LW: Where did the band's name come from?
DP: We just made it up. It's not taken from a movie, it's not taken from anything. We were forced to come with a name kind of in a hurry, and we all made lists of things we wanted, and they all had similar kinds of like space themes, and they all had something that was shadowy on them, so we decided, "well, we gotta use shadowy." We thought, heck, why not use it twice? … Before we'd had a show we didn't have a name. We never considered picking a name because, y'know, what's the point? We were just three guys, three friends, writing songs together. … We just picked it because it was long, it was kinda dumb-sounding, and sounded more like a title of something, or a label, rather than like a band name. So we kinda liked that it didn't sound like a band name.
LW: You guys seem to go for enigmatic titles.
DP: Well, I think they probably only seem enigmatic to a lot of people because there's no lyrics there to describe the source of where they came from behind them. But I guess they are enigmatic in a way because, quite often, there is no logic? We have a title sometimes and write a song to suit the title.
LW: Have you always been completely instrumental, non-vocal?
DP: After the first week we were instrumental.
LW: Do you think it has limited your mass appeal? Or do you worry about that?
DP: Mass appeal, sure. If you want to be multimillion sellers you pretty much know that the easiest way to do that is to have a singer and to have a marketable image and all that kind of junk. But we think that we're pretty successful at what we're doing, and we're really happy, and we're able to do things on our own terms and we're able to pay our rent and buy food for our cats.
LW: And have you given up your day jobs?
DP: Yeah. We've been living off the band now for I guess four years. So that I guess to us is successful. And I know the reason that a lot of attention was paid to us was because we were instrumental. I guess when you talk to record companies or agents and all those people they always want to take you to "the next level" and I guess we're sort of like at the top of level one, and it's actually kind of a place that we're sort of happy being.
LW: I was talking to Mike Richmond of [the Athens, GA band] Love Tractor, and he said that they decided they needed to do vocals to get more attention and gigs.
DP: … I love Love Tractor. They were actually an … When we started, there was almost nobody doing instrumental stuff. Pretty much Love Tractor and Pell Mell were the only bands that I would sort of say were contemporaries of ours because they weren't doing like just, y'know, goofy surf music, and they were playing instrumental stuff that obviously was sort of inspired by all the same records that we had grown up on and some of the same influences. I mean, it's hard not to play instrumental stuff without referring back to spaghetti westerns or surf stuff, unless you're Spyro Gyra or Mahavishnu Orchestra. … I imagine that it would be kind of frustrating after a while if … I'm sure that Love Tractor and us were probably not too different in our levels of popularity, and I guess the fortunate thing for us is that we don't have to, I guess, compromise in that way because we have the luxury of an income from The Kids In The Hall show. So we don't have to make choices to sort of codify the market.
LW: You seem to have stepped up your output lately.
DP: We took so long in getting started, tackling the album format, that we had a huge backlog of songs. We had a lot of good songs to choose from. At this point we've used them all up and it will probably be a few years before we can make a new album. Especially since new we're excited about doing some singles again, so we've … just recorded two of them and we're probably going to have three of them come out in the next five months. … We recorded the Kraftwerk song "Autobahn" for our next single. … It's about four-and-a-half minutes. … In the same session we recorded another song that is six-and-a-half minutes. … The Autobahn single should be out in like another four weeks. … We're doing a Christmas single, too, but God knows if that'll be ready in time for Christmas.
LW: How come your songs are almost always less than two-and-a-half minutes?
DP: Well, I think that's pretty much because there's no singer, and you can't get away with playing the same thing for two minutes straight. There's not too many bands that can drone on for minutes on end instrumentally. Maybe Velvet Underground may be able to do it …
LW: The melodies repeat less than you would expect.
DP: We don't come back to stuff a lot because otherwise it just gets kind of repetitive. A lot of my favorite bands …, I just realized a few weeks ago, have stolen a lot of their style from the Velvet Underground, and it is kind of like a drone-y repetitive style …
LW: Do you think the market is expanding for instrumental bands? There seem to be more of them out there these days.
DP: "The market." I don't think what you would refer to as "the market" expands to accommodate there being more products for sale. I think the market remains the same, the same number of people. If you're making records on an independent label, and your sympathies lie with the independent so-called scene, then you're pretty much playing to an educated few, people who are generally more into music, and pay attention more to music, and you're pretty much playing to the same number of people. It just means that there's more choices.
LW: You don't think this is a "movement" which is growing in popularity?
