I can’t get enough of Priors

Priors..if you don’t know them…well, you should!  An early 80s sounding punk band from Montreal, they have this unbelievably reckoning force of pure mad intense energy. Super emotive melodic, fast-paced,  their songs hit you hard, like being smashed in the face! Signature catchy  guitar hooks  sound like being attacked by a swarm of bees. They present as biting, discordant and dark sounding, with recurrent weird hyper hopping beats, like you’re dancing in a sick and twisted alternate reality. Their music has head spinning swirly amusement park rides written all over it. I heard these guys open for Mark Sultan back in October at bar L’Escogriffe.  They are as amazing live as they are on record.  Singer Chance answered some questions I had about the band…

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How did you guys meet and form a band?

I (chance) had a bunch of bedroom demos and was looking to put something together. I had mentioned to seb while we were on tour with Sonic Avenues that I wanted to get something started and wondered if he’d wanna be involved. He was into it so I pushed further and looked for a drummer. I had just started hanging out with Drew and asked him if he’d wanna play….he seemed very into it and had some friends he thought would also be down. Enter Alan and Stuart! I had met al once at a show and I had no idea who the long haired kid was (stu). He had already learned the songs so I was very in love with him from the get go.

How do ideas for songs come to you?

I work very hard on songs in my spare bedroom and anything I think fits or is worth a shit I send to the boys and we transfer them into loud songs from originally being very different sounding.

Priors b/wWhat are some of your favorite venues for playing shows and why? Any memorable stories in particular?

I like to play at l’esco and Brasserie Beaubien currently. Barfly is a fun one too (we played our first show there). Outside of the city I like to play This Ain’t Hollywood in Hamilton and Call the Office in my hometown of London Ontario.

What are your aspirations as a band/musicians?

I’d like to play full time and sell records and quit my job. I’d like to make records while not on tour and die happy.

Priiors

What are some of the festivals you played? What was fun, what was not?

We played Up Here festival this year which was a complete shit show. A few of us did mushy on the drive up there. We got real friggled that weekend for surely.

Touring: Where have you gone? Where are you going?

We’ve been through a lot of Ontario. We’ve been out east as far as Halifax. We’d like to play all over though. We’re going to Europe in May and we’re really looking forward to that!

Priors

Growing up what kind of music/bands did you listen to?

I liked a lot of really melodic music. I grew up on Nirvana – by the late 90’s was very into Sunny Day Real Estate and Jimmy Eat World. Then I started doing a lot of drugs and experimenting with pretty much any music I could get my hands on.

What’s your earliest musical experience memory?

Going to watch my mom jam with her band when I was around 4 years old. She’d always bring me along and I’d play with the other kids outside but I was very taken with the music experience. I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Priors at bar

How would you qualify your experience playing live?

I’d qualify it as awesome. We have a lot of fun and I think the crowd comes along for that ride a lot of the time. We like to play.

What songs do you enjoy playing the most?

The newest song I’ve written is always my favourite song to play.

Tell us about your newest record, New Pleasure… How long did it take to make? Who came up with the artwork/look and sound? How does it differ from your first record?

It took me probably around two months of demoing, tho a few of the songs were written pretty early on (Got In Me, New Pleasure, Heartstrings). We worked on the whole thing for as long as it took to write to fine tune I’d say. We only jam once a week so it takes a little longer than we’d like I think to get the ideas finished. We were in studio for two days and it took about a month to mix (I am an asshole that overthought everything). The artwork was done by our friend (Sweet) Dave O’Connor. He’s done the art for most of the music I’ve written. He’s an incredible artist.

As for being different from the first one – we did the first one really quickly and didn’t have a distinct sound in mind when we were recording it. It was a mixture of how we sound live and how I was demoing at the time (vocally at least) but we did it to tape and I really liked how it turned out. We’re a better band now. We’re bigger sounding but also I think we know what kinda band we are now.

Priors - New Pleasure

Priors band

The animated world of filmmaker, Emily Hubley.

While watching Emily Hubley’s animated short films, I feel a sense of  wonder and delight at the fluidity and mellowness of the shapes that  move and play happily like a dance, telling a story, submissively changing and spiraling, with simplicity of lines, figures and faces that flow like water trickling,  magically expanding and retracting from scene to scene, dreamily, with a quaint dashing of musical accompaniment  (often composed by her sister’s  band, Yo La Tengo) that sets the perfect tone.

In this interview Emily  engages us with her animation process and the combination of techniques she uses to make her films, her involvement as an Annenberg Film Fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters’ and Filmmakers’ Labs and the fun she had working on her 2009 film The Toe Tactic.  We are also intrigued by her story as a kid growing up in Manhattan, what advice for new animators she offers,  her experience collaborating with her  son-Max, and working with her parents-John and Faith Hubley, pioneers of animation.

by Samia

Has your hand process of animation changed at all since you’ve been doing animation?

I still animate and lay things out by hand. The only thing that’s different now is that I scan the art into a computer, and in many cases, I color digitally instead of by hand. The shift into the digital process has been happening, I guess since about 2000. The Hedwig job and Pigeon Within were the last two projects that were all analog and then shot on film. The job after Hedwig was a documentary called Blue Vinyl, and for that we animated by hand, scanned it and added color with Photoshop. We shot it pretty much straight ahead – no digital bells and whistles. After Effects can do all kinds of things! I pretty much use After Effects as a camera stand, and I use Photoshop to clean up, rescale and color.  I like to combine hand and digital coloring, so it’s not completely flat/fake-looking.  It shifts from piece to piece. But one of the things that’s good with the digital system is that you can edit. You get a chance to re-edit and tweak the timing and that can really improve your work. Certainly with the last few music videos I’ve done, I’ll make a plan, animate the plan, and then edit it. You can improve the cut by fine-tuning the edit. You can do it of course, film editing, you can edit a film, but it’s a lot easier to do that digitally.

 

Can you talk about the film process for someone who doesn’t know anything about animation? Analog versus digital?

With Hedwig, the sound was locked, so we were working to the dictates of the sound, and with my films I usually make that commitment. Sometimes I’ll go back and change the sound afterwards, but I generally animate to the sound. So once you have your temp track or whatever, there’s a thing called track reading, which is determining where all the sounds are. I’ll make a storyboard – a plan for the visuals, and create layouts from the board. I like to leave space when I’m animating, but I’ll make the major decisions – with room to improvise between key moments. The way you get from A to B can be anything. You end up having visual surprises because you go into sort of a subconscious state when you are just drawing and things emerge that aren’t planned or consciously dictated. That’s the fun of it, especially if you are working with very minimal or abstract shapes, lines and so forth.

hedwig
Hedwig & the Angry Inch 2001

You have more freedom to do that.

Yeah, and surprise. On some movies, you’re like what are we going to put in there, and you’re like I don’t know I’ll figure it out. It can seem like a burden but as soon as you stop looking at it as a burden, it’s more like recess – it’s play. There’s room for discovery – it’s like a little bit of a window into some chaotic universe you’re visiting and you’ll see what’ll hapen there.

So it sounds like you enjoy that…

You enjoy the discovery and if something is crappy, you don’t use it. But apart from a small number of projects that didn’t work out, I’ve had very few cases of fully abandoning an idea.

What did you learn at the Sundance screenwriters and filmmakers lab and how did you get that opportunity?

Oh yeah, that was a gift. That was just lucky me. They brought in advisors, screenwriters and directors – all different kinds of people, and it was really interesting. You got different kinds of advice from everyone. Some people would be very structure-oriented and give very nuts-and-bolts kinds of advice. Other people would respond strongly to various aspects – the responses were pretty diverse. I went to the screenwriters’ lab twice and the first year, the script was a lot looser, and people couldn’t figure out what the hell I was trying to do. That first year, there were two camps of advisors  – one that wanted to get rid of the dogs and the animation (laughs), and the camp that was for the dogs. It would have been fun to watch that discussion. It was a big hard leap to imagine the film from reading words on the page. It’s a stretch for some to understand how the animation depicts a parallel reality. At the labs, I tried to keep an open, appreciative mind, to listen to everybody, take notes, and then I went home to see what stuck.

toe_tactic_crash
The Toe Tactic

So you have to go in there with your script.

You have to have a script, and then you have to defend it, or not defend it. Everyone is trying to help the Fellows arrive to a clearer picture of their projects.

How many Fellows are there at a time?

They had 10 or 12 – each with their own project. It certainly helped me. I didn’t know really know what I was doing – I’d basically worked on my own or with a very small crew. I learned how to trust (or when to not) my instincts.

Were there any real notable screenwriters or people you knew?

Sure, there were lots of very accomplished people and some of them were very literal, so I tested that and that tested me. Some people were quite opposed to the combination of animated and live-action stories. And that got my back up – animation is so pigeonholed and in some cases not respected. But there were nice reactions as well – I had lunch with Walter Mosley and he asked me, “Why didn’t you write this as a book? It would have been a lot easier. This is a book,” and I started to cry because I sort of set out to be a writer and I didn’t do that.

_toetactic@MoMA09

What was it like working with the different actors in your film, The Toe Tactic?  Kevin Corrigan, David Cross, Jane Lynch…

It was fun. The making of that movie, again, was such a big present. The actors were all different. If you get the right animator, you don’t have to tell them much about what to do. It was the same thing with the actors. With the right actors you don’t have to tell them much – maybe a little specific suggestion. I felt like my job was to meet the needs of the actors, and allow them to do what they had to do. Some actors wanted a lot of information about the characters, and to talk a lot about the situation. Others, hardly at all. With Kevin, we talked a lot about music.  Daniel London was at the labs with me and was in the movie. Everyone had a different way into his or her work and it was a matter of figuring out how to keep everyone in good working form. My first day of directing was the recording of the dogs’ voices. I wanted everyone at a table reading all the parts together. It got a little starchy at times, but it was great because the dog characters don’t all like each other so the prickliness fit. Don Byron, a jazz musician, kept saying he wasn’t an actor, but he did a great job. It was a very long day. Eli Wallach and Marian Seldes arrived about an hour before everyone else. They had fun talking about theater together, so they didn’t seem to mind waiting. Jane Lynch was great. Her part was supposed to be played by Debbie Harry, but she withdrew. Jane was a fan of Hedwig, so she took the part. She had the whole crew laughing on our longest shooting day – her and Jon Glaser. No one knew who Jon Glaser was, and he showed up for this one short scene – we were all biting our hands to keep from laughing out loud.

How many hours does it typically take you to produce one of your animation shorts?

It’s hard to measure, but the last two requests to come in were for music videos with tight budgets, so I’d try to figure out how to get them done in 100 hours or so. One worked out better than the other, but you get into a thing; you want to make it good, and sometimes that takes time.

How has your style evolved?

I don’t know. I keep thinking I need a new style! I was happy with and/or and thought I’d just try to make very simple movies. But every project seems to make its own demands. My decisions are pretty instinctive.

Another question I had was how do your ideas for films come to you?

When we were home dealing with the death of Will’s dad, I thought I should really make something. I shot all this film of Joey, the bird, and I wanted to make a rotoscope of the bird, but it just didn’t go anywhere. And now with Trump, you just want to try to do some good in the world, art-shmart. But then you need to make something in order not to hate yourself. I’m consulting on a film that is political and informative, but that’s not making something. It’s a little tough to know what idea will stand up to scrutiny, but sometimes you are an artist and just have to do it.

In your films you have this guy, Don Christiensen, doing music or sound, and then I looked him up and I found another Don Christansen who was an animator at the same time as your father, John Hubley, and also started out at Disney and worked during the same time that your father worked and left Disney…

Oh, I don’t know that other Don Christiansen, but Don Christensen that did music and sound with me early on, I just saw about three weeks ago. He’s a painter now in addition to playing drums and composing. He drummed with the Raybeats, and did a lot of work with Philip Glass. His brother was a famous painter. In fact, Donnie came to the set when we were shooting with Jane Lynch and Jon Glaser and doing those great scenes with Kevin Corrigan. And Lily Rabe really just delivered. When we were casting, I met a lot of actors who didn’t get the Mona character. But Lily is just so smart. And she complimented the writing, which meant something because I admire her father’s writing. I thought, I’m not going to have to tell her anything… Anyway that’s a little aside, (a shout out to Lily Rabe), but Don Christensen made a shift in his life and he paints now. Beautiful work. The thing with Don was that I was a fan of the bands he was in, and one of his band members sadly died very young and when that happened, I asked Don to make music for Delivery Man. I somehow wanted to bond in a way beyond being a fan. And then he did music for a number of my films. And when I shifted over to using music made by Georgia and Ira and Yo La Tengo, Don started composing for my mother’s films. Don and Faith really were kindred spirits in a lot of different ways and he ended up doing music for her films up until her death. They made amazing scores together.

Delivery Man 1982

I just noticed that your style is maybe a lot more like your mother’s than let’s say your fathers…

Yes, I would say that’s true. And individual filmmaking is different from studio filmmaking.

Where did you go grow up, and what beaches were you drawing on with your family?

We went out to Montauk a lot. My parents built a house in Montauk but we grew up in Manhattan. We lived on the Upper West Side and then we moved to the Upper East Side. And then after John died, Faith continued to live on the Upper East Side, then she moved to Riverdale, then back to Manhattan. As kids,  we lived on the Upper East Side. We went to school at Friends Seminary on the Lower East Side, 16th Street. We had bus passes and I would lose my bus pass by Wednesday latest, I’d keep losing my bus passes and some of the bus drivers knew me so they would let me on, but so much of the time I would end up walking home from school, and it was great. I know my 3rd avenue. I would go from 16th street to 72nd street – walking the streets of NY and daydreaming all the way home.

Octave 2
Octave 2006

Yeah that’s quite a stretch.

It was like three miles. But you’re a kid, you got to get home.

What would you say to your 20-year-old self, or what would you say to a new animator?

I just went to visit a class at Montclair University and the students were asking me what did I regret doing– did I make any mistakes, what did I think I should have done, what choices did I regret?? They were hard ass, but it was fun. Any advice depends, of course, on  a person’s aspirations. If I was advising my 20-year old self, I’d say, don’t stop for too long. I wish I would follow my own advice! Don’t stop, don’t get off the train. With making Toe Tactic I did sort of step off the train of making short films and exploring that personal voice. I don’t regret doing that movie at all, but there’s something really helpful to routine and regularity in artistic practice. And if you interrupt it for too long it’s too easy for doubt or let life  get in the way. So that’s one thing.  And you know, enjoy your work. If you have something you want to do just find a way to do it. It’s really possible to make things now and you can find people to team up with or you can find people to support you.

Emily Hubley Hedwig

How has it been working with your family, your son Max, your sister, your brother.. do you think the experience is the same when you were working with your parents – or does it bring you back to days like that?

When we were working in my parents’ studio that was sort of different, cause we were working in a fairly large ink and paint department. Here, I work alone mostly. Max has helped design characters for me, and he scans and does clean up and coloring. I love that he’s doing that. And I often have summer interns. Working on Faith’s films- over all those years – I’d say the experience evolved. She really did love making her films, she loved explaining them to people, and she just loved the world she animated! And helping her in the service of that was a real pleasure. After I took over as her production supervisor, it was sometimes a challenge to get the work done. We had to finish the artwork every December, so she could do post production before the end of the year. Every single year. She was a happy machine.

That must have been great that she had you working with her…

It was. Sometimes it could be stressful, because she was always scraping by. We had a very small crew and I’m still friends with a lot of them. It was a fun way to spend the day. You would never get that job now, tracing and coloring all day.  (laughs). After the kids were born, we moved the base to my house. And I had good friends working with us, coloring in my attic. We’d get to the end of the day and have dinner, a cocktail, and I remember the kids getting antsy for us to be done or for our friends to be finished. I remember Leila going up to Linda who was coloring a green goddess that filled up much of the page, it would take like 15 minutes to color one drawing, and asking, “When are you going to be done coloring that green booby lady!!? Come downstairs. We’re waiting for you!” We’d listen to music or books on tape and make the art.

Do you have any favorites in your collection?

Of my movies? Yeah, it’s interesting. Pigeon Within was a real struggle for me. I was really scared about making it. I had great interns working with me, and that was an enjoyable summer, but the story was scary one for me to share. It took a long time for me to get used to watching it with an audience, but over time, the meaning of the movie shifted for me. It was like a personal Rorschach test and that was cool. and/or was sort of like that as well. I was happy, in the end, with both films.

What about your parents’ films. Any favorites?

I have a few favorites… Eggs, Zuckerkandl is a favorite, Adventures of an * and The Tender Game. Voyage to Next was a big favorite of Faith’s, Moonbird is great… and The Hole, of course. We rented the films to a festival in Poland about ten years ago and I had to transcribe all the films so they could be translated. It was such fun – The Hole, Moonbird, Cockaboody: they all have great scripts. When I arrived, I had to go directly to the children’s program that was being screened in this massive governmental building, and it was packed with kids. The city translator was a big deep-voiced guy, doing the voices of little Georgia and Emily and the kids were laughing their heads off. It was hilarious – and then they introduced me as Emily – and all the faces dropped – the kids were so disappointed that I wasn’t a child any more.

Of the films you’ve been producing after your parents passed away, what would they say, would they be critical, would they praise?

Oh boy, I don’t know. I think they would have liked The Toe Tactic. I spent a lot of time worrying about that. The film is dedicated to them.

John and Faith Hubley
John and Faith Hubley

 Are you working on anything right now?

I am working on something  – Faith drew a lot of self-portraits in her journals, and I’m working on a project with those.  I just finished Brainworm Billy, a short written and narrated by Max. It premiered at the Montclair Film Festival last Saturday. Such fun doing the intro with him!

BRAINBILLY_guests_1000
Brainworm Billy – 2018
Emily Hubley
Emily Hubley

Does anybody remember laughter? Jason and Andy will make you howl with it at Montreal Improv

At Montreal’s Fringe Fest last year I got to see this super funny improv show called Precinct: An Improvised Cop Story performed at Montreal Improv.  I never really gave improv much though before but I kept seeing and hearing great things about this show and well, let’s just say  Precinct doesn’t disappoint!  You can expect a quaint solid hour of unpredictable hilarity, in this intimate theatre nestled in the heart of the Plateau, a locale I had no idea existed before, where as an audience member you kind of feel on the edge of precipice. You’re kind of nervous for them, the improvisers, as they somehow adeptly make funny situations and dialogue up on the spot, and you’re hoping it works out for them as they try to make you laugh. It’s amazing because really, anything can happen, I guess. And you sit in awe, and at the mercy of these talented performers, enthralled because of the sheer guts they have to commit this daring act in front of you, the audience.  If you’ve never seen Precinct, or their newer show Films in Focus: An Improvised Movie Review Show, or experienced live improv at all, I urge you to go and engage in this magical thing that they do, as they feed off the audience’s participation in creative ways and for which  make’s a truly entertaining hour of being there, with them, in the moment! Truly intrigued by this fabulously exciting and comical live art of theirs, I just had to interview Jason Grimmer and Andy Assaf, the producers and stars of both Precinct and Films in Focus, and find out about what makes them do the funny things they do!

Samia: When and how and why did you both first get into doing improv?

Andy: I guess officially we got in it at the same time. We were in our first level one class at Montreal Improv. Montreal Improv is the school and the theatre that we perform out of mostly – and they offer classes there and we both happened to take level one. And that was about 2 and a half years ago now.

Jason: Yeah, almost three.  I was working at Drawn and Quarterly, and some of my colleagues were in improv and they wanted me to go to their grad show, so went and saw them and I had never previously thought of improv at all. And I watched them and I thought I can see myself doing this and enjoying it, and so I joined pretty quickly after that and Andy was in my class, and it was actually a really good group, I had no idea, and I was going to change the day of class I took cause it wasn’t working for me and our instructor James took my aside and said I advise you that this is really a good group of people and I advise you don’t change classes and so Andy and I  met and then Andy’s best childhood friend Dimtri joined. Dimitri is the third guy in Precinct. So we did that and then we got to level 4, I think it was when we discussed creating this thing called Precinct, and so we decided we wanted to produce our own shows, especially in the realm of narrative improv where we create a story, that’s where our interests lie. Andy is a filmmaker and Dimitri is a playwright and so the narrative thing just became interesting to us automatically. So we created Precinct and then we started working with a friend of ours, Brent Skagford, and Brent is probably one of the best improvisers in Canada if not further. He does a team with Marc Rowland one of the guys that founded Montreal Improv, called Easy Action and  looking at them, we said this is what we really want to do, so we were advised to talk to Brent for narrative, he directed Precinct,  he kind of made the show  work really well…

Precinct: An Improvised Cop Story

Andy: And he is also playing in Films in Focus tonight.

Jason: And so we did that, Dimitri signed up for Fringe, and when Fringe came around he didn’t get in at the first draw and then he got in and he was like oh man I don’t really want to do this play I’ve been writing, do you guys want to do Precinct for Fringe, and then it was a huge hit. 7 shows all pretty much sold out, award nominated, and  Fringe they asked us back. Improv does ok in Fringe but never that good, and then Jim Burke from the Montreal Gazette got interested in it and liked it and we started getting all these accolades in Fringe, and nominated for awards.

Andy: Yeah and we would talk to people at Fringe and people would go, oh improv, it’s not really for me, and we’d have to be like totally come see this, its more a narrative play and its more accessible that way, and I think with a lot of people that’s what hit with that audience really well, was that it was a mix of the two and it wasn’t so focused on traditional improv that you see in a bar, the random improv show you’d see, but it still has that foundation, based in that same part.

Samia: So who are some of your influences? How did you get interested in Improv all together?

Andy: Before I started to take classes, I did a lot of sketch. Like Jason said I’m a filmmaker and I was doing a lot of comedy sketches back in high school and  a little bit afterwards and I got into commercial filmmaking and it just sucked the soul out of it for me and I was looking for an outlet, that was going to be like this,  totally free, you can just go there and do something on stage and it’s gone forever, it’s very ephemeral, it’s very in the moment, and I guess that just kind of inspired this whole kind of journey. As far as influences, like Jason mentioned, Brent is a huge one, Brent and Marc, who are both really good, and they do narrative, so basically they are two guys and they go up and do a 45 set and its an action movie, and it’s just the two of them so they’re playing all the characters, and it gets really wild and crazy but they somehow keep it all together. They are very smart narrative thinkers, they both are on the same page from beat to beat.

Jason: They’re both actors. For me, I was never that interested in improv that much before, so I don’t really have really big improv influences but I’ve always been a big comedy fan. So when I got into improv I started to realize all the comedic people I like started in Improv, but still even now I like improv a lot but I don’t follow it. We know people who follow it and pay attention to all the improvisers. We went to New York last year for the Del Close festival which is like the godfather of improv, and we went with our improv troupe Goddam Bear. We saw some amazing improv there, but we had the worst show we ever had, unbelievable. So it just goes to show you, you can see this most amazing thing, and then experience a nightmarish terrible performance.

