Nearly 18 months ago, I had the sublime pleasure of interviewing Tim Cain from the band Boys’ Entrance. I had gotten to know Tim’s music through David Marsden’s internet stream, NYTheSpirit.com. The interview led to a fast friendship between Tim, his husband Bill, and me. Taking advantage of living just three hours apart in the fabulous state of Florida, we met up in Mt. Dora a month after the initial interview to view the Bowie/Sottsass Exhibit at the Modernism Museum in Mt. Dora FL and enjoyed each other’s company and the breathtaking exhibit to the max.
Recently, I had a nice phone chat with Tim and he filled me in on his latest efforts, including revisiting the Boys’ Entrance first album Exit or Entrance. Because the album turns 30 years old this year, Tim felt it was a time for a bit of a facelift. He carefully re-mastered the tracks, breathing new life into them. The result: He took something that was a stunning freshman effort to begin with and made it even more outstanding.
Listening to Exit or Entrance, it’s impossible to discern that these timeless tracks are three decades old. The lyrics are relevant, the arrangements are gorgeous, and the music is just as fresh and engaging as if it was recorded last week. Tim’s voice is a lush alto that draws the listener in and captivates the soul. It’s no wonder that Boys’ Entrance has earned the accolades of the music industry, and very confusing (for me and for many others) as to why they haven’t earned the public recognition they deserve. But, that seems to be an all-too-common and sad theme for the artists I promote here on Rave and Roll.
In the meantime, here’s a chance to become either acquainted for the first time or perhaps reacquainted with Tim Cain and Boys’ Entrance. Definitely take the time to experience Exit or Entrance because I guarantee you’ll find this classic collection of tracks to be satisfying, riveting, and deftly ageless. Bravo and well done, Tim!
Missparker: The very beginning of this journey started with an AIDS benefit in San Francisco circa 1991. What happened next?
Tim Cain: It did. My dearly departed friend Casey Alexander was creating an AIDS benefit in City Hall in San Francisco and he needed help. I had worked with him as a display artist in 1987 at Silvestri Importers. I was based in Chicago and flew to Merchandise Marts around the country to do display work and I met him in the San Francisco showroom. The moment we met, we looked at each other and KNEW we had known each other in earlier lifetimes. It happened twice to me while I was working at Silvestri—which is just bizarre—but Casey looked at me, and I at him, and we both thought, “Oh, it’s YOU!” We picked up our conversation where it had left off in another time. I left Silvestri, but when Casey called, I came running.
While I was in SF, I looked up my old friend from college, Jon Ginoli. We had a complicated friendship. He first met me when I was dating another DJ at the college radio station, WPGU in Urbana, IL. I was the first Out Gay musician he knew of. Jon was the Program Director at WPGU, and they featured some of my songs on the station.
At one point I fell out with my boyfriend, and Jon and I went to see Ultravox in concert. Afterward, he came back to my place. We saw each other for a short time. But it didn’t end there. Jon and I both worked at record stores. Eventually we both worked at Discount Records as managers. He started spinning New Wave dance music at The Bar, a local gay bar, and I was the DJ and music programmer at the Moonlighter. Jon moved to SF, and I thought it would be nice to reconnect.
Jon had been in a notable band called the Outnumbered. But he had just recorded demos for a new band that he called Pansy Division. He played me the demos and sang songs, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. I howled with laughter—which he took very well. The songs were in fact funny. He intended that. But it was the utter shock I experienced at hearing baldly QUEER lyrics, not shielded behind neutral pronouns. He wrote odes to cocks, sucking, f*cking! He had opened new territory. I came back to Chicago with a new mission.
Then, one day I drove down Belmont in Chicago and passed a school. Back in the day, they carved in stone, “Girls Entrance” and “BOYS ENTRANCE.” I almost wrecked my car. I knew that should be the name of my own Queer band.
Missparker: You were a music major in college, giving you an excellent and solid background. You also had a major set-back that would have discouraged anyone else from pursuing music. Can you talk a bit about that?
Tim Cain: In 1977, I had a car accident. I was driving my sister to school, and was T-boned by a semi, smashing my side of the car into the middle of the car. I sustained broken ribs and collar bone, and a concussion. I had amnesia for a year and a half. I was at the time a music major, and returned to piano class with no knowledge of what sheet music was. I dropped out. Forty years later, I was experiencing neuropathy and an MRI showed I have two areas of scarring in my brain. This I can only assume was from the car accident.
Missparker: What prompted you to buy your first synth and who were your influences?
Tim Cain: Well, Art Rock, and New Wave were my thing: Beatles, Bowie, Stones, Devo, Cars, Eurythmics, Depeche Mode, Ramones—and now it was Nirvana and the Pixies that were in my sights. All of these are in the mix of the first Boys’ Entrance album. As for the synth, I was in a music store, and found the Ensoniq VFX—at the time, a sequencer with the most powerful computer in a synth available. It had onboard samples of other venerable synths, as well as acoustic instruments. It was not only the analog synth sounds, but the natural piano and bass that sold me on it.
