An Interview with Bob Hofmann - Lead Vocalist of Playground by Glenn Milligan, BA Hons CS

Date: 12th April, 2002

Venue: Celebrity Lounge Bar, Orlando Fl. USA

It's the first night of our 2 week Fly-drive of Florida - you are exhausted after being up since around 4 in the morning (GMT) so what do you do when you hit the nearest town - that's right - you hook up with the locals and drink all night - keeping awake throughout to acquaint yourself with the time difference. Man, it has to be done - a good job too as I met a real cool guy while he was sticking a few dollars in a jukebox.

So I asked what he was into - turned out he was into all sorts of Rock and Metal - Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and barrels more - next I find out he's in a band - he's the lead vocalist of a Metal band called 'Playground' where I spring into life, grab the tape recorder and hit record about now - so here goes - a big hunk of Metal Madness from between myself and Bob.

Glenn: What got you into playing in the first place?

Bob: A lot of good heavy rock bands like Sabbath and all that stuff, I just really enjoy that - kind of what I like to do you know. I like the heavy music - it kind of got me started. I got together with some good guys, I've been doing it for like 20 years now - playin'.

Glenn: Who are you actually influenced by?
Bob: Sabbath. All the way, Sabbath, Ozzy - good Heavy Rock.
Glenn: Have you got a favourite Sabbath album at all?
Bob: The Older Sabbath Black Sabbath - 'We sold our Soul for Rock 'n' Roll' (compilation) - that's my favourite.

Glenn: Who have you played with over the last few years?

Bob: Blue Cheer - the guitar player from Blue Cheer. A band called Amber Rose, a band called Playground - you know, here and there stuff. Playing around doing opening shows here and there - some cool stuff.

Glenn: Who else is in the band 'Playground' ?

Bob: Eric on the Bass. You've got Gino on the keyboards. Nino - his brother on the drums and that's it (plus of course, himself and Duck). A 5-piece with keyboards with 3 part harmony - we all sing. It's pretty cool this sound.

Glenn: I guess you've all been in bands before?

Bob: Yeah. Just local stuff. The bass player is from New York - I think he did some stuff up there - I don't know what band he was in. He did some pretty cool stuff up there.

Glenn: How did you meet Duck of Blue Cheer?

Bob: He actually came out and saw me play in a band one night (Amber Rose, to be exact), approached me and wanted me for his next project and we got together and did it. We've been together for about 8 years. (He) just came out and saw the band - he really liked it and it worked out good.

Glenn: What are you actually working on at the moment?, and, Who is Duck from Blue Cheer exactly?

Bob: His name is Duck McDonald, the guitar player. Right now I'm doing something new for a new project and don't really have a name for it yet - it's kind of in the works but it's a fusion band - Heavy Rock - it's gonna be pretty neat. I'm working on it with a couple of guys that are just young kids, (they've) got good ideas - it'll be cool - it'll be a new sound.

Glenn: How would you describe the new sound that you've come up with?

Bob: It's hard to explain - it's kind of unique. Real heavy - heavy riffs with Jazz mixed into it, Jazz drumbeats, real nice vocals, you know - but it's still heavy though, not wimpy - we don't wanna be wimpy.

Glenn: With regard to Jazz who would you say are you inspired by?

Bob: Me, I'm not very Jazz influenced myself but the guitat player of the band, he's a big Jazz player. The drummer and the Guitar player are actually the two Jazz guys. I'm just a straight hard rock, rock 'n' roller diehard but I like the fusion of the Jazz and the way it's brought together. It's kind of different, we're still ironing it out, trying to get the whole sound together and it's kind of a tough process but it's working.

Glenn: Whereabouts are you rehearsing?

Bob: Here in Orlando we have a recording studio - it's a big house we turned into a studio - it's pretty cool, it's very nice.

Glenn: What sort of stuff are you working on right now?

Bob: It's all original stuff - we're in the writing process and we've got 8 songs written and we're gonna try and put together a CD here. It's still gonna take a while - I think it'll take another 5 or 6 months left of writing before I even start out getting out, you know, to the public - I don't want anybody to hear it yet 'til it's refined - it is a different sound - we've got a lot ot do - it'll be pretty cool.

Glenn: So it'll be quite a bit more unique than the usual stoner sort of material?

Bob: Yeah - it's got time changes - but still with the basic rock - the Sabbath thing, the Stone Temple Pilots kind of thing - there's a lot going on in there and we're still tryna keep that main rock rhythm. It's kinda difficult when you mix the Jazz with that. I'm actually thinking of getting a D.J. in there too to put some samples in and stuff like that.

