Lou Brutus. His name is known around the world. He needs no introduction. You know him as the host of “hardDrive with Lou Brutus” and “hardDrive XL with Lou Brutus,” as well for his music programming for Sirius XM Radio; however, beyond that, this man is a BEAST! He is the best DJ in America, he is a photographer, he is in a couple of bands (Grumpy Old Punks and Dead Schembechlers), he writes a comic, is a movie buff, an avid traveler, and the list just goes on and on. Read on and see what he is working on now, and get to know more about his band, Grumpy Old Punks, and enjoy the slideshow of his AMAZING photographs! (they promise to move you…)
You just found out a couple of weekends ago about being voted in the best DJ in America at the Contraband RockRadio awards. Congratulations! Tell us about how you felt when you found out that everybody actually loves you.
Surprise. Shock. You know? It was pretty neat. The fact that Rick DeJesus from Adelitas Way was there to hand me the award was great. I always liked him; his wife is really cool too. Nice people. They live there in Vegas where the awards were. It was just a little extra icing on the cake.
Perfect. I think you beat out Nikki Sixx, so that is pretty awesome.
Everybody who was nominated is great. Certainly, it was a total underdog win against huge odds. It was an honor to just get nominated with a field of people like that. It put me in some crazy company.
It certainly did. What do you feel makes you the best DJ in America?
I wish I knew! I don’t know! (laughs) I work seven days a week. I am basically ready and on call to do stuff 24 hours a day, and have been for 20 some odd years. I always try to be respectful of the people I deal with, be they the front man of a huge band or the guy mopping up behind the bar at a club that I’m doing an interview in. I think if you are respectful to everybody (and you are on time), good things will usually happen. A lot of things are going to be out of your control. If you are always on time and you work hard at your craft, and you try to treat other people decently, you will turn out ok more often than not.
I read in some of the press releases that you have “ground breaking and original programming.” What about your work is “ground breaking”?
I have no idea. Those were words used by other people, so I don’t know how to qualify that. I think that no matter what you put on the air, whether you are programming music, or writing creatively, or doing some of the outside projects that I do (like Grumpy Old Punks or radio specials I host for different artists), you have to approach it and put a new twist on it. Make it its own thing.
Who do you feel was the most significant person, or influence, that provided for your start in radio?
I grew up in central New Jersey. I was right in between New York City and Philadelphia. There were just tons of awesome DJs to listen to. I approach, for the most part, from the music side; I’m not a talk person. Most of what I do is around the embellishment and the presentation of music. Those are the radio people I think I responded to the most. Vin Scelsa, who did WNEW-FM, was pretty awesome because he told you the truth about the music that was on. He wasn’t just going, “Oh! Everything that I am playing is great! Here is the newest and here’s the best.” If he didn’t like something, he would say so and would explain why (or if he DID like something, he would explain why it was good). That sort of “up-frontness” was very rare. I think in a lot of ways, it still is.
There is a great DJ by the name of Dan Ingram. I was just a little kid when he was still on the radio. Dan Ingram, even though he was a top 40 DJ, was perfect at taking several ideas, several different subjects, and weaving them together into the same break to make it sound like one coherent piece. He could do it all in a third of the time that another DJ could do it. For the actual craftsmanship, for putting the words together in a concise and entertaining manner, he was probably one of the best that ever lived. He was certainly one of my favorites.
Yeah, those are just a few. I could sit here and rattle off names and do shtick from these guys all night, you know! (laughs) There were so many men and women that were fantastic to listen to like the great Alison Steel “The Nightbird” who did nights out of New York City and was another fierce proponent of great rock and roll. I actually got drunk with her once. I was just in town for business. I was working for WMMR in Philadelphia, and our sister station was WNEW-FM up in New York. Scott Muni was having an on-air party at the Hard Rock in New York City. I was walking around, and I really didn’t know anybody, so I guess I looked a little bit lost at the party. An older woman, who looked great, dripping with jewelry, was sitting at a table for two, and she said, “You look lost. Would you like to sit down with me?” I said, “Sure.” I held out my hand and introduced myself. She said, “Lou, it is really nice to meet you.” That’s when I heard her voice above the crowd, and I went, “Oh my god, you are Alison Steele!” She laughed and proceeded to get me faced. For an hour she just told me crazy stories: like hanging out with The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones – just great musical war stories. She was just fantastic. She died way too young. She was an awesome talent and a super woman. That was one of the most enjoyable hours of my life.
