Brain Surgeons




Interview with Deborah from Brain Surgeons by Ove


Hello Deborah, thank you so much for giving Blizz Of Rock this interview
First of all Deborah, I’m honored to talk to woman behind the great rock band Brain Surgeons.

I'm honored to talk to you. And I look forward to playing Scandinavia and meeting all of the very cool people who've supported me there. You rock my world.

When was the band Brain Surgeons formed? And why this name? What is the story behind the name?

Well, Albert and I began writing together soon after our mutual friend Helen Wheels introduced us, around 1984. We were both training for the New York City Marathon and we literally kept running into one another in Central Park all the time. Hey I saw your great Norwegian champion Grete Waitz there, too-- maybe if she were a little slower, she could have been in my band! At first we thought we'd just write songs for other people, but I would just crack myself up when I would try to write some generic, all purpose song that anyone could sing. My writing--in a song or a story, in any form--has really always been about making a personal statement, expressing myself. As a professional, I've had to write all different kinds of things--and I have often been paid very well to do it--but that's not what I'm interested in.

To me, rock is all about expressing myself- that's why I do it. I could do lots of other things and make a lot more money and have had a very different life, but that's not what has ever mattered to me. Anyway, we put a bunch of songs together and took them around and these corporate rock types would say all kinds of stupid things--like "A girl can't do this." Or "We have too many girls on our label" or "You're too old" or my favorite, "You're too smart. I only want stupid guys who have no other alternative in life but pumping gas"-- and actually, this is someone who's made millions from just that.

Actually, I appreciated his honesty and it gave me alot of insight into how he does what he does. But even by that time, I'd pretty much heard it all. Y'know, there are people who may know me just from my writing as a rock critic who think I suddenly appeared like Yoko Ono after stumbling upon this washed up arena dude, but I've been playing guitar since I was 10--of course I haven't made any improvements haha-- and I've been playing in little bands of one kind or another or making records or doing different kinds of sessions ever since. In fact, I only became a rock critic--I mean I'd thought about it, but I'd also thought about being a movie director or a Broadway star or figure skater or about a million other things too, by the time I was 19 and actually became one, because I woke up with nothing else to do after I had a fight with the girls in the band I was in, Flaming Youth-- I always say Patty Hearst killed my rock band--but that's another story, and I called up the editor of Circus Magazine who'd come to see us play and said I want to write an article.

And over the next ten years, I not only wrote ALOT of articles-- for all kinds of publications--I also played with different people and had a whole bunch of different musical and band situations and turned down one major label deal and several producers-- it was always my joke for years after that when people would come up and say "I want to produce you" that they really meant "I want to fuck you" and of course, by the time I started the Brain Surgeons, I ended up sleeping with the producer, anyway.

But then, so was he-- cause all of these records-- from the very first one, where it was basically just the two of us in our living room-- to the last-- even if we'd have to give the engineer/mixer a co-production credit so we could afford him-- were the result of our pretty intense, mutual collaboration. But I think it was Andy Shernoff of the Dictators who said why don't you just put out your own record? And given that I had been involved in the indie/punk thing really before it was invented-- Flaming Youth existed with the Dolls, and Kiss before CBGB even existed (although I was actually there-- as Hilly and I would always remember, even the last time I played there and saw him, not that long before he died-- when he first bought it-- when he wanted to try to attract the actors and audiences from the Off and Off-Off Broadway scene who used to go to another place, just up the Bowery, Phebe's-- and he invited us all and gave us free drinks, which I wasn't supposed to be drinking, since I was only 16, and the drinking age was then 18--of course

I wasn't supposed to be in The Dirtiest Show In Town, taking my clothes off onstage everynight either, but I was, and I did). And when I had gone back to school in the Boston area in the summer of 1974, I immediately got involved in whatever was happening musically there-- there was Aerosmith and not a WHOLE lot else-- but soon I was helping people on the scene that evolved, like Willie Alexander, who'd been in the Velvet Underground for a minute as well as some legendary Bosstown Sound bands--put out their little punk singles and calling up Hilly as soon as I heard about this CBGB thing and booking the Boston bands there, and introducing him and his bands to the guy at the Rat, and promoting this whole little cross-cultural exchange between there and Max's, too-- and I started communicating with the people from New York Rocker and writing for them, and I got in touch with people in LA, like Greg Shaw and then people in England.

