Vaughn Daddy Vaughn
Ironically, the time I’m supposed to talk to Ben Vaughn happens to be right after Men Behaving Badly ends. Vaughn has been kicking around for many years now, and his efforts range from his off-kilter solo records to production duties for acts as diverse as Ween, Arthur Alexander, and Los Straitjackets. These days, the Philly-bred musician produces the music for two fairly successful TV series, the aforementioned Men and Third Rock From The Sun. In addition to that, Vaughn released Rambler ‘65 earlier this year on Rhino Records. Recorded solo entirely inside a car (guess the make and year), Rambler ‘65 is a great record showcasing Vaughn in a rootsy, solipsist mood, tossing in the occasional sitar or engine solo.
To accompany the record, Rhino released a short film of the same name (available on video), which illustrates Vaughn’s efforts at recording, getting the Rambler running, and getting his music played over the AM airwaves so that he can hear it the way it was meant to be: emanating from the 30-year-old car radio. Both record and video are worth seeking out.
How do you find writing for TV different from your previous efforts?
Writing on demand… you’re in a work for hire situation, writing on deadlines. The messenger’s picking it up before you’re even done sometimes. They wait in a chair until you’re finished…
How does this work? Are they telling you “20 seconds of this, 30 seconds of that?
They give me the show to look at, and I write and record the music and put it to the pictures. I go through my library (which I’m accumulating – it’s getting huge) and play them against what I see until I find something I’m satisfied with, and then give a few alternate choices. Sometimes what I do is a little too weird, so I keep trying.
Over the years, I kept running into your name – your solo work, production – do you feel you’ll stay with scoring music for a while?
I have no idea. I’m kind of in a good place right now, where I don’t need work, and I’ll work on whatever the brilliant treatment is, regardless of money. But TV pays – for the first time in my life I’m not starving to death. All those years, I was seriously broke, and dedicated to a certain sound, which luckily, has now become popular. I never changed anything – I just stayed alive.
Are people seeking you out from your work on TV?
Oh, yeah, this, and producing Ween as well. I don’t know who I’ll be working with next, as a producer. As an artist, I don’t know what kind of record I will put out next. As far as film or TV – it’s really whatever strikes me, as long as I don’t have to resort to hack work. Hack work is really well-produced and recorded, and they pay you twice as much, for the worst stuff…
Hack work would be something like Viper…?
It’s like Knight Rider 1997.
Now, Knight Rider, that was a cool idea. The talking car.
I’m not sure if the car in Viper talks but it’s definitely a sort of “loner and supercar” combo.
I like the loner idea. I’m a big fan of The Fugitive. Kinda live my life like that, really…
I remember about six or seven years ago, there was an 10” clear pink vinyl EP that came through the station I volunteered at, Pink Slip Daddy…
Someone told me you were part of that as well.
Yeah, under a pseudonym. Talented youths having fun. I produced the record, and played guitar…
Were you the person responsible for double-tracking one side and reverse-tracking the other?
No, no… that was the record company all the way. They came up with the concept, and we were saying “Okay. Thanks for making us your guinea pigs.” It’s a real collector’s item… they made a pressing of 2,000 on that, and they were bought up immediately after they came out because of the novelty. The pressing on that, which involves cutting a master from the label out, so it plays backwards, and placing two tracks in a spiral so something different plays depending on where the needle drops… mastering that and cutting that record was the last time that lathe, the last one of its kind, was ever used. Some history there.
I got to see the video that accompanies Rambler ‘65. Were they put together at the same time?
Our hope is that you would think so. What happened was that when I recorded that record, I did it all alone. I didn’t even know I was recording a record; I had this obsession with recording a series of songs inside my car. Could it be done, and would it sound good? I did the record and mixed it, and as I was listening I realized I really liked it. My manager heard it, and went nuts and took it to Rhino. As they were getting ready to put it out, my manager said, “You know, no-one is going to believe you did this.” “What do you mean?” I said. “You’ll have to get back in the car.” “No, NO!” It was five long days of shooting, so we actually towed the car out to California from New Jersey, hired a crew, wrote a script, and the whole deal. It was my “acting debut.” I’ve actually gotten a couple of offers on the strength of my performance.
I thought it was believable.
I was playing myself. A scripted version of myself. It was interesting. I’d never thought about acting before. Being on stage for many, many years has blurred what the difference is. Take a guitar away from somebody, and maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t.
It’s like being between songs all the time.
Exactly. One minute can feel like an hour between songs. I’m actually looking at a couple of scripts right now. I’m going to do something small to start out, see if I really like it. But anyway – we recreated “A Year In The Life” to make the video. We picked a location where there were no palm trees. And luckily it rained through a lot of the shoot, which made it look more like New Jersey.
I had no idea it was not New Jersey.
We did a pretty impressive job on inventing Anywhere, USA.
You should tell people you filmed in LA but paid a digital lab a ton of money to make it look like New Jersey.
We had to have New Jersey.
“I want New Jersey dropped in digitally.” They can do wonders. So you’re up to your neck in career tangents.
Things are cooking.
Do you think your TV work will make it into a record as a standalone piece?
There is talk about that right now. A couple of record labels are trying to get the Third Rock rights.
That music really stands out – I noticed it before I knew it was you.
You know, kids really love it. Everybody tells me that – “when they hear your music they come running in, and then they leave when the show starts.” ◼