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Living With the Chickens: Inside the Head of Buckethead
by Andy Kaufmann, Riffage Magazine
Website published: March 2003, Interview conducted: 1999.


You may not be familiar with the music of Buckethead, the anonymous guitarist with the Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his head, but his freaky, virtuoso licks remain an undeniable phenomenon. Despite the odd persona, Buckethead's chops and unique musical vision identify him as a skilled musician who should be considered seriously. To find out more about Buckethead, sent writer Andy Kaufmann in search of the elusive, enigmatic artist.

"Able to shred at blinding speed and then alternately produce hyper-dimensional sounds evoking an extraterrestrial horror show, this guy's vision knows no bounds," Kaufmann says. Rabid fans have latched onto the mute instrumentalist's alter ego, which includes a familial relationship with chickens, his own theme park dubbed Bucketheadland, and a rabid affinity for graveyards, horror flicks and Japanese television. As a youth, he gained notoriety by playing with Bill Laswell, Bootsy Collins and Primus drummer, Brain. Most recently, Buckethead released an album, called Tunnel, under the aegis of Death Cube K.

"These days, with scores of interesting projects under his belt and an equally interesting array of future possibilities, the notorious mysterion may soon find himself regarded as a musical messiah, despite his curious modesty." Kaufmann says. "With a little coaxing, I succeeded in getting the mutant they call Buckethead to emerge from his coop, if only for a few precious moments, and eagerly awaited a glimpse at what being a faceless guitar-god is really like.

Riffage: Hey, is this Buckethead?

Buckethead: Oh, hey ... Uh, no. I mean, Buckethead doesn't talk, so ... this is Herbie.

Riffage: This is Herbie?

Buckethead: Yeah. Herbie's the name.

Riffage: Travis Dickerson sent me the new Death Cube K album, Tunnel. It has no information about on what's on it. Can you tell me who got involved in this project?

Buckethead: It's just him and me. Actually, it's just Buckethead and him. (Chuckles)

Riffage: So you both get production credits. Bill Laswell didn't do anything on this?

Buckethead: Not on this one.

Riffage: How does breaking that up change things?

Buckethead: His input's pretty strong ... there'll probably be a lot of these made, so there are probably different ways to get this out. I'm sure that Bill will be involved in more of them to come.

Riffage: So you plan on doing a lot of Death Cube K.

Buckethead: Yeah.

Riffage: How did you come to that decision? You just liked the way the first project turned out?

Buckethead: I just like creepy, eerie-sounding stuff. More ambient ... I don't know what it is, but I mean, that's what people have said.

Riffage: Tell me about Travis Dickerson and how you got hooked up with him.

Buckethead: Okay, this is really odd. There was a wax museum in San Francisco called Medieval Dungeon. It's no longer there, but at one point I was in there and he was in there and I had a DAT and he asked what I was doing with the DAT. When I mentioned that I wanted to get all the sounds on DAT, he told me that he had a recording studio in Southern California. So it was just kind of a chance meeting, really. And then we just kind of hooked up after that.

Riffage: Tell me about Chop Top's BBQ.

Buckethead: Oh, he's the guy from (the movie) Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 -- the guy with the plate in his head. He and I have done some stuff. He's on one record I did, Giant Robot, which was released by Sony. And we've just always wanted to do stuff together, so that was just a bunch of stuff we did. It was just whatever came off the top of our heads. It's not really polished or anything -- it was more for fun. So that's more what that's about.

Riffage: Does it bother you that albums like that might not get any exposure?

Buckethead: Nah, I think it's fine. It's kind of fun to have small, underground things like that, that spread by word of mouth. I like that -- it's fun and eventually it can (grow) as time goes on.

Riffage: You sell a lot of your stuff via mail order. Has that avenue -- and do-it-yourself Internet sites -- become the way to circumvent the traditional system of retail distribution?