Goddamn Bear comedy troupe

Andy: But it goes with the trade. We’ve had bad Precinct shows, not as bad as that show. We had a Precinct show that was less laugh but you could still get some reaction, sometimes you get a star in the show and it just totally tanks, you’re off that night and something just goes awry.

Jason: Having been in bands I know how bad shows can be, so I was prepared for that. I was able to walk away from it. But our show was at 9:30 in the morning.

Andy: It was a 24-hour fest, yeah.

Samia: Maybe that’s why…

Andy: It didn’t help, it didn’t help…

Jason: It’s 24 hours, oh my gosh, so like 2 of the only people there were like…

Andy: As I walked out, someone was saying, “Well you talked me into coming to this crap…” and I’m right behind them, like I agree with you guys.

Jason: But that’s the nature of improv.

Andy: But as far as big influences for me, I might follow improv a little bit more than Jason does, you got the big hit stars like Steve Carell, Amy Poehler and you find out they grew up, came out in improv,  that’s how they got good, Will Ferrell too is a huge improviser. And now Silicon Valley which is the huge HBO show, all those guys are improvisers like Thomas Middleditch he came up in Toronto. Zach Woods who I saw early on when I started Improv, he’s Gabe in The Office.

Jason: So tons of big comedy is all improv. Improv has become bigger than its ever been, I’m pretty sure.

Andy: And I’d say only in the last 4-5 years has it started to come out and be this front stage thing that people actually want to go see, and they build Fests around it, but before which was more like what improv was, which was kind of like, it lived in bars, lived in these community theatres, and some of these people went on and became huge. Wayne Brady, and all the Who’s Line which was way early before that, but now you have your Steve Carell, your Amy Poehler, your Will Ferrell, Jason Mantzoukas –  all these people that when you actually look at their careers they all came up at UCB or at Groundlings, Second City..

 Samia: So it’s different than being a comedic actor?

Andy: It’s partially that, but it exercises the writer part.

Jason: Yeah, well I utilize improv for sketch, and things like that.  I use it sort of to work through ideas, if something good happens, this could be a good sketch, so writing it plays in that completely as well.

Samia: And I heard Kevin McDonald (Kids in the Hall) was at your show. How did that happen?

Jason: He came to Montreal Improv, he comes every year.

Andy: He came last year, he’s doing tours now across Canada.

Jason: He does two shows, and they set it up, so James McGee is the artistic director of Montreal Improv. He like picks teams, people to improvise with him.

Andy: Kevin does stand-up and runs a sketch workshop while he is here.

Jason: He’s really nice.

Andy: It was neat to meet him, because you think of Kevin McDonald as this.. you’ve seen him on TV and stuff, and he’s just a guy and he just kind of shows up, sneaks into the back room, and he’s just there, he’s very awkward but a very nice guy.

Jason: He had a couple of rules, one that he would not sweep a scene, he won’t do that. There are just some things he didn’t do. Which is fine. But I got to do a scene alone with him, which was really interesting. And I heard him laughing offstage and I was very very happy. He’s my favorite Kids in the Hall actor for sure by far. It was a huge thing. It was cool.

Samia:  Do you guys ever get nervous? I guess it’s an obvious thing.

Andy: I know, I’m nervous for tonight.

 Samia: Yeah? Like how much of it is planned? I know it’s Improv but…

Jason: None.

Andy: When we do show like this, Precinct and Films in Focus we have bits planned, like the show is structured the same way but the content of the show will change all the time. So like Precinct for example starts the same way, and we have a scene in the middle where Jason is playing the Captain and he does a press conference. So we know that those are the check points to delineate, ok this is the first half, this is the second half, well what happens in those halves could be anything. We have to follow where the story takes us. Similar in Films in Focus we have segments.

It's coming soon! The newest episode of Films in Focus featuring Lars Van Leuwen and Benji Manking hits the Montreal Improv staage Saturday, March 31st at 8pm! Limited seating and the last show was sold out so consider getting your tickets now at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/films-in-focus-an-improvised-movie-review-show-tickets-43533801773

Posted by Goddamn Bear on Monday, March 19, 2018

Jason: We don’t know what we are going to say.

Samia: So how do you get the information – is it from the audience?

Andy: I mean we riff a bit on film which we both love.

Jason: You mean in this show, or in general?

Samia:  Well what can I expect tonight?

Jason: We will come out, we will introduce ourselves, we will be in character – these two characters we created (Lars Van Leuwen and Benji Manking) and we’ll sit down and start getting movie scenes from people – where in the world we live in we are real film critics and these are real films. So it’s set up we’ll get a suggestion and we’ll be like, oh this film, and we’ll sort of talk a tiny bit about the film and then we’ll be like let’s see a scene from it.

Andy: Which everyone has written down on cards beforehand.

Jason: You’ll see, you’ll get a card when you sit down.

Samia: So you write down the movie you want to see.

Jason: It’ll be a generic title, it can’t be a movie that already exists. So it will be a made up film.

Andy: It’s a completely made up movie and then the improvisers will completely make up a scene, not us, we have a cast of improvisers who will make up the hit scene. It’s a clip show, cutting to – it was based off of Siskel and Ebert’s so they would cut to the scene where it tells you all you need to know about the movie, but its like that emotional resonate moment, so people can just start in the middle which is really neat about this show, whereas it’s still a narrative show but you start somewhere in the middle instead of the beginning, in the scene where that takes you so you are always at the climax or near it, it’s very cool.

Jason: So we get a suggestion, it’s like Evening at the Beach, say that’s the movie, we’ll say something about that and then behind the curtain the improvisers have to decide what scene in the movie would that be, is it a romantic movie, is it whatever, and they will compose a scene of that move, and then we will criticize that scene.

Andy: We rate it on the filmometer, is it hot or not, and then pretty much make fun of the choices that the improvisers do.

Jason: I’m a bitter kind of film critic.

Andy: I’m more of…

Jason: Less bitter

Andy: Yeah, less bitter but still bitter.

Jason: It is very much based on Siskel and Ebert, and that sort of curmudgeonly dynamic.

Samia: What’s the feeling you guys get when you are doing this?

Andy: Dread, terror.

Samia: (Laughs)

Jason: It depends on the night and I don’t know what feeds into it but generally I like not knowing what’s going to happen, because you have to trust yourself and you have to go – I’m going to get through this and I can be funny or I can make something out of this.

Andy: And trust other people too, trust your teammates.

Jason: I’ve always hated practice of any kind and memorization of any kind, I hate it, so basically Improv is for me in this way.

Goddamn Bear

Andy: And we do need practice and rehearsals and workshops to try ideas and really critique them, see what works and what doesn’t then you can develop these tools to use in a show and people would go why would you practice improv it’s all made up. You’re still making it up on the spot but you’re confident going in, you’ve done a million scenes and you’ve seen most of the possibilities out there. There’s always scenes that pop up and you’re like – I have no idea what to do here. For example, transactional scenes is like an early thing you learn in improv, pretending to be a cashier and a client and that can get caught up in the transaction it’s kind of boring so you find something else to do. That comes from rehearsal and stuff but the feeling you get when you go in is like, it balances on that terror of anything can happen, and something can go wrong but at the same time we’re prepared for this, and we’ve practiced this and we’ve done this so many times so that most avenues you go down we will be able to navigate.

Jason: Yeah you practice these skills to the point where you’re kind of confident, somebody creates something, we’re here and that’s like the base reality and let’s say Andy says we’re in a hospital, this is some other thing and I go no we’re not, it just ruins everything, right and so basically you know those rules, I’m going to follow that and add on to that too and they’re going to hook on to what I’m doing and that makes good improvisation but you can throw it all off track.

Samia: Right, so there’s things you’re not supposed to do.

Andy: They’re peer rules, they’re loose and they can be broken. Like for example, there was one time there was a block, someone contradicted some information but the audience liked it cause we were messing with someone on stage and it happened to be something they liked so, I think it was the Australian scene. We did an Australian  scene, people really loved but it was really silly. You could tell the improvisers were kind of embarrassed by it, so we pulled another movie and said this is not an Australian movie, I think it is, and then they had to do another Australian scene and people loved that. Again It’s a long convoluted way of saying the rules can be broken and you can do a transaction scene that’s fun, you just have to figure out a way to do it.

Jason: And the fun in improv is when you remember, oh these people are making things up it becomes enjoyable; the humor is different. You can do a lot more trope things in improv than you can in sketch. So basically, if you’re playing a trope of a doctor you can get away with acting things that doctors do in popular culture because it is what people think of first thing and the audience reacts to that whereas if you were in a sketch you’d do a more classic doctor scene. There’s just a different kind of energy, a different kind of a playing of a scene and how the audience reacts.

Samia: Did you ever get strange reactions to things you wouldn’t expect.

Jason: Sure.

Andy: But they’re not always bad, sometimes people can react in disgust, or I don’t know, surprise and when you get them in those moments, sometimes it can be really fun cause you’re like the things I just did on stage actually had a tangible reaction.. James, who is also in the show tonight, a very actor-focused type improviser. He mentioned to me once he was doing a really traumatic scene, a scene that was fun but then turned really dramatic, a real heartfelt monologue, he looked down and he saw someone with a tear in their eye which was like the first time that he’s ever gotten that reaction and he said it was beautiful, cause that’s the beauty of improv. You can reach people, I mean this is kind of getting a bit esoteric, because they bought into whatever his character was doing and it’s pretty cool that people will extend their disbelief to that extent. This is a silly improv show but I’m invested in whatever this person’s doing. I’ve never had someone cry but..

Jason: I’ve cried at some of the things you’ve done. Yeah I realize now after taking improv I see the appeal of that and I see the appeal of that at that age, like that outlet of what improv gives you. The whole main thing is listening and support, you can’t step away from that at all because if you do the whole thing falls apart.

Andy: Improv sort of develops that sort of camaraderie. That can almost turn into a cult.

Jason: A cult?

Samia: You’re all in it together to support each other and you’re all going to goof up.

Andy: You know that if you make a mistake somebody is there to help out. And they’re not going to tease you for it or they’ll do it lovingly.

Jason: Yeah, there’s camaraderie on stage and then everyone just goes back to hating everyone just like every other human being.

Samia: Do you do anything to prepare? Any rituals you do before a show?

Andy: Zip Zap Zop..

Jason: Oh god, I’ve come to dislike doing warm ups, which is a regular thing in improv.

Andy: Improv people love games so they’ll start and that’s how you get in the zone, sort of like a word jumble game, or like name five things that fit in a restaurant. But they work for the most part.

Jason: I’m the type of person that gets very nervous before I go on stage so I don’t like to hang out back stage for very long. But I’ll do those games out of camaraderie, like everyone’s there, to kind of get on the same page.

Andy: Probably our biggest ritual now is just to drink.

Samia: (Laughs)

Jason: That’s actually not a new ritual for me.

Andy: 2-3 beers, that’s the perfect amount.

Jason: It’s true you do get more relaxed, just generally.

Andy: I got drunk at the Nuit blanche, at the improv all the way till 3 am which was a fun experiment, and you get really choppy after the 3rd or 4th beer, you start slurring your words and are like where am I?

Jason: There are different factions of improv in the city. So what Andy’s talking about, he’s talking about the Theatre Saint Catherine, and they do a different type of improv. Theirs is a little bit more, how they like to be termed is punk rock, so less rule based, less polished, more kind of crazy, there’s a lot of heckling and stuff like that. And that’s fine for some things. And Montreal Improv is a lot more disciplined and sort of following a lot more rules. Both can complement one another, and a lot of people who improvise do both.

Goddamn Bear poster

Samia: And how long has Improv in Montreal been going on?

Andy: There’s improv that goes back to the 30s and 40s. Theatre actors who would do these games and would turn into shows. But as far as Improv as we know it today, I guess you would call it a class format or as a craft let’s say it would probably be more around the 80s, Del Close before was like the godfather in the States, in fact he really pushed it into the mainstream, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey came right up under him, in the 90s. In Montreal I’d say most of it started with Marc, Vinny, all the guys, but even before then there were other people too, we don’t go that far back.

Jason: It started in force in Montreal I would say, I mean we were just talking about the whole Theatre Ste. Catherine Montreal Improv thing which was probably what, how many years ago was that?

Andy: 10 years, Montreal Improv is 10 years old.

Jason: So anyways everyone was doing improv together and then they sort of separated into 2 factions, and started Montreal Improv and TSC so basically it was around that time and that’s when the whole current crop of improvisers really comes out of, so TSC every Sunday night they have free drop ins, and Montreal Improv has levels like semesters, 1, 2 3 4..

Andy: But it also feels like Montreal doesn’t have that many older maverick types, like there’s only a handful of them because most of them moved to Toronto. If you are exceptionally good there is a talent train up to Toronto and eventually the States.

Jason: Yeah like Kirstin Rasmussen who is in Toronto who was originally from here, she’s in Second City now. And DJ Mausner…yeah that’s kind of the story, and then again like everything in Quebec there’s a whole French side of that. Montreal Improv does have a French side as well.

Samia: Do you have ambitions to go outside Montreal, or had you done things outside of Montreal?

Andy: Yeah we toured a bit, we did NYC, we did Vancouver last fall which was fun.

Jason: We’re doing Precinct in Toronto next week or the week after, we’ve done it before and during this festival we got asked back. So yeah, we’ve been doing it elsewhere. The issue with it is we think something like Precinct could appeal to many many people but the marketing of it was difficult to do so we really have to do it ourselves and hope that people want to bring us back.

Andy: Also as creative improv is there is a limit to it, as far as where the money comes from. You can only do certain size rooms. For example there’s Thomas Middleditch in Silicon Valley and Ben Schwartz who’s done a million things, they’re like two of the most popular improvisers now of the young crop and they’re in a tour currently across the States and they’re going  up  to Vancouver in 300 people rooms which isn’t heard of. They have mics and everything and they’ve even said on Podcasts, you don’t really do this in improv because improv is supposed to be intimate and fun and you connect with the audience and you yell out things. If you’re in a room with 300 people it kind of breaks down, right? Probably the biggest room I’ve been in was 150 down in UCB in LA, it’s like this huge warehouse, it’s really cool but it feels disconnected from the people on stage and you can only throw out your voice so far.

Samia: Were you participating?

Andy: No I was watching.

Jason: Are you talking about the Two Man Movie?

Andy: Well that one was another one we saw. That was probably 200-250 which was like a main stage in NYC. Those are for the biggest improvisers in North America. It’s kind of tough to set up a tour especially if your indie. No one really knows you. You kind of have to develop your own following.

Jason: When we got into the Vancouver Improv festival, we were trying to get Precinct, we’re like we think it will do well but they have no clue.

Andy: Fests are the way to go but even then you’re traveling on your own dime, they’re not paying you for it.

Jason: One thing we want to do is produce more shows. Andy produced a show recently called Video Island.

Samia: Yeah I was gonna ask, what was that about?

Andy: It was kind of me bridging that filmmaking side of me back into improv. So what I do for a living mostly is videos, specifically wedding films, so I do a lot of that stuff, it kind of pays the bills and gives me time to improv. But I wanted to get back into making short films, and sketches and there’s this huge crop of talent in Montreal but nobody really shoots in Montreal expect maybe Danny Belair so I tapped him and a couple of other guys who would maybe do good on video, I gave them two weeks and access to all my gear, and I said go, shoot it, a 10 minute video, film, short film, and the stuff they produced really blew me away, like they really did time, put in the effort, some of the ideas were really fun and so then Jason helped me produce the live show which was a fake awards show.

Jason: So that was me rounding up comedians that we worked with before, and basically said look you’re going to play a character at an awards show so come up with a character and in some cases they had one fully formed or developed character that would appear in a show. So for example there is a fantastic sketch troupe in town called Employees of the Year. They did this thing where they were just jaded children of actors, so specifically he was the son of Tarantino and she was a Culkin. And they were just messed up, like drugs, screwed up, and they just came out and then they presented an award.

Andy: I presented the films so then you would watch a sketch and then a film, a sketch and then a film. It was really fun and we are going to do it again probably in the summer at some point.

Samia: And what’s Party Dinosaur?

Jason: Party Dinosaur is a sketch show that I was doing monthly for almost two years and then I stopped in 2017 because it was too much but  we’re doing it again for Sketchfest. Party Dinosaur is a sketch show that involves 9-10 improvisers, comedians, sketch performers that changes generally every show. It’s kind of like Saturday Night Live wherein it’s all produced in a week, it’s all written, cast, rehearsed in a week and then performed on the Saturday of that week, but the performers change except for me. Like some people will carry over, I carry over a lot, there’s no fast rule but generally as a rule I’ll try to find new people and then bring old people back and those people will work with people they might not have worked with before and the goal is to write something fun, so it’s an hour-long show. We’re doing that for Sketchfest, first time since last year. It’s a lot of work but fun, if you like sketch. So we meet, everyone brings sketches they’re going to write, we talk about them, work through anything that needs to be worked through, then we go, ok you’re in this sketch, you’re in this sketch, we learn our lines, we rehease a week before the show starts, even leading up until the doors open we’re still memorizing our lines..

May 12th 8pm is coming up soon, get ready for a killer night of comedy and get your tix ahead of time at www.montrealsketchfest.com. Party Dino promo video #1: Jason Finds Hopestarring Kate Hammer, Alex Brown, David Kaufman, Dimitri Kyres, and Jason Grimmer. Directed by Andy Assaf.

Posted by Party Dinosaur Sketch Show on Thursday, April 26, 2018

Andy: You used to advertise that in a week, it’s really like 4 days to do it.

Jason: It’s literally probably 6 hours.

Andy: Of actually rehearsal.

Jason: The beauty in that is that you can belabor writing too much, oh this isn’t good, but you have to get it done. That show has always done pretty well, the audience seems to love it and they sort of accept the fact that’s it’s not going to be done perfectly.

Andy: Yeah, you’re there to watch sketches, that and sketch republic are really the only other sketch shows, and if you’re a sketch fan you’re there already to see sketch which is good but then it’s kind of this more experimental side  where these aren’t people who’ve worked together too much except when I’m on it or Jason. So you see two people who you wouldn’t think work well together but suddenly write a sketch that’s hilarious. So it’s kind of fun that experimentation with different people.

Jason: For the next one coming up on May 12, Andy myself and Dimitri from Precinct will be in it and there’s people from NY and Toronto that are going to be in town for it for the festival.

Andy: It’s going to be really fun.

Samia: So lot’s of stuff coming up. What about the Scientologists, what’s that?

Jason: So Andy and I are in Goddamn Bear, which is me, Andy, Dimitri, and Laura so we started all together and we’ve been doing Goddamn Bear for a while. But then I want to work with other people because I want to try out improv with a bigger group so I created one called Scientologists and I asked Andy to join.

Andy: We’re just like a back up team. (laughs)

Samia: And do you have other things you are working on?

Jason: Right now we’re trying to write something for a short film.

Andy: Yeah we always try and produce stuff and write stuff and guest star in. Like I’m doing a show tomorrow, it’s like a reading show, which I haven’t written my thing for yet.

Jason and Andy Precinct

Jason: This is a cool show, actually. This is a friend of ours, Emery Fine – who has worked with us quite a few times. He does this thing where it’s like this literary event, he invites authors to come and read their works . So I did the last one, Andy’s doing this one. And basically you play this sort of author and you read prose that you’ve written in the guise of that author.

Andy: I still have to write it. But tomorrow I’m going to be Tom Clancy’s nephew. The only way that I can accept his inheritance is if I read his final novels like right before he died. I’ve heard they’re all hackneyed attempts to appeal to a younger demographic, so it’s going to be a Tom Clancy novel but written for kids.

Samia: So who writes that?

Andy: I write it

Samia: And when is this?

Andy: Tomorrow night. We’ve been busy.

Jason: The one I did I played an ancient author of a different time, so he was kinda misogynist in a way that was inadvertent, he did adventure stories and Laura from Goddamn Bear played my ex-wife in the crowd and we kept bantering so it’s wide open character play. There’s a lot of great performers in the city creating these crazy weird shows. There’s a really good stand up comic…called Jacob Greco, he does this one called Rat’s Nest which is based on Shark Tank, so he has a couple of comics playing these characters, they sort of assess the business ideas and then you come on and you pitch a business. So I did one with Amanda McQueen where she pitched a box she could scream into so I played this guy who lived under a bridge where she would scream into a box. Everyone’s just calling eachother, I have this idea, and then we do a show .

Andy: I think that’s an element of Montreal specifically. Montreal is a cool city where it’s really cheap to live here, so it affords us the time and the money not to expect to be paid for these shows and to experiment. Like if you have a slot at a local theatre and you know you don’t have to sell tickets like you would in a bigger city you remove that pressure which opens up avenues to experimentation, especially when we travel to bigger cities there’s a different tone there but I’m not going to shit on it. There’s a place for it and I get why people are I guess I would call it more mainstream or traditional in comedy. Montreal is this weird, experimental little island. So yeah that’s what I really love about this place, you can do weird shows that come off the top of our head and if they fail you just try another one. So the only hit you take is with your ego.

Jason: We’re also putting together, this is another thing we’re doing, we’re putting together a three month stand at the Wiggle Room, on Sunday nights, this is a big project, we’re going to be doing – in Vancouver there’s a great show, what’s the name of the show again?

Andy: Sunday Service

Jason: At the Fox theatre and they’ve been doing it for years, and it’s this amazing improv show, and we want to do that here, it’s a weekly, every single Sunday night they do it, holidays, it doesn’t matter. We want to do something like that here. Of course no one wants to say yes to that! So we got three Sundays, three months in a row to try that out and see how that’s going to work.

Andy: If there’s one show to plug it’s that one. It’s just straight improv but we’ve asked the best people we want to work with to just give a killer two-hour show. There’ll be stand up. We really want to give the, hopefully  eventually weekly, but monthly hang. The Wiggle Room’s awesome I don’t know if you’ve ever been, but good drinks, good cocktails.

Samia: Where is that?

Andy: It’s on St-Laurent Blvd, I guess right below Rachel, it’s a burlesque club and they’re giving us a shot at improv.

Jason: It’s got that cool look, beautiful. So I’m pretty excited about that.

Andy: Yeah, we’re going to try to make improv cool.

Samia: What do you love most about improv and how has it changed your life?

