This interview was originally published in 2010.
At some point in his illustrious career, Richard Lloyd might tell you, he became one with his guitar. After conversing with him for an hour or so, its easy to notice the similarities between his brain waves and the curvilinear riffs that used to emanate from Television, Lloyd’s seminal New York punk band of the late 1970s.
Ask him about songwriting, and you’ll end up hearing his theories on hypertext. Start him on guitars, and you’ll end up in Psychology 101 listening to the nature vs. nurture debate. Richard Lloyd’s got an interest in and an opinion on everything. And, in part-Jaded Rock Star/part-New York Asshole fashion, he’ll pretty much tell you he’s right about everything too.
Diligent readers can judge for themselves whether they’re more likely to believe Lloyd or your friendly-neighborhood cognitive scientist on matters of human psychology, but, where the guitar is concerned, Lloyd does have a fair claim to expertise.
In Television and particularly on the landmark 1977 album Marquee Moon, Lloyd and fellow guitarist Tom Verlaine did away with the dominant rock paradigm of the times– gone were the ham-fisted, cock-rocking white blues clichs; in their stead, a mathematical guitar method built on angles and curves emerged, soulless to some in its de-emphasis of emotion, but no less imagistic to the listener. Television’s guitar program sent scores of boy guitarists back to their bedrooms; a few years later, they emerged as adult New Wavers.
Since Television parted ways in 1978 (the band briefly reunited for a concert tour/album in 1992 and for a few shows in 2001), Lloyd has taught guitar in the New York area, recorded with Television junkie Matthew Sweet, and released three of his own solo albums, most recently The Cover Doesn’t Matter (2001).
In addition to promoting The Cover Doesn’t Matter, Lloyd nowadays develops content for his website RichardLloyd.com, an interactive learning resource for guitarists as well as a soapbox for Lloyd to discourse on topics of interest to him, including The Fovia, Television, and Illusion of Consciousness.
Guitar.com listened to Lloyd talk before his recent show at the Empty Bottle in Chicago.
Richard Lloyd: So where is this going to show up again?
Guitar.com: On Guitar.com. It’s a lot like your site we have columns and discussions as well as interactive tools for guitarists.
Lloyd: Yeah. Some things are so much more easily explained by demonstration than they are by writing.
Guitar.com: You do have an enormous amount of writing on your site.
Lloyd: It was hurting my wrists when I made a website, so I got some voice recognition software. Now I put on the little headset and I chat away, so it’s easier to write long things. Then I send the diagrams to my webmaster, and he does a pretty good job with the animation, so that there’s some eye candy you know.
Guitar.com: Like the Chord Generator?
Lloyd: Yeah, that’s completely his idea cause I don’t use those chords. I have my own. He put it together and I was like, It’s not in any order. I would have put it in fourths. I would have written it out in– anyway, yeah, it’s a cool thing to have on there as a resource.
Guitar.com: Yeah, we have one like that too. We also have a Chained Effects Generator where you can hear what different guitar effects sound like.
Lloyd: Do you have how you can make your guitar sound like a watermelon cracking open? And how you can make your guitar sound just like a family of ducks?
Guitar.com: Something along those lines.
Lloyd: Tha’ts cool.
Lloyd: Oh, that’s good, man.
Guitar.com: So, anyway, I was hoping we could talk a little bit about home recording..
Lloyd: Home recording, big mistake. I’m not home recorded– that’s not my home. I don’t live there. I don’t fall asleep there. I go there. It’s a professional building with a commercial lease. They’re allowed to charge me far more money than they should for the space. It’s our rehearsal space. And it has an autographed picture of Madonna, under Plexiglas, outside my door.
Guitar.com: I imagine she’s a big inspiration to you musically
Lloyd: God, no. She’s a sweet girl– I mean, farther than anybody could imagine. She used to use Jellybean Benitez’s [Madonna producer] room he had a room in the building on our floor, and she would be locked out and used to come by to the rehearsal going, Until I get in my room, do you mind if I sit and watch you rehearse? You didnt know what was coming, but anyway– how did we get there from where we were talking?
Guitar.com: I think I learned a lesson about choosing my musical terms more carefully.
Lloyd: Oh, yeah, home recording. It’s not home recording, but it might as well be this last record [The Cover Doesn’t Matter] was done with two ADATs and not that much gear, but I have all I got because I’ve worked on great records. I’ve worked with great producers. I’ve worked in world-class studios. And I have a little bit of an ear, so I know the difference between noise to signal ratio. I know how to get it up.
Guitar.com: What about the space?
