Cats, sea creatures, mermaids and Pokémon by Savannah artist Phil Musen

I became acquainted with Phil Musen and his art in Forsythe Park one lovely afternoon last November in Savannah, Georgia.  Strolling through the park and heading toward the fountain you’ll notice his paintings set up on a park bench.   Phil is very welcoming and  friendly, much like the southern town where he lives.  I was struck by his paintings and bought a print of a cat sitting on a bench playing a guitar.

We call it the Phil Cat painting in our home,  affectionately, because of the name “Phil” painted on the cat’s guitar and because it reminds us of Umberto, our cat, whose memory we cherish dearly. It hangs in our kitchen.

I reached out to Phil for this interview and we had this wonderful chat. His slight southern accent matches well with his warm and kind nature.  I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet Phil that sunny day in Savannah.  His art is playful and joyful, and I’m happy to share our conversation with you.

Phil's bench in Forsythe Park

When did you discover your interest/talent for painting?

It actually took me a really long time to feel comfortable with painting, but I think I found I had a knack for it in high school, but I’ve always drawn to it. Art has been a lifelong thing, it’s the one thing I could do, it’s one of my oldest memories.  I have these big glasses on, I can’t see very well without them, so as a kid my first choice wasn’t to play catch or go outside, my first choice was to draw. I would draw at the table and sit real close to the table and draw. Drawing was the most interesting thing to do, and when I got glasses in fourth grade, I was like, wow, there’s so many different leaves on the trees I had no idea…

What was your first art creation?

That’s a great question, I almost draw the same things now than I did when I was little. The first things I drew were monsters and animals, basically just like blobs with emotions.

In the studio by Phil MusenWhere are you from? Did you study art in school?

I grew up in Boston, but I lived here in Savannah for 15 years. I’m a real lucky guy. My parents are like you can go to college, anywhere you can get in. The hard part for me was getting into a college. I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design and I graduated in Spring 2009.

So, you decided to stick around after graduation?

By the time I graduated college I had a girlfriend who was from Georgia and I still have some friends who live in Savannah and every time I try to move away something has pulled me back. There was a time where I thought I wanted to move back to Boston and live closer to my family, so I tried that for a brief window of time and it just isn’t the right place for me. As a kid I said as soon as I could move out of Boston I would – everyone is so cold and mean there.  I really love the people there but everyone’s so abrasive and everyone’s so charming down here.  I lived in different parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Savannah always pulls me back. It’s such a wonderful place and it welcomes me and it’s really the perfect place for me and I appreciate it.

Snake plate Phil MusenIt was the first time I’d been there and it was so lovely.

The city is designed for humans, it’s not meant for the modern world, its designed for people who rode a horse around at most, the historic part, so when you’re walking around it, it’s really magical. And it truly is a magical piece of land because when Ogelthorpe settled it hundreds of years ago it was a native American burial. It was clear and it was special sacred land, “oh this land is clear already, we’re going to take it” same old story, but it was always a special place I think. It’s crazy, when you walk around here when the sun is setting you get intoxicated just by the beauty of it.

Do you normally set up in Forsythe park?

Yeah, there’s the fountain there.

Quinceannera Phil MusenRight, it’s in a lot of your artwork, it appears in the scenery. I guess the environment of Savannah plays an influence in your work.

Oh yeah, the flora and fauna is really important to me, I love nature, I love learning about nature, I work on a bunch of farms so I’m really interested in plants in general, and I really try to draw the live oaks and the palms, and I like to draw the animals around here that I specifically interact with that are unique, like rattlesnakes and armadillos.

Hydrangeas in the Park Phil MusenYour paintings are so playful. Can you talk about all the different animals and characters in your work?  Cats, sea creatures, mermaids, Pokémon…And the different scenarios. 

I do a ton of different things and they all have their place. The mermaid series, all the green paintings I did. That’s basically a comic book. I had an idea for a story and my girlfriend had broken up with me at the beginning of 2019, and my heart was just destroyed. I was just walking around Savannah so forlorn all the time, and I would park my car near the park and just walk all the down to this coffee shop on the other side of town and just have these really long meditative walks, a cup of coffee and the baristas were very nice to me, and eventually I started forming this story in my mind, and that was like a metaphor for our relationship, and I just created these characters that represent myself, my girlfriend and other real people, like Brawn John, Smitty, Meercat, and in my mind I was imagining this story that was in parallel to my relationship with my ex. And it was really cinematic, and I just chose to display it with a certain number of pictures. Each picture is an important moment in the story.

Mermaids attack Phil Musen

And I do other things, I draw the cats. And the reason why I draw the cats is that people love them so much. They make people so happy immediately and it drives them wild.

Hold on I want to show you one of them. Phil leaves to go and get this wonderful painting.

I’m really proud of this one right here..can you tell what that is?

It’s like a cat bat.

Exactly, it’s a monster cat, bat cat, and I love how happy these make people. It attracts them immediately and I’m trying to make a living, and it makes them happy and they buy it. Honestly it sounds so dry and heartless when I say it like that.

Well you have to make a living, right?

Yeah, my friend gave me some advise when I younger, because I loved this musician name Django Reinhardt. He said Django Reinhardt was a gypsy jazz musician…what’s gypsy jazz? It’s a kind of music that has to grab people immediately draw them in and keep them entertained, so I was like how can I do that with painting, so when people are walking through Forsythe park there are a ton of other artists, you got to distinguish yourself to get their attention, and you can sell them prints, and that’s why I paint the cats, and really I paint lots of whimsical characters because it’s just a bunch of fun.

Phil Cat by Phil MusenCan you repeat the story of the Phil cat painting? The eyes are so forlorn and sad, I just love it.

