Alex Chilton Interview

I interviewed Alex Chilton on September 17, 1987 in Albany NY before his appearance that evening at a club called QE2. It was the peak of my Big Star fandom, and I was in awe of my polite if somewhat cranky hero. Maybe it was just that he was in Albany . . . The interview appeared in the Dec. 1987 issue of local rag Buzz Magazine. I recorded it, but I doubt I have the tape. I was lucky enough to save the magazine, and my three signed Big Star LPs. Here is the interview in its entirety :

Alex Chilton ordered the stuffed quail. (At the restaurant Quintessence- ed.) When it arrived, he offered me a piece but I refused. The salad was the best salad Alex Chilton said he’d ever eaten. There was a slab of cheese that looked like feta, but Alex insisted it was parmesan. It was feta. But Alex is from Memphis. There can’t be much feta cheese in Memphis. He didn’t want to be interviewed in the restaurant, so we sat, Alex , his two band members and I, and stared out the window. He didn’t want to be interviewed at all. The following conversation took place in his Isuzu or one of those mid sized vans :

JR: Do you understand the “pop-god” biling you’ve received ?
AC: Not really but . . . (pause)

JR: How do you feel about the Replacements song ?
AC: Uh well, I didn’t feel any way about it. I mean I’m so used to having uh you know these kind of fawning, imbecilic fans you know. To have it take on some coherence is refreshing.

JR: It seems that Big Star means more now with a modern perspective than it did when it was actually happening.
AC: It’s hard for me, you know, to understand what a young person, or a person younger than myself must perceive of that stuff. I know how nowhere it was for us at the time you know, we just made this record and worked for about a year on it cause we had time in the studio. We could do anything we wanted at the studio and the people at this place were pretty sharp technically so we did it. So we just made this record like we wanted it to sound. You know, we just made the best record we could and put it out and there was swome critical response and stuff like that and then we couldn’t sell it. Am I in your way ??!! (Yells at blocking vehicle)

JR: Do you like touring ?
AC: Yeah

JR: What about interviews ?
AC: Yeah, I don’t particularly like doing interviews but I guess getting press is a helpful thing.

JR: In your solo work, particularly No Fun and Feudalist Tarts and the new LP High Priest, there’s a sharp leaning towards the blues and less so, funk. Where does all that stem from ?
AC: I don’t know. I guess that I’m not a real fluent sort of musician, you know I’m not like Charlie Parker or somebody and so I can do some primtive sorts of blues sometimes better than a lot of other things . . . When I was playing with that group Big Star in the 70’s, they were anti-blues, the rest of the members of the group, you know, so I didn’t want to rock the boat.

JR: How do you feel about you experience with Big Star now ?
AC: You know Chris Bell, that was kinda the other leader of the band or somethin like that, was somebody whose music I dug and I feel like I learned a lot from playing with him and learned a lot about recording. It was a time in my life when I made progress.

JR: Do you feel like you’re making progress now ?
AC: Yeah

JR: You really like the new album ?
AC: Yeah. I worked hard on it.

JR: What about the title High Priest ? Is that sort of a double entendre that you like ?
AC: Maybe more like triple or quadruple. There are two songs on the record that are sort of gospel tunes and one about the Dalai Lama who if there was ever a highpriest he’s gotta be the highest one, I mean 19,000 feet or something, you know. And then you know this whole Jim & Tami that’s been shaking up you know, that’s why there’s a picture of a church ont he front and me in front of a motel on the back and then Ray Charles called himself the high priest and I’ve always been a Ray Charles fan.

JR: You just finished up a reunion tour with the Box Tops, right ?
AC: (pissed) I wasn’t saying that, no. Each summer there’s a guy who gets together a revue of 60’s groups and that comes in the summer.

JR: Let’s get back to the so-called Alex Chilton pop-god phenomenon. How do you perceive that thing ? Who are your fans ?
AC: I see the people who come to my dates. They seem to be college students who don’t look like Ramones fans, they don’t look like Cramps fans, you know, they’re not all dressed in black. You know, they wear colorful clothing. They just seem like normal college students.

JR: Do you enjoy listening to old Box Tops and Big Star records ?
AC: I don’t listen to my own records to often although I guess I’ve been listening to some of the more recent stuff lately and getting a kick out of that. Big Star has five or six songs I dig listening to and the Box Tops, I guess there are a few things I enjoy. It’s a kick to hear old Box Tops songs on the radio . . .

JR: When was the last time you were in Albany ?
AC: The Sixties