Lloyd: You know how they say, “No parallel walls?” I have a lot of people come in and say, “Oh you can’t make a record here because you have to have it sound treated.” And then whenever I’ve played things for people they all go, You recorded that here????? Like you’re not allowed! But what was rock ‘n’ roll? They used to record, like, in a hallway! Now, you can technically have better equipment than they had in the 50s and the 60s, [but] more tracks means youre going to have more chances to ruin what you’re good at doing.
[Recording’s all about] little trick– all sorts of gadget-y tricks. You should have producer.com or recordingengineer.com [for that].or stringchanger.com..or aluminumfoil.com– all about the uses of that stupid foil.
Guitar.com: Speaking of dot-coms..You were planning to rely on the Internet to sell The Cover Doesn’t Matter.
Lloyd: That was the grand illusion that we were gonna be able to forego the record company and the distribution and have internet sales, but, very quickly, I saw that not everybody has internet access, even now. I mean it’s an explosion, and there’s no turning back, so we got our foot in the door, but the record is also distributed through regular channels. I make more money when it’s sold on the Internet, though, because basically the artist is in connection with the retailer.
Guitar.com: Was it that commerce opportunity that initially gave you hope for Internet sales or had you been frustrated enough with the old music industry that you were looking for something else?
Lloyd: I look at this way. I’m a mid-level artist, lower mid-level artist. I mean, I’m not going to challenge ‘NSync or any of the youth-oriented pornographic dance rock nor the dinosaurs with the big machines like Aerosmith or Tom Petty. Let’s say I have pockets of fans worldwide, but they’re small groups here and there. I have some fans in Spain, and some fans in New Zealand, and some fans in Scandinavia, and some fans in Brazil, and some fans in Cleveland. But a traditional record company the way they held the monopoly is that they had a monopoly in distribution. They manufactured the records, and they promised that they would be in stores, and they did the advertising and all sorts of things– that’s a huge machinery that’s required to get the records from the inception to the consumer. So with all the startup costs, the sheer getting of records into all the stores you’re already way downhill that you need to sell a lot just to come up. With a major record company, I have to sell a ton of records, and still they’re not happy, whereas, with the Internet, somebody from Antarctica can order the record, and it’s available to them. I don’t have to have all those different distributions in place.
As I said, it’s still new not everybody has it, and [a lot of] people just want to grab it, look at it, and smell it before they buy it. Even me, if I can buy something on the Internet or walk around the corner, I’d probably walk around the corner because I don’t want to wait three days while they overnight it, and then the building man comes when I’m not home, and I have to go chase it down. It’s a strange new world.
Guitar.com: You’ve moved from Television, to a few solo records, to working with Matthew Sweet and other artists, now back to solo records..
Lloyd: And Matthew is just around the corner again.
Guitar.com: You’re going to play with him again?
Lloyd: I don’t know, we were talking [about it]. He’s in L.A., I’m in New York. I saw him recently. He did a little tour to support his best-of record, and we were talking, but, anyway, your question.
Guitar.com: Is it tough to switch roles back and forth, sideman to frontman to sideman?
Lloyd: No. It’s not tough at all for me because mostly they allow me to do what I wanted to do in the beginning, which is play guitar. Really, that’s what I was on my knees asking for from the powers that be that was my big wish to be a guitarist in the field of rock n’ roll when I got there.
Guitar.com: How’d you get there?
Lloyd: I’ll tell this story, because John Lee Hooker died recently. I was in Boston, I think, in 1971. I’d followed my friends that went to Berklee, and I lived on mayonnaise sandwiches for a while up there. But I was at a John Lee Hooker show and was backstage talking to him. He was a very gracious man, and somehow he got wind that I was a guitar player, and he insisted that, “You have to come up and jam with us.” And I was like, “Mr. Hooker, I really haven’t been playing that long. I’m not that good.” He replied, “No young man, you’ve got to support the youngsters. What is your name?” And so I told him. [Hooker then responded:] “I am calling you up from the stage and when I do, you better get up here for Mr. Hooker.” So, he called out my name, and I’m like, “Oh no.” I went up. His guitar player handed me his guitar with a look [that said] “Oh, man what are you doing, John?” They were playing some number, and he gave me this big guitar solo. I proceeded to quiver and shake. I was like a doe in the headlights, but I don’t know.
Influences? I was influenced by 1965 and 66 by those years, you know? I’m old enough that I saw The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on TV when I was 8 or 9. And I wondered, How did they whip people into a frenzy? It’s not like they were at a campfire singing songs and everybody fell into a swoon. There’s some sort of hypnosis going on or magical power. It’s like something is happening beyond. I mean, look at the lyrics of The Beatles early hits could you find a more pedestrian stream of words? Love, love me do. You know I love you. Let me hold your hand. She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. Unbelievable. There had to be some other support to go around. Four cute guys? So what, you know?
