Phil Marcade on The Senders’ Career-Spanning Archival Release ‘All Killer No Filler’ (INTERVIEW)

Photo used courtesy of Left For Dead Records

The Senders were a New York-based and influenced band operating for over 25 years, beginning in 1976 as Punk was on the rise, they brought a Blues and Rockabilly accent to their experimental music and created a substantial reputation for their high-energy live shows. Venues like Max’s Kansas City and CBGB were their regular haunts. Despite their regular songwriting sessions, with only a handful of released studio recordings over the years, their musical work has been woefully lacking from the record. Now, Left For Dead Records has released a career-spanning archival collection spanning from 1977 to 2001 with 31 songs on double vinyl and double CD sets titled All Killer No Filler. 

The song selection is wide-ranging and many are taken from key live performances of fan favorite original songs, as well as including their “Seven Song Super Single,” a studio recording that was meant to be a single but turned into a full set. The songs show the breadth of their musical influences and interests in their covers as well as their capacity to adapt and change over time as they encountered new trends. I spoke with vocalist and co-songwriter Phil Marcade about his time with The Senders, how their songs and performances were shaped then, and how they have been preserved in this new archival edition. 

HMS: How did you come to work with Left For Dead Records for this project?

Phil Marcade: What happened was that Peter Crowley used to be the booking agent at the club Max’s Kansas City, and we did a record with them in 1980 so Peter produced it. He was friends with Jim at Left For Dead Records, and we started thinking about doing a reissue of that Max’s record. Peter contacted me to ask if that was okay and to ask if I would like to add more songs. To make a long story short, before we knew it, we had a double album, a whole big project.

HMS: That’s wonderful. This record also contains the special “Seven Song Super Single” that Peter produced itself, right?

PH: Yes, and it’s amazing because they actually made a replica of the sleeve of the record which is inside the album. It’s a nice detail.

HMS: I think that you had something to do with the artwork. Did you make the artwork for that single?

PH: Yes, exactly. I wish we had photoshop back then! But we didn’t, so it’s all handmade. We had this idea to do a photograph like a table in a dressing room at a show, so there’s a setlist, and an ashtray, a harmonica, and some beer bottles. We set all that up. I’m so glad they reprinted it.

HMS: Had you made art before, like posters and things?

PH: When I was a teenager, I drew all the time. I’m French, and I ended up in art school in Paris. Then I met this kid from America and went to America. I was supposed to go for two months, for the summer, and I ended up staying 40 years. I never finished art school but I always had this passion for drawing and painting. So I did all the flyers for the band, which was a very audio visual thing.

HMS: A lot of bands still do their own art, posters, and even videos now. 

PH: I love the cover that Left For Dead did for this album, but when they first mentioned that someone else was going to draw it, that felt strange since I’m usually the person to do that. 

HMS: I agree, it looks great. It looks like Underground Comix from magazines. What form was all this music in to be preserved? Did you have tapes in your archive?

PH: Yes, I had tapes that I had already converted into CDs about 20 years ago. When we talked about the record, I sent 80 songs and asked that they pick 30 songs out of them. They had a lot of choice and I totally agree with what they chose. They really chose the best songs. 

HMS: I’m so glad that you kept all of that and had it ready. Tell me about all these other recordings. Aside from the “Seven Song Super Single”, which was made in a studio, how were they recorded? A lot of them sound live. 

PH: We always taped shows. Usually, we would tape from the mixing board or we’d bring a machine to the show. One song, “My Baby Glows in the Dark” was recorded from a studio in a truck that was meant to be on a record. A lot of stuff was just recorded for fun, we also made a lot of demos in studios. Every few months we’d make demo recordings, but only a handful of them have been heard before.

HMS: It’s really cool that you were thinking towards recording your shows at the time, since that’s not always the case. I guess by the late 70s, bands were starting to do that more, right?

PH: In the mid-80s it became more normal to record everything. You have no idea how much we did not tape, though. There are a lot of shows that I wish we had on tape. Maybe it’s better that way, to just remember it. [Laughs] We have some stuff, but we missed a lot of it, too. We played for 25 years and did approximately 2,000 shows. That would be a lot of shows to tape!

HMS: Did the live nature of some of these tracks make it difficult to create a compilation in terms of sound? Did you have to clean them up or remove background noise?

PH: Once we had chosen the songs, they all mostly came from different places, so the sound was different between them. Left for Dead sent it out to remastered and they equalized the volume. I think they did an excellent job because what I sent them was a mess. Some songs were twice as loud as others. There was no way you could listen to them on an album before. They took out some of the noise. The song I like best actually had that problem, called “When I Die, I’ll Be A Ghost.” The quality of the tape was really bad, but the performance and the song was really one I wanted to use. It’s the last one on the record.

HMS: I was really impressed by how clear and distinct the guitar parts are on the recordings, because often that’s what tends to suffer the most. I can really pick out the bass elements, too, clearly. The vocals are very clear too, and understandable. That’s all kind of rare working with a lot of live recordings.

