Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls talks Brexit, new album
Derek Smalls is living proof that while rock ‘n’ roll never dies, it does occasionally get old.
The legendary bassist (created by comedian Harry Shearer in the 1984 mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap”) will release his debut solo album Friday before setting out on the “Lukewarm Water Live: An Adventure in Loud Music” U.S. tour, where he’ll be backed up by various symphony orchestras.
On “Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing),” the 75-year-old doesn’t stray far from the signature heavy metal sensibility he pursued with former bandmates Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins in Spinal Tap’s heyday.
However, Smalls plays with an impressive lineup real-life rockstars on the new record, including Donald Fagen, Rick Wakeman, Richard Thompson, Paul Shaffer and Chad Smith of Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as The Hungarian Studio Orchestra.
Although co-producer Shearer was conspicuously absent for the entirety of the phone call, Smalls spoke with the Daily News about a wide range of topics, from his intense struggle to overcome an internet addiction to the whereabouts of his former bandmates.
On (not) getting Nigel and David’s blessings for the new album
“Well they’re not the bloody Pope, are they? I’m a free individual. I didn’t need my dad’s blessing, bless his soul. I can do what I like.
What I did do is I opened the door to say, “You lads want to come in and play on it? That’s the door in case you don’t recognize an open door.'”
On his new album’s guest musicians
“I have to say, and I’m not patting myself on the back or any other part of my body when I say this, but there was such an immediate response of generosity and you might even say a kind of love.
I don’t remember which one of the blokes said it – they said, ‘Of course, man. It’s kind of like a pity f–k.’
And I took that as a supreme compliment because I’ve been on the other side of that equation and I know how it feels.”
On falling out of touch with David St. Hubbins
I don’t really know how to get to David at this point. I get these messages in the post from him from time to time and they’re all in Chinese pictograms, which I don’t understand.
So he could be saying, ‘We miss you.’ He could be saying ‘Let’s get the back band together.’ He could be saying ‘I’ll have dim sum for three and a side of duck.’ I don’t know.”
On working with Hungarians
“I’ve never worked with Hungarians before. I’d work with them again in a Hungarian heartbeat. It was like working with Brits, except faster. There weren’t constant tea breaks and none of ‘Oh, we can’t do that today, darling.’
I don’t know if all Hungarians are like that. I don’t know if I’d work with Hungarian bricklayers or Hungarian plumbers. I have no experience with Hungarian plumbers, so I’m not an authority.”
On going to rehab for internet addiction
‘Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)’ is Derek Smalls’ debut solo album.
“This was after the band had dissolved like a sugar cube in a tepid coffee after we’d played Glastonbury and Wembley in 2009. I thought, “Well, here we go. It’s the start of something.” And it was the start of nothing.
So I started sitting at my little table, pounding away at the keys and just staring at the screen. My girlfriend Cindy would come in. ‘Derek, here’s dinner!’ And she’d lay it down on a tray next to me.
She’d come in three or four hours later. ‘Well, you haven’t touched your food.’ And I didn’t realize that the time had passed. It also says something about Cindy’s cooking.
That’s when she said, ‘You need help.’ And I found this place called Crosswinds in a little community called Staines just west of Heathrow Airport, and I went there twice.
It’s cold whatever-the-poultry-that’s appropriate. Cold turkey or cold chicken or cold duck. But it’s cold. You just stop. Then there’s a lot of talking about it. ‘What do you miss now?’ ‘Well, I miss Cindy. I don’t miss her cooking.’ ‘No, about the other thing.’
The first time it didn’t take. There’s no guarantee about it. The doctor said, ‘This is on you, Derek. Because I’m good. I’m damn good.’ He was quite proud of himself. ‘When you’re ready to get what I’m giving, you come back.’
And, blimey, he was right because I did come back and I did get it and I’m all fit now.'”
On Nigel Tufnel’s new hobby
“Nigel has gotten deep, deep, deep – and I said ‘deep’ three times for emphasis – into animal husbandry. He’s out in the fields of Wilshire or Hartfordshire breeding miniature horses.
Spinal Tap, circa 1984, from left to right: Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer).
I think he said this in an interview once: guitar players are excessive people. They fly too close to the sun, they get their wings burned, they come back to the ground and get sun cream for their wings.
So he pushed it too far. The horses were too small and he couldn’t find jockeys to ride them. And he didn’t learn from that.
So last time I talked to him, he was raising livestock. He’d turned to miniature goats. And blimey, they’re cute, but they’re too small to milk. So he’s got his hands full with baby goats.”
On maintaining his iconic, flowing hair at age 75
“There’s a bit of a hole in the haircut in the back. You don’t see me shot from the back very often. I suppress those.
It’s gone shockingly white, hasn’t it? David Crosby was in the studio to do the record and he said, ‘Blimey, not even my hair is that white and I treat myself horribly.’ And he does, but a lot of people in the business will say he deserves it.
I take a shower, get out, shake it, shake it, baby.”
“As a Brit, I never really thought we were a part of something where you had to learn another language just to ask where the door is. Those people didn’t seem like ‘us’ to me. We’re all supposed to be ‘us,’ and all that. It’s one world and if the Martians came, we’d all get together.
‘Three chords are still enough for me,’ Derek Smalls told the Daily News.
But let’s follow that thought a little bit. The Martians are coming and we’re all getting together. And you say to a Frenchman, ‘You take the door to the back.’ And he says, ‘Quelle?’ or some s–t like that. In the time it takes you to tell the geezer what to do, the bloody Martians are in your house.
So how is all that ‘us’?”
“I don’t like to talk too much about this because people get the wrong idea, but I am, shall we say, a student of the Supreme Evil One. Evil gets a bad name. But he’s supreme.
What would I say to him? I’d say, ‘I hope you liked the tunes, mate. And could I have a seat next to the window?’ And he’d say, ‘There are no windows. It’s bloody Hell. What are you thinking?’ But it’s at least worth a try.”
On a future Spinal Tap reunion
“I’m going to go out on a limb and hope that there are twigs out there to hold on to, but they seem bored of music right now.
Not like officials, not the ‘board of music.’ But bored of music.
I’m not bored. Three chords are still enough for me. But I’m still exploring, still trying to find those other notes.”