Andy: I smile because it definitely has. So my ex-girlfriend at the time she was my girlfriend, she was doing improv as a hobby. And she was like, you should try this, do sketch, you’re really funny you should do it, and for the longest time, I’d say 4-5 months, I was like nah, it’s super nerdy. And my opinion of that is that it has not changed. Extremely nerdy and extremely niche but it’s definitely taken a big turn, in at least my creative life. At the time I was doing commercial work and I was miserable, I was editing shoe commercials for Aldo, and that was my day job and there was no creative outlet there,  and with improv you can be totally yourself or totally someone else, and you just have fun and be with people that aren’t judgemental and you get to just experiment and do stuff and if you make a fool of yourself people forget it the next day. Or sometimes you make a fool of yourself and people love it. So it really is this…I called it a cult because its super addictive and people get off on it. I never would have met this guy, and I never would have met my really close friends now, So it’s definitely been huge for my development, I mean I wasn’t a performer for improv at all, and I think it’s helped my brain as far as writing again, it would not have been possible without it.

Jason: For me, I’d been in bands, I’d done lots of stuff on stage, then I ended up working doing big literary events for Drawn & Quarterly, like 800 people for Margaret Atwood, or like 800 people for Neil Gaiman, I would have to present them and give a speech beforehand. I developed stage fright in a pretty heavy way, I did not like at all being on stage, so I thought I’ll try improv to help me out, people do that. It did help me out with that. It got to the point where I guess I was good at it, so I kept doing it, but now it’s at the point where basically I’ll leave the comfort of my home for a show at 9:30 at night, I’ll walk down, and there’s something so unbelievably romantic about the idea of sort of walking to a place, knowing you’re going to perform onstage, and just like for 30 minutes, and that’s going to happen, it’ll be over, and you’ll never do it again. And that for me is something I really look forward to. Even though sometimes I’m like I don’t feel like going out, I don’t feel like doing this, it’s always like when I walk through the doors of Montreal Improv, I feel lucky that there’s something like that for me to do that.

Andy: There’s something meditative and ritualistic about it. It feels primordial, this need to just go do this thing, and it’s silly and people come and see it and they enjoy it, it’s the oddest experience and often I’ll pinch myself and go this is weird that we’re doing this but it’s awesome.

Jason: And you don’t think about any other problems at all when you’re doing it.

Samia: So how much time do you spend doing this like in a given week?

Andy: When we’re producing I do this more than I do my day job.

Precinct scene

Jason: I help run my girlfriend’s dance studio, Variations Mile End, so I do that and then this. That’s basically it. And then we have a daughter, so I have a family! So I have a family and that job, it’s not a full time job, and this. Basically it’s just a lot of coming up with ideas and getting those ideas ready and working on them. I’d say a large portion of every week. I’m at the point where I’m going I have to validate this with some money at some point but I don’t know if that will be with improv.

Andy: Or some sort of performative aspect..

Jason: I’m probably going to start doing stand up in the summer. I’m not saying that as a way of making money, but I’m just saying. I’m going to start to try and do something different.

Andy: You don’t even count the hours too since it’s something you like doing.

Samia: Do you still take classes?

Jason: Well we do, there’s a form of improv called Harold, which is different than what we do in Precinct and stuff.

Andy: It’s a format with a lot of rules and we practice that, it’s like a new skill we’re learning.

Jason: We do a practice a week for that and we do a show every Wednesday night.

Andy: So that’s kind of a class. Montreal Improv has a lot of options too for classes especially when you finish the main levels which are basically core curriculum of how to improvise, they get you to a performance ready level. But they have advance classes. We did a narrative class and they offer other classes that you can take and if I took one of them now I’d find value. I thought about taking musical improv classes even though that’s probably the geekiest thing ever.

Jason: Some people take improv for other reasons, they don’t care about performing. For us we were performing and we wanted to produce shows.

Samia: What would be some other reasons to take improv?

Andy: The Saturday class is notorious for doctors and lawyers, people that just want to get out of their comfort zone and be good at public speaking but it’s more a life experiment than an actual performance. They’re not actors, they’re not performers or comedians. And I love that element of improv too, especially in an original group the fact that we weren’t all actors was novel. Playing with real people with real points of views, real opinions and ideas, they just come up with different ideas than improvisers.

Jason: They may want to perform to a certain extent, they just may not want to produce shows. But we had great teachers who really mentored us in that direction, you guys are good at this, this is what you should do, and then the chemistry worked out for us.

Andy: Yeah a  lot of credit goes to Montreal Improv and the teachers there that really helped nurture us.

Jason: I probably wouldn’t be doing this if I hadn’t met Andy and Dimitri so it has to do with us as well. When we decided to do Precinct, we gelled together in a way that really just worked.♥

Check out the next  Films in Focus show on May 26th, 8pm at Montreal Improv, tickets $8, Espace B 3713 St-Laurent Blvd. Montreal, QC!

Precinct Poster

Lux Interior interview for Gravyzine circa 1997…

Hey Cramps fans! Here is an oldie but a goody! A re-posting of an interview that Sal Canzonieri of Electric Frankenstein did for Gravyzine back in circa 1997 with the very great and legendary, and sadly late, Lux Interior. They talk about 1960s horror hosts, collecting 1950s horror comics and movies, being on  Epitaph, stage clothes and rockabilly. Enjoy!

Sal: I noticed your last album was dedicated to Ghoulardi…He just past away, right?

Lux: Yup.

Sal: Out here Zacherley is pretty much THE Horror Host. Can you explain to our readers the difference between the two, I don’t think most people are too familiar with the horror hosts and that whole phenomenon.

Lux: They were different people, Zacherley and Ghoulardi. To say they were just Horror Hosts, they were much more than that, they were somewhere between a horror host and Hitler. Ghoulardi, he was just way out of control, always causing trouble, always in trouble but he was so powerful that he could get away with it. Kind of like Elvis Presley shaking his hips on television, he was so powerful he could get away with it, everyone was upset about it but they couldn’t do anything about it because it was bringing in too much money. When Ghoulardi was on TV in the 60’s crime just plummeted because no one was out, they were all watching Ghoulardi. He was just a totally rebellious character. A good model for young people and was one of the forerunners of what later became youth counterculture type thing.

Sal: They had a lot of audiences based on television more than let’s say the movies themselves.

Lux: Yeah,oh yeah. The movies were, of course those movies were great and everything and that’s part of it, but the part where they played music it was like a party, just the chance to go nuts, the music like Ghoulardi played “Papa Oom Mow Mow” by the Rivingtons, wild great rock’n’roll records that he played during the time that he was on. He would blow up things. He was just a role model.

Lux & Ivy

Sal: Have you seen any tapes of Zacherley’s show that he had in the 60’s with the house and the Standells and the Young Lions, they always used to play. I used to live near there when I was little.

Lux: Yeah, I’ve never seen Zacherley, I’ve seen the video tape of Zacherley, introducing trailers and stuff which is great. I never saw his show but I’m always a big fan of Zacherley, in the monster magazines. He was just an amazing. I think that Ghoulardi and Zacherley, were probably really the best ones. I’ve always loved Ghoulardi and as a matter of fact we often play his hit single.

Sal: Our band did “Coolest little monster” with Zacherley on the B side of one of our singles. He got a new record deal so he redid that song. He originally was going to sing it with us but he couldn’t do it because of his contract, he was still signing by contract so he let us take from the original record the intro and the middle so on our record it’s him doing the intro….We see him all the time. Have you ever gone to the Chiller Theatre conventions.

Lux: No, We’ve always been too busy. I really would have loved to go to the Chiller conventions. It sounds great. I’ve seen photos of him there and he looks great.

Sal: We used to help around the convention with, Kevin Clement is the guy. If you ever want to be a guest just let me know, we can set it up.

Lux: Oh we’ll probably do that sometime, it’s just a bad timing thing. That’s ‘cause we’re always doing something right at that time so far.

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Sal: I don’t know if you collect. Obviously by what you’re interested in musically you can see that you’re interested in obscure records and horror toys, I’m sure. Have you ever on tour found really good finds in any thrift shops?

Lux: Oh, all the time. We’re always out looking for stuff. It’s great because we go to a lot of weird places, we’ll stop on the bus, in-between here and there we’ll find amazing things. Fairly often, you know, the farther away you get from the 60s the harder it is to find things. Somebody just gave us two albums by the Jaguars in Montreal, amazing instrumental albums. Fans give us stuff sometimes and that’s really great. Right before we left we found a box with a bunch of jelly jars on top of it in a junk store and I piled all this stuff and looked in this box and something just made me want to see what’s in that box and I found just a stack of amazing 78s of all 50s, the real wild, obscure, crazy rock’n’roll stuff. Like Blues, R’n’B stuff, that was the latest thing that we found. But we find stuff all the time.

Sal: One thing I want to know about. Your lyrics are interesting and definitely entertaining, not exactly what draws your inspiration but what books or movies you particularly find that you can pull from that inspires them.

Lux: Well, all of them. Mainly horror movies and exploitation movies and a lot of stuff comes from those press books from those old movies. Lines out of old movies, comic books that we collect, all the old horror comics of the 50s, probably about the only comics that we collect are obscure horror comics, the real sick ones from the 50s. Some stuff comes from there but mainly just old records, old rockabilly records and that stuff, singles mainly, 45s.

Sal: 50s comics have the greatest cover, those colors.

Lux: Oh yeah.

Sal: And the artists. It seems as though the artist who didn’t know how to draw made the coolest monsters.

Lux: Yeah, real archaic looking.

 Sal:Our record covers, we try to make each one look like an old, crazy comic book covers. Have you got a hold some old, obscure horror film lately on tape that might be real interesting. I’m sure you got stacks.

Lux: Well the ones that I really like a lot are that I think will become more popular. At one time no one ever knew who Betty Page was and we really loved Betty Page and I can’t believe that now she’s as well known as Marilyn Monroe or somebody. I think that the next thing that might become popular are these West German horror movies from the early 60s. They’re just packed with cool stuff. They have all these weird camera angles, they go take a drink and it’ll show them looking at the bottom of the glass. And some girl stripping on the other side of a nightclub. They all take place in nightclubs or strip clubs. Just weird camera angles. Some of them look like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari where some of the angles are so weird and stuff. And they all have sexy girls in them and really weird stories. Titles like “The Head”, “Phantom of Soho”, “In on the River”, just a lot of them early 60s West German horror movies. Klaus Kinski’s in some of them, Edgar Wallace. If you want to get one just to see what I’m talking about, “Phantom of Soho’s a good one”.

Sal: I heard of a lot of these. The French and Spanish are easy to come by nowadays, and Italian ones, of course.

Lux: Yeah, you got to find a good rental place that gets good Sinister cinema stuff. The Something Weird Video stuff.

Sal: Yeah, those are always at the convention. They’re easy to get. Something Weird come out here all the time, they have a big huge table.

Lux: Yeah we’re real good friends with Mike Vraney!

Sal: Yeah, Mike’s real nice. We talk to him a bunch of times and we try and get clips from Kiss me Quick and other ones that have Frankenstein, those nudie cutie ones with Monsters and nudies in them. Those are pretty cool. We use some of those stills for our record covers.

Another question I wanted to ask. Your stage clothing, do you get them tailored or are they something you find in thrift shops.

Lux: Oh, half and half. If we find something that’s cool and sometimes we get things made. Works both ways.

Sal: Ivy’s outfit in NYC, everyone’s asking where she got it.  

Lux: The one that she just wore. That was given to us by Margaret, the guitar player of the Doll Rods. She wasn’t wearing that when the tour started and she pulled it out and said, “Hey, look at this She-Elvis outfit” and Ivy said “Ooh yeah” and she put that on and she looked good in it.

Sal: Lately, as far as listening, has anything been on the record player for awhile? I guess being on tour is kinda hard.

Lux: Oh all kinds of stuff. We listen to stuff all the time. We bring a CD player, 2 big boxes of cassettes and stuff, compilations I’ve made out of singles. That stuff we always take with us. Just a lot of Rockabilly stuff is kinda what we are listening to, it’s really our favorite thing. We did that interview in Incredibly Strange music talking about Bachelor Pad Music, that’s what they’re calling that these days, we listen to that sometimes, that’s sometimes a fun thing to listen to but our real passion is Rockabilly and 60s.

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Sal: There seems to be lots of Rockabilly coming out. I mean I remember the first time in the 70s Rockabilly resurgence but now there’s so many, even more things coming out of the vaults. It’s like a time machine, people cranking them out.

Lux: There seems to be a lot of bands that seems to treat it too reverently. You know, they sing about boppin’ in the soda shop and all this kinda stuff and that ain’t what rockabilly is supposed to be about. It’s really supposed to be about sex. And I like Reverend Horton Heat, they do something new with it, and there are a few other bands that do. I wish that somebody would take Rockabilly a step further, and Psychobilly that’s not sexual enough, it’s too fast and not sexual enough most of the time. It’s kind of like Rockabilly mixed with punk. It seems it’s not as sexy as it should be.

Sal: Yeah it doesn’t really seem to be concerned with that. It seems to be concerned with the hair-do’s and basically how fast they can play. It’s not tribal enough or sensuous.

Lux: Yeah, I mean if Elvis was concerned about what came 30 years before him, he’d be doing the Charleston. It makes no sense.

Sal: It didn’t seem like they want to be rule breakers, like Elvis was more into breaking the rules, so was Jerry Lee Lewis and all the original people.

Lux: Yeah and I think that’s what Rock’n’Roll is really all about whether it’s R’n’B, Rockabilly, whatever it is. I think the Stooges were a great band. They did something brand new when they started, they were about breaking rules and every once in a while something like that happens. But I don’t see much happening since punk rock hit the 70s, you know the Sex Pistols and the Clash and the American bands like the Ramones, when that happened and when we started out, I think that was culture changing and people are still copying that, fashion is copying that and since than Grunge was just a copy of early 70s progressive rock. The thing that punk rock rebelled against – and retro – that’s just disco for the fifth time over again. I’d like to see a bunch of 16 year old kids do something exciting and new with R’n’R. That’d be great.

Sal: Yeah it seems like just now, maybe since MTV has stopped being a big focal point for people the young kids I’ve noticed in our audience, the people under 20 seem to be into rock’n’roll again.

Lux: Uh huh, I noticed that too. Our audiences are mostly very young, kids under 20. They get the point right away. They understand.

Sal: Yeah, because they do it by feeling.

Lux: It’s all the ones that are 30 years old or something that are trying to make some kind of big philosophy to understand what it is.

Sal: It seems like these young kids when I talk to them, they’re rebeling against the generation before them which was Hardcore and Rap and what they’re working on is music that has melody and lyrics that you can remember. That’s what’s good about The Cramps because always their songs were memorable.

Lux: Yeah that’s a good thing and besides that teenagers are always going to be into sex, so if anything good happens that’s probably the age group where it’s going to come from.

Lux Interior

Sal: Your record covers went through different themes, an S&M clothes faze for awhile but now it seems like you’re going towards more eclectic, right?

Lux: Well I don’t know, we haven’t had very many record covers so they were just some picture we took at the time. We have always been kind of interested in the same thing so I have no idea what our next record cover would be.

Sal: I was over at Epitaph when they were putting your record cover together – the new one – and then told me you guys are going to be coming out through them. Has it made any difference to you being on Epitaph? Sometimes labels are a little controversial with some people.

Lux: Well, that’s OK with me. They sell to the right stores, they sell vinyl and they sell CDs to the stores where a lot of people would go buy a Cramps record and that’s  good and they know what they are doing in regards to a lot of things. I just like the people there. The record company we were with before that was a label distributed by Warner Bros. And that was a real horrifying experience. Warner Bros was the only real major label that we dealt with so it’s really refreshing to be with Epitaph who are actual real people.

Sal: Yeah, I remember that you guys were having a lot of problems with IRS records. It’s hard to find a label to really care about what you’re doing and back you up. But with the Cramps all the fans I know of, myself included, were real concerned that you find someone who would really help you and back you up in a positive way.

Lux: Yeah, it really is because everybody sees something different in the cramps and there’s been times in the past where the record label would say, “Oh, you’re a freak show!”, “You’re weirdos!” “We really got to push that freaky thing!”, and that’s a part of it. Yeah, it’s a freak show to some guy in a polo shirt but who cares about them. It’s much better to have a record company who says we know who you are, we know who your fans are and this should be something sincere to everybody involved and honest and that’s the best thing to do.

Sal: Distribution is really important and things like that and they probably have a good distribution network.

Lux: Yeah they do.

Lux Interior

Sal: I’ve seen you over the past dozen years and how the shows have changed live, sometimes it’s more elaborate. Like one time I saw you play at “Privates” in NYC and you had the spiders coming out and cobwebs all over the stage and everything. Is there a difference between how you set up the shows year by year, is it planned out how you wanna do it.

Lux: It’s not too planned out. I think some of it is just what we’re into at the moment. We try to have as few rules as possible and we try to leave it open to being unpredictable. So we don’t like having a lot of props around too much but sometimes we’ll do something because we think it’s fun or somebody gives us something, just like that outfit that Ivy wore. We didn’t plan it out and draw it on drawing boards…

Sal: Well I don’t mean it being planned out on paper but as far as wanting to express a certain thing during a certain period.

Lux: Yeah, it’s kinda just what we’re interested in at the time. It’s always different too, sometimes we have no time and we just have to throw something together and other times we have more time to plan something. It’s always different, it seems like we’re always busy. It’s hard when you are in a Rock’n’Roll band, as you know, it’s hard to just keep it above water.

Sal: Just the mail drives you crazy, when you get stacks of letters it gets to be very difficult, and you start to worry about the things people write you about. Do you get to play smaller clubs anymore?

Lux: Oh yeah, we play small clubs. It’s really fun. We just played in Montreal in a club that holds 650 people. It’s like two floors and the floor’s just like 10 feet from the stage, the bottom floor is right at the edge of the stage, and it goes all around the stage so I mean nobody was farther away than 20 or 30 feet. And there’s like 650 people crammed in there and that was just chaos.  it’s like the minute you step on stage, like cshhhhhhhhh. You could hardly hear the music it was just the shrieking going on. That was a ball. Like that show we did in NY, the first row of people was like 10 feet from the stage, or at least it seemed like it with all those lights shining, I couldn’t even see the audience half the time..And that’s fun too but the more intimate it is the more fun it is, the more unusual.

Sal: The lighting was great though, there in NYC, it was really dramatic.

Lux: Yeah, we only use red and white lights, we try to keep it as simple as possible and you can do a lot of things with that. We don’t have lights that look like Disneyland, the color of the rainbow just going off for no reason.

Lux Interior

Sal: Oh yeah it drives you crazy. You’re trying to play and lights turn green, purple, orange. And you can’t see the fret board. And the strobe lights too, you do it tastefully, you don’t have it running through every song. When it does come on, everybody really savors those moments, it gets pretty cool. When you’ve been playing, basically the original days when I saw you at the CBGB’s theatre way back on the Bowery, did you ever think that you would still be playing from then till now?

Lux: Well, we didn’t give it that much thought I don’t think. I still can’t imagine not doing the Cramps at this point I still can’t imagine not doing it so I don’t even know what’s going to happen. We’ll just do what seems like the right thing to do. Back then I really don’t think we thought how long are we going to do this. The first time we played CBGB’s, the first time we auditioned I think we were thinking that we’d go out and nobody would like us that much and we’d only play once.

Sal: Yeah everybody thinks that the first time. The guitar that Ivy got when she played Human Fly, that Dan Electro was that a vintage one.

Lux: That is completely made, made out of a piece of wood. That was made by a guy in Washington DC, Steve Metts. He makes guitars for people, he makes guitars for ZZ Top, and when we were playing in Washington DC he called up Ivy in the hotel room and said, “Hey I made you a guitar I want to give it to you.”, and she said “Oh, OK.” It’s pretty amazing when you see it close up it has mother of pearl inlay in the fret board, It has the Cramps logo and on both sides, it has those trucker but flap girls. It’s really beautiful.

Sal: Yeah you could see it’s got a purple shine from where I was in the audience. I thought it was a Dan Electro the way it was shaped.

Lux: Well it’s a copy of a long horn, the same size and everything but it was completely made from scratch.

Sal: What do you think of, I noticed Guitar Wolf opened for you, that whole resurgence in Japan of that whole wild rock’n’roll.

Lux: Well I like a lot of those bands, of course we got Guitar Wolf, we sought them out to get them on the bill and it was difficult. It was difficult communicating with people in Japan most of the time. But I really like the 5678’s, they’re really one of our favorite bands. Have you ever heard their stuff?

Sal: Yeah I met them a few times, they’ve played down in NY.

Lux: Yeah and there’s some other bands from over there that are really good. The Cedrics? Yeah there’s a pretty crazy scene over there.

Sal: Have you been to any countries besides the usual ones.You’ve played in Japan and England and all that but have you played even further east? Asian countries at all like Thailand?

Lux: Yeah we haven’t been to Thailand but we will probably do that soon.

Sal: North Vietnam is having bands come there now.

Lux: Oh Yeah? I didn’t know that. I heard that China and Thailand are having bands in there now and we plan to do that but I hadn’t heard Vietnam.

Sal: Yeah you can go in to North Vietnam through Sweden and get in there and somebody told me that 10,000 people will come to a show, even old villagers because there’s nothing else.  But they’ve been buying American Punk records through the mail now.

Lux: That would be really great.

Sal: I got a letter once and I sold bunches of singles, not just of my band but all different ones to people of North Vietnam.  I talked to someone from North Vietnam and they’re telling me all these Swedish bands come, and how other bands come through there now that it’s a little bit more relaxed. It might be cool to go there.

Lux: If the Cramps played there they probably wouldn’t forget it for a while!

Sal: Yeah I read that in Thailand when they show Laverne and Shirley, at the beginning they say “Please do not copy these women – they are escaped from a mental institution and are not like how nice normal American girls act.” I wonder if you come out to North Vietnam everybody will start emulating a Cramps look.

Lux: That would be pretty funny.

Lux Interior

Danielle Hubbard: Dancer, Teacher, Performance Artist, Inspiration, Magnificent.