I tell a lot of people this thing. I was like, what is going to get people’s attention, what do people love the most? Cats. What would a cat do that would be really fun? Play a guitar, a ton of people like to play a guitar. So I had this painting of the cat playing a guitar in a purple room, it’s off of a video of Paco de Lucia, and I was like this kitty looks too sad, I’m going to put this kitty outside, this kitty looks like it wants to go outside, and so I painted it out in the park on a bench, here you go, it’s happier now, it’s got sunlight on it, a little happier anyway, and as I was almost done finishing that painting a little girl came up to me and she was 6 years old about, and she said I like your paintings but you know what would make this painting better though – is if the cat’s name was on the guitar… I was like, that’s the best idea I ever heard. She was like what’s the cat’s name? Mamma mia, I don’t know so I wrote my name on the guitar. That really does make a lot of people laugh and brings a lot of joy to people.Saxophone Cat by Phil Musen

 What can you tell me about the stories you paint – like the one you showed me earlier, and the mermaid one I saw on your Instagram?

I finished the mermaid story and I was like I really enjoyed doing that, I felt that it pushed me as an artist. It helped me to be more ambitious and I think it improved me technically as an artist, so I really enjoyed that. And I hope to make a book of my mermaid paintings soon. And it wasn’t that long before I finished that story that I was working on another one in my mind, because my mind was working that way.  And this is before COVID-19 and everything. Based on the way the world is going it’s not hard to imagine some kind of post apocalyptic scenario. Climate change, unbridled growth in a finite pool of resources, climate-environmental destruction, economic collapse. I feel like these things are just imminent and might happen within a few generations if people keep doing the same things they’re doing now, if they seriously don’t address climate change, especially. And so I was imagining just for fun, what would happen if something really awful happened to the whole world, and a lot of things collapse, what would happen? I kind of took it in this crazy direction, well obviously the world would be overrun by zombies, werewolves, and vampires, that’s probably the first thing that would happen. All my favorite bars would shut down and I’d have to grow a bunch of vegetables in my yard just to stay alive, and of course it would still be hard to get a girlfriend, probably even harder.

You got to laugh at your self when life is crazy, and you get sad and people leave you and stuff, you got to get through it and you got to make yourself laugh, and I always try to laugh at myself, it’s just me, it helps me. The same way I did with the mermaid story, the way every important moment is a picture, I started imagining this crazy post apocalypse with me being a slightly older man living in Savannah but everything is messed up. Little did I know a few months later I’d get to have a little practice in a mini apocalypse so I’m working on this story now and that’s essentially it, it’s me slightly older living in a collapsed world, with a real prominent streak of humor. And I don’t know when I’ll be done with it, I’m not going to post any pictures until I’m done with it. It might be a year from now, but that’s ok. I have it all storyboarded out, it’s just a matter of making the paintings that takes a lot of time.Phil's art at Sulfur Studios

So the guy behind the bar is a vampire?

It’s definitely in progress, but there’s me sitting at a restaurant. When I grow a beard, I look really scraggly, and you see that hat, I love to wear that hat when I garden, it keeps the sun out of my eyes. That’s me and wolfboy. Wolfboy is this young mislead boy who lives with me, and he’s a mutant, part wolf, because of whatever – something happened, nuclear fallout or something and a boy turned into a wolf or a wolf into a boy, I’m not really sure. I live with him, I seem to attract these young mislead guys and they latch on to me, and I’m their big brother or their dad even, and this happens over and over again in my life, I usually have someone who’s like a wolfboy, so that’s me a wolfboy and I’m getting really old and crotechedy and wolfboy’s keeping it real, and we’re at a restaurant reading a menu and our server is a zombie…

Zombie Wolfboy restaurant by Phil Musen

And he’s wearing a Covid mask!

He’s wearing a Covid mask, exactly. And there’s so many questions here. Is my character even cool with being served by a zombie, wolfboy looks like he really wants something, the zombie looks like he’s been tired of us already, there’s another zombie in the back making a sandwich.

I love seeing the actual painting, it’s so beautiful.

Couples Phil MusenOh yes, paintings are beautiful.  I sketch everything out first. And this whole story is pretty much sketched out in this sketchbook right now. And before Covid I would go to a bar, hang out with friends and just shoot the shit, and come up with ideas, and ask for their ideas, close friends, people I trust, I tell them what I was thinking and they give me suggestions, and work on the story every night.

Who or what are some of your past and present inspirations and influences? What style or artists are you drawn to?

It’s really important to recognize things that inspire you that aren’t paintings or other painters. Of course I’m inspired by other painters, I love the works of Lucian Freud, Egon Schiele, Allison Schulnik, Dana Schutz, to name a few, I really love their work, Salman Toor, I could go on and on…Other things that inspire me are like friendship, allegorical things really inspire me – I love folly, and when I see folly happening in real time, I get butterflies, just like…  a fool! What a fool to be doing that! Just how can I describe this situation, you see somebody go out who’s trying to pursue somebody who doesn’t care for them, it’s just folly, or people who are really vain and narcissistic, that’s pretty allegorical. Instances in real life inspire me, and stories like that too. I love Greek mythology a lot, it’s like every story is trying to outdo the last one in folly. And emotion really inspires me.

Can you walk me through your process as an artist?  On a typical day that you are going to paint what’s your setup?  Do you have something in mind before you start?

When the economy was better and not during coronavirus, my schedule was really consistent, I was only doing one thing. Now it’s just a shit show everyday. I wake up, I go walk someone’s dogs, I go deliver McDonalds to like a 100 people… I’m a super sketchbook heavy using artist, it’s a great place to brainstorm your ideas and its really great to see all your ideas, it’s like a journal, like a diary, you can reflect back on them and go that was a great idea, or that was a horrible idea. Maybe you do it when you’re drunk, you sketch and then in vino veritas, you look at it the next day and go that was a great idea, that was a shit idea. So definitely with my stories I sketch stuff out and work on composition and then with the cats I go on the internet and find the cutest pictures I can find with cats, and then I go to the park and sit with all these cat pictures and then I find one and then I paint that cat doing something, sitting in a hot tub, or playing a saxophone or something. And I kind of put two things together, cute cat, saxophone – put it together. With a simple background, maybe add a palm tree real quick. Like wrap it up, this thing’s got to go, I got to sell this. Wrap it up. Next. You got to paint fast to make money off of it.Catflix and Chill Phil Musen

So how fast do you paint?