What was your most memorable interview with an artist?
Oh god! That is tough. I’ve done thousands of interviews. I don’t even know where to begin. Frank Zappa was pretty awesome to speak with– even though my interviews with him tended to not be very good. I knew Frank since I was a kid, and got to go to his house and hang out with him there in his home in Hollywood. I was a fan and was so star struck by him, that my interviews with him absolutely sucked. I didn’t approach them in the same way as “normal” interviews. Before I interview anybody, I tend to memorize everything that there is to know about them. Then I run the conversation over in my head, dozens and dozens of times, trying to think of every possible combination of questions and subject matter. That way I won’t be surprised by anything when I actually do the interview. With Frank, I just turned into a fan-boy. The same thing happened with Warren Zevon. The two of those gentlemen were also super intelligent. When you would speak with Warren Zevon or Frank Zappa, you got to know what it felt like for your dog when you are talking to him. Your dog is sitting up and saying, “I think I know what he’s saying, but boy he is so much smarter than me!” That is kind of how I felt around those guys. They both had a phenomenal sense of humor and were absolute genius musicians. Those were memorably unmemorable interviews. Memorable from a fan’s standpoint, but not the best work I’ve ever done – still fun though.
What do you feel are some of the essential steps to become successful in the music industry?
Fearlessness. I don’t think you can be afraid of it. Many who are reading this right now and are thinking about a career in the music industry, probably don’t really understand what they are getting themselves into, or else they would turn around and find something else to do - unless they are one of the luckiest son’s of bitches on the face of the Earth (like they get on and win on a T.V. talent show, and that happens rarely). If you are actually going to get into this like a normal person, you obviously need talent, but you also need dedication to your craft. You need a thick skin, too. Most of what you are going to get is not going to be people telling you how wonderful you are. Most of the time you are going to get knocked down. You’d better be ready for a fight. The fight never ends. That’s the funny thing. I think there is the belief of, “If I get signed!” or “I get to tour my band! I’ve made it!” That’s just the beginning of your problems. There is no end to the problems. There are no ends to the challenges at any level of this business. Each chapter of success only brings with it a new set of problems, goals, and difficulties. It just brings up a new set of work.
It basically goes like this: You want to be in a band, you get in a band. You want to become a touring band, and you want to get a contract. So, you start to tour and people start to come out to see you. You get a contract and you put a record out. Then you have to go out and tour the record - and you have to kiss your family goodbye, because you are going to stay on the road, playing whenever and wherever you can, for however long you can. Then repeat the process over again in the hopes that you start seeing increases in the number of people who come out to see you and buy your music and your merchandise. Without that forward momentum you are going slide back and become yesterday’s news and somebody else is going to come up. It’s about as tough an industry as there is. Whenever I am asked for advice on getting into the music business, I always tell people, “Don’t go into the fucking music business. You have no idea what you are getting yourself into.” That being said, I am always glad when people are brave enough to do it. That is why it is great to see anybody make it. Regardless of your style or genre, it is such a tough industry, that if you can reach any level of success, I’m happy for ya, because God knows how hard it is. Was that enough to put a damper on anybody who is thinking about doing this?! (laughs)
(laughs) That was kind of a downer!
It is, but it’s the truth! If you make it, it’s great! It’s awesome! It’s the neatest thing in the world: to walk out on stage and have thousands of people sing your songs back at you, love you, want to walk up to you and shake your hand and tell you how great you are and how you made an influence on them. Those things are awesome, but they happen to one out of every several thousand people who do this, and even when it does happen, it may only happen for a week, a month, or a year! Then what happens to you then?
Yes. You have to be able to sustain it.
That gets back to my original point, where with each level of success, it doesn’t mean that the battle is over. It means that you have another set of problems or things that you have to work through.
It’s like World of Warcraft, but not as much fun.
Yeah, even with War of Worldcraft you get a breather every now and then.Of course, I preferred to play old school graph paper, twenty-sided dice, Dave Arneson & Gary Gygax white box rules, Dungeons and Dragons. Even then, you got to sit back in your castle before you go back into the dungeon to try to kill more stuff and bring more gold back. That’s some serious nerd shit!
