IN 1991, A BAND FROM MADISON, WISCONSIN CALLED LAST CRACK RELEASED THEIR SECOND ALBUM, BURNING TIME-- AN AMAZING COLLECTION OF SONGS THAT SPANNED THE THEN-DIVIDED GENRES OF METAL AND ALTERNATIVE. THEIR SOUND WAS YEARS AHEAD OF ITS TIME, BUT THAT DID NOT STOP CRITICS AND FANS ALIKE FROM DISCOVERING AN AMAZING BAND THAT WAS POISED TO WAKE UP THE WORLD. AS THE MOMENTUM BEGAN TO BUILD, THE BAND FELL APART. FAST-FORWARD TO A REUNION SHOW AND BURNING FUNKHOUSE LIVE, THEIR NEW ALBUM OUT THIS MONTH, AND THE BAND IS BACK TOGETHER TO FINISH WHAT THEY STARTED SO LONG AGO. NIGHT WATCHMAN TALKED TO LEAD VOCALIST BUDDO TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED, WHAT LAST CRACK MEANT, AND WHERE THEY ARE HEADED NEXT.
Night Watchman: When the album Burning Time was released it seemed like Last Crack was getting a lot of critical acclaim, and everyone seemed to be very interested in the band. What happened at that point? If you guys would have continued on and become the next Pearl Jam or Janeís Addiction, would you have been ready for that at that point in your lives?
Buddo: My answer to that would have to be no. Everything happened pretty quickly. We were signed within eight months of being together, and there were different stresses in the band. It kind of worked like a seesaw: on one end you had me, and then Don [Bakken], Pablo [Paul Schluter] was like the fulcrum, Reno [Todd Winger] would be the next, and then Phil [Buerstatte]. Phil and I had a lot of different philosophies about life and how to do the industry stuff. There was that rift; I was kind of freaking out about being singled out and getting a lot of the attention, and actually those guys were a pretty solid four-piece before I came along. They went to high school together; Don and Paul were in a band together, and Phil and Reno were in a band together, so they kind of joined forces eventually and jammed for a couple years with a couple different singers until I came along. I was in Austin, Texas for a year trying to get something going. I came back and auditioned. So I was a little bit older than them. Now, it wouldnít matter as much; but when youíre 22 and theyíre 19--
NW: Yeah, itís a big difference.
B: Yeah, thereís a difference there. So even to start with, I was like the thumb on the hand in the band. We all got along well and it was all cool. We wrote great music together-Ė that was the glue. But when I started getting all the attention, the rift grew more and more, and I freaked out. I was the spokesman. Iím writing these lyrics, and I was always trying to bring humanity into the music and the lyrics. And to me that meant light, love, hope, and spirituality. I think as we went along on the tours, I became overwhelmed with the stresses of the industry and everything. Having the record company pressuring for better shows-- wanting some antics that would cause more interest in the band-- and focusing on me to do that stuff. I got more into wanting to be clean and right, you know what I mean? Phil, on the other hand, was on the opposite end of the seesaw, and he was kind of going the other way, indulging in things. I just felt like the house was divided, so there was that internal struggle with the band. And then there was the industry pressure coming on, and it seemed like no matter what we or I did it wasnít enough. It was never enough. The critics didnít like us on a certain show, and theyíd slam us about our chemistry. Roadrunner [Records] just wanted more out of us, but we were just doing what we do. We werenít, nor will we ever be, a big Eighties show band. We have an organic chemistry, and we just get up there and play our songs with our hearts. We had two managers, and I actually went to one of our managers about how I felt about everything, and he said, "Well, hang on for a little bit more and weíll just take off on our own." So there was dissension in the management, as well. One manager wanted to take me and leave the band. The other manager could represent the band. So all those things were contributing factors. It wasnít just one thing. It wasnít like there was a Peter Grant-type [Led Zeppelin manager/"fifth member"] manager who would say, "Youíre not quitting this band; youíre staying in this band. Whatís the problem here?" You know? (laughs) It was, "Hmmm... I see where youíre coming from, but hang on a little bit more and then weíll go do our own thing." The trouble with that was my manager wanted a quick buck.
NW: That had to be a lot to deal with all at the same time.
