Interview with Ed Fusco
The only remaining original member of The Misfit Toys, Ed
truly loves the band. Although divorced from the original vocalist he seems
married to the band – or at least it's name. When the bands roots began
to grow the role of manager and agent fell to him. He had been in several bands
prior to getting married and one other he started and managed was while still
in high school. In his early teens he discovered an extension of pop music known
as 'album rock'. He had been singing his entire life and when he discovered
the music of Bert Bacharach and Herb Alpert he chose to learn trumpet at school
and other than watching “The Monkees” TV show ignored popular music.
When he discovered there was music out there other than Billboard Pop a new
door in his life opened wide. He had always been an outdoors person but at age
13 he began looking at the new social consciousness of the 'counter culture'
with an open mind and instead of dreaming about hiking and camping in the wilderness
he day dreamed about being on stage with a guitar, not a trumpet in his hands
When he married Elizabeth his life changed and he began working 65 hour work weeks including Saturdays. That left little time for being in a band. A year and a half later he became a father so his little bit of free time was consumed by his love of family.
Ed had never been interested in sports as a fan. He had been on several sports teams and years later he quipped “ sports and sex are not for spectating “. Never a sports fan but liked to play the games.
When asked he will always say he started The Misfit Toys for his wife and that he has never had a goal in life to be a rock and roll star. He managed the band through a series of line ups before the divorce. Since then he has not found the musicians or vocalist capable of reproducing the band's very original sound when the 80's met the 90's and eventually gave up the search. He had all of the recordings the band had made in the studio and a live recording of every show they ever performed live minus one. In his mind he remained the band's biggest fan and actually distributed made to order CD copies of their album “Too Short” and “Noises from the Basement”. In 2019 he decided to make a music video of the song that had charted across the United States. Once completed he created a channel on You tube. Positive comments were enough for him to dig out more recordings and create more videos. This led to communicating with Mike Adams and soon they were communicating with Dennis Kapoyos and recording together again became a reality. Where he stands today is on top of 2 dozen completed or nearly completed studio recordings and an eye on releasing an album on vinyl as well as streaming in the near future. He has never been known as a person with a big ego but is notorious for being long winded and never brief in the response to a question. Five people may tell the same story but if Ed is one of them then all of the details will be named. There has never been any attempt to discover what ticks inside of Ed's head regarding The Misfit Toys. He seems to have all the answers to questions no one asked. Today we are asking.
I'll begin by asking if this is one of those stories of
middle aged men longing for their glory days of a collage band and decide to
put the old band back together?
No, I can truthfully say that this is not one of those band reunion stories. I'd say it is more about an unfinished project that has simply been dormant for a long time. Dennis and Mike never stopped performing live or recording. I'm the odd man out. If that isn't enough then consider that our vocalist is only 17.
When did The Misfit Toys break up?
Truth be told we never broke up. Dennis decided to leave the band to perform in one where he played keyboards and sang. When he left Mike went with him. It was at a bad time because it was that very month we were hearing back from record labels who wanted to hear more or for us to perform at a show case. Suddenly we had a hole in our songs where their used to be a guitar. When Dennis left he remarked that replacing him shouldn't be difficult because what he played is fairly easy. I interviewed over 160 guitarists who answered our ad and only had about 20 come by and audition. No one could capture his sound. Ultimately we settled upon one because of his proficiency and very slowly he was learning the songs. I realized it may be 6 months or more before we could play out or record again. It was obvious we would have to start all over again, playing restaurants instead of clubs and splitting the bill or even opening for bands where we had headlined for a long time. By 1990 I gave up and we moved to Tucson.
Tell us about the Misfit Toys beginning.
The beginning is very simple. Elizabeth, the I girl I married was always singing during the 4 years we dated. Not so much hit radio but album tracks and all of what she sang involved male vocalists with powerful voices. I believe more than anything else in life she wanted her 'shot at the big time'. It is a story many movies have been made about with every year's passing she saw her chance to show the world she could sing slipped further away. The 80's were a great time for new music and new ideas in music. She went from listening to “Alice Cooper” and “The Who” to the “Thompson Twins” and “Reflex”. I believed she had a good strong voice and she believed she was better than anyone out there on the charts so one day I told her that I was willing to put together a backing band for her. It wouldn't be an all for one, one for all democracy it would her her band and I'd run it as well as play bass guitar. In 1984 I began running ads. I phoned a guy who was the drummer in a band I was in called 'Raven” and he was unattached and happy just to jam. We had a young girl answer the ad for a keyboard player. She had no experience being in a band but neither did Elizabeth. After a couple of guitarists we were fortunate that Dennis saw our ad. He joined us in June 1985 and we had our first gig in August. The story of the band would be quite different if Dennis had not joined us when he did.
