THE RED PLASTIC BUDDHA
It took just over thirty seconds for “All Out Revolution” – the second album by The Red Plastic Buddha – to get its hooks in us. That’s when the simple “oh-oh-oh-ohhh’s” started dancing over an equally simple bass line and in an instant, the revolution was on.
Mixing classically-cultivated psych-rock influences (Zombies and Kinks and Seeds, oh my!) with Zen affirmations, The Red Plastic Buddha walk a tricky line with admirable grace. There’s a certain magic to their sound, which manages to incorporate a little bit of everything, while remaining in the comfortable-as-a-bean-bag framework of that rock and/or roll music we know and love – conscious of the past, while not beholden to it. Timeless? That seems to be the right word. More poetically, as pronounced by the band on the album closing “Waves” …
“Become the truth
Become the path
I’m not the first
I’m not the last.”
Gil Scott-Heron is dead and the revolution will still not be televised. But the “All Out Revolution” can be downloaded at the Bandcamp page of The Red Plastic Buddha. We sought out the bass and voice of the Buddha, Tim Ferguson, so we can read a bit more about The Red.
What can you tell us about the origin of the name Red Plastic Buddha? Is the name meant as a commentary on the disposable nature of spirituality in our present-day lives, a wink and a nod to Buck Dharma and the rock warriors of Blue Oyster Cult, both or neither?
That’s the yang of it, but the name also refers to my covert agenda regarding music. Rock and roll has the potential to deliver a message and do it in such a soft way that it doesn’t feel like preaching. Come at someone with an idea they’re not ready for, or one that runs counter to their current way of thinking and you can start a war. But what could be more innocent and innocuous than a pop song to deliver revolutionary messages like love, acceptance and spiritual evolution? You can overlook that disposable icon, dismiss the silly old psychedelic peacock, but as you walk away, you might find that you’re singing a new song, softly to yourself.
But yeah, Buck Dharma is always on our minds.
Is there a single album or live performance that has cemented itself in your mind as the “defining” musical experience of your youth, or adolescent years? If so, what were the elements that made such an impact on you? How has your impression of this changed over the years?
There’s not just one. It’s really an experience collage more than any single thing. I grew up in the 60s, and music was everywhere. My older sister was always bringing records into the house and she turned me on to so much. I had a little portable paisley covered record player and I’d buy 45s every week with money I’d make returning pop bottles.
The park where I played baseball with my friends was also where all the hippies hung out. Scary older guys just back from Viet Nam. Pot smoke. Muscle cars. I was dressing like a mod when I was eight years old and they liked me. Somewhere in there, I heard “See Emily Play” and it clicked. Looking back, I think I was born where innocence and madness collided.
What led to the formation of Red Plastic Buddha? What experience did you have playing in other bands before this one? Did you have any experience playing with the other members prior to Red Plastic Buddha? What has been the most surprising or positive result stemming from the particular mix of personalities and influences within the group?
Oh, I’d been building up to this all my life I suppose. Even though this is the first band I’ve led, The Red Plastic Buddha is my fourth or fifth band. We grew out of a group called Sub Rosa that was active in mid 90s in Chicago. The original RPB lineup was Sub Rosa plus Matt Walters on keyboards. That lineup was probably doomed from the start, and we’ve gone through quite a few members since then. Maybe the most surprising thing is the fact that despite all the change, the band feels stronger than ever. Change is equivalent to death for a lot of bands, but The Red Plastic Buddha IS change. We keep attracting really interesting, intelligent, funny and nice people. I think I’ve gotten really comfortable with the idea of impermanence because of my experience with this band.
Quite apart from recordings or live performances, what other works of art have directly impacted or changed the way you think about music? Books, paintings, poetry? Can you recommend us a book you particularly love? What is it about this book that makes it so notable for you?
I think that if we’re open to it, we can be permanently changed by art. Doesn’t matter the medium. It can be the beauty of a message, the turn of a phrase, the way a glance or secret is captured in stone, the way light reacts to pigment … it can be anything. And once we’re changed, the way we perceive everything is changed. Our perspective is deepened and we’ve been made more aware. I think I’m attracted to art that is less literal and instead evokes emotion. It’s more participatory by design. Don’t take me somewhere, show me a path.
As far as a book goes, I’ll recommend Kerouac’s The Subterraneans. It’s just a mood piece that builds and builds in a very linear way. And when it ends … it’s like a sad and beautiful dream that falls apart in your hands. You’re left aching and it’s just gone. Nothing left to say.
What music have you been listening to lately? Push comes to shove, what is your favorite Electric Prunes song of all time?
