Johnny Caps 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s, Alexander O'Neal, American Girls, android, Boxing Gandhis, Brie Howard, Chiller Theatre, Earthquire, Fanny, Fanny Walked The Earth, Keith Moon, Michael Jackson, Peter Criss, Ringo Starr, Robbie Nevil, Tapeheads, The Runnin' Kind 0
My first exposure to my newest interview subject, Brie Howard, came when I heard her background vocals and instrumental work on Robbie Nevil’s song C’est La Vie, which I first came across on an 80s compilation CD I purchased in the late 90s. As I grew older, I would come to discover more about Brie’s work not only as a drummer and a singer, but also as an actress and a baker. I met Brie at the Chiller Theatre convention last October, as shown in the cover photo, and was honored to meet her.
We became Facebook friends a few months later, and I worked on setting up an interview with her. Brie Howard has been performing since the 1960s, deftly making her way through multiple genres of music, and earlier this Summer, she took the time to speak to me about her long and diverse career. I hope you all enjoy getting to know this incredible talent.
Say hello to Brie Howard!
Johnny: Hello, Brie!
Brie: Hi, Johnny! How ya doin’?
Johnny: I’m doing good. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview.
Brie: Oh, no problem. Today is a pretty mellow day, although it’s funny. About half-an-hour ago, right next door they were jackhammering out some concrete, and I was going, “Oh, great”, but they stopped.
Johnny: Alright, that’s good to hear. Well, I have my questions all ready to go.
Brie: Alright, let’s do it!
Johnny: Okay. You came of age in the late 60s, so how did the events of the decade influence your early songwriting?
Brie: You know, I was in school at about 13 or 14. That’s the first time I ever wrote a song, and really, since I was just so young, I wasn’t necessarily aware of a lot of the political things that were going on. I was just before that super San Francisco awareness of what was going on with us politically as a country, but I wrote a song about a girl in school that could every boy she wanted because she was so damn pretty, and I was really envious of her. That was my very first song, and that was before I played drums and joined bands and things.
After that, once I started playing, I was mostly doing covers of the popular tunes of the day with my very first band, and then my second band was with June and Jean Millington, so I wasn’t doing a lot of writing then. I actually really got into writing starting, maybe, in the mid-70s.
Johnny: Alright. Well, to stay with your early days, when you first started drumming, what was your initial approach to playing: Mild or wild?
Brie: I think I do everything wild. My mom tells me that, when I was a little girl, she gave me a little baby doll and put it in a little baby stroller, and I was supposed to wheel that around and take care of my little baby, but she would see me running down the sidewalk as fast as I could with the baby bouncing up and out of the carriage. That’s a perfect picture of me on how I do things. It’s like all-or-nothing, so I would say I was probably pretty wild from the beginning, plus I learned how to play on a Sears drum kit. It was called Kent, which my dad bought for my brother. It was not a professional drum set by any stretch of the imagination. It was hard to play. I had to kick the shit out of it to get anything out of it. I’m super-heavy-handed, and I still am as far as singing, drumming, anything I do. I think it had a lot to do with my innate personality, and also that I learned on such a hard-to-play kit.
Johnny: Well, it definitely worked out well. You are amazing at what you do.
Brie: Oh, thank you so much.
Johnny: During your time in Fanny, what were the songs you were most proud of working on? In other words, if you had to pick any songs you helped write as part of the group to help define your craft, which songs would they be?
Brie: Hmm, good question. Well, there probably isn’t one song, but there’s a couple that stand out to me. The first song that I ever sang lead on was with June and Jean when we were in The Svelts, way before they became Fanny, and that was “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” by The Four Tops. It was an R&B song, which I love, and I have a lot of R&B style to my singing. When I say R&B, I don’t mean today’s R&B. I’m talking about the old soul kind of flair, so I remember that sound, but I also remember working out wonderful harmonies with June and Jean. We worked really hard on all the harmonies of the Motown songs, so I guess I was influenced a lot by black-based music. I think I loved the sentimentality of the Motown songs, but I loved the rhythm and the hardcore-ness of the soul and R&B artists. I think those things really influenced me a lot in the style I continue to love.
Johnny: Well, you do a great job of it. Speaking of Fanny, a few years back, you reunited with the Millington sisters for a semi-revival project called Fanny Walked The Earth. What were you able to do with Fanny Walked The Earth that you weren’t able to do initially?
