‘It feels pretty good to be 10. It’s similar to being nine, except cooler’


Cool Ghouls

San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls (Pat McDonald – guitar/vocals; Pat Thomas – bass/vocals; Ryan Wong – guitar/vocals and Alex Fleshman – drums) turn 10 this year and release their fourth album, At George’s Zoo, in March.

It’s their best and most diverse record yet – a mix of Byrdsy psych, ’60s-style garage rock and gorgeous, Beach Boys/Jimmy Webb-inspired pop, with harmonies, piano, horns and lush strings.

“We didn’t have any expectations going into this record – we just wanted to have full control over the production and the time we spent recording,” they tell Say It With Garage Flowers.


How’s it going? What’s it like in San Francisco and how has the city handled the pandemic?

Pat Thomas: It’s going pretty good. San Francisco is a little chilly outside. It’s been raining recently. I guess the city government here has done a decent job handling the pandemic compared with other governments, but they could do more. The vaccine rollout could be more aggressive and the mayor seems too eager to “restart the economy.”

How has lockdown affected you – as people and also as a band? Have you had to radically alter any of your plans?

PT: Plans weren’t altered that much, band-wise. Before 2020 we were already factoring in a lot of downtime, as our guitarist, Ryan, is living all the way in Denver at the moment. We wanted to release At George’s Zoo in June of 2020, but had to postpone it, obviously.

Are you worried about the future of live music, post-Covid? What are your hopes and fears? How have you been coping with lockdown?

PT: I’m not too worried about the future of live music – I don’t really see how it couldn’t bounce back eventually and start to feel pretty normal. Bands will tour, people will go to shows, etc. A lot of small venues have been lost and bands will have to contend with that. Who knows, maybe people will be moved to open more venues in response. Lockdown is lonely – I think everyone feels that to some degree.

Cool Ghouls are 10 years old in 2021 – happy birthday! How are you celebrating? How does it feel to be 10? 

PT: We’re not really celebrating because we’re all in lockdown. I guess releasing a record is kind of like a celebration. It feels pretty good to be 10. It’s pretty similar to being nine, except cooler.

‘I’m not too worried about the future of live music – I don’t really see how it couldn’t bounce back eventually and start to feel pretty normal. A lot of small venues have been lost and bands will have to contend with that’

Let’s talk about the new album. Was it written and recorded pre-Covid? When and where did you make it?

PT: Yep. We recorded it at our friend Robby Joseph’s house in the Outer Sunset neighbourhood in San Francisco, in the fall and winter of 2018.

What were the sessions like?

Ryan Wong: The recording environment was really important this time around. We started every session with a beer run and a family meal and talked about what we were going to do that day. Everything was recorded live and then we overdubbed what we had to. Robby laid it down on an Otari MX5050 [tape machine].

What did you want to achieve with the new record? It’s your most expansive album yet, with bigger, richer arrangements, and horns and strings. What prompted that move?

RW: We didn’t have any expectations going into it. After recording Gord’s Horse [digital-only EP from 2017] by ourselves, we just wanted to have full control over the production and the time we spent recording. Ryan was moving to Denver, so we just laid whatever ideas we had to tape before he left. As far as the arrangements, I think we’ve just grown over time and the music reflects that on this one.

Who writes the songs and how do you arrange them? What’s the process?

RW: We all write our own songs. So once the basic structure/idea is hashed out we bring it to the band to work on. Everyone has a hand in the final product.

I think At George’s Zoo is your best record yet. Where did the title come from? 

RW: Thanks. George’s Zoo is a liquor store in the Outer Sunset that we frequented while recording. Robby’s neighbour was also named George and he left some feedback on his garage door a few times…Ha!

Cool Ghouls in the studio – San Francisco.

‘The recording environment was really important. We started every session with a beer run and a family meal and talked about what we were going to do that day. Everything was recorded live and then we overdubbed what we had to’

The opening track on the album, It’s Over, is wonderful. It has a great horn arrangement, a Beach Boys-style intro and some lovely harmonies. There’s also a bit of The Notorious Byrd Brothers about it – some psych-soul going on…

PT: Thanks. Yeah. The Notorious Byrd Brothers is a great record. I bought the Tibetan handbells you hear at the beginning of the song at one of those hippy gift shops on Haight St, not far from my apartment.

