Preview: David Liebe Hart on Aliens, Songwriting, and ASCAP
Musician, actor, artist, and alien abductee David Liebe Hart is hardly the kind of person one might expect to have a national fan base. The Los Angeles-based Hart is best known for his simplistic but catchy songs about extraterrestrials, social issues and his personal life, delivered in a vigorous but occasionally cracked singing voice, often with a well-worn and deranged-looking puppet by his side. Hart, who was raised a Christian Scientist, originally developed a cult following in the '90s with his Los Angeles public access TV show The Junior Christian Teaching Bible Lesson Program. But Hart's real break came in 2007, when comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim recruited him for a number of segments on their cheerfully disturbed Adult Swim program Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! A segment featuring Hart's song Salame, named after an alien greeting Hart says he learned when he was abducted in 1988 by an extraterrestrial race known as the Korendians, proved particularly popular.
This summer Hart will release an album by Chip the Black Boy, one of his better-known puppet characters. He's also in the midst of an extensive national tour, which promises "Music! Puppets! Videos! Laughs!" and will stop at Ypsi's Crossroads Pub July 21. In advance of the Ypsi date, I chatted with Hart about the challenges of touring life, his recent troubles at an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) meeting and, of course, aliens.
The following has been edited for length.
Q: So what should we expect of your show when you come play in Ypsi? It sounds like there's going to be a lot going on.
A: I'm going to have an opening with some Adult Swim people that I work with. Tennessee Luke is doing the opening of the show with Scott Palmer. Tennessee Luke plays an alien and Scott Palmer plays a news announcer. They're doing a comedy about two aliens that are fighting with each other. I won't give out the end. I want it to be a surprise, the rest of the stuff. I'll be doing UFO songs I wrote and songs about ex-girlfriends and I'll be doing a little bit of standup comedy with two favorite comedians that I admire. We're going to give people a good show.
Q: You've talked about how you had to make your living busking in the past despite your TV appearances...
A: Yeah, but the sad situation is we're losing our freedom of speech in America. I paid $480 for a [street performer's] license and the city [of Santa Monica, Calif.] says you have to find the permit over again. If you can't find it you're going to have to pay $400 for it all over again, which really stinks. I've been buying a permit for over 30 years.
Q: It sounds like you've had a tough time, but you've also got a lot of tour dates scheduled right now. Is that a good sign for you?
A: [Manager Jonah Mociun] has got me piled up pretty tough right now. I told him this time I have to have my half of the money to pay the bills. Before I left, the public storage and the landlady says that if you don't pay the rent on the first it's a $60 late fee. On the second day, on the third, it's a $100 late fee. On the fourth, it's a $150 late fee. I didn't want to pay all those late fees, so I had to pay my rent before I left for two months because Jonah tells me now I'm not coming back until the third. I thought I was coming back on the second and I had my mail held until the second. What's going to happen if I don't email the post office? They're just going to put the mail on top of the mailbox. Anybody can help themselves to it. The people who work for the post office in Los Angeles don't speak English. It's a big mess.
Q: You've got a forthcoming Chip the Black Boy album. What can you tell me about that project?
A: Well, Chip is going to be singing a horror song about that he's dead and he's coming back from the dead to haunt people and haunt things. There's some cool rapping music on there, a rap song about not smoking glue and teaching kids to be positive and stay away from negative things like drugs. Jonah's done a lot of the hard work with my music. He's very talented. He's growing a beard. He looks terrible. He needs to keep his youth and stay young as much as he can. His girlfriend doesn't like it either. It's freaking me out and freaking other people out.
Q: So to go back to Chip for a second, you describe Chip as your son. What can you tell me about him and the relationship between you two?
A: Well, Chip reminded me of my dad. I was like Chip growing up as a child and my dad was a schoolteacher who was teaching me right from wrong. I was rebellious and that's what inspired me to write the song Father and Son. I wrote all the songs I performed on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! I'm an ASCAP writer and publisher. But I was disappointed that Tim and Eric won't let me use the songs, as well as Warner Bros., and then I haven't gotten paid for any of the songs I wrote for Tim and Eric. I'm grateful for all the fame and success Tim and Eric have given me, but like the Bible says, the laborer is worthy of his hire.
Q: So what is your relationship with those guys like these days?
A: Well, I still get along with them and I'm still working with them. I did Decker: Classified last year and this year, but was disappointed that they cut off all my parts that were supposed to be in season one.
Q: I want to ask you a few questions about your song Go Into the Light. You've said that the Korendians were not pleased with you sharing the word "salame" in your song of the same name. Why did you decide to share more Korendian sayings in Go Into the Light?
A: Jonah said, "Well, no, the aliens are not going to be pissed off about you using their name." And Elder Master Latan, which is one of their commanders, says that they wanted to keep secret what they were doing because they've given a lot of back-engineered technology to our government and other countries. They just want to be secretive. They're also at war with another race called the Omegans that they've had a 200-year war with for space territory. The places where the Korendians used to meet me and contact me mostly was at La Brea Tar Pits, but I've been 86ed from there. So I haven't been there in almost a year. It's kind of frustrating. They used to speak through my TV and they used to appear in my apartment like a Bewitched episode and a Dark Shadows or I Dream of Jeannie show. They used to appear out of nowhere when I was walking or when I was sitting by myself. The last ones to contact me were the Omegans, and now they don't contact me anymore either.