B: Yeah. It was one situation after another that contributed to the final, "Okay, I guess itís time to go." And I really figured that those guys would find a singer who would fit more of the metal genre. The way that metal and hard rock has gone now, itís crossed over so much, but back then there were sharp differences between alternative and metal, and I just figured theyíd find somebody and keep on. Well, I went off with my manager Peter Carroll, and Gary Taylor took the four guys. Roadrunner dropped the band. They kept me on and put me on a stipend for a year to write material. This is another kind of a tangent, but Iíll come back to that. The band enlisted Shawn Brown to sing, but, at that time, Phil had the taste of the big industry, and he wanted to keep going up, I think, at whatever cost. So he talked with our booking agent in New York. That agent had booked White Zombie and a few other bigger names. Phil asked our booking agent if there were any bands that were signed and looking for drummers. And, as history will show, Ivan from White Zombie was getting kicked out for heroin. So, Phil auditioned and got that gig. I think he might have jammed a couple times with Shawn before he left. But then the guys got Chris Havey, whoís our current drummer in Last Crack. So that was Last Crack 2.0.
NW: How did you feel about that? Were you all for it because thatís what you expected them to do?
B: Yeah, I did. But I think it changed radically with a different drummer and singer. In retrospect, I think they should have changed their name, but the name was garnering some attention so they decided to keep it. In the meantime, I was writing material and working with this guy from Austin that I knew when I lived there. He actually moved to Madison. We started writing, and that was the start of the band Mind Ox. I flew out to New York to meet the new A&R guy who Roadrunner was assigning me to. Roadrunner was very, very cool back then. They took Last Crack on as a potential crossover because they were essentially dealing in hardcore death metal-- all the really heavy, heavy stuff-- but then they took us. They were a great staff, and I got along with the general manager, Doug Keogh, just great; he and I were friends. Weíd play squash together at The Yale Club when Iíd go there.
B: But his responsibilities were becoming too much to be so involved with me, so he assigned me to this new A&R guy they got from Capitol Records: Howie. Well, Howie and I just didnít get along. He was into rap metal. He was looking for something like where White Zombie was heading; he was really getting into rap, and Iím not into rap at all. I think Zombieís best album is Soul-Crusher. I hung out with Howie for three days out there, but it just didnít vibe, so they let me go. Last Crack did have some debt when Roadrunner excused me. My manager told me it was $20,000, but Iíve heard higher numbers. Iím not even sure what the books would say.
NW: Was that something that you were stuck with, or something the band had to divide?
B: I would have been responsible for the debt. It would have come out of my potential royalties.
NW: You said that Howie was looking for something different. Has it always been like that? Last Crack was on Roadrunner, which totally didnít fit. But even then Last Crack was a good five or six years ahead of those other bands that did eventually find that crossover alternative/metal sound. Have you always found that itís hard to find a place for you and Last Crack to fit?
B: Absolutely! I mean, even now it seems like weíre on the periphery. Right now weíre living in Wisconsin. (laughs) Not too many original bands around. A lot of cover bands. This isnít a center for music, so weíre still on the periphery. But because of the Internet and everything else thereís a way to reach out. But back then, that wasnít the case. I remember going with Doug to this really big promotional company in Manhattan, and sitting down and talking to them about a possible marketing campaign, and the guy basically said, "Well, the band is such an odd creature that it would just take a lot of money to make this happen." So it just didnít work at the time, I guess. They didnít think it would pay off because it wasnít easily accessible. It didnít just need a little juice, it needed gallons.
NW: They didnít feel that it could work on more of a grass roots kind of level? I've met so many people that were aware of the band and had Burning Time or Sinister Funkhouse #17, and they always found out about it from someone saying, "Youíve got to check this out." I remember buying copies of the albums when they were in the cutout bins and just giving them to friends. There wasnít a way to capitalize and market it that way?
B: Well, that takes a long time. I mean, that could take a decade. I think thatís what naturally happens if a band stays together and if they donít get some big push behind them; like Widespread Panic, or early Metallica. Thatís where Last Crack is at now. I think it's very grass roots. But there is something to be said about having the money behind you. Like Creed... all of a sudden-- BAM!-- you donít know the band one day, the next day theyíre in heavy rotation. So, I donít know. The "big" way didnít work for us then, and thatís about it on that aspect.
