steve: Do you still prefer the confines of your own studio as opposed to an outside recording studio?
Dusty: We havenıt tried it.
Scott: We did at Mark's.
Steve: Wasn't Ohio University's studio where Neighborhood Sounds was recorded?
Dusty: No, that was Miami University at the radio station in Oxford. That was fun to though. They were all fun.
Steve: I know that you mentioned you could work your own hours as far as your own studio goes, and you didn't have to pay anybody either.
Scott: It's fun. Yeah, I'm with Dusty right there with that one. Like, "Why? Why would we go record..." But, now Mark's got his own studio going again. It's off and running. We might go over there.
Steve: What's his new studio?
Scott: It's over in Arrowhead Park.
Dusty: It's just the New Idiot studio. It's big. I think he's calling it the New Idiot.
Steve: How did you guys team up with Ken originally? Were you friends with him?
Scott: Neighborhood Sounds. Ken was the producer on Neighborhood Sounds.
Dusty: Rich kind of hooked that up. That's what kind of hooked up the Rich deal, because me and Bickle and Rich all went to high school together, and then, when Rich went down to Oxford, Ohio for college, he ran into Dudley, and then, that forged that friendship.
Scott: Dudley was another musician, and we were kind of competitive, giving each other tapes and seeing whoıs got the better songs. So, Ken comes from all the way back then; probably when we were like 18.
Steve: When was the new CD officially released? Was it the Bottle Rocket show date?
Scott: Yeah, because we had just got it like the day before.
Dusty: Yeah, two days before.
Scott: The 23rd [of March] was the original date of release.
Steve: When Toxic Shock was released, Jim [Ryan, The Sprags' manager] already told me that you had the material prepared for the next two albums. I was wondering how much of that you used for Spil Phector? Was there a lot of it?
Scott: Not much. I mean, Bickle leaving messed up a lot of my vision of what I wanted to have happen with The Sprags. I said to Bickle, "Stay three more albums. Just do three more albums with us, because that was as far ahead as I'd conceived." Three more albums, because Dusty and I want to do the greatest hits to. A greatest hits Sprags album -- it would be funny as hell. So, Bickle leaving, that fucked everything up.
Dusty: We considered changing the name of the band [because] Bickle's an original member.
Steve: So, he did have a pretty strong part then?
Dusty: Oh, definitely. Especially on Toxic Shock, because a lot of that was trying to make sure that he was happy and that things were kind of going the way that he saw to. Hereıs the problem you can run into. Me and Scott have been doing this since we were 13, and we always take the best guys around -- all of these enthusiastic guys who want to play, and then, I don't know.
Scott: Yeah, I don't know. That hurt when Bickle left.
Steve: Did Bickle join around the age of 13 to?
Dusty: No, Bickle joined the group in high school. He was a year ahead of me.
Steve: When you guys teamed up, was Justus the first band?
Scott: Yeah, that was our first band. That had Rob Weaver on drums.
Steve: How did you guys know Rob?
Dusty: He was a friend of my Uncle Bill's. We used to rehearse at my Uncle Bill's house. They played in a college band together with the guy who is actually playing bass and touring with Weezer right now. His name is Scott Shriner. Rob Weaver's best buddy plays in Weezer.
Steve: Did that evolve into The Sprags, or did Justus stop before that?
Dusty: No, we played with Weaver when we first started. We called ourselves Justus, and we'd have a different lead guitar player come over every week all these kids from Central [High School] and another kid from Saint Francis [High School] and some other kid. We had one guy from the East Side who was a sweet drummer, and we really wanted him to work out, but things didn't work out. What was his name?
Scott: Um, Chris Nair.
Dusty: That was the only time we were able to perfect the song, "I'm Gonna Bitecha."
Steve: I know that I kind of covered this before as far as a concept goes, but I know Toxic Shock had the A-Side/B-Side with the string arrangements and horns divided up, but I was wondering if Spil Phector had anything like that at all.
Dusty: I look at the album in threes. There's the beginning of the album that starts with "Cookin'" and it kind of ends with "Blue Vs. Blue," and there's the brilliant transition of "Like the Rollinı Stones" and that goes into the meat of the album. The meat of the album is the longest part of the album. It starts with "Walk in the Mall" and ends with "Something to Do," and then, the end of the album goes into "The Breathing," and that's the last three songs of the end of the album.
Scott: Yeah, but you missed "The Vacuum of Space" and "Cabbage and Leeks."
Dusty: That's part of the meat. Oh, it ends with "Cabbage and Leeks."
Steve: What exactly is the meat in relationship to the beginning and the end of the album?
Dusty: Yeah, like the first four songs to me feel like introduction songs, upbeat songs, a taste of what's going to happen, and then, there's the meat where all of those songs from here to here are serious, and then, the last three songs are all about saying, "So long."
Scott: So, if it was like a book, it would probably be kind of like To Kill a Mockingbird, as to where it has some foreshadowing, the body and then the closing.
Dusty: Exactly. And, that's why I said, "Complete work."
Steve: I thought I could hear a girl walking around in a big ham costume in there somewhere.
Scott: Exactly. Boo Mikel. (laughs)
Steve: You guys made an interesting point as far as the upbeat aspect of The Sprags. I guess, what do you attribute to the optimism in your writing rather than being pessimistic and dark?
Dusty: It's all phony.
Steve: That's a drag.
Scott: We're goofy right?
Scott: So, I don't think we're very pessimistic people, so that's probably why we do more optimistic music.
Steve: Have you guys ever been tempted to write a dark album?
Dusty: Yeah, actually, and we already have the name of it. It's called Le Shoeligans.
