D//E Interviews: Deniz Tek

The legend behind bands like Radio Birdman, The Visitors, New Race and The Angie Pepper Band, is also responsible for a series of great solo albums, the first of which, Take It To The Vertical, has just been re-issued for the first time since its original 1992 release.

Deniz Tek talks about his first album, Radio Birdman and more from his unique career in an interview with D//E, followed by the original video for Run Out Of Water as it was broadcasted on the Australian TV show, Rage.

What makes Take It To The Vertical stand out in comparison with the many releases and projects in your long career?  

This was my first solo album. First times are always special! Apart from that, the  lineup of musicians was great, and the production was very clean and high quality. It  was recorded at SugarHill, the oldest continually operating recording studio in America.  

The album's lineup compares much to that of New Race. How would you weigh it  against New Race specifically?  

Actually the lineup was completely different. I am the only one who was in both lineups. Vertical sessions had Dust Peterson on bass, Scott Asheton on drums, Chris  Masuak on guitar and keyboards, and Grady Gaines (from Little Richard’s band) on  tenor sax. New Race had Rob Younger on vocals, Ron Asheton on guitar, Warwick Gilbert on bass, and Dennis Thompson (from the MC5) on drums. The two bands were not really comparable - New Race was focused on kicking out ripping versions of old  songs from the members previous bands, and Vertical was all new original songs. New Race never entered the recording studio, and was primarily a live, touring band. There were many differences.  

Should we be expecting any other re-releases any time soon?  

Apart from a seven-inch single that Wild Honey is releasing for Record Store Day, there are no immediate plans for further releases. I think there will eventually be vinyl reissues of a series of my solo albums. I have a new album written, arranged, and ready to record when travel becomes possible again.  

How did Two To One, your recent album with James Williamson, come about?
Cleopatra Records asked us to do it. They provided a useful budget, and made it easy for us. All we had to do was write, arrange, rehearse, record the songs, and mix. It was a  challenge, as always, when there is a stash of past material that everyone identifies you with. You want to come up with new ideas, break some new ground. No one stays the same as they were 40 years ago, but you don’t want to disappoint the old timers either. It  has to be consistent with past glory but new at the same time. 

It's your second release together after the Acoustic K.O. EP. Is this collaboration going to be an ongoing project? 

No plans as yet.  

Are you currently practicing as a doctor? How does that aspect of your life affect you as an artist?  

No. But for many years it gave me the freedom to do exactly whatever I wanted to do in music without having to compromise - I never had to conform to any music business benchmarks. It paid the rent and supported my family during all the times when I didn’t get paid for the music. Also, being out in the real world (outside of music) gives you raw material for songwriting, and the ER is truly a window to the real world!  

How about your time serving in the army? Is that represented in the music in any way?  

I was in the navy, as a doctor and aviator. Some of the lyrics on Take It To The Vertical reflect those experiences, as does the album title.  

You have worked with many artists from the punk and garage rock scenes over the  years.  

Rock and rollers too - don’t forget Roy Head, Grady Gaines, the MC5, Scott Morgan.  

Are there any others with whom you’d like to collaborate?  

Garland Jeffreys, Keith Richards, Charlie Owen. (Maybe I’ll write a song for Lizzo or Gaga one of these days).

Why didn't TV Jones work out back in the day? and what went differently leading to the  success of Radio Birdman a little later?  

I parted ways from those guys in TV Jones because of having a different musical vision. They wanted to “go commercial”, and I did not. I wanted to be the New York  Dolls, and they wanted to be Deep Purple. So they sacked me, and carried on with  another singer, Paul Green, who wore satin jump suits and had a snake. They went  nowhere. What I wanted to do, I continued to do with Radio Birdman. But even Birdman couldn’t get a gig for two or three years. Finally the times caught up with us, I guess.  

Were you realizing Radio Birdman's greatness back in the day? Was it clear to you how  influential the band was going to be for the generations to come? 

We knew that on good nights we could be great, in our own way. We were not all technical musicians but at least we were dead serious and passionate about what we were doing, and never gave less than full effort. We also knew that we were utterly unlike other bands in the local scene - we were going completely against the fashion of  the times. We were quite happy to be outcasts, or even outlaws. We never expected to make an impact beyond a small circle of friends.  

Between the Ann Arbor music scene and the Australian rock one, where are your most vivid memories placed?  

Ann Arbor. It’s where I grew into the music. There were so many influences there, from experimental jazz to basic urban blues to Motown, and then high energy rock and roll. I was immersed in it! When I arrived in Sydney at age 19, very little was going on Australia had a vibrant and exciting music scene in the sixties, but that was just about all gone when I arrived there.  

You are one of the few artists to have earned more acclaim/notoriety in a different continent than their own home. It all reads like a natural development of how things unfolded in your life, but how peculiar is it to you?  

I don’t really think about it in those terms. One’s own life seems normal to one’s self,  I suppose, although it might seem very strange from the outside. 

Between rock 'n' roll, practicing as an ER doctor and military aviation, you can easily  come off as a thrill seeker. Do you ever feel the need to slow things down?  

The need, sometimes. But I find it is not in my nature to slow down. And it is well  known that there’s plenty of time to rest when you are dead.  

Are there any new bands or artists of which you're currently thinking highly?  

Fontaines DC are interesting. The Tendrils, in Melbourne. And my daughters band, The Electric Purrs, among others.  

How do you find the state of punk/garage/high energy rock today? and what would be your one advice to new musicians?  

Punk, garage and high energy rock are three different genres, although there is some overlap. All of these genres are ancient. The last new, original punk music was made 45 years ago - this is music for grandparents now. My one advice to new musicians is, get a  job. Don’t depend on music for money, and stay true to your artistic vision above all else. 

Photos courtesy of Big Mouth Publicity

Take It To The Vertical is out now through Wild Honey Records

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