Published on October 5th, 2019 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Barnes & Barnes And Demented Punk’s John Cafiero On The New “Voobaha” Re-Issue & Much More
One of the most influential musical-comedy groups of the last 40-something years, Barnes & Barnes is comprised of (fictional) twin brothers Art Barnes and Artie Barnes, as portrayed by Bill Mumy and Robert Haimer. The 1978 single “Fish Heads” is what helped put Barnes & Barnes on the map, going on to be the most requested song in the history of The Dr. Demento Show. Yet the long-term success of “Fish Heads” would find the song getting several airings on Saturday Night Live, a prominent usage within an episode of The Simpsons, and various appearances in films.
“Fish Heads” was only 1 of the 14 songs on the 1980 album Voobaha, which was originally released by Rhino Records. Demented Punk — the label behind the #1 Billboard-charting comedy album Dr. Demento Covered In Punk — recently released the 40th anniversary vinyl collector’s edition of Voobaha. Beyond its 180-gram colored vinyl, remastered audio and an elaborate gatefold, this deluxe reissue includes exclusive liner notes from the artists, restored artwork, an MP3 download card, a special bonus track (a 1976 version of “Fish Heads”) and a rare cover of The Beatles’ “Please Please Me.” The same label also released a limited-edition 12-inch vinyl split maxi-single of “Fish Heads,” pairing the 1978 original recording with a new punk-pop cover version by the band Osaka Popstar.
I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Barnes & Barnes’ Art Barnes and Artie Barnes, as facilitated by Demented Punk’s John Cafiero. Cafiero, who also contributed to the interview, is notably the manager of The Misfits, a collaborator of The Ramones, frontman of the aforementioned Osaka Popstar, and a film director. To put it simply, it was a pleasure to interview 3 individuals who have not only inspired multiple generations of artists, but also continue to work on interesting projects.
More on Barnes & Barnes, Cafiero and Voobaha can be found online at www.dementedpunk.com.
How long did it take for this re-issue to come together?
Art Barnes: Voobaha. It took 39 years.
Artie Barnes: This is the first vinyl reissue EVER since the original release of Voobaha on Rhino Records back in 1980! It looks and sounds BETTER than the original ever did. I was never happy with the way the original came out. Back then, the sound mastering was done on a shoestring budget with antiquated equipment as I recall. It had a harsh, unnatural sound to it I always hated.
This new reissue actually sounds BETTER than the master tapes do, because we were able to add a little high-end to each song. The bass was always fine though. On the original mixes, with the cruddy mixer we had 40 years ago, we could only CUT high and low end, not add any. So the final mixes were always a little muddy sounding until we were finally able to add a little high-end back in when we remastered. And the tapes held up really well we found, after 40 years. So this thing now just kicks Holy Newt butt!
Did you always own the rights to your masters?
Art Barnes: Yes. We own our masters.
Artie Barnes: Not always. It depended on the song or in some cases, the albums. Thank the Great Newts, but in most cases, around the year 2000, Rhino allowed us to repurchase all our albums and projects, maybe 80 percent of which they owned in perpetuity, but they made it all available for us to buy it back at a low cost. Being close with the owners of the company who knew they were selling the company soon, might have had something to do with that. (laughs) It was one of the greatest favors anyone has ever done for us in our 45-year music career.
John, when did you first meet Barnes and/or Barnes?
John Cafiero: I used to write fan letters, old-school snail-mail, to Barnes & Barnes when I was in grammar school. They’d always write back answering my questions. In fact, some of the things I’d ask them about back then — like the meaning of their Lumanian words “Voobaha” and “Spazchow” and more — are covered in the “fun facts” section of the liner notes in the new 40th Anniversary edition of Voobaha.
I met Art (a.k.a. Bill) for the first time at a horror convention I was at with The Misfits in the early 00s. He was appearing with some of his castmates from Lost In Space, and we talked briefly about Barnes and Barnes.
Artie (a.k.a. Robert) and I were in touch by email when I was working on Dr. Demento Covered On Punk, but didn’t meet in-person until shortly after the record was released. Artie invited the Doc and I to his house when I was in L.A. to do press and an in-store signing for the album. It was a great time and he even played some B&B classics on the piano. To my surprise, the next day Artie joined us for the in-store signing at Amoeba, making his first public appearance in ages!
