Interview with Robbie Rist
(interview by Kristi Wachter)
Robbie Rist is the lead singer, guitar player, and main
songwriter for Wonderboy.* His
quick wit and passion for power pop are immediately evident in his
music.** He's extremely charismatic - sharp, funny, thoughtful, and
endlessly interesting. He's not shy about voicing his opinions, but
he's willing to reconsider them when confronted with a well-argued
challenge. A conversation with him is typically spattered with more
pop culture references than an episode of MST3K, and is at least as
** Reasonably objective description
*** Totally subjective over-the-top description
I interviewed Robbie over the phone on Thursday evening, March
23, 1995. This is the first of a series of interviews with Racer
artists intended for online publication.
Racer: What's your full name?
Robbie: Robert Anthony Rist.
Racer: What's your birthdate?
Racer: Do you have any brothers & sisters?
Robbie: A sister, older: Judith.
Racer: What's your marital status?
Robbie: I don't believe in marriage. (Unless, of course, I can find
some woman who's willing to put up with me for that long.) (Is Sela
Racer: Do you have any children?
Robbie: Not that I know of.
Racer: Do you have any pets?
Robbie: 2 dogs, Panda and Lou. One very wet, one very furry.
Racer: Where did you grow up?
Robbie: We started in Downey, then we moved to the San Fernando
Valley and we've pretty much lived here ever since.
Racer: Where do you live now?
Robbie: In the Los Angeles area.
Racer: What's your favorite color?
Racer: What's your favorite food?
Robbie: God, it's a lot of things. French fries and lobster. (With
accent:) "I like a nice piece fish on occasion." (maniacal
Racer: What are your favorite books?
Robbie: "Catcher in the Rye"; "The Prophet" (Kahlil Gibran); "The
Big Picture" by A. Whitney Brown.
Racer: What are your favorite movies?
Robbie: "Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory"; "Rosencrantz
& Guildenstern Are Dead"; there's a lot of 'em - and a bunch of
others. You have to include one David Lynch film in there, you have
to include "Buckaroo Bonzai" - there's all kinds of stuff.
Racer: Do you have any hobbies?
Robbie: Well - I ... uh, no. My hobbies and my living are sort of
intertwined. I dabble in painting but I would hardly call myself a
painter, and I write other things besides music but I wouldn't call
myself a writer. Oh - CD collecting. ... Whining. Put
Racer: What instruments do you play?
Robbie: Guitar, bass, drums, piano. Kazoo.
Racer: What other bands have you been in?
Robbie: Paul Pope, Robbie Rist & the Tower of Light Beer Rhythm
Section; ... just a bunch of garage bands - bands that never even
recorded or anything. Paul Pope, up until Wonderboy, was the
biggest thing I did. Currently I'm in two other bands - I'm in the
Andersons and I'm in a band called Big Drag. I'm playing drums with
them; I play guitar with the Andersons.
Racer: What day jobs have you had while being a
Robbie: Mostly since I've been in my 20's I've been a voice-over
Racer: Can you name anything people would recognize?
Robbie: The voice of Michelangelo in the Teenage Mutant Ninja
Turtle movies [all 3], and I have some Spielburg cartoon coming out
this year. ... Although I did build booths at the NAMM show one
year. And I worked at a movie theatre for a day.
Racer: What happened to that job?
Robbie: I was 13 and I think my parents didn't want to drive me
there all the time.
Racer: How did Wonderboy come together?
Robbie: I was playing with Paul and doing the Paul Pope thing ... I
had all this material ... and we told him [Paul Pope] we'd back him
up, and Roger and Wally and I went off and started rehearsing. I
wanted it to be a trio at first but Roger thought we should get
another guitarist (so it would be easier for me, basically). We
started interviewing guitarists and then Pat walked in. (He had a
moustache and we told him it had to go ... actually, I think he
asked us what we thought.) And then, I don't know, we just started
playing. The first record was almost done and Pat just walked and
decorated everything like a Christmas tree.
And then Roger, after a couple years, Roger was just having less
and less time for it and he wasn't really happy where he was, and I
knew Dave from a voice-over studio that I did some work at, and I
knew he played bass and stuff, and of course he worked in a
recording studio so you have to have him in the band.
Racer: Who would you name as your influences?
Robbie: Everyone. I listen to so much music, you know - I started
playing music because I saw the Knack play like 6 months before
they got a record deal, and they were playing "Oh Tara", and I
thought "I want to do that." I'd been listening to music - I was
like an AM radio nut when I was a kid, I knew all the words to
"Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes" when I was 7, but up until I
was 13 I didn't know what I wanted to do. I'd been playing piano
and drums and I was a big KISS fan, but when I saw the Knack I knew
that's what I wanted to do.
Racer: If you were going to be stuck on a desert island and
could only take 10 or fewer albums, what would you take?
Robbie: How much time would I have to compile the list? I guess ...
there'd have to be a Cheap Trick record in there, probably but not
necessarily "Next Position Please"; I'd have to bring "Bat Out of
Hell"; a Mingus record; a Miles Davis; I'd have to bring a
compilation Knack one; Beach Boys; I guess a Beatles record; and
you know, some sort of classical stuff - Mahler or something bangy,
but I like the really bombastic stuff; and something really out
there, like John Zorn, the Boredoms - again, you can't fit it all
in ten. I probably could nail it down, but as the ship is going
down, I'd be on the island and going 'Fuck! Why didn't I bring
that?' ... Like today I was just trying to find my 3-D Picnic CDs
and thinking 'God, I miss these things.'