Scott: Well, that was an original concept with Bickle and even Weaver. That goes back all the way. Realistically, I mean, the band has changed so much over time, but we haven't kicked anybody out. We've only hired new people to replace the old ones.
Dusty: And, we've been really lucky to, because it always seems like... you know, we never wanted Bickle to leave the group.
Scott: We never wanted Weaver to leave the group.
Dusty: Yeah, it's just that situations change. Bickle had a school opportunity, and I don't even want to get into Weaver. That was so long ago. We were different people back then. But, Bickle actually leaving the group was really significant, where we thought about changing the name, and I forgot where I was going with that. (laughs)
Steve: We were talking about a dark album.
Dusty: Oh yeah.
Scott: Very good interviewing skills there Steve. (laughs)
Steve: When did Dan join? Was it August of 2000, because I remember seeing you guys at the Black Swamp show?
Dusty and Scott: That was it.
Steve: Some bands seem afraid to cite their influences, but you guys seem like with the Rickenbacker guitars, the Hofner bass, the Nehru jackets...
Dusty: Kind of wear it on our sleeve, huh? (laughs)
Steve: Are you ever afraid of being pigeonholed at all?
Scott: We already are.
Dusty: We have been since we started, so we don't give a shit.
Steve: No, but I mean, is that basically why you do it is because you don't give a shit?
Dusty: No, because we don't give a shit about style or what other people are doing or what's cool or what's hip at all. It never comes into the equation ever.
Scott: We thought the suits were cool. I saw them originally. Dusty was like, (Scott imitatates Dusty's indifference) "Aaahhh." Then, Dusty and I started looking at leather stuff, and then Greunke and Mark walked in and said, "These are the coats we want to wear," so we tried them on, and we said, "Fuck it, we'll wear'em."
Dusty: But, we want to look professional when we play out.
Scott: And, that goes all the way back to the old Sprags.
Dusty: Yeah, ever since we first walked on the stage at Rusty's.
Scott: Rob was always the odd man out on that.
Dusty: The wife beater [shirt].
Scott: The drummer always is though, but he's allowed to be.
Dusty: The drummer's got to be a little out of uniform, or else things just aren't right. That guy's doing all the fucking work anyway. Everybody else is standing around fucking around. I know I like to fuck around. I like to lean over the drums sometimes during the middle of a song and say to Mark Mikel, "Work you motherfucker, work! Work for it!" (laughs) Meanwhile, I'm playing A, B and E.
Steve: So, how did you guys know Dan [Greunke]? Was it since his days in the band Glide?
Scott: We knew him since Slide. Slide was the name of Glide before they changed their name.
Dusty: The cool thing was about the timing, and that's where I was going when I went on the tangent about Bickle (editor's note: this is in reference to when Howell asked the Sprags about their dark album earlier in the interview). The timing was perfect because Bickle left the group and me and Scott were really bummed out but we wished him well and everything. Then, we sat down, and we kind of put the pieces back together and said, "OK, the show must go on." And, we said, "Well, who's the first guitar player we'd pick?" If we could pick anybody in the whole fucking city out of all the guys we know. And, we both said, "Greunke" almost at the same time. Then, a week later, Scottie called him up and said, "Hey man, we need a lead guitar player. Are you in?" And, [Greunke] said, "Yeah." And, he's just been enthusiastic about it.
Scott: I had been hanging out with him to, right at the tail end of when Bickle was in the band. Greunke was coming over and playing songs and stuff; "Cookin'" and all of these other ones.
Dusty: And, when Greunke first started hanging around, we played him "Blue Vs. Blue." Remember?
Dusty: That song was in its infancy. That was probably like three months before he joined the group. We played Greunke that tune.
Steve: So, you guys have a lot of these songs written pretty far in advance then?
Dusty: And, I think [Greunke] played us "Cookin'." It was like getting to know somebody taking someone into the group. Like I think that's something we didn't plan on and we never thought about, but getting to be good buddies with somebody because you work with them, and you have to collaborate with them. I mean, you have to have a comfortable situation with somebody, and I think with Greunke never working with us before... We always knew him as a great guy, hanging around at bars and stuff, but actually working with somebody's different. And so, I think it took a little bit longer than we expected for everybody to gel, but I think once we gelled, we're tighter than ever.
Steve: Did you guys play with Mark Mikel as far as any bands prior to The Sprags?
Dusty and Scott: No.
Dusty: He was helping us fill in on Holiday.
Scott: He drummed on a few songs on Holiday. Then, after that, he was in the group. He became a permanent member right before we released that CD.
Dusty: He's been like a fucking godsend. He's the fucking rock I think. I mean the guy's been enthusiastic since day one and just fucking rocks the shit out of the joint back there. He's the best part player I've ever seen. He plays the drums. He sings when we need harmonies. He's become an essential group member.
Steve: Did you both think your partnership would last this long as far as the songwriting goes?
Dusty: We kind of planned on it. You'd be surprised at how many kind of problems or weird situations that causes, because of a fucking handshake we made when we were 13 years old.
Steve: Was there some sort of pact with Satan? I heard some rumors. (laughs)
Dusty: No, it was when we were confirmed in seventh grade that I took on the name John, and he took the name of Paul, and we've been fucking pigeonholed ever since Steve. (laughs)
Steve: There you go.
You can find the new Sprags CD at Boogie Records or online at their site, www.thesprags.com, or at the Proverus Records site.
You can also see The Sprags live on Friday June 21 from 6 until 8 p.m. at Rally by the River in Promenade Park in downtown Toledo or later that same evening from 10:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. at The Durty Bird, 2 St. Clair St., in Toledo.