Thirty years ago this month, America’s favorite animated family made their debut as part of The Tracey Ullman Show. To celebrate, CoS will be broadcasting live from Springfield all week with a slew of Simpsons features. Today, Lior Phillips revisits Homerpalooza with Peter Frampton, Sen Dog, and James Iha.
Now into the 28th season of The Simpsons, the list of musicians who have visited Springfield stretches from here to Shelbyville. But back in 1996, in the show’s seventh season, that honor wasn’t quite as common — especially for contemporary artists. The first artists to appear that season were Paul Anka, Tito Puente, and Paul and Linda McCartney. To put it sweetly, the record stores in Springfield seemed to lean a little more classic than Top 40. But much like the festival that inspired it, one episode changed it all: “Homerpalooza”.
In the episode, Homer joins the touring festival Hullabalooza as a circus “freak” after discovering he can withstand being shot in his wobbly belly by a cannon. And, as with any good festival, real or fictional, the episode’s success depends on the quality of the bands — in this case, a top-tier bill featuring Sonic Youth, The Smashing Pumpkins, Cypress Hill, and Peter Frampton headlining. At the time, the episode was a thrilling, subversive experience, featuring bands that were leaps away from the typical Simpsons mainstream given a chance to showcase their acting chops. In retrospect, it’s still a delight, a half-hour of intense nostalgia for an alt rock wonderland long gone.
In order to further relive the Hullabaloo-za, we brought back three musicians from the lineup to unpack the mystery behind their recording experience. In our “Homerpalooza” retrospective, we chatted with The Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha, Cypress Hill’s Sen Dog, and the legendary Peter Frampton about their love of The Simpsons, seeing themselves in yellow, a stolen orchestra, and more.
So, when was the last time you watched the “Homerpalooza” episode?
Peter Frampton: Oh gosh, it’s on all the time. I can’t believe it. You know, it’s such an honor to be made fun of [Laughs], and I love it! I got to make fun of myself, which was great.
James Iha: I like The Simpsons a lot, but I get limited time to watch TV. I haven’t seen the episode in quite a while, but it’s definitely one of the great, lasting shows of our time.
Sen Dog: It’s been at least five or six years since I saw the episode. I know it comes on because people tell me all the time, “Hey, I saw you guys as Simpsons!” But because of my schedule, I haven’t been able to see it in quite some time.
How did they ask you to be on the show?
Sen Dog: The Simpsons team reached out to our management at the time, and then we had heard about all the other great artists that were going to be in on it and just knew it was going to be a great opportunity to further our band! It gave us a chance to expose our band to a younger generation, a younger demographic, because The Simpsons had young viewers. We just thought it was an amazing opportunity. And here we are, 20 years later, talking about that episode, so I think we made the right choice.
Peter Frampton: The casting director, Bonnie Pietila, called me up and said, “Would you be interested in doing the voice for yourself in The Simpsons?” And I said to her, “Are you sure you have the right number?” I’m thinking, “Well, you know I’m not really on top of the charts at the moment, so this is very interesting.” But she assured me that they had the right person! I immediately said I would love to do it, obviously. I asked Bonnie about the premise, and she told me it was sort of like Lollapalooza except it’s Homerpalooza, and I would play myself. I’d be on the bill and get to do the voice for it and everything. When she said Homerpalooza, I said: “You know, I wouldn’t be headlining something like that!” And then there was silence on her end. Oh man, it was in that moment that I realized they wanted to have the old, crusty, old-time rock star who has seen everything and been everywhere and is a little grumpy. She said she couldn’t have said it better herself. So, I told her I loved it! I love self-deprecation, and it’s something that I think draws you to your fans, too, when they see you’re fallible.
Sen Dog: I don’t remember how the other guys felt, but I remember I was a yes all the way as soon as I heard about it. When I understood what the episode was going to be about, I thought it would be even more important. We were up there with a lot of big names at the time, so it was a very big deal for me. I’m glad that we did it, because it was a very good strategical move at that time for us.
Were you a Simpsons fan before they asked you?
Peter Frampton: Oh yes, absolutely! It’s almost like a daily vitamin pill. You gotta watch The Simpsons. You have to get your fix, you know? [Laughs]
James Iha: I think most people at that time knew the show and had to be fans on some level. For me, that was definitely a high pop-culture watershed moment to be asked to be on The Simpsons. But to have a part written for you? It’s truly amazing.
Making music often affords you the opportunity to contribute to the lyrics or melody of a song, but did you get the chance to work on any of the lines yourself?