This is why I think the Internet is so amazing now-- I used to do this all BY HAND, from scratch--I can do in one minute now, what used to take months--writing letters, waiting for the mail. I mean, some amazing people wrote to me-- Miles Copeland sent me a handwritten letter with the Police single and said, check these guys out (of course, he didn't mention one was his BROTHER- I had to read the label!). But actually, by the time it arrived, I had already met and seen them-- they'd shown up in their station wagon and literally knocked on the door of the Harvard radio station, where I was the Music Director (that was another one of my things-- and for a while, I also entertained a fantasy that I would go into radio, until by the time I was ready or old enough to do it, no one picked out their own music anymore and that was no fun, so I just said forget it).

But back to the Brain Surgeons-- we had a couple of different names--including the Imaginary Playmates-- and we'd actually gone out and played a couple of gigs- with Albert on guitar, trying to be like my co-frontperson-- and these two brothers, Jimi and Nicky Black, who I'm playing with again now-- on drums and lead guitar-- in the interim, they've had their own band the Black Angels, and backed up Cheetah Chrome, and Syl Sylvain and Walter Lure- and they're basically like my younger brothers and they're really understand where I'm at now, we don't really even have to talk about it, and it's all a very natural progression.

But anyway, we thought the Imaginary Playmates was too new-wavey, and I guess, maybe thinking of Andy and the Dictators, I decided to call it the Brain Surgeons-- especially since my mother was always embarrassed when her friends would ask her what I did-- so she could say, my son is an orthopedist and my daughter and the son in law with the earrings are Brain Surgeons and everyone could be happy. But after we put the first record, Eponymous, out, everyone said, where's the band? When can we see you play? And I said--oh, a band-- just what I've been trying to avoid, the headache of a band-- as much as I love playing-- I had already been in enough bands to never really want to get involved in all of the hassles and personality issues again.But we basically got people who we thought were friends or had played or worked with before in order to avoid some of the problems.

But you know what I've discovered about bands, the road, like any other road anywhere, is always filled with what we call potholes-- and of course I live in New York City, so we have a lot-- just as soon as you think you've managed the ones you already know are there, another one opens up and tries to grab ya!

I’m a little shamed, because I got to know the Brain Surgeons via MySpace. I should have known this band back in the 90’s. If I’ve done my homework I know you released your first album in 1994 named “Eponymous” How did that come about?

Don't be ashamed. It just shows how difficult it was to get the word out--just even in our own country-- in the "old" pre-internet days. Well, really, the pre-MySpace days.

Because when we put out our first record, we marketed it to a list-- it wasn't an official Blue Oyster Cult fan club--because they didn't maintain one--and that is just one of the things that has prevented them from having the same kind of career Kiss or Aerosmith has been able to maintain or resurrect-- it was really a list that had been put together by their biggest fan, a kid from Sweden--well, he's since grown up and emigrated to LA--named Bolle Gregmar.

But I got this idea because one of my best buddies from Harvard and the radio station, Rob Falk-- he was actually the one who let the Police in the door-he called me and I said, You don't have to let just ANYONE with an English accent in!--I had a big laugh about it with Sting-- though his wife Trude probably appreciated it more when I ran into them recently.

Anyway, Rob--actually we played together for a minute in a really hysterical group that's been documented as the first punk group at Harvard, the European Liquidators-- was one of the first people to support my music and he became the manager of the first Imaginary Playmates in Boston, and he was absolutely heartbroken that the personality issues of the other individuals made them unsuited for further careers in music-- but I always say I taught him everything he needed to know in order to work for Aerosmith, which he did, at the time when Tim Collins was able to pretty literally bring them back from the dead.