Then later on, instrumentally, the guitar began to have the same voice that the vocalist did. The guitarists kind of moved to the center of stage and took on a role of elongated, improvisational speaking, and that’s when I knew. Something clicked in me and I said, “Ah, remember the Walt Disney cartoon of Fantasia and he’s got the broomstick? The wizard has the wand and the little assistant plays with the broomstick.” Suddenly, I went like this [strums guitar]this [holds his guitar] was the wand. The instrument that supported [was] a couple good tribal drums. It was really the guitar, and I could see it. That’s when I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
I wanted to become a master of the instrument, which allowed [the hypnosis] to take place. I didn’t actually think in my mind, “Oh, I’m gonna be like The Beatles” or “I’m gonna be like a Rolling Stone” because I was too young and they were too old. It was too far a distance. It was sort of like, “Well, I could be an astronaut, but then I have to join the military and become a fighter pilot, and I don’t want to do that. Or, I could become a doctor, but then I gotta be an intern and then I gotta not sleep for 36 hours at a time while people tug at me and I’ve got the worst stinking stethoscope in my ear.” So I went down the list of all the occupations and crossed all of them out, and I had none left. I was only certain of one thing– I didn’t want to grow up. I didn’t want to have a job. I was so afraid, so I thought what could I use to prevent myself from maturing— music, that was it.
Guitar.com: What other guitar acts were you into in the late ’60s?
Lloyd: I’m not a Cream fan, except Disraeli Gears, but Hendrix, yes. Jeff Beck, Mike Bloomfield, the blues players as well. Buddy Guy because I followed the English back through their influences and found the heritage of rock blues. And my cousins were really into the Everly Brothers, so I kind of had that vocal-harmony approach there, too.
Guitar.com: Since we’ve mentioned a couple of blues artists so far, I want to ask you many critics, in discussing Television, almost inevitably talk about how you guys disowned the blues is that true?
Lloyd: I would agree with that. In Television, there’s hardly any blues influence. There are very strong 60’s moods like Nuggets, garage rock, and psychedelia that have a dominant seven blues. It’s not a blues influence. It’s like white blues from another planet. There was a lot of minor key stuff. It’s not really blues-based. In my own playing, I do have that influence. Frankly, that’s where you find the most craftsmanship in electric guitar playing. With electric guitar, you find the most craftsmanship there, the most extended improvisational place because jazz players dont bend their notes.
Once an old, black guy told me, The secret is to bend [notes] and stain them. That’s the whole secret. They’re playing a piano on a guitar. You know they don’t bend any notes they’re really trying to play the piano on a guitar, and the guitar is more like a saxophone or harmonica. You can bend the notes that’s where it gets its expressiveness. I use more whole-step bends in Television, for instance, than Tom Verlaine. It’s a rule and thats more of the blues flavoring.
Guitar.com: How did the songwriting work with Television? What was the process for developing the songs and the guitar lines?
Lloyd: When I first saw Tom. He played by himself with no band just electric guitar, a small amplifiera Serpico like Peter Allen used to play. He did an audition. He did three songs, and I believe all three of them ended up on Marquee Moon, so Tom brought songs fully structured [already]. Sometimes, Tom would come in with a part that he couldn’t really sing along to, so he would give me that and I would play that, and he would develop another part. Other times, you would have a part of the song where we would each add our own parts. He always took care of the lyrics there was really no ambiguity about that, but a lot of the songs were really structured like that.
One of my skills was and I think it is is that I can take a part and make it mine, so, after a time, it is mine. And, in fact, I become not just identified with the part, but it changes the part itself In other cases like a couple of the songs, you know I’d be trying something, and Tom would wander in the room in one case, he said, “Well could you do that backwards?” So that became a song. Other times, we’d just fall in together, maybe bang a couple of beats, and we’d all just be playing around, throw some words on it, and it developed.
Guitar.com: What were some examples of Tom’s parts that you felt like you made your own?
Lloyd: Happy Birthday, And This Bird Can Fly. What was that other one? Rhapsody In Blue, Piano Sonata No. 19..
Guitar.com: Yeah, I liked that one.
Lloyd: Yeah, that was a great one. Paganini’s Caprice No. 9, I wrote that in my spare time. You get the picture?
Guitar.com: I suppose so.