NW: Have you been surprised over the years how many people remembered or knew of the band?
B: Very surprised! I never knew it had reached so many people. Even in Greece or Italy, many different places. And people logging onto the website that are now checking us out. It's ten years later, and theyíve been looking and waiting and wondering what happened with the band. My friends will travel somewhere and theyíll come back and say, "I met a guy down there that was totally into Last Crack." One of my students in Japan had a friend who was a Crack fan. Very surprising. I never realized we had that broad of an effect.
NW: Was that one of the things that led to the reformation of the band?
B: I think the real root of it is that we all just respect each other a lot as musicians. We have all played with many, many other musicians, but when it comes down to it, man, the chemistry is just so natural. Itís like a love that you had that you lost when you were younger, but it was always "The One". You went out and had other people or whatever, but there was nothing that fit like that chemistry. So I think thatís really the reason weíre back together. Just because, with each other, we do it the best.
NW: Did it always feel like things were left unfinished?
B: Oh, yeah, on many levels. I wanted to "make it". First of all, I wanted to be a signed major-label musician; itís been my life goal. That was unfinished. And then the breakup of the band-- that was unfinished. So, yeah, there were big feelings of incompletion and failure. God, I remember walking around in Madison four years after the band broke up and people would recognize me. I mean, they all know me around here. And I was just feeling like, "What am I doing here?" Iím the guy that could-have-been and everybody knows it. Iím kind of past that now. It doesnít really matter. Youíve just got to do what you do, and whatever happens with it will happen. I donít think I or Last Crack have any big expectations now. Weíre just doing what we do. Making the music; recording the music. And, yeah, it would be great if some opportunities come up. That would be very cool. It would be really nice to complete the big picture.
NW: Do you worry that maybe the ship has sailed? I hate to put it that way, but most record companies want to sign really young bands, leech onto them for a few years until they get burnt out, and then throw them away. The industry isnít typically very supportive to people that have been around and have their own vision.
B: Thatís our whole culture now: disposable. So I think the grass roots way is really the best option. Weíre not relying on a label. We might get an indie or something from Europe, or even in the States, that would help us out with distribution and possibly a tour, but none of us are expecting the big hammer to drop and help us out. But thatís the way. As far as the ship having sailed, I think a lot of people in the industry, and even locally, theyíre calling us old school rockers now. But I think that if something has quality, it will always have quality. Fuck the disposability and the fickle mindsets of contemporary life. I guess that could be Last Crackís motto.
NW: Thatís got to be kind of weird to be considered old school.
B: Yeah. What are you going to do? Everybody's just got to keep on being true to what is done. And the music just keeps being created and played. The way it should be.
NW: When you guys did the initial reunion show in late November of 2002, was it just a one-off thing, or were you thinking at that point to get the band back together and see what you could do?
B: It was kind of half-and-half. Part of it was to just get together and do it, but also, in the back of our minds, it was like it could be the start of us working together again.
NW: Where do you see it going from here? I know you have the live album of that reunion show coming out on January 15th. Are there any new songs on that?
B: I donít think there will be any new ones on the live CD. Itís just going to be Burning Time and ...Funkhouse #17. We started writing material after that show. So now weíve probably got about ten new tunes. Weíve had five or six of them available for free on the website for download, and we just played two brand-new ones last Wednesday. We played at King Club here in Madison.
NW: Right. That was the release party for the live CD: Burning Funkhouse Live.
B: Yeah, Rokker Records has pretty much everything that weíve done in the last ten years. All the side projects and undiscovered Crack.
NW: That was something I wanted to ask you about. How did your relationship with Rokker from Maximum Ink come about? Was he just a rabid Last Crack fan, or was he someone you knew from back then?
B: Itís the former. Rokker is/was this rabid Last Crack fan who grew in the publishing industry here. I think he initially hit it off with Pablo when Crack with Brown started. Rokkerís clout has grown. He just started doing stuff with us. Rokker is helping us out with press and getting more and more involved-- he cares. A lot of the motivation behind the Last Crack reformation is due to Rokker. We really think he cares and wants to help us out. He wants the band to grow. He wants his magazine to grow. And he wants his distribution and record label to grow. Itís all kind of integral now.