Two and a half months isn't very long to prepare
a full band to perform out. Tell us how you pulled that off.
First of all the entire band was anxious to play. Dennis had an amazing talent where I could give him a new song to learn on Monday and when he came back Wednesday he knew the entire song. Our keyboard player was four years older than Dennis and had no experience other than piano recitals. Elizabeth had never sung in front of anyone besides her family and myself. The drummer had played in a number of bands and played many different styles. Playing live should have been almost mechanical at this point in his life and experience. I had taught myself to play the bass because of my love of the instrument and I really wasn't very good. So I was the weak point in the band. We practiced every other day and did it in a rather non-social manner. I had remodeled our basement into a practice studio and at 7:00 on weeknights we plugged in, tuned up and I would call out the name of a song and we would run through it. Very little talking or socializing. I'd give my observations on how the song went or what I gleaned from listening to the recording of the previous practice. At 8:00 we would unplug, turn off amps and everyone went home.
In August I began to send our demo tape to the places where bands performed. The owner of 'The Grog and Tankard “ called me and offered us an audition gig. It didn't pay. We would open up for another band and he would evaluate us.
With more than half of the band being ;green'
how did that go?
Ironically the person with the most errors that night was the drummer – with the most experience. We played a 45 minute set that included three original songs and the audience loved us. The club owner offered us a residency of playing two nights in a row several weekends a month. The pay was also very good and gave us a lot of hope as well as confidence. The only downside of playing there was Dennis' friends could not enter the room because they were under age as was Dennis. Overall the band played well and I was proud of them. There were so many areas that could have been bad for us that didn't.
In reading your band history you began playing
out of town dates not long after 1986 began. It seems to be more prudent to
have continued playing close to home in order to build a local following. Tell
us how this came about and the band's reactions.
The band was very excited to play out of the area. The first out of town show was in Baltimore at a locally famous club called “The Marble Bar”. It was a speak easy during prohibition and had a room length marble topped bar that was huge and in front of it a room length mirror. Basic understanding of sound would shoot up flags that all of those hard, reflective surfaces is disastrous for a band. We were the opening act and the headliner's PA was cranked up to be painfully loud and their lighting rigs generated fairly intense heat from every beam. As I recall we gave them a good performance but unfortunately that is the one show out of all we ever played that I don't have a recording of in my archives.
Playing out of town was an unspoken goal of mine for the band. I wanted us to be one of those bands with a long list of dates printed in the weekend section of the newspaper. As the performance quality of The Misfit Toys grew so did our reach into other cities. We became regulars in Baltimore at The “Galaxy “ and at “The Paragon “ in Richmond. The band really didn't discuss anything. I pretty much developed a strategy and followed it, letting the rest know about it after it was on its way. Audiences in both Richmond and Baltimore loved the band and we usually played to fairly packed audiences. The Paragon was a very small two room pub but since we were so well received there it was a lot of fun. Our short time goal was to have fun and get more jobs.
What is the furthest from home The Misfit Toys
That would be 'CBGB' in NYC. We drove up, played our spot and them drove right back. We also played a show in Raleigh, N.C. but I think NYC is further away from Rockville. We were invited to play at Clemson but the student funding fell short. At that point we no longer had a stand alone keyboard player and Elizabeth played the keyboard when needed. She also played several percussion instruments including castanets, claves, maracas, cabassa, roto-toms and tambourine. None of them were stage props and served their place where she played them. She once asked 'What;s next, are you going to strap small cymbals to my knees ?”
That is quite a load of instruments. Which if any other
instruments were played by your band mates aside from their primary instruments?
Dennis and Mike are both multi-instrumentalists each playing guitar, bass, drums, keys, and percussion as well as singing.
The Misfit Toys have a lot of excellent original songs.
Do you share the writing or is it primarily one or two people ?
I generally take the song writing credit and Elizabeth the lyrics but that is only part of the story. In most cases I introduced a song idea and Elizabeth gave the 'yeah' or Nay' as to if it is usable. From there she would write her lyrics and alter my original idea to better fit her words. Usually she and I would create a new demo to present to the rest of the band. I believe the way I play bass often has a percussive element that Mike almost immediately picks up on. He is very intuitive and he and Dennis both benefit from being multi-instrumentalists. On some songs very little of my original demo is used including the bass part. I would never think so much of myself to tell Dennis what or how to play. That was true when he was 16 and it is true today. He has an amazing ear and what's more he understands 'space' in a song. As one person put it Dennis knows how powerful a pause can be. He knows when to not play and when to play. He has always been that way. I enjoy writing and ironing out a song idea. Later when the arrangement is worked out and everyone has settled into their part there is a wonderful feeling that comes over me. From the beginning song credits went to Elizabeth and myself except for one song that Dennis wrote while with us. That one is Elizabeth and Dennis.
