Eddie Gillis of TIN KNOCKER Interview
By: Rich Tupica
Not much is known about the lo-fi Detroit band Tin Knocker. Shit, you couldn't even buy their first record because it was deliberately hidden in various parts of the world by their label Cass Records, and they never played any shows.
The future of the band seemed like a mystery to me, so I asked Cass Records owner Ben Blackwell his thoughts, “I really don't know where Tin Knocker is headed as a band,” said Blackwell. “I guess it's all up to Brian and Eddie. It's almost like a fake band, you know? Never really play live, a bunch of recordings in garages and basements across the Metro Detroit area, a terribly limited debut single that was only ever available for purchase from select record stores in Japan and Australia. In the end, all anyone needs to know is that Tin Knocker is bad ass,” said Blackwell.
One thing for sure is that the band has at least one more record on the way. Cass Records is releasing their second 7-inch single and it looks like this time people will actually be able to buy it. “The new Tin Knocker single on Cass will certainly be easier to find,” said Blackwell. “I'm wondering how long it will take to sell-out of them. I think I'm only going to let people order one copy each. Plus, we're going to charge more because of the CD we're including with the record, the hand-lacquered covers and the interesting inserts. Maybe we should put it all together for a limited lathe-cut Tin Knocker LP, that'd be worth it,” said Blackwell.
Originally the band was a duo, Gillis on vocals and guitar, Muldoon on the backbeat. However, recently Hunter Muldoon (bass) and Brandon Habermas (guitar) were added to the line-up, which has filled-out their primal sound just a touch. Could this be a new beginning for Detroit’s rawest band? I asked Mr. Gillis to fill me in on the history of their creation.
Hey Eddie, how long have you been married with children for?
"I have been married for 17-years and have a daughter who is 14 and a son who's 11 years-old. Life is good."
I heard you and Brian Muldoon grew up next door to each other as children, how old were you when you met? What area or neighborhood of Detroit was this in?
"Our first documented meeting came between me and Brian’s bike. I was two and he was nine years-old. Neither of us remembers doing the running over or being run over, but accidents happen and we survived. They were good neighbors and we watched out for each other. We grew up about a mile south of the Ambassador Bridge in southwest Detroit. There were a lot of big families like ours, a fairly close-knit community that was mainly Catholic but at the same time pretty diverse by today’s standards, definitely a melting pot. A lot factories, heavy industry and churches that would eventually decline. It was a fun atmosphere but you still needed to acquire, and keep a certain sense of toughness about yourself as you wandered around."
What were the first bands or artists that really got you into music when you were a teen?
"I had been exposed to a wide range of music early on mainly because of my dad being an amateur audiophile. He built his own speaker cabinets, fixed radios and in addition to lots of records, had reel-to-reel tapes of every variety of big band and Broadway artists you could think of. As I grew, I mostly listened to all my older siblings stuff, whatever was lying around, all the classic groups from the 60s and early 70s. My first record purchase was either Dylan, Foghat or KISS, maybe all three, but I didn’t continually buy records or even try to own a stereo since there always seemed to be one around. I wanted a drum set really bad and I got to be a great air drummer to a lot of those songs. Deep Purple was top of the list for me for a while."
Eddie Gillis back in the day!
When did you first start playing the guitar? Were you writing songs back then?
"I was about 13 when I started noodling around on a guitar. I picked up a horrid acoustic on sale and taught myself from there, this would have been around 1979. I think I had a page from a music book that taught me the first basic chords. I didn’t consider the thought of writing anything of my own right off the bat or composing anything. I wanted to imitate and learn my favorite songs and solos and learn how to get the sounds I liked out of the thing, the jamming and riffing came later. The first time I actually composed something original was in probably the summer of ’89, I had a trio that did all blues covers and an original came out of that. We played all summer and did a backyard gig once. Shortly after that I had taken a job in another town. The next time I came up with a song of my own was about six years ago."
Did you have a band back in High School and did you and Brian ever officially have a band before Tin Knocker?