About 6 months later, Weird Al received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame and I flew into L.A. to attend with Dr. Demento. Later that same day, we met up with Art and Artie — it was a full day of dementia… That was the first time I met Barnes & Barnes together. You could really see the chemistry and dynamic between Art and Artie as they talked about their adventures over the years and all the players involved, including Wildman Fischer and Bill Paxton. It was fun and fascinating. The animated music video for Osaka Popstar’s cover of “Fish Heads” had just been completed that week, so I premiered it for the very first time to an audience of Art, Artie and Dr. Demento, which was really something special.
That day Art and Artie told me they were planning a new “holiday” album and we talked about potentially working together, starting with the vintage “Fish Heads” T-shirt reissue. A year later, nearly to the day, Voobaha was released on vinyl for the first time since 1980 on Demented Punk, along with the replica T-shirt. I had one of those shirts as a kid. It’s the same one you see Artie wearing on the cover of Voobaha.
“Fish Heads” is only one of your songs that received a lot of airplay and acclaim, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a live performance of that song. Was it ever performed live?
Art Barnes: Barnes & Barnes gigs are very rare and always have been, mainly because we played everything on our albums just the two of us, and to duplicate that, we needed a subordinate band of musicians. Instead of financing that, we used our B&B money to make films instead of playing gigs. We had a “film” band that consisted of Rocky Schenck, Bill Paxton and Joan Farber. That was a great little group. But we did actually go out and gig once in awhile and “Fish Heads” has indeed been performed live in concert by us… Several times. Also by us with Weird Al’s band backing us. And many times by me solo.
Artie Barnes: As Art said, we’ve performed “Fish Heads” live just a handful of times. Some small or semi-small concert shows, and on the radio a few times. A Barnes & Barnes concert is a RARE event, lemme tell you! I personally never felt the need to play live. It’s a whole other ballgame, plus I have a HARD time remembering lyrics. So my nightmare would be to be in front of a crowd and not remember words. It wasn’t so much that we’d suck or I’d be bad or whatever, it was forgetting the words. Art doesn’t have that problem. So I never regretted not playing live.
The few times we DID play live, we have tapes, and in several cases video of the performances, which is kind of fun. Loose and sloppy at times, but fun. Some of the events were tied to live Dr. Demento shows. Live concerts he did. I was always happy just to write and record with Art. Drink beer, hang out with friends, work late into the night recording. Mostly just the two of us. If we made each other laugh for a second with some new idea, we’d just carry on with it.
Barnes & Barnes have produced albums for other artists, like Wild Man Fischer and Crispin Glover. Was there ever an offer to write songs for other artists?
Art Barnes: Yes. We’ve written for many other artists. America, Shaun Cassidy, Sarah Taylor, Dr. Demento… we wrote over a hundred songs for Disney that were used for the Disney live action series, Adventures In Wonderland that our pal Mark Mothersbaugh was music director of…
Artie Barnes: Well, my recollection is different from Art’s. I wouldn’t say that other artists wanted us to ever write songs FOR them, but we did end up writing with or for some COOL artists! Some of the people who sang our words and music, or who we co-wrote with would be: Crispin Glover, Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo, the pop band America (we did about 25 songs with them, many released on their albums), “Weird Al” Yankovic, Dr. Demento, Wild Man Fischer, Shaun Cassidy, the Disney TV show Adventures In Wonderland, and Steve Perry. We did a children’s album completely dedicated to dinosaurs called The Dinosaur Album. That was one of the most fun things we ever did. We also did a whole Hanna-Barbara Yogi Bear & Friends album, where all the real character voices came to Art’s studio to talk or sing their parts. There might be people I’m forgetting.
Do you feel that any artists today carry the Barnes & Barnes torch appropriately when it comes to writing hooky yet amusing music?
Art Barnes: To answer that I’d need to listen to today’s artists in the appropriate novelty hooky amusing music arena. So, I’m not able to answer that. But I’m prepared to discuss the catalogue of the Kingston Trio with you in depth.
Artie Barnes: Personally, I’m SO out of touch with the current comedy/novelty-pop world of music, I can’t even answer the question! Of course, “Weird Al” OWNS the whole genre the last 35 years. There was a time I was kind of his mentor and he actually looked up to me! (laughs) I was a few years older than him, and I think we had a record deal at the time, so I was qualified to give him advice about life, music, women… Now he can buy and sell me. (laughs)
The label for this reissue is headed by John Cafiero, who has had his hands in both the punk and comedy worlds. Was punk ever your thing?