Brie: Well, for one thing, it was all original material. There were five Fanny albums, and none of them were all originals, so I thought that was really cool. It wasn’t necessarily the intention, that it turned out that way that I really loved. I contributed a lot of writing to the Fanny Walked The Earth record, which I had not done on the Fanny record I did, Rock N’ Roll Survivors. I didn’t have any original compositions on that. I didn’t really fall into the writing groove at that point. It was a little bit after that. We did Rock N’ Roll Survivors in 1974, but like I said, in the mid-70s I started getting into writing.
Johnny: Alright. Speaking of the 70s, according to Wikipedia, you did vocals for a 1972 project called Earthquire. What can you tell me about working on that project?
Brie: Well, Tata Vega is one of my favorite singers. She was very influential to me. I was a background singer in that group, and we did the one record on Motown, I believe it was. Watching her sing in the studio, I remember crying because of how beautiful and how soulful she was. It was the first time since I saw Janis Joplin. When I was in my early teens, I saw her live and she just blew my mind. That was a huge influence to me, and I got that same thing, but completely different styles of music, with Tata. It was the commitment and the drive behind it that I loved, so that was a fun group, Earthquire.
Johnny: Fantastic. To go to my next question, you did vocals on Keith Moon’s album Two Sides Of The Moon. As you were both drummers, did Keith Moon offer any advice or ideas for you on drumming, or were you there strictly in a vocal capacity?
Brie: I remember mentioning something to him. When we were talking, I didn’t realize at the time that it wasn’t a cool thing to do. I just expressed my opinion about something, and he said to me, “Well, then, it’s a good thing it’s my record and not yours’, isn’t it?”, (laughing) which, in other words, is “Shut the fuck up!”, he was saying.
Johnny: Alright. Another talent you worked with in the 70s was Melissa Manchester as you worked on several of her albums, including Melissa, Help Is On The Way, and Singin’. As you’re both still recording, have you ever pitched her any songs you’ve written?
Brie: No, I’ve never pitched anybody any songs.
Johnny: Oh, alright. Well, to return to the matter of famous drummers, you also worked on Ringo Starr’s album Ringo The 4th. As you’ve spoken about being a Beatles fan, what was it like to work alongside Ringo?
Brie: Ringo was pretty awesome. At the time, I think he was going through a lot of changes because he was stepping out on his own as an individual artist. I have a lot of respect for him. I think he changed the face of drumming. He was amazing then, and is amazing now. I loved his style, and working alongside him was, you know, it’s an honor. He’s a freakin’ Beatle!
Johnny: As more proof of your musical diversity, you worked on Mary Travers’ 1978 album It’s In Every One Of Us. Coming from a rock background, was it difficult or easy to modulate your voice for Travers’ folk-oriented work?
Brie: No, because a lot of the stuff I did with June and Jean was Motown stuff with beautiful harmonies, Supremes songs and Shirelles songs. I could go on and on, so no. It’s a different style for sure, you know. When I sing lead, I try to sing whatever’s appropriate to the lyrics, whatever the mood is. I try to do that, keep in mind what the song is about, because I think the most important thing is the lyrics. It’s a story. You’re telling a story, and if you’re screaming a soft story, it doesn’t work. If you’re wimping out on a really hardcore story, that might not work, either, I think.
I did a lot of background work, and you just do whatever is called for. The reason I got a lot of that work was because those records that you mentioned, a lot of them, were produced by Vini Poncia, who produced the last Fanny record. He loved my voice and liked the way I worked in the studio, so he hired me for a lot of stuff, even things like the ELO album A New World Record. Jeff Lynne was in Los Angeles. They had already recorded the record, and they got in touch with Vini, and they asked him to recommend singers for that whole album because they were missing background vocals. They had done it already and they were just missing something, so he told them about me and a couple of friends. Patti Quatro did that, as did my friend Addie Lee, who was also in the band with June and Jean before it turned into Fanny. We did some of those sessions together, and I also did some sessions with Wendy Haas. June and Jean, Addie and Wendy and me were in bands a lot together at the beginning of the Fanny days.
Johnny: Well, it’s definitely worked out well. You definitely contributed to some memorable albums. To stay with you, you co-wrote the song Let It Go for Peter Criss’ album Let Me Rock You. What was the lyrics inspiration behind that song?
