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MP Interview: Lee Flier

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Since I don't run a personal or articles website anymore, I've decided to post the MusicPlayer member interviews here for archival. I do plan on interviewing more MP members though, maybe even by voice so you'll have something to LISTEN to!



Lee Flier

What The...?, Orange Hat



Website: http://www.what-the.com · http://www.orangehat.com



Lee Flier is a skilled audio engineer and programmer, and also the talented guitarist in the bands "What The...?" and "Orange Hat", hailing from Atlanta. In this interview we find out just what "What The...?" is all about, why digital recording initially sucked, and some info on an upcoming album.


Let's start off with a little about yourself and how you got involved in music.

Well, I've been listening to and playing music for as long as I can remember. My mom had a piano in the house so I started off plonking on that when I was 2 or 3 she played classical which I enjoyed listening to, and tried to get me to take piano lessons and read music but I would have none of it. Well, I learned to read a little bit, but I was more interested in making up my own stuff.


So you didn't take too well to being taught?

No, -laughs- formal education and I have never gotten along. Although if I want to study something, look out! So, I played piano, and some percussion (always loved the drums), and took violin for a couple of years in school but, when I was about 12 I suddenly got this craving to play guitar I think it was because I started to really discover the music that I was into and most of the people who played it were guitar players


Who were your initial influences then?

Well I always loved the Beatles. And when I was 12-13 I went through a big country and folk phase. That's what I started off playing, on acoustic.


Who was your favorite Beatle?

I don't think I could ever pick a favorite Beatle. :-)


Hehe, your favorite would probably change with the times anyway.

At first my parents wouldn't buy me a guitar so I borrowed em from friends or played at the local music store whenever I could. They finally realized how serious I was about it so they got me a guitar for my 13th birthday and that was about it, I never wanted to do anything else from then on. I would bring it to school and ditch class to go play... -laughs-


I used to bring my electric a couple hours before school started and just sit at my locker, and play unplugged.



But I was never brave enough to skip a class!

I'd take my acoustic out in the back of the gym field. Well, this is how sneaky I was... My best friend was into photography, so I signed up to be in a photog class with her and once everybody was in the darkroom I'd sneak off, and nobody'd know cuz well, it was dark. :-D


Do you still have this acoustic?

No, my first acoustic was terrible. It's a wonder I learned to play on it.


That'd be kinda atmospheric to play in a red-lit room. Yeah, I taught myself on an acoustic but it was missing the high E string.

A year later I got a better one though, which I still have.


You're in two bands - "What The...?" and "Orange Hat". What's the story behind these two bands?

Well... I started off as a very big fan of Orange Hat. I caught them at a club one night and thought they were the best local band I'd seen. And then it turned out their organ player, Kenny Howes, was also in a couple of other bands including one called "The Lizardmen" which, after I'd gotten to know him, he told me I HAD to see. He said they did all sorts of obscure 60's Brit Invasion covers, which of course I'm nutso about so I went to see them, and it was all over. I had to have their drummer. :-D


Which covers, for example?

Oh... stuff like Paul Revere and the Raiders, early Who, the Sonics (who hardly anyone's heard of), etc. So basically I started following them around like a slobbering groupie. :-D



Seriously, I will go very far out of my way to see a great drummer, and their's was unreal. So one night I ran into Lyle, their bass player, at a club and he told me the Lizardmen's singer had just announced he was quitting the band, for the third time, so he just wanted to form a new original band. And so he asked me if I would be their guitar player - I just about fell on the floor.


And this is "What The...?", correct?

Yep, that was three and a half years ago and we are just nuts about playing together, it's just a perfect fit.


What about the band names?

Well the name for What The...? came about at rehearsal one day we'd been together several months and hadn't thought of a name and one of the guys jokingly said "The What", as a play on The Who. so we all laughed and I said, "yeah, if we were called 'The What', everybody'd go, 'What the...?'" and Lyle goes, "That's it!" -laughs- Orange Hat, the two front guys have actually been together for almost 20 years and they've had the name for that long, so I dunno, you'd have to ask them. I think they got it from having read way too much Lewis Carroll, which you can tell from their music too :-D


Wow.. we have a local band called "The That"

Really? HAHAHA!