Really fast, for the things I paint. I try to paint a la prima, which means all at once. And that means you’re mixing your colors on the canvas as you’re painting, you don’t mix on a palette. And it takes a lot of practice to do that but once you figure out how to that that you can paint a lot faster.

What median do you typically use? How large are your paintings?  How long does one piece take?

I like oil paint, it’s more beautiful. It has a pearly finish to it. It also subliminally attracts people, because it’s so beautiful on its own. So yeah, I like oil, and it takes a little bit longer to dry but it doesn’t really take that much longer. It’s just a bit messier, but it smells better. It smells a lot better. I hate that about acrylic paint, you know acrylic paint, instead of oil, you move the paint around with water, and you have  a cup of water and rest your brush in there when you’re not painting, and then over time a lot of paint residue accumulates in that cup, and the smell of the paint in that cup is just foul. Where in contrast the smell of oil paint is addicting. I’ve probably have eaten a lot of oil paint as well. Probably trace amounts every time, it’s all over me all the time. I love the stuff.

Block island Phil MusenWhat does painting do for you?  Can you talk about where it brings you internally?

Painting and drawing is an essential part of my life. It’s meditative and therapeutic for me. I don’t know if people know this about me, but I’d be willing to tell anybody, there’s times when I’m making a painting and I’m working out something really deep inside me, especially with these stories I’m working on. And they’re really reflective and really personal. There are times when I’ll be painting and it’ll make me cry, because it’s tapped me so deeply into what I’m feeling. And people are like wow, the emotion is so good in your painting, I’m like you should fuckin’ see the emotion outside of my painting, it’s pretty damn intense.

Have you seen a progression or change in your art over the years?

Yeah definitely, I like to say I’ve improved a lot as an artist, and I’ve been making a lot of art seriously and with intent since I was a child, but I see that I’ve improved. I went to college for painting, I have a degree in painting and it’s funny I thought I was really hot shit when I got out of college. I was like ah man I can fucking paint anything, and those last few years when I’ve been out in the park painting way more, I’m like wow, I can smoke my former self now. I paint so much more and I technically got better, and I think progression as an artist has way more to do with technical skill and I do think I get hung up on just thinking about technical ability. The better way or the more important way I’ve improved as an artist is now I try to have more of a narrative, more of an intent and purposeful narrative in my paintings. And sometimes I really focus on the story that’s contained within the frame of the picture, or even if it’s a piece of ceramic, what’s making this story aside from the creature. He shows me the creature he just got back from the studio.

Curious Worm Creeter Phil MusenIt’s a wall mount, it hangs on the wall. It’s not just a character, it is a character but it’s more than that because I think this character is asking a question. Like what’s happening right there. So wherever you put this piece you can create a question in your own space. And I think about that stuff now a lot more in my artwork. And I want every piece of art to stand well on its own. I don’t think I knew how to do that very well when I started painting, and in college, but if I did do it before it was not consciously thought about. Maturing as a person and maturing as an artist has taught me to think about that.

Where do you do your ceramic work?

There’s a clay studio in Savannah run by a really great artist, Lisa Bradley, and she is a really great ceramic artist, and she shares her passion by teaching classes, and then once you take enough classes with her you can use her studio and pay her hourly to use her studio. I’ve taken classes with her and now pay her to use her facilities. I make a lot of ceramic plates.

Leopard plate Phil MusenI love the ceramic plates you do.

The ceramic plates are so fun because I really just focus on painting on ceramic with those so I have to do really really quick paintings, and I love that.

Where do you sell your art besides online or in the park?

Right now I sell ceramics in a coffee shop called Cup to Cup Café, in Savannah on Ogelthorpe and Abercorn, and the’ve been really good to me and they have my ceramics for sale on their counter, and that’s really helped me during this time. They’re helping me sell my art, and before coronavirus I was participating in a street fair every month, run by the art district in Savannah where there are all these independent art businesses. And a lot of time people see my stuff online and on Instagram, they’ll message me and I’ll just mail them something.

So how did you get those people in the coffee shop to carry your stuff?

I probably drank like a 1000 cups of coffee there, and the people in Savannah are really close knit. You came here when there are tons of tourists, Savannah has millions of tourists that visit it every year, but the city itself has 150,000 people or so that live in it, it’s not the biggest city ever, it’s got a lot of small town vibes, people that live here, we pretty much know each other, we’re familiar with each other. They know me, we’re friends.

Does an artistic gene run in your family?

Yes, absolutely. My grandmother was a painter and she taught me a lot about art and drawing when I was a little kid. Not only was she a great artist and a great painter but she taught me. And she didn’t treat me like a kid when she was teaching me, she died when I was 14, but she would talk to me about art in a sophisticated way at a young age. And I think a lot of people miss that with kids, if a little child has an aptitude for art they can understand it in a really sophisticated way at a really young age. She did that with me, I’m grateful. My mother’s a musician. She plays violin and piano. My older brother is really good at drawing, and I wonder how many of my ancestors were artistic, it’s hard to know. Like a lot of strong opinions, pretty interesting people, if they weren’t necessarily a painter they were crafty and independent.

Godzilla destruction Phil MusenIs Savannah a really great city for artists?