Brie: God, I’m not sure. I had a songwriting partnership at MCA Music with Glen Ballard as the producer and Davey Faragher, who was also a producer, and wonderful bass player and singer who just won a Grammy with Elvis Costello. We had a songwriting deal at MCA Music, and we wrote about 70 songs in a couple of years. I don’t remember what each one of them was about because we just wrote like crazy, which, I have to say, is very, very difficult for me. I’m not that kind of writer. What I learned much later on is that I do better when I’m writing about a story or a situation that I can either relate to as part of my story, or that I share with somebody else. Those are my favorite things to write about. Just trying to write out lyrics that seem pop or coverable is not my thing. That’s why when you asked if I’ve ever pitched a song, I said no. When I worked with MCA Music, they pitched all of our songs. I believe that’s how we got the Peter Criss cover, but that was so difficult for me. I’m not that kind of writer. I’m remembering now, Vini Poncia produced that Peter Criss’ solo record, and the other writer was Davey Faragher’s brother Tommy. That cover didn’t come thru MCA…it’s been a while, I hope I have that story straight!
Johnny: Alright. Well, if I may ask, you co-wrote the song Nightline, which was covered within the span of a year by The Pointer Sisters, Randy Crawford, and a previous interview subject of mine, Ellen Foley, all of whom brought different spins to the song. Who would you say did the best job of interpreting your lyrics?
Brie: Actually, it was also covered by Michael Jackson…
Brie: …And the reason you don’t know that is because Ellen Foley and The Pointer Sisters and Randy Crawford also recorded it. Michael Jackson was in the studio at the same time we were working at MCA, and they loved the song Nightline and wanted that to be the title track of the record which became Thriller. Unfortunately, what happened was, I think, Randy Crawford had already recorded it, and they didn’t want to do it if it had been recorded. I’m not quite sure what the politics were behind it, but it was already done and recorded. You can hear it still on YouTube if you pull it up: Michael Jackson-Nightline. Our publisher at the time, I think it was Rick Schumacher, said, “Are you sitting down, Brie?”. I said, “Yeah”. He said, “They’re taking Nightline off the record”. The record was already recorded and they trashed all the songs, and they wrote more keeping in Nightline. Glen Ballard, who co-wrote Nightline with me and Davey Faragher, went on to write Man In The Mirror for Michael, and a lot of other great hits. He’s a very, very successful producer.
Brie: So my favorite version was Michael’s (laughing).
Johnny: I would have to say that the project of yours’ that made the biggest impact on me would have to be your band American Girls. You’re the second member of the group that I’ve interviewed, the first being Hilary Shepard. What was your favorite part of being in the group?
Brie: I don’t know if there’s a favorite part, but it was a fun group. We worked hard. I wrote a lot in that group, so that was one of my favorite parts. That’s when I became more confident with my writing skills. It’s hard to remember because it was so long ago, but Hilary and I worked together a lot. We would bring stuff to the band, and then continue working on it. Some of the songs we did were written by the band and Hilary and I, and I think some of them were just written by Hilary and I.
I loved working with her because she wasn’t a super-experienced musician who was stuck in a narrow idea of what she could do. She was wide open with ideas and melodies and concepts, and I loved that. I don’t like writing the same thing that’s been written 100 times before, you know? I don’t like writing something that sounds like something else. I’d like to think I’m trying to do something new. It was a wonderful experience working with them. We had such a great shot at having some success finally. We didn’t get it, but I think we made a good record, and it was a good time spent by all. We went on the road together and had a blast. I went with some wonderful people that I’m still good friends with today. It’s pretty cool.
That’s maybe one of my favorite things about being in an original band. You’re creating something together. You’re basically trying to make a baby together, and when that record is done, you’ve done it. You’ve birthed a concept, an idea, and you’ve done it together. That feels really great, and I’ve experienced that with so many people, and for the most part, they’re still in my life on some level, and that’s pretty cool.
Johnny: I’m glad to hear of that. When it comes to the group, the music video for American Girl was an interesting fusion of comedy, with sped-up footage like something out of a Benny Hill episode, and drama, with the lyrics and the newspaper headlines on the screen at the end. Did you and the other members have any input on the video, or was that all in the hands of the director?
Brie: I think it was pretty much all in the hands of the director. I think they presented us with one idea, and I don’t remember what it was, although I don’t think it was great. At the time, videos were pretty new, and I didn’t know what the process of making a video was, so for what it was, and the time, I think he captured a good idea. I mean, there’s a lot of fun, a lot of silliness with backyard barbecues and playing and dancing around, so I think, for its’ time, that it was very representative of who we were and what we did, so it was pretty cool.
Johnny: Alright. I did enjoy the video and, of course, all your work with the group. Since you’ve mentioned that you still keep in touch with the other members of American Girls, is there a chance that, once coronavirus blows over, there may be an American Girls revival in the style of Fanny Walked The Earth?