Lloyd: Some things are like, “Wow, you know, I’m not in a magicians guild.” I don’t mind giving away secrets because, frankly, playing the guitar and doing rock n’ roll is like climbing a mountain. You could have a Sherpa that could say “Oh, don’t go up in that place. You know to get there, you could just go around and go up. It’s easy, then you’ll get to the top.” But I can’t climb it for anybody else, so I don’t give a crap.
It’s like do this, do this, do this, do this because, if you do that and you’re talented, you’ll make out like a bandit. And if not, nothing I say is going to help you. You’ll still be sitting down in your garage faking it and playing other people’s stuff. That’s my, what’s that called? Rage Against the Machine! RAM! That’s the word I’m looking for. I’m a linguist. If I don’t find a word that some other guy used, I use a new one.
Guitar.com: Let’s talk about learning and developing your own style..
Lloyd: [Lately], I’ve been wailing on some people [that its all about] the man-hours. Simple, simple man-hours. Man-hours on your instrument. They did a study of classical symphony players, and they wanted to find out which meant more talent or practice? And they found out that first chair violinists had put in something like 2,500 man-hours on their instrument more than their second chair people.
We’re talking about years, and years, and years, and years of man-hours on the instrument and the same thing is true of any musical instrument. It made a vast difference to me when I learned that these first chair players had put in like 10,000 man-hours on the instrument. So, whenever I hear [somebody]banging away at a guitar, or drums, or trumpet, and it sounds like crap— I just think to myself, You got 9,800 hours to get good.
[But I also ask people] How long have you been playing the guitar? They’ll come out and say, “I’ve been playing the guitar for 15 years.” And I go, “No. You haven’t been playing guitar for 15 years. If you had been playing the guitar for 15 years, I would be worshipping what you’re doing with the instrument. What you mean is, and, correct me if I’m wrong, that, during a period of 15 years, you have DABBLED at playing the guitar. I mean if you would’ve became an M.D. and you dabbled at medicine nobody would give you a stethoscope. And, if you wanted to become a lawyer and you go, ‘Oh well, I dabbled in. the municipal code.’ It’s in a book somewhere. I saw it, I think, but I didn’t read that one. You wouldn’t get along, so the instrument is no different.”
I was supposed to do a book, an instructional book, and then I procrastinated. I just got sidetracked and they didn’t give me a ghostwriter to help me with it. They said, “Oh well, just hand in the book.” And I was like, “I’m really good with people; I’m not so good at looking at an empty wall trying to write a book.” So then I got the website, and I thought If I put some music lessons on it, it’ll give me a chance to talk about the other things that interest me, the more mystical notions that are embedded in musical study, it’ll give me the premise for a book the book I am supposed to write that they’ve been waiting for three years now, so that’s kind of where it came from. Plus, I was thinking, “You get a website. What do you do with it?” I visit websites and their static pages, and I put them in my Favorites. I go back and, if they don’t change, I can’t keep going there. It’s like anything else. It’s like a newspaper. Do you read last Tuesdays newspaper? I can’t. I know a lady, she kept all her old newspapers and my wife asked her, “Why do you keep all those papers?” She said, “Well, I may be looking for a job and I have the classifieds from the last four years.”
Guitar.com: What sites do satisfy you?
Lloyd: Mostly, I go hunting for music-related stuff. I was recently looking for Circle of Fifth stuff I couldn’t find too much. I found a really fantastic web page on esoteric music studies, and a musical octave, and some mathematical thing about it, and I got a few things out of that. Or, I go to other instructional pages like yours, and I hunt, and I peck, and I fish around for stuff… I mean if I go someplace, to me it’s like panning for gold. If I go someplace and have to wade through 14 web pages of shit but I get one notion that I actually can [use], then it’s completely worth it to me.
Guitar.com: Are you listening to bands on the web?
Lloyd: I don’t listen to anything on the web. I don’t have a fast enough connection. My connection is like molasses. It’s dial-up. I tried one of the digital service lines and frankly my computer kept getting stuck. I guess my computer is not fast enough and so, short of paying more than I want to pay, I just stick with the dial-up. I just use it for writing for the site.
Guitar.com: What about off the web? Are there new bands youre listening to?
Lloyd: Well, if I told you, it’s another one of those painful moments. I don’t listen to music. You know, when the day is over for me I have piles of records up to the ceiling I used to take them like Frisbees. I would play them and then throw them in the corner, and I’d have piles. When I want to listen to music, you know what I do? Silence is good. I listen to classical music quite a bit. Stuff gets pushed on me you know, as it does for everybody. People always say, “Have you heard such and such?” And I’m like, “No.”
Guitar.com: Sorry for bringing up such a painful topic.
Lloyd: You’re forgiven.