100 percent. It’s such a great city for artists. I have some experience being an artist in Boston, and Boston has a shit load more residents, the greater Boston area, and technically a ton more artists, but when you’re an artist there, it’s really hard to get around. Everything is separated by these rivers and bridges, there’s all these different parts of the city and they’re segregated from each other, and it’s really hard to go out to shows there and coordinate with other people, to drive anywhere it’s like horrible traffic. For my experience being an artist in Savannah versus Boston, it’s equal if not better. We all have so much more access to each other, and people are so kind and want to help each other out more. And you can go make Art outside, it’s super easy to sell your art on a park bench, it’s like a $10 permit from the city. In Boston if you want to sell your art on a park bench you have to have all this insurance, it’s such a huge block. If I had to buy all this insurance to do what I do now I probably just wouldn’t do it.

And there’s the school there.

Yeah, that’s a tourist attraction in itself. When I tell people I went to SCAD there’s a little extra glimmer in their eye.Forsythe park painting Phil Musen

What’s your tattoo?

It’s gonna make me seem narcissistic. I got this in 2012, this tattoo is about friendship and love and about the best summer I ever had with my friends when I was younger. That’s how we acted just like crazy little bunnies running around and flying around at night. That’s what this drawing is supposed to represent.

Somebody contacted me, I had a show in Boston, and somebody saw my paintings and were like we don’t want to buy a painting, but we want you to design us a tattoo, and I was like darn, I never thought about that, but if I was going to design a tattoo, it would be this. And so I sent them this drawing and I was like that’s crazy, nothing’s ever going to happen with that. He sent me a photograph a week later of that tattooed on him on his chest with blood dripping out of it fresh, I was like oh my gosh that looks really good, I’d like to have that tattooed on myself one day, and so when I could I did.

If you could showcase your art anywhere you wanted where would be the ideal spot?

I love showing my art so much in a park, on a park bench. It is the most raw unfiltered experience. And I love how much little kids will see my art cause little kids will come up and tell me exactly how they feel about it. When a kid runs over to my bench and grabs one of my paintings and “Mom!! Look!!!” There’s like literally no better feeling. They’re like “Squirtle!!!This guy did it!!!, I love that, and I love just getting constant feedback, and meeting people.

Squirtle Phil MusenYou must talk to hundreds of people when you go out there and do that gig, to get all those opinions and to see people’s reactions, I love it. And my second choice, because I can’t bring really vulgar work out, stuff that might have nudity or violence, like R rated, PG13 even, you can’t bring that or anything political to the park. You can but it really kills your ability to make money, like I have pictures of Donald Trump, I have these political paintings, there’s like Donald Trump as a toad, and Nancy Pelosi as like a little frog, Mike Pence as a frog, and I have other ones where Trump is like Godzilla smashing a city and stuff, and I tried putting them out before and people just kind of avoid me because they think I have a chip on my shoulder and I want to get into some political argument or something. I really don’t want to when I’m at the park, so for more personal work or more thought provoking work there’s a local gallery in the art district in Savannah and it’s called Sulfer Studios, and they have a gallery space and all the artists that live here that take art seriously, if one of us has a show there we all go. And if you really want to be critiqued in the town by all the artists you live with love and admire, work with, you’ll have a show there. That would be my dream, to have a big show there and have everyone come and give me their real opinion on it. That would be cool.

How easy is it to finagle a show like that?

It’s not that hard. At this point I could probably do it, I’d want to show all these mermaid  paintings there, I wanted to do like it was before where everyone can go and pack the space out and all look at the work together, and I want to have like a big party, and I just don’t feel like we can do that right now.Smerlina plate Phil Musen

So is everything like still pretty much shut down?

That’s the thing, I don’t know if you heard but Georgia is kind of marching to the beat of it’s own drum, we’re the first state to go back into phase 2, and a lot of people, including myself thought it was premature, and so in a lot of places in Savannah especially in places like downtown you can go in a restaurant, or go into a bar, I went into a bar yesterday to get a hamburger with my friend, cause he wanted a burger and we were trying to find a place that was open and make us a burger. Everyone was sitting at the bar, people came up that didn’t even know me and they’re like Hey… and they’re like hugging me…Mamma mia, nobody had a mask on, they’re were all these elderly people, I was the youngest person by 20 years there. And I was like, man these people don’t care at all. And then more downtown at least the servers are wearing masks and stuff, people are going inside and eating inside without masks on here…

Are there any tourists coming down?

Yeah, there are, they came as soon as they could. People have packed up the beach, there’s less overall, there’s less tourists, definitely no international tourists. And people are being more conservative with their money, less people buying frivolous art in the park, less of that. And you can look at the statistics, and it’s clear as day for all those willing to see that COVID-19 is on the rise in all the states that opened early and it’s a whole different can of worms, isn’t it?

Couples at Forsythe Phil MusenSo are you still going out and setting up in the park? How often do you do that?

The last time I set up in the park was St. Patrick’s day. When things first shut down I stopped painting completely. I was in the park on St. P’s day and I already felt that I shouldn’t be out there, cause I was like okay this is getting real, the SCAD students were walking around looking at their phone and like, everything just got cancelled. We all have to just go home right now. When that happened I didn’t think to hard about it, I just packed up all my stuff then and there, put it in my crates, brought it back to my car, and I went to the liquor store and bought an enormous bottle of whiskey, and I just got out of painting mode and I just worked on my garden for two months, and didn’t paint at all. I think I took my sadness about coronavirus I think I took it out on my art, like, it’s your fault, in some kind of crazed way, and when things started opening back up I started doing other things like Uber eats, and dog watching, and selling my art online, and gardening, trying to eat all the food out of my garden, growing potatoes and stuff…I stopped drinking so much and I remembered how much I love painting and I have fallen back in love with it in the last month or so…that bat cat is the first cat I painted since St. Patty’s day and I was painting two cats a day.

Calm afternoon in Chippewa SqWas that the first time you went into a slump with your art?

