Butthole Surfers Pt. 2: Ex-Manager Tom Bunch on Managing the Band (Officially and Otherwise), the "Ranch" in Dripping Springs, the Rough Trade Bankruptcy, pioughd and Steering BHS to the Majors

Categories: Playbill

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Ric Wallace

Note: Part 1 of the interview is here. The Buttholes - Gibby Haynes, Paul Leary, King Coffey, Jeff Pinkus and Teresa Taylor - play Meridian tomorrow night. For the band's side of things, see Austin Powell's recent Austin Chronicle cover story. When we left off, the band was wondering why onetime peers like Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were suddenly much more successful, and Bunch was trying his best to explain.

Rocks Off: Were they interested in acquiring that kind of business structure?

Tom Bunch: Yeah, Gibby asked me that when we were in Los Angeles in the late ‘80s.

RO: Didn’t Gibby study business or something?

TB: Yeah, accounting or something like that.

RO: And yet they were always broke.

TB: I think we went to Flea’s house, or we might have even went to Rick Rubin’s house. I forgot I was with Gibby, and we went to a couple of people’s houses he had known and I had known for six or seven years, and they were living in really nice houses, and had just bought new cars and had gold and platinum records on the wall.

Rick Rubin
He said, “How come these people got this working and we don’t? We started at the same time or before and put out as good music or better.” They were all living out in a house on a small ranch in Dripping Springs. They had one phone, and they answered it occasionally. People would call me to get ahold of them. I set up a Spin interview, a Rolling Stone interview, other concert promoters. There was a guy in England who wanted to do a videotape of them.
Frank Kozik
TB (cont'd): People contacted me not because I represented myself [as their manager] but I promoted a lot of Butthole Surfer concerts, I was managing Frank Kozik the poster artist at the time, Frank’s posters were getting famous, my company logo was on the posters associated with him and the band. I was listed in Pollstar, Billboard and a couple of the other music-industry publications so people could find my phone number. So for three or four years, people would call me and say, “Hey, can you help us get ahold of them?”

Anyway, Gibby said, “What do you know about managers?” and I was a concert promoter at that point in time. I said, “Well, I know most of the managers. If you want me to introduce you to some of them, I would be happy to do that. So I gave him some names and phone numbers of some managers of bands I thought would be similar, and he told me he was going to meet with them in New York or Los Angeles the next time he was out there.

Six months or a year went by, and he told me he did follow through with a couple of the meetings. I said, “Well, what did you think of them?” He said, “I didn’t like anybody I met.”

The Surfers' PCPPEP EP
And then, what happened next is up for debate. I claim they asked me to manage them at that point in time. Gibby will claim that I chased them around for a year and a half begging him to let me manage them. And, you know, honestly, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

I was not thinking about being a manager. I was only wanting to hook them up with somebody I thought would help them. I thought that would benefit me as a concert promoter if they sold more records and I was promoting dates for them. He said, “I don’t like any of the people I met,” and at that point in time I probably said, “Well, I’d be interested in giving it a try.”

RO: Were you guys friends at this point or was it still kind of a business relationship?

TB: Ummmmmm… Every show they ever played for me I paid them and I fed them. They had the right sound and the right lights, they had stagehands, they had all the beer they could drink, they got paid exactly what I told them or more, the shows went on time. That kind of endeared me to them. They didn’t have a very high opinion of most people in the club business or the concert-promoting business. They liked me.

Yeah, I became friends with them. I would go out to their ranch and hang out for a few days, and when they came into town I’d take ‘em out to eat.

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The Hill Country, in all its verdant glory

RO: Describe that ranch a little bit.

TB: It was about five and a half acres, I think. There was a really cool, traditional Hill Country house. One whole wall was made of rock, like limestone, and it was built into the side of a hill, so that kept it cool. One whole side was windows, one whole side was natural rock.

RO: What were their living conditions like?

TB: Well, Paul and Gibby and Jeff lived there, and each one had their own bedroom. Teresa lived there for a while, and Gibby and Teresa lived in a trailer outside. But then Gibby and Teresa stopped – I don’t know what the word is – dating? There is no typical word to describe anything they were doing for anything.

But then Teresa wasn’t in the band any longer. She moved out, so Gibby, Paul and Jeff all lived in the ranch house. They had their recording studio set up there as well. And their dog, Mark Farner, lived there too.

RO: Were they pretty close-knit at this point?

TB: Yeah. They did pretty much everything together. They got up and smoked weed, and then drank beer and smoked more weed, drank more beer and smoked more weed, and then did other things. And so did I. I took acid with them, drank copious amounts of liquor, smoked ridiculously large amounts of weed, did PCP, did cocaine. That’s what they did.

RO: So whether you were asked or you asked, when you did take over, what was the first thing you did as their manager? Did they have a record deal at this point? This was the Touch and Go Years, right?

pioughd, 1990
TB: They had left Touch and Go and were in the process of doing some demos. This guy Terry Tolkien was working at Rough Trade, and he made ‘em an offer for their demos, and for a solo record for Paul, and for a Jackofficers record, which was Gibby and Jeff’s side project. That was the record that was on Rough Trade called pioughd [pronounced PO’d].

I started working with them in a management capacity in 1989, but I didn’t sign a contract until early 1991. But I started managing them in late 1989. I started doing daily management duties. I organized and set up a tour of Australia for them. They actually had it booked, but didn’t have any of their equipment or passports. They said, “Hey, we’re doing eight dates. Can you handle this?”

So I did all the work for Australia. I did a large part of the work for the 1989-early 1990 tour for pioughd. They asked me before they signed the deal what I thought of Rough Trade, so I called about ten or 12 people I know, and they said, “They’re out of money. They owe everybody money and they’re gonna go bankrupt. It’s just a matter of time, whether it’s two months or a year.”

They said, “Yeah, but they’re offering us $100,000 for our record, and they’re offering us money for Paul’s solo record and for the Jackofficers, and they say they’re gonna give it to us all up front.” I said, “If you get it all up front, that’s all you’re gonna get from ‘em.” They took the deal, and six weeks after the pioughd record came out [Rough Trade] went bankrupt.

So halfway into the tour there were no records available. They had sold all the records they had printed and they were out. One of my first official jobs was to deal with the Rough Trade bankruptcy and get the record back.

RO: How long did that take?

TB: About a year and a half, and another six months to get it licensed to Capitol and get Capitol to put it out.

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The Capitol Records building in Hollywood

RO: How did they come to be on Capitol?

TB: Oh, that was my doing. Other than deal with the Australian thing, which was partway into doing when I started working with them, and other than deal with the pioughd tour, which had already started and they just dumped in my lap, and other than dealing with the Rough Trade bankruptcy – which once again was untangling them from something that started before I became their manager – my job was to get them signed to a proper record label, one that wasn’t going to go out of business.

The other record labels they were on would work ‘em for six weeks before the record came out, and the tour, and then a week or so after the tour ended, and until they made another record there was no real staff or anybody working them. They were all small, independent labels, and they did exactly what small, independent labels could do at that point in time, which was sell 40,000 records, all they could with a staff of three or four people.

I shopped demos to every major record label I could possibly think of, which was everyone. It was during the pioughd tour, which was sometime in 1990, I got every major record label to come to one of their shows or fly to Austin to meet with them. Atlantic, Elektra, Interscope, Sony, Def American, Capitol and five or six other ones I can’t think of. - Chris Gray

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