When I discovered Danielle Hubbard’s lunchtime Cardio Plus dance class at Le Gym Concordia in Montreal 5 years ago I was thrilled and excited because I could really get into this class listening to bands I loved and could dance to. Guided by Danielle and  her super energetic style and unique moves you may feel as cool as she is (although you certainly may not look it!) doing sexy hip swivels to elegant pirouettes, giggling and gyrating, and rockin’ it out with air-guitar-drum-violin-keyboards, etc. Every class is different, infused with creative choreography, while hearing all your favorite punk, rock, goth, ambient, metal, industrial and garage bands. You might dance to the likes of The Cramps, The Clash, Dead Kennedys, The Fixx, Flock of Seagulls, Siouxie and the Banshees, Jesus and Mary Chain, Ministry, Ramones, Deadbolt, Stone Roses, Rob Zombie, OMD, David Bowie, Sisters of Mercy, Fine Young Cannibals, Anne Clark, Simple Minds, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails…and many more such bands, including some music I don’t know in the vein of maybe techno, but cool, and we also  get the special treat of the  classical ballet number or tap tune thrown in. Danielle is an inspiring woman, always cheerful and full of smiles, beautiful, quirky and cute, making fun and interesting noises to indicate dance changes, demonstrating light as a feather leaps so effortlessly and gracefully, she’s always a model to aspire to, and makes you feel welcome, happy, compelling you to move, get down, feel free, and rock out. 

When did you start dancing?

I started dancing at 4 years old.

Did you start doing recitals? Dance school?

Yeah, I started ballet with my sister and then she dropped out quick because it wasn’t her thing and me, well I didn’t have to get pushed to dance. Really, I was always dancing with music on the radio, but the ballet classes was what I started with. And we did recitals at the end of the year and we had to put that horrible blue makeup on our eyes. It was fun. When you are a little kid you love that, right? With sparkles, and I think my first show I was a star, not the star of the show, but an actual star in the sky, I had all these sparkles everywhere.

So was it your dream when you were little to be a dancer?

Yeah. I think my first thing of being an artist in that sense was when my mom was calling me for lunch and I was not appearing so she came in the back room and I was busy drawing and scribbling on paper doing doodles or whatever, and she said it’s time for lunch and I completely bypassed what she said and I said “Mum, I’m going to be an artist” so that was a definite thing but just where was the art going to come in, it wasn’t sure yet where, but quickly it came apparent that it was going to be dance.

Danielle Hubbard Ballet pose Photo by Patrick McDonnell 2

So then after that discovery you started to take more classes?

Yes, I started with ballet and then started to do ballet jazz and then I took a year off.

How old were you then?

I was about 11-12. (Laughs) Yeah it was hard work, I was done! But then I did bowling for a year, that’s what I did, I bowled instead of doing ballet. They both start with B, ballet and bowling, but then I couldn’t do the bowling anymore. I liked the bowling shoes, that was one of the reasons why I did it, but then I thought no, I’ll just put my ballet shoes back on, and then went back into ballet. Truth.

That’s hilarious. Ok. So what styles have you trained in and have there been some that you just learnt on your own?

I learn on my own, I guess one would be the Ragedance. It’s kind of like you’re having a fit but to music. So you are actually getting fit.

Dance class Danielle Hubbard photo by Andre Barrette

Is that sort of the same like we do at Concordia?

Kinda, yeah. Sometimes as you know it’s like we’re having a major fit, but you’re getting fit.

You developed your own kind of style, incorporating heavy music like goth, metal, punk and rock moves?

Yes, It’s contemporary dance. We even do some ballet. I like mixing things up like doing something very contemporary but to classical music and punk, and then maybe doing something classical on metal. But we also do something classical on classical music too so people can feel that vibe. It’s fun to be a ballerina for a few minutes. So, it’s all good, it’s all in good fun, serious good fun. And probably prior to that when I was much younger I did my first little choreography at school, I was probably about 7 or 8 and I asked my mom to buy lots and lots of tulle that you make tutus with but it wasn’t to make a tutu it was to make me into a cocoon and my music that I brought for the teacher that she played and I told her when I open the vestibule doors to come out where I was changing back there, it was “Funeral for a Friend” so I really always had a dark side. So I was very little and I wanted that and the music was by Elton John, and the music that he wrote was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s Fall of the Usher House. So I was definitely into that and Halloween and everything else, and I just loved that. Costume and dancing or being a ghoul, but that was my first choreography. I was dressed in this tulle all wrapped up like a kind of mummy. The tulle was transparent it was sort of a dark grey, maybe it was white but I was rolling around on the ground so much it probably got grey, however when I came out of it I was doing all these weird spasmodic movements.

Who were you performing in front of?

The other children in our class. Every Friday she had 3 or 4 of us do something so it was my turn to perform. The teacher, I think her eyeballs got screwed up and she didn’t know what to say or how to react, she thought it was strange cause most of the kids were doing flowers in the springtime or the boys were doing firemen or police officers, and then I did this weird cocoon thing. It kind of happened really young.

Danielle Hubbard in Tulle Coccoon

That’s great. It’s like your personality or your style showed through.

What styles and what classes do you teach, and where?

I teach classical ballet with a twist, I call it Ballet Classiquomanie, and I teach that at the Belgo building which is where a lot of different studios for artists, like galleries, and you got your famous Studio 303, and just down the corridor is 310 which is where I teach, and that’s a good 2 hour class, but it does go by fast, and I put in the contemporary dance as we go along cause that’s the twist to the ballet. I give a good ballet base, I find it’s really important. And then I had been teaching Ragedance for many many years. I was on hiatus for a while because I had an awful bicycle accident, but that removed I’m back into everything I do.

And will you go back to that?

I will go back because there is a demand. I get that kind of thing in our class that you know about at Concordia. It’s very much like the Ragedance but it’s not as long and not as much floor work, cause when I do the other stuff I really push that, both. Because our movements are really conducive to high energy cardio but I lower it down a lot, as a dancer would. In most dance pieces, a dancer can be giving the utmost and then they fly offstage to go grab their breath stretch a little and then they run back, so it’s this up and down curve. I think personally as far as fitness is concerned and even just the pure enjoyment of dancing, you need to have those roller-coaster rides. It’s like the roller-coaster, it’s a metaphor for that, in dance it’s fun, it’s not always staying at the same level, you got your ups and your downs kind of thing.

Danielle Hubbard photo by Nathalie A. Turgeon

I always appreciate those down moments!

No kidding, eh? But then you get back into the other part much better.

You’re more energized afterwards. So what festivals or dance troupes do you participate in regularly?

Well I’ve done a lot with Exos Performance Project, which was something that was enabling me to perform which I wouldn’t have had the chance on my own necessarily, throughout a lot of Europe. Basically this was during a 10 year period, and this project is based in Geneva, Switzerland. I was already doing a bit of aerial work here in Montreal as far as a dancer so I come from that background, let’s say.

So that’s like a trapeze?

Kind of, it’s like circular trapeze which is called a hoop, and you can go up and down in the air, that kind of thing, there’s no net underneath so you’re careful. But I’ve always approached it, not so much as a gymnast, but as a dancer. So I learned to do that and over there I learnt how to do La Tube Aquatique, like upright aquariums, with my friend Lluvia De Selva, De Sela…Deselva that’s a drug actually in Amsterdam. I’m thinking of that because we were in Amsterdam and they had those things when you go for a drink of wine or beer…but it’s not really important in this interview right now! So coming back, Exos Performance Project based in Geneva Switzerland was a place that I went to meet up with a lot of the performers and from there we went to mostly East, sometimes Western Europe. We went to obviously parts of Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands/Amsterdam, often we were doing multi-tasking. It was very interesting, it really was. It was for a 10-year period and I think the last time I performed was 7 years ago.

Danielle-Hubbard-street-pose

How did you find out about this?

I was actually performing in my hoop at the haunted house, the supper theatre place, I was gigging there for like 5 years.

Is that place still around?

No, the ghosts might still be but not us. And funny enough, the Director of Exos Performance Project was one of the original members of the haunted house. But I did not know that then, and I wasn’t going there then, and it was many years later..he had moved, Sotho, with his daughter and they started the company in Switzerland and came back for a holiday and that’s how we hooked up and I became a performer for his company. So it’s back and forth Montreal-Geneva or going directly to the place of performance.

And you do a lot of stuff here as well, you are always involved in something.

Yes, and a lot of filming too, indie films, and there were a couple of major films but not as the main role except for one that was Quebec and France co-producing. I worked for Carole Laure, the writer/director, on the film CQ2, and I was the main actress as well as her daughter for this role that she had written. That was really a wonderful experience too.

Tell me about the show you did with Bloodshot Bill…

I had seen him perform in Montreal before but this was at Shezam Festival and it was every year and it was an amazing time just all kinds of different people and wearing their costumes to bed and waking up like kind of bloodshot (laughs), and he performed, he did a great set, and I think we performed right after him with fire and that was with another person I’ve done a lot of shows with, Simon Dragon, he started at the Maître du feu Montreal and I performed doing lots of fire, actually the first couple of years, then became a judge. Last round I was a judge for the other performers.

Danielle Hubbard Fire

So is there a whole process to learn to do fire in your work.

Yeah, a lot of these things I kind of did and learnt on my own, but when you’ve had the discipline of dance for so many years, you understand sometimes it can come quickly but you’re ready to take the time. It took years of being a professional dancer before I even said I was a professional dancer, but when you got a knack for something you kind of develop it quickly but then you have to pay attention to so many different aspects of that art form, like many professional dancers would probably say if they started singing, let’s say, they wouldn’t say I’m a professional singer. Cause we know it takes a lot of hard work to back that stuff up. But yeah, life has been enriched because of all these things, and I did not go off to become a professional ballet dancer, a professional dancer yes, which enabled me to be in bands and all kinds of things that opened up my world.

Danielle Hubbard with Philippe Mius d'Entremont Photo by Jean Chainey

You’ve been in bands? Do you play music as well?

I vocalize and I have my chaos pad which provides like soundscapes and beats and stuff like that.

Tell me about your band Blodewed…

It’s a Celtic character, spelt actually with two ds, but we spelt it with one d. And if you put two Es it would be Blodeweed which is maybe a good thing to do when you’re in a band! However Blodewed was with Kevin Jones who was the bassist and it was just the two of us, I had my chaos pad, and we were doing this band which is comprised of a young maiden, very virginal kind, and then you have the mother, she’s more like a sensual entity, mother earth, grounded, then you have the old hag. But in those days, that could be a very wise witch. We use hag today, it’s very demeaning, it’s pejorative, it’s not quite the same thing, it’s not a good thing, someone calls you an old hag!, but this is different, it’s an elderly person who has a lot of knowledge, and she’s a spirit and has all these three aspects comprised, of a woman, in a lifetime you go through all these stages. So I wanted to create something that could bring us a carte blanche, so I did writing for the songs, and sort of ritualistic type performances where there’s some white noise to begin with and an entrance and progressive, a bit like my former band which is called Maruka, which had the same idea, but Blodewed was just the two of us and we went into this, with this woman incarnated into this world with those three things going on so the songs were for that. And the bass guy, Kevin, a great bass player could play like a guitar too so he had a different way of playing. Now we could have had a drummer or even a percussionist to add, but anyway we did do a couple of shows in Montreal, at Katacombes, and Bistro Paris, and even some loft parties we did, and it was well received. I did a dance show even and later on I changed and we got our gear and performed for a dance show. And it’s nice cause when you are just two it’s easier for rehearsals as well. I think on YouTube there is only one real video up, it was at the old Katacombes, and the video to tell you honestly, the video is nice but what I really regret is that Kevin is not seen playing in the video and secondly the microphone wasn’t working properly at times, so sometimes I would just hang off the microphone and pay no attention to it, so the voice was really as you were hearing it, no vo-coders in that one!

So, you did that a while ago?

That would have been about five years ago, when Kevin moved to go back home, out east.

Danielle Hubbard black widow pose

Where did you grow up? Do you think your environment helped you to form as a person?

Well, #1. I never grew up, #2. I’m adopted, and #3. I don’t know where I’m going…(laughs)…Well #1 is actually true… I was actually born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, and raised very well mind you. I had good parents.

Very proper?

Yeah, very proper. That’s why I moved to Montreal so that I could be improper! Well my environment for me had a lot to do with studios.  My parents had a very good sense of humor, and had a good sense of discipline. We weren’t allowed to do just anything or buy anything, we had to work for things. I guess I got that too and I have that in what I do with my own dance, as far as environment, well environment is also studios. Yeah you pay attention to the teacher, you shut up, you do your thing, especially ballet, and it’s very old school, especially back in those days, so that was my environment, so it was a big discipline my environment, but there was a lot of loving and a lot of passion, and there’s a freedom, even through all that discipline, that I was allowed to be pretty much who I was, who I wanted to be.

I know a few years ago you had a terrible biking accident. What did you do to overcome it, are you still overcoming it, continuing in your career as strong and beautiful as ever?

Well as you can see right now I’m drinking (joking)…, but that’s alright folks, it’s Friday afternoon and there’s nothing wrong with that! I’ve become an alcoholic since my biking accident! End of story!… No, just kidding!! Shortest answer yet. No, well actually it is a traumatic thing, but I think I survived it pretty good, I guess the first thing that I wanted to say about a helmet, it’s a good thing I was wearing one because I probably wouldn’t be here today. And the surgeon confirmed that or I would have been a vegetable, and I do like vegetables on a plate but not who I am. So there’s that, and I had to revise many things in my life. Things that you don’t even imagine you have to, but you have to see what’s important and what’s not. And there was a moment of thinking would I even be able to continue dancing, there’s a couple moments that you think about that, but I quickly surpassed that and always look forward and said yes. In fact, the next day when I had to get dressed out of the hospital gown when they handed me my ripped up clothes, because what they do, they cut head to toe anything you are wearing, so it’s like gee thanks, I might as well just wear the gown, no? So anyway, I go to the washroom with my clothes in the plastic bag and I hold the bag in front of me and I see a blackened face, which is pretty much what happened with the injuries on the head and the face and I thought ok, let’s remove the plastic bag number 1, and number 2, I got to see what it really looks like and I was utterly unrecognizable and I never cried once about it ever, later on because of certain pain maybe. The look of it was atrocious but I said, it is what it is, and it just came fresh, naturally, I didn’t even think about it and I said that, that I thought that’s how I’m going to get over it because this is the worst moment and after it’s going to get better. The skin is going to fall off, it’s going to heal, it was pretty much ripped off on one side of the face, that will heal, and the tooth that had semi broken off that will heal with the dentist, but the major fractures was the upper and lower-case jaw, and my mandibles had been completely crushed. So, I had one operation, meatball surgery as they call it, just to put things together enough, and then a second surgery and then a third, and now I’m looking forward to a fourth, but this one is way less invasive, so the down time is maybe only just a few weeks and that’s it, compared to before that’s nothing. So, I’m actually looking forward to the forth one, but I did teach as soon as I could, I got right back on the horse. I’ve been in really tight spots in certain performances, things could have went really awry like really bad, and it would have been much worse instead of waiting it out hoping for the best I got right back on the horse. If I didn’t, I could never perform again. So, same thing with the bike accident, as soon as I was able to get back on my bike and the surgeon gave me thumbs up when he saw me come in one day with my helmet. But I had to really program things differently, since three years, the anniversary date was just two days ago, but I’m considerably better than I was and I always had a chance between each operation to perform, to dance, to teach, until the next op and then down time again. And well your whole body takes a rest at this point which is not a bad thing, instead of going going going, so you got to look at the positive, there’s always something that is positive.

Did you have to change your dance, I know you had to take levels down a bit?

Danielle Hubbard photo by Hugo St Laurent

Only in the beginning, not long. For instance in ballet, I’m a jumper, I love to run and leap, I really love that, I love floor work too, that can be kind of harsh for the body if you don’t do it properly, so you have to be really careful the way you land from high jumps, so of course I couldn’t do those high split jump in the air kind of stuff..but your instinct, and as an older dancer you are going to protect yourself, it comes more naturally than not, so I just became even more aware and paid more attention, and there’s things as far as the rest, as far as répos, for the body that I allowed myself which was actually really good because when I came back to doing high jumps across the floor, I felt great, it was all back again because my body had taken that break, that rest.

Has it changed you emotionally or professionally as a person?

Well emotionally it has somewhat been answered, but I shouldn’t hide the fact that sometimes it can get really really down, and emotionally it’s pretty much down way more than I ever let on, to sometimes only real close friends may have had an inkling into how far some of my thoughts went, so I do understand people who can be depressed and all that. And not being able to do your art, and especially as an older dancer you wonder can I really get back into that the same way that I did. I was working so hard, I got back into ballet after leaving it for almost 14 years, and then 7 years I was working real hard and then this accident, well this is cooked you know, and at the same time my father died like a year later after my accident, and there was a split up also and I don’t want to get into all that business, but before that accident, that person who was not able to handle all that much anyway, certainly being naturally kind of a cold person. I was trying to save everybody from my thoughts and feelings, and this person as well, my ex, and so he didn’t know and I decided this is enough, I knew I had my other operation to go through, and did not want to live it in the kind of relationship I was in, because emotionally that was such a drag, and to answer your question, that part was a big deal and because you are a women, you’re giving a lot of yourself to somebody, you need stuff for yourself, and you’re supposed to be a partner with somebody, it should be somewhat equalized there and it wasn’t so I had to make this decision, so it was tough and a lot of people didn’t realize all that stuff I was going through, plus you are a bit worried, you have this other operation and you don’t know, is it going to help, and they’re going to break your jaw again, both, and that’s not fun, and you’re completely disfigured because of the swelling that the surgeries cause once again, so completely disfigured three times, and it comes back but it’s not the same, but you deal with it, and that’s the emotional part, it’s tough but I just kept saying – it is what it is – I’m going to make something good happen out of this, I can’t just let it all take me down, right?

Danielle Hubbard photo by Danielle Bedard

How does dancing – your art, make you feel, grow, rejoice, love as a human being?

A lot when I’m teaching, I realize sometimes it might be 70% teaching, 30% performing, sometimes the performance, the giving and sharing with the audience, it’s like, wow, that can be like maybe 90%, my joy in the dancing. So it fluctuates but there’s a definite partage, a definite division of the two that come together and work really well, for me. I miss teaching completely when I’m just performing, and vice versa, if I’m just teaching and never performing, I miss that too, so I think I need both. And that’s what makes me happy and completes me as an artist.

What are your favorite styles of dancing and do you practice all the styles that are your favorites? Or are there some that you have yet to master?

Way way way back when, when I was actually dancing with a company in the States and then I came back because I really really missed Montreal, it was ballet jazz and contemporary dance, and I really loved that because I was able to put the ballet notions, but I like the jazz too, Bob Fosse style, but then we had some very contemporary dance pieces as well, I think I like that eclectic kind of feel. And then I decided that I needed to come back to Montreal so I actually became a student again, funny, some people say well why do you want to be a student, but I did, but I had a bursary, and that really helped a lot, I didn’t actually have to pay for any classes, just obviously for my rent in Montreal, but it was not much at the time. So, I was back being a student, and loving it, and working very very hard, and dancing like in a second company as you would call it, it was in order to get into the major company but there was no room in the end and that’s why I had to be in the student program, and by the way it was a lot of ballet with contemporary ballet, and some form of jazz but a lot of technique in ballet. Anyway, one of the girls that was studying, this was the mentality that struck me as really odd and that I never appreciated in ballet which is why I got along with the girls more in contemporary, is the snobbism that can be perpetuated in this type of discipline, not all, I don’t want to generalize but there are a lot of people with who it is like that so I do have an appreciation for many forms of dance but for me ballet for my body it just seems what I like, or anyway, to get back to the girl, she just said something like – “oh African dance, that’s not real dancing. Ballet is the only real dance.” But no, excuse me, everything starts with a heartbeat, in Africa and anywhere in the world with beats like that, it comes from the heart, not just your soul, it’s an actual heartbeat, and it comprises so many things. And so the dances start from there and then they get the rhythm, and it’s just there, and for my it’s such a turn off to think that somebody would ever think that ballet is the only dance and that African dance is nothing, it’s like no, I appreciate a lot of dance, I did some flamenco, I did some tango, I did a bit of African, some Capoeira, so there’s many styles that I really appreciate and I think are beautiful. And there are certain artists that will get me much more, I can see a ballerina, or somebody on the street doing some kind of really cool and different hip hop, and it’ll get me, even if I’m not necessarily into the hip hop culture, it’s the person that is performing it and doing it, the artist.

Danielle Hubbard arabesque red sculpture

 

Growing Up Monster: Interview with Howie Pyro

Being obsessed with something can be a great thing. It’s that compulsive need to do something feeling that drives you, makes inspiring stuff happen. Howie Pyro is a person compelled, obsessed, and maybe a little possessed with the same ‘monstery’ feel & look of things, music, people and attitude, as he was in his affected youth.  In this emailed interview Howie indulges and immerses us in a  vivid rendering of what once was the wild era of the 70s – 90s NYC punk music scene, the start of D Generation, the thrilling times during the GREENDOORNYC DJing days, and his love of spinning his awesome collection of 45s now in California on his Intoxica Radio Show!

Where were you born and raised?

I WAS BORN & RAISED IN WHITESTONE, QUEENS, LIKE JOHNNY THUNDERS, MEMBERS OF KISS, THE DICTATORS & OTHERS…

When did you buy your first record? When did you start collecting stuff?  Books, records, monsters, toys?

I WAS FIRST INTO MONSTERS…MOVIES & TV SHOWS ON TV, THEN I’D GO WITH MY PARENTS TO GARAGE SALES & MEMORABILIA SHOPS AS MY PARENTS WERE INTO OLD MOVIES, MUSIC, BOOKS, ETC. I STARTED BUYING RECORDS AROUND THEM WHEN I WAS 6 OR 7 & SINCE I WAS INTO MONSTERS I WOULD BUY ANY RECORD THAT WAS “MONSTERY”, HAHA. SO I WOUND UP WITH SOME INTERESTING 45s THAT  PUT ME BEFORE MY TIME LIKE PSYCHO BY THE SONICS, PSYCHOTIC REACTION, THE SPIDER & THE FLY, ETC.Howie and Monster magsCan you paint a picture of your early years?  What’s your earliest memory of being deeply affected by music/punk subculture/monsters? How does it all connect for you?