Glenn: It keeps the interest for the kids I suppose.

Bob: Absolutely. Yeah - the kids - me too, I like that bouncy rhythm - the up 'n' down tending mosh pit kind of feel thing but not as violent. It's more of a rhythm kind of thing and (it's) for the kids. The kids wanna hear fresh new stuff. They want good sounds and effects and all that stuff to keep goin' - it's kinda what we're looking at. Not real dated as I don't wanna sound like the old 80's bands or anything like that - (we can) keep a little bit of that in there but still keep it modern.

Glenn: What do you do when you're not working with Duck from Blue Cheer?

Bob: Hanging Round, Drinking - what else is there to do?

Glenn: What are your main influences lyrically?

Bob: I like to write about stuff that's real, nothing too depressing but real stuff that we go through. A little bit mystical, but basically keep it kinda earthy and real.

Glenn: If you were looking for a deal when the new material is ready, what label/record company would you like to sign with?

Bob: Well of course, we'd like to hit the big deal. I don't know. I think I'd like to keep it on an underground label maybe. I'd like to get on something like Roadrunner - but we're probably not heavy enough for Roadrunner. Just a smaller label - someone that will actually put the time into it and push it.

Glenn: Like Music For Nations?

Bob: Yeah, Music For Nations. Yeah - instead of making it real corporate and all that (I want them to) push the band for what it is. I think there's labels out there still that will do that - but (our sound) is pretty new. We aren't in the process of trying to find any labels yet but I think we wanna keep it on the down-wall, I guess you could call it. We don't wanna get that big deal where they kinda push you off the side - take care of their corporate people - we wanna stay away from all that.

Glenn: Were you a fan of Blue Cheer before you were approached to do a project with Duck?

Bob: I'd never heard of 'em. All I know is when I heard Duck play the guitar and I was sold on that. He's a brilliant, great blues player, plays great jazz, classical - he's an all-round guy - he can play it all - heavy, hard rock. He's a great player. That's kinda what got me into it and he is a real professional so that was what was kinda cool about that. Definitely - and I listened to some Blue Cheer and I heard the one album 'Blitzkrieg Overburn' or whatever. Those songs are pretty good and those guys are really raw 'n' outta control. They were really one of the raw bands out there - Blue Cheer - it's pretty cool stuff.

Glenn: To be perfectly honest, I'd heard the name but I'd not heard the band - how would describe the musical styles of Blue Cheer?

Bob: The one song that I recognise is (Eddie Cochran's) 'Summertime Blues' and I guess that was their clame to fame or whatever - but that's kinda what they do. Some of it reminds me of Motorhead or something like that sh*t. Blue Cheer was just a raw band - Raw Blues Rock. So Playground came out of Blue Cheer and it was definitely a lot different than Blue Cheer - very heavy keyboards, 3 part harmonies, real intense - almost like Dream Theater. I have to say it was very close to Dream Theater or Queensryche or something like that - it was pretty good man - a bit 80's Rock - we came out of 80's Rock. We came out at the end of the 80's when that whole other style of music came in there and just kind of pushed of us right off the side. We were so close to a deal.

Glenn: Yeah - the Grunge thing f*cked up a lot of bands and they thrown by the wayside and I guess many had to go back to day jobs to make ends meet.

Bob: Yeah - it's frustrating. It's very frustrating. A lot of the bands that got pushed out of that, they were really great bands but they just got pushed off the side. Many people didn't dig it. That's when I think the Grunge thing is when the whole rock thing came Corporate. It kinda took all the freshness of the music and what the music was - all that was left was 'how much will it sell?' and 'everybody needs to sound a certain way' and I don't rate that - I don't dig all that.

Glenn: Otherwise the radio won't play it.

Bob: Then you got all these clone bands that all sound the same.

Glenn: All the Limp Bizkits.

Bob: Or the bands that are hip right now, especially the local scene - I mean, Orlando's got a really good local scene and there's a lot of really great bands out here but all those rock bands right now, they all sound like Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit - they all wanna sound like that, which is very cool stuff - it's great - I love it to death but all the bands have to sound that way.

Glenn: But you guys have mixed Jazz with Sabbath and Dream Theater - so you have your own sound and style.

Bob: But it's tough right now - music's tough right now. I wish the listeners would buy the albums - it's really hard to get people to buy albums anymore - unless it's totally promoted and commercialised to death. But when I was younger man, I used to buy albums - if I heard something cool - I'd buy it - just cause it was cool. I didn't care - I'd just buy it. They don't do that no more - they don't even give you a chance.

