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BILL MUMY

 

BILL MUMY

 

BILL MUMY

"Out of the Cornfield At Last"

Interview by Dark Starr

You may THINK you know Bill Mumy...the talented child actor who entertained millions as "Will Robinson" on the TV classic "Lost In Space"...the eerie brat who used his god-like power to "send people to the cornfield" on the legendary "Twilight Zone" episode "It's a Good Life"...the grown up actor who donned heavy make-up to play the mystical Minbari warrior "Lennier" on the cult series "Babylon 5"...but chances are, you have no idea just how many pies he has his fingers in.

For example, music is his passion and he has released nine solo albums featuring his own compositions as well as three albums with his rock band The Jenerators and nine albums with the infamous novelty act Barnes & Barnes, whose video "Fish Heads" was voted by Rolling Stone as one of the best ever. He's also written musical scores for TV shows as diverse as soap opera "Santa Barbera", science documentary "The Universe and I" and Disney's "Adventures in Wonderland". In addition to which he's done voice over work on commercials for companies like McDonald's, Ford and Blockbuster.

Now if you don't think that's enough, consider the fact that he's also written quite a few comic books, including such iconic series as "The Incredible Hulk", "Spider-Man", "Aquaman", "Iron Man", "Star Trek" and his own creation, "The Comet Man". And he's also written music for children. And there's even more...

Yup, a lot of hats for Bill Mumy, but he has enough heads for them all! Our own Dark Starr recently talked to the hyperactive Renaissance Man about the relation between acting and music and many other subjects. Enjoy...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: You've done both acting and music. Is there one that you prefer to the other?

BILL MUMY: Acting is something I grew up doing and enjoying, but it's a job. I'm driven to write and record and perform original m usic so, although I "like" both, I have to say music.

WC: What do you find that acting and music share and what are the differences between them?

BM: Well, believing what you say when you say it...that's definitely a shared trait. Keeping it honest. The differences are huge. Working as an actor, you're a chess piece on someone else's board. The producer's, the writer's, the editor's, etc. When I make an album, it's mostly me alone in my recording studio following the muse and not having to compromise in any way. Sometimes, collaboration and a producer's plan or a director's vision is very important...and sometimes it just gets in the way.

WC: Can you give the readers a bit of a look at some of your history? I'd guess many of them have some idea about your acting career but might be more in the dark about your music.

BM: I've been making music professionally since I was a kid. Even in episodes of "Lost In Space", Will Robinson was playing guitar and singing a few times. I've released ten albums as a solo artist over the past 14 years. Before that, I was making novelty rock albums and films like "Fish Heads" with Barnes & Barnes. Barnes & Barnes recorded our first new album in 18 years recently, "Opbopachop". Last year I produced and largely wrote an album for Sarah Taylor called "The Cure To Everything". I think she's a great singer and the record turned out really nicely. I've worked with Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell in "America" for decades. I've written lots of songs for television shows, films, commercials and other artists. I've been out on the road and locked in studios for months on end. My discography and history is readily available at Billmumy.com and other sites. You gotta be who you were to be who you are, right?

But I'm more interested in what I'm currently doing. "Carnival Sky" is my most recent solo release on GRA. It's a rawer and more stripped back album compared to my previous ones. That's not to say it's not "full" but it's less produced. Things fall together with less "ear candy" type productions. Although I'm a huge lover of harmony, I approached the album differently. It's a single vocal on every track. I wrote and played everything on the album except one drum loop that Russ Kunkel played.

"Speechless" is largely made up of tracks that I recently composed for a feature length documentary on photography called "Light" that David Honl and Claudia Christian produced. Claudia and I worked on "Babylon 5" together. I've labelled it "Ambient 21st Century Blues". It's an arena I've never really worked in before and I was really happy with it. It's relaxing but it's got a lot of passion in it.

WC: A few questions about your acting career. It seems that many kids who get into acting have had serious problems in real life as they've gotten older. Do you think your experience was typical as part of "Lost In Space"?

BM: I don't think there is such a thing as "typical". I loved every day of working on "Lost In Space". It's all good. Who doesn't have serious problems in life at one time or another?

WC: Would you want your kids to get into show business?

BM: Both my son Seth and daughter Liliana have starred in feature films and worked on TV. My daughter Liliana is a very prolific actress and voice over artists. Seth is working on his own music now and it's really good. I don't think showbiz eats its young as long as they're doing something they enjoy and they're not being taken advantage of by greedy parents.

WC: Do you have any special memories from "Lost In Space" you'd like to share?

BM: It was the Sixties! You had to be there. Like I said, I loved every day on that series.

WC: How about your appearances on "The Twilight Zone"?