There are so many great bands out there now. Because we’ve started a label, I’m listening to a lot of bands that are probably under the radar for a lot of people. Local groups like Dark Fog, Secret Colours, Chatham Rise and Strychnine. The Orange Drop from New Jersey are great. We’re also looking at a group from France called the Moonjellies. Really nice 60s style pop. I also just bought the new White Hills and I’m looking forward to hearing the new Hoa Hoas out of Toronto and Kill City Creeps from Australia.
As far as the Prunes go, we actually recorded my favorite Electric Prunes song – “Too Much to Dream Last Night” (barely edged out “Children of Rain”). “TMTDLN” has always amazed me with its mood. When I found out it was actually written by two women (Annette Tucker and Nancie Mantz), I was blown away. It just seems like such a guy song and it’s a testament to the writing skills of Tucker / Mantz to be able to write effectively for the opposite sex.
Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that I am attempting to start right now) that you will soon duet with Sammy Hagar on a cover version of “Bad Motor Scooter” for a one-sided flexi-disc, to be released under the name, “Red Rocker Plastic Buddha”?
LOL. The Rubber City Rebels are part of this project too, as is Elton John. We’re The Red Rubber Rebel Rocker Plastic Fantastic Buddha.
What are your thoughts on the new Red Plastic Buddha album, “All Out Revolution”? How does the final product differ than your original concept of the album … or was there even an original concept?
Everything starts with a name for me, and this one started with a quote from Anton Newcombe. I put it into a Buddhist framework and saw humankind in our present state and thought that if there was EVER a time for revolution, it’s now. But it’s a spiritual revolution we’re in need of, and an evolution at that. We can’t expect it to come from without. There’s no messiah coming to bail us out, no intervention from benevolent aliens. Those hopes are irresponsible and childish. It’s time for human beings to grow up and take responsibility for our own actions, short sightedness, cruelty and greed. The path we are on is destroying the very viability of Life on this planet, which was in itself a revolution against the cold, sterile nothingness of the void.
We’re either going to make this revolution real, or we’re done. But it means evolution by conscious decision. Are we up to it? The smart money is on extinction. Call me Captain Cheerful.
Now that it’s done and released, I’m satisfied with the record. I think the songs are good, and the team we assembled for the project was excellent. Our engineer Brian Leach won a Grammy since we completed the project, and this came as no surprise to any of us. I feel like my role is more of a navigator than anything. I hold the map and keep us on course, but I need to be flexible if I’m to keep everyone engaged. The end result always ends up better if everyone remains invested on an emotional level.
Albums are snapshots in time. I’m happy with how it turned out, but I’m already thinking about the next recording.
The back cover of “All Out Revolution” features a quote from Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalia Lama (“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend or a meaningful day”). What does this quote mean to you? Do you define your relationship with music as a largely spiritual one?
On the final version of the graphics, that quote resides on the inner poster under the photos of the band. During the recording, our long time lead guitarist Todd Lazar decided to retire from the group. Matt Walters soon followed him out the door. That quote was my way of letting them know that I still love them and support them as they move forward on their own individual paths. I was honoring the time we had together and all that we shared. But life is a journey and nothing is static. I’m embracing the inevitable change. A new day arrives.
And yeah, music is a very spiritual thing for me.
There are few things we love more at RevoltoftheApes.com than a good quote! We’d be interested in your thoughts on this, from the terrific Stephen Tobolowsky: ““The world of possibility is real. It exists silently everywhere we go, and becomes visible only when we see that tomorrow means more than yesterday.”
That’s a very hopeful statement. Buddhism stresses the importance of living in the moment. Now is the only thing you have any ability to effect. The past is done. The future may or may not come, and will certainly be different than you plan. But Mr. Tobolowsky is wise in seeing the future as something we can effect. We are active agents in our own lives. It takes great courage to act on your dreams and throw aside the doubts and fears that keep us from achieving them. Expect challenges. Expect difficulties. But expect also to succeed.
Tomorrow does indeed mean more than yesterday, but only if we choose (in the NOW) to act.
What’s next for Red Plastic Buddha?
Well, we’re in full promotion mode now. We’ve got two new members (Eric Ahlgren – keyboards & Carter O’Brien – lead guitar) and we’re trying to do as many shows with them as possible while working up the material for the next record. We don’t do massive tours, but regional stuff can keep us busy. We’ve got a few video projects in the works as well and with the new label, Space Cat Records, there’s always a lot to do. We’re going to be releasing a series of split 12” singles on vinyl with some psych bands we know and play with, so that’s exciting. While this is going on, we’re dealing with temp drummers while Dav Kling’s broken wrist heals.
Never a dull moment, I assure you.