With the band rehearsing 3-4 times a week and playing out did you ever tire of each other?
As far as I know no one was tired of being together so much except Elizabeth. My job as manager and agent on top of setting up for our set, tearing it down loading and unloading the van, driving the van and moving everything back into the basement on top of playing the show tended to make me touchy at times. I think it was fatigue that brought on impatience. I was working full time as a mechanic too. Dealing with booking agents could be quite a task at time.
Recordings of the band performing depict
a band that is very tight What was the secret to the band being so tight ? Did
you have band fights?
No, we never had a fight and I don't remember any disagreements between band mates. Elizabeth and I would disagree sometimes during the initial writing phase of a song. I attribute our rigorous rehearsals as the reason we were tight. Dennis could change his solos and Mike could play different fills and Elizabeth could ( and did ) change her lyrics but none of those affected the song. There were always ques sort of hidden in songs and that is what we used to not have a song fall apart. Practice benefited me the most since I play by ear. Changing keys never affected me because of that too. It may have helped us that Elizabeth and I had and have a deep respect for Mike and Dennis' talent. The fact the two of them had been playing together for years couldn't have hurt their playing together. In the beginning we had three band mates with no experience and they were dropped on the same stage as well seasoned bands. Instead of being intimidated they worked hard to show they were up to it. Our 'no alcohol or drugs' agreement had to help as well.
What did you do in your role as manager?
That could be a lengthy answer but I'll try to condense it. First role was to schedule practice days and times along with any gigs I had made. As booking agent I had a long list of items that would make each show easier on me and the band. Questions such as where to unload the van and where to safely park it. It had the important things a band has to know but other things such as nearest bathroom to the dressing room. Of course we needed to know ahead of time about the club's PA or if they even had one along with stage lights. For a long time we performed in front of a canvas backdrop I had air brushed and I needed to know if it could be hung on stage and how. We learned the hard way to ask if we had to supply a person to collect money at the door. We played two nights at a club in Richmond that did not supply such a person and the first night we happily watched as the club became packed. Since our agreement was that we got 100% of the door we were expecting a nice purse at the end of the night. Then the news came that we had played for free.
Hopefully things did not happen like that
very often. I suppose the question there is how does one learn to ask the right
questions before agreeing to a date?
The music business is full of unwelcome surprises. One club we played at had no less than 50 people on the guest list because I hadn't restricted their guest number. Another club where we had the packed in tried to take a rental fee for the lights and PA after we had played. Fortunately the club owner was near by and interceded on our behalf and we got the agreed upon amount. We have plenty of horror stories from the road but they are all in the past. I see them as bumps in the road. We payed our dues.
As your popularity grew did you consider
handing the managerial job to someone else? Maybe someone with connections or
at least experience?
Somewhere along the way I bought several books on the music business, managing and promoting a band and all of the legal aspects someone in a band should be aware of. Even in a book several years old there is great information that can easily save a band a lot of money. Now with the Internet it is even easier and very fast to gain information. Sadly as our popularity grew we still didn't have anyone who wanted to go to shows and be a roadie. We hired a full time sound engineer but her job was the mixing board and making certain there was a good balance between the instruments. She had a friend who sometimes went along and he would not only help with the gear but also took photographs.
Since you were in charge of everything behind
the scenes tell us about the record.
The record was an actual vinyl record. We were advised by a person with a qualified opinion to not self release several of the songs we were planning on releasing of the 7 or 8 songs on our planned album. He strongly believed that our song “Someday” had all the elements of a hit and in the proper hands would climb the charts. In the end we chose two songs and released a 12 inch single with an extended mix on one side.
How did the record do in the charts?
It is difficult to answer that one. First by charts we must be speaking of the collage radio charts. Most if not all collage radio stations subscribe to “CMJ” the Collage Music Journal. There are several but CMJ seems to be the one universally agreed upon to matter. I researched every collage radio station in America to see which were inclined to play new music and which played classic rock, country, classical or jazz exclusively. After elimination station we were not likely to be played I phoned every station and found out whom to mail the record to and how many copies. This number came out to over 250 stations. I phoned the stations again to make certain they received the record and to get feedback from them. Next I monitored the CMJ every week to see if it charted, how long and the highest position. The result after 6 months was that we had airplay on 234 stations and at most the record charted. At some it charted on the A side and then charted on the B side. At most stations we made it to the top 20 and at quite a few the top ten. At several stations we were in their charts for nearly the entire time I watched the charts – 6 months. On top of that we received club play.