Glenn: What's the scene like in Orlando?

Bob: What's going on in Orlando is more of a Jazz kind of thing. The musicians around here are really into percussion and drums, different kinds of drums and beats - stuff like that. Acoustic Guitars and then electric guitars with it - so it's kind of a cool fusion thing going on here - it's real neat. I haven't heard anything like it coming out of anywhere else like it is in Orlando. It's pretty neat.

Glenn: Who would you say are the best bands around in this area?

Bob: There was a band called 'Cow' - they were really good. Anthony Cole - an all round musician guy - he has a great band out here. Junky Rush is a really good band - really cool - kind of like Grateful Dead with a little bit of Rock influence. There'a a lot of bands I came about a hundred of them - but you just gotta get out there and see it - people have gotta go out there and support it.

Everywhere, anywhere you go - music's a good thing man - there's so many great musicians out there. I think even bad bands are good bands - if they are doing it and it's original it's cool. It's all about getting out there and supporting it. It's kinda lost that transition man - corporate rock bands have taken over.

Glenn: I suppose bands get fed up with it because you can't get signed unless you sound like they want you to.

Bob: Yeah - it's sad man - it's like kissing your bosses a**e !! Where's the integrity in that?

Glenn: And you don't get much per album either!

Bob : But if you kiss his a**e you might get another dollar out of him. Really, the scheme of things - it's all crap. You can't be happy doing that - so what do you do?

Glenn: But you guys are about Sabbath and Jazz - doing what you want.

Bob: Yeah - we'll see if the people like it - All I know is we like it and we're gonna keep playing it - that's all.

Glenn: Have you got an idea for album titles yet?

Bob: We are working on the name of the band - we wanna call it 'Terrorfirma' but there is a band over in Europe (with that name). I just saw them on the internet and they're quite a big band over there - they look cool and they sound pretty cool too - so that's kinda out and I think they're signed so we don't really know. It's all up in the air right now - this is the problem - right now we're in that stage of making or breaking it so we'll see what comes out of it.

Glenn: Are the band Playground playing just in the Orlando?

Bob: No - we almost locked into a tour in Europe last year. We tour all around the country - we do big spring breaks - stuff like that - Panama City and Florida, Geogia, all over. That kind of thing - we did that. We were on the road for 2 years - a nickel and dime tour but we played cool places. We played to 2000-3000 people, it was a really cool time but we had to play some cover tunes - 3 sets a night, 5 nights a week.

Glenn: Playing a lot of covers? So it was musical prostitution?

Bob: Yeah - absolute prostitution - that's what it was. But you know what, it's alright.

Glenn: Do you throw many of your own songs in as well?

Bob: Yeah. We play two or three of our songs per set.

Glenn: How do your songs go down to an audience who haven't heard them before?

Bob: Everytime Playground play we always find our originals work. I mean I have to say people always got into our music because it's always so very well rehearsed - we are really into it. We were receptive. I mean Playground always did all our shows with original; music but the band I was in before that - the touring band, we had to play covers - f*cking prostitution.

Glenn: What sort of festivals have you played over the last couple of years?

Bob: We haven't played any festivals just big bars like Club Labilla and Spinnakers, The Butt South and (Planet) Hollywood. These are all big 2000 to 3000 people clubs. We did a lot of opening shows like Pat Travers, played with Yngwie Malmsteen, Motorhead, Anthrax. We've done a lot of cool stuff - I would never trade any of that man. I met a lot of great musicians but festivals, that's not a big thing here. Like I say, we got locked into a good tour overseas and I know they do a lot of festivals over there and a lot of cool venues - we didn't get a chance to do that unfortunately.

Glenn: Who would you say you've enjoyed playing with most as you mentioned band like Motorhead and Pat Travers?

Bob: We opened up for Pat Travers - did 2 shows opening up for (Pat) Travers. I've always gotten along good with all the bands we've played with.

Glenn: How's it work business-wise regarding money for playing with various bands? Has it been a pay to play or have you been invited to support bands because of the Blue Cheer fame?

Bob: No - it's kind of a weird subject down here. It's not a pay-to-play thing, I know that over in L.A. and New York and parts like that plus in Europe too - some of the bigger cities you have to pay to play. I mean you're buying the tickets. Down here, basically what they like to do is put you in on like a Tuesday night or Wednesday night where there's nothing going on. Get you in there to play for free and if they like you, they may throw you in a weekend for a hundred bucks.

