Interview with Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap
By Ronnie

Heavy metal is a state of mind, and no band typifies heavy metal better than England's legendary Spinal Tap. Sadly, since 1992 there has been no new album by Tap. I saw Spinal Tap live in San Antonio in 1993, when Stonehenge was delivered onstage via 'federal express'. But, "where ARE they now", you might ask? Are they really residing in the "where are they now" files? Well, never fear metalheads! Spinal Tap has decided to "Tap into America" in other ways: with a new song on their own "Tapster", anatomically correct action figures and a DVD release of the classic film, "This is Spinal Tap". But, I still had to know & is there ever a chance of seeing "Stonehenge" played live on stage again? I recently talked to Derek Smalls, bassist extraordinaire for Spinal Tap about these topics and more.

Much more...

Right: England's legendary Spinal Tap!

E.C.: Growing up in Nilford, England, when were you first aware that you had a calling for rock and roll? Was it a divine revelation?

Derek: Well, uh, I'd watched me Dad who had a thriving business at the time, going about a sanitizing phones on a weekly basis, keep it germ free. I'd traveled around with him and see him do his routine. The thought occurred to me when I was about 7 or 8 years old that I'd rather kill myself than do this...So it really was a negative epiphany if you will...anything but this! And then of course the rock and roll came to fore really quickly. When I viewed my progress at school and I thought, well, the futures not going to lie there either. I'd picked up a second hand bass & more than anything else to use as a weapon.

E.C.: What first struck you struck you about David and Nigel and how did you know that Spinal Tap was THE band for you?

Derek: Well, I'd been working in a couple of rhythm and blues type show know, just a lot of uh, energy...I saw the Thamesmen [early version of Spinal Tap] on British television and I thought "well, here are people who value something other than energy. They'd be for awhile because they move more slowly". They wouldn't burn themselves out like we were...I mean the Lovely Cheswick Sound Explosion was basically, I mean everybody in that band was dead by the age of 27. So, what appealed to me about Dave and Nigel...from a distance, is that they seemed to be pacing themselves, even when they were young.

E.C.: What should the role of a bass player be in a rock and roll band?

Derek: Musically, it should be to...uh, you're the foundation. I don't know if you know anything about building? But, if you build a great the Taj Ma-bloody Hal, and you don't have a foundation ...a good, strong foundation...basically you've got a piece of shit. It may look like the Taj Mahal, but its gonna tumble down to a pile of rubble in a few years. So, what you need is a good strong foundation, in fact the bass. That's what the bass player does, he builds the foundation. You can have all sorts of poncy architects walking around doin' what they want to above ground, but it's the bass that gives them the ability to, you FREES up Nigel Tufnel towering solos of musical architecture on top. The bass is the foundation, the drums are your rhythmic pulse. The bass is REALLY the foundation, and without it, the musical building will tumble into a pile of rubble in weeks. In terms of personal dynamics, that really depends on the band. There are some bands where the bass player disappears entirely. In our band it was always my job to a facilitator...a connective tissue. Basically a bundle of fiber that would connect one nerve center of the band to the other. So, basically I was a musical ganglion.

E.C.: The last album that Tap put out was in 1992. And recently, you've had a new track, "Back From the Dead" as an mp3 track available on TAPSTER. Are there any plans for a new album?

Derek: Ah, depends what you mean by plans. Is there a company that's planning to pay money release it? Uh, no.

E.C.: What about a box set of maybe rare or out of print songs, like say, "Saucy Jack" or "Jazz Odyssey"?

Derek: We would love that, but you know the musical market place today is...I don't know if you watch something like the 'American Music Awards', where you see where this business is headed. If you're not 13 years old, with 48 extremely white teeth...the record companies don't want to talk to you right now. That's why we started TAPSTER...Really, we want a direct connection, we don't want to go through a Polymer [Spinal Tap's old record label] anymore, or anything like that. We don't need to go through the giant corporation, which wants to, whether you've got a sexy vid for every song. Well, we've got lots of sexy vids which never got played because they were too sexy, so you know & figure that one out? Were basically building this structure of a direct connection with the band. But a box set? You know, we'll give them the tunes and they can make their own box.

E.C.: Speaking of TAPSTER, weren't you worried about the same legal problems that NAPSTER was having?

Derek: No, not at all. You see, it really boils down to, which do you want to do? Do you want to communicate with the fans, do you want to get your music heard? Or do you want to be stinking, filthy rich? That's the choice. There's always the chance that you can become filthy, stinking rich through your connection with the band. But, if your priority is to be filthy, stinking rich, you're gonna end up like Lars Ullrich [the anti-NAPSTER corporate head of Metalicca], you know? But seriously, what was he doin'? He was putting on a coat and tie and testifying before congress. Is that what a rocker is supposed to do? I don't think so. You know, that's where you end up when your priority the almighty pound or the almighty dollar or the almighty lira, or the Euro. It has to start with saying, "look were worried about being ripped off", so we started TAPSTER were ripping ourselves off. If a problem comes up, we'll sue ourselves and we'll pocket the difference.