Jumping ahead now, from Tucson you moved
to Central Florida and struck up the band again. Tell us about your new experiences
We moved to Florida for family reasons and as soon as we bought a house we began running ads for a drummer and a guitarist. We were fortunate to find a guitarist who naturally plays a lot like Dennis and was quick to learn our material. Our drummer was accustomed to playing in classic rock cover bands. We thought it could work. Meanwhile Elizabeth's taste in music changed a bit. She was still listening to a lot of 'Gene Loves Jezebel 'Psychedelic Furs and Dream Academy . I was at a point where I was playing the best I ever had in my life. On playback of practices or shows I was baffled by how well I played. In scouting work for the band we were offered a place on a surfing DVD's soundtrack. That was just too strange. The band folded up and a short time later Elizabeth wanted a divorce.
So without a singer, drummer or guitarist
you were left as a one man band. Did you give up?
No, I never gave up on the band or our music. I never stopped believing in our music but I did stop playing for a long time. I did jam with people every now and again and I listened to what we had recorded.
Did you miss performing when you saw other
I didn't go to see any bands. Where I moved to in Central Florida there is no support for original music or bands. It's an area where the few bands play in bars or pizza parlors and play to the ''Jimmy Buffet ''crowd or the “Free bird “ lot. There is a pool hall/bar not far from me that hires Country bands and hard rock cover bands so I suppose that is the only music the area supports. It's sad really. I do miss performing live.
Tell us about the current project The Misfit
Toys is working on.
The new project was born from my making music videos from our old concert footage but first there was “The Ordinary”. We had shot footage at a kids amusement park with a loose plan for a music video. At the time it was very expensive to have someone edit the video tape and I just put the tape in a box. Not it is quite easy to edit a video, not easy to look professional but video editing software is very user friendly. I edited the footage and put it on Youtube. Much later I had the notion to make a video from a song we really didn't play much. The song is called “The Haunt” and it is rather slow and, you guessed it, haunting. I wrote a screen play and script for it and hired an actress after building some of the sets and props I would need. I edited it into a rough version and later turned it over to Mike to make the final edit. I'm happy with how it turned out and can't wait to release it at the same time as the album.
For about a year and a half we have been recording and mixing a new album of material from our archives. I was given our master studio tapes and the plan was to have it digitized and released. Since Dennis and Mike were so young when we recorded the tracks they wanted to re-record most of the songs. That is exactly what we did and then kept going and made over a dozen new recordings. You could say The Misfit Toys are back but in truth I never left. I kept up with things as though we were still together. About 5 or so years ago I was back to running ads for musicians though this time it included a vocalist. We currently have a female vocalist named Victory who lives in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Are things different now?
The entire music scene has changed. Last time we debated whether to release on CD or vinyl and now vinyl is popular we had to decide all over again. Clubs and audiences are different too and it seems like bands are primarily old guys. The way I see it is when I was a kid or a teen almost everyone wanted to be in a band. There was almost magic behind saying you were in a band because being a musician is exciting. Some musicians got a lot of girls and some did a lot of drugs but being a rock musician made you feel above the people around you. The Misfit Toys were not a rock band per se. We came into music toward the end of the 'New Wave' music. We became very into The Cure and similar bands that didn't write love songs. The touched upon darker emotions. Dennis introduced us to bands we didn't hear on alternative radio.
Name a few of those bands that influenced
you as a group.
When Dennis joined he brought New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, REM and U-2, though I was familiar with the last two. For years I had been a huge fan of the Who and loved pattern drummers and deplored time keepers. When auditioning drummer I used to have them play a familiar song with us and then play it again without the hi-hat. It made them think outside the box as they say. Mike was unique in that is we left him a gap in a song for a drum solo instead of beating up everything in sight he was more likely to play the break on all cymbals. Listening to him or watching him play now I believe he is a force to be reckoned with as he does impressive drumming on every song. Dennis is another one who often plays unconventionally – in fact we all are unconventional in our approach to a song.
It is true that the music business has changed a lot over
the past 20 years. A group of friends can make a recording and have it streamed
on Spotify, iTunes and other streaming services. Bands no longer need to perform
live. The Misfit Toys is not a house hold name. How will you break out of the
sea of bands releasing albums ?
That is something that would take a lot of time to disclose to you but believe me we have plans to take our name and music around the world.
Do you believe you can break into a market where people have a different language and culture ?
Certainly! We have a foot in the door already from our videos on Youtube. I have received fan mail from Brazil, Portugal, Scotland, Latvia during this past year. 'Dark music' is big in a lot of places in Europe. I have almost always collected bootleg recordings and pre-Internet collectors used to keep lists and trade tapes through the mail. I was delighted to see Misfit Toys tapes being traded by Siouxsie and the Banshees fans in France and Italy.
How long before the new album is released ?
I stopped setting dates awhile back because it is out of my hands. Our vocalist only has a few more songs to learn and record but we are waiting on the final guitar tracks and then the final mixing. With that in mind I am hoping it won't be more than a few months. I am proud to be associated with all of the songs on the album and I believe if promoted properly we may leave our mark in the world of music.
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