The Cars: The extended interviews

In anticipation of tonight's sold-out Cars gig at First Avenue -- the band's first time performing at the club since forming in 1978, parting ways in 1988, and regrouping last year -- we caught up with all four surviving members of the band for an interview. That article is featured on the cover of the paper this week, which also reprises our very first cover story in the history of City Pages, back when we were a music magazine known as Sweet Potato.

[jump] For those who didn't get enough Cars from this week's paper, there was also plenty of interview material that was left on the cutting room floor. See below for some outtakes from my conversations with Ric Ocasek, Greg Hawkes, David Robinson, and Elliot Easton of the newly reformed Cars.

On whether (or not) they remember opening for the Doobie Brothers at Midway Stadium in 1979, the gig mentioned in this week's article:

Ric Ocasek: The Doobie Brothers? I know we wouldn't have chosen that band, that's for sure. We probably even talked about it back then. We probably said, "Why are we opening for the Doobie Brothers? Why aren't we opening for somebody cool?" But it was probably an outdoor festival, so that probably was fun. Just that we really liked Minneapolis a lot. That's for sure, cause we always liked going back there. Just liking the city, I thought that was kind of neat. I remember walking around and looking into some antique stores during the day, but that's all I can remember. Except that I know we always liked playing there. We thought it was a one of the good music cities.

Greg Hawkes: I barely remember that we even opened for the Doobie Brothers. We must not have done very many shows with them. Let me think...from Candy-O Tour? Wow. Which was the Cars' second album. I think that was the one with "Let's Go" on it, right? That was sort of, boy that was sort of the height of The Cars' initial rise, I guess... I'm not sure which tour, but I do remember going to see Prince at First Ave. And I do know that the movie [Purple Rain] had been out.

David Robinson: Well seeing Prince there was enough for me, since I love him. And I remember it was cold.

Elliot Easton: Did any of the other members remember anything about it? Cause I don't either. God knows what I was up to in those days.

On going back into the studio after years apart:

David Robinson: I had not stayed in the music business, so the technology was completely new foreign to me. We walked in and there were three guys with laptops looking at us. I thought, "Man, this has changed." I just felt like a dinosaur coming in there. And also when you record digitally, there's not a lot of the band playing together in the same room, which is what we to some extent on all the records. But the technology makes
everything faster and better, so I'm totally in favor of it.

Greg Hawkes: Once we started working on stuff, the relationship with the guys in the band was just sort of picked up from years ago really. It was very easy working with everybody.

Elliot Easton: It's like a family. I've been playing with Ric in form or another since 1976. That's a long time; we've known each other a long time, we all care about each other a lot.

On touring:

Ric Ocasek: There were times when I thought it was great fun, but then it became redundant and boring to me. Predictable. I know it's nice, people like you to stay where you are, keep doing the same thing, so you can have the same reality, but I needed to get away from that part of it. Cause my reality was writing songs, and I actually had much more fun in the studio. I didn't like being put out in the world, just living form hotel to hotel. I never felt as much an entertainer as a songwriter. So I chose the other. I chose the more artful part for me.

David Robinson: It's 30 years later. What was easy in my thirties is not so easy anymore. Since I hadn't played, the other guys have been playing this whole time, I also really had to get back into playing drums. It was a lot of work.

Greg Hawkes: I've been doing it a lot more myself, and the last 5 and 6 years, I've have a couple part time jobs. One was that I was playing with the Turtles and Flo and Eddie. And I've also been playing in Todd Rundgren's band off and on. I think we were in Minneapolis not too long ago.

On using Facebook to connect with fans and unveil their album and tour details:

Ric Ocasek: That stemmed from what we were going to do originally, where we were going to put [the record] out on our own. Just do an internet record. But when we finished it, we just started to go that route, because we didn't have a deal to put it out with anybody. So we just started doing it on Facebook. We just started leaking some stuff. I thought it would be a little fun to do that, just start posting stuff and see what happens.

Elliot Easton: Doing it at grass-roots level is always the best, cause then it's real. Nothing's being shoved down anybody's throat. We're not playing big, huge places, We're not charging a lot of money to see us. It's low-key.

David Robinson: That's the scale of what we're doing, and that's where everybody is. If you had to make some kind of old-style announcement, I don't even know where they would see it. I guess you'd read it in a magazine or something... The industry itself has changed as if a 100 years have gone by. There was no internet when we made our last record. So the way people found music and bought music, and all of the record companies and how they operated has just completely changed.

On how the Cars' sound has held up over the years:

David Robinson: I think it stood up really well. I always hear it on the radio, cause that's where I'm used to hearing it, but every once in a while I'll put in a CD and out head phones on and ask, "Is this really good?" And I'll come to the conclusion that, yeah, this is really good. I haven't been disappointed yet.

Greg Hawkes: I think it's held up pretty darn well. I still occasionally hear Cars songs on the radio, and it's more the reaction I get from other people. Friends of mine will say, " Cars still sound good on the radio." It doesn't sound like it just belonged in the '80s.

Ric Ocasek: I'm told it holds up pretty well. That's what I hear from people. "God, I keep hearing The Cars on the radio. You guys never go away." Oh, really? Cause I haven't heard the radio for years, so I don't know, but I suspect it's been better than not.

THE CARS play tonight, TUESDAY, MAY 17, at FIRST AVENUE. 21+. 7 p.m. Sold out.