Glenn: And take it from there?

Bob: Yeah - you're pretty much working your way up the ladder. You ain't getting' paid nothin' down here.

Glenn: So it's all very word of mouth.

Bob: Totally. Here in Orlando, I know the bands around here are big into promotion, they flyer, they do a lot of Radio Interview on local stations and a lot of online stuff around here - a lot of promotion - a lot of foot-work, leg-work - that's what we're doing. Flyering all the time, going out and just trying to get 'em into your shows - it's all you can do.

Glenn: Have you got a website at all?

Bob: We are working on one. It's not up yet, but like I said, we are after the name of the band because 'Terrorfirma' has already been taken. That's a really good name by the way guys is you ever read this !!! Pretty cool name. Those guys got it going on.

Glenn: What is your favourite material you've been working on at the moment that have titles?

Bob: We've got a song called 'Burning' - we really dig it - it's good Jazz. We've got a lot of good songs - you'll have to come out and see it. I really don't have any influences right now anyway. I mean - I do have my normal influence but right now I'm just so like far removed from any one influence. I just wanna do whatever comes naturally to my heart - it's all I'm about right now. It's nothing - I'm not planning anything out. I'm not sitting down there and actually writing anything. If I hear a riff in my head, I do it and I get the guys together and it works out - I just work from there, you know. It's kinda how we're doing it and everybody writes together.

There's not (just) one writer in the band - we all write together as a unit and sometimes we'll play the same riff for four hours. Cause that's how we get it done - it's everybody. Instead of one guy writing it and another guy putting his bit on. We are tring to get away from that Corparate thing. We may be sitting in the garage 5 years from now but it's alright.

Glenn: How come Playground aren't yet properly signed?

Bob: It's probably because we had so many deals offered to us but they were never good enough for certain members in the situation - myself not included. I will take any help from anybody I can get. But we turned down so many deals and after a while people didn't wanna work with us no more - it was like well 'Screw You' if you've got that big ego - it f*cked us basically because there's another million other guys waiting.

Glenn: Who offered you deals?

Bob: Actaully one of the biggest ones is the one that brought Marilyn Manson up - we did a grammy awards show in Orlando. The guy heard us play live . Marilyn Manson was there and we did the show. His name is Tober - he came back-stage and came right up to me and said, 'Man that was liked the coolest sound I ever heard' and he never took us from there because a couple of guys in the band didn't think that he was a big enough name or whatever and just wanted to pursue it from there.

I mean, this guy had (Marilyn) Manson, before Manson was big. This is when Manson was in the Spooky Kidz and we opened up for the Spooky Kidz quite a few times. The Spooky Kidz are a killer band - we did a lot of shows with them. He (Tober) never really realised - because I don't think that Tober was at any of those shows that we did with Spooky Kidz but - he was there (at the Grammy night) and he was ready to go - but it was like no - he's not big enough and there you have it.

We had other (offers) - Atlantic. Atlantic approached us and then there were some problems there - but that's the big name right there. Someone said the wrong thing to somebody there - that's how that all went down. Got turned down by Roadrunner. There's different (reasons) why.

Glenn: Did Roadrunner say why you were turned down at all?

Bob: They didn't think we were heavy enough - I mean they were into the heavier bands. They were signing stuff like Soulfly... real good heavy stuff whatever - and Roadrunner were like, 'If you ain't got it - you ain't got it'. You've got to really have it to play that kind of music man - it's gotta be really working, you know - there's some pretty good stuff.

Glenn: But if you did that you wouldn't be playing your own style?

Bob: I know - but there's so many bands to choose from - everybody's starvin - everybody's hungry. They are picky and pick the one that they think sounds right and the musicians are like - hell yeah - most bands will like jump on a deal - I mean Playground never jumped on a deal and that's probably why we are where we are right now - we never jumped on a deal - but then again - we didn't get screwed either. Other bands really get stamped over but that never happened to us, so I guess we're lucky in that respect.

Glenn: Where abouts in Europe have you played so far?

Bob: Haven't been over there yet - we need to go and ready to go. Anytime. Tommorow, I'll pack my bags - I'm outta here.

And on that note - we await Bob and the boys to grace Europe. Until then, check out Playgrounds latest CD 'D-Evilution', reviewed in the 'P' section of CD Reviews.
Thanks for that one Bob. You know what, it's surprising who you get talking to when you sit drinking next to CD Jukebox in a local bar