Yeah, I think they do covers.

We should get on a bill with them :-D


And I've heard of a band called "The The".

Yeah I remember them.


Sounds interesting.

I joined them (Orange Hat) about a year and a half ago when Kenny left the band to move to California.


What spawned the idea of the Orange Hat cable access show, and what's it all about? Is it akin to something like The Beatles "Yellow Submarine" or a psychedelic "The Wall"?

Well... some of it is, it's part music videos and part Monty Python :-D Christo and Zeus, the two frontmen in Orange Hat, have always been into the multimedia thing, they love art and video and film and photography as well as music and Christo is a video editor, that's his day job. And Orange Hat has always been sorta into the performance art/comedy sketch thing, so the cable access show idea seemed a natural.


For the video editing.. I have to ask - Mac or PC?

Christo uses a Mac :-D - I don't think he cares either way though, he just has one cuz it's what they use at his job.


Give us an example of an Orange Hat episode.

Well... it will include music videos of the band playing their songs, usually in some wacked out context like where the band shrinks and ends up inside of kitchen appliances, or there'll be mannequins and puppets interacting with the band, etc. And in between, there are all sorts of comedy sketches and short films... for example "Beatnik Smackdown," which features guys wrestling while reading poetry and playing jazz :-D - And there'll be parodies of commercials, talk shows etc.


How'd you land the cable access deal, and is everyone pretty much responsible for writing the episodes?

Well it's public access TV, anyone can get on it. :-D - And yeah, everyone comes up with ideas.


As quoted from the What The...? website, the band is "rooted firmly in the British Invasion-style rock and power pop of the 1960's. You might hear obscure gems by the Who, Yardbirds, Beatles, Hollies, or Nick Lowe alongside their strong catalog of original material." I imagine these are the kind of bands you grew up listening to and originally inspired you?

Orange Hat is great, they do sorta psychedelic influenced and often comedic catchy pop, and are very much a multimedia band... they do a lot of film and video interspersing comedy and music... yeah starting when I was 14 or so I got WAY into all the 60's brit invasion stuff and never looked back. The Beatles and Stones were the thing for me which was kinda weird cuz it was all really before my time but then, I'm kinda weird. :-D


It's rumored that Keith Richards is going to play Jack Sparrow's father in "The Pirates of The Caribbean" sequels...

Yeah I heard that!


Confirmed, I think actually...

That's awesome, since Depp's character was inspired by Keef anyway.


I always liked Mike Meyer's Richards impersonation on Saturday Night Live.

-laughs- Yeah. Did you ever see the one where Dana Carvey was Mick and the real Jagger was Keith?


Wow no! That must've been hilarious!

Ohhh my god it was so funny!


Dana is great.

Yeah, and Mick did Keith pretty well, I guess he oughta be able to, he's only known the guy since they were 4 :-D


I'm curious about your guitar choice, I see a Les Paul in the band photo. Are those your prime guitar choice or what other models do you play?

Well, I have an original 1952 Les Paul. It's one of the first 200 made, doesn't even have a serial number, so I don't play much else, I mean, would you? :-D - But I do have some really nice other guitars.


Well I like my Strat, but I'd play others.. but I'm never selling my Strat, it's my first!

Namely, a 1964 Rickenbacker 450 12-string, 1963 Gibson SG Jr., and 1968 butterscotch blonde Telecaster.


Were any of these handed down or pawn shop variety?

Well I got them all from private parties I bought em in the 80's when vintage guitars were still somewhat affordable, I could never afford any of them now.


What do you like about LP guitars?

A much shorter list would be what I DON'T like... -laughs- Well my '52 is different from newer LP's, it has the P-90 pickups which have an extremely special sound. This guitar can do anything, it can rock like a mofo or it can play pretty, and it's really sensitive to the touch... different fingerings really can sound different.