By the way, I once did a song once called “Dungeons and Dragons Thug Life.” It’s like a gangster rap song, from the perspective of a Dungeons and Dragons playing nerd. I did it so long ago, it’s on my MySpace page, which I don’t even remember how to get on anymore.
Take a listen to Dungeons & Dragons Thug Life (DEMO)
There you go! One for the gangsta-nerds!
How do you think the music industry is going to look within the next 5-10 years?
Boy, if I knew that I would be really, really rich! (laughs) This is what I think it’s going to come down to, at least partially. Whether you are in a band, or whether you are a broadcast person like myself, the method for delivering content (downloads, internet, over the air, whatever the hell it is) has always changed, and is changing quicker now, but it has always changed. People who can provide good content, and can find their audience (that content can be the music you write/record, the things you say on the radio, whatever content you deliver), will always have a leg up on people who are just okay at it. Again, delivery method for the audio is going to change, but as long as you have good things to deliver, you will be in good shape.
Tell us about Grumpy Old Punks.
Grumpy Old Punks is the second band that I’ve been in over the last decade or so. I’ve known the guys in the group since I was in grade school. I grew up in Manalapan Township in Englishtown, New Jersey. All of my friends were big music fans going all the way back to grade school. We had bands back then, but I personally wasn’t very good. I never really performed in any of the bands. I ended up promoting the shows or posting the shows. In any case, I kept in touch with all my friends, and I had the idea to put the group together now that we are all hitting middle age. We were all hard rock and punk fans. So, I thought, “What if someone approached punk rock from the angle that getting old sucks.” So, instead of being about politics or love, what if it were approached with songs about how mortgages suck, or about how your prostate doesn’t work, or driving your kids around, or keeping everyone off your lawn?” I started looking at what some of the problems were for middle aged men, and began to write what I thought were funny punk rock lyrics. Then we started working on the arrangements for it, to make it sound old school punk (as we all grew up on The Ramones, The Clash, Johnny Thunders). We are finishing up our third EP, which is called Driving Around with the Blinker On. The opening song on the album will be “Cub Cadet 100.”
I saw that. I’m looking forward to hearing that one.
“Cub Cadet 100” doesn’t have any lyrics to it. We might do a version that has a shout along chorus, but it is mainly done as an instrumental. I’m a big fan of The Ramones, and they had a song on called “Durango 95.” It’s a short song. It’s only about 50 seconds long. They used it to open their shows. This is one of my favorite pieces of music trivia, by they way. I never knew what “Durango 95” meant. One day I was watching A Clockwork Orange, and in the opening scene, they steal a car and drive around on these back-country roads. The car that they steal is a Durango 95, that’s the model of the car. It’s obviously why Dee Dee Ramone, who wrote the song, gave it that name. It was the music that he envisioned for the driving of this car during the chaotic opening sequence. I thought then for Grumpy Old Punks, we needed a short instrumental to open our shows. So, I named it after the make and model of my dad’s lawnmower when I was a kid.
Some of the other songs are the title track “Driving Around with the Blinker On,” “Middle Aged Lobotomy,” “Supermarket Checkout Girl” which is about an old guy with a crush on the supermarket girl, but they are different ages so it doesn’t work out very well. “D.U.I.,” and “Mission: Incontinent” because when guys get older their weenies stop working in all sorts of ways, and that’s funny to write about. I’m waiting to see which of the pharmaceutical companies step up to license these songs.
It’s also good fun that I’m doing it with guys who I’ve known my entire life. All of us went out and did different things in the music business. Basically, we put together the band that we had in 7th grade, but now instead of singing about 13 year old love, we are singing about 40 year old despondency.
I was looking at the Grumpy Old Punks site and listening to the music on it, and there was one in there called “That’s No MILF, that’s My Wife!” Is that a personal issue that you wanted to get off your chest?
That happened to one of the guys when we all went out. I think the waiter ogled his wife or something and walked away. I turned and said something to the effect of, “Hey! That’s no MILF! That’s my wife!” in a Rodney Dangerfield voice. That was the beginning of that song and the story wrote itself after that.
Oh yeah! At our last gig I got hit in the face with some big ole, white cotton, granny-panties. I could have used them to cover a Cub Cadet 100 lawnmower. The thing about The Grumpy Old Punks songs is that, even though designed to be a bit silly, all of them have a harsh nugget of reality at the center. I wrote the title track for Anarchy in The Prostate while I had a doctor’s thumb up my ass, giving me a prostate exam. I’d been trying to think about a title track for the record at that point. Of course, the Sex Pistols had Anarchy in the U.K., so I thought we needed to have an “Anarchy” song to riff on that.
