How I Recorded the First Longmont Potion Castle Album
The infamous prank caller explains how it all got started.
The year was 1986, and I wanted to record my first prank call album. I had been experimenting with phone recordings for a couple of years already; now I wanted to actually document it. The problem: I was stuck in a juvenile detention center.
My parents put me in rehab for my wild behavior and involvement with weed. And it was an indefinite program, so a kid usually only got out when the insurance funding finally reached its limit. This was one of those common 1980s teen-dehumanization places. I was tricked into coming there and was resistant to their treatment. By my second day, the staff had tackled me to the ground, held me down, ripped off my clothes—I remember I was wearing a Dead Kennedys shirt—shaved my head and put me in overalls with no shoes.
I’m not exactly sure what lesson I was supposed to learn from that but I definitely still wanted to record my prank call album.
My Not-So Great Escape
I hung around for a couple of weeks, got to know most of the other kids and learned how things worked at the place. But I had every intention of escaping. One other kid did too, but when the time came, he decided against it and instead wanted to commit to the program. So, I escaped by myself.
There was an old African-American man assigned to the sleeping area to monitor us overnight. I got up around four and he was totally asleep in his chair. I jumped out of the bathroom window, 15 feet down. I still had no clothes and no shoes but that was not going to deter me.
I also had no money—or really anywhere to go—so I had to hit up anyone I knew for some assistance. I lined up a couple of places to stay and some clothes. Then, one day, a couple of weeks later, I was just walking around and—being the type of person who generally stands out—was noticed by a friend of my parents, who alerted them to my whereabouts. They all got in a pickup truck and cornered me. I took off running but they caught up to me and tackled me. They brought me back home and, after a few minutes, the police rang the doorbell. It turned out that some other neighbor had witnessed the chase and called the police to our address. After my parents explained the situation, the police ultimately drove me back to the rehab center.
Back to Rehab
This time, the rehab people insisted that I must be placed in a psychiatric hospital for a two-week observation before they would allow me back. So, I was transferred to a lockdown facility in an actual hospital. I had my own room, bathroom, a phone and a TV. I had a team of doctors checking me out. I remember their first concern was dehydration. Apparently, I had barely drunk any water in the last couple of weeks. My days at the hospital consisted of group therapy, arts and crafts class, and one-on-one counseling. It was actually pretty chill.
The other patients were a combination of senior citizens, suicidal teens and whoever else. One elderly woman insisted that we stay in touch with each other in the future, as she enjoyed my artwork. And the hospital food was decent: I had just started a vegetarian diet, so I quickly learned about side dishes. Sometimes I picked up the phone and called random places but the environment wasn’t conducive to much chatting. The doctors seemed to feel that I needed to learn about family dynamics—and that was basically it. So I did my two weeks and was then transferred back to rehab.
As soon as I got back there, a new kid introduced himself and said, “I heard that I should talk to you about breaking out.” So, I agreed to escape with him a couple of nights later.
When that night came, it was a blizzard but that also was not going to deter me. We escaped through another window this time and were only a few blocks away when a police patrol car drove by. They shined their spotlight on us and yelled, “Freeze! Don’t move!” They handcuffed us and, after a brief stop at the police station, we were taken right back to rehab. It had only been a couple of hours.
This escape-and-capture routine carried on for most of the year. I was in and out of that place over and over again. The last time I actually pretended to be interested in their treatment, when, in reality, I knew I did not belong there. At all. And since they would not allow me to keep shoes, they had me on a behavioral-monitor program to earn them back. One day, I had an evaluation where they determined that I had shown improvement. They said, “Would you like your shoes back now?” I responded, “You know what, I had better not. I don’t feel as though I’ve quite earned them just yet.” They said that that was an honest and commendable attitude. But I knew that as a result, they would probably not be watching me and, late that night, I jumped right out of the bathroom window again.
How I Began Making My Calls
This time, a friend of mine told me about a girl whose parents were in Europe all summer and that I could probably stay at her house. So, I went to a party there one night and I came right out and asked her if that was okay. She said, “Totally! You can sleep in my parents’ room.” So, I stayed there for weeks and did a lot of partying. I also managed to have some of my record collection with me. One night, I worked my way to the stereo and put on a prank call recording. I saw a house full of 100 kids immediately light up as they heard it. Also, to contribute, some nights I got on the phone and scammed a bunch of food out of local restaurants.
During the days, I called old friends from school and did some weird prank call “rehearsing,” for lack of a better word. No recording, just trying to hear what it might sound like if I ever did make this album I wanted to make. The concept was becoming more foreign to me as this crazy time went on.