Missparker: Tell us about the studio where the original recording and mixing took place.
Tim Cain: I came upon Bad Dog Recording Studio in Chicago by accident. I don’t recall how. I was thrilled by the LIVE sound of the main room that was 30 feet tall, with plaster walls. The echo in that room was astounding, and I instantly saw the possibilities. Tom Mohbat was the studio owner and engineer. He was very handsome, which didn’t hurt either. Sadly, he was married at the time and unavailable. He was straight, but very welcoming. He made me feel at ease. He understood somehow that I was doing something very personal and he nurtured it/me.
MissParker: Who were some of the key players on the tracks back then?
Tim Cain: It’s mostly me. I recorded the synth tracks at home and brought finished pieces to the studio to download. I added vocals, and piles of backing vocals—exploring the range of expression I had only dreamt of in earlier bands. I played rhythm guitar, and even a lead guitar part on one song. But I needed help on a few tracks. Tom brought in a fellow, whose name I don’t recall, to play a “blues” solo on “Light In The Darkness.” I met a guitarist named Glass, who loved the same bands as me, and who played using an Ebow to imitate Robert Fripp’s sound. And he played on “Yellow Sun,” and “Your Secret Fear.” A well-known jazz saxophonist, Pat Mallinger also played on “Yellow Sun.” And, a woman named Miriam played Gospel piano on “Your Secret Fear.” I don’t have a detailed list of credits, as they were lost over these 30 years. My apologies to the musicians.
Missparker: What was first and foremost in your mind as your goal while you were originally putting this great collection together?
Tim Cain: I had never played keyboard in my bands. I couldn’t recall how to play due to the accident. I somehow channeled the music through my subconscious. I recall once being in a music store in my college years and standing at a Yamaha synth. I raised my hands and went into a trance, letting the music pour through me. It was as though the synth was playing me. When I finished, I looked up and everyone in the store was looking at me, and one woman yelled, “Don’t Stop!” The Ensoniq spoke through me, too. The songs played me. I recorded them on the sequencer-freed from my inability to replicate them. I layered sound as a painter layers pigment. The synth captured it all. I was only at the beginning of finding my Queer voice. The songs capture glimpses of my gay life at the time.
Missparker: You shared with me what the actual first release of Exit or Entrance was like. Can you describe that experience for us?
Tim Cain: It was an art project, top to bottom. I had 100 cassettes duplicated. I then handmade each cover using photographs of me dressed in a black bag, à la Martha Graham. I then lifted the image using a decoupage technique which allowed me to stretch the image and distort the image to my liking. I applied the transparency to crinkling tin foil, and then applied a clear colored plastic to the image to preserve it. I don’t own any of these covers today. I know one is with Tom Mohbat in his studio to this day, though.
Missparker: Did you promote Exit or Entrance with live shows? If so, what types of venues did you play and were you as glam then as you are now?
Tim Cain: I did not. There was no band for three years. The cassettes were distributed and then I moved forward recording with Tom at Bad Dog. We recorded an EP called the “Ballad of Freddie Mercury” after Freddie passed. Then we started in on the second album, “In Through The Out Door,” during which time I started to solidify the first LIVE version of Boys’ Entrance with Cie Fletcher on lead guitar and Mike Ferro on Rhythm guitar. Our first live show was in Lincoln Park, 1993 I think, for Gay Pride. I wore a polyester floral sundress, à la Kurt Cobain.
Missparker: Fast-forward 30 years later. How has technology changed the way you record and release your music?
Tim Cain: Oh my goodness! First of all, this record release would not have been possible were it not for the Internet. It allowed me to send the music to Tom Mohbat, who now lives in Hawaii and it also allows me to place it on Bandcamp, and other digital services to be heard the world over.
Missparker: Did COVID play a part in your decision to re-master and rerelease Exit or Entrance? Or was it strictly because of its anniversary?
Tim Cain: As you know, I got Covid at a Boys’ Entrance show on November 14th. I literally got a fever after I left the stage. It was very scary. I thought I was going to die because I had been having premonitions before the event. I was convinced something bad was going to happen and I would never record again. I posted an email to fans on Reverbnation.com/boysentrance that sounded pretty dire. It alarmed Mike Ferro, and Tom Mohbat, whom I was unaware was a fan on Reverbnation. They both reached out to me to support me. I started chatting with Tom, reminiscing about recording together. We talked about me getting better and finding a way to record together again. Then I realized we were coming up on the 30th anniversary of our first record and asked him to re-master it. The result is amazing. It’s also the beginning of our work re-mastering all the early Boys’ Entrance recordings. More music will follow.