Art Barnes: We wrote and recorded several punk songs… “I Hate The Boss” and “Drinking With The Devil” are two of my favorites of that genre that we cut. I used to dig Fear and X. Robert was a big X freak ‘cuz Ray Manzarek of The Doors worked with them. Would you call Devo punk? If so, add them to that list. We went to an X gig back in the day. I had really long hair and a beard. People were spitting on each other. I thought that was stupid and disgusting. And then, after awhile, I didn’t feel comfortable in that crowd. I’m not into being slammed around in a mosh pit or spit on while listening to live music. Color me weird, I guess. Dug the band a lot, though. Billy Zoom played truly great. I dug his Gretsch Silver Jet. I play Gretsch’s a lot with B&B.
Artie Barnes: I LOVED X, the punk band from Los Angeles. Saw many of their shows as a young man, back when I used to leave the house! They were produced by my idol, Ray Manzarek of The Doors at that time. Another punk-ish type band that I still love is Sparks. They’ve always been one of my favorite bands since 1974! I got to know them a little bit, because they live a mile from me, so I even see them around my part of town and bump into them. I keep bugging Ron Mael to come over and hang out with Art and I, but I guess he’s a quiet and private type of guy. Maybe a reclusive, like me! I like that!
I was heavy into the KROQ-FM radio new wave music of the late 70’s, early 80’s. Punk was raw and primal, and that’s all swell, but Art and I always liked melodies and melodic rock and pop. I think that’s why Barnes & Barnes songs are catchy. Melody is really important to us. I think “Fish Heads” may be the most melodic song and chord progression ever written and that’s why it gets caught in people’s minds so easily. The ultimate ear worm. Art and I both really like Osaka Popstar’s melodic punk-pop cover version of “Fish Heads” from the Dr. Demento Covered in Punk album. We even released a special 12-inch split single together on Record Store Day earlier this year with our original version on one side and Osaka Popstar’s on the other. There are some exclusive bonus tracks on it too! One of them, “High School Gym,” was the B-Side on the original “Fish Heads” 45 we released independently back in 1978. It hadn’t been available on vinyl ever since, and that song isn’t included on Voobaha either.
Reissue aside, are there any current or upcoming projects you can talk about?
Art Barnes: Many. Demented Punk is releasing our new all-original Holidaze In Lumania album in a month or two… The first new B&B studio album in many moons. You won’t want to miss that one. How often do you get to hear decent appropriate hooky amusing Kwaanza songs? And I’ve got a current solo album out right now, Lockford, a live album with Dave Pearlman about to be released, Dave is an amazing pedal steel player and the live album is just the two of us and it’s pretty boss.
Then there’s another solo studio album I’m tweaking that’s almost finished plus my band with Vicki Peterson and John Cowsill, Action Skulls, are six songs into our second album now, so that’s in the pipeline percolating. Plus, I’m a producer on the Ancient Aliens TV series on History Channel and then there’s that Netflix series called Lost In Space where I play the “real” Dr Zachary Smith. And Robert’s getting a new TV and having some shelves made next week.
Artie Barnes: We hope to work with the great John Cafiero on more reissuing of our catalog, but that will be up to him of course. Next up in a few months though, a very groovy first issuing of the latest B&B project of all NEW songs, Holidaze In Lumania. Our first Christmas album AND our first album of all-new original material in a decade! 15 songs and one of them is only available on the CD and vinyl edition! I’m very happy with it.
Besides loving all the tracks, we covered so many bases on this one. Every holiday and religion has a song it seems. And in general, I find the album to be the weirdest, most fun, oddest, catchiest, most bizarre collection of holiday music ever committed to disc! Seriously! If that’s a good or bad thing, I don’t know. But we’ll soon find out!
John, is there another edition of your Dr. Demento tribute series in the works?
John Cafiero: Yes, I’m currently working on Dr. Demento Covered In Punk Vol. II with an amazing lineup of artists already on-board, and many more soon to come! It will definitely live up to the expectations set by the first one.
I have a lot of other cool titles and projects lined up for release on Demented Punk, but it’s too soon to go into detail, or even talk about some of them publicly, just yet. For now I can say, if you follow me on Instagram via @JohnCafiero, you already know one of them is the first English-language album from world-famous Finnish punk band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät. PKN as they’re known for short, are the focus of a documentary I’d highly-recommend checking out called The Punk Syndrome.
There will be more Barnes & Barnes releases to come, starting with a CD and vinyl release of Holidaze in Lumania on November 15th. It’s classic Barnes & Barnes, but all-new! A full-length album of catchy and mind bogglingly bizarre new “holiday” songs. It’s a fun and unique listening experience.