Then came the local stop for Slayer’s Reign In Blood tour. I went to the concert with a few people. Once I got there, I ran into some other friends who had recently relocated way out to rural Colorado with their parents. They told me that they had explained my situation to their folks, who then said that I could go live with them at their new place. They hadn’t known how to reach me but they knew I would be at the gig. Shortly thereafter, I was living with that family out in the sticks. It was fine, we all got along. We would hang out together at night and, during the days, I had the house to myself. So, I tried out some phone call ideas—a lot of three-way calls, in particular.
Then, after a few weeks, the parents informed me, “We called your parents to let them know you were here and they want to meet us for dinner tomorrow night.” The next night we all went to the only restaurant in town. I was apprehensive as I went in. I hadn’t seen or talked to my folks in many months since they were adamant about institutionalizing me. Anyway, after a few minutes of awkwardness, my parents basically just insisted that I return home with them. I would finish my treatment at another location—since the first one had completely given up on me—and then I could live at home again. And, somehow, for some reason, I agreed. The path of least resistance, I suppose. I said my goodbyes and thanked that family for taking me in.
My dad drove us all the way back from that rural town and took me directly to a different rehab facility. Apparently, he had spoken to this place earlier in the day and they had agreed to create a space for me. However, when we arrived, it turned out that they had not done that. I sat in the waiting room as my dad and the staff argued back and forth about this. They said that there was no vacancy, there would be no vacancy, and they began suggesting other facilities that I could be sent to instead. Finally, after about 45 minutes of this, exasperated, my dad said, “Forget it,” and that I could just come home. We left and drove home together.
Back at Home, I Honed My Craft
Home was now someplace new. Over the past nine months or so, my parents and sister had relocated to a new part of town—in a new house that I had never been to before. As I settled in, I had a bedroom and I had access to my folks’ cassette-based answering machine with two-way record. So I quickly began recording every phone conversation I had—although the phone recorder “beeped” every ten seconds (an early security feature, designed to alert the other party that they were being recorded). I spent a lot of time on that phone recorder and I loved the material I was getting.
However, settling into my new school was more difficult. I was way down in suburban south Denver at an enormous high school. I had some better subjects than others throughout my school day but it was lunchtime that posed a unique problem as I did not know anyone, or even what to do with myself. So, I quickly developed a lunchtime activity that kept me occupied and at least seemed harmless at the time. I stood at the payphone by the school’s entrance and placed collect calls into the main office. This meant calling the operator (which was free), having the operator call someone at the school (usually the principal or vice-principal) and having the operator ask them to accept the charges. I remember stating that I was “Dick Smack” and other absurd names. This went on for weeks, until one day when I was on the phone with the operator and the office, and in the middle of the call, the principal opened the door and saw me there. I hung up and he brought me into his office. He left me there alone for a few minutes. When he returned, he asked me, “Who sent you? Who do you work for?” I gave him my real name and explained that I was just a student. But, apparently, due to my status as a new student, there was a clerical error and I was not on file. They did not believe that I truly attended their school and called the police. Moments later, they finally did verify my enrollment and called off the cops. They then called my parents and suspended me for two weeks.
Back at home, I went back to recording my phone work full-time. After a brief period of choosing a name for the project, I decided on Longmont Potion Castle. I just liked the way the syllables sounded together and the way that the name suggested something…else. Something distant, unfamiliar and a little odd. A few of those calls still stand out even now. Like calling a random old man and asking to speak to “Nipper” (which was the name of the dog owned by that family I was living with) and having him scream at me in response. Or pretending to be with a delivery service, along with my co-worker “Frank,” when simultaneously the guy on the other end screamed at me in response and my mom and sister returned home from the grocery store. They tried to get me to help carry groceries while this guy was losing his mind on the phone. Or trying to call this guy “Bryan” from school, who gave me his number, but the woman who answered the phone screamed that he did not live there. (It turned out he was trying to be clever and wrote his phone number down backward, unbeknownst to me.)
By 1988, my cassette-only debut album was complete. I still love it today and I more or less have followed its template ever since. If I never had made another album, I would still think of it as a success. Since then, I have made over 20 more LPC releases with a plethora of indie labels. In 2018, for the 30-year anniversary, an LPC documentary movie was released. I have been told by a number of folks that I inspired them either to create or to somehow cope with their own difficulties in life. LPC has also performed live shows both as a one-man thrash metal project and by doing live calls from a remote location. But, to this day, any time that someone mentions a movie or an album that came out in 1986, I still draw a blank. I could barely pay any attention to popular culture that year.