And one of the things I learned from him was that Aerosmith (which is also what some other people who worked with Leber and Krebs and have been able to turn some of their mistakes into a fairly scientific formula--like a business school case study-- of rock management that no one had previously considered-since most of the old time guys were carny characters or old fashioned showbiz hustlers or wrestlers-like Peter Grant- flyin by the seat of their pants-or fists) had this list of maybe 5,000 hardcore fans-- it really was not huge-- and that's how they got out the word-of-mouth and rebuilt their fan base.

So I thought there's got to be a list here, too. And Bolle's was what Albert could come up with. So we sent out a mailing--doing all the work ourselves- to not only everyone I knew, but all of these people Bolle had signed up at various clubs or traded tapes with. And a very high percentage of them came back, which also made me realize how transient this audience was-- the addresses were out-of-date pretty soon--these were people in school, or who rented apts or were on army bases-- and just like anything people scribble on a clipboard at the end of a drunken night in a club, even if you can manage to decipher it, it's not necessarily the most reliable or effective way to gather information or keep track of it.

But one of these fans, a woman from the South named Jean Lansford wrote to us and told us she was involved with something called the internet and was on a discussion group--one of the earliest ones--this was like 1993-- formed by some geeks at MIT to discuss their fave bands, Blue Oyster Cult-- and get this--Hawkwind. Let's say it was a VERY rarified group. But we had computers-- I'd been forced into using one for writing--if it were up to me, I'd probably still be using a quill and parchment, I'm technologically a little backward-- at the very beginning of the 80s, when publications converted to them-- and you'd send in your copy over this system, I can't even remember what it was called-that didn't always work-you had to put in some kind of code and get a beep, like a fax, but it went straight from the computer- instead of actually bringing in or sending-or reading it, if it was like a daily deadline-over the phone.

But the problem with these groups-as well as the ones that began to spring up with AOL and some of the other early things--was that they were pretty self-limiting and clique-y. And the few people on them seemed to like them that way. They didn't really want people in, they wanted them out. I guess it would be like having some other kind of establishment somewhere there are no passerby, not a high-traffic area. There was no way to preach to anyone who wasn't already converted.

And we also got a lot of press-- cause this is something that I know how to do, I've been involved with it most of my life-- but it also became clear to me--especially the more I travelled around the country and the world, large numbers of the kinds of people I wanted to reach were not really reading--or even paying attention to--their daily newspapers.

So for an independent artist, without the corporate funds to buy radio promo or big ads-- and you can't have just one--people respond after repeated and repeated exposure. That's why they THINK they like a record they've heard over and over on the radio. But if you have no way to get it to them, there's no way you can even make them familiar with it.

And you know what, it's a great big world. We didn't have much, if any, exposure, in Norway. Hey we PLAYED in Germany, and people didn't even know we were there. But you know what, there's only one way to make people aware, and it's the very tried, true and old fashioned one. You have to keep going back. You have to keep spreading the word. And it's hard. But you keep doing what you do and if you believe in it and you have something valuable to offer, people respond.

It does not happen overnight. For ANYONE. Whether you're the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Metallica or Joan Jett or Bruce Springsteen or anyone else. Metallica was laughed out of LA when they first played there and all people were interested in was Motley Crue clones. Did they give up? No. They went to San Francisco. They kept working at it. They came across country in a UHaul and slept in a rehearsal studio. And then, Cliff's death, everything else. Most people would not be strong enough or committed enough to survive any of it, no matter how big their mouths are. They can't take two minutes without their airconditioning or color TV. They can't handle any kind of criticism, they can't stand any kind of real adversity.

You’re married to Albert Bouchard, who also is the man behind Brain Surgeons, I wonder how this has been through all these years. There is a sign that says, don’t mix up pleasure and work.

Well, as his previous two wives can testify, that's not really a problem,'cause there's not a hell of a lot of pleasure involved in being married to him, haha!

Rumors has it 2001 was a bad year for Brain Surgeons, could you tell me what happened?

Well, 2001 was a pretty bad year, period, if you were in New York and lived through the horror of 9/11. But I think what you're referring to is that we lost a few personal friends-- including Helen Wheels and Billy Hilfiger, who played guitar in the first version of the Brain Surgeons touring band. He had actually been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1997-- and it was pretty amazing that he fought as hard and as long as he did. We kept hoping he would recover and be able to rejoin us-- but as he got sicker, we didn't feel it was too helpful to say you've got a fatal disease, you're out of the band, so we just laid low for a while.

