In honor of Wednesday’s 30th anniversary showing of This is Spinal Tap at the Kentucky Theatre, here is a 1992 interview I conducted with Harry Shearer, one the film’s (and the band’s) three comic architects.
The occasion was a summer tour for which Spinal Tap transformed itself from a purely cinematic creation into an actual live performance band. There was even a new album, the poetically titled Break Like the Wind, to tie into the tour.
To our fine fortune, though, Shearer insisted on being interviewed in character as Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls. During our talk, he discussed those pesky pod props used during shows that were always a trial to climb out of, the clumsy reputation he feels his band earned as a result of This Is Spinal Tap and how tough it can be finding your way to the stage some nights.
Q: How does it feel to be on tour again?
A: Great. The amps are louder than ever now, so we’re able to feel the power more than ever. We’re able to dominate an audience far better as a result. It’s serious pain.
Q: Is pain important to Spinal Tap?
A: Oh yeah. It’s part of our philosophy as artists. What every artist wants to communicate is pain. True pain. What we do is play so bloody loud that we actually inflict physical pain on you. Also, our lyrical and thematic concepts are so multilayered and confusing that you experience mental pain trying to figure them out. So you really do feel our pain. That’s true communication.
Q: So if an audience member fled from one of your concerts screaming in agony, would that be a sign that you are getting your message across?
A: That would be like a Nobel Prize.
Q: Do you feel Spinal Tap has anything to prove with this tour?
A: If we’ve got anything to prove, it’s just the movie was a hatchet job. We want people to know that the Spinal Tap you think you know is not the real Spinal Tap.
Q: You really feel that the movie was a hatchet job?
A: I know it was. We found the stage plenty of times. But they never showed that, did they? I made it out of the pod at least six times out of 10. For eight years, it was ‘Oh, Derek, you going to make it out of the pod tonight?’
Q: Do you think audiences agree with your opinion of the film?
A: Listen, you can only pull the wool over people’s eyes for just so long before they go, ‘Oh, that’s hot and scratchy.’ Especially in the summertime.
Q: Spinal Tap supposedly disbanded after the film was released. How is it that you got together again to make Break Like the Wind?
A: We met up at (band manager) Ian Faith’s funeral. It was a joyous event. People really hated Ian’s guts. Well, they would have if he had any. So it was a real celebration of death. The vibe was so great that we didn’t want to leave. People were dancing on his grave. It was great fun.
Q: Your current drummer is Ric Shrimpton, the brother of Mick Shrimpton. Wasn’t Mick one of your drummers that blew up?
A: Well, yeah. Come to think of it, Ric broke his ankle Friday night before the gig in L.A. So it’s like old Mr. Curse going: ‘Don’t forget about me. I’m still here. I’ve still got my power.’
Q: How has the reception been at the shows this summer?
A: The reception’s been good. We even get cable in some cities. The crowds have been great, too.
Q: In the time between This Is Spinal Tap and Break Like the Wind, could you spot Spinal Tap’s sound in younger bands?
A: Sure. I could all along. Only now, they admit it. All these Seattle bands admit to being influenced by Spinal Tap. But in the old days, it was always ‘ Spinal who? Sounds like a disease.’
Q: Is there any ultimate goal Spinal Tap would like to achieve?
A: I’ll say this. We’ve been around for 25 years. It seems long past time for us to be in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Especially since there’s no bloody hall. Just the fame. So if they change their minds and realize they’ve made a mistake, now’s the time to do it. They don’t even have to take a plaque off the wall. The whole hall is only on paper at this point anyway. They can just take an eraser to it.
Q: Do think Spinal Tap runs any risk of breaking up again?
A: No. I think we’ll stay together as long as we remember how to play. What we stand for, people crave. We’re not like any of those labels. We’re not ‘pre’ this or ‘post’ that or ‘punk’ anything. What we do is just good old generic rock. Yes, generic rock — that’s what we stand for.