I worked on farms for six years and I think one year I only painted one painting. Crazy. In 2013 I only made one painting. It was a really good one, I remember, it took me a long time.

Anything else on the horizon?

I want to make a book of all my mermaid paintings, but like a true crazy person I said I was done with the series, but because of the lockdown, because of COVID I’m actually making more to that story now.

Couples at Forsythe Phil MusenIn my opinion I have an idea of the story in my mind, but it’s really weird because when other people look at it, depending who they are, in terms of their gender or political orientation, different people think the main character is different. Some people think First mate Phil is the main character, some people think Smerlina is the main character, some people think Brawn John is the main character, and it kind of more depends on who’s looking at the story. And I really presented that way too, I really didn’t want to narrate it or overly narrate it, I just wanted to give people facts, each picture it’s like something is factually happening, and you pretty much as the viewer have to connect the dots, and that’s how I want it to be. Obviously, I think everybody can agree, some people shipwreck on a bunch of mermaid islands, and there’s some interactions between the people and the mermaids.

And they’re so green. Is there a reason why you did that color scheme?

I think I’ll bluntly say I was inspired by a painter named Salman Toor, a really really excellent painter, and he did these paintings recently that were mostly in green, and I said gosh that’s so fantastic, what the hell, I had no idea that could be so powerful, they just started with me trying it out, and then I realized it added a lot of power to it, giving myself a really limited palette, and I said okay I’m going t take these strict palette rules that I started with and keep them for the whole series. The palette was I used a veridian hue by Whinton, a lemon yellow by Windsor and Newton, and titanium white, so it’s 3 colors, all the paintings I’m only using three colors of paint. I think every now and then a dot of dirty paint got in there from somewhere else but barely. It’s really restrictive but Salman Toor inspired me to do that. He’s a living artst, I thought not even that much older than me, he might even be younger than me, who the hell knows, but he’s damn good!Phil Musen artist

Abstract, raw and captivating – Paul Andress talks about his art

New Jersey artist Paul Andress delights and invokes a raw and captivating energy in his  abstract paintings.  The mysterious, haunting  or cutely unique monsters, eyes and faces peer out and gleam into your soul with their colorful and chaotic presence.

In this chat Paul dishes out tidbits about his art, influences, history and about the metal and punk bands he’s been in.

When did you first get into painting/creating art?

It’s something I always did since I can remember. Most kids seem to draw, but a lot of people stop early in life.

Did you take any formal lessons?

The only formal training has been in Graphic Design for a brief time. Other than that I’m mainly self taught.

Paul Andress art

Who or what are some of your past and present inspirations and influences?

Well growing up it was mainly album covers, comic strips. I grew up very Catholic so a lot of that imagery was definitely influential. Punk and Metal flyers, zines, band demos were definitely an influence as a teenager. The more current years Street art has really influenced me, although I’m not a “street artist”, also movies and cinematography. Of course I also like the typical heavy hitters such as Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock, Basquiat, Marc Chagall.

What is your basic process in creating your art?  How spontaneous are you exactly? Do you have a glimpse in your mind first, or do you just create on the spot?

It’s pretty much all spontaneous. I will sometimes have a certain color scheme or energy that I want to project, or loose ideas, but it’s rare that I sketch beforehand. That can change though, I should probably switch things up in the future.

Futurespirit by Paul Andress

Where do you see the monsters, creatures, faces in your art originating from?

They are hosts for expressing energy and feelings. I can start using flowers or landscapes  and it would be similar.

What are some of the emotions you feel the creatures/monsters/faces share with us humans?

They share all of the same emotions…when they aren’t watching us.

 by Paul Andres

What is happening in your mind when you create one of your paintings?

I really try to get as far out of the way as possible. If I think too much it looks stiff and contrived to me. I really want the art to have this organic, raw and alive feel to it. I like dirty art and I’m also attracted to it more than things that are too slick or perfectly drafted.

What median do you typically use?

I use mostly Acrylic as a base, and add other mediums like oil pastel, collage, charcoal, pens, markers, whatever is around or will be appropriate at the moment.

Infectus by paul andress

Have you seen a progression or change in your art over the years?

Yes I started off more illustrative, but now it’s much more abstract, dirtier, and loose. I still keep an illustrative element.

Does an artistic gene run in your family?

Yes, but I didn’t know until I was older that my father even drew. One day I found old Disney drawings he did that were perfect, and I also found out he was the art director for his high school yearbook. My mother can draw as well, and my cousin is a comic book Illustrator. But like I said, my parents never brought it up for some reason, but they were very supportive of me being creative.

albumicon_wreaths_paul andressWhere have you exhibited your work?

Mostly around New Jersey, NYC area. Maxwell’s in Hoboken, LITM and AHP (art house productions in Jersey City, NJ) Toy Tokyo Gallery in NYC, Gallery U in Montclair, NJ.

 

What have been some of your favorite pieces and why? 

That’s hard because I’m rarely satisfied with any of it, lol. I can give you a different answer Everytime.

Does your family have any favorites?

Yes, there is an old painting I did, hanging on the bedroom wall of a floating girl that’s kind of Tim Burton esq. It seems to be a permanent fixture in our house.

Being a musician also, does music fuel your work?

Yes because the two worlds intertwine, especially in underground music culture where bands are also creating their own artwork, etc. I pretty much approach painting the same way I write or play music.

Paintings and guitar Paul AndressWhat bands have you been in?

