Douglas Buck reminisces with the Pale Men about the one-time-only performance of HIDDEN RECORDS, now available on TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE The Podcast
Q: Hello Douglas, can you talk a bit about where you got the idea for Hidden Records?
Doug Buck: Hello there, being a long-time acquaintance of both master Pale Talesmen Larry Fessenden and, through Larry, Glenn McQuaid, and the fact that I have a love for those old radio horror shows (I have a nostalgic remembrance of sitting along in the dark, as a teenager, in my suburban family basement, listening with great anticipation, as the sound of the the door creaking slowly and ominously open would be followed by the deep intonations of EG Marshall, providing his usual introduction into that week’s creepy “CBS Radio’s Mystery Theater”), it had always floated about that perhaps I might do one with them.
Then one night, at one of Larry’s annual entirely disreputable New York Xmas Parties I happened to be in town for, I suddenly found myself in the middle of hatching a plan with him that included all of us — Larry, myself and Glenn — doing a live Tales show during the upcoming summer Montreal Fantasia Film festival. Cool, right? Until it dawned on me that I had zero idea in mind for an actual tale to tell.
It wasn’t until at least three months later, with me musing over ideas, growing slightly more unsettled with the passing time and the lack of inspiration (while also feeling increasingly awed, and envious, that Larry and Glenn seem to pop out Tales ideas as easy as pulling change out of a pocket), that I found myself sitting in a Montreal jazz club on the invite of my friend Esther finding myself listening to this impressively experimental band… when my tales idea hit, almost entirely — the idea of a son longing for the return of his mysterious, long disappeared father, a celebrated musician, to find that dad has left secrets in the music he’s left behind, set in a fun old traditional milieu of haunted guitars and pacts with the Devil (including playing records backwards listening for evil messages, something I remember eagerly doing in college — including Beatles and Prince records — during the heyday of that whole thing).
One side not, originally, as per the jazz band that night, I had intended to go with much more experimental, ‘intellectual’ and discordant music, but as the script fleshed out, the music evolved into more traditional (and earthier) blues, which I realized was going to be easier to work out with the musicians, as well as being more guaranteed accessible to an audience.
Q: Your Tale was particularly ambitious because you wanted live music to be a featured element. How did the musical aspect of the tale come together?
Doug Buck: I spent a few months, working with the three musicians (guitar, piano, trumpet), none of whom had worked together before (but thankfully merged quite smoothly, even with their entirely disparate personalities) working a few times a week, finding the right music, the themes and… most importantly… the proper cues in the tale. And that was the easy part, as we all had a lot of fun working together. It was a really nice environment in which, I’d like to believe, I gave them mere guidelines with which they could have fun creating within. I’m not a musician so it was their floor.
The more difficult coordination was what needed to be done with Glenn back in New York, in which he had to take certain sections the musicians recorded, find effects to lay over them (ie, sounding like they come off a record player, or are coming from another room, etc) to play on the night, rather than live, and work it so they would seamlessly combine on the performance night. All of it took a lot of planning, and careful communication, with the musicians and with Glenn, who likely had no idea the amount of effort I was gonna be asking of him.
Q: You have a great cast and it’s exciting for fans to hear Tony Todd in your tale. How did that inspired idea come about?
Doug Buck: Man, what a memory to have that beautiful growling voice, that powerful presence, inhabiting the blind old school piano-playing blues man Judge Fayweather in my piece. Truth be told, it wasn’t my idea. It was my girlfriend at the time Esinam, who gave me all sorts of good ideas and suggestions along the way. As soon as she suggested Todd, I realized I had to get him… he would add that little extra oomph I wanted… took more than bit of cajoling of confused and hemming-and-hawing agents over three months and all that… but, to my undying satisfaction, he ultimately agreed (at just about the last minute), showed up on-time at the airport, and was as down to earth and ready-to-go an actor as you can imagine.
As far as my lead Kevin Cline (now I believe known as Nevi Cline), props must go again to Esinam. She had seen the gritty and wildly funny indie “Meathead goes Hog Wild”, with Cline going completely bonkers in it and suggested him for the naive, angry Cliff Jr and, what do you know, she was right again.
Most of the rest of the cast were locals. It was funny (now it’s funny, that is… then, it was terrifying)… all the musicians were set, as was the lead Cline, the pre-recorded music was ready to go, Tony Todd was coming… and yet we had no other actors cast a mere days before the show, as local unions in Montreal are strong and it looked a little problematic to get it cast on such short notice. I was in a bit of a panic (as Larry and Glenn can attest). However, I will be forever thankful to the incredible talent of Jenn Wexler, who was with Glass Eye at the time, now directing and making her own films, who came into town, and, in the most even-keeled and professional manner, got the thing cast (with performers I was across the board pleased with) in a knick of time, all while busily attending the Fantasia market at the same time.
Q: Glenn McQuaid produced and labored on your sound design. Tell us about the process of building the sound.
Doug Buck: Oh, yeah, did Glenn labor! Not only was he working with me on this, which required quite some dedicated focus and time, he was also deep into his own projects (as was Larry at the time). To be honest, since they were both so busy at their own things, and being vets at this point of Pale Tales, both studio and live, they were quite okay with letting things go to right to the end, confident they’d be able to rally the troops and muster up the creative energy required to make it all happen (hell, I believe Larry was still deep into re-writing his the night before). I, on the other hand, with the most complex of Tales, production-wise, and being a newbie, was a little more… panicked, shall we say? I’ll never forget yelling at Glenn once over the phone, which I have to say he quietly took like a real producing mensch. All in all, though, Glenn seriously came through in a huge way, both in the lead-up effort and during the show, and I’ll always be indebted to him for that (and will always feel kinda bad about the momentary screaming thing).
Q: Tell us about the experience putting on your piece live.
Doug Buck: Once it was happening, it was a blast. The place was sold out (with everyone having trundled through one of the longest and biggest day-long deluges of rain I’d seen since living in Montreal) and it was a really exciting vibe in the air. It was a perfect venue, Yuk Yuk’s, a now-closed comedy club just down the street from the main hub of the Fantasia Film Festival (speaking of that, gotta mention the unstoppable Kaila Hier, who, thanks to her perseverance and relentless searching, found us the just the right place).
During the performance, I had to guide a few moments back on track between the actors and the musicians (no surprise considering the level of coordination of my piece), but that was part of the fun, and didn’t detract at all from the experience (in fact, it granted the audience a glimpse at some behind-the-scenes directing going on,one of the fun things of these live shows).
Q. You are a visual filmmaker. What was fun and challenging about creating an audio play?
Doug Buck: I found it quite easy to move into the audio storytelling realm (once I found the story that is!). As I said, I’ve been a fan of radio plays practically as long as I’ve been conscious (one of my happy goals for this crazy time of quarantine, for instance, is to re-listen to all those raucous early 80’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” BBC audio plays).
I’m also an engineer, so I think quite practically. Give me the limitations and I’m good to go.
Q. Listening again some time after the piece has been performed and mastered, you have any thoughts?
Doug Buck: T’was a pleasure to hear again! It’s a reminder of an enjoyable and satisfying evening, a culmination of a combined creative effort. And I’m always grateful to everyone who took part, as well as Glass Eye for including me in the first place!
Q: Glenn, you were producing and doing Sound design for Doug’s piece, which was the first live tale we had performed where the music was integrated into the story. What challenges do you remember from the night? You and Lee had a lot to handle. And Graham was there too and Jenn. It was a big production!