WELL I WAS BORN IN 1960 SO MY “EARLY YEARS” WERE LONG BEFORE ANY PUNK SUBCULTURE EXISTED…I WAS FROM ABOUT AGE 11 ON VERY VERY DEEPLY AFFECTED BY MUSIC. FIRST IT WAS ALL THE WEIRD RECORDS I WAS BUYING AT GARAGE SALES, THEN A SERIOUS OLDIES FIXATION DURING THE BIG OLDIES BOOM IN THE EARLY 70S, THEN ALICE COOPER, STOOGES, T.REX, BOWIE, MOTT THE HOOPLE, ROXY MUSIC, THE SWEET, SLADE, ETC. THE FIRST LP I BOUGHT WAS MOTHERMANIA BY THE MOTHERS OF INVENTION WHICH CREATED A LIFE LONG FRANK ZAPPA OBSESSION. I WAS THAT GUY IN SCHOOL THAT EVERYONE CAME TO TO FIND OUT ABOUT NEW MUSIC. WHEN PUNK HAPPENED I WAS RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF IT AND SO DEEPLY AFFECTED THAT I RAN AWAY FROM HOME AT THAT TIME WHEN I WAS AROUND 16…AND NEVER WENT BACK & I’M STILL “THERE” 40 YEARS LATER…IT ALL TIED TOGETHER FOR ME VERY EARLY ON & AS I WENT THROUGH LIFE I KEPT MEETING ONE PERSON AFTER ANOTHER THAT FELT THE SAME WAY. THERE WAS THE MONSTER MOVIE CLUB AT THE 57 CLUB, THEN I MET GLENN (DANZIG) & BROUGHT THOSE GUYS THERE. EVERYWHERE I WENT I MET MONSTER FREAKS THAT WERE IN BANDS. MAY I ALSO ADD THAT I PRETTY MUCH AM EXACTLY THE SAME NOW AS WHEN I WAS 12 YEARS OLD, LIVING OUT THESE SAME FEW EARLY OBSESSIONS/FANTASIES.

Howie_1978Can you talk about your early NYC punk years?  How did you get to meet all these legendary NYC punk characters/people (Sid Vicious, Billy Idol, Debbie Harry…)

THAT’S A KINDA WEIRD QUESTION…I WAS YOUNG, UNDERSTOOD WHAT IT WAS/WHAT IT MEANT, WAS/AM FUNNY, KNEW MY ROCK N ROLL HISTORY…I GET ALONG WITH PEOPLE EASILY.  (WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO SAY TO THAT THAT ISN’T A SELF FLATTERING SOUNDING THING?) I WAS WAY YOUNGER THAN ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE ON THE SCENE, MY BAND, THE BLESSED, WAS A FAVORITE OF ALL THE SEASONED BANDS. WHEN WE PLAYED NO ONE OUR AGE THAT WE WERE STARTING TO MEET COULD GET INTO SEE US AND OUR WHOLE AUDIENCE EARLY ON WAS THE RAMONES, DEAD BOYS, HEARTBREAKERS, BLONDIE, CRAMPS, ETC ETC ETC. THEN PEOPLE WERE DRAWN TO SEE US BECAUSE OF OUR AUDIENCE, WHO WERE BY THIS TIME OUR FRIENDS. THESE PEOPLE WERE “FAMOUS” TO ME, BUT NO ONE WAS FAMOUS REALLY AT ALL IN THE WORLD. IT WAS A SMALL SCENE & EVERYONE KNEW EVERYONE. SO WHAT MAY LOOK “LEGENDARY” TO YOU NOW WAS REALLY A SMALL BUNCH OF OUTCASTS WHO HAD NO ONE ELSE TO REALLY BE FRIENDS WITH EXCEPT THE OTHER BANDS ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE, WHICH OF COURSE, CHANGED QUICKLY AFTER THIS.

Howie Pyro The Blessed 1978What was NYC like back in those days?  What about compared to now?

WELL…THEN IT WAS A DESTROYED ABANDONED CITY OF BURNED OUT BUILDINGS CRAZY PEOPLE, JUNKIES, CRIMINALS, WHERE ANYONE COULD AFFORD TO LIVE FOR CLOSE TO NOTHING, NOT REALLY EVEN HAVE TO WORK, A PLACE WITH INCREDIBLE HISTORY THAT PEOPLE LIKE ME OBSESSED ON, BEAT GENERATION, WARHOL/VELVETS, NY DOLLS, THE ENTIRE INSANE 60s MOVEMENT (THE GOOD & BAD SIDE) AND ALL THE ART & CULTURE THAT SPRINGS OUT OF POVERTY, LOW RENT & ENOUGH FREE TIME TO CREATE THE ABOVE. IT WAS DISGUSTING, AND WONDERFUL! NOW MY BIG $150 A MONTH APARTMENT THAT 3 PEOPLE LIVED IN IS ABOUT $2500 A MONTH (PROBABLY LIVED IN BY A NYU STUDENT AND PAID FOR BY DADDY), WHERE ART & CREATIVITY ARE NOT WELCOME. DOES THAT ANSWER YOUR QUESTION? HAHA

Howie Pyro photo by Michael Lohrman

How did D Generation form? 

I WAS FRIENDS WITH JESSE FOR MANY YEARS & WOUND UP IN HIS CIRCLE OF FRIENDS…WHEN MY BAND FREAKS BROKE UP I WOUND UP MOVING IN WITH JESSE & JOHN CARCO & WAS ASKED TO TRY & START A BAND WITH THEIR FRIENDS DANNY & MICHAEL (SAGE & WILDWOOD)-THE BROTHERS THAT WOUND UP IN D GENERATION LATER. WE ALL TRIED TO PLAY TOGETHER & IT WAS A BIT AHHHH STRESSFUL & I QUIT & ASKED JESSE TO START A NEW BAND WHICH WE DID. I WAS VERY CLOSE WITH RICK (RICHARD BACCHUS) AND WANTED HIM TO BE IN IT. JESSE & I WERE BACKING UP RICK’S SOLO PROJECT AT THAT TIME. THEN WE GOT GEORGIE SEVILLE ON 2ND GUITAR & A MILLION DRUMMERS (STARTING WITH BELVY K), NONE OF WHO WORKED OUT. I WENT TO THE UK TO DO A TOUR WITH THE ACTION SWINGERS, AND SOMEHOW (HAR HAR) IN MY ABSENCE JESSE ASKED MICHAEL & DANNY TO PLAY IN D GENERATION & THAT BECAME THE CLASSIC(K) LINE UP.

D Generation

Can you talk about the Coney Island/Green Door days?   What year do you consider the height of these times?   Were these good times? 

WE STARTED GREEN DOOR AS OUR HATRED OF THE 80s & THE FACT THAT THERE WAS NOWHERE TO GO  ON NEW YEARS EVE 89/90. I DEEJAYED WITH RICK BACCHUS & HOLLY RAMOS. IT WAS A MAJOR SUCCESS SO WE STARTED DOING IT REGULARLY. THAT LASTED FOR 14 YEARS. D GENERATION GREW OUT OF THAT PARTY & PLAYED OUR 1ST GIG THERE. IT WAS ORIGINALLY AT THE BUILDING/HOME OF GIORGIO GOMELSKY WHO HAD THE CRAWDADDY CLUB IN THE EARLY 60s WHERE HE DISCOVERED THE ROLLING STONES, LET THEM FLY THE COOP AS HE DISCOVERED THE YARDBIRDS & WAS PRODUCING THEIR RECORDS & MANY OTHERS.HE WAS A WILD RUSSIAN MAN WITH A MAJOR ATTITUDE & MAJOR ACCENT. THE ONLY PERSON THAT TURNED BEET RED & CALLED ME A NINCOMPOOP AND WAS SERIOUS! HE WENT ON TO DO TONS OF MAJOR WILD STUFF SOFT MACHINE, GONG, MAGMA, JULIE DRISCOLL, ETC. HE MOVED TO NYC IN ’76 AND BOUGHT THAT BUILDING FOR PENNIES & MADE IT A WORKSPACE FOR BANDS AND ARTISTS AND ANYONE THAT NEEDED IT. WE WERE HIS PET BAND & HE WAS A MAJOR INFLUENCE. IT WAS A PUNK/HARDCORE CLUB WHEN HE WAS FIRST THERE AND ALSO AN S&M CLUB CALLED PADDLES. WE ALL PLAYED THERE (BLESSED, HEART ATTACK, ETC. SOMETIMES WE’D HAVE TO MOVE OUR EQUIPMENT BACK IN LATE AT NIGHT WHEN IT WAS THE S&M CLUB HAHA. AFTER A FEW YEARS GREENDOORNYC (THE OFFICIAL NAME) GOT TOO BIG. UP TILL THEN IT STAYED OPEN TILL EVERYONE DECIDED TO LEAVE, AROUND 8AM USUALLY. THERE’D BE PEOPLE FUCKING ON THE FLOOR, IN THE Howie Pyro NYC early 90sDJ BOOTH, ENOUGH DRUGS TO KILL A SMALL COUNTRY & ALMOST NEVER ANY PROBLEMS! IT STARTED TO BE INFILTRATED BY ROCK STARS & CELEBS & WE STARTED TO MOVE THE CLUB AROUND. WE DID IT AT LIMELIGHT AND OTHER PLACES TILL WE WENT TO THIS GREAT CLUB IN THE MIDDLE OF ST. MARKS PLACE. IT WAS OWNED BY HAIRDRESSER PAUL McGREGOR WHO HAD BEEN IN THAT BUILDING SINCE 1965. HE CREATED THE SHAG HAIRCUT FOR JANE FONDA FOR THE MOVIE KLUTE. HE WOULD DRIVE HIS PSYCHEDELIC ROLLS ROYCE OUT OF THE GROUND FLOOR ONTO ST. MARKS PLACE. THE MOVIE SHAMPOO WAS PARTLY GreenDoorNYCBASED ON HIM. AFTER HE CLOSED HIS HAIR SHOP IT WAS A ROLLER RINK IN THE 70s…I SAW THE MISFITS & OTHER BANDS THERE THEN. IN THE 80s & 90s IT WAS ONLY OPEN ONCE A WEEK FOR A VERY POPULAR CLUB CALLED BOYBAR WHERE ALL THE NOW FAMOUS & INFAMOUS DRAG QUEENS (RUPAUL, LADY BUNNY, MISS GUY, ETC) DID THEIR EARLY SHOWS. WE HAD MANY FRIENDS THERE (EVEN AN ALMOST EARLY MEMBER OF THE BLESSED (ARTHUR AKA DARVON STAGGERED) WAS A BARTENDER THERE. WE ASKED IF WE COULD HAVE A PARTY THERE ON A SATURDAY NIGHT SINCE THEY WERE NEVER OPEN THEN AND PAUL SAID YES. THE PLACE WAS HUGE, 3 FLOORS, THE MAIN FLOOR HAD A LARGE STAGE & FULL PA, DJ BOOTH ETC. WE STARTED DOING IT REGULARLY THERE & THEN PAUL McGREGOR WANTED OUT SO JESSE MALIN & A COUPLE OF HIS FRIENDS INVESTED AND WE ALL OPENED CONEY ISLAND HIGH. THE CLUB WAS A HUGE SUCCESS AND THE MAIN PLACE, EVEN MORE THAN CBGBS AT THAT TIME. THE RAMONES PLAYED THEIR LAST NY SHOW THERE, THE BEASTIE BOYS PLAYED THERE & ENDLESS INCREDIBLE THINGS WENT ON THERE. IT WAS THE LAST REAL ROCK N ROLL CLUB IN NYC. WE BROUGHT THE FEELING OF THE 60S WARHOL SCENE, MAX’S KANSAS CITY, ETC TO THE 90s AND ALL THOSE PEOPLE ALONG WITH ALL THE KIDS THAT WERE INTO THAT HISTORY ALL CAME. ALL THE TIME. IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST INCREDIBLE TIMES OF MY LIFE. AND FUCK RUDI HITLER GIULIANI FOR CLOSING CONEY ISLAND HIGH AND ALL THE OTHER CLUBS IN NYC DOWN. THE ENTIRE TIME IT WAS OPEN WAS THE HEIGHT OF THE ENTIRE 90s IN NYC IN MANY PEOPLES OPINION.

 What do you miss about NYC?

PEOPLE MAINLY, THERE’S NOT MUCH LEFT THERE TO MISS, SADLY. BESIDES RAY’S EGG CREAMS ON AVE. A…THE ONLY THING LEFT FROM MY YOUTH.

 How was it touring with Danzig?  Are you and he friends?

TOURING WITH DANZIG WAS AMAZING. HE WAS ALWAYS EXTREMELY GENEROUS & A GOOD GUY. YES, WE HAVE BEEN FRIENDS FOR 40 YEARS…

Portland 2002 Luciferi Tour Danzig

 If you could play a show with anyone, what would the line-up be? Where would you play?

I SUPPOSE THE ONLY BAND I’D HAVE ANY WANT TO HAVE PLAYED WITH WOULD BE THE CRAMPS WITH LUX, IVY & NICK KNOX. WE COULD PLAY AT ANY MENTAL INSTITUTION…

Any favorite places to play?

MADISON SQUARE GARDEN WAS VERY THRILLING, BEING A NY BOY, BUT IRVING PLAZA WILL ALWAYS BE MY FAVORITE.

Anything exciting happen on your recent tour?

I MET A LOTTA REALLY COOL PEOPLE AND OPENED MANY EARS TO MUSIC THEY DIDN’T KNOW. ONE GUY FROM A CLASSIC 60s SURF/GARAGE BAND STARTED TALKING TO ME & SENT ME ONE OF HIS VERY VERY RARE 45s…HIS BAND WAS THE SAND TRIPPERS.

Howie Pyro Warsaw Poland

Why did you move to California?   Was that an easy decision?

I MOVED HERE BECAUSE DANZIG IS BASED HERE & WHEN I WAS IN DANZIG I TRIED TO LIVE IN NY BUT IT JUST DIDN’T WORK. IT WAS A VERY DIFFICULT DECISION, BUT ONE I’M VERY THANKFUL FOR NOW…I COULDN’T POSSIBLY AFFORD TO LIVE IN NY NOW.

Can you talk about your Intoxica Radio show? 

I STARTED MY RADIO SHOW ALMOST 12 YEARS AGO,…IT WAS A LONG TIME DREAM OF MINE AND ONE THAT LEGITIMIZES SPENDING ALL MY MONEY ON RECORDS! I PLAY RARE AND WEIRD 45s FROM THE 50s AND 60s, SOME RECORDS THAT I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR FOR 30 YEARS, SOME I JUST UNCOVERED FOR THE 1ST TIME LAST WEEK. THERE’S LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF INSANE ROCK N ROLL RECORDS MADE IN THE 15 YEARS I’M MOST INTERESTED IN. AFTER A FEW YEARS WHEN I GOT MORE SAVVY WITH THE INTERNET AND AT THE SAME TIME A FAN STARTED RECORDING MY SHOW AND SENDING ME THE MP3 SO I COULD POST IT ONLINE AND SO PEOPLE COULD HEAR IT AT THEIR LEISURE, THE SHOW GOT VERY POPULAR. IT’S BEEN A JOYOUS EXPERIENCE FOR ME & HAS BROUGHT ME ALL OVER THE WORLD. IT’S JUST AS SATISFYING TO ME AS PLAYING MUSIC. I’VE BEEN DEEJAYING FOR 39 YEARS…MY FIRST DJ GIG WAS AS THE 1ST DJ AT THE LEGENDARY MUDD CLUB.

 HowieDJbook

Do you DJ other places?

I HAVE BEEN A GUEST ON MANY OTHER RADIO SHOWS (IF THAT’S WHAT YOU MEANT).

 How did you DJ for Christina Aguilera?

SHE WANTED A ROCK & ROLL PARTY FOR HER 21ST BIRTHDAY  AND I’M ONE OF THOSE DJs THAT GETS THOSE SORTA GIGS…SO THEY HIRED ME AND TWIGGY FROM MARILYN MANSON.

HowieDJWolfman

Other DJs you love and admire out there?

THE HOUND (JIM MARSHALL), JONATHAN TOUBIN,  REX ON WFMU, ROGER MARS, AND OF COURSE THE OLD ORIGINATORS, WOLFMAN JACK, ALAN FREED, MAD MIKE, MURRAY THE K, PORKY CHEDWICK, THE MAD DADDY, GEORGE HOUND DOG LORENZ, AND SO MANY MORE…

Can you talk about some of the writing you’ve done?  What have you written, in what publications, books?

I’M A STAFF WRITER FOR MY FAVORITE BLOG, DANGEROUS MINDS, I WORK ON BOOKS WITH BRYAN RAY TURCOTTE (PUNK IS DEAD, PUNK IS EVERYTHING), I WROTE ED BIG DADDY ROTH’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY WITH HIM, I’M IN A LOTTA MUSIC HISTORY BOOKS (PLEASE KILL ME, ETC), I WRITE FOR UGLY THINGS MAGAZINE, I WROTE FOR FANZINES LIKE FLESH AND BONES IN THE 80S…THAT’S ABOUT ALL I CAN THINK OF, BUT THERE’S MORE…

Howie as pool DJ

 

Kevin Corrigan – An actor by trade but a music fan in life and love

Do you know who I think is a really cool guy? You guessed it right, Mr. Kevin Corrigan of course!  Not only is Kevin this amazingly talented and entertaining actor in a great multitude of your favorite films and tv shows (Goodfellas, Slums of Beverly Hills, The Departed, Grounded for Life, Portlandia, The Get Down, too many to name here…) but he is into music, which makes him ultra-cool in my book.  Kevin plays many instruments like bass, guitar and piano, and he’s good at it.  He’s in a NYC band called Crystal Robots with his friend Daniel Harnett. He produces tracks on Soundcloud and he’s had his own talk show – The Kevin Corrigan Show – where he interviews famous actors like Steve Buscemi, James Franco, and Natasha Lyonne and also musicians, like David Johansen and Kim Gordon. From the moment I saw him wearing a Dirtbombs t-shirt in his role as Eddie Finnerty on the show Grounded for Life, I was smitten. I wanted to know, is he actually a fan of the band and into the same music I’m into? It was a dream of mine to meet him and ask him these questions. Not to mention that I recently discovered that he acted in the “Get Me” video by Dinosaur Jr. Learning this was the definitive moment for me; I just had to talk to him.  Well, the universe provided and I was given this kind gift of an opportunity. Without going into too many details of how this occurred, I hung out with him in a coffee shop in NYC for a couple of hours in March and he related to me tons of great stories, 95% music related. Did I mention he’s a real music fan?  It was such a delight to hang out with him that afternoon.  Although I didn’t record that conversation, he answered these questions for me via email. 

ON MUSIC

You were in the Dinosaur Jr video “Get Me”. How did you get that part? Are you a fan? Did you meet those guys? Was it great fun smashing up the TV and the room with the golf club in the video?  

I wasn’t a fan of Dinosaur at the time, but I became one, and I did meet them on the set. Murph was friendly. J Mascis was…distant. Matt Dillon directed the video. I had acted with Matt earlier that year (’92) on a film called THE SAINT OF FORT WASHINGTON. We talked about rock music. So I was on his mind. He said he would’ve played the part in the video himself if he couldn’t track me down. I’m so glad he did. It meant a lot to me. I’d been a fan of Matt’s since MY BODYGUARD which came out in 1980. THE OUTSIDERS in ‘83. DRUGSTORE COWBOY. Getting to smash things up under his direction..yes, it was fun and deeply cathartic. And that sense of catharsis returns whenever I see the video, the way they edited my busting up the joint with J’s guitar solo.

What’s going on in the video “Safe Word” by Choke Chains? It’s pretty sick! What are you supposed to be, a family of homicidal cannibals, or zombies?

Yes, we are meant to be cannibals. The violence is a bit extreme, but it was a focused production and a very funny group of people. A lot of laughs. It is based on a black comedy horror film called “Parents” starring Randy Quaid…directed by Bob Balaban.

Kevin Corrigan Choke Chains video

Do you get to go to many concerts? You mentioned Public Access TV playing at the Bowery Ballroom. Did you go to that show?

I see as much as I can. I have missed a lot of stuff over the years (including Public Access). You can’t make it to everything..but the experiences I’ve had—everything from Judas Priest to Ravi Shankar—have enriched my life. Rock, classical, world music. Arena shows, small clubs.

How long have you been playing bass? Do you play guitar also? From the movie Results it seems you were having fun with playing the guitar.
I’ve been playing guitar since ’88. I bought a Fender Telecaster in 1990 which I still have. I’ve always kept a bass around to record with but never attempted to become a bass player until 2013 when I started playing bass for Daniel Harnett, a New York singer-songwriter https://danielharnett.bandcamp.com/album/under-the-veil-unseen In the movie RESULTS my character plays around with a Gibson SG.

Kevin Corrigan playing guitar

Could you write a script for a film based on a musical soundtrack that you hand-picked? If so, what would the songs be and what would the film be about?

Personally, it would be a dream come true, to make a feature film like MEAN STREETS and AMERICAN GRAFFITI, a coming-of-age movie, set largely at night, with a virtually uninterrupted soundtrack. My film would almost certainly take place in the Bronx and/or Yonkers in the 70’s and 80’s. It would begin on a static shot of Tracey Towers as the sun was going down over Mosholu Parkway. Some lightning would flash behind the buildings while Led Zep’s “In the Evening” played (the intro, before the drums kick in)…It would continue with a wild keg party in the Oval park at night. Music: “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” Yardbirds. “Intruder” Peter Gabriel, “Anytown” Reagan Youth, ““Symptom of the Universe” Black Sabbath. There would be some kind of build up to some tragedy, a fight would occur, a death would occur, the revelers would scatter and we’d follow two kids, one of them desperately, but unrequitedly in love with the other, as they took off, go into hiding somewhere, maybe even travel back in time through some kind of portal..and at that point the music would become more melancholy..I would try to have the narrative conform to “Birthday Song” by The Fall, “The Water Is Wide” by Fred Neil, “Your Mother And Father” by Cass McCombs, “Save A Seat For Me” by the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, “Pastime Rag No. 4 (Artie Matthews), “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” by Blind Willie Johnson, “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin, “The Single Petal Of A Rose” by Ben Webster, John Lennon’s home recording of “Cathy’s Clown”, “All I Want” My Bloody Valentine, and the movie would end somehow with “Meher Baba M5 (Vivaldi)” by Pete Townshend. The movie is called CRY OF THE GULLY JUMPER.

Who were some of your favorite bands growing up? 

There were many bands that I loved as a kid who were before my time, but I grew up with them, listening to them and absorbing their catalogues. The Beatles, the Who, the Stones, Zeppelin, Floyd, Cream, Hendrix, Black Sabbath. Yes, they were all finished by the time I discovered them, but they were of vital importance to me from the age of 12 to at least 20..and the reason I specify 20 is this: the way I look at it, it was my adolescent/teen fascination with 60’s music, or psychedelic music–particularly the music of Cream and the Stones, and though he is more of a 70’s and 80’s artist, Peter Gabriel—that prepared me, on a psychic level to meet and bond with Martin Scorsese, who cast me in GOODFELLAS. I had just turned 20 and that was a major occurrence in my life. Getting the nod from him, to me, was a validation of not just my abilities as an actor, but of my ear for music.