Since the early 90s I played guitar and vox in a noise rock/ math rock/ band called Mothman which put out some singles on Troubleman Records and Rocket Science records, played the whole basement indie show scene and around NYC/NJ. That turned into The Nolan Gate and had a bit more of a metal edge to it. Over the years we played with tons of amazing bands like Unsane, Fu Manchu, Kylesa, Coheed and Cambria, Don Cabellero, Rye Coalition, Dhalia Seed (Darin from Dhalia Seed played drums for Mothman and the Nolan Gate). The band hasn’t been active in a few years though, but I just formed a new band with a few friends called PARIIAH. It’s a no frills raw sounding band kind of like a mix of Celtic frost, Venom and punk rock. That has members from Millhouse, Das Oath, Devoid of Faith, Change Order. We are hoping to release a rehearsal recording on cassette and also go in the recording studio when this pandemic allows us to.

When you’re painting do you listen to music? If so, what bands?

I don’t normally listen to music while I’m painting, which is strange. The last bands I remember listening to while painting are TORCHE and ENTOMBED. 

Do you think your environment has an impact on the kind/style of art you make?

Growing up in Northern New Jersey has to have an impact. Maybe giving it a more abrasive quality? I’m not sure.

Painting by Paul AndressIf you could showcase your art anywhere you wanted, where would be the ideal spot?

I don’t have a specific spot, but Montreal would be great. Also Berlin. Detroit  seems to have a good energy going there.

Has COVID-19 affected your work/process/creating at all?

Well, it has definitely helped keep me occupied and sane. A friend just told me that my recent paintings have been more brutal looking, but the world is insane right now so it doesn’t surprise me. I have been working very small scale lately, which might reflect a natural focus to be practical in these times.

3 paintings and guitar paul andress

Any exciting plans/exhibits/projects coming up? 

No shows at the moment, but I will be making new paintings, as well as some silk screen shirts to sell on Big Cartel or something. Possibly have an actual online gallery for selling artwork.

Paul and his art

Multiple paintings by Paul Andress

Hannah and Roy Talk Red Mass

Here is an interview with Montreal’s very own Red Mass featuring legendary frontman Roy Vucino – aka Choyce from garage-punk bands CPC Gangbangs, Les Sexareenos and PYPY– and his partner Hannah Lewis, as they dismantle the system of the traditional band archetype, in their co-creative mindsets and collaborative stations, mesmerizing listening ears the world over with their mad musical powers, and wading the mucky waters in this trying pandemic time.

What does Red Mass mean/stand for?
 
Roy: 
The name of the band was meant to symbolize that art can offer spiritual comfort and guidance just like religion can. Red is also the colour of life, love but also of blood and violence, all these are key themes in the band’s universe.
I found out after I had named the project that an actual Red Mass is one held for members of the judiciary system such as lawyers and judges. I studied law in University but ended up changing paths to concentrate on art so I thought it was fitting.
Who are Red Mass?
Hannah:
Right now Roy and I are the core of the band  but I feel, Red Mass has always (firstly) been a giant recording and performance project. There has been a revolving roster of great musician on stage and in the studio. It “is” whoever has been involved at any point during its lifespan. 
You say you are a music collective.  What do you mean by that?
Roy:
The term was used to describe us in a few articles and it stuck but I see us more as a collaborative project. We are a collective in the strict sense of the word but I never really thought of us as a collective since we don’t take decisions collectively. People come in and out but their involvement is usually limited to the period of time when we they are working with us. 
pic by Marie-Claude Guay
Your new record, A Hopeless Noise, features a smorgasbord of different artists and musicians. From Mike Watt to Evan Dando to King Khan to John Kastner. How did you envision this and enlist all these people?
Roy:
Some of them are our buddies like Khan and Froberg, some we had met through touring and some of them we just wrote out of the blue. We just thought it was a fun way to work with people of different backgrounds and skills. Fuck the idea that the more successful musicians or artists are in another sphere. Deep down we are all doing this coz it simple appeases some urge in us or fills some big hole in our psyche.
Hannah:
A lot of the drive to work with so many different people came from really working each song for itself. We began contacting people for input and just didn’t stop. 
Each had its own personality, story and drive and we felt the freedom to work with that on a performance level as well as in the songwriting. The conversations often went something like, “hey, would it be insane to have so and so’s guitar sound on this part?” then we’d pretty much contact them and see if they were into it.
How did you go about recording all these tracks with all these different artists?
Roy:
It varies from song to song. I recorded a few on my cassette 4 track recorder then we mixed them with Sebastien Perry at Planet Studios and some were done entirely at Planet with Seb.
We did a few tracks with Raf Katigbak at his jam studio and one track with Dave Kunstatter at the old DNA studios. Most of the guests recorded their vocal tracks themselves either at home or studios in their own city. For a few tracks we had to travel to the artists’ hometown for example for ‘Killer on the loose’ we went to NY and recorded the vocals at Rick Froberg’s jam space.
Hannah: 
Our approach recording wise is not dissimilar to our approach with involving each artist. We went with whatever worked for them and us and used whatever resources we had to work with and got it done.
Red Mass A Hopeless Noise Banner Facebook
A Hopeless Noise is a concept album about Diamond Girl. Can you talk about that? Who is Diamond Girl?
Roy:
She’s an ex model who falls from grace and loses touch with reality. She still has delusions of grandeur but she is now living in the poor conditions wandering the city in night clubs where she encounters a vile array of low lives. Her mental state slowly starts deteriorating and she turns to violence.

Hannah:
‘Diamond Girl’ is also a representation of ourselves. She is a character who is meant explore our adaptiveness as humans as we wander through life and deal with situations that fundamentally change us. She is meant to represent all of the personalities we acquire throughout our lives and how we utilize them from situation to situation, for self preservation. The character itself runs through some tough times in life and exists on a shaky plane of reality, which allowed us to really delve deep into her many “facets”, hence the reference to a diamond (which has many facets, or cuts).