What can you tell me about the first single, Helpless Circumstance? There’s a psychedelic-rock feel to it, as well as more Beach Boys…

PT: It’s a pretty simple tune. One of those songs that sprouts from a dumb riff you play absent-mindedly at practice between actual songs you’re practising. Pat M was feeling lovey-dovey, so gave it some sweet and soft lyrics. He thinks the song sounds lavender in colour.

The new single, The Way I Made You Cry, is a great piece of soulful, Brian Wilsonesque piano pop, with horns and harmonies. It’s beautiful. Any thoughts on it?

PT: Thank you. No thoughts on it really. The song pretty much communicates everything about itself better than I could with words.

Land Song is gorgeous orch-pop. It has a Jimmy Webb / Beach Boys Pet Sounds-era feel. What can you tell me about it?

RW: We’re real proud of this one. The Pats actually wrote this song together. It was definitely pulling from the Jimmy Webb playbook, but we were also listening to a lot of Canterbury bands at the time. Early King Crimson was also in the mix. Dylan Edrich added the strings and Henry Baker laid down the piano. Props to those two.

It’s not even spring yet, but Surfboard is the song of the summer and I Was Wrong has a definite Pet Sounds Surf’s Up feel. You do sound like you’ve been listening to a lot of Beach Boys…

PT: Those songs rule. They’re so good. Surfboard started out as a joke song. I was going to change the lyrics but I just kept coming back to ‘surfboard…’

The song 26th St. Blues sounds more like the Cool Ghouls of old – it’s very ’60s garage rock.

Pat McDonald: It’s ‘60s garage rock for sure. And it was inspired by the dire housing crisis in San Francisco. It’s pretty wild to see a place change so rapidly before your eyes. There’s a lot of frustration and powerlessness in the song, which gives it its rougher edge.

What music new and old have you been enjoying recently? What’s been your lockdown soundtrack?

PM: Fun House by The Stooges. Pretty much exclusively that.

What’s your preferred way of listening to music and why?

PM: In my headphones at work, so I don’t have to hear my dumbass co-workers talking about GameStop stocks.

Finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year?

RW: We’re not really sure. This year kind of seems like a wash too. We’re looking forward to playing these songs live at some point.

At George’s Zoo by Cool Ghouls is released on March 12 Empty Cellar / Melodic Records (UK).




INTERVIEW: “I felt that Gene Clark has been dealt a bad hand by history – that’s always struck me as being a grave injustice”

New documentary, The Byrd Who Flew Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark, tells the fascinating story of one of the founding members of The Byrds. One part hell raiser, one part mystical poet, Gene Clark died in 1991, aged 46, his latter years blighted by illness and drink and drug abuse.  He left The Byrds in 1966, unable to cope with the pressures of fame, and embarked on a solo career. A fear of flying also had a large part to play in his decision to quit the band.

From Beatles-inspired pop, to country rock, folk ballads and experimental, symphonic rock, Clark was a songwriting genius. His solo albums, White Light and No Other, are cult classics, but he’s never had the true recognition he deserves. Could this documentary, which is based on new interviews with Clark’s friends and family and contemporaries, including the surviving original members of The Byrds, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, change all that? I spoke to father and son Paul and Jack Kendall, from Four Suns Productions, to find out how and why they made the film.



Congratulations on the film. It’s a great achievement. Why did you decide to make a documentary on the life of Gene Clark?  

Paul Kendall: I met up with a couple of guys called Mike Kerry and Chris Hall, who have a company called Start Productions. They’d made a fantastic film about Arthur Lee from Love, which is called Love Story. I thought it would be fantastic to do something like that – to go back to my roots and my love of music and combine that with what I knew about filmmaking, along with my sons Jack and Dan [who are filmmakers]. I thought if I could find the right project, then it would be great to try and get something off the ground.

Have you always been a fan of Gene Clark? Is he one of your musical heroes?

PK: Absolutely. I’m slightly too young to have caught The Byrds in their first flush, when he was still with the band, but I picked up on Dillard & Clark very early on and fell in love with their first album. I then followed his solo career. For the last 10 years of his life, to a large extent, he went off the radar, but he was still writing and recording songs, even though he didn’t have an outlet for them. Apparently there’s a whole wealth of unreleased and unheard material.

