Living With the
Head of Buckethead
by Andy Kaufmann
You may not be familiar with the music
of Buckethead, the anonymous guitarist with the
Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his head, but his
freaky, virtuoso licks remain an undeniable
phenomenon. Despite the odd persona, Buckethead's
chops and unique musical vision identify him as a
skilled musician who should be considered
seriously. To find out more about Buckethead,
Riffage.com sent writer Andy Kaufmann in search of
the elusive, enigmatic artist.
"Able to shred at blinding speed and then
alternately produce hyper-dimensional sounds
evoking an extraterrestrial horror show, this
guy's vision knows no bounds," Kaufmann says.
Rabid fans have latched onto the mute
instrumentalist's alter ego, which includes a
familial relationship with chickens, his own theme
park dubbed Bucketheadland, and a rabid affinity
for graveyards, horror flicks and Japanese
television. As a youth, he gained notoriety by
playing with Bill Laswell, Bootsy Collins and
Primus drummer, Brain. Most recently, Buckethead
released an album, called Tunnel, under the
aegis of Death Cube K.
"These days, with scores of interesting
projects under his belt and an equally interesting
array of future possibilities, the notorious
mysterion may soon find himself regarded as a
musical messiah, despite his curious modesty."
Kaufmann says. "With a little coaxing, I succeeded
in getting the mutant they call Buckethead to
emerge from his coop, if only for a few precious
moments, and eagerly awaited a glimpse at what
being a faceless guitar-god is really like.
Riffage: Hey, is this Buckethead?
Buckethead: Oh, hey ... Uh, no. I
mean, Buckethead doesn't talk, so ... this is
Riffage: This is Herbie?
Buckethead: Yeah. Herbie's the name.
Riffage: Travis Dickerson sent me the
new Death Cube K album, Tunnel. It has no
information about on what's on it. Can you tell me
who got involved in this project?
Buckethead: It's just him and me.
Actually, it's just Buckethead and him. (Chuckles)
Riffage: So you both get production
credits. Bill Laswell didn't do anything on this?
Buckethead: Not on this one.
Riffage: How does breaking that up
Buckethead: His input's pretty
strong ... there'll probably be a lot of
these made, so there are probably different ways
to get this out. I'm sure that Bill will be
involved in more of them to come.
Riffage: So you plan on doing a lot of
Death Cube K.
Riffage: How did you come to that
decision? You just liked the way the first project
Buckethead: I just like creepy,
eerie-sounding stuff. More ambient ... I
don't know what it is, but I mean, that's what
people have said.
Riffage: Tell me about Travis Dickerson
and how you got hooked up with him.
Buckethead: Okay, this is really odd.
There was a wax museum in San Francisco called
Medieval Dungeon. It's no longer there, but at one
point I was in there and he was in there and I had
a DAT and he asked what I was doing with the DAT.
When I mentioned that I wanted to get all the
sounds on DAT, he told me that he had a recording
studio in Southern California. So it was just kind
of a chance meeting, really. And then we just kind
of hooked up after that.
Riffage: Tell me about Chop Top's BBQ.
Buckethead: Oh, he's the guy from (the
movie) Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 -- the guy
with the plate in his head. He and I have done
some stuff. He's on one record I did, Giant
Robot, which was released by Sony. And we've
just always wanted to do stuff together, so that
was just a bunch of stuff we did. It was just
whatever came off the top of our heads. It's not
really polished or anything -- it was more for
fun. So that's more what that's about.
Riffage: Does it bother you that albums
like that might not get any exposure?
Buckethead: Nah, I think it's fine. It's
kind of fun to have small, underground things like
that, that spread by word of mouth. I like that --
it's fun and eventually it can (grow) as time goes
Riffage: You sell a lot of your stuff
via mail order. Has that avenue -- and
do-it-yourself Internet sites -- become the way to
circumvent the traditional system of retail
Buckethead: I think it's more direct.
It's more straight from ... it's just really
neat when you do something and it's completely
(coming from) emotion and then you just put it
right out to the person, you know? There's no
in-between, really, except for the manufacturing
part. That's the part that appeals to me a lot --
that you don't have to go through anybody, like
record people or anything like that.