How would you say Red Mass has evolved over the years, from Roy when you started it in the mid-2000s until now?
Hannah:
The direction of the band has always been heavily influenced by the the art, literature and and music that interested the people who were currently involved. 
We’ve focused on creating music we were passionate about at the moment, using whatever influences we were digging at the time. I think this approach had made for creating interesting and ever evolving music and creating a conversation between many artists. We’ve never tied ourselves to a specific sound, genre, intent or message. 
Roy:
I think we understand now how to better work with our collaborators. We tend to work with people in their comfort zones more. 
What was the first record you ever bought?
Roy:
The first record I owned was Bryan Adams ‘Into the Fire’ my dad had bought it for me but then he smashed it. I normally had a loving upbringing and he’s a nice dude but i remember he smashed that particular record so i remember that record for that. The first record i bought for myself was a tape. Either Dead Kennedys ‘Give me convenience or give me death’ or Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’. I remember going to a cassette store in the Chateaguay mall and buying them just because of the artwork.
Hannah:
I can’t quite remember. Probably Brittany Spears or S Club 7.
lexPaillon_RedMass_Decor-2
How and when and why did you start playing music?
Hannah:
I grew up in some pretty remote places so as a young kid I would go for long walks and sing whatever came into my head for hours. I loved the freedom and solitude of being alone in nature and connecting with my thoughts like this. My parents also put me in a touring children’s choir when I was in grade 5, which was insanely fun. When I was 13 or 14 I saved up and bought myself a guitar and started writing songs that now didn’t disappear once they were out of my head.
Roy:
I started studying music when I was really young. At first I learned the basics with xylophone and a bit of piano and after that I switched to guitar. My dad taught me chords and then i took classical guitar lessons. I started performing at restaurants when I was a teenager. One of my first jobs was a rollerskating waiter for banquets. It was as bad as it sounds. Between servings I would have to take off my roller skates and play short sets of oldies covers like Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson and Elvis. Totally brutal but great way to break the ice.
Red Mass live
What are your influences (music, film, art, culture, people?)
Roy:
The band’s sound is very influenced by Roxy Music, the Sound, Killing Joke, Joy Division, Bauhaus & Sonic Youth. I love playing garage and punk but i listen to a lot more country, pop, hip-hop and jazz music. I been listening to Philip Glass ‘Glassworks’, Big L, Betty Davis, the Weeknd’s new album a lot and tons of Waylon Jennings. As fas as films go Fassbinder and Kurosawa are two of my favourite directors. I also love Sci-Fi , I’m a Trekkie, i watched film noirs and tons of Horror films. 
For authors Murakami (both Ryu and Haruki), JG Ballard and Cormac McCarthy and for art that inspired us DA DA, expressionism and surrealism are big influences. I like certain abstract artists like Kadinsky as well. For culture I like reading up on spiritual philosphers like Ram Dass as well as occultists like Austin Osman Spare or comic book writer Grant Morrison.
For ‘A Hopeless Noise’ specifically we were heavily inspired by Cervantes’ Don Quixote and novels by Bret Easton Ellis.
Hannah:
I am influenced by pretty much whatever I come across as far as art and culture goes. What I enjoy is exploring architecture, paintings, literature and film as an influence. I feel like I look for things that evoke a certain mood rather than exploring specific genres and whatnot. If I can find a piece that hits all of my senses and transports me, I am happy. 
How are you coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, musically as a band,  and personally?
Roy:
I’m trying to create at home but honestly I find the situation sad and uninspiring. 
Hannah and me have been apart for close to a month so we’ve been ping ponging ideas back and forth but i’m mostly just remixing material i have for an upcoming solo album.
Hannah:
I have been feeling pretty displaced by the Covid situation. I have not been able to be home  so have been staying at different family members houses until I can get back to my own. I am usually one to digest a situation before I feel the urge to write about it, so that will probably come a little bit down the line. On a bright note, I feel extremely fortunate to exist where I do at the moment. The fact that I feel I have time to do an interview about my band, live in a safe place and have no worries about where my next meal will come from is pretty extraordinary.
Red Mass Hannah Lewis
I saw you opened for the Cult last year – how was that gig for you? Did you get to meet  Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy?
Roy:
It was totally awesome. Everyone warned us that they might not be too friendly but they dug our set and introduced themselves afterwards. They ended up being real nice and I talked about guitar pedals and gear with Billy Duffy. I was kind of freaking out, I grew up on that shit.
Hannah:
Those guys were really funny and very nice with us. I had a blast doing that show. At one point after the show we were chatting with a couple of the band members and crew and I happened to glance across the room and glimpsed a freshly showered Ian Ashbury garbed only in a towel strutting around. He came out of the change room to chat once he was dressed and in polite British (and Canadian) fashion and there no mention of the incident. It was pretty hilarious.
Once we are “’back to normal” what’s next on the horizon for Red Mass?
Roy:
A launch for ‘A Hopeless Noise’ then going to record a new album in Berlin and more touring in Europe.
Hannah:
We were really excited to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones in Europe and would love to physically work from there for the next Red Mass project.

Red Mass logo

Sebadoh’s Bob D’Amico – Feeding off the Audience Experience

by Samia Aladas

Bob D’Amico is the ultra-talented drummer of one of my favorite bands – Sebadoh. I called Bob up on the phone as he was chilling out on what I imagine to have been a balmy warm evening in southern Florida, in his backyard garden, with the sway of palm trees flitting in the air, and a glass of  red wine in his hand (actually, he said it was cold and rainy, but hey, these visuals are pretty nice, no?)  Bob casually spoke with me for a good 45 minutes, the topic flow and conversation felt easy and natural, like a cool summer breeze. Bob is probably one of the most laid back and down to earth people I ever had the pleasure to talk to.  And he commented on the large number of French Canadian “snowbirds”  down in Florida, to which he funnily said, because of all the native knuckleheads, the more Canadians the better. Bob enlightened me on the history behind his drumming style, his skill of writing with Lou and Jason, and we got into reasons why Act Surprised, Sebadoh’s latest album, is so darn spectacular.  We also delved into some of his own past side projects, the song Leap Year, his favorite radio station, and his lifestyle of swimming in the ocean…every…single…day… Well, maybe, just maybe, I’ll grow my own snowbird wings one day…

When and how or why did you start playing drums? Who or what are your influences?