I listened to some "What The..." You really know how to *use* the guitar. Who have been some of your guitar inspirations?

Well, I like guitarists who aren't so much soloists as they are "guitar arrangers"... most of my biggest influences are songwriters as well as guitarists... Keith Richards, John Lennon, George Harrison, Pete Townshend, Richard Thompson, John Fogerty, Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers... those kinda players.


I remember really loving this one Harrison song, he had a video on MTV with a bunch of inanimate, stuffed animals dancing around to the music. I was probably about 8 years old!



I just don't remember the title

Oh, I think that was "Got My Mind Set On You".


Yeah that's it.

I was fortunate enough to meet George, which I'm really glad I did now of course, since I couldn't anymore :-(


What was he like?

REALLY cool, I didn't know what to expect really but we had a wonderful conversation. His passions were music, spiritual matters, and gardening, all of which I was keen to talk about so we did! I just really appreciated how much he just loved MUSIC, not stardom or the other bullshit associated with it.


That's good to hear because I'm sure most people that've reached that status are just too busy to even say hi much less have a conversation.

Yeah, he was the opposite. He seemed like he was really eager to talk to anyone who just wanted to have a normal, but deep, conversation and not treat him like a rock star.


Nice slide guitar on "For Love Or Money" - any trick to playing with a slide? It's initially rather difficult... when I try it, I'm moreso slipping than sliding.

Yeah it takes some getting used to... people always wonder how I do it because 1) I use a big glass bottleneck, 2) I play slide on the LP with light strings and low action, no special setup (most people have a guitar just for slide which has very high action and heavier strings).


The best I can do is "Freebird" chirping.



So I'm all like "check this out! Birds!"

I dunno, I guess it just takes practice like anything else... you have to do a lot of damping of the strings with your palm and the other fingers of your left hand, between notes. And you have to not hit the fretboard with the slide :-D


Oh, what set of strings do you typically use?

I use GHS Boomers... 010's.


I really liked the drumming and bass introducing the song "I Can Feel It In My Bones", any particular inspiration there?

I dunno, we like to mess with different sounds. We started off doing that song very straight up, more like the choruses. And I thought it was kinda boring having it be that way all the way through, plus I always like to get Spyder to do something cool, cuz if you give him the idea he usually does. :-D - So he eventually came up with that tom part and the we got the idea to have it be that sorta jungle sound.


How'd he get that moniker anyway?

One of his old bandmates started calling him that, because he sounds like he has 8 arms and legs behind the drums. :-D


Any idea what his typical setup is like?

Yeah he normally plays his old 4 piece Slingerland kit, he's had it since he was 13.



But I have a Gretsch kit in my studio with the same size drums, and he often uses that for recording.


I read What The...? is currently working on a new album?

Yes! We were working on it tonight in fact, we're really psyched about it!


What can we expect to hear this time around?

Well... I think it's quite a bit different from the first record but not radically so... more like the next evolutionary step :-D - It's more power pop and garage rock oriented I suppose.


It's great that the band isn't afraid to do something a little different instead of "lets do another first album"

Oh no, we don't want to do that. We always want to keep growing, and getting better.


How about the other members - Lyle Bufkin (bass, vocals) and Spyder Davis (drums)? How do you all like the trio format, and have you considered adding additional members?

Well it's funny, originally we had planned to be a 4 piece.


Phil O'Keefe on cowbell.

None of us ever had been in a trio before and we thought we'd get another guitarist/vocalist. But we tried out a few people and it seemed like they were more in the way than anything, the three of us just mesh so well. And eventually we'd become used to playing that way so we said fuck it, one less personality to deal with and one less person to split the money with :-D - BUT, there's a guy here in town who's a KILLER keyboard player and he's gonna play on probably half the songs on the new record. And possibly will sit in with us live sometimes too.


Give him a plug!

His name's Joey Huffman, the guy is just a monster piano and B3 player, he's gonna play some Mellotron too.


How'd you get aquainted with him?