Kevin Corrigan My Bloody Valentine shirt

After that, I was ready to start the next phase of my life…and a year and a half later.. I heard of My Bloody Valentine, the first band I discovered on my own who were a current band, playing to my age group. They had just put out Loveless. Brian Eno said they were the future of music, and I loved Brian Eno. Nirvana was exploding at that time, but I didn’t respond to Nirvana the way I did to MBV. I would come to love Nirvana much later, but MBV was the band that helped me transition out of my 80’s head and into the new decade..and by that I mean… there were two kinds of music which vied for my attention in the 80’s: the hard rock and heavy metal that were customary in my neighborhood, the bands my friends and I went to see–Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Van Halen, AC/DC. I loved all those bands and you could truly say I grew up with them. I saw them all in their 80’s heyday (except AC/DC who I finally saw in 2016 with Axl Rose—a great show)

And the other kind of 80’s music that affected my brain in the 80’s, artists it would never have occurred to me to go and see or have a direct relationship with–Pop, R & B, new wave, no wave, hip hop, punk rock, post punk, hardcore…And btw, how, in 2017, can one not long for the variety and the diversity of those days? Anyway, when I wasn’t banging my head, I was drifting off to sleep with a radio on..the sounds of Big Country, Eurythmics, Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Peter Gabriel, Hall and Oates, Madonna, Modern English, The Cure, The Cult, World Party, The Clash, The Smiths, The Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, The Pretenders, Public Image, Prince, Queen, U2, REM, Simple Minds, Billy Idol, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, LL Cool J…radio waves, endless, wafting

I remember riding around with my friend Curt. The song “It Takes 2 to Make A Thing Go Right” always seemed to be playing in his car.

Kevin Corrigan in Goodfellas

All throughout those years, The Beatles were my anchor, but all of this other stuff got into my head..and then GOODFELLAS came along, which was like my graduation and then MBV came along, which influenced me as an actor in that I decided i wanted to be in movies that were as unconventional as the album Loveless, and two years later I discovered the director Hal Hartley, his film TRUST, which he composed the music for, which blew my mind, and who told me, when I first met him, that the closing credit music for that film was based on the closing credit music of LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (composer: Peter Gabriel). So I knew I had to work with Hal. And I did work with him on HENRY FOOL.

And apart from all this psychobabble, I need to mention the band Elysian Fields, led by singer/lyricist Jennifer Charles and guitar virtuoso Oren Bloedow, who I have have been growing up with from my late 20’s to the present. We have grown together. Their music and their artistry mean a great deal to me.

Are you still doing stuff with Crystal Robots? Any upcoming gigs? I hear you just put out a record.

Yes, Crystal Robots, have a self-titled album coming out March 27 on CD Baby and i-tunes. It’s available for download but there is also a vinyl LP if you have a turntable.

Kevin Corrigan and Crystal Robots

ON ACTING

How do you feel when seeing yourself on screen? Does that ever freak you out?

It only freaks me out if I’m bad. If I’m on top of my game, I don’t mind watching.

Of all the parts you’ve played in films and in TV what are some of your favorite roles and why?

I like the part I play in the Netflix show THE GET DOWN.

———————————————————————————–

As mentioned in the intro when I met Kevin in the coffee shop in NYC I didn’t record the conversation but of course wish I had. He is great at telling stories, in a funny, charming, down to earth kind of way.  We talked about music mostly, how he had his connection with Matt Dillon from his early beginnings at acting school. How his dad asked the people at the acting school which actors had come out of there and he was told – Matt Dillon. And how Matt Dillon called his home to ask Kevin to be in the “Get Me” video but got his parents on the phone instead because he wasn’t living there at the time. The way he described and played out this event was just so funny, imitating his parents broken english and how they said “yeah we’ll give him the message” to Dillon.

Kevin also recounted the story behind the Dirtbombs t-shirt wearing on Grounded for Life.  He told me he first heard Ultraglide in Black while stuck in a horrible LA gridlock traffic jam and how it changed him. He wanted to wear the t-shirt on the show but was given a hard time about it and had to contact the band to get their permission, and how he later on met the band and hung out and partied with them in Detroit.

Kevin Corrigan as Eddie Finnerty

Another great story involves our mutual friend, Emily Hubley, film animation artist, who Kevin has done a couple of roles for, The Toe Tactic and And/Or 2012. He went to a Roky Erickson concert with Emily at Maxwells in Hoboken and had to learn a song on piano that Ira from Yo La Tengo wrote for the film The Toe Tactic. Kevin recounted how when he visited the band’s studio in Hoboken it was like walking into Abbey Road with instruments strewn all about.

We talked of other things like how real artists just have their creativity pour out of them like a necessity and about an artist’s goal to express the truth, actors included, and his admiration of Marlon Brando,  relating some of his famous quotes on acting. Kevin also mentioned how he had the privilege to meet some of his idols, and how sometimes you meet someone you admire they seem very alienated and  can’t relate to people.

Other discussion topics included how he met his wife, actress Elizabeth Berridge at party but how he could have met her years earlier as he had auditioned for the film 5 Corners that she acted in, but he didn’t get the part. He considers the role she played to be her best, even more so than her character in Amadeus, and how his whole life since his marrying her was like he married that movie, like he had to be a part of that movie.

So what people say about dreams coming true, I can attest that a dream of mine did come true in meeting Kevin Corrigan and it was pretty awesome. 

Kevin Corrigan and Samia Aladas

Get busy rockin’ and a hoardin’ with Bloodshot Bill!

Had a cozy chat with Bloodshot Bill, the revered rockabilly one man band from Montreal and learned some things about his early years as a budding rock’n’roller, his hoarding habits, and his love for ballads.

When did you realize you had this talent to be a musician?

It’s more like realizing you enjoy it, so I realized I enjoyed it and just wanted to do that.

How old were you?

I started playing drums when I was 13 or something, I was playing with friends and stuff.  When I realized when I wanted to do it, probably like around when I met you, during those Jailhouse days. I was working all crappy jobs, so many shitty jobs.

So, at that point you started playing more?

I used to drink more than I played so I didn’t really take some opportunities that I could have, with people offering me to play out of town and stuff like that.

Bloodshot Bill

As a solo artist, or in bands?

Both, I was doing both. I started out playing alone, not the way I do it now with the one man band type of thing, it was just with a guitar. I played with Dom and stuff like that.

Were you in bands in high-school?

I was playing drums in high school. Being the drummer I didn’t really have so much control, so I had to learn to play guitar to do my own thing.

And when did you start singing or realizing you could sing?

Well I didn’t realize I could sing, I just figured I should try this if I want to do stuff I like. That happened pretty late when I was like 19 or 20.

I know people call you hillbilly or rockabilly, what’s the difference? What do you consider yourself?

Just rockabilly,  rock’n’roll or just rockin’. I guess hillbilly loses that rock part of it, and I like that style, that’s what I try to go for. You try to go for what you like. Like if you are a writer you want to write something you want to read, right? So, I try to make songs that I obviously want to hear.

You’ve met some of your idols? Like Hasil Adkins

I never met Hasil but we used to talk on the phone a lot. I got his number a long time ago.

Bloodshot Bill Git High Tonite

So, did you just call him up?

I called him up and he talked to me like we knew each other for years. It wasn’t like who are you? It was so cool. And we used to play songs to each other over the phone. And after he passed away his girlfriend wrote me, sent me a letter saying, “Is this Bloodshot Bill, you used to talk to Hasil on the phone” I was like “yeah”. He used to tape record his phone conversations which I didn’t know and she was like “I have a tape of you guys talking, would you like it?”.  She sent me this tape and we’re talking, and playing songs over the phone to each other, it’s cool.

Great, that’s awesome! Where do you think your passion and energy comes from?

Hmm, I don’t have that many interests, I’m not interested or knowledgeable on many things because I have no interest in them, except for a few things I think are cool. Music, different musicians I like, and so I guess that’s it.

But you have tons of energy, put out so many records, and your energy on stage?

It’s just from liking what I do, I guess.  Liking it. If it’s a live thing, then you also get the energy from the crowd. So if they’re going nuts then you get to go more nuts.

Bloodshot Bill Guitar Boy

You seem to be entrenched in 50s music, style and subculture. If you could travel back in time to that time what would be the first thing you would do?

Go shopping!  Find all the cool stuff I have to dig for nowadays. Even if it’s clothes, gear, or guitars, whatever. Meeting people, going to shows, all that stuff.

What fascinates you about retro signs?

I don’t know, they’re just cool, they don’t make them like they used to kind of thing.

And I know I saw you had some garage sales over the summer?

Well because I moved and I’m a super amazing hoarder. I travel a lot to so it makes finding things and finding things easy. That’s one of the fun things about going on the road. What’s in this town, and what’s in that town.

Do you ever have problems bringing stuff back?

No, as long as it can fit in the car I’ll take it. But I  did  find pieces of signs that I couldn’t take back and I was kind of bummed about that. But I usually find small things that I can fit in the car. So back to when we were moving, I was just like, how am I going to move all this stuff, I have so much stuff, I can get rid of this stuff, I had so much so I was kind of panicking. I was like okay, I’ll sell some of these guitars and I just got flooded with emails in 15 minutes, while I was packing and I couldn’t answer all these things, so I just answered like the first email. A guy came over and he bought a guitar and I just didn’t bother answering the others, maybe later I’ll do a garage sale or something.

So you still have a lot of stuff?

Yeah, out of all that stuff I only sold one guitar, really cheap too. But at my last show, I don’t know if that’s what you are talking about. I did a little purge of some clothes and comics. I didn’t bring too much stuff because I had to bring my gear also.

That’s an interesting concept.

It worked out good! It worked out good! I’ll try and do that more.

It’s a great way to get rid of stuff.

Way way too much stuff.

Do you drive to most of your show, like in the US?

I fly and I drive. I have kids now so I don’t do crazy long cross country drives.

With your family now it must be harder to go out and tour?

I kind of keep it at two weeks tops if I do go out, and that’s rare even. And I try to keep it to weekends, so if’s its somewhere far I’ll fly.

Do you have any favorite places you like to play? I know you play a lot of clubs, festivals, parks?

In the summer I do like playing outdoors, that’s always fun. Festivals, I like the outdoor ones, there’s this one I do every year in Bloodshot Bill at New England Shake-upMassachusetts called the New England Shake Up, that’s a lot of fun, my friend puts it on, so I been doing the pre-party. And during the festival if a band cancelled we’ve been filling in, but there’s all sorts of different ones. But it’s weird, I find I’m able to play these sort of rockabilly festivals, and these other different ones, like if you categorize me as a rockabilly band I play festivals that other rockabilly bands wouldn’t…

Like a folk festival?

I did play a folk festival last year. You know you hear about a folk festival but not all the bands are folk bands. Like a blues festival, not all the bands are blues. The jazz fest in Montreal, perfect example, they’re not all jazz bands.

Are there any cities or places that are more into 50’s more than others, or in Europe?

I don’t know if it’s so much the cities, it’s just the crowd that puts on the show, or the festival that gears it toward that crowd. Europe definitely has a lot more festivals than North America, more for that kind of stuff.

Bloodshot Bill Out the DoorSo what’s your typical set up and has it changed over the years?

A guitar, an amp and a drum, when I’m playing alone, it’s the drum and the high hat.  I read reviews where it’s like, “Bloodshot Bill playing harmonica” and stuff like that, I’m like, what, no, I never played that, they probably think cause I’m a one man band I have a harmonica. I think they kind of think, he had a maraca in his sock, or something, or a harmonica, or whatever. They just figure you’re trying to play so many things.

They just have a great imagination.

Or they’re just not watching, maybe they hear that, I don’t know, it’s kind of funny. But I keep it pretty basic, I just keep it simple for myself, I don’t try to like…I’ve seen other one man bands who try to play a million things, it’s cool or whatever, but for me if music is about expressing yourself you don’t want to make it hard on yourself to do that.

Do you write lots of originals or do you do mostly covers?

I do a mix of both. On all my records, I do covers too, and originals.

So I know you mentioned having a lot of jobs before. Did you ever imagine yourself on a different path?

Sometimes doing what I do now, it’s all me, I don’t have a manager, I book myself and stuff like that so I really have to hustle a lot to make it work, so sometimes I’m like it would be so much easier if I had a fuckin 9 to 5 job but I think I’d just blow my brains out if I did after a while, you know. But with all the stuff I’m hoarding I think I’d like to open up my ideal shop, you know, selling junk! (laughs)

That’s cool!

Yeah it would be cool.

What’s  the emotion  most felt in 50s music?

I don’t know, the music I go for, even if it sounds inept to some people, it’s the enthusiasm maybe.

Bloodshot Bill I'm in Love

Are there more love songs?

I love ballads. On my records I put a lot of ballads but reviews of me, the things I read of me, it’s like “the wild man!” but I don’t think people know that I love ballads. But I think that it was a lot of teenagers playing this kind of music, and they had a lot of energy because they are young and it’s just the enthusiasm I guess.

Do you play for your daughter?

Yeah, I mean sometimes. She tells me to stop. (laughs) Stop She’s funny too.

Where do you spend time writing and practicing?  At home?

Yeah usually at home, in the basement or something in the winter.

Who are some of your main influences?

There’s so many but I always have my holy trinity, Hasil Adkins, Charlie Feathers, and Link Wray.

Kary once told me that there was a song you once wrote about her and Johnny (Bergeron/Crap)…How did  you come up with that?

Yeah, a long time ago, Johnny Crap.  I don’t know, I think we all used to hang out at Jailhouse. It was weird, they are still together and that’s great, but I think after a week of them knowing each other Johnny went and had her name tattooed on him and we were like, oh what, dude, hope it works out!  I guess it has worked out. I think that’s even a line in the song I think. “Johnny loves Kary, Kary loves John, wasn’t that a new tattoo on his arm, Johnny Crap!”  Haha something like that!

Wow, that’s so cute! What’s going on with some of your side projects?  The Tandoori Knights, The Ding Dongs?

Not much, those things just started out as…you know those guys, they don’t live in town anymore…

What about The FireJacks?

These were all recording projects. I get together with my friends, and it’s like – hey let’s record a song!  And then it’s another and another song and then we have enough to put something out. Tandoori Knights, we actually did do a tour. We might put out some more stuff.  The Ding Dongs, with Mark, we put out 2 albums and a single. We put out a bunch of stuff, with The Ding Dongs we played a bunch of shows, FireJacks – were these guys from the States, The Two Timin’ Three was the name of their band and we had plans to, they were always touring and I was always touring, so let’s tour together and we’ll put out an album, and then I got banned from the States like shortly after. And one of those guys that was in that band got in a motorcycle accident and died, yeah, so that never happened. We got to play one show.

So that whole banning in the States was because of paperwork?

Yeah..

And now you have the right papers? Do you have to pay for that?

Yeah, it’s a lot, it’s so stupid, for Canadians to play in the states you have to do all the paperwork to play, and wait, and gather all this information, but for Americans to come to Canada I could write them a note five minutes before they hit the border, and be like they’re coming to play, oK, and that’s it. Yeah it’s so stupid.

BloodshotBillThunderandLighteningThe look of your album covers are really cool looking. Who comes up with that?

Some of them I’ve done. The Norton stuff they take care of their stuff. I’ve loved that label forever so I’m like please do it, keep doing what you do, do it to my stuff cause I love you, I trust you.

Do you have a weirdest show you ever played?

I definitely do.  One time I played in this giant fridge, that was in Montreal, some art thing. One time also in Montreal in March they got me to play in the Old Port right by the water, and it was freezing, it was an outdoor 5 a 7, open bar, it was really  weird, like bad timing, like why are you doing this in the winter? Lots of weird shows. I just played with Mungo Jerry, I mean it wasn’t weird but it kinda made sense as I was watching his show, cause I only knew “in the summertime, when the weather gets hot…”, his hit song, but it seemed weird when my friend asked me to play it.

And what’s the show tonight, you got lined up?

Tonight I’m in a store, my friend’s store, Kitsch’n Swell, and they have a new sign and they’re having a party around it.

And who are the Hick-ups?

The Hick-ups are my latest band, I travel around a lot, but in the winter I’m home a lot, so I usually start a new band in the winter, this one I started a couple of years ago, it’s more like a traditional rockabilly sound, like a trio, 2 guitars and a bass, that’s what that is.

So did you listen to music early, like as a little kid?

Yeah, that’s when I got into rockabilly, was like my best friend in grade 1 or 2, he had an older brother who was into that so we kind got into it through that…he had a cousin too, an older cousin that even had a band, and I recently got to play with that guy too, which was kind of neat. He lives in Ottawa now. So that was an influence that  kind of steered me early on I guess.

So I was looking at your site and saw these cool promotions you did for a hamburger joint in a bowling alley…

Yeah that was on the south shore, they were introducing some new burger, they always have little restaurant in the bowling alley, and I love bowling and I love hamburgers so it was perfect. They were introducing this new burger called the Dégueu burger which is the disgusting burger as you know.

Bloodshot Bill closeup

With this brown sauce?

Yeah they had a sweet one and a spicy one and they were really good. The spicy one wasn’t spicy enough for me. But they wanted me to be the Colonel Sanders, the face of Wendy’s, the face of this burger, the Disgusting, so it was perfect, and they wanted me to write a song and we did a video.

And what about that restaurant, I never even heard of it, the Madrid?

Somebody asked me to write.. do you know this place? it’s on the Hwy 20 on the way to Quebec, it’s a truck stop and they had monster trucks and dinosaurs, but they were switching owners or selling it, so some of my friends in Granby were like let’s make a tribute album to Madrid, so I made that song, and made that crappy video just for the hell of it.

Oh, it’s so awesome!

I like it too! It’s short and funny.

Did they ever see it, like the owners, or anything?

I forget, I think one of them did, and they were just like – thanks!

 

Food’s not punk: Interview with Adam Gollner

Meet Adam Gollner. He’s the author of two celebrated non-fiction books, The Fruit Hunters, and the Book of Immortality. He used to be a music reviewer, ad sales guy, writer, and editor in chief of Vice Magazine. These days, he is a much-envied food and travel journalist. But when I first met him, two decades ago, he was the guitarist in the bratty, obnoxious, yet revered Montreal garage band, The Spaceshits. He also went on to play in the nederlander band The Hot Pockets. Adam Gollner is a cool guy to know and be friends with, he is a knowledgeable and experienced music fan, and he is amazingly talented at what he does – writing about the stories he hears and learns about from traveling and experiencing life in food, life in culture, life in life and/or life in death.  It was fun  doing  this interview with him and it was great seeing him after such a lengthy span of time .

By Samia

So the last time I saw you, you were in The Spaceshits. That was like 20 years ago?

Yeah, probably 20 years ago, maybe a little bit less. 1996, 1997? I don’t remember the exact dates but it was somewhere around there.

When did you guys break up?

Let’s see. We started when I was like 18 or something. I think we were already playing together in around 1994. My band the Maury Povitch 3—that was Arish, Danny and I, and we were all in The Spaceshits also—already existed in 1994, so The Spaceshits probably already existed then as well. I’m pretty sure that the Spaceshits started shortly after we started the Maury Povitch 3. We can probably verify these dates online somewhere; there’s probably some site that has the dates for the releases. And as far as when we broke up: well, I left the band in the winter of 1998, the year of the ice storm.

You left first, right?

Yeadam gollner w the spaceshitss, I left after our US tour with The Dirtys. We’d moved to Vancouver—I don’t know if you remember that chapter. We went and recorded a second album in San Francisco that never got released.

With who?

With Greg Lowery from the Rip Offs and Supercharger. He “produced” it. But I’ve never heard it. He kept the tapes, or claims that the recording device didn’t work or something. After that session, we did a tour with the Dirtys that ended on a very negative note. It involved Mark from the Dirtys, their guitar player. It was in Kentucky, and the Dirtys had been hanging out and partying all day with some friends of theirs at a strip club. By the time the concert started, they were out of their minds. Mark Dirty was playing my guitar—I don’t know what had happened with his guitar, but on the tour he was playing my guitar. And that night, he started playing it naked. And at one point he rolled over backwards and accidentally broke the neck right off the guitar. It had been a tense tour before that, but when my guitar snapped, a conflict arose between him and Mark from the Spaceshits. Mark Dirty came over to me and was apologetic, saying he would pay for it, buy me a new one, you know? But Mark Spaceshit was upset about it. Their argument escalated fast and then Mark Spaceshit said, “We’re leaving, the tour is over.” But I obviously had to stay with The Dirtys to recoup my money for the broken guitar. So my bandmates left. They ended the tour. The rest of the Spaceshits left that evening to drive back to Montreal and I stayed there, in Kentucky. I then headed to Detroit with the Dirtys and had to hang out there for a few cold days until Mark Dirty could scrape enough money together somehow to repay me for the broken guitar. In that time that I was in Detroit, The Spaceshits decided that their narrative had changed from “The tour is over and we’re driving home to Montreal” to “Adam abandoned us.” I guess they decided to keep playing the rest of the concerts once The Dirtys were no longer part of the tour? This was before the era of cell phones and email, so it was hard to communicate. We only played one more show after that point, maybe two. I reconnected with them in Rhode Island after taking a bus there from Detroit.

So that was the end!

Yeah that was kinda the end. The breaking point. The guitar snapped; they left; I went to Detroit. We played one more concert in Montreal and it was bad vibes. It had been bad vibes for quite a while. There was a lot of negative energy in our little unit there. And so I left the band and went on with my life.

What did you do after that? What brought you to becoming a writer and journalist?

When we got home from that tour, it happened to be the winter of the big ice storm in 1998. It was a tough time. No matter how emotionally advanced you may be, it’s hard to lose your close friends. It’s hard to break up with people who are like your family. My band-mates were my tight friends, and we were finished. Danny was always chill, and Yat-chi was generally easy going. Arish was very influenced by Mark: they’ve had an interesting psychodrama together that has played out over the years. I remember I got home and that ice storm happened, and there was no heat in the freezing middle of winter. Nobody had any electricity, for like 5 days. I remember sleeping in a mall because some shopping centers had generators and people were going there with sleeping bags. It was such a low point. Life has ups and downs, but that was definitely a time of despair, and uncertainty. Something needed to happen. I had a friend in Paris who was working as a babysitter and she was like ‘come here and stay with me.’ So I did. We lived in this studio apartment on Rue de la Roquette with no bathroom or kitchen, just a room with a bed. The Dirtys came to Europe and played some concerts, and I tagged along with them for a bit in Scandinavia. Their tour manager and I ended up hitting it off. He wanted to play music and I had all these songs written, so we managed to record some songs together in Holland. Our band was called The Hot Pockets.

That’s right, I read you recorded some songs for a week.

