Interview with Ray Manzarek of The Doors: A True Addiction

There are bands that claim a level of rock royalty, but only a select few can be timeless culture phenomena like the Doors. Since the beginning, Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger, and John Densmore have been the America’s answer to the Beatles’ cleverness and the Rolling Stones’ swagger with a mysticism no one has had before or since, and decades later, the band’s popularity is as potent as ever. As their recent acclaimed documentary, When You’re Strange, points out, over a million Doors records are sold yearly. Therefore, purely for the love does co-founder Manzarek along with Krieger still most graciously bring their deceptively whimsical jazz motorized keys, mesmerizing lyrics and guitar ingenuity to the touring circuit.

Obviously minus their iconic, mold-shattering and utterly beloved frontman Morrison, they still sail that crystal ship with a new singer, whom Ray dubs as “dark and ominous.” There are purists who think it blasphemous to hold Doors concerts without the Lizard King, but as for the motivation fueling this tour, Ray explains it rather simply. “Lots of great songs to play, wow is it a lot of fun to play those songs. Who wouldn’t want to play ‘Love Me Two Times?’ You must understand that musicians love to play and to improvise. That’s why they do it. That’s why I do it.”

Although tragically missing one of the most supreme lyricists ever, Ray and Robbie’s addiction to the magic of the Doors legacy thankfully gives fans the opportunity to experience the landmark group 40 years after its inception in the live arena. In other words, “Five To One” is amazing and two original members are better than none.

The documentary is amazing, whose idea was it? Did it initiate from yourself or were you asked by a producer?

Yeah, it was the Doors’ idea, we all wanted to put it out. We all wanted the antidote to the Oliver Stone movie.

How did it come into fruition?

Yes, our management approached Dick Wolf productions, because Dick Wolf had made a documentary or two, short form, that had won academy awards. He wanted to do a long form and our manager knew about that, so he approached Dick Wolf. Dick Wolf said, ‘Great, let’s do the Doors.’ Then we approached a director out of a list of directors, talked to about three or four directors and Tom [DiCillo] was the one that we picked to be the director.

How did Johnny Depp become involved?

Johnny Depp was approached by Dick Wolf Productions, and he said, ‘Would you like to do the narration for the Doors documentary, When You’re Strange?’ Johnny Depp said, ‘Yes, sir! I’m a big fan of the Doors.’ He just jumped right in.

It was amazing, just so insightful.

Great, glad you liked it. I did too; I thought it was quite good. Jim Morrison and James Dean have a lot in common.

Now on this tour, will it be you and Robbie sharing vocal duty?

We have a lead singer, too. It’s a guy you don’t know. We auditioned three or four different singers in Los Angeles, and Mili [Matijevic] had a great voice. We said, ‘Oh, this is the guy!’ He’s dark and ominous—a strong voice and a very dangerous figure onstage.

Is he as close in vocal texture as Ian Astbury was?

Yes, even better.

I thought it was going to be a situation like in the documentary when Jim had passed out onstage and the show went on without him.

That’s correct, and I had to sing and Robbie had to sing. That’s right in Holland.

What was going through your mind at that point?

The words (laughs). Jim had passed out, and we thought, ‘Oh darn, how could we go onstage without our lead singer?’ We told our roadie Vince Treanor, to go out and tell the audience in Holland that Jim Morrison would not be able to perform tonight, and you can have your money back. And the audience said ‘Play Doors! Play Doors! Play Doors!’ over and over, clapping in time as they do in Europe.

They didn’t know, it was 1968, they didn’t know who Jim Morrison was. They knew the Doors had a hit with ‘Light My Fire.’ They didn’t know that Jim Morrison was a rock god. That only came later. Can you imagine, can you comprehend that? Wrap your mind around that, isn’t that a weird one? Jump back in time. They didn’t know who Jim Morrison was; they knew the Doors. They said, ‘Play.’ So we went onstage and we played.

We told our roadie, ‘Move Jim’s mic over to Robbie. I’ve already got a mic, and bring John up a little bit to the front, and here we go, let’s play the songs.’ And the Dutch audience got to see the Doors play ‘Light My Fire,’ minus Jim Morrison, and everyone was perfectly happy.

What was I thinking? ‘Oh shit!’ That’s the first thing that went through my mind.

Looking back, that seems like an eerie foreshadowing.

Yes, it was a glimpse of the future. That Jim Morrison would no longer be with us, that four years into the future, he’d be gone.

Will you be doing any new material on this tour?

You have to understand that musicians love to play music, and from an outsider’s perspective, you always want something new. Now if you were to come see Ray and Robbie, would you want to hear the new stuff or ‘Light My Fire?’ Do you want new material?

Why not?

That’s the chance for everyone to go out and take a beer break. Like when the Stones play, and say ‘Okay, now we’re going to play something off the new album.’ If you’ve ever been to a Stones concert, half the audience stands up and goes out to get a beer, and they come back when they hear ‘Satisfaction.’ You don’t want to hear new material. You want to hear ‘L.A. Woman.’

Point well taken. With the success of When You’re Strange and your cinematic background, are you working on any other film projects?

The Doors or me personally?

You personally.

I’m always busy. I’m going to stay busy until I drop dead. Then I go into the oneness of the universe. Into the eternal energy, and become one again with the eternal energy. Just like on LSD.

I’m glad you brought LSD up because of that now-famous quote that Jim said in an interview that machines would be making music in the future. Were you privy to that information as well?

Oh absolutely, sure. Machines will be making music in the future.

Do you think it’s a double edged sword?

Sure, you can have the machine make the music, but you lose the human spontaneity, but if you are the master of the machine… We are human beings, we are supposed to be more intelligent than a machine; so it’s the art of music continuing on into the future. It all depends on the chord changes, and the words that you put into a machine, so I don’t have any objection to machines at all. I think they’re great.

What bands spark your interest today?

Electronica, machines. Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin.

Manzarek-Krieger performs at Nokia Theatre June 2, House Of Blues in Atlantic City June 5, and Starland Ballroom on June 11.