(This interview was originally published February 13, 2011 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Eric Bazilian. He is best known as co-founder along with Rob Hyman of rock band The Hooters. In 1985, The Hooters had a multi-platinum album, but even before that, Bazilian and Hyman had helped write, arrange and play on the debut album of Cyndi Lauper. You’ll find out more about working on Cyndi Lauper’s album, The Hooters’ own hit album and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Eric Bazilian…
Q: How did you and Rob [Hyman] originally meet? Did you just click right from the start?
Eric: We originally met in an electronic music class at the University of Pennsylvania [in 1971]. I was sitting on the floor playing an acoustic guitar. We went upstairs after the class to a piano and starting jamming. It clicked from the start.
Q: How and why was the band name The Hooters chosen? How often has the band name been confused to be in reference to the slang used to describe women’s breasts?
Eric: The band name came from a friend who was engineering our first demo sessions. I had borrowed a melodica from some friends and the engineer started calling it a hooter. We liked it and decided to name the band after it. Unfortunately the band name has been confused more often than not with the anatomy. Had this usage already been in the vernacular in 1980 we probably would have kept looking.
Q: What were your goals/intentions when you were first starting out?
Eric: Our goals starting out were pretty common… to make some great music, entertain people, make a living, and, of course, world domination.
Q: How would you describe the musical influences on The Hooters sound?
Eric: Our influences are quite wide-ranging. Rob and I both grew up listening to British Invasion rock, blues, Motown, the popular music of the '60s and '70s. Rob turned me on to reggae and in the beginning we played a very heavily Ska and Reggae influenced form of rock music. The folk music influence came in later on, in the mid-80s.
Q: How did both you and Rob end up working with Cyndi Lauper on her 1983 debut album She’s So Unusual? How was the experience of working with Lauper?
Eric: Rick Chertoff was the drummer in the band Rob had at Penn [Baby Grand] that I joined when I met them. He had gone on to work as a staff producer at Columbia records. He brought us in to work with Cyndi on her first album. It was both challenging and inspiring working with her… she is brilliantly talented and exceptionally demanding.
Q: I absolutely love the song “Time After Time” which Rob co-wrote with Lauper. Please take us back to when the song was written and recorded. How did it come to life? Did you feel like you had a potential pop hit and truly extraordinary song when you recorded it?
Eric: Rob and Cyndi started writing “Time After Time” during the latter phase of recording She’s So Unusual. I know that Cyndi had come to Rob with the title and they had written the first draft of the song fairly quickly. I played the guitars and came up with the melodic introduction line. I knew from the first time they played me the chorus that the song was going to become a classic.
She’s So Unusual, Cyndi Lauper’s 1983 debut studio album, was a smashing success which went 9x platinum, included four hit singles and is considered an iconic album of the '80s decade. “Time After Time” was released as the second single from She’s So Unusual in January of 1984 and would have immediate worldwide success. In the U.S., the song would reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June of that same year and receive a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year. It was the last song added to the album after producer Chertoff suggested they needed “one more song.” Co-written by Rob Hyman, he also sings backing vocals on the single. Here is the music video for “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper…
Q: Could you have ever anticipated the immediate popularity of She’s So Unusual and Cyndi Lauper? How did that album’s success and popularity impact The Hooters?
Eric: Neither Rob nor I had any idea that the album would achieve the kind of success it did. Of course its popularity brought us a lot of attention that proved most beneficial to our career with The Hooters.
Q: Your 1985 album Nervous Night was a huge worldwide success. The album would go multi-platinum and include four singles which charted on the Billboard Hot 100. When did you feel like you finally really made it?
Eric: I’m still waiting.
Q: When writing and recording “And We Danced,” did you know you had something special? How did this song originate? What inspired the lyrics?
Eric: We wrote the first draft of “And We Danced” in the Poconos during the summer of 1984. I think we knew immediately that we had the germ of something special though there were a lot of versions between that one and the one we now know. I honestly don’t know where the lyrics came from… the verses were written last, when we were already mixing the rest of the album and were down to the wire. I think we just liked the way “she was a be bop baby” sounded. Once the record was mixed and mastered, I think we all knew we had something special. I was personally pretty confident that it would be heard.
The Nervous Night album included three top 40 singles, the first of which was “And We Danced.” The song would only peak at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100, but helped get the band a lot of attention. That distinctive sound at the beginning of the song and that plays throughout is a melodica, a combination keyboard/harmonica instrument that they referred to as a “hooter” and, as Eric confirmed, is what inspired the band’s name. Here’s the video for “And We Danced” by The Hooters…
Q: Your highest charting song was “Day By Day” which I believe was the final single to be released from that album. I read where you said it was a song that started as an experiment with Rick Chertoff and that it took you “2 years whipping it into shape.” Please take us back to the process you went through creating that great song. How did it evolve over those 2 years? Again, did you feel it had potential to become a pop hit when you finally recorded it for the album?
Eric: “Day By Day” was a bear… it fought us tooth and nail, day and night, day by day. Rick and I came up with the original chord structure and title one day in my basement. We brought it to Rob a few weeks later and wrote the chorus together. Like “And We Danced”, we came up with numerous verse lyrics and melodies before landing on the one that felt right. I know that we were all very pleased with it once it was finished.