NW: You were speaking before about how you always tried to have something positive in the lyrics, which is something that always struck me as being really amazing about Last Crack. Some of your songs are about really terrible things, like drug addiction and suicide, but there was always this light and hope that you captured. Where does that come from? Do you feel a responsibility when you write a song that you have to give something more than hatred or fluff?
B: Always. What is pure hatred or fluff? I think life is a dance of dark and light. And I think good writing, be it a novel, poetry, or whatever has to have both those elements. Some people might just stay in the dark. Some people are all in the light. But youíve got to mix them both. I need to culminate with a message of light. I donít know why. Everybody goes through depressing parts in their life. These are burning times. But I think that there is always endless potential. So I guess that comes through in the lyric writing, too. I donít want to leave my soul or your soul sitting in a dark closet. (laughs) Thatís kind of the way I look at it.
NW: You mentioned spirituality before. The name that you go by, "Buddo", where does that come from?
B: Itís pretty wild. The true story is, I was born in West Allis, Wisconsin, in a little Polish area of the town. And when I was born, a few of my Dadís friends came up and said, "Youíve got yourself a son, Jimbo. What are you going to call him?" "Well, I think itís going to be 'Craig'." And they go, "Aw, come on! Youíve got to give him a Polish name." And he goes, "Yeah, Iíve been thinking about that, too. Itís going to be 'Buddo Budowski'." So he just called me "Buddo" my whole life, and thatís petty much the name Iíve gone by through school and everything else.
NW: Iíd always wondered if it was a nickname or your real name or--
B: A spiritual name?
NW: Yeah, because "Buddo" in Esperanto means "Buddha".
NW: So I didnít know if it was an allusion to that.
B: It just kind of happened that way. (laughs) When I was with Roadrunner doing all these interviews, and people were asking me where I got the name, I talked to Doug and said maybe I should just tell them that my parents thought I was going to be an enlightened one, and they just decided to call me "Buddo". And Doug said, "Oh, no. Donít do that. Just tell the truth."
NW: Since Iíve got this opportunity, finally, to talk to you, I have to ask you some nerdy questions about some of the old songs.
B: Can I tell you one more thing about the name?
B: Okay. I taught English in Japan two and a half years ago, and my closer students, ones I got to be friends with, I was telling them my name was Buddo and they pronounced it "bu-do". Buddo in Japan is the samurai art-- itís Bushido or Buddo. So they'd say, "Buddo! Ah, good name!"
NW: What was the experience of teaching in Japan like?
B: Oh, man. Letís see. I was in a tiny little town in Northern Japan, and it was pretty damn isolating. I was probably one of three English speakers within five miles, and, boy, Iíll tell you, I made so many social faux pas. And just going over there not knowing a lick of Japanese, it was like a meditation that whole year, but it was beautiful. I saw some awesome Zen temples that were thousands of years old, and I used to go to meditate in this one temple. Nobody was ever there. It was always open. They had a huge Kodo drum in there. The drum was weathered with this big, leather drum head, and Iíd go in there and bang on it and meditate. (laughs) I had some really high and really low times there. But it was a very internally focused year.
NW: Was that one of the reasons you decided to go, or was that something you had always wanted to do? Had you always been interested in the culture?
B: When I was in high school I remember hearing about English teachers in Japan, and I thought, "What a crazy thing that would be," and it was always kind of lodged in the back of my brain. And then I was kind of at a dead end in my life. I didnít know what to do with my life. I was driving a truck doing a delivery job, Mind Ox was coming to an end, and my girlfriend at the time... we were having tons of problems: bipolar, etc. So all these things came to an end, and I was like, "Shit!" And then I saw this ad in the Isthmus [Madison-based daily paper] that said "Teach English Abroad! Weíll Show You How!"
B: So I went in, had a meeting, and paid $2,000. I did six weeks for a certification program, and on the first Friday of classes Kigawa-san from Japan came in and did some interviews and hired me. And just-- BAM!-- two months later, Iím in Japan.
NW: Wow. That sounds really cool. I have a roommate thatís moving in soon, and she did that for three years.