DP: It's hard to say. Really, it doesn't seem to be something which should be separated from vocal music. Unless you are pursuing a genre -- you know, like Man or Astro-Man? play kind of a retro thing. Unless you're trying to fit yourself into a genre, then I don't think that instrumental stuff really should be considered as being like a separate thing. I think that we are a pop band or a rock band as much as the Buzzcocks are, or -- gosh, I don't know -- Paula Abdul.
LW: Ha, ha, ha …
DP: Okay, maybe not Paula Abdul, but I couldn't think of anybody else.
LW: I see some cases of groups that you wouldn't normally think of doing instrumentals, choosing to do instrumental albums, like the Mono Men.
DP: There definitely is a real resurgence in instrumental stuff right now. I've really noticed it, and I know that some of the bands that are doing it have been influenced by us and some of the earlier ones like Pell Mell. I think that Pell Mell were probably a big influence on the Pacific Northwest bands. Like the Mono Men, the first time that we went out to the west coast we played in Bellingham and Olympia, and the Mono Men -- it was Dave Crider from Estrus Records and the Mono Men who helped us set those shows up. At that time they were already doing a song from our first single. They were covering one of our songs. So I know that we've at least had some … we've inspired them in some way, and I guess as much as other sort of garage things are, and other bands like Huevos Rancheros in Canada … I guess just by example, not … more that we are sort of perceived as being successful, and they go "Wow, I guess we can, we don't have to have a singer. [Expletive], you know, Ritchie, you can't sing anyway! Why don't you just stop?"
LW: Why don't you put the names of band members on your albums?
DP: Mostly because we sort of like it to be a group identity rather than the cult of the individual, you know? I think that when you pick people out individually, then it ends up being, quite often, … I don't know, people's perceptions of you I think are different when you identify yourself as a group rather than as … I mean, of course we are individuals, but what we do together is the group, and our personal tastes and personality types don't really cross in a lot of other ways other than the group, so it is really a group identity what we're doing. It is the sound that comes out of the three of us, not an individual sort of thing. If you put your names on things, it tends to, I don't know, to be sort of divisive in some ways, in that people, I guess, tend to look at things more analytically as three separate entities rather than what the whole thing is. I don't know, maybe that's just a bunch of baloney too. Really, just to remain anonymous, because it's easier.
LW: You don't keep your names secret from the press …
DP: No. We did for a while, and then we thought, "Hey, this is stupid. It's not like it's a secret who we are. We don't want to keep it a secret." And I guess that's it too. I mean, now there's enough press that anybody who wants to know our names, you know, they write to us, we write back to them, and they know our names. … It's hard to do that when you're putting your own stuff out. I don't know how a lot of bands do it. Like putting their faces on their record cover. Man, it just reeks so much of ego, and I guess that, I don't know, we're trying to hide what egos we have. Maybe they're just so big that we don't want people to know how big they are.
LW: How often are you playing live these days?
DP: It really goes up and down. … We've played probably five weeks out of the last eight weeks. But throughout the winter we probably will hardly play. We usually only play like, in town we might play once every two months in Toronto, and then do occasional weekend things. It really varies with what our obligations are at any given time to The Kids.
LW: Have you done much touring in the U. S.?
DP: Oh yeah, quite a bit.
LW: I know you were on one tour that almost brought you to Athens a while ago.
DP: We've only been on that side of the U. S. once. … We've gone down to New York and Philadelphia and pretty much only that far a couple of other times. For some reason, there wasn't really anybody interested in us on the east coast. We had tried booking shows at other times, and nobody was interested in booking us. Things have kind of changed, but it's really only been like maybe the past two years that cities on the east coast, further down, are willing to book us.
LW: I was thinking about doing a sidebar on five ways not to confuse Shadowy Men with Man or Astro-Man? …
DP: Boy, those don't seem like too difficult to tell apart. Huevos Rancheros, man, I feel sorry for them. Have you heard their record? … Their album is great, it's really, really good, and I haven't seen a review yet in Canada that hasn't compared them to us, so I know that's kind of an awful thing because they are pretty different from us. They are raunchier, more rock and roll.
LW: I think Man or Astro-Man? is going to be compared to you too, because of the science-fiction name.
DP: Man or Astro-Man?, I think that they have some stuff in common with us, probably more with our earlier stuff. I think our earlier stuff was probably more kind of surf-and-hot-rod-sounding, partly because we were starting out too, and … Playing that kind of music was new and exciting to us for a couple of years. And also too, that for me, not knowing how to play drums, that the surf beat, the boom-BUM-BA boom-BUM, is the easiest thing -- that's like the first three Ramones albums -- it's the easiest beat to play.
