YOU KNOW HIM AS THE BACKBONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS ORCHESTRA, PLAYING TO AND BACK FROM COMMERCIALS FOR ONE OF THE GREATS OF LATE NIGHT TELEVISION. BUT THERE'S A WHOLE MUSICAL WORLD TO THE OFF-CAMERA ANTON FIG. LEARN ALL ABOUT IT, AS NIGHT WATCHMAN PLAYS THE Q & A.
Night Watchman: How does it feel to know that you're working with the man who wrote "It's Raining Men"?
Anton: (laughs) It's cool. You could do a lot worse. It's a hit song. Whatever you have to do to get that hit song is just fine.
NW: That's true. Who came up with the name The CBS Orchestra? Was it one of the members of the band?
A: Well, we used to be called The World's Most Dangerous Band, which is a great name, but the powers at NBC deemed it their property, even though they didn't come up with it at all. You know, I don't know how that works, but apparently it's acceptable behavior in corporate America.
NW: On your website you have a set list of all the songs that The CBS Orchestra has to choose from, and it stretches back through all of the 15 years you've been playing on Letterman.
A: Yeah. I think it's 16 years now.
NW: Are there any songs on that list that you hate playing?
A: There are a couple. (laughs) But I don't want to say which ones they are. I don't like to offend people. The thing is this, I'm just happy to be playing, so I just find a way to play it that makes it interesting. Some of the songs I like more than others. I don't really hate any of them, but there are some I prefer more than others.
NW: Have you ever had to turn down a big gig because of your commitments to Letterman and its schedule?
A: Yeah. There was a Tina Turner record I couldn't do, and Stevie Winwood wanted to take me on tour, but I couldn't go. There have been some others, but I can't really say. I was offered by a huge band to play, but I just couldn't do it. I'm sure they'd rather me keep quiet about it.
NW: That's very mysterious. You've played on so many different albums: B.B. King, Billy Joel, Madonna, Rolling Stones, and you've jammed with so many different people on the show. Is there anybody out there that you haven't had the opportunity to play along with?
A: Elvis. He was dead before I had the chance to be in contention to play with him. And John Lennon passed away before I had the chance. I was in California, but I was kind of new. I wasn't really on the scene yet when he was assassinated. That was a drag. I've been lucky in that I've played with just about everyone I've ever wanted to play with, in some shape or form. I did get a chance to play with all the other Beatles in some way or another.
NW: How many other people can say that?
A: Yeah. Whether it was in a jamming situation or whatever, but I was making music with them. I'm very thankful for what I have done.
NW: Of all the other different late night drummers, your peers, who's your favorite? Do you like Max Weinberg or Smitty from Leno?
A: Smitty is a really great drummer. He has a lot of chops. I haven't really heard him play much since he's been on the show, but when he was living in New York we used to share a practice space in the city. His stuff was in storage,.. but he was never there.
A: When he was in New York he was doing all kinds of gigs. He played with Sting one time. He's really good.
NW: Do you watch any of the other late night shows?
A: You know, I watch Conan every now and then. And I like Tom Green. I was actually on The Tom Green Show.
NW: I heard you had some kind of a showdown with him.
A: Yeah. I had a drum battle with him.
NW: Who won?
A: Me. (laughs) It was really cool. I've got this new CD out, and he held it up. It was fun.
NW: The CD is Figments?
NW: You were recording that album for quite a while.
A: I worked on it for years because I've got a steady job. I wouldn't call it a hobby, because music is my life. But I had to do it in my spare time. Besides the drums and a few overdubs, 85% of the recording was done at home. All music is related, and a record doesn't necessarily have to be in one style. Record companies hate that approach, because they can't market it to one area. But I was doing it all myself, so I could do whatever I wanted to do. I called all these different people, most of which I had played with. I had never played with Brian Wilson, but I was able to get him on the record.
NW: That's got to be pretty cool.
A: That was great. The singer on that song is a friend of mine named Blondie Chaplin. He sang with the Beach Boys, so I got him and Brian Wilson together. I've got Ace Frehley and Sebastian Bach on it, so I've got all these combinations of people. I've played with Ace for years, and I played on Sebastian's record. I knew all these different people, so I just did a completely indie project. I sell it on my website. In this day and age, the record companies have made it that way. You can buy the instruments and make really good music on your own, but you can't get it out there on your own. They tie everything up. So I just made the record I wanted to make, and I'm getting it out there however I can.
NW: Was there anyone who was unable to do the project because of record company interference?
A: No. But there was one person-- who has to remain nameless-- who I played a song for, a huge American icon, and I asked him if he'd sing the song on the record. He said he would. So I worked up the song and took it to him. I said, "Here's the song ready to go. This is for you to sing on my record." But he had no recollection whatsoever of talking to me or playing on the record.
NW: Was it someone you met on the show?
A: Yeah. It was someone who came to the show.
NW: No hints?
A: I can't really say.
NW: What was the writing process like on the record? Did you write everything, or did everybody write together?
A: I wrote and co-wrote stuff. There was one song on the record that was a jam thing. But then I took the jam and reconstructed it into more of a form. I wrote a lot during the recording, but some of the songs were written beforehand. I'd write a song or music tracks and then get together with people and write words and melody on top-- it would evolve. They're all different; all were written with different people, and all evolved in different ways. Some of the songs were old and started off in MIDI format. We'd then record live instruments until the MIDI tracks were gone.
NW: Are you going to tour for the album?
A: I do drum clinics, but with those I'm just playing to a track off the record, so that's not really the same. I think if the record ever got any kind of notoriety it would be great to do it as a revue kind of thing. I'd love to do it, but I think it has to have some notoriety first. It'd be a huge project to get something together like that.
NW: People can get the album off your website and hear some tracks on mp3.com, right?
A: Yeah. You can hear a couple minutes of each song on my website, and there is a little explanation about it.
NW: I think that's the best way to do it.
A: It's the only way! The record companies don't get you out there unless you're a sexy young girl between the ages of 14 and 24, or if you're some guy between 16 and 26. You don't have much chance of being marketed. It's unfortunate, but it's all about commodity, sales, and product. It's not really about art. I made this record, and I'm not saying it's art, but I really consider the music to be the most important thing. And I made it to the best of my ability. I never thought about anything other than making a really good sounding record.
NW: That's good. That's the way to do it.
A: Whatever happens, I'm glad that it came out. It was time very well spent.
NW: What CDs are you listening to right now?
A: I just got into Kind of Blue, the Miles Davis record from 1952. I've got a little child, and the baby loves it. I listen to it two times a day. A friend of mine wrote a book on the making of the album, and I really got deep into it. So I'm really enjoying listening to that record. The pianist on the record is Bill Evans, and I've got another Bill Evans record that I'm listening to that I really love. And the new Annie Lennox album-- that's fantastic. And I'm listening to the African artist Vusi Mahlasela; he's a protest singer. It's part of the whole grand music revolution in South Africa. I'm not really listening to what's on the radio. To be honest, I have to learn so much music all the time that it's sometimes nice not to have any music on at all.
NW: In your opinion, do you think dogs have lips?
A: Yes. But very thin ones. I think dogs have lips, and the Pope does shit in the woods.
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