Also, I think “Anarchy in The Prostate” was a better choice than “Thumb Up My Ass.”
Of course! It’s a lot more punk rock. “Thumb Up My Ass” is just too guttural. “Anarchy in The Prostate” has a bit of a swing to it. Again, all these songs are based in real life problems that are none too funny when you deal with them. The songs are a way of “de-fanging” them a bit.
We have a film-maker, Rick Hamilton, who has been shooting us making the album. It started off being a lot sillier, but at the heart of each song is a serious thing. I think it’s therapeutic to write songs about real life problems. We are surely not the first to hit on things like that but it works. At least it works for me..
Tell me about your site’s artwork.
Well, other than the Grumpy Old Punks covers, which are done by Derf, who is a best selling author and an incredible underground cartoonist and friends with my GOP guitar player, KRoy. All the other illustrations that you see, like the little meme things that I send out, comic books I’ve produced, and the album covers for my other band, Dead Schembechlers, have been created by Alan MacBain. Honestly, Alan has been the secret weapon in many of my endeavors. He’s amazingly talented, a great soul, and a damned good drummer. He also saw The Who on the “Who’s Next” tour. Lucky bastard..
I saw that you tweeted about “No Shave November.” Are you participating?
I guess so far I am. I haven’t shaved yet in November. I shaved on Halloween, which is too bad because I had the flu and didn’t feel like shaving at all, so I had a jump on everyone. I was looking like Tom Hanks when he was stranded on the island. I don’t know if I will take part in it or not. I’m one of those guys that when I try to get a growth going, it comes in five or six different colors, and really patchy. Some guys, when they are unshaven they look great: like George Clooney. I just look like a fucking hobo.
(laughs) Look! There goes that homeless man!
Really! “They put a homeless man on the radio! Well that is nice! That was sweet of them. It’s amazing what they can do with these hobos nowadays!”
Unfortunately he pees on the floor.
Exactly! Don’t show him any little blue pills, and don’t take him to the grocery store, else he might try to hump the checkout girl.
Sad, but true!
You are definitely a renaissance man. If you were to define yourself by one of your talents, which would it be?
Thank you for calling me a renaissance man. That is a very kind thing to say. Hmmm. I don’t think I have a good answer for that, because I think I am the sum of all the things I do. I wouldn’t know how to narrow it down to one. Like Tom Waits says, “You gotta get behind the mule, in the morning and plow.” I just appreciate getting up each day and finding something interesting to do with my time.
If you had to give up everything that you do, and only do one of them, what would it be?
Travel. I love to travel and see the world. I wish I had unlimited time and money just to travel and see every corner of the earth. I was looking into a trip to the North Pole (it’s insanely expensive). I’ve been to the Arctic. I was there with Metallica when they played in Tuktoyaktuk, an Inuvialuit village, but I’d like to go further north. To get there you have to fly yourself to Helsinki, Finland, and from there take a charter plane. The charter plane flies to Murmansk, which is a small city on the north coast of Russia. It’s the only all-weather port in the former Soviet Union. It’s where they used to send the lend-lease aid during World War II. We sent thousands of ships filled with war supplies and gold, everything we could to help the Russians against the Germans to keep them from collapsing in World War II. From the city of Murmansk, you board a nuclear powered icebreaker, and you go north for seven days, and they take you to the North Pole. You get off the ship and you have a barbecue on the ice. You have your picture taken, and then they take you back. It costs like $40,000. I would do it in a heartbeat if I had the money. This is not a luxury cruise. This is a fucking icebreaker, with nuclear power. So, yeah. If I had only one thing to do, I would do that: travel.
I would do it too! Count me in! Lou, it’s been an incredible pleasure speaking with you today!
Cool. Thanks for all the great questions. Much appreciated!
By: Alice Roques, Co-founder and Managing Editor
Lou Brutus is a renaissance man, as stated before. He was gracious enough to provide us with some of his stunning photographs. The first ever exhibition of his photography will be held in Madison, WI on Saturday December 14th 2013 at the Orpheum Theatre. He is currently working on a book of the memorabilia he’s collected at the over 2000 rock concerts he’s attended. Enjoy the slideshow!