Briefly Speaking
with Ric Ocasek
Since the demise of the Cars in the late '80s Ric Ocasek has been busy releasing solo albums ( 1991's Fireball Zone and 1993's Quick Change World) and producing other people's records, most notably Weezer's debut. In 1995 Rhino Records released the Cars anthology Just What I Needed to widespread critical acclaim. In 1997 he released Troublizing and went on tour for the first time in years. Lexicon caught up with Ocasek mid-tour to ask him some questions about the new album and the now-again-hip Cars.

Why did you decide to do an album now?
I write songs, that's what I am, that's what I do, that's what I love, and that's what I've always done. I have things to say and want to make records. I don't care about the business. It's like a chapter in a book; it's the 14th album for me.

What's your favorite track?
Well, I wrote about 30 or 40 songs for this record. I got it down to 10, although I think I actually recorded 15 or 16. But I got it to 10 where I liked every track. I don't know if I have favorites, but I like the way everything turned out. I don't have a favorite song on any album. If someone asked me what was my favorite song of all time was, that I had done, I'd have to say—hell if I know.

What about songs you didn't write, all time favorite?
That's a hard one. It could be "That'll Be the Day" from Buddy Holly; could be "Moon River," for that matter; could be "I'm Waitin' for the Man" by Velvet Underground; could be "Your Eyes Are a Blue Million Miles" by Captain Beefheart. I could come up with a list of 20 songs maybe.

What does the title, Troublizing mean?
It describes what the record is about. It's a made up word. a word that came out of my mouth pretty naturally. It just came up, I guess to rhyme with tantalizing. When I was looking for a title I thought that it was a nice looking word, just like Beatitude is a nice looking word. I could see a guy sitting on the corner Troublizing.

You've done a lot of producing yourself. Why did you decide to team up with Billy Corgan?
I didn't want to have a producer. I thought, artists usually have the good ideas. Since Billy is a songwriter and a leader of a band and a person who arranges and creates his own ideas, I thought, why not give it to someone who would be a little bit more like myself. It's like when I'm producing someone else's record and they give me a song and say, I don't know what to do with this song. I would take the song and do it a way, my certain way. I thought if I had another artist they would do it their way, which would be different in a nice way.

How did you get involved with Weezer? They and the Rentals (a Weezer offshoot) sound like early Cars in some ways.
They could have been Cars fans. They did play "Just What I Needed" at rehearsal. But I didn't get involved for that reason. They had given me a tape and told me that they couldn't get anyone else to produce their record. I listened to the tape and I loved the songs. The lyrics sounded intelligent, the playing was different. It had a nice different slant. I hadn't met them, they just sent the tape and I could not visualize what they looked like at all. I didn't know if they were heavy metal or what. It was like buying a record in the old days when you didn't know what the band looked like. You didn't have any preconceived notion.

Is this the first time you've worked with Greg Hawkes since the Cars days?
Greg's always been around, I love his keyboard playing, and he's a good friend. I use him here and there for whatever. He's a good person to have around, he's very up.

What did you think of the Rhino stuff?
A lot of that was Elliot and Greg. They went through the tape vaults and we found some stuff. They worked a lot harder on it, I just sort of consulted on it. I was surprised at the nice job they did. Rhino did a nice job on the packaging and putting it together.

Does it surprise you that the Cars have endured they way they have?
It's kind of surprising. It's nice that the sound we had has some staying power.

So-the inevitable question-are you guys ever going to get back together?
No, no way. That's out of the question. I mean it would be like repainting a painting. It just wouldn't be right. If we leave things the way they are, it's like a print: you do some nice prints and then you melt down the plates. I think we should leave the Cars the way they were. If we got back together it would be a letdown. Those things always are.

Do you still keep in touch with the guys?
I haven't talked to some of the guys in a year or two. I don't really keep in touch. A lot of the people are spread out. I certainly am not... I like all the guys, I'm just not in touch.

What's your favorite Spandau Ballet song?
None. I don't remember liking them particularly, although I might of. I do remember Talk Talk songs, though. I loved that band.

Are you Familiar with O'Rang? It's the rhythm section from the band. They have a couple of very good albums.
No, actually I might check them out.

Did you do any videos for Troublizing?
I just shot one yesterday.

The Cars were always known as being a strong visual band. Does it bother you that MTV doesn't play your new stuff as much?
Well, I did a video earlier from the album. It was low tech. Interesting, but pretty low tech. I wasn't about to get into spending a lot of money on visuals. I like what I did for hardly any money.

But does it bother you that the Cars once ruled MTV and now they won't give you the time of day? Or do they? I don't know.
No, they don't. And I can see why. It doesn't really bother me. We were lucky to be doing videos when MTV was new and interesting. I think that the medium is still fun but wears a little thinner. It seems to be all about lifestyle.

I was watching M2 and they showed Joe Jackson, Tori Amos, and Billy Joel back to back.
Yeah, M2's good stuff, a little potpourri of everything. But it's like anything. You can't get Pepsi to stand behind a play list like that. It's like radio, you get bought by a big company and then you have to play the top 20 songs that you know everyone likes. They don't make bands anymore, they react. It's no fun. What happened to the days when radio broke stuff? If I owned a radio station I think it would be fun to get in there and look for new stuff.

Does doing the club tour now bring back memories of the smaller dingy clubs you played when you started out?
It's a different level now. Now it's for fun, back then it was for life. You were working to get somewhere. I'm not working to "get" anywhere now: now it's for fun. I don't miss touring. I did 10 or 12 years of that.

Well, I don't have any more questions....
That's good, because I just ran out of answers.

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