All in the [ROCK] family: Meet the Spooners: An Interview
It’s a successful American family business, but it’s anything but typical. Dad’s a “semi-retired” rock star, whose “business trips” were what the rest of us would recognize as world tours, and Junior’s a kick-butt drummer (with a college education – Dad made sure) who has engineered and produced some of the biggest names in music.
They are the Spooners, and they remain on the cutting edge of making superb local music plus supporting everyone else who is doing the same, including this writer. Every Bay Area musician should know their names: Bill and Boone.
Bill “Sputnik” Spooner garnered fame, fortune, and rock star status as the founder and principal songwriter for The Tubes (“White Punks on Dope,” “What Do You Want from Life” and “Young & Rich”). He has opened for Led Zepplin and continues to sell songs. He’s no longer involved with The Tubes and refers to himself as semi-retired, although he remains very active in the music industry, recording solo projects, performing with great talents, and teaching promising hopefuls at The Blue Bear School of American Music in San Francisco.
His son Boone is an engineering/production expert and a drummer who, among other things, will appear in the band scene in the upcoming movie version of the Broadway smash, Rent. He recorded the recent San Francisco festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and has recorded and worked with talents like Steve Earl, Emmy Lou Harris, Vanessa Carlton, and Alanis Morrissette.
Owl: Describe your work together.
Bill: Boone has been my ProTools teacher for a while. He talked me into getting ProTools. It’s like an alien language. It’s like learning Swahili at age 50. Because Boone is so good, I can call him day or night and say, “I can’t make this work.” And he always knows what to do. When he was learning to play guitar, he would call me from Santa Cruz to ask questions. And I’d give him a guitar lesson over the phone. I record here (at the Digital Basement) and mix at his house. For the mixing Boone’s got a ProTools HD3 system, and everything comes out of there sounding amazing.
What is the hardest part about writing or recording a song?
Bill: Writing songs is probably the hardest part because you’ve got to finish. I start a song and then two-thirds of the way I just stop. But you can’t do that. Just get the song completed. You just have to stick with it – work on it everyday a little bit. Finish no matter where you are or what you think of it. If you don’t like it just throw it away. For the Now album I wrote like 25 songs and 11 of them ended up on the album. It’s what I tell my students.
There’s nothing really hard about recording, except maybe knowing when to stop.
How do you feel about the Bay Area music scene?
Boone: We had been in a bit of drought, but that’s starting to turn around. Studios are opening. Some of it is really great: The great studio Tiny Telephone, the awesome bands Birdmonster and My Revolver and so many more. The dot com thing kinda killed it for a while. Rents rose so much that it kicked all the musicians out of the city. Rents have fallen back a little at least. I see great bands all the time. I go out two or three times per week and there is a ton of great local music.
What is your favorite Bay Area venue?
Bill: Great American Music Hall.
Boone, what was it like to grow up with Bill for a dad?
Well. You know the idea that amazing things sometimes cease to be amazing when you get to experience them every day – when you get used to them? In some respects that is like growing up with a “rock star.” It’s one of those amazing things that you just get used to, not that it makes it any less cool or special. Of course, your friends never really do get used to it. How many times have I been to record store only to have my friends run up to me with a Tubes album, “Look!” Or people calling me during the day with “Hey! White Punks on Dope is on the Radio!” Yup. It’s true. My dad IS a rock star and that means that they are going to sell his CDs in the stores, and play his songs on the radio. I mean, honestly, what would you expect?
When people ask me, “So what was it like to grow up with a rock star for a dad?” I am always stuck wondering, “Well, what’s it like NOT to?” Did your dad spank you when you got in trouble? Mine did! Did your dad play baseball and fly kites with you? Mine did! Did he throw you birthday parties and take you on trips? Mine did! I think the reality is that dads are dads, and in most respects growing up with my dad wasn’t really any different than growing up with, let’s say, an accountant dad.
I think that one thing about being a rock star that lends itself to being a great father is that you are not bound by stereotypes (even though people attempt to put you in one). You can be as fun, as open and loving as you want without someone saying “Oh, you are acting too silly for a grown man,” or anything like that. You can do whatever you want, right? You’re a rock star!
There were other cool things too. I got to meet some famous people: Bruce Hornsby, Robin Williams, etc. I also got to go on a few world tours.
Bill, did you either encourage or discourage Boone from a career in music?
Bill: I didn’t really encourage it. I wanted both of my kids to do whatever the hell they wanted to do. From the minute they pop out of the oven, you see, they are completely their own person. Boone’s not like his mom, and he’s not like me, that’s for sure. If he asked me questions, I would tell him.
What five albums can each of you not live without?
Bill: The First Jimi Hendrix album: Are You Experienced?
XTC, Oranges and Lemons
Jellyfish: Belly button, Spilt milk
Pet Sounds, early Beach Boys albums drove me crazy.
All the Beatles albums, until Abbey Road.
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- Article by Kami Nixon.