Daisy Berkowitz was born Scott Mitchell Putesky in Los Angeles at the tail end of the 1960s. He was first drawn to the guitar at 13, lured by the music of the Cars and the Cure. But the instrument wasn't just a hobby for Putesky. By 1990, he went on to cofound Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids in South Florida, a band that would rise to international prominence on the strength of its horror-show sound, cartoonishly gothic stage garb, and bizarre live shows.
Eventually attracting the attention of industrial titan and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, the band signed with Interscope. It recorded and released Portrait of an American Family in 1994, two years before Putesky left the band. He subsequently recorded and performed with various acts, including Jack Off Jill, Godhead, Stuck on Evil, and the Linda Blairs and worked on his own solo project, Three Ton Gate. Recently, he moved to New York City, where he creates and sells original marker and color pencil artwork.
Revitalized and celebratory, Daisy Berkowitz is putting on a 20th-anniversary show of the Spooky Kids' landmark debut. His special solo performance takes place at the Bowery Electric on Tuesday, October 14, as part of Dizzy Reed's Hookers and Blow tenth-anniversary tour.
We caught up with the guitarist and songwriter recently to talk about his relationship with estranged bandmates and his views on the group and its seminal debut full-length recording two decades later.
New Times: Tell me how the Bowery Electric show came about.
Daisy Berkowitz: It came from speaking online to the manager of Justin Symbol [BlackBombs] from Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York. She was looking for an opener for the band Hookers and Blow [featuring Dizzy Reed from Guns N' Roses] and asked if I could play. I said I could do it, and she said that would be cool. That's pretty much it. The video for Justin's song "Purgatory" will be premiering that night.
Who else will be joining you onstage?
I'm playing solo -- singing and playing guitar, doing a celebration of the songs from Portrait of an American Family during the 20th anniversary. When you think about it, it seems like just yesterday [laughs].
There were plans for a Spooky Kids release in 2004. Will that project ever see the light of day?
No, I don't think so. I own the Spooky Kids catalog, but it's been such a hassle as far as the publishing goes, I just stream the songs for free from my Soundcloud page. It's not only the unreleased Spooky Kids tracks but I also have the Portrait demos there.
How do you view Portrait of an American Family 20 years on?
I'm still proud of it, still feel like it's some of my best work. I think it's one of the more interesting Manson records. We were one of those kinds of bands where the first record is more interesting because there was a lot more sweat that goes into it, a lot more experience before being involved in the music business side of it, going on tour, being on a label, and making records. It's more raw, more pure to the writers' experiences.
It seems to me that the band and the project had more time to incubate and mature, as opposed to the pressures of having to produce.
Right, exactly. The actual playing and recording was more of a band effort, rather than a singer writing a bunch with a bunch of outside people.
What are your favorite memories of the time?
One thing I found most exciting was being in the studio, Criteria, which we had all known about but not recorded in. I'll give you a funny story. We were staying at a nearby hotel, and there were no cars in the parking lot except for this big, white, new Bentley. We were wondering, "Oh, gee, who does that belong to?"
So we're going in and mixing the song "Organ Grinder" upstairs and we were mixing real loud, and [laughs] one of the engineers comes upstairs and asks, "Can you keep it down? We're doing vocals for Julio [Iglesias]." Brad [Stewart, AKA the late Gidget Gein] had these stickers with him that said "I <3 Satan," so to pay back the engineer for making us turn down, he put one of those stickers on the back of that Bentley [laughs].
I wonder how long that lasted on there?
I don't know, but that was a key moment.
What are your thoughts on Gidget? How do you view him and his legacy and what he meant to the band?
He was a great representative for the fun and crazy spirit of the group. It is definitely tragic that he had to go when he did. Hopefully it will be a lesson for future generations.
What was the best part about making the record?
One of the best parts, for me anyway, was picking the songs. There were tons to choose from; I thought 90 percent of them were good enough to be on the first record. I also really enjoyed the recording process. There's a double-edged sword because when we finished tracking and mixing, Trent Reznor heard it and wasn't crazy about it. So he wanted us to rerecord half the tracks and remix half the tracks at Record Plant in L.A.
What was the best part about touring the music from Portrait, getting the music out there?
We were just really happy to get out and play all over the country. We started touring with Nine Inch Nails before Portrait even came out. So we got in good work experience as far as playing live venues. It was really exciting; it's good to travel.
It seemed like one minute you were playing the Washington Square, the next you guys were on MTV being interviewed by Kennedy on some afternoon show. There's no such thing as an overnight success. You guys obviously worked hard for years before any of that started to happen.