Brie: Well, you know, we got together about a year back, or maybe a little longer. I was going to do a podcast, and I invited everybody over. Everybody made it, except DB Tressler. She was driving out of state so she couldn’t make it, but it was really great getting altogether. What a great idea, Johnny. Actually, I love that. It’s a little difficult because records cost money, and there was not a hit off that, which was a shame. We were on major rotation with the video, but the single had not been released yet, so they didn’t link up, and the video that was shown on MTV was kind of lost in the shuffle, which was too bad, but there’s always a reason for something. Whatever it was, we never had a hit off that record, so getting somebody to do it again might be difficult, but I think it’s an awesome idea. I would love to do that.
Johnny: Well, I hope it will happen, and I’ll gladly buy the album if it does.
Johnny: Although American Girls made the biggest impact on me, my first exposure to your work actually came via your work with Robbie Nevil on the songs C’est La Vie and Dominoes. You did great work on those songs, so how did you come to work with him?
Johnny: Actually, my writing partner, Glen Ballard, told Robbie about me because Robbie was looking for a woman to play an instrument in his video. I think Robert Palmer’s videos had just come out, and it was kind of a new, exciting thing to have women playing musical instruments, although I don’t think any of them really played in Robert Palmer’s videos. Robbie wanted somebody to really play, so Glen Ballard told him about me. We got in touch and met, and I turned him on to a couple of other women musicians. The bass player in that video, Miiko, is from American Girls.
Johnny: You definitely did some great work with him. As a young 80s fan, I first came across C’est La Vie on a compilation disc of 80s music I purchased when I was 15 years old or so in the late 90s. That song just spoke to me a lot more than a lot of what was popular in the 90s. It was part of what led me to become such a big fan of the music of the 80s, and of the pop culture of the 80s.
Brie: I thought the feel of that record was just magic. I totally get how it was such a big hit. It was so many people’s favorite song. I think it was number 2 in the world and number 1 in the U.S, or vice versa, but it was a pretty cool experience, and then Robbie and I made a couple of more videos. There’s another one I forgot about, and I just saw it recently, called Just Like You. We also did Wot’s It To Ya?, so, yeah, we did a lot of work together, and then we went on tour for a little while. so that was good stuff.
Johnny: It absolutely was. Speaking of collaborations along those lines, you worked with Alexander O’Neal as the drummer on his song Criticize, which I think is one of the most underrated dance songs of the 80s, and you did great work on it. Have you ever considered performing it in your own concerts?
Brie: Mmmm, I haven’t. It’s a great song. I love it, too, but that’s a good question. I don’t know why I didn’t.
If it’s my tour, it usually has something to do with the band I’ve toured with, a song by the band or one we’ve covered. On the record I did with Cherie, we did a lot of covers. We did other people’s songs, but the songs we did together were songs that we heard as kids that influenced us, so something from the 80s or early 90s is WAY after what I would probably call my influences.
I actually stopped listening to music somewhere in the 70s. I stopped listening to the radio. I stopped listening to recorded music. The only way I would hear it is if somebody wanted to play me something, which was great. I loved it, but I think I went into this state of mind where I wanted to create instead of listen and copy. I’m not saying that’s the exact reason why, but I still don’t listen ever to the radio and I don’t download songs. I listen to music passively. Sometimes I’ll hear it, or sometimes my daughter will turn me on to something she thinks I need to hear, and I’m glad of that. I’m glad to hear that, but I like to hear what’s coming out of my head, what’s coming out of my mind, instead of trying to copy, and it’s not just that.
I have a form of ADHD, and it’s really hard to do a lot of things at once, so I don’t listen to music because it stops me from putting out. I like to be in a frame of mind when I do a project. I was making cakes for a few years, and I didn’t have music in the background. When I’m sitting and writing, or doing anything else, I’m not listening to music. I know that shocks a lot of people, but I just think that’s my way.
Johnny: I can relate to that. I sometimes have difficulty concentrating on my own projects if there’s any background noise. It’s relatable, and I can understand where you’re coming from with that.
Brie: Exactly! I can’t concentrate if I’m being distracted, so I need to focus on what I’m doing. I have enough distraction going on in my head. I distract myself! (Laughing) Sometimes I’ll go from thing to thing to thing, so having anything in the background to distract me is really difficult. I think that might have to do with a lot of why I stopped listening, and I’m sure there’s a great loss because of that, but I just have to accept that that’s the way my brain works, and I’m glad you can relate.
Johnny: Well, I deal with an autism spectrum disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, so I can certainly relate to having dfficulty with projects or with getting my words out. I’ve definitely been there, but to stay with you, you and your husband Dave Darling formed the group Boxing Gandhis in 1994. What’s the origin of the band’s name?