B: Cool. Thatís a good amount of time; one year is too short. What were the nerdy things? (laughs)
NW: Okay, the nerdy questions Iíve got to ask are, part of the lyrics in "Papa Mugaya" go: "Papa Mugaya, you've really done it this time / You're a man of many dreams / But not enough reality / But we believed in you-- we believed / We bought stock in every struggle / We had faith in every scheme / It's just too bad-- you didn't!" Who is that song about?
B: Thatís my worst fear, dude.
NW: Is it about you? Thatís what I always thought.
B: Itís about feeling like a loser and not believing, and finally just giving up and committing suicide. So, yeah, I figured if I could write about my worst fear, maybe I could allay it. (laughs)
NW: Does it help to do things like that? To get those words out and then have to perform them every night on a tour? Is it like an exorcism?
B: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I had a band called The Din that was together for a year. The guitar player and bass player left, so it is no more. But we recorded eleven songs, and then my girlfriend-- the one that was bipolar-- she got leukemia, and she died about a year and a half ago. So, right after she died those guys asked me if I wanted to jam with them. Brandi, that was her name, she left about a hundred pages of journaling. And 90% of the lyrics for The Din are culled from Brandiís journals, and... I mean, that is totally cathartic. Iím able to be her and understand the confusion and pain and the desperation, and the music fits perfectly because itís surf punk. That will probably be on Rokker in early 2005. Pablo is mixing it.
NW: My second nerdy question is, the interview that you do with the woman at the beginning of "Kiss The Cold", who was she and how did you come to interview her?
B: It was like espionage. Last Crack was practicing out in this little town called Oregon, outside of Madison. The guy that let us jam there was a dealer of sorts, so there were sundry characters coming in and out all the time. I decided to go into the basement early that day to record on my Fostex. Crack was going to rehearse, and I wanted to get some four-track stuff done. I went in about three hours early, and there was a party going on at three in the afternoon. (laughs) I was downstairs doing my own thing, and this woman comes down; her shirtís unbuttoned with no bra, shorts-- it was summer. Sheís got a screwdriver in her hand; probably cocained up. She just sits down and starts jawing at me-- just would not stop talking-- and she was nuts and made no sense in what she was saying, but she wouldnít shut up. I thought she was such a character that I had to get it captured. Her name was Erica. So I said, "Erica, excuse me, but I've gotta go to the bathroom. Iíll be right back. Donít move." I ran upstairs and got my micro-cassette recorder out of the car, turned it on, walked downstairs, and just let it record. I got about 45 minutes on tape before it ran out. I went through it when we were in L.A. recording Burning Time, and I edited parts together. What she said there wasnít a natural conversation. I edited parts together, and it just turned out to be perfect for the song. We had to give her a call from out there. [Producer] Dave Jerden said, "Who is this girl? Does she know this is happening?" "No." We had to call her and ask her approval, but she didnít even remember the conversation; she didnít even remember talking with me.
B: But she said, "Sure, go ahead! What the heck. Do it!" So, thatís it. She came to that reunion show, actually. I didnít see her, but it was rumored she was there.
NW: How bizarre.
NW: Any other neat little facts you can share about the old albums?
B: Hmmm... Iím going through it in my mind, about different tunes.
NW: "Mini Toboggan" is about your childhood, right?
B: Yeah. That was Jefferson, Wisconsin. Living out in the country, just the cold and the snow-- having to take a school bus home for an hour. Again, the dichotomy: the black and the white. Here youíve got this isolated family out in the middle of nowhere where itís freezing cold, but youíve got three kids who are siblings who love each other and are making the best of it.
NW: Burning Time is one of my favorite albums of all-time, and Iím so glad that you guys are back together. Iím really looking forward to hearing the new music youíre recording. One last question, and this is the question we ask everyone: in your professional opinion, do dogs have lips?
B: (laughs) Hmmm... do dogs have lips? Gosh, Iím stymied.
B: Iíve got a pug. So, yeah, I think there are some lips on the pug. (laughs) She can actually smile, so there must be some... what is that called? What is the lip muscle?
NW: I donít know. But there are a lot of them in there that make it so you can smile.
B: Theyíre the round muscles, you know?
NW: Like a sphincter?
B: There we go!
NW: So they have a butt-mouth?
B: Yeah. God, I donít know if Iíd want to use that word in association with the mouth or not!