What’s your favourite Gene Clark song or album?

PK: The album I’ve listened to most regularly over the years is White Light – I love that one, particularly the song Spanish Guitar. Bob Dylan said it was a song he’d have been proud to have written. No Other is a unique, extraordinary piece of work. Even now, nearly 40 years after it was made, I can’t think of anything else that’s quite like it. The first Dillard & Clark album is a lovely record and arguably one of the first steps into country rock.


(Left to right: Leland Sklar, bassist on Gene Clark’s No Other, with filmmaker Paul Kendall)

Has Gene Clark been overshadowed by Gram Parsons?

PK: Yes – that was one of my main motivations for making the film. I felt that Gene Clark has been dealt a bad hand by history. I love Gram Parsons as well and he should be remembered and acknowledged, but he’s way up there and Gene Clark is lurking in the shadows somewhere. That’s always struck me as being a grave injustice. Hopefully this film will do something to redress that.

Jack Kendall: I think Gene Clark is someone whom a lot of people like, but no one’s had a chance to hear his story. There hasn’t been a big outlet for him. He hasn’t had any of his songs sung on The X Factor, or used on adverts… He’s got a secret following, which we can tap into.

PK: Next year will be the 70th anniversary of Gene’s birth and the year after, it will be the 50th anniversary of The Byrds coming to prominence. There’s a sense that after years of Gene languishing in obscurity since he died, the stars are starting to align.

He’d have liked that… You actually met Gene Clark in the ‘70s, didn’t you?

PK: Yes. I spent a couple of years as a music journalist in the ‘70s, mainly working for Zig Zig magazine.  I met Gene when he was touring the UK with Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman [from The Byrds] in 1977. I spent a very pleasant afternoon with him – the gig got cancelled and our one hour interview turned into a five hour tête-à-tête over a few beers. I feel like I have a personal connection with him, beyond the music.


(Left to right: Tom Slocum – Gene Clark collaborator – Jack, Dan and Paul Kendall)

Was Gene Clark your first choice as a subject to make a film about?

PK: In 2010, I got given John Einarson’s biography on Gene Clark [Mr Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds’ Gene Clark] as a Christmas present, which filled in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge of Gene’s life and it took me back to his records – I re-played them while I was reading the book. I thought that it would be fantastic to make a film about Gene – if nobody had done it already. I did a bit of digging and found out that nobody had.  We had a big stroke of luck early on – I met up with the guys from Start Productions to get some advice and it turned out that they had thought about making a film about Gene as the follow up to Love Story, but in the end they did one about Mott The Hoople instead. They’d got as far as making contact with Gene’s estate, so they gave us the details – we knew we’d need to get the estate on board, right from the start. I had a series of exchanges with the lawyer who runs the estate and also Kai, Gene’s younger son, who is involved in looking after his father’s legacy.

The family were very sceptical at first – they’d had a number of approaches from filmmakers over the years, including some famous ones, but nothing had ever come about. They asked us to prove that we could do something, so we did some interviews with Barry McGuire, who was in The New Christy Minstrels with Gene, and John York [ex-Byrd who played with Gene’s band in the ‘80s]. Barry McGuire is a force of nature – he’s in his eighties and he still goes around the world doing shows – he was one of the prime movers and shakers in the LA ‘60s scene. We met up with Barry and John, who were playing in Frankfurt, shot some interviews and edited in some archive footage. We then sent that to Gene’s family and the lawyer, so they could see that we were serious about it and that knew what we were doing. Thankfully, they really liked it and they gave us their blessing and said we could approach other interviewees. That was in May 2011. From there, it just accelerated. In September of that year, we flew out to LA and spent almost a month running around California and Missouri filming interviews and location footage.

The whole project took two and a half years to complete. Was it easy tracking all the interviewees down? Are a lot of them still hanging out in LA?

PK: No. I thought they would be, but they’d fled LA and headed to the coast and the hills. We had to travel the length and breadth of California to get all the people we wanted and then we went to Missouri, where Gene hailed from, to meet up with his family and an old friend of his. We also interviewed Taj Mahal in Missouri – he was playing a gig there. We had one opportunity to speak to him.


How easy was it getting The Byrds – Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman – to get involved and to talk about Gene?