Brie: You know, he came up with the name and I loved it, just because it’s a contradiction, and I think it’s just a great name. That is probably my favorite band that I’ve been in the whole time.
Johnny: Alright. Similar to my question about personal choices for best Fanny songs you worked on, which Boxing Gandhis tracks would you say best represent the sound you want others to understand?
Brie: That’s tough. It would be easier to tell you the songs I wasn’t completely crazy about rather than to say which ones I absolutely loved because I think they’re, mostly, just brilliantly written, mostly by Dave, who is a fantastic writer. The other guys and I had some input, but it was mostly Dave’s baby, which was kind of a huge conflict during the existence of Boxing Gandhis. We all thought it was all of ours’, but really, it was his creative genius that made those records. I still go back and listen to them and go, “Wow, these records all have a definite point of view”, and you know what? From the very first song we recorded, which was If You Love Me, Why Am I Dying?, which is about taking care of this planet, to the last album we recorded, Culture War…
Boxing Gandhis got back together because of what is going on politically and socially in this country. We just had to speak up again, because that’s what we were about. We talked about the story of people and our problems. There’s some personal things in there, too, but I think of the kinds of songs that everybody can relate to and personally experience, as an individual or as a group. I mean, people came forward and said that they loved Stranded, which I hear as
is a song about realizing you’re not really in love with somebody anymore. So many people have been through that, and just because you’re done doesn’t mean you feel good about it. You don’t want to leave somebody stranded, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. You have to be true to yourself. There’s too many songs that it’s difficult to say which ones expressed what I wanted people to hear.
Johnny: Alright. Well, it certainly was fantastic work. You have mentioned your work with Cherie Currie on the album The Motivator. What was the most rewarding part of working on that album?
Brie: That’s a good question. For one thing, getting to know Cherie, because I think she’s just a wonderful human being. In some ways we’re very similar, and in some ways we’re very different, but I loved having that camraderie again with somebody. It’s
just a wonderful thing. Maybe that was my favorite thing about it: Having a camraderie with somebody who is so fun to work.
What’s coming to mind about what I loved about it is that it wasn’t a fight. There was no jealousy. There was no one-upsmanship, never. We worked so well together. We were supportive of each other, and completely respected each other’s talents. I learned so much from her, and I think vice versa. What a great thing: Somebody who is that respected and well-known is not controlling. We came up with ideas together. We tried things out. We chose what we liked. We had our input, and we made a great record together. We have a four-album deal, so we have three more to make. If this pandemic ever lets up, we can do some more work.
Right after we recorded Fanny Walked The Earth, Jean, June and I were unable to go out and support that record because Jean had a stroke right before it was released. It was a week before, and I was devastated. I was devastated for my friend of 50 years, as Jean and I have been friends since we were 16, and I was devastated that we finally got to do this thing together, and we could not go out and perform it. Live performances are my favorite if we’re recording and performing live.
That was unnerving, but during the making of that record was when I met Cherie, so I think Dave might have been the one that suggested it. We just made up our minds to do it, and we did it. She really loved my work on Fanny Walked The Earth, so she was so game. That’s another one of my favorite things about her. When she walked into the studio to sing backgrounds on that, she did not walk in like, “Look who I am”. She came over and just laid praise out, and told me I was her favorite female singer, which was really very sweet, and I loved what
I she did on our record.
Working together with her came out of that. We did the record, and we got to tour. We finished in December, so thank god I got to go out and sing, performing my songs live, because it’s been a long time since I’ve performed my own songs. I think we did 8 covers and 3 originals, and the originals we wrote together, except for one. I wrote Too Bruised on my own with Dave, and he wrote the music for that Hopefully we’ll get to do that again, but like I said, I don’t know when there’s going to be live concerts again. I don’t know.
Johnny: Well, I hope that, once things improve, you’ll definitely have a lot of new adventures to look forward to.
Brie: Me, too! I hope so, but we’ll see.
Johnny: To move to a different aspect of your career, you’ve also spent some time as an actress. What has acting provided for you that music has not?
Brie: It’s kind of the same expression, I think. Now, I’ve only done a few films and made a lot of records, but I think I would love the opportunity to do more acting because it’s the same thing. If you own the story, and when I say own, I mean in your guts, in your heart, in your mind, if you mean what you’re saying, it works. You’re not pretending, and to me, pretending is not fun. That’s why I love live performance, and I’ve done some live acting as well.