Riffage: Have you soured on trying to
deal with (conventional) routes?
Buckethead: A little bit ...
earlier, more with Columbia. But this label I'm on
now is better -- but still it's difficult, you
Riffage: You're best known for your
guitar playing, but you also play bass and
keyboards. Have the albums on which you play all
those instruments been better realizations of the
sounds you wanted to create?
Buckethead: I think (that's
true)sometimes, but with players like (bassist)
Bootsy (Collins), his playing's so incredible that
he'll do things that I could never imagine doing.
But sometimes it's convenient to do it (all
yourself) - so sometimes yes, and sometimes no, if
that makes sense. But it's nice to be able to do
that. There's a double-neck (instrument) being
made for me right now and it's both a bass and a
guitar, so that'll be pretty cool because I can do
both. So I guess it just depends on what the
resources are -- if I've got people around me or
Riffage: You mentioned Bootsy. Both of
you started to get attention when you were very
young. Did that play a role in your relationship
playing with him?
Buckethead: Yeah, I mean, it was real
magical because he was like a hero to me when I
was young. I'm sure (he was) for a lot of people.
But you get nervous about it. And he ended up
being better than I could have imagined, both as a
person and (as a musician). So it was really a
Riffage: Were you nervous meeting him?
Buckethead: Yeah, but I was more excited
to meet him than nervous.
Riffage: Speaking of your musical
associations, one of your new albums, Monsters
and Robots, features Les Claypool of Primus
playing with you. Did your association with him
give you some of the exposure you were looking
Buckethead: It think it has helped, but
it was pretty natural because I've been playing
with (Primus drummer) Brain a long time. Brain
kind of hooked us up, and (Claypool) was like,
"Maybe we could play?" A webcast I did kind of
started it, and then he mentioned something about
recording ... it wasn't intended to happen
the way it happened. It just kind of happened and
then it ended up being a good situation, I think.
With them it's been pretty fun, you know. It has
gotten me more exposure, I guess, but I think that
it felt pretty comfortable to do. It didn't feel
like it was forced or anything.
Riffage: And obviously that wasn't what
was motivating you.
Buckethead: Yeah ... it's been a
good thing, looking back on it now, because over
this last year a lot of stuff has happened. But at
that time I don't think I was really thinking that
way. I mean, it might have been subconscious, but
I don't think it was a conscious thing.
Riffage: I think a lot of people were
anticipating your working with Primus. My
impression is that people got really excited by
|For more information about
Buckethead's and Travis Dickerson's projects, go
to Death Cube K.
Buckethead: Oh, that's cool.
I hear different things, but I just try to follow
Riffage: How do you feel about people
knowing your true identity?
Buckethead: I'd rather it not happen.
I'd rather just play and let people judge that --
that's what's important.
Riffage: We won't put your name in the
piece if you don't want us to.
Buckethead: Great -- that would be nice.
I'd appreciate it. I mean, if I'm going to talk,
there's that possibility, but at the same time I
don't want to never say anything. It's like this
weird thing I battle with myself about, because I
have this whole thing about just playing and
letting that be what matters to me. And a lot of
times I'll talk and then I'll read it or think
about it later, and I'll have changed my idea or
my opinions, or think, "Was that really what I
meant?" Or sometimes I read what people wrote and
it's not what I said-- that's frustrating. So it
kind of makes me want to just play and let that be
what people know. That's the hard part, I guess.
Riffage: Have you ever performed
Buckethead: No. Just for my family.
Riffage: You've never done any sort of
an incognito surprise performance?
Riffage: Has KFC ever approached you
about doing and endorsement?
Buckethead: Oh, no!
Riffage: Do you think they know about
you? Do they care?
Buckethead: I don't know. I mean, they
might ... it's probably gonna happen one day.
But I just kind of look at it like people wear
Nike shoes, sometimes people wear pants with a
label. But if they have a problem, I'll just have
to deal with it, I guess. I could always cover up
his face ...
Riffage: Or you could get another hat?