Q: Have you ever encountered others who have come in contact with the Korendians?
A: The Palladians that live under Mt. Helen and Mt. Rainier in northern California contacted me and said that they had been teaching the Korendians meditation, that they were the ones who taught the Korendians to be vegans and vegetarians and to be a more peaceful race. They work a lot with the Palladian race. The Palladians were responsible for bringing blond hair to the Caucasian race.
Q: Why do you think so many different alien races have reached out to you in particular?
A: People don't understand. It's like, why do cactus grow in the desert and not in a lake like a water lily? There has to be a chemistry, just like a relationship. A girl that you meet and you want to date, there has to be a chemistry between both of you. You have to be in their frequency. If you're not in their frequency, they're not going to contact you. If you have one bit of fear and doubt that they don't exist, or they're make-believe, with the brainwashing that 99 percent of Americans have you'll never experience it. It's like I tell a lot of people. I say, "Well, a lot of people don't believe in elephants or zebras or horses just because they've never been in a zoo to see them or seen them on TV." So you've got people that are just doubting Thomases. They don't see something, they don't believe in it. They're brainwashed not to believe anything that they don't understand or they haven't seen, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. You've got society that's got people brainwashed against different things. It's very sad. Someone else is calling me. Can I tell them to call me back, whoever they are?
Q: Oh, sure.
A: Hello? Are you back on the line? Hello? Hello?
Q: Yes, I'm here.
A: Yeah, I was supposed to also get a call from the unemployment office, since I worked for Tim and Eric, to get an extension on my unemployment. So I've got to talk with them about that. They're supposed to call me any day about that. What happened to me at the ASCAP meeting was pretty lame.
Q: What happened?
A: I had a Bernie Sanders button on and the people that were ASCAP members didn't like it. They say, "We want only people that are Republican to come to the ASCAP meeting to vote, not people that are Democrat or are liberal or are for peace and freedom." So then they had these three huge Hispanic security guards follow me wherever I went and they said, "They don't want you in this ASCAP meeting. Since you're voting for Bernie Sanders, they want you to join [Broadcast Music, Inc.]" Next thing I knew, three Hispanic security guards knocked me to the ground, handcuffed me like I was a criminal, like I'd done something wrong, and escorted me off down to the Starbucks. Some people saw it. Some people drove me to the police department about it and [ASCAP president] Paul Williams was contacted. ASCAP did not contact me with an apology or anything, or anybody with an apology. It made ASCAP look bad. I won't be going to the ASCAP meeting ever again after what I experienced, not unless I get an apology from Paul Williams.
Q: Speaking of your songwriting, what is your songwriting process like? What instrument do you usually start writing a song on?
A: I started writing religious music. I was a church pianist for the Christian Science Sunday School. Kathy Case, Mrs. Volk and Miss Waller taught me how to. They were all pianists and organists for the Christian Science Sunday School and church services, and they taught me how to play the difficult Christian Science hymns from the 1932 hymnal. Their hymns were very boring with classical music. They just renewed two supplements and Dorothy Estes, who put the new Christian Science supplement together, said they didn't want any music with ethnic tones to it, by ethnic people. It's very racist. I love Christian Science, but I don't like the racist, biased people that run the church. So all of my hymns were refused from the two supplements that the Christian Science Hymnal put out. Then, another thing: I've been taking all my CDs around the different nightclubs I play at. I only have 10 packages, but I'm hoping and encouraging them to play the songs so I can get paid and Jonah can get paid more royalties from ASCAP. We took them around to the college radio stations, but my royalty check was $1.97. I don't know what his was, but he feels it's a waste of time. He says I don't have time to pass out the stuff for the first three concerts because he has a lot of driving to do. So I try to pass out my sheet music and give them a website where they can hear the songs online. He says I won't have time to do it for the next three concerts, which is very frustrating.
Q: So when you're on tour, what's your sense of how your audiences respond to you and your music?
A: Oh, they love the stuff. They love it. They enjoy the music and they compliment. I wish my gospel albums, my religious albums, would start selling. Jonah says the gospel albums only sell once or twice a year, which is frustrating. [To someone else:] Thank you.
Q: Why do you think people are less interested in the gospel music?
A: I don't know. I really don't know. [Begins chewing food.] The last three concerts I haven't even brought the gospel music with me. I only bring the punk rock albums, the stuff that young people want.
Q: Do people ever come to your shows who don't seem to take you and your music seriously?
A: There's some doubting Thomases, one or three. They're old, conservative people. They're old enough to be your parents. They're racists and biased. Forget them.
Q: If you were to have people take away one thing from seeing you live, what would it be? If there's one thing you want people to get and understand?
A: [Still chewing.] That UFOs are real and people don't understand that relationships can't always be what we want them to be. I was dumped by several girls that I loved very much, but you have to move on. That's what you have to do.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer whose work appears regularly in Pulp, the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor Observer, and other local publications. He has yet to be contacted by any alien race.
David Liebe Hart brings his puppets and songs to Crossroads Pub in Ypsilanti on Thursday, July 21. Tickets are $10 in advance, or $15 at the door. Doors are at 7pm and the show is 18+ Opening acts include Pineapple Army, Daughters of Eternity, crochetcatpause, The Landmarks and Lips.