Sometime after 6 a.m., David Payne is on Fox 13’s Good Day Utah. It’s disorienting.
Payne’s just not a 6 a.m. dude. Salt Lake City’s own Thin White Duke is most often out late, rocking onstage with one of several bands—Red Bennies, Glinting Gems, Ether Orchestra, Starmy and Purr Bats. He strolls casually next to Fox 13’s jolly Big Budah—a stark contrast to Payne’s tall, lanky, blackclad figure and casual deadpan demeanor.
It’s very Interview With the Vampire. Indeed, Payne seems to feast on Budah, denying any knowledge of old school hiphop artist Kurtis Blow—“I know who he is,” Payne says later—and, playing along with the local news morning show hijinks, themselves contrary to Payne’s, for lack of a better word, hipster cool. More askew, however, is Budah’s use of the word “principal” when addressing Payne. Like he’s suddenly the head administrator of an educational institution, the Principal Skinner to someone’s Bart. Turns out Payne is in fact the big man on campus—at the Rock ‘N’ Roll Academy. It’s a role for which he’s well suited. The son of a 1970s singer-songwriter and vocalist mother, he has a slew of musical siblings, Payne has also played in umpteen local rock bands. If there’s one guy in town who should be running a school for potential rockers, it’s Principal Payne.
A day after Payne’s Fox 13 appearance, he’s outside City Weekly’s satellite office (aka my humble abode), swinging in silhouette on the adjacent playground. Dismounting his perch, Payne approaches in a gait that combines rock & roll swagger and Transylvanian nobility—with the faintest hint of videogame-geek awkwardness. He holds a spool of 50-75 compact discs. “I actually don’t have an iPod,” he says. “But I have a stack of CDs in my car that is pretty random.”
No matter. There’s enough variety among the stack or pre-recorded silver discs and burned CD-Rs with scribbled titles. Many of the discs are by Payne’s own bands and fellow locals like Tolchock Trio and defunct punk group Knvs. There are several CDs by his father, Marvin Payne, and the cover band he and his sons recently formed. One disc—from Time-Life’s The Story of Soul collection—jumps out, as does a copy of Tears for Fears’ The Hurting. Both, the new Portishead, a Small Faces album and a little sumpin’-sumpin’ from bass funkateer Betty Davis (suh-weet). I play “shuffle” and select a few for review as Principal Payne briefs me on his activities.
“I became a father,” he says of the twin daughters born to him and wife/Glinting Gems bandmate Leena two years ago. Fatherhood has slightly impacted his rock & roll lifestyle. Each of his bands remains active, and he estimates he plays between one and five gigs per month including a weekly event at The Urban Lounge called “Time to Talk ’Tween Songs.”
“I like to talk to my friends at shows,” he says, “but I hate to have to yell over the music.” It’s a strange declaration from the guy who fronts one of Salt Lake City’s loudest bands (the Bennies), but he has a point, and the idea of seeing a revolving cast of local bands play at a reasonable volume is appealing. Especially since it means hearing some bombastic Bennies songs and Gems gems rendered in entirely new arrangements—like a whole “Indian thing,” replete with electric sitar.
Fatherhood also inspired Payne to get a day job playing shepherd to Salt Lake City’s upcoming rock royalty. He started as a faculty member at Paul Green’s School of Rock in Sandy. When one student’s father approached Payne about opening another school, “I moonlighted there for a while until they fired me—as well they should have.” Payne enjoys his work at the Academy where he can—alongside fellow local musicians Mike Sartain (Starmy), Shane Asbridge (Laserfang) and Greg Midgley (Rubes, Rodeo Boys)—teach youngsters that music is about “personal expression” and not stardom. “That’s the root of my own musical experience, so that’s the best place to start teaching them.”
Since it’s approaching midnight and Principal Payne has school tomorrow, it’s time to listen to some tunes.
|Marvin Payne, “Lost in the World,” Ships of Dust
I love this music. I heard it when I was a kid and I really liked it. I probably just like it because it’s him. It seems like Joan Baez, kinda. That’s my mom singing [background]. They divorced when we were kids, so it’s nice to hear her. I like that it’s Mormon music, but it’s not overt.
|Lou Rawls, “Dead End Street,” The Soul Story: Time Life Collection
This is the good one. “Dead End Street” by … sonofabitch. Time Life. I can’t remember. The guy goes on for like five minutes talkin’ about his cold house in Chicago, and then he busts out with [sings]. He can switch gears between being himself and being an awesome soul singer.
|Small Faces, “Every Little Bit Hurts,” Odds and Mods
This is actually my lost Small Faces CD I’m just discovering. The song’s not by these guys, it’s originally by [Brenda Holloway, but written by Ed Cobb]. I’m a really big Small Faces fan, but I never buy CDs. My wife bought me a whole bunch and this was one of them.
|The Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” The Original Singles, Vol. 1
I don’t like The Byrds. I just like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and this song. But this song is a mantra for me. Every time someone asks me to do something I don’t wanna do, or complains about something, this song pops into my head. Patience. Actually, I love this song!
|Tears for Fears, “Say What You Want,” The Hurting
There’s a book called Primal Scream [by Arthur Janov], a psychology book. These two guys [in TFF] connected because they had similar childhoods, with neglectful parents. Supposedly every song is about a chapter in the book. It’s a concept album, as therapy for them.