Well he's played with some name people, like the Georgia Satellites and Soul Asylum, and Drivin'N'Cryin, all of whom I was a big fan of in their heyday so I used to go see him play with them this was years ago, then I didn't see him for awhile, then finally got hold of him again not too long ago and just asked him if he'd play on the record, and he said sure. So we're psyched. He fits our style perfectly and I think he'll add a lot!


I learned from you the other day you do some engineering as well?

Yes, currently I've got my hands full engineering for both my bands but I used to do it for a living years ago, and now I just take on bands that I really like.


Some of your favorite pieces of gear?

Well I came up in the analog era so I'm a sucker for the big hardware... API, Neve, Trident consoles... Ampex tape machines.... :-D - But these days I don't get to use that stuff too much... but I do have a home studio and it's fun cuz I've been doing gear reviews for EQ Magazine, which means I get to play with a lot of toys. There are a lot of great microphones and preamps and compressors on the market these days which I enjoy a lot!


So you've seen the introduction of digital in the recording realm. What are your thoughts on that?

Well... the first generation of it I thought completely sucked. :-D


Would that be around the 80's era of pop hits?

Then when the hard disk recorder came along, and Pro Tools, non linear editing and such, I thought that was a great idea. 24 bit recording helped a lot... that was what helped convince me to get into it at all. Well what sucked about the 80's hits wasn't so much digital recording - it was still analog in those days - but there was the first generation of digital reverb and other effects, which pretty much sucked, and everybody insisted on drenching everything in it. Then there was the Linn Drum... AGGGHHH! That was what made me quit engineering for a living :-D


Yeah, but at least they didn't have the loudness wars then.

Yeah, the loudness wars are probably even worse, and the first generation of CD's was terrible.


I noticed it on the radio today, and believe it or not... it was just a solo piano tune. My friend was trying to learn it in his head, but I had to turn it down!

But, eventually people got over the 80's reverb, digital recording improved, CD's improved and then the loudness wars and Autotune came along :-D - So now we're back in the Dark Ages again :-D


How much did CD's cost around their debut?

Ummm I don't honestly remember, I don't think the price was much different from now, but they sucked so bad I wouldn't buy them so I don't know... I didn't get my first CD player until like 1993. -laughs- They finally improved the mastering process and the converters and I consented to buy them :-D


What are a few professional artists and/or producers you'd like to work with, dead or alive?

Wow, uhh... you know this is weird... I used to say wouldn't it be great to work with Lennon or McCartney, or Keith, or jam with Charlie Watts or John Bonham or Keith Moon, you know... but, a lot of people will probably not believe me, I really don't think about that anymore because I love the guys I play with so much, I really don't care if I play with anybody else no matter who it is.


The infamous question: if you were stranded on an island, what 3 items would you wish to have with you?

Hmmm... well assuming I had what I needed to survive?


Sure, unless you had to be resourceful to survive.

Well, a guitar and something to record on, I guess. :-D


Oooh - analog or digital?

Hahaha... well, since I only get 3 things, I guess it'd have to be a laptop computer to record on, that way I could use the computer to do other stuff too. It'd be kinda hard to maintain a console and a tape machine on an island :-D Not like I wouldn't if I could :-D


Any memorable quote that has stuck with you, become something to live or work by?

There are a lot of people who've inspired me that way, but probably the one I try to live by the most is from Gandhi: "Nothing you do will be of any importance, but it is very important that you do it."


How do you wish yourself and your work to be remembered?

Well... I try hard to maintain integrity and honesty and clarity in what I do and think, so if I'm remembered as having had those qualities I'd be pleased. As far as music, it'd be good if my music made a difference in somebody's life... not anything huge necessarily, just maybe gave them something positive to hang onto at any given moment.


Any other comments?

I think the way the world is right now, I'm just glad I have something that I really really enjoy doing (music) which doesn't hurt anybody. That seems rare these days, it seems like a lot of the things people enjoy involve screwing over somebody else. I'm glad music isn't like that... well, unless you work for a major label. :-P


Thanks Lee!

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