"I jammed with a variety of guitarists and friends in the neighborhood who were either already in a band or just wanted to play, and we all learned from each other. Being in a band wasn’t really a priority to me. My cousin came by one day, he was into Jethro Tull quite a bit and could play flute and guitar very well, and I had an older brother who had been playing keyboards and another brother who had been writing poetry, he eventually took over vocals and playing bass. I did a little drumming at first until we ran into this drummer from down the street and we put together a prog-rock/jam band named Catalyst. We did some demo recording on our own and played out on a fairly regular basis for a couple years, but didn’t try to release anything at that time. I think our first show was in ’84."
I heard that Brian helped you get into some bands by giving you a box of old cassette tapes. What kind of music was on those tapes and why did he give them to you?
"A little bit after the turn of the century, Brian and I had found some time to get together and jam. We didn’t focus on trying to cover any songs, just played whatever riffs came out. Eventually, he would give me tapes to listen to that his brother was mailing him from New York of Bill Kelly’s show on WFMU. We would play and I would do something on guitar and Brian would be like 'oh that has a such and such sound to it', or 'that is similar to this band or that band'. He lent me the Nuggets CDs and lots of stuff I never heard, mainly because at this point I never really had what you would call a record collection. Brian was so knowledgeable and into so many different bands, I just immersed myself in all of it and backtracked through his collection. A lot of the music really clicked with what my style had become and, needless to say, it was very inspiring and very encouraging on Brian’s part."
Tin Knocker T-Shirt! Buy one dudes! art: Dan Muldoon
What bands do you feel have directly influenced Tin Knocker?
"Any noisy, lo-fi, unmarketable band you can name, most likely."
What made you and Brian decide to start Tin Knocker? Tell the history of how it started.
"As we rehearsed frequently and worked out ideas in late 2001 and early 2002, we recorded what we did and ideas became more cohesive as we went along, yet we were obviously not in any hurry to play out, or tour either. I would just make stuff up on the spot and work it out from there. I don’t think I have ever come to jam with Brian with a pre-conceived idea to 'work on.' We invested in an eight track reel-to-reel and a small mixer to get a better sound and put some stuff on tape. I didn’t have much experience about any of the technical part of achieving good recordings, but I had some basic knowledge and some rough material from rehearsals to work with, so I started with that and built up tracks and focused on that for a while. I think I learned a lot on my own and felt a little more comfortable with capturing the sound we liked. Mostly all the earliest stuff was recorded in Brian’s upholstery shop. The idea for the second single was there early on as well, with the background theme being associated with the old Detroit Dragway, as you will see with the artwork."
Analog! Eddie Gillis in the studio
Who writes the songs? Is it a group effort? How do the songs come together?
"Brian helped with lyrics on the first single, but for the most part I’ve put ideas together after sketching them out with Brian at rehearsal and put lyrics to them after that. All along the way it's been mainly me coming up with a riff or progression out of nowhere and working out the melody and words later."
Eddie's guitars hanging with the reel-to-reel
Why the double guitar? Do you still play using that bad-boy!? Also, can you give me a quick list of the equipment that you use?
"I received the double Danelectro as a gift and even though it looks like something way over the top, it is really a great sounding guitar and extremely useful, I use it quite a bit. It is a baritone on top and a regular guitar on the bottom, which I leave in an open E tuning. I also play a ’72 Tele Thinline that I have had since ’84, and a ’65 Jaguar through a Fender Vibrolux amp. It has a great punchy, bright sound that is a little thinner than a Twin."
How did the first Cass Records 7” come to be? And did you like the idea of making the vinyl super-rare by (basically) not selling it, or did you wish more people could have owned it?
"We hoped we could get it put out by Dave Buick on Italy Records at first, but he was either not interested or didn’t have adequate funding at the time to get it done, maybe both. I don’t think he cared much for the artwork either. Ben Blackwell had just started the Cass label around that time and offered to put it out. Our first idea was to 'hide' a bunch of the records in and around Detroit at various landmarks, overpasses, Louis Cass’ gravestone, fast food drive thrus, homeless shelters and give out encrypted clues on his site so people could go find them. The idea of listing it as sold-out was sort of a joke at first because we weren’t really selling them anyway, just giving them away randomly. It turned into a marketing ploy on its own, you know, people that can’t complete a collection or are told they can’t have it just want it all the more. Ben offered it in trades and often would go out with The Dirtbombs, take a bunch with him and plant them in record stores in Europe, Australia, Japan and around America. Surprisingly, they began showing up and there have been a few on Ebay naturally. Maybe we can get Ben to repress it. These kinds of things are extremely humorous to us."