Buckethead: I think it's more direct. It's more straight from ... it's just really neat when you do something and it's completely (coming from) emotion and then you just put it right out to the person, you know? There's no in-between, really, except for the manufacturing part. That's the part that appeals to me a lot -- that you don't have to go through anybody, like record people or anything like that.

Riffage: Have you soured on trying to deal with (conventional) routes?

Buckethead: A little bit ... earlier, more with Columbia. But this label I'm on now is better -- but still it's difficult, you know?

Riffage: You're best known for your guitar playing, but you also play bass and keyboards. Have the albums on which you play all those instruments been better realizations of the sounds you wanted to create?

Buckethead: I think (that's true)sometimes, but with players like (bassist) Bootsy (Collins), his playing's so incredible that he'll do things that I could never imagine doing. But sometimes it's convenient to do it (all yourself) - so sometimes yes, and sometimes no, if that makes sense. But it's nice to be able to do that. There's a double-neck (instrument) being made for me right now and it's both a bass and a guitar, so that'll be pretty cool because I can do both. So I guess it just depends on what the resources are -- if I've got people around me or not.

Riffage: You mentioned Bootsy. Both of you started to get attention when you were very young. Did that play a role in your relationship playing with him?

Buckethead: Yeah, I mean, it was real magical because he was like a hero to me when I was young. I'm sure (he was) for a lot of people. But you get nervous about it. And he ended up being better than I could have imagined, both as a person and (as a musician). So it was really a great time.

Riffage: Were you nervous meeting him?

Buckethead: Yeah, but I was more excited to meet him than nervous.

Riffage: Speaking of your musical associations, one of your new albums, Monsters and Robots, features Les Claypool of Primus playing with you. Did your association with him give you some of the exposure you were looking for?

Buckethead: It think it has helped, but it was pretty natural because I've been playing with (Primus drummer) Brain a long time. Brain kind of hooked us up, and (Claypool) was like, "Maybe we could play?" A webcast I did kind of started it, and then he mentioned something about recording ... it wasn't intended to happen the way it happened. It just kind of happened and then it ended up being a good situation, I think. With them it's been pretty fun, you know. It has gotten me more exposure, I guess, but I think that it felt pretty comfortable to do. It didn't feel like it was forced or anything.

Riffage: And obviously that wasn't what was motivating you.

Buckethead: Yeah ... it's been a good thing, looking back on it now, because over this last year a lot of stuff has happened. But at that time I don't think I was really thinking that way. I mean, it might have been subconscious, but I don't think it was a conscious thing.

Riffage: I think a lot of people were anticipating your working with Primus. My impression is that people got really excited by that idea.

Buckethead: Oh, that's cool. I hear different things, but I just try to follow my instincts.

Riffage: How do you feel about people knowing your true identity?

Buckethead: I'd rather it not happen. I'd rather just play and let people judge that -- that's what's important.

Riffage: We won't put your name in the piece if you don't want us to.

Buckethead: Great -- that would be nice. I'd appreciate it. I mean, if I'm going to talk, there's that possibility, but at the same time I don't want to never say anything. It's like this weird thing I battle with myself about, because I have this whole thing about just playing and letting that be what matters to me. And a lot of times I'll talk and then I'll read it or think about it later, and I'll have changed my idea or my opinions, or think, "Was that really what I meant?" Or sometimes I read what people wrote and it's not what I said-- that's frustrating. So it kind of makes me want to just play and let that be what people know. That's the hard part, I guess.

Riffage: Have you ever performed unmasked?

Buckethead: No. Just for my family.

Riffage: You've never done any sort of an incognito surprise performance?

Buckethead: No.

Riffage: Has KFC ever approached you about doing and endorsement?

Buckethead: Oh, no!

Riffage: Do you think they know about you? Do they care?

Buckethead: I don't know. I mean, they might ... it's probably gonna happen one day. But I just kind of look at it like people wear Nike shoes, sometimes people wear pants with a label. But if they have a problem, I'll just have to deal with it, I guess. I could always cover up his face ...

Riffage: Or you could get another hat?

