Interview with Jeff Whalen of Tsar; January 2004

With their 2000 s/t debut, Tsar jumped to the forefront of the glam scene with an exciting CD that appealed to a wide spectrum of people. With the anticipated May 2004 release of the as yet untitled follow-up, the buzz is starting to gather around the band again. I had a chance to speak with singer Jeff Whalen concerning the new CD and other topics.

Q1. Word from Tsar has been rather quiet as of late. What has the band been up to in the past few years?

A1. I'd like to say we've been solving crimes with our robot buddies, but really the robots pretty much solve the crimes by themselves, so we've been writing and recording and getting ready to put out our new record. I should note that our robot buddies have expressed that they feel this is our strongest work to date.

Q2. For those who haven't yet heard Tsar, please describe your sound. Are you planning on altering it any for the new effort?

A2. Our sound is hard to nail down, but imagine "More of the Monkees" as a Guns n Roses record ... or the Dead Boys as a T. Rex cover band, you know, kind of a Sweet meets Gen X with a little Archies thrown in just to keep everybody honest. And yes, the new record is a little different. Our first album was the big studio-type album we wanted to make at the time. For the new one, we gave it the kung fu of our live show, which is breathless and much louder and faster.

Q3. Any plans of eventually uniting the four parts of Afradio into one complete tune? Adding more parts?

A3. Wow. No one's ever asked me that. We did all four recorded versions once live, so maybe it'll end up on some live album down the line. As it stands, there are eight Afradios that can go together or stand alone in some form or another. None of them seemed right for the new album; so were giving the kid a rest this time out.

Q4. The band's s/t album had rather interesting cover art. Please describe your impressions of it and what was the idea, if any, that the band wanted to convey?

A4. That thing's either one of the greatest covers of all time or the absolute, hands-down worst, maybe both. The most impressive thing about the cover--and not many people know this--is that it was painted by a chimpanzee who'd had no formal training and who was actually quite ill at the time. No, seriously, it's a weird cover and I fully understand, and sometimes share, people's bitterness and rage toward it. But deep down, I love that little bastard, and I feel it has a certain clueless charm that will age well. Check out the twenty or so secret messages hidden in its' goopy mess.

Q5. After the 2000 album, Tsar released a demo EP titled King of the School. What was the idea behind this and are there any plans to re-release it on a wider scale?

A5. That was a college radio promotion-only EP, more for the fun of having some weird rarity out there than for any career-minded purpose. I would doubt it'll get another release unless we get all big and I die in a blimp accident and the label needs a Christmas release or something and they put it out with my secret diary.

Q6. Is the band at the point yet where you can concern yourselves with MTV and radio play or are you still more focused on cultivating fans on a club level?

A6. I just want the opportunity to keep making records and being in a band. If that means clubbing it from here on out, fine. If it means radio superstardom with our own Saturday morning comedy rock n roll fun-time TV show, then that's fine, too.

Q7. What musical scene, if any, do you most consider to be contemporaries?

A7. Any band that is doing things outside of what they think will get them signed or on the radio or whatever is in our scene. I wish there were more bands that sounded like us to be on a team with, but there's really not, so I have to take the team spirit where I can find it.

Q8. Define a Silver Shifter.

A8. I usually say it's about a race car driver or a mad scientist and an alien messiah or whatnot, but the real story is that I wrote it about having a fling with this girl in my car and I didn't want my then-girlfriend to know about it even though the incident happened before I was going out with her. So I had to get all oblique about it. The Silver Shifter is the gearshift.

Q9. Daniel Kern took over vocal duties for one song on the 2000 effort. Is he going to do any more singing on the new CD?

A9. Dan actually sang two on the first album, "MONoSTEReo" and "Disappear," but on the new one he's too busy soloing throughout the whole record to sing lead. He does a lot of great backup vocals, though.

Q10. Here's a series of either/or questions. Please feel free to drop in an explanation if you wish.

A. Lightning or Thunder?

Lightning. It's purty.

B. Big hook or killer melody?

Big hook. They're harder because everybody's scared of them.

C. NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys?

Backstreet Boys. Nick is so good to his mother.

D. Domino's or Pizza Hut?

Whichever takes bad checks.

E. Front Man or Singer?

Front man. If you can really sing, nobody believes what you say.

F. South Park or Simpson's?

Simpsons. They're the Beatles to South Park's Dave Clark Five. Dr. Pepper to South Park's Mr. Pibb. Frisbee to South Park's novelty flying disc.

G. Grunge or Glam?

Glamorama.

Q11. When was the last time you turned on the radio to listen to music?

A11. I can only listen to oldies radio because whenever I put on the modern rock station, I'm lucky if I can listen to two songs before I want to shoot the radio and stab myself in the leg just to feel something.

Q12. What're your thoughts on the past year's events in Iraq?

A12. I think they suck, when I think of them.

Q13. What five CDs have been getting the most spins in your CD player lately?

A13. Well, our new record.
Kiss, "Alive II"
Pooh Sticks, "Million Seller"
Motley Crue, "Too Fast For Love"
20/20, "20/20"

Q14. Any new bands you think our readers should keep an eye out for?

A14. I don't know of any new bands that I can fully recommend. But check out the Pooh Sticks, a brilliant Welsh band from the '90s. They're a type of smart/ironic band with so much heart/love of what they're doing it makes you dizzy.

Q15. What are some of your influences that might come as a shock our readers?

A15. Well, we get compared to Cheap Trick more often than any other single band, yet we don't own a Cheap Trick album among us, so that might be a bit of a surprise. We do listen to a lot of bubblegum bands though, like the Archies, 1910 Fruitgum Co., Ohio Express, Tommy James, etc.

Q16. In this space, please feel free to talk about/promote anything band related and such.

A16. I think everybody should wear a crash helmet pretty much everywhere they go, and a cape.

Interviewed by Lycan Davis

Visit the Tsar Website