I’m planning other titles and themes in the Covered In Punk series, and there’s a special limited-edition Black Friday release coming from Demented Punk this year too. There’s a lot of stuff in the works that I just can’t talk about yet.
Beyond that, there are a bunch of Osaka Popstar releases I originally planned for 2019, but it’s been such a busy year for me, I had to move them to 2020. 2 new EPs that collectively equal a new album of material, both very different thematically, and a reissue of the — currently out of print — debut album Osaka Popstar & The American Legends Of Punk with some newly-added bonus tracks. That will be reissued digitally, on CD and on vinyl for the first time ever, sometime next year for sure.
What was the last concert you attended for fun?
John Cafiero: Every Original Misfits show we’ve had this year has been an incredible experience. They’ve never sounded better, and each show surpasses the last — seriously. If that wasn’t enough we’ve had an amazing line up of support acts on the bill and I always make it a point to catch their sets: The Damned, The Distillers, the Cro-Mags, Rancid. So all of that has really been something special to witness, let alone be a part of. The pinnacle will be seeing it again, but this time at Madison Square Garden in just a few weeks!
As far as a show I had no direct connection to, the last one was KISS’ The End at MSG. My first concert ever was KISS in 1980 at the Palladium, the Unmasked tour. It was Eric Carr’s first show, a historic one. Back then I was in the nosebleed seats, this time I was in the first row. It was a great show and a lot of fun. I even caught one of Paul’s picks! When that confetti cannon hits you in the face as it fills the room for “Rock & Roll All Night” at the close of the show, its literally like being a kid in a rock-candy store.
Demented Punk aside, as mentioned earlier, you notably work with The Misfits and front the band Osaka Popstar. As someone so diversified within the music world, when did you first realize that you were going to have a career based on working on projects that you were passionate about?
John Cafiero: I’ve had that ambition since I was really young, but it started to become a lot more tangible and evident by the time I was in high school. I had a punk band and sold our cassette demos in places like Bleeker Bob’s in NYC and mom & pop record shops in the New Jersey area. They did well, the stores always re-stocked them and they got radio airplay on cool stations like WFMU, WFDU and others I listened to. Those are still great stations. I’d print promo posters for stores to display, some did, and I even made T-shirts in my graphic arts class that sold well.
I also produced and hosted a weird New Jersey public access show when I was 16. Among other stuff I would do segments on cult movies and show film clips — actually clearing them for air with the respective film companies. I learned how to file copyrights and registered my first trademark as a teenager, too. A lot of it was definitely training wheels for who I would eventually become.
So yeah, I would say by high school I knew that somehow, my career would involve projects I was passionate about. I just didn’t know back then how fortunate I would eventually be to do and experience all I have. I’ve worked in everything from film, TV, video, art, literature, music and worked with many of my childhood heroes. In the words of Mark Borchardt: “Life is kinda cool sometimes.”
So when not busy with music or work, where does your free time usually go?
John Cafiero: More work… (laughs) In the little free time I do have, I like to collect original artwork, “low brow” paintings, comic and animation art, watching trashy movies in lavish-restored presentations, especially cult and exploitation movies, shopping for toys, comic books, occasional live concerts from time to time… That kind of thing.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
John Cafiero: Have fun and be yourself!
Art Barnes: Be bold and friendly. Do the best you can and can the best you do. Voobaha. Yeah.
Artie Barnes: For all young people — some of this is the stuff I brainwash my kids with: Change your socks, eat your vegetables. Buy your Barnes & Barnes catalog of tunes. Vote. Go to college. Don’t smoke anything! Drink in moderation if you have to drink at all. Enjoy your youth and health, because it’s truly fleeting. I learned the hard way. Be honest. Small white lies are OK in life, but nothing bigger. That’ll save you from a lot of problems, I find. Keep busy. One day at a time. Don’t be a victim. Don’t cry TOO long over failed relationships, you’ll miss too much of life doing that. Get back on that horse. Be silly. Be funny. Get along with your parents if you’re lucky enough to have parents. I learned like everyone else, they don’t last forever. Find a spouse you can be friends with. Those are the best type of relationships. No one owes you anything in life, so anyone that helps you on your journey, be thankful and grateful to them.
I’m sure I’m full of a lot more one-liners, but that’s all I can think of for now. And do unto others. Golden rule stuff. Treat others how you want to be treated. Then go read and listen to everything Jim Morrison wrote or said. It’ll provide you with a roadmap and lifetime of thought-provoking ideas. He knew. Artie Barnes… out.