Yeah I didn’t live in Holland, I just went there to record. They managed to get, I don’t know exactly what we recorded on, a 4 track or something. That’s the hard thing as a musician: it’s kind of tough to record your stuff unless you’re good at engineering. A band is such a coming together of various different skills and attributes and abilities, passions too, and it helps to work with someone who is good at recording, or have someone into that aspect be part of the band. Either way, I was never that good at it. But the other Hot Pockets managed to get the recording equipment together and I had a lot of songs and they had some songs, and that collaboration ended up being a way to get those songs done, get them completed. Some of the songs were songs I wrote while I was in The Spaceshits for our second album that never came out. One of our songs was about the street I lived on in Paris. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNtntuUblKQ]

 

Adam Gollner with the hot pockets
Adam in the Hot Pockets

So that was The Hot Pockets.

That project was just a fun thing to do, it was never serious. But that entire style of music never seemed overly serious to me. I think maybe that’s why things were complicated in The Spaceshits’ dynamic. I always thought our type of punk music was supposed to be kind of fun, young and dumb. It was anti-commercial, and anti-success, but it was also silly. I mean we were called The Spaceshits—what do you think? It was stupid. It shoulda been fun and magical, and it was at the beginning, but it became kind of… dark, I guess? Egos are like that. So at the same time we were recording with The Hot Pockets, I started writing more and more. I’d written about music in college. Danny, Arish and I all met in CEGEP, the three of us. Arish and I, we wrote music reviews together, for the student newspaper at Marianopolis. It was called The Paper Cut. We would review new releases and we’d write things like ‘If you don’t like this album then your life is as pointless as capitalism.’ Right around that time, by coincidence, a thing called Vice magazine started. There was this cultural newspaper starting up, and they were like “Oh you write about music? You should write about music for us.”

How did you meet the guys from Vice?

It began with Suroosh Alvi, who was starting a free newsprint monthly magazine. I met Suroosh through Rupert Bottenburg, who at the time had been organizing Comix Jams. My bands would play concerts at his Comix Jams, and Rupert would photocopy his comix zines on my mom’s photocopy machine in the basement in our home. Rupert was a slightly older guy at the time we met. I was probably 17, going to concerts with fake ID—Bad Brains, L7, Fugazi, that kind of thing. I often saw Rupert at those shows, and we’d end up on the 211 bus home after midnight. So on some snowy night in like 1993 or 1994 Rupert introduced me to this guy Suroosh who was starting a free newspaper. Rupert told him that I write about music for my student newspaper, and Suroosh asked me to write for them as well. That’s how it happened. I wrote some stuff in that very first issue: Issue 0, Volume 0 of The Voice of Montreal, as it was called then. They changed the name to Vice a few years later. I’m pretty sure our band played at the launch party. I think it was The Maury Povitch 3, not the Spaceshits. I remember the concert was at Stornaway Gallery, where we played often, at Comix Jams and on other nights, both as the Spaceshits and as The Maury Povitch 3.

You were already writing when you were in The Spaceshits?

I wrote as a kid also. My mom was an English professor then and she is still an editor and publisher, as well an author. So she was always encouraging me to write. She enrolled me in some after-school creative writing classes at the library when I was a kid. I had always been writing. But I guess a turning point was at college when my art history teacher took me aside one day and said, ‘You’re able to write, just so you know. I look at a lot of essays and your writing is different from other student essays.’ And I was just a total stoner who would spend very little time on homework but she was saying that I can write even though I clearly put no effort into it. That art history professor made me realize that writing was something I was able to do. So basically that teacher led to the student newspaper led to Vice – and I wrote stuff for The Spaceshits of course at that time also.

Wasn’t your moniker in The Spaceshits Gold Tongue? Why did you get that nickname?

Yes, one of my nicknames was Tommy the Tongue, or Tongues, probably because I was the one who usually spoke with and corresponded with record label people for the band. And I wrote our press releases, that sort of thing. But I had many nicknames. Every release for The Spaceshits I used a different name: Johnny Bigwolf Littlejohn, Mister Shampoo, Goner, Adam The Pocket Rocket Richard. We all did. Like Arish, now King Khan, used to be Blacksnake. I used lots of pseudonyms when writing at Vice too: Convulvulus Gondola, Hankie Herbcock, Glenda Molar and other anagrams like that. It was just the way things were. I still have a bunch of nicknames today.

And you continued writing when you lived in Paris?

Yes, I wrote some blurby things for Time Out Paris; I don’t think I even had a byline in there. I was just using the magazine as a way to go to concerts for free. I then did the same thing in London with a rag called Footloose in London where strangely enough my editor turned out to have been in the 70s punk band The Boys, who wrote that amazing song “First Time.” There we were, two former punk guitarists working on a shitty free magazine. It’s like the setting for a bad 90s sitcom. I was 21 years old. He couldn’t believe I had ever heard of The Boys. They aren’t exactly a household name, but The Spaceshits—and even more so The Hot Pockets—were part of their lineage. I ended up writing a piece about The Boys for Ugly Things magazine, and they ended up getting back together and it’s all a nice memory now. I would love to have a pint with Matt Dangerfield again sometime. After that I moved back home and started writing for The Montreal Mirror, and continued to write for The Voice of Montreal, which became Vice, and just kept with it. That’s how the writing thing happened. It always seemed like a way to make money, weirdly. It began on a volunteer basis but after coming back from London I needed to try and make money somehow and writing was the way.

So you were the editor of Vice after that?

Yes, that happened in like 1999-2000.

That was just a progression, from being a writer?

Yeah, I’d had been writing for them, and being an editor is a way to earn a stable income, so I did it, for a while. I’d also been offered a job from Vice when I came back from that miserable US tour with The Dirtys, to sell ads for them. I’d sold ads for them in the past: I’d sold ads to places like Dischord records, and Merge records, for like $50 an ad. They would support the Voice of Montreal, I don’t think it was Vice yet. Either way, I would get paid a commission, like 15% or something. So I’d sell ads for Vice, and help them with distribution. Throughout those early years I’d also write for Vice but never really got paid for writing. I was like part of the team there. I’d be on the phone selling ads and they’d give me CDs and I would sell the CDs which is essentially how I made my living for a while. And then after that tour with The Dirtys ended, they offered me a stable job, a low-paying one, but a real one nonetheless. I think they offered me like $10,000 for 6 months guaranteed. It seemed like a lot of money at the time, but also like not that much money. And when you are young you can really live for nothing. But their offer was still somehow significant and they were like ‘You will make more money than that if you sell more ads as well,’ but I was like ‘No, I need to go to Paris and be a young person in Paris and let life happen.’ When I got back to Montreal, they were a little pissed that I had gone my own way and not taken their offer. But gradually I worked my way back into their good graces and they let me write stuff again for them, for free, of course. As I wrote more for them, I think they saw—just like that art teacher from college—that I was able to be an editor. I was submitting cleaner copy than what other writers gave them. I know that was the case because subsequently, when I became the editor in chief of Vice, I saw the garbage that people submitted. It was atrocious, such poor-quality writing. It was just unbelievable to me that anybody could give that in to a magazine.

So what did you do with those?

I would edit them. That was the job.

And rewrite them?

Yeah, there was a lot of rewriting going on there. They moved to New York at that point, when I became the editor, or they were still here in Montreal but on the cusp of moving to NY, and I remained the editor after they moved to New York. I’d been doing stuff with Vice online also, which was pretty early days of the Internet. I’d been editing feature articles before that for Vice, so becoming the editor in chief was kind of a progression.

Recently I saw a TV report you did on Viceland, Shroom Boom?

Yes, I’ve done a few things with them on video. What a mindblowing arc that company has had. They started out like nothing… how did that become this multibillion-dollar empire? Vice’s whole rise to a global media empire, one big reason that happened is because they started doing videos. They started turning their stories into videos and they were in NYC and they were great salesman and bit by bit the world just started throwing money at them for that. I have been in a small way a part of that progression as well, meaning I’ve done some stories as videos too. I’ve done a handful, like maybe 5 for them, a couple of which aren’t out yet.

Shroom boom with Adam Gollner

Recently?

Over the past few years, yes. I did one on the Grapple—an apple that tastes like artificial grapes. I did the Shroom Boom story about the subculture of morel mushroom harvesters in the burnt-out remains of forest fires in the Northwest Territories. There’s one on eating mammoth meat at the Explorers Club in NYC. I’ve done shoots with them in Tofino, Prince Edward County, and Kamouraska as well. Video is not necessarily my medium, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn how to do it. The documentary that I’m excited about the most is a feature-length piece about the seal hunt in Canada. We went to Newfoundland, the Magdalen Islands, and to Nunavut. We went out with Inuit hunters on a seal hunt in the middle of January. I wanted to just learn about their perspective on the story – to speak with people who actually interact with seals, who hunt seals and live alongside seals, as well as interview animal rights groups who have been able to raise a lot of money trying to stop the hunting of seals. It’s a real conflict-driven story.

Yeah, I was going to say that a lot of things they do are like confronting issues and uncomfortable situations… is it hard to do that?

That’s part of what drives journalists, certainly, to get at issues that are emotional. What drives all writers is the desire to express the truth, to try and find the truth to the best of their ability. To engage with reality as it is.

Adam Gollner today

You have a pretty amazing job. You go out, write, travel, you meet interesting people. Do you love every part of that? What inspires you?

The idea of putting yourself into situations where you have to ask difficult questions or where you have to see two sides of a very messy debate — I do love that. It’s part of what I love. I’m not the most opinionated writer. I’m not a polemicist. I’m not interested in politics the way some people are. It’s not that I’m apolitical; it’s simply that my main interest is in human nature, in humans and nature. That’s my zone. What are we like, and what is the world like, how do we interact with it, and how does it work and who are we and what are we doing here? You know, those sorts of questions.

So you are more philosophical?

I think my strength is not in philosophical big questions. I learned that while writing The Book of Immortality. I’m better at describing things, concrete things, rather than abstract concepts. The Fruit Hunters is about actual objects that grow on plants that contain seeds – and I’m better at describing the experience of tasting those and desiring those than I am at articulating philosophical ambiguities.

Are you saying that your writing for The Fruit Hunters was more difficult than The Book of Immortality?

Writing is always tough, right? So to come back to your previous question in a circuitous way: do I love all the aspects of what my work is? There are aspects that I definitely love and aspects that are definitively amazing, but there are also aspects that are very laborsome and difficult. That’s the nature of it. There are times that I love the challenging parts, but getting it finished is hard, transcribing is hard, trying to get started is hard, trying to make a living is hard. There are a lot of hard things involved in writing. Just trying to stay with it and maintain your focus is hard. To keep chipping away at it and move the thing forward can be tough, but it can also be more gratifying than anything else.

How long did it take you to do your books, each of them?

Well The Fruit Hunters began in the winter of 2000 for me, and it only came out in 2008, and it only became real in the sense of a full-time pursuit in 2005. There were a few moments of it getting more real along the way—like I got a publishing contract in 2005. I got a Canada Council grant in like 2003. I sold an article to Air Canada’s in-flight magazine about fruit tourism around 2001 or 2002.

You sold an article?

I pitched an idea to them and they bought it. So Air Canada’s magazine sent me to Hawaii on a first-class seat to go fruit hunting. I couldn’t believe it. All of those things were like moments of the book coalescing. But in 2005 I got a contract from a publishing house to write the book. I didn’t know that that’s how it worked at the time, and maybe you don’t know how it works? Most people don’t. But if you are writing a book of non-fiction you sell the idea to the publishing house in a treatment, like you do a proposal that’s like 25 pages long, and you describe the whole book. A publisher buys that and hopefully gives you enough resources to write the book. That’s how nonfiction books get sold—you just don’t write the whole thing and sell it as you would in fiction.  Fiction is a little bit different, you write it first then hope… as far as I understand, I don’t write fiction, I would hope to one day, but I write nonfiction. So The Fruit Hunters came from an emotionally difficult place, much like the ice storm time there. It was two years later, and I had already moved out of that whole Spaceshits phase of my life, or was in a new one, but it was also a difficult time, as described in the beginning of The Fruit Hunters.

The Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith GollnerSo in the beginning you went to Brazil?

Yes, I was gonna go there and have a sunny vacation but reality is never that easy. Part of the reason I’m a writer is because of the need to try and process suffering and difficult situations. That’s kind of where it comes from, I guess. Sometimes it comes from wanting to celebrate the joyousness of life. Reality isn’t just difficulty and misery—but it involves that as well. It involves beauty and happiness, feelings of total exhilaration. I think writing is like that also. Writing is as painful as it is beautiful. You have to relish the good moments and you have to accept and work through the challenging moments and also recognize that one isn’t better than the other, they’re both just there and they are both meaningful. That’s kind of the key to sanity.

 So was The Book of Immortality harder for you to write?

Yeah, it was harder. The Book of Immortality was supposed to happen in a more condensed way, but they both took a long time. The Fruit Hunters gestated for a number of years. I got this Canada Council grant three years after the idea came to me,

And went and spent a few months researching it in South East Asia, and then came home and thought about it and developed it for another year and a half. Only then did I in earnest begin writing it.

When you say writing, does that include you going off and talking to people?

Yes, that’s definitely the fun part of writing, for the most part. And even there, there are things that suck, I don’t know, you get some weird illness in a faraway place. I was just reading today a description from a writer friend of mine, she was in Mexico having this amazing trip but then she got a stomach flu from bad shellfish and spent two days barfing, and that is something that totally resonates with me. It is not something that invariably happens, but when you have great things in life you also have bad things. You have this dream trip to Yucatan but then you eat a bad oyster and are ill for two days, life is like that. Or my friend John, this photographer I work with sometimes, he was just in Jamaica. We were in Jamaica together on an assignment like 5 years ago, but he went back a few weeks ago and stayed where we had stayed. It’s this amazing place where you jump off a cliff into the ocean, eat great food, and it’s very mellow, lots of pot. Anyways, he went back and got all these terrible insect bites. Classic! I know I’m not answering this question well. Before I even really got serious about writing it, The Fruit Hunters was five years thinking about it, sort of working on it, doing an article here, a Canada Council proposal there, keeping notes and reading and being really excited about the idea, being obsessed with it, learning everything I could about fruits, and loving that and feeling like it made life make so much sense. It was like the way that maybe punk rock had made sense, when I had been obsessed with punk music. I realized then that there are so many other things like that. When we were in The Spaceshits, we had such a narrow worldview. The only things that really mattered were these punk records, garage records, and everybody else was wrong, nobody else knew what was really important. And then I realized that there were people in the fruit world who were like that with fruits and I found that so fascinating. Like why do people get that way? Why do they become so focused on a certain thing? But a thing like that can make life make sense. And that happened to me also, that’s what was going on for those five years and then I got a book contract. Then I had to deliver a finished manuscript in two years, and that’s when it got serious.

Serious?

Serious in the sense that you have a real deadline—you go from having a crazy dream vision to executives in the Rockefeller Center who are paying you a lot of money. It starts being stressful. You have to fucking deliver that thing. The Book of Immortality was harder because I didn’t have that time where I could just think about it., as I had done with The Fruit Hunters. As soon as I finished The Fruit Hunters my agent was like ‘you have to sell another idea before that first book comes out, you have to get another treatment done and get another book contract before it comes out.’ So I was contractually supposed to get The Book of Immortality done in like two years. But about two years in, I was like ‘I don’t even know what this book is, I don’t even know what I am doing, I’m still figuring it out.’ It ended up taking five years.

the-book-of-immortalityWhere were you at two years?

I had like a rough draft that was real messy. It was really half-baked and I was just starting to find the story. At that point, we were in a recession, and book publishing went through a massive transformation where a lot of people in print media got laid off. I don’t know if you remember, but print media in 2005 was a very different thing compared to 2009. A lot of people lost their jobs.

A lot of things were just going online…

Yeah, they were in the middle of trying to figure it out. They still are. But 2009 was a real brutal moment in what we would call traditional media. Like Gourmet magazine, where I had become a correspondent, got shut down in 2009. The record industry, the film industry, all these industries were realizing that the paradigm had shifted. They are still trying to make sense of it all. But back then it was like, ‘whoa, everything has gone online.’ The online world destroyed the traditional infrastructure of how money is generated for these creative industries. Most people don’t buy music anymore, right? Crazy. Some people will pay for iTunes but most people don’t pay for iTunes, right? That was that moment of the deep realization that we had entered a new era in which people were just going to consume things for free and not pay for it anymore, which is still generally the age that we’re in. And Vice was always free, so they anticipated that, in a way. Most people now don’t pay for newspapers, they just go check it out online. It’s the same for magazines. Some people still pay, but by and large these media industries are still figuring out how to evolve. So in the midst of that 2009 shakeup, I was freaking out, real late with a book. It was a time when publishing houses were cancelling contracts and asking for advances to be paid back. It was the “real dark days of publishing,” as they say. Part of what made writing The Book of Immortality harder was the feeling of intense pressure coming at me from the people who had given me money to do it. I remember going to New York and feeling like the city is such a bone crusher, like it wants to chew up your bones in its teeth and grind them to a powder and just eat your bones. It’s a feeling you might have when dealing with people who have given you enough money to live on for two years, and you’ve spent all that money, and then they’re saying ‘ok, give us that money back,’ and you’re like ‘well what am I going to do?’ Then you have to conjure of all these scenarios for how to survive. Luckily they did not cancel the contract. They let me finish the book. They fired my editor shortly before the book was completed, so at that final moment of finishing it I didn’t have an editor. It was hard. Those were hard things. To generally just be lost in the story is a beautiful thing, you know. It’s beautiful to be lost in a story and try to find your way—but not if you have people essentially threatening you with bankruptcy in the middle of it. Anyway, I survived. I came out on the other side.

Are you happy with it?

Yeah, I’m proud of the fact that I got it done. I don’t think a writer knows how to judge their own work. I learned that my value system is taking however long it takes to do something properly rather than rushing to completion. It would have been great to have even more time with it. If I could go back there are things I would change about it. I think it’s a complicated book to read.

Complicated?

Well I imagine that it’s not an easy read. I mean, I don’t know, I haven’t read it, I just wrote it.

Is that what you got from reviews?

Not really. Reviews were generally positive. It could have been shorter, and could have been edited tighter, but I lost my editor at the end.

Well I really enjoyed both your books.

Thank you, I really enjoyed aspects of them and really struggled with other aspects of them, and I’m proud of them both. I’m proud that I did them. I love writing. I’m about to start another book, but I decided that with this one I would not force it out fast, but that I’d think about it, I’d research it and do it kind of like The Fruit Hunters where the first years are not under contract to a publishing house. I think that my timing is that it takes just a few years to think about a book, and then it takes a few years to write it, and so that’s what I decided to do this time.

Are you still figuring out the story?

Yeah, I generally have a pretty good idea of what it is, and I’ve been researching it, but I’m not going to tell you what it’s about, because then it’s going to become a whole 15-minute confused thing. I can’t quite articulate it yet, I’m in the middle of trying to articulate it. I’m trying to write that treatment now. It feels like an exciting project, something I’m excited to do.

And while you are doing that are you doing other things? You’ve been traveling a lot…

Yes, that is how I’ve made my living since The Book of Immortality. I’ve had a good few years as a travel writer. A lot of food and travel writing, that intersection there. And I have managed to be lucky with it, even though I had to work hard and push myself to keep trying to sell ideas. Freelance writing is a different ballgame than writing books. The way it works is that you need to put out a lot of ideas, pitch a lot of ideas and hope that editors will take them. Because of the fact that I’ve done two books, plus my previous journalistic experience, at least editors have been open to hearing the ideas. There’s a lot of ideas I put out that they did not buy, but there’s also been a bunch that have been bought, so I’ve been doing that.

With different magazines?

Yes, I’m a freelance journalist these days, mainly travel writing and food writing. But the kind of food writing I do means there’s almost always travel involved in it. And that seems to have been a big thing that’s also been… to go back to the punk rock thing, the way we were obsessed with punk rock—those same sort of things seems to have happened in the food world. A lot of qualities of the music world have been transposed onto the food world, weirdly. I should mention, because we’re doing this interview for Gravyzine, a few years ago, a musician friend of mine started a food zine here in Montreal called Gravy also. From music to food. It’s like the way people used to be obsessed with 7” singles has happened with eating certain dishes or eating at certain restaurants.

You mean for anybody, or for you?

For a lot of people. A lot of people want to go and “experience” food in the way that a lot of people used to want to go to concerts, it seems to me. People today love food in a way that was totally inconceivable in the 90’s. It may have something to do with the fact that music has become so digital, and immaterial. But at the time when we were into punk rock, the idea that somebody would be into food was unthinkable. There was no such thing as a foodie. To be “into food” was not cool in the least. It wasn’t even conceivable. That outsiderness was in part what attracted me to writing The Fruit Hunters. I remember I went to a magazine store and I saw something called Gourmet magazine and another one called Scientific American. I was like ‘what magazines do normal people buy?’ And I realized that people buy food magazines and science magazines. I found the intersection of those two worlds to be so interesting. I had no idea you could write about food or that you could write about science, and I kinda set out to do both with The Fruit Hunters. But now everybody is so into food, it seems odd to even point it out. Like Instagram is mainly about food. Food has become such a big deal for people. Lives revolve around food.

So it’s sort of a coincidence that you went in that direction?

I just happened to be this guy that ventured down that path a little bit earlier than others. Like now Vice has this food channel called Munchies. In 1999, trust me, nobody in the orbit of Vice was even remotely interested in food. Now the music part of their empire is called Noisy, their news vertical is Vice News, and Vice Food is basically called Munchies. The documentaries I’ve done have mainly been with Munchies.

I read one where you went to Cuba.

Yes, that was a written article for Vice magazine proper, although the assigning editor on that story is the head of Munchies. Actually, that reminds me of an interesting comment I saw recently, when Munchies hired a west coast editor in Los Angeles. He’s this pop-punk East Side Vato Loco Chicano dude. And when they hired him, he was quoted as saying ‘What’s more punk rock than getting paid to write about food?’ I remember thinking: ‘Food writing is not punk rock.’ But then again, the world has changed, and we live in the world now where a young punk rock music lover can also be a food lover and can believe that writing about food is the most punk rock thing that he could possibly do. I don’t exactly agree. I think that most writing about food involves telling people with disposable income how to spend it, unfortunately. But yes, sometimes it can be a way into a culture, into identity, and into bigger questions. And sometimes it can even have political ramifications, or at least political aspirations. I guess ‘punk rock’ can also mean following your own heart, doing what you would most love to do, not letting corporations dictate your path. So I guess, sure, food and travel writing can fall into that category, but with some caveats.