It’s more believable if YOU believe in it, and that’s what I learned from Janis Joplin when I saw her. That’s something that’s missing in some of today’s music. Listen, I love dance songs. I think they’re great, but I think that’s one reason why I’m not crazy about listening to music: I’m not sure what they’re about, not that I wouldn’t love a hit, but I can’t write that way, so it doesn’t matter.
Johnny: I understand where you’re coming from. All art is best when it comes from the heart.
Brie: Absolutely, absolutely!
Johnny: To stay with the acting, one of your most acclaimed film credits was 1984’s Android, where you played the character of Maggie. What was your favorite part of working on that film?
Brie: (Laughing) Oh, god, that was so scary for me. I think that was the first acting thing I’d ever done. My favorite part? I think the people I worked with were wonderful, very creative. I loved the story. Here’s what’s funny about it. We read the script, got together for a few rehearsals, and filmed the movie in pieces. You know, you do one scene one day on the same sets, and then you do something from later on in the movie or early on in the movie.
Nothing’s in order, but I didn’t realize how funny it was until I saw it done and put together, and I realized that it was a cute and quirky kind of story as well, which I didn’t know was happening, you know? I didn’t know that from the rehearsals because we just would do one scene and then another out of order, so that was interesting.
Johnny: It certainly did well with the critics. I know that Siskel and Ebert gave it Two Thumbs Up, so that was definitely a good thing.
Brie: Yeah, I loved that. That was so great, and that was very cool of them to review it that way.
Johnny: When it comes to Android, I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about the late Klaus Kinski, so what was your experience like in working with him on that movie?
Brie: He was awesome! He was fun. I don’t have any nightmare stories about him. He was great. I was going to play a trick on him. I don’t remember if we did it or not, but there’s one scene where he brings this chaffing dish in and presents it. I think I hid a lizard in it for when he opened it, and then I thought, “Oh, my god. What have I done? Is he going to get pissed?”, but no. He was fun, and I don’t know if we actually did that or if I told him we were going to do it, but he was great. He just laughed it off. I’ve got no nightmare stories about him.
You know, people love to say bad shit about other people. They just do, and I don’t know why. I don’t know why people need to do that, and some people like to hear that. I don’t. First of all, I don’t believe anything I hear unless I’ve experienced it myself, especially bad stuff. I’ve heard weird stuff about his daughter, and my daughter met her and said she was lovely. She was so great.
Johnny: Okay. Well, to go to another acting credit, you appeared in the 1988 satire Tapeheads. As all satires have at least some element of truth, how true was that movie to your music video experiences?
Brie: There’s so many different ways for videos to happen. I guess it was pretty on-the-mark. Of course, it was funny, and Tim Robbins and John Cusack were great together. Sure, there was definitely some truth behind that. That was a fun movie to make, and that one was really silly and great.
Johnny: I purchased it on a used VHS tape in 1999 at a local flea market, and I just loved it. I thought it was a blast and a very underrated movie, and it definitely deserved better than it got in terms of critical and box office reception.
Brie: Yeah, I thought so, too, but hey, you know? Whatever. Some films you make never even come out, so the few films I did work on that got to come out throughout the world is very awesome, and I think most of the records I’ve worked on have also been released, so yeah, I can’t complain. I wish it would’ve gotten more credit than it did. I read that Android was one of those midnight movie hits in Switzerland or Germany. They would play it every Saturday night in a theater and people would go to it like The Rocky Horror Picture Show every week, so that was good to know. I like that.
Johnny: Fantastic. Another film credit of yours’ came when you acted alongside our mutual friend, and a previous interview subject of mine, Pleasant Gehman, in the 1989 movie The Runnin’ Kind, playing the character of Thunder.
Johnny: What made that movie so special to work on?
Brie: Well, what was great about that was it was a cool story about an all-girl band. It should be out right now with all these things about all-girl bands being promoted.
Johnny: It hasn’t gotten a disc release yet. The movie can be found on YouTube, but I want a remastered release with extras. I know there are a couple of studios out there that have deals with MGM, who currently own the rights, and I’d love to see them take a crack at it and release it.
Brie: Yeah, I think it was a great movie. I freakin’ loved doing that for a bunch of reasons, but what fun, you know? So much of it was real. I think it really captured the time…
Johnny: …And, of course, you worked with Pleasant Gehman, who I think is an absolutely all-around incredible performer who does so many wonderful things, and does them amazingly.
Brie: Yeah, she’s awesome. She’s amazing.
Johnny: When it comes to diversity, you’re quite diverse as well, and a surprising direction your life had taken involves baking cakes. How did you first come to discover that talent?