Tin Knocker's "rare" debut on Cass Records art: Dan Muldoon
Tin Knocker has now grown from a two-piece to a four-piece, why did you guys decide to add to the line up? Who are the new members? How did this come together?
"I think we always knew that when it got to the point where we would play out that we would at least have a bassist or two guitars, no point in duplicating the two piece idea. You can put ideas together rather quickly with just two people at first, which in turn makes it easier to add to later. The sound is obviously bigger and warmer for sure and Brian's son Hunter is on bass and Brandon Habermas is on the second guitar. Brandon met up with Brian checking out some shows and made a recording of one of our songs that sounded really good. I was flattered so we got together soon after to play and really clicked. Hunter took to bass rather easily, learns quickly and doesn’t forget what you show him. Besides I think it is great having that youthfulness to back us up."
Tin Knocker! Brian, Eddie, Hunter & Brandon
Why was there a three to four year wait in between Tin Knocker 7”s? Will there ever be a full length in the works?
"It wasn’t really intentional, but like I said, we haven’t been in a hurry to do anything. That said you don’t want your stuff just lying around not being heard. Over that span of time though, I was learning a lot about recording and doing a lot of writing too. I also worked with some bands, recorded a few of them and intend to do more of that. During that same time Brian had put together The Muldoons with his two sons and it has been a real treat to see how well they have done so far. They are really good and very talented kids. After this release we will probably do another 7 inch on our own and definitely record a full length this year. We have enough material and the proper equipment to do it, so we’ll put together some stuff a little quicker now."
Tin Knocker's "Drag"7-inch on Cass Records! art:Gordon Newton
Can you tell me about the new Cass Records single? Did Cass approach you guys, or did Tin Knocker decide it was time for another record?
"We wanted to do two singles with Cass and Ben (Blackwell) was willing to put them both out, I'm glad he was patient. The idea for this one came from conversations Brian had with another artist, Gordon Newton about the old Detroit Dragway south of the city, at Sibley and Dix. They used to go there and were into all the different cars and drivers. If I remember correctly, I think you could bring your own car to race if you wanted to. Well, Gordy has some art that’s really cool and designed a cover for our 45 called 'Drag'. It will be a hand-lacquered print of his work, a unique piece of work that fits the theme of the music, dirty and grimy stuff... like Detroit. Included will be old pit passes and a CD comp of some of the other demos from that early period, as well as the songs that are on the 45s. It’s a cool package."
Tin Knocker's "Drag" 7-ich (back of sleeve)
Tin Knocker has only played a few live shows so far, will this change anytime soon? Ever any out of town shows maybe? A tour?
"Maybe we’ll get invited to play around a little, that would be fine, maybe no one will like it so who knows? It’s tough out there for so many bands, you hear a lot of stories and it makes you think twice about taking risks financially and going across country. We’re family guys, essentially, who just started late."
Do you feel that Tin Knocker will still be a band in five-years?
"Sure, I will never stop playing and writing. I have some catching up to do and I think Brian would agree. I got his back in anything he wants to be a part of."
Tin Knocker! Live in Detroit!
What is one thing you want to accomplish in life, that you haven’t yet?
"I think I would like to put out some stuff I wrote on my own. I have let some people hear bits of it and they seem to like it, it's some real mellow stuff. I trust Brian’s opinion about this sort of thing and he thinks I should put it together, so I’ll work on that too. I’d say he knows a good thing when he hears it, don’t you think?"
Tin Knocker on Myspace:
Cass Records on Myspace
Cass Official Webpage
Tin Kncoker on YouTube
Live March 31st 2007 at the Lager House in Detroit
Live in 2002
Eddie "Flour Power" Gillis article
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