Buckethead: Yeah, I've got a whole bunch
of buckets, different ones from all these chicken
places, but I just like the (KFC) stripes. They
don't make that one anymore, so it's hard. I made
a Buckethead graveyard one time and I got about 40
of them and I kept them. Now I'm glad I did,
because they don't make that one anymore.
Riffage: When is the Disneyland
album coming out?
Buckethead: Oh, I'm working on that
right now --in fact, right when you called.
Hopefully (it will come out) early in the year,
because it's been a long, long time. I just was
never happy (with it). I did it and I didn't like
it and I just kept (working on it). But now I'm
just gonna do it and let it be, and I'll just make
another one if I don't like it.
Riffage: You made a whole album and then
you just scrapped it?
Buckethead: Yeah, because I just didn't
think it was ... .it just didn't feel right
to me. But one day maybe I'll go back and I might
Riffage: Speaking of Disney, have you
been to Animal Kingdom?
Buckethead: No ... where is that?
Riffage: Animal Kingdom is the new park
at Disney World.
Buckethead: Oh, okay. This last tour was
the first time I ever went to Disney World, and I
was there for two hours and I had to leave. It was
horrible ... it was hard.
Riffage: Well, next time you're in
Florida, you have to go there, to Epcot and to MGM
Buckethead: Yeah, I really want to go to
Epcot, because of all the animatronics.
Riffage: I can't believe you haven't
been to any of those!
Buckethead: No ... I went to the
Magic Kingdom and I went on Pirates of the
Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion and the Hall of
Presidents. And that was it and we had to leave.
That's the only Disneyland I haven't really been
to. I've been to the other ones in Japan and
Riffage: Are you into computer stuff?
Buckethead: I think I'd like to be. I
need to be educated and I need to sit down with it
and try to learn, because there's so much I'd like
to do. I'd like to do a lot more with it.
Riffage: Are you going to do any
multimedia projects or video games?
Buckethead: I really want do that,
actually. I think it's a matter of time. But I
have a bunch of stories that I want to do for a
video game. I play a lot of that stuff: "House of
the Dead" and "Soul Caliber" ... I got the
Sega Dreamcast, and then on the PlayStation I have
"Resident Evil" and there's a Star Wars game -- I
don't know the name of it. And I like all the old
ones, like Galaxia. I like all the sounds. That's
where I get a lot of ideas.
Riffage: Do you take those sounds from
games and feed them into your music?
Buckethead: I try to, (but) I don't sit
down and do it -- I think it's there just because
I've done it a lot, and I hear it in my head a
Riffage: One great thing about your
music is that you've created your own set of
mythos. Was that a conscious effort?
Buckethead: I guess so. I guess it was I
just ... "funner," you know what I mean? It's
more fun to have all those outlets and just play
the guitar. And then, if I think that way, it
effects how I write. Giant Robot was just
my favorite thing when I was really little, and I
pretty much try to use the stuff that I really
like in everything (I do).
Riffage: How come you haven't put more
of a literal narrative into your music?
Buckethead: Well, I think I'm going to.
Lately I haven't been (doing that) as much, but I
think that's going to change. I got this recorder
recently and I'm going to start (doing) more of
that kind of stuff about Bucketheadland --
stories, and things like that. I think it will
happen pretty soon -- probably this year, because
I finally got this recorder. Now I can just do
whatever I want, you know?
Riffage: Some of us always wanted more
of a story.
Buckethead: That's cool -- I'm glad to
hear that. I like a combination of not telling
things, hinting at things and letting people try
to search for things themselves. In movies, for
example, I like it when they don't tell you
everything and you have to try to figure it out or
come up with your own conclusions. But at the same
time, I definitely want to do (story lines) more.
Riffage: Do you consider yourself to be
a great guitarist? How do you think you rate
compared to a lot of other great musicians?
Buckethead: I don't think I'm great. I
think I've been kind of lazy in a lot of ways, so
I think I could be a lot better. But I think my
ears are better now. I hear things better that I
want to play and it's easier to do it now. But I
think there's a long way I have to go to get where
I want to be.