James Iha: No, no. The character band doesn’t get to write the lines!
Peter Frampton: Well, there was one part where they said, “Okay, you are actually walking past Homer, walking past the microphone and off the stage in disgust, okay?” So I offered to sort of ad lib something, and they said yeah. I just walked past the mic and said, “Twenty-five years in this business, I’ve never seen anything like it!” And they kept it! So, I wrote my own line, which I don’t know how many people have done that. And then to watch it later and see that a line that I had ad libbed had been animated? That was the best part for me. I loved it.
James Iha: Wow. Well, Peter took the initiative. I didn’t assume we had that kind of leeway or creative control over the lines. But when you read the script, it’s obviously hilarious, and there’s really nothing to change. The writers did an incredible job.
When you signed on, did you know who the other musicians were going to be? Did you record with them at all? Or with the other Simpsons actors?
Sen Dog: We actually went to a movie studio where they recorded the vocals for the show, just the three of us: myself, Muggs, and B-Real. We basically just said the lines maybe 10 or 11 times each. It was a pretty simple process. Going into it, I was kind of nervous, but when I got there, they made me feel very comfortable.
James Iha: We just found a window to do it at a studio, so the whole band went in to record. They had somebody doing the other Simpsons characters’ lines, not the actual voiceover actors, just whoever was around. And when they got it, they got it.
Peter Frampton: There were so many guest artists on that particular episode; we all did our pieces separately. I think if I’d have had to read with Harry Shearer and all the others, I would have been too nervous because I’m such a fan! But after I did it, I got invited to a read-through to the next episode, and I got to sit beside, who is the other one?
Peter Frampton: Yes, yes, yes! I was sitting right behind Hank Azaria while they were reading. It’s even more funny when they’re messing around with the script for the first time, you know? So it’s a phenomenal thing.
They wanted the genres of hip-hop, indie rock, goth rock, and classic rock all filled. So in retrospect, each band that they chose represented an entire genre. How thrilling to have that cemented in history.
Sen Dog: Yeah, you’re so right. It’s very true. It makes it more of a thing to think about when you look at it like that. It’s a cartoon with Peter Frampton, Cypress Hill, Sonic Youth, and Smashing Pumpkins … but it’s more than that, actually. It’s a cultural movement that allowed a lot of people to come together. It made people smile and laugh a little bit, and that’s the most beautiful part of it all.
When you saw yourself depicted in cartoon form, how close did they come to what you were expecting? Did you feel like they captured your essence?
Peter Frampton: Yes! They did. The only thing I asked them to do, if possible, was not use me how I looked in the ‘70s with the long hair. I wanted them to use me now, with shorter hair. Well, it’s shorter because it’s left me! [Laughs] And they did, and so therefore I thought it was great because it was more current. It definitely helped people realize, “Oh, he’s cut his hair!”
Sen Dog: We got a sneak peek at our cartoon selves before hand, just to make sure we were okay with it. We loved how we were being portrayed in the cartoon, I mean, I thought we looked cool. We didn’t have to change a thing.
James Iha: I remember thinking it was very true to Simpsons. It was great to be animated in their style.
Peter, you’re doomed from the start, and on top of it all, Cypress Hill steal your orchestra. Has anyone ever stolen anything from you at a festival? Other than an orchestra, that is…
Peter Frampton: [Laughs] Unfortunately, I’ve had guitars stolen from venues, but that’s about it. But that’s the nature of the beast, basically, that things do disappear sometimes. Luckily, I’ve never had someone cancel my orchestra. I probably had my cooler go to the wrong dressing room, though. [Laughs]
Sen, did you know Peter before you did the episode? Before you stole his orchestra!
Sen Dog: I did not know Peter personally, but as an artist yes. I bought some of his records as a young gun coming up in the music world. I still have Peter Frampton albums in my record collection. [Laughs] I knew who he was, and that was one of the big names that I thought, “Woah, he’s going to be on the show, too? This is going to be great. Peter Frampton! That’s royalty there.”
While there’s no stopping genres from drifting outside their lanes, would Cypress Hill ever have a string arrangement on stage?
Sen Dog: We’ve actually talked about doing that! It’d have to be a very, very special occasion. To have a live orchestra, to go out there and infuse that with live hip-hop, I think anybody would be excited about that. It’s only been talk so far. We don’t know where exactly, or when we’re going to pull that off, but Cypress Hill has never been scared of collaborating or working on stage with artists that are different from ourselves. We’re not scared of that. We’re known for taking that kind of risk, and I’d love to hear “(Rock) Superstar” with an orchestra.