We did, but we got signed relatively soon. We started out in 1990, but labels started to look at us in 1992.
You guys had something different; the live part of it was always exciting. That set you apart from a lot of the things that were happening in South Florida and, really, anywhere else.
Right. I remember in '92 we had an audition of Sony/Epic where we went up and we played a big rehearsal hall for just like 30 label people. It's difficult when you play something like that because it's not a normal crowd; they're not jumping around in a club, and it's not late at night. The president of A&R passed on us right there and then. He said he didn't like the singer [laughs].
Speaking of the early '90s, what exactly happened at the Washington Square? [Legend has it that someone in the band started an onstage fire and an enraged Doc Wiley immediately banned the group from performing there again.]
[laughs] Was this about a bad business relationship? I don't remember that. I didn't get involved in politics or much of the business, as far as playing out. That's why we needed management early on, because stuff like that would happen, and you don't want anyone in the band to deal with club management.
Yes, especially an imposing hulk of a man like Doc.
How would you characterize your exit from the Spooky Kids?
Well, we dropped the name the Spooky Kids before my exit. I wasn't getting any respect, wasn't getting any play. I had recorded a bunch of demos for Brian [Warner, AKA Marilyn Manson] to listen to; I don't even know if he listened to them, and we weren't working like we traditionally did. So we weren't using my material; I wasn't being asked to come into the studio to record, even though I was up for playing guitar on tracks I didn't write. But I wasn't even being called in.
I spoke to management. I said, "There's a problem here. I'm not being treated the way I feel I should." And they didn't do anything. So I had to leave. I knew it wasn't going to change, and I had to look out for myself.
So obviously, the relationship changed, where before it was more of a collaborative thing and toward the end it became somewhat of a Roger Waters, The Wall situation. There was a barrier, no communication.
What is your relationship with Brian like today? Is there any?
No, not really. I have his email and phone number, but, actually, I was in Miami for the Spooky Kids tribute show in 2011 or 2012, and through a friend of a friend, I tried to get in touch with him a couple of months before that, the summer before. I didn't think anything would come of it, but he called me out of the blue while I was in Miami, very poetically, and we spoke for like two hours; we just rambled and rambled.
I had to get a lot off my chest, and he had a lot to get off his chest. So [after that] it was OK. He wasn't completely positive on collaborating or getting together again, so I knew it wasn't going to happen. From then on, we kept in touch by text message, but every other text from him was something like "Hey, I'm hanging out with Johnny Depp." I just cut him off because I knew nothing was going to come of it. Then I happened to get a new phone, a new phone number -- for a couple of other reasons. I thought if we're not going to do anything and he's not going to be a friend, then there's no point to keeping in touch.
Would you consider reuniting with him at some point?
Yes. If he were healthy and eager to do something cool and willing to collaborate and share, I would definitely be into it. But you can't work with people you can't trust.
What is your relationship like with the other Kids?
They do their thing; I do my thing. We don't really have anything planned.
What are your thoughts on the return of Daisy Berkowitz? Did he ever really go away?
[laughs] Only in that I didn't want to use the name. I felt I was doing right by myself. I also realized that the band got really successful and I couldn't remove myself from it entirely, but I didn't want to embrace it entirely either. But I'm doing so now.
It's a good time to embrace the name and use it. Now we have two generations of fans -- fans our age and we have their kids who are into Manson, all levels and eras. I think it's great to celebrate that, and the best way for me to do so is to play out with the name Daisy Berkowitz.
Can we expect to hear more new music from DB?
Absolutely. I just have to straighten out some medical issues and then I can get back to work. As a lot of people know, I had a cancer diagnosis last year, but I'm doing fine right now. I'm at a point where I'm just managing it, keeping it in check, and other than that, there's nothing wrong with me. It's not getting in the way of anything. The future is going to be that I'm going to perform more and do soundtracks. I'm back to doing a lot of drawing in marker and colored pencil.
Tell me about your other current musical projects?
Three Ton Gate is a collaborative project, as far as the recording part of it, I wrote all the material. I intended to record with other people, but I just never got around to it. Then I had Stuck on Evil in 2001, I played with Kill Miss Pretty in 2010, and I've been doing some movie soundtracks, some horror films -- the most recent one hasn't been released yet. That's my goal -- to continue doing film soundtracks and scores.
Daisy Berkowitz, Dizzy Reed's Hookers and Blow Tenth-Anniversary Tour, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 14, at Bowery Electric, 327 Bowery, New York. $14 in advance, $16 at the door. Visit theboweryelectric.com.
Check out Berkowitz's iTunes release Millennium Effluvium.