You know that right next to where CBGB used to be there is now a Daniel Boulud restaurant called DBGB? Marky Ramone did a pasta dinner there not too long ago for like $75 a person. And someone recently told me about a pasta dish of malfadine with pink peppercorns that they described as being a “punk rock cacio pepe.” Um, how exactly is a pasta dish “punk rock?” They were like, “It’s different; it has a zing to it; it’s youthful and unexpected.” OK. These days you see concert posters in Brooklyn promoting the fact that there will be “natural gamay” available by the glass.

 So what are the best restaurants in Montreal, what would you recommend?

I really like a place called Le Petit Alep near the Jean Talon market. I did a little article about them for Vice actually. [https://munchies.vice.com/en/articles/preserving-the-traditions-of-syrian-swimming-pool-cuisine.] The owners are Syrian, and when they were younger they would spend their summers in Aleppo and hang out at swimming pools. At those Syrian swimming pools, there was food that you could eat poolside. So they opened a restaurant that’s an homage to those dishes you get at swimming pools in Aleppo. I just love the restaurant. And it’s for young people, it’s cheapish, as far as restaurants go. Intentionally, they want it to be a place that’s affordable. They have a more expensive restaurant that’s called Alep next door that’s more sit down and formal, but the Petit Alep is more casual and cheap and there’s this incredible story behind it. Part of what I love about it is that I always loved eating there, but when I found out that backstory it made me love them even more. They’re an example of how food can sometimes be a way into a culture. Probably the biggest crisis and tragedy of our age has been the civil war in Syria for the past 5 years now, with all the refugees that have spilled over into the rest of the world. It’s the reason Europe is freaking out, Brexit, Trump, all of that… But there goes my tendency to take things too far. My point is: sometimes something as simple as a restaurant can help you make sense of the world. You go there and you learn about what they’re doing and you realize what’s happening in the world today. So I love that place. I go to Le Petit Alep often. I love a place called L’Express, it’s a real Parisian bistro type place. It feels like Paris, but it’s on St-Denis. It’s simple food, it’s not fancy. But it’s French food, bistro food. I don’t know, I often get Banh-mi sandwiches next to the Jean Talon market, at a little place called Marché Hung Phat. It’s $4 for a sandwich. I go there often. There’s a new little taco place that I like called Impact Tacos, 4 tacos for $5. But on Wednesdays it costs $4 for 4 tacos, I think. One of the restaurants that people travel here to experience is Joe Beef and they have a little sister restaurant called Vin Papillion. It’s like a natural wine bar. What’s happening in the world of natural wines is also very similar to punk rock in the sense that there are all these people trying to work their land in an honest way, no bullshit, no chemicals, no preservatives. They’re just trying to get to the true expression of the land. And who knows how it’s even going to get sold and how does it not go off and become all freaky? They’re generally not trying to conform to anything, although of course there are followers and innovators and detractors, just like in the punk world. But the world of natural wines is an interesting one in that it consists of people who are mainly saying fuck the system, let’s do things our own way, let’s do things in the most honest way possible.

 So are you writing about that?

I haven’t written too much about that but I love wine, and I find natural wines to be very interesting. It’s a new movement.

Where are the natural wines being made?

Mainly France and Italy. There are some people doing it everywhere though, like in Ontario, California, Republic of Georgia. It’s a grassroots movement in some ways. One of the stories I’ve been interested in is the way that humans first started making wine. Like how did that happen? And why is it that religions are linked to that? Why is wine used when people go to church—why do you drink the blood of Jesus as wine, what is that? Why is that? Something so obvious: what is the reason behind it, how did it come to be? That’s one of the things I started thinking about in The Book of Immortality, within the idea of nature transforming and all of that. It turns out winemaking began at the time when humans stopped being nomadic and settled down into agriculture. It begins near Turkey and Armenia, Iran, the Republic of Georgia, Azerbaijan. That area is where it started, over into Greece and Macedonia. It had to have been somewhere there, all the archeological finds that are like 6000-8000 years old are from that vicinity. And it’s interesting that it is such a war torn region, that it’s always been so contested. ISIS is not far off, the Kurdish peshmerga are right there, Syria’s next door. And the bible says that Noah parked his ark on top of Mount Ararat and planted the first vineyard there. So my interest in natural wine connects to that historical side. There are people who are trying to make wine today like humans first did when they first started making wine. That’s punk rock. That’s like something else; that’s caveman shit. That is primitive in a genuine way. Wines from the Republic of Georgia—there are some really interesting ones. All they do is they dig these holes in the ground and they put these big clay vessels in the ground, so it’s like all you see in a wine making facility there is a hole in the ground. They put all their grapes in there and put a lid on it and that’s it. They just close it and then they come back a year later and it’s like grog, ready to go. They didn’t add anything or do anything, they just drink that. And that’s a real natural wine, in the Republic of Georgia. That’s cool to me, I’m interested in that for sure, I went to do a story there about that, which will hopefully come out soon. And it turns out they found this cave in Armenia, right next to Georgia, that is also crazy. [That story can be read here: http://www.saveur.com/world-oldest-winery-armenia.] I also did another cave-wine story in Crete, actually. It was one of the first stories I did after The Book of Immortality, as part of this travel/food beat I’ve been exploring. There’s a magazine called Lucky Peach, and they were supportive of me at that point. I think the editor realized how precarious my employment status was, and as I was finishing The Book of Immortality he gave me some assignments that helped me get the travel aspect of my writing going. I started by going to Crete. I ended up in a cave on a mountaintop for a party that these people were having in their village. It was a harvest party where they make their first raki of the year. Do you know what raki is? It’s like grappa, a clear alcohol made with distilled grapes. The villagers were having a raki-making party that night, and as part of the party there was live traditional folk music in the cave. It sounded kind of like the Troggs, but with a lyre-player, and there was this guy playing an Eastern-sounding fiddle over the pulsating rhythms. And all these old people were dancing this weird beautiful slow skeleton dance. I remember thinking that their music is what a lot of punk rock wants to be, like music that is played in a cave on the top of mountain during a harvest party. I found it way more punk rock than the Cro-Mags or any of that stuff that fetishizes the primitive but isn’t really in touch with the past in any way. A true Cro-Mag was just an early human, a Cro-Magnon. And the name Troggs comes from troglodytes, as in those ancient beings who lived in caves. The Troggs were such a foundational early garage rock band, in the way they were reaching out toward some imagined past. In Crete, I felt like I’d ended up in a modern-day version of a cave-using culture that has managed to stay in touch, somehow, with humanity’s earliest roots. [That story can be read here: www.adamgollner.com/file_download/47/crete.pdf.]

Were there any scary situations when you were traveling? Are you ever confronted with situations that are uncomfortable?

Yeah, uncomfortable happens often. Scary – infrequently. The situation in the Fruit Hunters, when I went to Cameroon, is fully described in the book. That was a little bit scary, but it was also fun. I had to pay a bunch of bribe money throughout that evening to corrupt members of the military, and that’s never enjoyable.

 When writing the Book of Immortality were you often hit with the realization of your own mortality?

Strangely, it’s like when something hurts: if you focus on what it is rather than turning away from it, then it doesn’t really hurt that much. If you are in an experience of pain and you decide to actually just feel the pain, it tends not to be that bad. It’s more our apprehension—the fear of the pain—that is worse. It’s the fear of dying that bothers us but actually dying doesn’t seem to be that bad. I don’t know if that’s a proper answer but that’s what I was thinking throughout much of the writing process. I wasn’t in a terrible state of being afraid of dying.

Did you end up looking at things differently after you wrote that book?

Yeah, definitely. I tried to explain how at the end of the book, I’m not sure I can articulate it now though. I feel that there’s so much we can’t know and we don’t know. I’m grateful I’m not trying to figure that one out anymore.

You’re writing is pretty funny, you have parts that are humorous and witty, so have you always been that way?

I’m a goofball. Somebody I was speaking with recently used the word ‘wacky’ to describe themselves, and I thought, “yeah I’m also kind of wacky too.” I make a lot of bad jokes. I try to see things in a lighthearted way whenever possible, but obviously a lot of comedy comes from a difficult place, sometimes. Many great comedians aren’t the easiest-going people. Like Louis C.K is a hilarious comedian but his comedy is so brutal it is almost self-immolating. But that’s where his humor comes from. I don’t think I’m that brutal a person.

But you notice things…

Being observant, I can’t help it. It’s a blessing and a curse, definitely.

What are some top experiences throughout the course of your writing?

One of the themes throughout this conversation is that, in life as in art, there are a lot of peaks and valleys. Peak experiences: you have to enjoy them while they last. It’s brief. For example, it was really fun to go to David Copperfield’s private island. Leaving the island was a real great feeling, having been there and being on the way home with my friend, I remember I couldn’t stop laughing. There are great moments when you laugh, but that’s not to say that moments that are more emotionally complicated are not just as valid. In fact, they’re often more powerful. Experiences at the bottom are also important and I’m grateful for those times as well. Those often are where this all comes from. I don’t want to just run away from those things, I want to allow them to be as real as the moments of joy and pleasure.

So what are you listening to these days?

Let’s see… (We walk over to Adam’s record collection and he rifles through his albums.) Well I’ve been loving John Fahey, this guitar player. He’s unbelievable. The Pagans, I still love “Street Where Nobody Lives”, and “Eyes of Satan” is really fun to listen to. I put this on recently – The Best of Sam Cooke  — he’s the best. And Francoise Hardy, of course. I’ve been really liking this German music that happened maybe around the same time in the 1970s that punk rock was happening, I guess sometimes they call it Krautrock or Komische music, but there’s a bunch of that stuff that I’ve been really loving, particularly Edgar Froese and Cluster. There’s an album by Cluster with Brian Eno that is like, whoa what is this music? One of the musicians in Cluster was named Roedelius, and some their records are done at like the exact same time as punk rock stuff in 1976, 77, 78, but it was of course a very different scene. I have an album where Iggy Pop and David Bowie thank Roedelius, or the other way around, so they were aware of each other…

So you listen to a lot of old stuff.

Yeah, mainly what I do is go through these records I accumulated in my twenties.

And now you are rediscovering them.

Yeah, it’s a library here. Thank you Adam, age 25. This a new album: Joanna Newsom, Divers. Do you know her?

No.

It’s not punk rock, it’s like harp music. It’s no Alice Coltrane, but it’s pretty powerful.

Where do you buy your records from?

When I buy new music, which is pretty rarely, I go to Phonopolis on Bernard cause it’s just down the street. There’s also that store on St. Denis and Pine, Disques Beatnik, but I don’t go very often, I went record shopping like maybe two times last year and no times this year. I also have all this stuff that I don’t really listen to so I’m trying to go through it and listen to it all. Oh I really love Jonathan Richman, too.

Oh, of course.
Always. Blues – I’ve been listening to some good blues, do you know a guy named Junior Kimbrough? He was from Mississippi, not the Delta, the hill country, near Oxford, he has this album, I think it’s called All Night Long, but it’s amazing, check out the song “Meet Me in the City.” It’s crazy that he was doing stuff at the same time as The Spaceshits. I remember seeing R.L. Burnside in Montreal in the 90s. He was like “I drink Bud cuz it makes you wiser.” And I just saw his grandson Cedric Burnside play an amazing concert in Clarksdale, Mississippi a few months ago.

So just changing topics from music to fruit: after The Fruit Hunters, what’s the tastiest fruit you tried or your favorite fruit?

I really like this thing called the ice cream bean which is from Ecuador in the Amazon, somewhere around there. It’s like a really long thick green bean almost the size of a baseball bat, just a little smaller, and you open it and it’s got all this cotton candy type fluffy stuff inside of it. They say it takes like vanilla ice-cream diffused through cotton candy-like veins. Like the cream is inside the filaments of the fruit’s cloud-like substance. You bite into it and it’s got the sensation of having vanilla ice cream in it, somehow. It’s a bit weird, and you have to get it at the peak of ripeness for it to really taste right. I also really enjoy a good pear. Yellow kiwis are a fruit I like. Have you ever had a yellow kiwi? They’re kind of around, in stores. They’re a good fruit.

Can you get them at the Jean-Talon market?

Yeah, you can get them there at a place called Chez Nino. A yellow-fleshed kiwi. I think it costs like a buck twenty-five a kiwi, but it’s worth it. You cut it in half and eat it with a spoon. It’s great.

 You don’t eat the skin?

No. I also like honeycrisp apples a lot. A good honeycrisp from Quebec is pretty good.

I had some good macintosh apples recently. They were very red, like rosy red, and the inside was also like veins of red. They were so good…

That’s great, I love that feeling.

So do you think that one day we will be a society of cyborgs, do you think that’s actually possible?

I guess it’s possible; anything’s possible. I hope we won’t be, I definitely don’t know. Who could have predicted the Internet? Cyborgs, god, I hope not. I don’t want to be a machine. I like real things.

So The Fruit Hunters movie, Bill Pullman, is he playing you?

It’s interesting, but he’s only in the movie a bit, right? He’s not there throughout. So I don’t think he’s playing me. He’s playing himself. Bill also loves fruits, he’s a fruit lover. The documentary is its own thing. But I will say that when I met Bill the first time, I had the sensation that he was an actor who was trying to figure out what I’m like, in order to get into the role. He was sort of scrutinizing me, in a friendly, professional thespian way. I remember he did this amazing thing in real life that he also does in Independence Day. You know when he’s the president, and he kind of gives the thumb’s up to everyone in that movie? He does that in real life too. And after meeting him, I ended up doing it too, giving that presidential thumbs up to people. I enjoyed that transference. Bill is so funny, a real sweet and genuine person.

Kickass Kuties’ miss cutie herself, Lisa Petrucci!

Visitng the Something Weird  table was always one of the highlights of going to the Chiller Theatre Expo in NJ.  Mike Vraney and Lisa Petrucci were always so friendly and just about the cutest couple around.  And that’s where I discovered Lisa’s adorable and very nostalgic Kickass Kuties art.  I remember buying a tank top with a little devil girl on it, a little change purse with a little leopard gal on it and some stickers of various Kutie characters.  I still use that change purse till this day and will always hold it dear. I kept those stickers safe in their little paper baggie hidden away for years and would love to take them out and look at them once in a while like a secret treasure.  And then I started sticking them places, which led to their wearing out due to the elements and such, so I will have to replenish my stock. I also hope to one day own one of her beautiful paintings.  For me, Lisa’s art takes me back to my childhood, to the cherished big eyed blond and brunette paper dolls I played with and loved so much and still remember so vividly.  It’s wonderful to be able to connect with that child inside you, and I think that Lisa’s art does just that, for me, and perhaps for others who also enjoy heavy bouts of nostalgia, and certainly as you will read below, for Lisa  herself!

death-maiden-a-gogoYour art is so darn cute, hence the name, Kickass Kuties. Was there ever something you tried to paint that you couldn’t make cute?
Ha! I guess making things cute just comes naturally now. I don’t think I’ve tried to paint anything other than in that style. Even my creepy and sexy subjects are cute!
What was the first doll you ever got as a kid, that you remember dearly and had a fascination for, and how old were you?
I vividly remember having Liddle Kiddles dolls during the mid-1960s. There’s actually a photo of me clutching a Liddle Kiddle in my tiny fist outside our house in Ipswich Mass. I must have been 3 or 4 years old.  They were my favorite dolls then and still are! Liddle Kiddles were the original inspiration for my Kickass Kuties.
What was the first Kickass Kutie, or other series character, you ever painted?
Some of the earliest paintings I did during the early 1990s featured Kimba the White Lion. When I moved to Seattle in 1994 I began incorporating Liddle Kiddles and pin-up girls into my art. Probably the first official Kickass Kuties were two Bad Bunnies (wearing black and red onesies) with flames in the background. I was attempting to make lowbrow art that appealed to females.
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How long did it take you to find a style that you were comfortable with?  Can you talk about the evolution of your style?
I didn’t seriously start painting until around 1994. I had been dabbling with the idea of doing collages and decoupage plaques with cute, sexy and subversive imagery, but it was when I decided to paint on wood slabs that I found my groove and developed the style I’m known for now. 
 
bigtopbeautyHow do you get, or where do you get, the wooden backings for your paintings?
I find vintage decorative wood slabs that already have images decoupaged on them in thrift stores, flea markets and swap meets. I scrape off and sand down the surfaces and get them prepped to paint. Or if I run out, I get blank consumer wood slabs at the arts & crafts store, but these are inferior quality so I prefer to use the old found ones.
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Is there a series, or a type of Kutie, you tend to like painting more than others? Are there any you consider your faves?
 I prefer creating characters that have a retro feel to them, like 1950’s bad girls and 1960s sex kittens. Either big pin-up girls or pint-size Kickass Kuties. I also enjoy doing creepy monster-themed cuties too. And incorporating kitty cats. Some of my favorites are the Frankenkuties series and the ones based on spooky subjects and campy cult movies.
On your site you have a lot that are marked “private collection”. Does it ever happen that you’ll paint something and decide you love it too much to sell?
Private Collection just means that someone bought the painting, but prefers not to be credited or I don’t know or remember who bought the painting, (so I can’t give a proper credit)! There have only been a couple of paintings that I didn’t offer for sale. One is my Liddle Lisa self portrait. Others are ones that my late husband Mike Vraney wanted to keep for himself. But otherwise they were up for grabs!

lil_puffDo collectors tend to buy the Kuties that resemble them, and whatever the answer, what do you think about that, or why do you think that is?

Collectors definitely identify with some of the characters and imagery I’ve created. And over the years I’ve done custom commissions for fans, which are basically cute versions of them surrounded by things that they like.
miss_monster_ovalWhat do you think of girly toys and dolls that are made nowadays?  Is there anything that you like?
I kinda like the Monster High Dolls, but I’m pretty out of the loop these days. I have noticed that dolls and toys have gotten increasingly bigger eyes over the years reflecting recent trends in popular culture, so that pleases me.
 
How did you and Mike Vraney, the founder of Something Weird Video, meet?
We met at the Chiller Theatre Expo in 1993. Which is funny because that’s also where I met you and Sal Canzonieri! I actually interviewed Mike and legendary exploiteer, David F. Friedman, for an article I was writing about sixties sexploitation films. Mike said he fell instantly in love because I knew who Michael and Roberta Findlay were. haha
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How much had you been exposed to Exploitation Cinema before meeting Mike?
I’ve always liked horror films ever since I was a kid, but really got into exploitation movies in the 1980s when I started renting videos and reading the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film and Incredibly Strange Films books. I used to live in the East Village in NYC a few blocks from Kim’s Video and watched any oddball low-budget flick I could get my hands on. There was a big section of Something Weird videos at Kim’s Video, which is how I became acquainted with the company. I even worked at the Psychotronic Store in the East Village for a spell, so I was pretty immersed in exploitation film fandom before becoming involved with Something Weird.
 
Have you watched all of the videos that Something Weird has produced? Which films or which genres of the SWV collection are your favorites?
I have watched a lot of the Something Weird catalog but certainly not them all. However, I’m familiar with all the titles since I’m the one who puts together the catalogs and dvd covers, but I certainly don’t need or want to see everything we’ve ever released. My favorites are the Sixties Sexploitation films, especially the black & white New York roughies and films of Doris Wishman, Joe Sarno and the Findlays. Also the kooky regional Nudies by filmmakers like Dale Berry. “Hot Thrills and Warm Chills” is one of my absolute favorites.

When you’ve sold your videos at conventions like Chiller Theatre, what kinds of people, characters typically buy them? Who have been the most surprising types of customers? It’s everyone from serious film genre fans to creepy pervs with cringeworthy fetishes! Young and old. I’m always surprised at what people are drawn to. Some customers want recommendations based on their particular, and often peculiar, interests. The funniest interactions have been on the phone when they call and start telling us really confessional and embarrassing things about themselves. Or just sound totally nutty. Something Weird customers are often unintentionally entertaining.

Which films have you sold the most of? 
Probably the Herschell Gordon Lewis gore movies like “Blood Feast,” “Two Thousand Maniacs,” and “Wizard of Gore” which are the most well known and popular in our catalog, but also the Bettie Page burlesque movies “Teaserama” and “Varietease.” We have over 2000 titles available so there’s something for everybody!
 
something_weird_logoDid anyone ever return a video because they didn’t like it or it was too shocking for them?
A few times people have tried to return a video because they didn’t like it, but never because it was too shocking. If anything it was that the film wasn’t shocking enough! One time a guy sent back a video because he said the boobs weren’t big enough. Needless to say we don’t accept those kind of returns. Welcome to my world.
Have you ever had any self-righteous anti-sexploitation people trying to shut you down?
Ha! No, but occasionally a customer will write or email to be removed from the mailing list because he’s found religion or his wife disapproves of him watching smutty movies.
 
How’s it been carrying on the business, and Mike’s legacy, after Mike’s passing in 2014?
Running Something Weird by myself has been a challenge. Mike and I were great team. We each brought strengths to the table. I’m trying my best to keep things afloat and going. Mike and I both knew this business was changing even before he died, so now I’m partnering with enthusiastic young companies like AGFA and Alamo Drafthouse who are helping to take Something Weird into the 21st century and bringing these films to a new untapped audience. I miss Mike everyday, and I’m working hard to keep his memory and legacy alive and well.
 
Have you been producing any new films? Have all the exploitation films ever filmed been found?
Not really “new” ones, but what I have been doing is working with other film preservationists to restore and release existing Something Weird films in high definition. They’re rescanning the original film elements in 4K and releasing them on blu-ray and other digital formats. There are are still lost films left to unearth, but I’m leaving that to the next generation of archivists.
 
touch_of_her_fleshHas business declined with any significance with the advent of DVDs? Actually, people are buying fewer DVDs, Blu-rays and physical media than they used to. Most of our business is actually digital downloads that customers get directly from our website. Plus many are watching films via streaming and other sources that don’t involve actually purchasing anything which effects small independent video companies who are struggling these days. We depend on genre fans to keep supporting us by actually buying movies from us.
 
How did Mike Vraney find these films? Can you relay any particular stories?
During the early 1990s, Mike came across the first 35mm and 16mm of the sexploitation films in an abandoned storage unit near Seattle. It dawned on him that there were probably hundreds more oddball lost movies out there so he began actively looking for them. Eventually David F. Friedman heard that Something Weird was selling some of his movies on video, so he contacted Mike and offered his film library. Dave later introduced Mike to other film producers and colleagues. People began to contact Something Weird directly about original film elements. And we scoured as many film archives as we could. Some films were even scored on eBay! 
 
If aliens came down to earth and invaded the Something Weird film library – what would they do? What would be their commentary on the human condition after watching SWVs?
Ha! Based on that extraterrestrial beings would think human beings are obsessed with naked ladies, sex, vice, monsters, blood and death. In other words, completely unworthy of their time and attention!

 

Please visit Lisa’s site at The Art of Lisa Petrucci and Something Weird .

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