BM: They're great. Very proud of those. "The Twilight Zone" holds up amazingly well. Best show ever!

WC: You were also involved in "Babylon 5"...another iconic science fiction show. What was that experience like? Anything special stand out?

BM: Five years of glueing foam rubber to my head to play "Lennier" from the planet Minbar everyday! Physically, that was pretty tough, all those hours in make-up. It was a great show, though. Really well written and produced. We did 110 episodes.

WC: You worked with Alfred Hitchcock, too. Were you aware at the time of the significance of that and what did you take away from it?

BM: I took away that he was an asshole to me. I did three of his shows.

WC: How has your acting career affected your music--and vice versa--or are they isolated from one another?

BM: Well, honestly, I don't think it's helped. Maybe it's made getting some interviews easier but people have a hard time accepting artists who work in arenas that weren't their first one that the public was aware of them in...it's absurd. Really...like, if you were a really great Little League pitcher when you were eleven years old...and people won't take you seriously as a doctor when you're fifty...it's crazy! But you gotta do what you gotta do. And I never had any negative experiences working as a child actor. But the child actor thing hasn't helped my music. If anything, I'd have to say it's hurt.

WC: What's ahead for you?

BM: If I had my crystal ball, I'd tell ya...I don't know. I'm working on the next solo album right now. I'm trying to be a good husband, father and friend. Regarding where the showbiz bus takes me next? I have no real idea. I've been very fortunate to work in many arenas of showbiz. Writing, producing, acting, recording, touring, voice over work, etc. I might write some more comic books soon. I have a weekly internet radio show called "The Real Good Radio Hour" which can be heard at www.KSAV.org. That's fun!

WC: Are there any musicians you'd like to play with in the future?

BM: Sure! And plenty I'd like to work with in the past, too.

WC: Are there any actors or directors you'd like to work with in the future?

BM: Sure, but do they want to work with me? That's the question.

WC: Do you think that downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales...would you agree?

BM: Well, first of all, the disappearance of real record stores is sad to me. Now most people have to go to Best Buy or Target or Wal-Mart...there's no selection there. It's awfl! The concept of "albums" seems to be disappearing too, which depresses me. I try to create a whole story with my albums. The sequencing of the music is important to me...the artwork and design is important to me...I miss vinyl albums and the size of their packaging. But you can't pretend that technology hasn't made it all easier. I just hope people will take 45 minutes of their time to listen to my projects as a whole at least once. Then, they can skip to their favorites. I would simply like people to listen, you know? It's like a film. You don't go to the movies and talk on the phone and read a magazine at the same time you're watching a film (Believe it or not, I've seen both happen...Mality) It would be nice to actually take the time to hear an album in its running order from start to finish. Anyway, I'm no expert, but the major record companies were terribly greedy for many, many decades. They ripped everybody off for a long time. Now the internet has helped to even the playing field a lot. Anyone can put their music on the internet and be heard if people want to listen. That's a good thing. On the other hand, I don't want to be ripped off for my work. Sure, I want people to listen to it, but it shouldn't be stolen.

WC: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

BM: You mean recording live gigs or trading TV shows? I'm not that concerned about either one.

WC: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch-nemesis and why?

BM: Whoever had the brilliant concept to take all the freedom away from disc jockeys: Clear Channel, I guess. The corporate dumbing down of the world...I don't dig that.

WC: If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it?

BM: Well, do you mean to perform my music? Or just a fantasy band? A fantasy band might include...

Chrissie Hynde on guitar and vocals, Keith Richards on guitar and vocals, Paul McCartney on bass and vocals, Brian Wilson on keyboards and vocals, Booker T on Hammond organ and Jim Keltner or Russ Kunkel on drums. I'd pay to hear that but that would be a very weird band!

WC: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view, who would be playing?

BM: Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Pretenders, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, The Everly Brothers, McCartney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a reunited Byrds with McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman, a reunited original Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, and a reunited Kinks. Old school masters...that would please me.

WC: What was the last CD you bought or what have you been listening to lately?

BM: Yesterday, I went to Amoeba Records, the last great record store in Hollywood, and bought The Eels' "End Times" and Freddy Johnson's "Rain On the City". I listen to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, Peter Green, Chrissie Hynde, Bob Dylan mostly. But I listen to a lot of different stuff. I was listening to a bunch of Stones tracks at two in the morning last night with my son Seth. And I was digging the Mills Brothers last week!

WC: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

BM: Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks.

WC: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

BM: "DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!" "WISH ME INTO THE CORNFIELD!" "WAS THERE A MAN INSIDE THE ROBOT?", "YOU WROTE FISH HEADS?!"

WC: Finally, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to get out there?

BM: Do the best you can do and can the best you do.