Buckethead: Yeah, I've got a whole bunch of buckets, different ones from all these chicken places, but I just like the (KFC) stripes. They don't make that one anymore, so it's hard. I made a Buckethead graveyard one time and I got about 40 of them and I kept them. Now I'm glad I did, because they don't make that one anymore.

Riffage: When is the Disneyland album coming out?

Buckethead: Oh, I'm working on that right now --in fact, right when you called. Hopefully (it will come out) early in the year, because it's been a long, long time. I just was never happy (with it). I did it and I didn't like it and I just kept (working on it). But now I'm just gonna do it and let it be, and I'll just make another one if I don't like it.

Riffage: You made a whole album and then you just scrapped it?

Buckethead: Yeah, because I just didn't think it was ... .it just didn't feel right to me. But one day maybe I'll go back and I might like it.

Riffage: Speaking of Disney, have you been to Animal Kingdom?

Buckethead: No ... where is that?

Riffage: Animal Kingdom is the new park at Disney World.

Buckethead: Oh, okay. This last tour was the first time I ever went to Disney World, and I was there for two hours and I had to leave. It was horrible ... it was hard.

Riffage: Well, next time you're in Florida, you have to go there, to Epcot and to MGM Studios.

Buckethead: Yeah, I really want to go to Epcot, because of all the animatronics.

Riffage: I can't believe you haven't been to any of those!

Buckethead: No ... I went to the Magic Kingdom and I went on Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion and the Hall of Presidents. And that was it and we had to leave. That's the only Disneyland I haven't really been to. I've been to the other ones in Japan and Europe.

Riffage: Are you into computer stuff?

Buckethead: I think I'd like to be. I need to be educated and I need to sit down with it and try to learn, because there's so much I'd like to do. I'd like to do a lot more with it.

Riffage: Are you going to do any multimedia projects or video games?

Buckethead: I really want do that, actually. I think it's a matter of time. But I have a bunch of stories that I want to do for a video game. I play a lot of that stuff: "House of the Dead" and "Soul Caliber" ... I got the Sega Dreamcast, and then on the PlayStation I have "Resident Evil" and there's a Star Wars game -- I don't know the name of it. And I like all the old ones, like Galaxia. I like all the sounds. That's where I get a lot of ideas.

Riffage: Do you take those sounds from games and feed them into your music?

Buckethead: I try to, (but) I don't sit down and do it -- I think it's there just because I've done it a lot, and I hear it in my head a lot.

Riffage: One great thing about your music is that you've created your own set of mythos. Was that a conscious effort?

Buckethead: I guess so. I guess it was I just ... "funner," you know what I mean? It's more fun to have all those outlets and just play the guitar. And then, if I think that way, it effects how I write. Giant Robot was just my favorite thing when I was really little, and I pretty much try to use the stuff that I really like in everything (I do).

Riffage: How come you haven't put more of a literal narrative into your music?

Buckethead: Well, I think I'm going to. Lately I haven't been (doing that) as much, but I think that's going to change. I got this recorder recently and I'm going to start (doing) more of that kind of stuff about Bucketheadland -- stories, and things like that. I think it will happen pretty soon -- probably this year, because I finally got this recorder. Now I can just do whatever I want, you know?

Riffage: Some of us always wanted more of a story.

Buckethead: That's cool -- I'm glad to hear that. I like a combination of not telling things, hinting at things and letting people try to search for things themselves. In movies, for example, I like it when they don't tell you everything and you have to try to figure it out or come up with your own conclusions. But at the same time, I definitely want to do (story lines) more.

Riffage: Do you consider yourself to be a great guitarist? How do you think you rate compared to a lot of other great musicians?

Buckethead: I don't think I'm great. I think I've been kind of lazy in a lot of ways, so I think I could be a lot better. But I think my ears are better now. I hear things better that I want to play and it's easier to do it now. But I think there's a long way I have to go to get where I want to be.


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Buckethead Unmasked - Who is Buckethead.
Rare buckethead
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