The Monkees: An Interview with Peter Tork
The Monkees: An Interview with Peter Tork
For musicians, selling nostalgia can be a difficult tightrope. Look to the past for too long and risk stifling your creativity, fail to acknowledge your earlier success and potentially alienate long-time fans. The Monkees have found the perfect mix of fresh inspiration and wistful retrospection on Good Times!, with collaborators on the project including Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, XTC’s Andy Partridge and Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard.
“It’s a unique task to try and make a Monkees record in 2016 and make it work for today, but also be reminiscent of the old days,” Peter Tork says. “You don’t want it to be too cutesy or stand-offish, so it’s a tricky balance.”
Tork met his bandmates Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones when they were brought together via an audition process to star in NBC program The Monkees in 1966. Highlighting the adventures of four young musical rapscallions, The Monkees was a television ratings success. Accompanying singles such as Last Train To Clarksville, I’m A Believer and Daydream Believer were also massive hits for the band.
Tork initially left the band in 1968, just two months after an incredibly successful Australian tour. Was he already considering his exit strategy while here in Australia?
"Was I thinking about quitting when I was in Australia? No... I quit to see if I could get a band of my own going… which I didn’t, but I tried."
The four-piece regrouped in the 1990s for a reunion tour and album. Davy Jones passed away in 2012, but the UK-born performer is featured on Good Times! via an archival session of the Neil Diamond song Love To Love. Tork believes the 1997 tour was the final time the band was together as quartet.
“Goodness, I don’t think we were ever together again after the 1997 British tour. We went to the UK as a quartet and it was a good turn-on, but the press savaged us. Boy, they really gave it to us something awful.”
During that tour, The Independent declared The Monkees’ 1960s dispute “demanding that they write and play their own material was not too dissimilar from the cast of M*A*S*H wanting to carry out their own surgery”. Tork laughs at the quote.
“Micky used to say it was like Leonard Nimoy becoming a real Vulcan,” Tork says. “Now Micky sees Glee, the TV series where the cast members of the show have to do the singing and performing, as the real equivalent.
“We’ve always been able to play together,” Tork continues. “When we were making the pilot episode of the TV show, during a momentary lull when we were filming a dance scene, we realised the amps we were pretending to play through were real amps. We turned them on and began to play, never having played together before. Everybody got up and danced, so it’s not like they ran cowering from the room holding their ears!”
Good Times! songs such as Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller’s Birth Of An Accidental Hipster and Andy Partridge’s You Bring The Summer capture the joyous psychedelia of the ‘60s LA scene. Despite upholding a hectic schedule of filming their television show, recording music and touring, in 1967 and 1968 The Monkees were at the epicentre of pop culture. Jack Nicholson wrote their film Head, Jim Morrison would drop by Tork’s house for a drink and even George Harrison included some of Tork’s banjo playing on his Wonderwall soundtrack.
“To be in that scene, oh my gosh. I’ve led a very charmed life and it’s almost as much as I could have hoped for.”
Now Tork has gone from performing with George Harrison on his 1968 Wonderwall soundtrack to playing a song co-written by Noel Gallagher, a man who had a hit with Wonderwall.
“That’s funny - did he cover a song from Wonderwall?”
Errr, no. In 1995 he wrote a song called Wonderwall, which was inspired by the film’s title. It was a number one hit around the world.
“I see. I wasn’t paying attention to pop music at the time, but that’s a great little connection.”
Tork has discovered another personal link to his Good Times! collaborators.
“It was amazing to find out Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo graduated from the same local high school I did - he graduated from EO Smith College, Storrs, Connecticut. He wrote me and it was a great joy, so I was able to send a note back to congratulate him on escaping from the same high school!”
While Tork is excited about Good Times! offering a new chapter to The Monkees’ intriguing narrative, he’s also happy to talk about the past. In Graham Nash’s 2013 autobiography Wild Tales, the Crosby, Stills & Nash musician suggested in the 1960s Tork threw parties that were “legendary, days-on-end affairs with... plenty of music, sex, dope.”
“Bless Graham Nash!” Tork laughs. “It was a lot of fun. The girls were cute, the guys were happy, there was music and recreational mind-changers of one sort or another. I had a place with a swimming pool which no one else could see, so it was very private. There was a lot of clothing-optional parties going on. A great time was had by most!”
Good Times! is released on Rhino on digital and CD on May 27. A vinyl edition will be released on July 29. Pre-order the album here.
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