Racer: Now that you've listed those, what are some of your
Robbie: Beach Boys Pet Sounds is up there ... with me, everything
else, I go in and out of phases with. I'll listen to something
every day for six months and then I'll put it away for two years
and then I'll bring it out again. Again, there's a Cheap Trick
record in there somewhere. Oh, and there has to be an Eric Carmen
record in there and Raspberries ... [getting back to the desert
island discs] I'd just kick the kids out of the lifeboat and say
'Sorry, I have to have my CDs with me.'
Racer: What are your favorite Wonderboy songs?
Robbie: There aren't. I only write them. It's not my job to like
'em or hate 'em. It's sort of like having children. There's ones
that I don't like as much, but that's mostly because of how we play
them live rather than how they're recorded. It's not the artist's
job to like or dislike; he's just the place from which it
Racer: What are you wearing?
Robbie: Not very much.
Racer: What color is your hair?
Robbie: It's brown but it's also shaved. It's sort of like a Marine
haircut. But it's been blonde, magenta, black. [Racer note: every
time I see Robbie, his hair looks completely different.]
Racer: If you could put together the ideal band, who would be
Robbie: Oh, I've thought about this. It would definitely have to be
the bass player from Elvis Costello's band; Tim Pierce from Rick
Springfield's band or Phil Solem from the Rembrandts, playing
guitar; Bruce Gary or Clem Burke on drums; and Steve Naive from
Costello's band on keyboard. Yeah, the ideal band, I guess I'd have
to have a keyboard player - or some badass guy like Billy Preston;
and I guess I'd have to have some other guy singing ... I don't
know - Michael Des Barres [laughs]. And they'd have to play all of
Tony Perkins' songs. [Racer note: Tony Perkins has a band called
Martin Luther Lennon and is involved in the LA power pop scene.] I
wouldn't even be in the band - I'd just like to watch them. And of
course the dream band is going to change by tomorrow. There's
definitely different guys that could make it killer in different
ways. The other guitar player would be Ricky Bird, the singer could
be Joan Jett easily. Since I'm a guy and I play with guys I tend to
lean toward guys, but there's so many female musicians ... Caroline
Edwards would have to write all the material, or Susan Cowsill.
[Racer note: Caroline Edwards wrote and performed with Spindle and
3D Picnic.] It's impossible - you can't do this! There's so many
good people out there. I guess the ideal band would have to have an
open-door policy, with everybody just changing position all the
time, to suit MY PLEASURE. [laughs hysterically]
Racer: How did you get started in music?
Robbie: I just kind of did it, I just kind of started doing it. I
took piano lessons when I was a kid; I was playing violin when I
was 3. Like any other kid who played music I used to just beat on
my knees when the radio came on. I used to sing ... I've always
been that way. I'm reading a Bukowski book now, and somebody asked
him how he chose to be a writer, and he said 'You don't choose to
be a writer, writing chooses you.'
Racer: If you were doing an interview like this, what
questions would you ask?
Robbie: Why does most music suck? Or at least most commercially
released music? Why is it Paul Westerburg used to be so good and
he's not anymore? After "Hold Me Up", why weren't the Goo Goo Dolls
the biggest thing on the planet? How come Joan Jett (or Kirsty
McColl for that matter) (or the girl in the Muffs) won't fall in
love with me? THESE are the important questions. I think the answer
is because I'm too big a geek for them.
Racer: Why does most music suck? Or at least most
commercially released music?
Robbie: Because if you want to sell a WHOLE mess of product, you
need to make sure you don't challenge, offend, or make somebody
think too much, because to sell a lot of it, you need to make sure
it appeals to a lot of people a little and not to a few people a
Racer: Why is it Paul Westerburg used to be so good and he's
Robbie: That's a really good question. I don't know if I have a
good answer for it. I think it's because he bought the fact that
he's the poet for a generation and he gave up on writing totally
bitching songs. But there are also a lot of people who like him so
I'm probably wrong.
Racer: After "Hold Me Up", why weren't the Goo Goo Dolls the
biggest thing on the planet?
Robbie: See the first question you asked ["Why does most
commercially released music suck?"]. Because "Hold Me Up" is a
favorite record, as opposed to say Mariah Carey who sells a lot of
copies. I think there's a difference between favorite records and
ones that sell a lot. I don't see a lot of people listening to
"Thriller" these days.
Racer: Do you have any other questions you'd like to answer,
or anything you'd like to spout off about?
Robbie: Why is it that "Waterworld" cost 225 million dollars to
make and there are children out there that can't read? Actually we
could say that "True Lies" cost 135 million but you get the
Racer: Is that a question you have or a question you'd like
Robbie: This is the question that I have. Does anybody have any
answers out there? E-mail me at Trash24713@aol.com.
Racer: Anything else?
Robbie: Even if the bands in your hometown suck, go see them play
all the time because it's much better than staying at home watching
TV. Bad live entertainment is always going to be better than good
programmed entertainment. Go see a play. Don't watch TV; it's bad
for you. Listen to more music, and listen to more kinds. And yeah,
you're probably thinking I'm a pompous ass - so what? What are you
going to do about it? (maniacal laughter)
Robbie Rist can be reached at Trash24713@aol.com. Kristi Wachter
and Racer Records can be reached on CompuServe at 74774,71; on the
Internet at Kristi@racerrecords.com; and
on the phone at 415-931-1614.
Any errors are the sole responsibility of Racer Records.
This page was last updated on March 3, 2004 by Kristi Wachter.