(As published in B-Side)
When not making albums or touring, Kathy McCarty works as a busperson in Austin, Texas, at the Castle Hill Cafe--"one of the best restaurants in the country," according to her. But fans of the rock underground probably know her better as one-fourth of Glass Eye, a quirky Austin quartet whose ten-year career produced such memorable examplars of the indie sensibility as 1988's Bent by Nature and '89's Hello Young Lovers.
Glass Eye's '93 breakup might have consigned McCarty to bussing tables full-time had she not come up with the idea for her current project and first solo album, Dead Dog's Eyeball: The Songs of Daniel Johnston (Bar/None). The product of almost a year's worth of recording and mixing, Dead Dog's Eyeball links McCarty with Daniel Johnston--the latest in rock's long line of mentally troubled "geniuses"--at a most opportune time: Because of the press Johnston's new Atlantic album Fun has gotten, magazines as diverse and high-profile as Rolling Stone and the Atlantic Monthly have included coverage of Dead Dog's Eyeball as a matter of course.
"I'm glowing with the amount of great press that the record's getting," McCarty confesses. "At the same time, having a lot of articles about your record appear saying that it's great doesn't mean a lot of people are going to buy it."
Nevertheless, she believes the album will sell itself--if only people can hear it. "I feel that this is a record that most people would like. A lot of the older people I know even like the record. It really makes me feel good. It's the first time I've ever gotten a call from my uncle, who's almost sixty, saying, 'God! I listened to it all the way to work and back on the parkway!'"
McCarty's association with Johnston goes back to the mid-'80s when he nervously approached her with one of his now-legendary homemade cassettes and asked to open for Glass Eye, a band he ranked second only to the Beatles. Glass Eye loved the tape, and Johnston opened for them, but the rest could hardly be called smooth sailing, especially for Johnston. Like Brian Wilson and Austin's other well-known mentally unbalanced scene-maker, Roky Erikson, Johnston's problems--all stemming from his officially diagnosed manic depression--are very real.
"But Atlantic isn't too crazy about having people focus on Daniel's mania," McCarty explains. "They'd rather focus on him as a genius songwriter, which he is. His writing is very genuinely emotional, very direct, and is very easy to project yourself into."
Perhaps the biggest difference between Eyeball and McCarty's Glass Eye work lies in the production. Whereas Glass Eye made most of their records in a hurry in order to decrease studio expenses, McCarty and Brian Beattie, her fellow Glass Eye alumnus and her album's producer, were able to patiently construct Eyeball over a ten-month period, in large part because of the generosity of people like Storyville's Craig Ross.
"The whole record was made on his aDAT machine," McCarty points out. "I said, 'I have no money, but I'll pay you whatever I can afford. May I use it when you're not?' And he said, 'Sure!' And John Hagan, the cellist from Lyle Lovett's band--I just called him totally cold and said, 'Uh, I'm making a record. I can't pay you anything. Would you be on it?' He said, "Sure! Just drop off the tape.'"
And what does Daniel Johnston think of Eyeball?
"I'm proud to say he really loves it. He has the mistaken notion that it's a favor I've done for him. He's said, 'When I get my Atlantic money, I'm going to give you a whole lot of it.' And I've had to say, 'No, Daniel. You're going to get money from my record. I am grateful to you for having written these songs.'"