“Day By Day” would peak at #18 in 1986 and would help secure The Hooters being named Best New Band of the Year by Rolling Stone. Here is the music video for “Day By Day” by The Hooters…
Q: Speaking of producer Rick Chertoff, what can you tell us about working with him and his impact on the success of The Hooters?
Eric: Rick has been the unsung hero in all of this… he did and continues to push and inspire us. He’s a tenacious guy, wants the best and will never settle for anything less.
On July 13, 1985, The Hooters were a part of one of the most iconic pop culture events of the decade. The Philadelphia natives were the opening band at the segment of Live Aid held in JFK Stadium. This internationally televised event introduced the band to a global audience for the first time and that exposure subsequently translated to increased commercial success.
Q: What was the experience like when you opened the Philadelphia portion of Live Aid in your hometown? Looking back now, what are your feelings about being involved in that iconic event?
Eric: Our performance at Live Aid felt like it was over before it began. Ten minutes that changed our world. I keep a picture from that show in my studio as a constant reminder.
Here is a video of The Hooters performing at Live Aid in 1985...
Q: When you have mega hit songs like those, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing them?
Eric: Actually, with one or two exceptions (which will absolutely remain unnamed), I love playing our hits.
Q: Your videos received frequent airplay on MTV at that time. This certainly helped to increase exposure and popularity. What are your thoughts on the impact that MTV had on music in the '80s?
Eric: I think that MTV was a mixed blessing. I’m grateful that it helped launch our career.
Q: As the '80s came to an end, The Hooters’ success was on the decline in the United States, but was on the rise in Europe. Other than changing musical tastes, is there any explanation for the decreasing popularity in the U.S.?
Eric: I’ve come up with various theories over the years on this. The truth is I wish I knew.
Q: Please take us through the circumstances surrounding The Hooters’ temporary break-up or hiatus in 1995.
Eric: I think that after 15 years of nonstop work with the Hooters we were ready to take a break. Rob and Rick had their concept for the Largo record and I was pursuing opportunities that presented themselves on the heels of the success of “One Of Us”. It was a good time for a break, though I don’t think that any of us thought it would last as long as it did.
Q: During the hiatus, you worked with Joan Osborne and wrote the hit song “One of Us.” Though not an '80s song, it is certainly something I want to recognize. I am also curious about how the idea of the song originated. It was an interesting song topic, what inspired it? What was your intended message behind the song? Were you surprised at all by the overwhelming success the song had?
Eric: I wrote “One Of Us” in an hour one night during the sessions for Relish [Joan Osborne’s debut album]. It’s a cliche, but the song did write itself. In retrospect, I think that the lyric is a summation of my world view and I’m glad that my unconscious process was able to spell it out so clearly for me in the four minutes I spent actually writing it. The song has been interpreted and misinterpreted in many ways. Personally, I try to stay neutral.
The day after I wrote the song I played it for Joan, Rob and Rick. I knew that I had written something special, something that I was proud of, but it wasn’t until after Rick suggested Joan try singing it and I heard the combination of song and voice that I knew that the song was going to be heard. I was delighted but, with all humility, not surprised by its success.
In 1995, Joan Osborne released the hit single “One of Us” which would reach the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 and receive Grammy nominations including Record and Song of the Year. The song was written by Eric Bazilian and produced by Rick Chertoff. Bazilian and Rob Hyman also accompany the song and sing backing vocals. In recent years, The Hooters have also performed “One of Us” in their live shows.
Q: Some '80s pop superstars “run away” from the '80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. How do you personally deal with and keep the '80s alive and in perspective?
Eric: I personally have mixed feelings about the cultural impact of the '80s. What I do know is that it’s probably the last crop of pop/rock music that will be played by cover bands into this century and the next. “And We Danced” and “Day By Day” included, hopefully.
Q: After well over three decades in the business, from your perspectives, how has the music industry changed over that time? And how do you see the future?
Eric: The music industry has gone beyond the point of no return. I have no idea what it will look like moving into the future. I’m just grateful to have been working during what will be looked back on as its Golden Age.
Q: 2007 saw the release of Time Stand Still, The Hooters’ first album of new material since 1993. Any plans for a new album in the works? Do you plan on recording and releasing more new music with The Hooters?
Eric: The last Hooters studio recording was actually in 2010, the Five By Five EP. I think we’d all like to make another full length album and hopefully the Muse will visit us sooner rather than later.
Q: What else is Eric Bazilian up to now? Musically and otherwise?
Eric: Musically there’s a whole lot going on. I co-wrote Ricky Martin’s current single (which was just #1 on the Latin charts), “The Best Thing About Me Is You”. I’m doing local shows with my band. I’m really excited about a collaboration I’m doing with Mats Wester in Sweden. He’s a national treasure there, a personal hero of mine. We’ve been writing and recording for over ten years and we’re finally going public with our project, Bazilian & Wester. Check out his band, Nordman. Otherwise, I’m just looking for the next thing to come down the pike.
I am so happy that Eric took the time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. Special thanks to Debbi Collard with The Hooters management for helping to coordinate the interview. If you want to find out more about him, you can visit his official website at EricBazilian.com or you can certainly visit The Hooters official website to find out more about the band. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Eric Bazilian for his contribution to '80s pop culture with The Hooters and, even more, for taking some time to reminisce for a little while with us here as well.