PH: That’s terrific. Our guitar player, Bill [Wild Bill Thompson], worked on all of it, and with one guitar, he cut right through. He passed away a few years ago, so for me, this was a bit of a tribute to him. I wanted to pick things that had his best work and his best solos. I think you can hear it clearly here. I’m sorry he’s not around anymore because he would have loved this record. I wish he was here to share that joy!

HMS: I heard that he had passed. It is a big shame that he can’t hear it, because this is a big tribute to him. I think one of the main reactions that an audience would have would be to the guitar work. There are a lot of interesting solos. Something about all of this music, to me, is that all of the instruments, including vocals, seem to be in a kind of dialog with each other in a very clear way. Was that part of your style as a band and as performers?

PH: That’s so cool that you see that. We worked on that. We wanted a dialog. It’s funny because Bill was such a good player, but on stage he was a bit shy. I would find myself in center stage when he played a solo, so I’d sneak behind him and push him into the middle of the stage. I’d have to tell him, “When you do a solo, take the center stage! Don’t leave me in the middle!” [Laughs] Once there was a review saying, “The singer always wanted attention and stayed in the middle when the guitarist did a solo.” After that, I was even more conscious of it. 

HMS: Obviously, there’s a lot of Rockabilly and Blues influence here on the music. Is that something that you and Bill had in common, that brought you together to work together?

PH: Totally. We were big Blues fans, like 1950s Rhythm & Blues, and the transition between that and Rock ‘n Roll. That interested us the most. We felt that in the 1960s, some of that was lost somehow. When Punk Rock was starting, and was very strong in all the clubs we were playing, we still felt that Blues was even more Punk than Punk itself! We tried to include Rhythm & Blues, but we were kind of beginners, except Bill who was very good, so we kind of sounded Punk anyway. We couldn’t help sounding like we did! [Laughs] 

Bill had a Blues record collection that was just amazing. Just in terms of 78s, he had thousands of them. He used to call me on the phone and say, “Do you know this guy?” Then he’d put the record on, on the phone, and he’d go out and have a sandwich or something. I’d be listening to the album all by myself. That’s how we picked a lot of songs to cover. He’d get back on the phone and I’d say, “Play me that second song, or that third song, again. Wow! This is amazing! We’ve got to play that one!” So our repertoire kept changing because of Bill’s collection and discovering great records.

HMS: There is a feeling of excitement, of discovery, on some of these songs, as if you’ve just encountered the Blues. There was just so much to work with, wasn’t there? That created a lot of energy.

PM: Yes, and I didn’t think about it back then, but Rockabilly is really guys who used to play Country music, then tried to play Rhythm & Blues, and came out with their own style by accident. In a way, we tried to copy the Blues classics, like Howlin’ Wolf, and it came out the way we did things. Although we were trying to sound like them, maybe it’s a good thing that we didn’t. It put a new energy into things, Punk energy.

HMS: Everything around you at the time had Punk spirit to it, so it was going to come through in some way. But as you were saying, Blues is more Punk than Punk, and Blues has some qualities in common with Punk. Using almost spoken word at times, breaking the vocals out and addressing the audience directly, and also having the big solos for certain instruments all features both of Blues and Punk. 

PM: Yes! Remember that in the late 70s, this was a time when Rock ‘n Roll was being very boring. A song would last 20 minutes. That might include a ten-minute drum solo. When you went back to Blues records, songs were a minute and a half, or three minutes long. They were very direct. They were very rebellious. Sometimes they were very sexy, too. That got lost in 70s groups. So at this time, it was very fresh to bring some of that back, having a short, unpretentious song where you didn’t have to be a virtuoso. You just had to believe in it and that was good enough.

HMS: I can see what you mean about the chill, mellow feeling of the late 70s, and your music brought things back to the human element. Did that informality influence your thinking about recordings, like with Peter? You clearly didn’t feel the recordings had to be perfect. 

PM: All I remember is that we kept asking, “Will recording in a studio capture the live excitement?” That’s what we wanted. Only a few months ago, I heard the story that Peter thought we seemed really nervous in the studio, so he said, “Why don’t you run through all the songs you are going to do, quickly, to warm up, and then we’ll record?” So, we did that. Then he told us, “I got you guys! I recorded the whole thing. The session is finished!” I thought, “Oh shit!” He was probably right, because he got us sounding totally relaxed and having fun. That sneak! 

HMS: I recently learned that you had written a book, Phil, and it looks really cool. I’m so glad that you were able to write down and preserve so much about that time period. Especially your approach to music and the venues and the places that you were playing. 

PM: It’s about my first ten years in the ‘States, from ‘72 to ‘82. It’s trying to be funny. It’s not like a Rock biography that’s trying to be serious. That would be very pretentious. I tried to tell funny anecdotes. It’s called Punk Avenue. It’s all about CBGBs and Max’s and all the other places. 

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