E.C.: Spinal Tap is well known for the trademark of "11". Has the band ever thought of copyrighting it, because nobody has copyrighted the number "11"?

Derek: We were told by various attorneys, who might not have been acting in our best interests...they said, quote, and I'll be perfectly exact here, quote, unquote, "you can't copyright a number". That's what they told us. Then we find out that Blake Edwards copyrighted "10" and Satan copyrighted "666". Were still investigating this, we would love to copyright "11"...but you know, it may be too late.

E.C.: I had recently read that the cucumber confiscated from you by airport security was auctioned off a Sotheby's New York. Do you happen to know who bought it, or how much it went for?

Derek: It was not a cucumber, if you are talking about in the film. It was a zucchini. If you use a cucumber...cucumbers tend to be, I know this is hard to believe, but they seem to be too large for realism. They also have a much watery surface, which can be disturbing. It can actually work against the effect you are trying to make, if you catch my meaning. It conjures up images of disease. But, my recommendation would be staying well away from the cucumber. As far as that particular auction is concerned, I have no idea... I've heard rumors, I've heard e-bay, I've heard $30,000...I don't know. Needless to say, none of the funds accrued to good old Derek. So, uh, end of story.

E.C.: On the same subject, who was in charge to make sure that the Spinal Tap action figures were anatomically correct?

Derek: Each one of us was responsible for our own figure...we saw early sketches and early prototypes. We'd have long, really silly conference calls...and even so, it came as a wonderful surprise to me that when the figures turned up I was as tall as David and Nigel. Maybe it's my own fault, because discussions concentrated on the area from the top of my head, to shall we say the pelvic area. I really didn't ask whether they were gonna add two inches to my femur. But, as it turns out, for the first time in my life I'm as tall as my mates. That can be a good thing.

E.C.: In 1988, you played with the group, Lambsblood.

Derek: Yeah, I think it was '87...

E.C.: Why didn't they have widespread success?

Derek: They did...but you know, the music business is a bunch of niches today. Niches. And if you look in your niche...if you look in the wrong niche, it looks like its not a success. But if you look in the right the Christian rock world, for a period of time, nobody was bigger than Lambsblood. We had this great top forty hit in the Christian charts called, "Whole Lotta Lord"...which was a great, headbanging tune no two ways about it. We were headlining the Monsters of Jesus we did great. I don't wanna say that there's a cause and effect relationship, but at least there's a cause and a question mark relationship, cause I left and the band buffed out shall we say. But, the Christian rock world is like any other, it changes very fast. What's on top at one moment is not on top at the next. So, it might have happened anyway. I left to rejoin Tap and gravity took over.

E.C.: Were you ever criticized like Dylan was for converting and playing Christian Rock?

Derek: the world of Christian rock they welcome people who've crossed over. They think of it as a victory. It's a whole nother way of looking at it & anybody who comes from the world of, shall we say the supreme evil one, is respected...and comes over to their world, they think of it as some kind of victory. I didn't want to prick their balloon and say, "well, its just a good gig, innit?" But, I had to get the Christian fish tattoo. The problem came the other way & when I rejoined Tap and they looked at the fish tattoo and said, "what's this?" So, after a few days of thinking about it in consultation with my tattoo master, I had a second tattoo...this was before laser removal of course...a second tattoo of a very large devil with an open mouth consuming the fish. So, I made it a two parter.

But, no, the Christian rockers love to embrace what they previously regard as the previously faithless. It's a notch on their belt or wherever they put their notches.

E.C.: Pink Floyd once did a concert at the historic Ruins of Pompeii. Why didn't Spinal Tap ever play Stonehenge?

Derek: You know, its still being talked about. As you may know, stonehenge is a national shrine in Britain. And there's been a lot of controversy because...I don't know how much you know about the whole 'henge situation...but there are these caravans full of young Druids that have gone up and performed ceremonies about Stonehenge...and they've had to fetch them out. For a number of years the authorities wouldn't even talk about a concert. We were so loud and I think they feared we'd break the obelisks. There were concerns about sound level pressures from Spinal Tap. Now, things have calmed down, kids have realized that they can buy digital stonehenges or whatever. So, this conversation is opening up about it might just happen.

Interesting you should say see the very fact that you should ask THAT question...its in the air...that question didn't come out of your came out of a consciousness in which you plugged. When you are through with that consciousness please un-plug so others can use it...

E.C.: Has the DVD release of "This is Spinal Tap" inspired you to tour again?

Derek: Ah, no...its inspired us to play selective gigs. We did a wonderful gig at the House of Blues in Los Angeles about last September. And we're doing some in Britain...a couple of festivals. And London later this year. So, were being very selective & we believe that the more we control peoples access to Spinal Tap at this time, the more appetite there may be for Tap. So, it's a supply and & the less the supply the more the demand.

E.C.: Thank you very much for the interview!

Derek: It's a pleasure, and good luck to you and to EAR CANDY and to all your fans.

Click here to visit the official Spinal Tap website