And in the interim, the other guitar player, Peter Bohovesky, who is a really talented guy in a lot of areas, decided he really didn't like performing and had gotten all he wanted out of music, and decided to devote himself to raising a beautiful daughter and that's worked out for him. Billy died right after 9/11 and it really helped put his death in perspective-- he had the luxury of saying goodbye. And when he got sick, it forced us to do something I might never have done otherwise-- Albert and I started playing acoustically with David Hirschberg, who we'd pressed into service when the guy who was really a bass player and played on Eponymous, left us in the lurch when we got our first gigs. And then David and I just started switching off on bass and guitar and we went out and played for-- it seems like a minute, but it was really five years or so, as a trio.

It really put me on the spot and forced me to get serious as a guitar player, which I've never really considered myself. I've always enjoyed it, but I know I'm not Jimmy Page. Then again, he doesn't sing or write the lyrics I do. I don't know too many so-called guitar players who do.

Actually, I don't know too many guitar players-- especially the ones with the most bullshit or who have an attitude about my playing, who are Jimmy Page. Or anything that comes close as an original or an artist. And ya know what, I know Jimmy Page, and he doesn't have any attitude or bullshit at all which is all that most of these jerks I've unfortunately had to spend far too much time with during the course of my career, have. Funny about that.

The year 2003/04 two new albums were released with a new bass player Joe Bouchard( Blue Öyster Cult,) and Ross the Boss(Manowar) what did this mean for the band?

No, Joe was never the "new" bass player and though he's played, on various occasions, onstage and in the studio as the Brain Surgeons, I don't think he's EVER played bass! And of course, we just played with him all the time for various family events or just jamming. He plays a lot of different instruments-- piano, originally- and trumpet-- pretty seriously. He has a degree in music from Ithaca College, a pretty rigorous program. In the band he and Albert had as kids, he played guitar.

He only played bass in Blue Oyster Cult because they needed someone after the guy they'd had when they were the Soft White Underbelly ran off to join the Peace Corps or whatever he did. He played mandolin on A Kiss is A Promise-maybe on our second album, Trepanation-I can't remember which one, I'd have to look it up. And on Beach Party, which was a funny little record we banged out before our summer tour as a trio, I liked a couple of his songs and put them on.

But I played bass on at least one, Krakatoa-- again, I'd have to look it up. I really don't remember. And To Helen With Love, was a compilation of Helen songs we did in her memory, with lots of different old friends of hers, including Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and his wife, Sandy, contributing. And Joe played on that with the original Alice Cooper guys, Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway, who he used to play with--but always on guitar. Dennis played bass. So Joe doesn't mean anything as a bassplayer for the Brain Surgeons, he's just a good musician and my brother-in-law, so we get him cheap!

Ross is a different story. A certain French idiot, whose advice on every other matter has turned out to be pretty terrible, if not downright disastrous, thought, after the first time we played in Europe as a trio, that we should get more of a "real" lead guitarist. Ross made the overall sound much heavier, and I think we made the most cohesive album that we made, and I liked some of the riffs he came with that I think I was able, with Albert's contributions, to turn into some pretty good songs. A lot of them are some of my favorite things I've ever written, like "Strange Like Me" and "Verböten." Maybe I was just ready to write those songs and Albert and I were ready to make that kind of album. I like the songs I let him sing, like "1864," cause it lets me really write from some other character's perspective and not only in someone else's range.

Personally, some of my favorite bands have always had more than one singer-- whether it's the Beatles or Fleetwood Mac. Not very metal-- but that's what I find boring and limiting about alot of metal bands. It takes a fairly amazing vocalist-- and there aren't too many of them-- maybe James Hetfield, or Robert Plant-- to pull it off. But these are people who are not exactly limited musically and neither are their collaborators. I get pretty bored listening to the same kind of thing or sound or rhythm or anything else pretty quickly.

As for Denial of Death, the album we made with Ross, I know I worked my ass off on it. And Albert did, too. But we're always the people who put in the real time, the other people just do their bit and leave. They're not even around when the parts are comped together.