PK: Once we’d got one – Chris Hillman – to come on board, I knew we’d get the others. They wouldn’t want to have been left out and have the others talking about them. They were very happy. Hillman, in particular, gave us a very good interview. I’d heard, through the grapevine, that he can be a bit prickly if you get him on the wrong day, but he was very gracious and was very open and insightful. McGuinn was slightly more guarded. There have been all sorts of talk over the years about relationships in the band – not just with Gene, but with all of them. There’s been various fallings out and issues. I think McGuinn is conscious that he’s taken some flack about the way in which Gene was treated by the other members of the band – particularly him and Crosby. Both McGuinn and Crosby were very happy talking about The Byrds and how the band started and their rise to fame, but trying to talk to them about things after that became a little bit more difficult.

For me, Crosby is one of the highlights of the film. I love his recollections and his delivery – he’s like a wise old man.

JKThere were so many great Crosby moments. While we were editing, we thought he was slowing the pace down, but we loved it…

PK: We interviewed Crosby in Bristol, while he was in the UK, playing with Graham Nash. We made it by the skin of our teeth – the interview was scheduled for the day after we got back from America. The whole US shooting schedule was finely tuned – if anything had gone wrong, we’d have had a problem – but it all went very smoothly. However, we came within seconds of missing our flight back to the UK, as Jack had lost his passport. But we found it – with seconds to spare.

Was there anyone that you wanted to interview for the film, but couldn’t get hold of?

PK: We had Bob Dylan on our wish list, but I got as far as talking to his manager…. I also wanted Tom Petty, but he decided he wasn’t available. I spoke to Doug Dillard [Dillard & Clark] and Bernie Leadon [Dillard & Clark, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Eagles], on the phone,  but Doug was too ill – he died seven or eight months after we went to the States to do the shoot – and Bernie was reluctant to do it, as he’d done a similar thing for a Gram Parsons documentary and he didn’t like dredging up the past. He said that he didn’t want to do it.


Any good anecdotes from your filming trip to the States?

PK: There was a really spooky moment while we were shooting in Kansas City, in Bonner Springs, at the house Gene lived in when he was in his teens. We were filming wind chimes that were hanging from the porch and a hummingbird flew into shot and hovered, looking down the camera. Someone told me that hummingbirds are –  if you believe in that kind of thing – the souls of people who’ve passed away. So that was probably Gene coming to keep an eye on us.

If it had been a silver raven [the title of a Gene Clark song], that would’ve been even stranger…

PK: Well, a while later, I was sitting in the back garden, having a beer at the end of a busy day and a black raven flew past, perched on a branch and eyeballed me…

After Gene died in 1991, there was lot of bitterness and wrangling between his friends, girlfriend and family, wasn’t there? It ended up being quite a nasty situation, didn’t it?

PK: Yes and it dragged on for ages. We decided that we weren’t interested in that. Our story was going to be about Gene Clark’s life and his music and a celebration of it. There is a story to be told about what happened after he died, but it would be difficult to get to the bottom of it.

I must admit that I cried at the end of the film, when there’s amateur video footage of Gene playing I Shall Be Released…

PK: As soon as we found that, we knew we had to use it at the end. It’s a lovely version of the song – especially the harmonies. There’s real feeling to it. I like the fact that Gene’s presence throughout the film – in the footage and archive audio – is almost spectral. There’s something ethereal about it, which works. Between him leaving The Byrds in early ’66 and doing McGuinn, Clark and Hillman in ’79, there is literally no footage.

From making the film, what have you learned about Gene Clark?

PK: He was clearly a man with at least two sides to his story – there was Gene, the shy, retiring mystical poet guy and then there was the Gene Clark who could be an out of control nightmare. He was a very complex man and if you’d put him in front of a psychoanalyst, they’d have had a field day. Great artists invariably are very complex people.

What’s the reaction to the film been like?

JK: Everyone seems to love it.

PK: The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve had people in their twenties and thirties who’ve heard of The Byrds, but know nothing about Gene Clark, coming up to me and saying they’re going to find out more about his music. The whole motivation for the film wasn’t to preach to the converted – it was to try and spread the word and get Gene more of the recognition he deserves.

The Byrd Who Flew Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark will be available on DVD in November.

To order a copy and for more information on the film, please visit:  http://foursunsproductions.com/