Brie: I just saw one of these cake shows, I think it was Ace Of Cakes, and I thought, “I’ve been an artist all my life”. My first form of expression was drawing. When I was just a kid, I wrote and drew my own comic books. I saw that show and I thought, “I could do that. That looks like fun”. Now, I was interested in the art, not in the baking, but what I discovered when I started doing it is that you don’t make sure you’re good at one thing. You make sure you’re good at all of the elements. I learned to bake so I would have that to work on, and then I learned I could not only decorate the outside of the cake, but I could decorate the INSIDE of the cake, so I invented that leopard print thing that I still haven’t seen anybody do very well.
I also realized that the third element is that you see this cake and go, “Whoa, that’s cool!”, and then you cut into it and go, “WHAT? I can’t believe it!”, and then you taste it and go, “This is the best cake I’ve ever eaten”. It was just as important to make all those three things amazing.
Johnny: Well, you’ve certainly done a great job with it. What’s been the most amazing cake you’ve ever created for an event?
Brie: Mmm-hmm-hmm. That’s a hard question to answer because some of them are extremely difficult, and figuring out how to make that work might be my favorite thing about making them. I loved doing the guitar cakes that were leopard print inside because I have lots of reference. I know how to make them look real. I don’t know if you’ve seen a lot of them, but they don’t look like a slipshod version of a guitar shape. They are made to look like the real thing, and some people are fooled by looking at it. They think it’s a guitar. I made a grand piano with the top flipped up. That was hard. It was, of course, not piano-sized, but the guitars and amps were pretty close to life-size. They had to be a little bit smaller, but not much.
I think one of my biggest problem solvings was I did the Titanic. That was hard because the bottom of a cake has to be bigger than the top, but the shape of a boat is bigger on the top than it is on the bottom, so that was defying gravity. That was hard, and not only that, but to make it accurate, the way the ship’s hull curves in the front of it, that’s working against gravity because the front wants to fall down, not only on the sides, but I had to figure out how to do that. That was my favorite part.
I did a race car that was riding on two wheels. It was for a race car driver. These were all specific to people’s orders. His wife had ordered for him, but said she wanted the race car as if it was riding on two side wheels, not front or back, but on the side. Getting these things to stand up was amazing, then, of course, my granddaughter and I won an episode of Cake Wars with a dinosaur cake. That was also a really fun one to make because I was doing it with her, and it was such a great experience doing those things for a couple of years with her.
It was not only fun, but it was really, really hard because I don’t like to take shortcuts in anything I do. I don’t like to rip something out. I plan it from the beginning, and I think it’s the same way that you make records. You’ve got to give it a good, solid foundation. In everything you do, you’ve got to start from the bottom up. You need to build on a foundation, and not only do you need to build straight and true, whether you’re building a song or a cake, you must also stay honest with what is true to your art.
That’s not easy to do, and the thing with cakes, as an artist, is that they all had a definite time limit, a due date. When the party, or the birthday, or the wedding happened, you couldn’t call your customer and say, “Yeah, it’s going to be a little late. We’re going to get it to you tomorrow, if that’s okay”. It didn’t work that way, and because I wanted things to be as good as they could be, I wanted the cake to be fresh. Sometimes you see these big, beautiful, gorgeous wedding cakes, and people say, “I wished it tasted as good as it looked!”, because it takes a lot of time to make, and they dry out.
I didn’t want that to happen, so I would do everything up to the last second and, boy, there was a lot of stress and pressure because it not only had to be great and beautiful, it had to be there on time and it had to get there in one piece. That was a stressful job. I loved it, though. I think I like stress. I love deadlines.
Johnny: Well, it certainly worked out great for you. Do you still bake, but just for fun?
Brie: No. I think that the last thing I made was I made a cake for Cherie’s birthday last year, and then they did a TV show where they remodeled her kitchen, and I baked some cupcakes for that one. I wanted to make a cake, but there just wasn’t enough time as it was being filmed so fast. I haven’t done it because once I started recording and getting back to music more at the time, I just got immersed in it. Besides that, I just have a lot of other projects that I do that, in a way, with this inability to do anything else outside of home, I can focus on.
Some of these other projects are things that I wanted to start or wanted to finish, including writing a book. I’d like to write the story of what I’ve done, and I’m also an artist, so I’m painting, and I’ve done landscaping, which I’ve got to catch up on because I’ve let it go for so long. I’m also a tile artist, and I’ve got tile projects started back up, and I need to finish that, so there’s a lot of things going on.
Johnny: Well, I know you’ll do a great job with all of them, just like you’ve done a great job with everything in the entertainment you’ve done.