Missparker: Prior to Boys’ Entrance, you shared with me that you were in a group called Talltrees. You also told a hair-raising story about a studio and an exorcism. Please dish the details!
Tim Cain: I asked Tom what he remembered most about recording the first album and he said it was my having an exorcist come into the studio to smudge the space with incense and bar “negative influence.” All true. I had a dear friend who was a priest, and he was in the last class of priests to be trained as exorcists. I felt this extraordinary step was necessary due to the last experience I had prior to the Bad Dog sessions.
I was recording a song called, “Read My Heart” under the band name Talltrees in Urbana, IL. I don’t recall the studio name. This would be about 1984. I had a guitarist named Keith Harden in to play, and he was recording an ostinato passage in the studio. I was in the control room with the engineer, Adam. Adam’s back was to me. Keith played his part which was beautiful. We also heard a demonic choir—very operatic bass voices. Keith ended his part and there was silence. Keith asked, “Did you get that?” I said, “Yes, hang on a second.” I said, “Adam, what did you hear?” Adam turned around slowly and was white as a sheet. “Voices.” I said to Keith, “Please come in and listen with us.” Keith came in the control room, and the tape was played back and the voices were on the tape. The three of us were freaked out. I then “heard” a voice that let me know that this was the deal…this was the “crossroads” moment for me. It was even more ironic given that the song is a plea to God for protection. I began praying to God for protection. I had to make a decision.
We discussed what could be causing the voices—harmonics? Vibrations? We had no explanation except the obvious one. I asked if Adam thought the voices would remain if we recorded it again? He had no idea. We only had the one track available to record on, so we didn’t have the luxury of keeping the first track. I made my decision while praying, “God, if this is of you, let the voices stay. If it is not, make them go away.” Keith re-recorded his part, and the voices left. This is why I began my Boys’ Entrance career with an exorcist.
Missparker: Since our last interview a year and a half ago, you’ve released a collection of David Bowie covers. We’ve talked about this, and I’m going to say it publicly—I was a little apprehensive about hearing your versions of Bowie songs because I’m a bit of a “Bowie covers snob,” to put it mildly. However, and you witnessed my sincere and spontaneous reaction firsthand, when you cued up the first cover, I was literally blown away, and remained so for the entire collection. How much courage did that take and how have your Bowie covers been received?
Tim Cain: Well, Boys’ Entrance was always a band that performed originals. As such, you are always facing audiences who are unfamiliar with your music. That is very difficult. I sang “Rebel, Rebel” and “Fashion” back in the 80’s in Talltrees. It was always a positive experience because people always told me I sounded like Bowie.
After I met my husband Billy Ramsey, he would take me to a local restaurant that had karaoke. I would sing China Girl and it always got an ovation. So that was the beginning of me feeling like I could do it. Billy is the bassist in Boys’ Entrance, as well. So, we started talking about incorporating more Bowie in our shows. I had a realization that “Boys” sounded similar to “Bowie’s.” So we created an alter-ego for the band called Bowie’s Entrance to perform Glam Rock classics.
These songs are songs that were influenced by Bowie’s world-view. I created synth treatments for the songs, and the band did the rest. Keith Otten is an amazing guitarist. He convinced me that I didn’t have to play guitar now. He would be able to handle the guitar, which allowed me to perform and entertain. So the Glam factor of our shows went way up. Billy plays acoustic guitar and bass and our drummer is nationally known and loved—John Spinelli. John has four patents on drums and owns his own drum company called Spinelli Drums. He makes drums for national acts and they are amazing. I am essentially fronting a power trio. Their sound is very powerful.
We recorded “Boys’ Entrance Presents Bowie’s Entrance Vol. 1 & 2,” 12 songs in 5 hours, LIVE in Blacktoe Studio. Nobody does that, but we did, and the record captures the energy of our stage shows and the sound of the band.
Missparker: COVID has forced musicians to be flexible and creative when delivering music to their fans. On that note, you’ve got something truly exciting and magical planned for the month of May. What can you share with us?
Tim Cain: We will be headlining at our home base, the VFW Post 39 in St. Petersburg, HOPEFEST—an outdoor COVID concert with 6 punk bands. It’s being put together by Jim Pacifico of the band Fear the Spider. We played our last show with them at the Post, and I love their “Iggy energy.”
Missparker: As always, it was such a pleasure to talk with you and get the inside scoop on what’s happening with you and Boys’ Entrance. I look forward to visiting with you and Bill up close and personal once restrictions have ended and there’s some semblance of “normal” life again.
Be sure to check out Boys’ Entrance and support their music:
Boys’ Entrance ~ Ziggy Stardust
Boys’ Entrance ~ “Heroes”