LW: You don't at all think of yourselves as a retro band, which is a label that gets dropped a lot.
DP: No, actually we hardly ever get called a retro band.
DP: No. I mean, people say that we play, you know, "surf-inspired" music. But … we've also discovered that people say "surf-inspired" but it's because they've read other things that have said that, and they don't know what surf music is. There are a lot of people that don't know what surf music is. They don't know what hod-rodding music is.
LW: I think the definition of "surf" expanded in the '80s. There were those compilations put out by What? Records, called What Surf, and they weren't really surf, most of them.
DP: And bands like Agent Orange get called "surf" bands. We definitely have elements of it, but gosh …
LW: But you've also got Henry Mancini and Duke Ellington.
DP: Yes, yes, Henry Mancini is definitely there, and that's something that a lot of people don't notice, though. Henry Mancini, though, I guess even to be inspired by him would be "retro." Alice Cooper, there you go, we're up to the seventies. And definitely a lot of punk-rock stuff. Sure, we hear stuff that excites us now, and I think some times that shows up in our music. Not so in obvious ways. Occasionally someone will say something to us like, you know, gosh, that song you do, that sounds sort of like The Wedding Present. And it'll be kind of surprising, because like only one person will say it on a whole tour, but that one person will be right.
LW: The Wedding Present? … I only know one instrumental that they ever did …
DP: Well, it's not just instrumental bands that influence us.
LW: On some of your older cuts I seem to detect a fourth instrument added, like a rhythm guitar or keyboards.
DP: Oh, yeah.
LW: Is that overdubbing?
LW: Are you not doing that anymore, consciously?
DP: It's not that we're not doing it. When we record, quite often it depends so much on the recording process. It's really, really difficult to reproduce your instruments as they sound, just technically. It's something that engineers just don't seem to have been able to have grasped. So quite often there's like holes that aren't there when you play live, because of just like the volume and the fullness of the sound, so … and part of it is having other ideas, too, to put in the song, to kind of fill it out. When we recorded the Sport Fishin' album with Steve Albini, Steve is an amazing engineer, and he's great at getting, just reproducing the sound of your instrument accurately, and so there was like a fullness to that recording that we'd never had on any of our previous recordings. The room miking really added a fullness to it. So we did hardly any overdubs at all on that album, because it just sounded so great just bare, like as we sounded when we played, that we didn't want to clutter stuff up. So that's pretty much why we stayed away from doing overdubs on that. We're certainly not averse to doing overdubs.
… We're kind of spoiled now.
LW: Man or Astro-Man? do a real sensory overload kind of show. I read somewhere that you guys used to use at least low-tech special effects, like sparklers and smoke pots.
DP: Yeah, we used to do that a lot more. And we've pretty much stopped now. Lots of times that was a diversion so people wouldn't notice how badly we played. It was a lot of fun to do, but after like five years it got to be an expectation of us for some other people. And we also didn't want it. As soon as it felt like a gimmick to us, then it was no longer entertaining to us, so we pretty much dropped it. I mean, it sort of like gradually fell away where we didn't even like notice that we had stopped doing big production shows. And part of it was, too, that it was so time-consuming that it would take away from our enjoyment of actually playing the show.
LW: So are there any prospects of your touring this way?
DP: That will probably be the next area that we come to, but it probably won't be until spring. It's kind of hell driving in the winter. It's not safe … Maybe we should just fly south and then just tour around down there. … That sounds nice. I'm going to suggest that at our next band meeting.
LW: Have you heard the new Dick Dale album?
DP: No I haven't heard it yet. People have been saying really great things about it. … I thought I was going to be scared away from him for life when I saw him in that "Back to the Beach Movie." … Playing with Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my most hated guitarists in the world! Well, formerly of this world. I'm not fond of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and it was quite depressing to see Dick Dale doing that. So I thought that man, this is it, I can't ever listen to this man ever again. So that made me not buy his Tribal Thunder album, but I have had enough people say it's really great that I will buy it eventually.
LW: What is the age range of the band members?
DP: The age range. There's five years difference between us.
LW: Yes. And the low is?
DP: I am the baby of the band at thirty-one.
LW: That puts you guys age-wise about mid-way between Man or Astro-man? and Dick Dale …
DP: The ascending pyramid!