Peter, has the cooler debacle followed you in your real life? Do you have a cooler that you take to gigs?
Peter Frampton: Well, nowadays, you usually have a refrigerator backstage in the dressing rooms, but in those days, especially with a festival, you would have these obnoxious coolers with ice in them, and all your private stash of cold drinks and foods would be in there.
If I opened up your cooler back in the day, what would I have found?
Peter Frampton: Well, I mean, what we have now is water and fruit juices. In the old days, it would have been just beer, a lot of beer. I don’t drink now, so water it is! [Laughs]
One of the lines that people keep quoting over the years is one of yours, Sen Dog. After Kim Gordon mentions how Hullabalooza is not about freaks, “it’s about music and advertising,” you say: “Yeah, and getting toasted. Nicely toasted.”
Sen Dog: That line came about just naturally like that, straight from the paper. I just delivered it a few different times. A couple of the lines were laid-back, and a couple of them were a little bit more wild and aggressive. So, they went with the one where I was calm and actually sounded like I was stoned. [Laughs] I think that’s what they liked about that … “Nice and toasted.”
The episode also makes reference to Pink Floyd’s pig. Homer gets shot in the stomach by a canon, which then reveals a bright-pink inflatable pig, which forces you to get pissed off even more. Had you mentioned the band before, Peter?
Peter Frampton: No, that was all them. They’re very, very clever to connect my talkbox pedal with the pig, which was pretty cool. Pink Floyd always had the pig floating around the hall, as well as airplanes crashing into the stage. I’ve never had anything like that kind of production, so I loved it. It just made it into more of a circus.
And regarding the song that they chose to use, “Do You Feel Like We Do”, did you have any say in that?
Peter Frampton: Well, they wanted to use the talkbox, and because the song has the great question, [sings] “Do you feel like I do?” I had no problem with that at all. I just thought it was fantastic. Anything that would be humorous won me over. Just to see this animated me with a pipe in his mouth doing a talkbox? Now, that’s funny. The way it sounds in the first place is funny, you know? It’s always been a humorous gadget that I’ve used, but in the context of The Simpsons, they went crazy on it, and I loved it.
Would you ever consider doing voice-overs again?
Peter Frampton: I would like to. I did hear back through Bonnie that the cast gave me the thumbs up and thought I did a good job. That meant a lot to me coming from those brilliant guys. They are just so good at what they do. It’s inspiring.
At the time, most of you guys were a bit off the mainstream, and to appear in The Simpsons with a weed joke, is that something you were proud of, to bring that little bit of edge to the show and to pop culture in general?
Sen Dog: Yeah, definitely. We all thought that was cool, because it’s what our band is about, basically, at our core. At our core, we’re marijuana activists, so to have marijuana humor involved in our episode, we thought that was great, featuring our personas and our personalities and what we bring to music and to popular culture. Having that on display for about 30 minutes dispersed a lot of information about Cypress Hill in just one episode.
Did you get high before, during, or after recording the episode?
Sen Dog: I will tell you now that we got high before and after we did the show. After I left there, I couldn’t really believe how popular The Simpsons were until I walked out of the recording. You know, we just grew up as regular kids in California. There was nothing glamorous or exciting about our childhood, and to be able to fulfill our dreams, to make a band and get signed and put a record out, that’s all so overwhelming, and it still is today. But when I was leaving that place, I left with a very big smile knowing we were a part of history. The things that we talked about building for years outside my mom’s house, all these big ideas that we wanted to do — here we were doing it. An overwhelming, proud feeling.
So, James, after you all find out you’re going to be playing in Springfield, you say something to Homer about how people who called him a weirdo in high school get to see what a successful freak he’s become. What was the reaction among your old friends when you’d play back home?
James Iha: When the band got big, a lot of people were surprised, interested, but overall, happy. It was a great, surprising moment.
How did your family and friends react when they heard that you were going to be immortalized in cartoon form?
Peter Frampton: Everyone was just thrilled, but like me, they were still a little perplexed. When you’ve been off the grid for a little while, you start to think: “Well, you know they’ve asked the wrong person.”
If you had to make a cartoon about yourself, what do you think yours would be?
Sen Dog: I would stand up for people that were being messed with, for people who were in need. I’d just go around being some kind of character that beats people up for a living. [Singing] “Sen DOOOG!” Oh, and of course I would be very muscular and very good looking.