Atlantic Interview (April 1995)
there's a big preoccupation with labels in our compartmentalized
universe, but Bruce McCulloch just won't submit to it. Don't let
that scare you, let that free you. On his Atlantic debut album,
"SHAME-BASED MAN", The Kids In The Hall comedy trouper takes a
rock- driven journey through the depths of dysfunctional, needy
love and the lives of the trapped, inebriated, and out-of-shape.
"is it rock?" wonders Bruce. "Kinda, but not really. Is it spoken
word? Kinda, but that's a weird area. Is it comedy? Well, it's
funny but no, it's not comedy." The album contains music, comedic
essays, and even some stuff that sounds like poetry. They're sort
of songs by a guy who doesn't exactly sing, with snippets of radio
talk show fantasy filling the gaps.
As a writer and cast member of The Kids In The Hall, Bruce is
best known for such cjaracters as the lovable Gavin, the genitally
impared Cabbage Head, Kathy the secretary, the "my pen" guy, and
Laura's guitar- wielding boyfriend, Bobby. After forming in '84,
the monologue and sketch comedy troupe quickly earned a following
through their energized Toronto club performances. The five Kids
taped their first TV special in '87, which led to the creation
of their widely-praised half hour comedy program. "The Kids In
The Hall" ran for two seasons on CBS-TV and five seasons on Canada's
CBC and cable's Comedy Central-where it is still broadcast twice
daily. The group is the subject of much fan obsession, as evidenced
by the high volume of daily messages they generate on the Internet
and commercial networks like America Online.
Though the Kids have since stopped production of the show, they
continue to perform to sell-out crowds and are now starting work
with producer Lorne Michaels on their first feature film (due
in late '95). "We're never gonna break up," says Bruce of the
troupe. "But we just might be too busy to get together." Outside
the troupe, Bruce has made his mark with his recent short film
contributions to NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live, " which include
film versions of his album tracks "Stalking" and "Eraser Head."
His first short film, "The Coleslaw Warehouse," aired on CBC and
made the festival rounds in '92. "It's like 'Death Of A Salesman.'
They like it a lot in Europe." He is also the author of three
plays, which have been presented at theatres across Canada.
For McCulloch, recording an album is the natural culmination of
years of rock fandom and drawing on rock subjects for his work
with the Kids. "The rest of the troupe have all these TV influences
like Carol Burnett and stuff," says Bruce. "But when I was growing
up, TV wasn't an influence. I didn't watch Monty Python or Saturday
Night Live. They didn't mean anything to me. It was always rock
music. I think you can see that in the show. Music was my touchstone.
Music is still much more important to me."
To write "SHAME-BASED MAN," Bruce joined with his longtime friend
Brian Connelly, guitarist with the Toronto-based Shadowy Men On
A Shadowy Planet. (The Shadowy Men are well known by Kids fans
for their instrumental introduction to the TV show.) A Calgary
native like Bruce, Brian who knows too well where the man is coming
from. Much of the album emerged out of improvisation and extended
jam sessions with Bruce, Brian, and producer Bob Wiseman (ex-Blue
Rodeo member.) Prior to the album's recording sessions, the group
sequestered themselves in a small demo studio and went to work.
"For a week we just fucked around," says Bruce. "I'd bring in
melodies or they'd just start jamming. It was like getting back
to a cool kind of performance thing for me, combining my monologues
and other stuff with music."
Listening to such tracks as "Our Love" or "Daddy's On The Drink,"
those inclined to psychoanalytical deconstruction may be moved
to invent pet theories on the mind of Bruce McCulloch. Try it
out on him and he'll probably just tell you about his love for
the baby Jesus. "There's that whole fucking psychiatrist thing
about people being funny just to avoid something in their lives,"
says McCulloch. "I think that's totally wrong. I'm not. I'm being
funny just to splash myself in it."
The character sketch nature of "Al Miller" and "Daddy's On The
Drink" reflect Bruce's fascination with the oddities of the human
condition and intimate minutia of any person's daily routine.
"I hate to sound like Julie the cruise director but it's people
that I think about all the time, " says Bruce. "And I don't even
mean that in a good way. It's about looking at a security guard
and imagining him fucking his 17-year-old girlfriend. That's a
constant dialogue in my head." This tendency for analysis of imagined
lives continues on "Doors" with Bruce walking in the shoes of
a Lizard King fanatic. "I was NEVER a Doors fan," says McCulloch.
"L.A. Woman is amazing, but when I was growing up I was into the
Who. To me, Doors fans were always the 16-year-old idiots at parties,
getting stoned, and talking about how Morrison's lyrics were like
poetry...like that was a deep thought."
Up-tempo tracks such as "Daves I Know" and "Answering Machine"
will be readily familiar from their inclusion on the Kids' TV
show. "They're part of my sense of humor, which is quirky and
bouncy and stupid," says McCulloch. "I like being funny that way."
Such moments are countered by the darker shades of the Kurt Cobain-inspired
"Vigil" and "America," a series of Robert Frank-styled snapshots
of the American myth. The more melancholy aspects of the record
can be directly tied to Bruce's state of mind at the time the
album was recorded. "'I'm Not Happy' was the perfect slogan for
the album," says McCulloch. "That was the prevailing tone. Somehow
'SHAME-BASED MAN' just felt right for the title. Besides, shame
is the master emotion."
For Bruce, real insight-both comedic and tragic-comes from the
acknowledgment of one's failings and flaws. It's in those trait
and events where real humor exists. Why try to escape it? "That's
the great part about people," says McCulloch. "A friend of mine
once told me how embarrassed she was of her fucked-up white trash
past. And I said to her, 'You're here because of that. That's
great.' I was a fuckin' asshole in high school. But if I didn't
break people's windows or steal their mittens - or whatever pseudo-comedy
nasty shit I pulled - I wouldn't be who I am. I was an evil young
man who wrecked all his Toyotas. But in order to become a neat,
cool person - to whatever extent I am a neat, cool person - you
have to go through that. You can't think 'I wish I hadn't done
that in grade 8.' That's why we all are who we are." Take it from
the shame-based man. He knows.