Brie: Thanks, Johnny.
Johnny: Oh, no problem. On a different tack, we first met at the Chiller Theatre convention in October of 2019, where you and Cherie were signing autographs and taking pictures. What was your favorite part of attending that show?
Brie: Hanging out with Cherie, just sitting there and getting to do something cool and creative with her. We got to play a show that Saturday night, and that was fun. I met some really cool people there, and Cherie’s sister and brother-in-law were there, too, and I love her family. They’re awesome, plus it’s such a cool thing for people to be able to attend. There is a music part, but the biggest thing is the film thing, and that was big fun.
Johnny: Oh, it certainly was fun…Well, with the exception of the second bomb scare in as many years.
Brie: Yeah. No kidding, right?
Johnny: How did you and Cherie ride that one out?
Brie: You know what? Here’s something I didn’t say. One of the cool parts of being at that convention was meeting so many fans, so many cool people. Anything we do as artists or actors or musicians, it means nothing without the people who appreciate what we do, and who support us in our artistic fields. That was the cool thing, getting to meet you and so many people, so during that bomb scare, you know, Cherie and I got separated, and then we found each other. One of the fans said, “Hey, you want to come sit in our car with us?”, so we got to sit in this SUV. We were pretty comfortable, and we weren’t suffering. We just sat through it, and I got to meet so many people out there in the parking lot, and so many people were helpful, so that was the kooky part, but hey, it’s the experience. What the heck?
Johnny: (Laughing) Yeah. When it does come to Chiller, what was the most wonderful piece of memorabilia you signed there?
Brie: Oh, you know what was really cool is that one guy showed up, and I don’t remember where he traveled from, but it was far, and he said, “I came here for you”. I am in a book that I should get. I don’t even remember what it was called. I think I wrote it down somewhere. I’ll have to find my notes, but my name appears in, I guess, a Who’s Who Of Rock N’ Roll that goes up to 1975 or 1976. He has gotten so many people to sign next to where their name is in the book, and he came there to get my signature.
Brie: Yeah, that was pretty cool.
Johnny: I had asked this when we met at Chiller Theatre, but as you don’t look your age at all, what’s the secret to your youthful appearance?
Brie: Oh my god, I don’t know. Listen. I won’t lie. I’ll tell you right now: I think I look pretty good. I just turned 71. My mom was a beauty, and my dad had good genes. He was pretty good-looking. He died when he was 93, and I swear he didn’t look older than maybe 65 or 70. It was weird. He didn’t have many wrinkles. I don’t know how that happened. He was German/Scottish/Irish.
I’m not saying my life is easy all the time, but I feel very fortunate in that I live the life that I live now, and that I lived the life I lived in being able to express myself as an artist and a musician and all the things I’ve had an opportunity to do. I think they made me happy and, maybe because of the ADHD, I can’t quit. I can’t stop. I wake up every day wanting to do more. I can’t help it, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe it keeps me moving forward, and listen, it makes me tired. That’s why I said it’s not always easy, because I don’t know how to rest and sometimes that’s difficult. I don’t know how to relax. It’s not fun for me to relax.
There’s a couple of things that I do where I can relax but, really, my mind is still working. I read every night for hours and that helps me fall asleep eventually. I probably read a book a week, and it makes my mind stop because I’m reading somebody else’s words. If it’s a great book, that’s awesome because I get really involved in the story, and it helps to stop my mind from spinning and spinning.
Like I said, I can’t complain. Look at the life I’ve gotten to live. I know I’m fortunate. My life is good.
Johnny: Well, I’m certainly glad of that. That does it for my questions. I thank you again for taking the time to speak to me. It was an honor to do so. This interview was everything I was hoping it would be. You’ve lived an amazing life, and I’m glad I’ve been able to help share some of your stories.
Brie: Well, thank you, Johnny. Thank you so much for taking your time, and for asking some cool and unusual and different questions than most people do. I think that’s awesome.
Johnny: Thank you very much. I’ll definitely be in touch again soon. Thank you again for your time, and thank you for being such a great interview subject and friend.
Brie: Okay. Thank you, Johnny.
Johnny: No problem. I hope you have a great afternoon.
Brie: You, too.
Johnny: See ya. Bye.
Brie: Bye bye.
I would again like to thank Brie Howard for taking the time out of her schedule to speak to me. I also thank Brie for allowing me to use pictures from her Facebook page to help illustrate the interview.
Coming soon to the Flashback Interview is a conversation with Amy Stoch, who can currently be seen on screens both big and computer in Bill And Ted Face The Music.