And on this last album, Paul Special, who's really a good engineer-- he hears things in a way that normal people, even musicians, don't-- did all the basic tracks and was also able to mix it. Some of our earlier records were literally made in a garage and a living room with us pushing the buttons-- I don't know if anyone would call it "engineering." But through the writing, every aspect of this process, I thought about nothing else. But I'm pretty obsessive.

The only things I'm usually unhappy with are when someone else says it's good enough, leave it alone, and then I usually regret I didn't stick with my gut instinct or give it another pass. Of course, sometimes you can just worry something to death. There's a fine line between trying to get things perfect and killing it. Which is why I like to have someone I can rely on, someone I can turn to and say "What do you think?" and really trust the answer.

I think everyone, no matter how experienced you are or how many incredible successes or masterpieces you've created (and I wouldn't put myself there yet) you want that other ear, that other sounding board to bounce off, for feedback or just to push you somewhere you might not even know you can go. But alot of our older fans did not necessarily like the heavier sound. They thought it destroyed the charm and the quirkiness that made us special.

How many albums have Brain Surgeons released?

Well, it depends how you count them-- if you count Piece of Work, the two record set and To Helen With Love, the tribute, which is essentially a Brain Surgeons album, just with a few more people, and Black Hearts of Soul, which is a French compilation on the Bad Reputation that has three tracks with Ross that are not available anywhere else, then it's ten. I think. I don't know, I don't really count them up!

Where may we find the albums, where could we buy the music from Brain Surgeons?

They have been and are available in stores, but I think it's easiest to find them, especially so you can get exactly what you want and don't have to drive around to weird shopping malls or waste gas or anything else, is online. A lot of the bigger chains--like Amazon or Tower (they do still exist online, right?) have them. I think they're all--even Piece of Work, which might be sold out or out of print now--are on I Tunes.

Personally, my favorite place for most independent music is CD Baby, because they really support the artists.

The last album was released in 2006 called “Denial Of Death” Do you feel the band have grown since 1994?

Yes. But I've grown, too. Fatter! Haha.
Change is constant, and hopefully it's in the direction of progress.

Is it possible to see Brain Surgeons live on tour?

Yes. Just check MySpace. com/ brainsurgeons. Dates will be posted.

Any bands or artists you would love to have with you on your tour?

Girlschool. Metallica. Led Zeppelin. The Donnas. Bring 'em on! I'll play with anyone. Hey, I might NOT want to tour with people who are TOO much fun. I might not make it to the next show.

If there was one place in the world wide that you could play Deborah, where would that be?

That's too hard-- I want to play in Scandinavia. I've never been to Japan. I'm dying to go to Australia. Yes, there is one place in the world I want to play-- the stage.
Fuck, I don't even need a stage. Just gimme the floor.

What’s your opinion about the Rock ‘n’ roll is back? (If it ever were gone)

It's never gone away.
And while I'm around, it won't.

What sort of age group are you attracting with your music?

It appeals to anyone with a rock and roll heart. Age doesn't really matter.
Obviously, I don't think what I do is necessarily suitable for young children because it's sexual and raw and LOUD, but if people want their kids exposed to that-- and they have--it's up to them. I really don't like venues with age restrictions or where the people who can drink are separated from those who can't and I generally don't like the vibe I've experienced in those kinds of places 'cause I think music is all about bringing people together, not keeping them apart, physically or otherwise. But basically if you want to rock with me, I will rock you.

If you got the chance to have a concert in Norway, what could we expect from Brain Surgeons?

You can expect to have your ass kicked.
And you will love it.

Is there a funny story you would share with us?

What? This hasn't been funny enough? !

As we mention earlier, you have been active creating rock since the early 1990, what is your highlight of your careers as rock musicians?
I've been doing it a lot longer than that

Anyone you would love to meet, that you haven’t met yet?


What is your opinion about the Blizz Of Rock?

It rocks!

Thank you so much sweet Deborah and Brain Surgeons for using time to answer these questions.
Blizz of rock wishes Brain Surgeons all the best, take care Deborah