When someone offers you a chance to talk to the hands behind the driving rhythms of "Surrender" and steady swing of "I Want You to Want Me," you take it. So Friday night, Rocks Off found ourselves in the "chill room" of Club de Ville with none other than Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos.
As Gram Rabbit's Jesika von Rabbit and her bunny-fied friend readied their costumes for their impending performance and Carlos' bandmates in Chicago's Candy Golde made some pre-gig small talk, Rocks Off and Carlos had a brief chat.
The Chicago all-stars (read more about their performance Friday here) recruited Carlos for the drummer's chair via a phone call from Tremulis, who used to sneak into Cheap Trick's shows in Chicago bars like the Alley in the '70s. The two musicians were familiar with each other from their appearances at various Waltz benefits, fundraisers for a Chicago children's home featuring some of the city's A-list musicians like Billy Corgan and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.
"Nick sent me some demos of the tunes, and I practiced them at home," Carlos said. "We whacked it out in one afternoon at Wax Trax."
After adding some overdubs and whatnot, Candy Golde's five-song EP will be out in late April, After a couple of shows in their hometown and a pair of Record Store Day appearances with Tremulis, Carlos said the group's future is up in the air - "We'll see what happens" - but there's no rush, because bassist John Stirratt is about to link back up with Wilco for the tour that brings them to Verizon Wireless Theater May 6.
Carlos is an old hand at these sorts of supergroups. The last time he was at SXSW, in fact, was with Tinted Windows with Taylor Hanson, A Perfect Circle's James Iha and Adam Schlessinger of Fountains of Wayne to promote their self-titled album. After a less than a month of shows and a few "hit and run" dates in Japan, that group dissolved as the various members went back to their main gigs.
"The company's still up and running, though," Carlos said. "We may pick it up again in the fall."
As for Cheap Trick, Carlos is a part-time member of that group these days. He and the other members of the power-pop hall of famers didn't see eye to eye about the booking schedule ("mainly casinos, county fairs and 50 to 100 dates in Vegas"), so he retired from touring in favor of pick-flipping guitarist Rick Nielsen's son Dax. The partial split seems to be amicable enough, though, because Carlos says he's still happy to join Cheap Trick in the studio.
"I'm the drummer that doesn't tour," he said.
The rest of the time, Carlos chills in Cheap Trick's hometown of Rockford, Ill. The small city 80 miles west of Chicago has no college and not much of a music scene, Carlos said, "but it is where Wisconsin senators go to hide from the governor."
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Now 59, Carlos told us he has been playing drums since age 12, so Rocks Off asked him how he takes care of his hands. "I put Band-Aids on my stick fingers, and I have an endorsement deal with Wilson," he said, showing us his custom-fit golf gloves with the knuckles cut out.
He tapes up his sticks, and "I try to keep a natural grip, and don't squeeze too hard."
Carlos' family has been in the percussion business a long time. "My great-grandpa drummed in the Wisconsin Brigade in the Civil War," he said. "My family didn't tell me that until I was 20.
"They said, 'We didn't want to encourage you.'"