I started playing, the usual trajectory, in a grade school band/orchestra. Started on a drum set a few years after that. I was self-taught basically, and I started playing in bands when I was really young with kids I grew up with, one played guitar, another played trumpet. We started jamming when I was a kid, so I was always playing in bands. My influences – early on I was into classic rock, I loved John Bonham, and one of my favorite drummers is Bill Buford, King Crimson drummer and he was in Yes also, I’m a huge fan of his, so from there I listened to prog rock music and those guys talked a lot about jazz, so I started listening to jazz and got into all the great jazz drummers, Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, Roy Haynes and all those cats, and in high school I got into punk and a whole mess of those drummers I totally adored and idolized like George Hurley, was one of my favorites, so a pretty big mix.  I grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood, so I was always around Latin music, so a lot of those drummers and percussionists were a huge influence on me. It’s a weird hodgepodge.

Bob D'Amico photo by Eleonora Collini Photography
Bob D’Amico photo by Eleonora Collini Photography

You have such a natural effortless flow in your drumming, can you talk about your drum style?

It’s really situational, it depends who you’re playing with, who the songwriter is, what they want out of the song, but generally speaking the first thing is to try and be as musical as possible. Your job is to keep time, keep the meter, but also to be musical, play melodically if you can, just try and bring how the songwriter wants it to flow, to serve the song mostly. And the biggest thing for me, when we play live, it’s a basic caveman thing, if I look out at the audience and if I see people’s heads moving then I’m like ok, or if they’re not maybe I’m not playing well so I need to simplify a little bit here…make sure the audience is really feeling what the song is trying to do. But that’s the point, it’s an experience, it’s you and the audience and you’re doing this together. You feed off each other.

What kind of mental zone are you in when you are playing live?

It depends, with Sebadoh, Jason and Lou are such completely different style songwriters. With Lou I’d say it’s a little bit simpler, and with Jason I’ll not overplay, but he appreciates with drumming if it fills in the gaps. He’s a drummer, that’s his main instrument so when he’s playing guitar, he’s a great guitar player, but he’s playing with the mind of a drummer. He’s filling all those gaps when he’s not singing and a lot of it is meant to be improv so in all these little gaps you can have fun, especially when you’re touring. In the songs you play every night, where there are spots in the songs where it lets up in between verses and choruses you can have a lot of fun, you explore and play off each other.

With Lou and me playing it’s more collaborative than improvisational. But you can do that when you’re playing more simply, you can just be nuanced, with little accents here and there and that’s equally as gratifying. But I think it depends on the song and what you’re trying to get across.  But I do always think of the overall experience, the band, and the audience and trying new things. As I said with touring it can get a little tedious, so I’ll always try when we’re playing, even if it’s a tiny little thing, no one will notice but I do. Or I’ll think I played like shit on that song last night, so I’ll try and improve that little part. Little things that you tweak night be night makes it not boring.

Bob D'Amico from The Backstagerider

How do you write your drum parts?

Yeah initially you are just getting the form of the song, like real basic, how long are the verses, where does the chorus happen, and figure out where the accents are. With Lou, it’s good to watch how he strums the guitar, that’s how he wants it to feel, so you can watch how he’s strumming, when he upstrokes and things like that, then you accent there, he usually will like that, it’ll feel good to him, so that kind of stuff, feeling it out. Getting the basic stuff down and then try and add your own spice to it. And sometimes Lou will get a look, like don’t do that, and other times he’ll be like, that’s pretty good, keep doing that, keep doing that…

You’ve been playing with Sebadoh since the Bakesale, Harmacy reissues tour in 2011, then you did the Secret EP and Defend Yourself and then with this album, Act Surprised, you’ve really found your groove with Sebadoh, would you agree? 

Yeah, I think I have, there’s so many factors, as a band we’re feeling more comfortable, also touring, playing tons of shows. When I first started playing I actually had been playing with Jason for many many years. He and I don’t even have to speak, it’s sort of this unspoken thing, but I just started playing with Lou so I had to figure out how to play with him, and he had to figure out how to play with me, to make it feel right, so this playing a lot and trying to figure out how to best serve Lou’s songs was something I had to figure out. It was really fun, it was amazing, he was a hero of mine, so it was really thrilling to have the opportunity to do that…But with the new record the actual process of recording was so much different than it was with Defend Yourself, so that really lends itself in my opinion to how it came out, how it felt.

We were able to take our time, do it the old way. I went up there, we wrote. We took a week to write, then went back to tweak it more. With Defend Yourself it was just Lou would show me the song, I’d get it down, then we would record it. I played the song maybe once or twice then it was recorded. As opposed to Act Surprised, we sort of fleshed it out, we wrote a lot of stuff together, we demoed everything, it was sort of a long organic process. And then when we recorded it too, Jason wasn’t engineering, he was free to be one of the songwriters and musicians, didn’t have to worry about the tech side of things, I think that helped to keep everything real mellow, and productive. We had a great time with it. It was tons of fun, all positive vibes.

sebadoh_act surprised

I think that Act Surprised has this warm thick quality to the sound. Did you come with that or did that just come together naturally?

Yeah, kind of, like with the other stuff it’s just lots of different factors. The guy who did it, where we recorded, Justin Pizzoferrato is a super talented engineer/producer but he’s also a musician, he works like a musician.  During takes we’d ask, ‘how was that, Justin?’, ‘This didn’t work so well’…and he was right. It was almost like another member of the band, another musician who just happened to be working the electronics. And the room, the way the room sounded, his technical prowess with his gear, and also how we played. It seems it was a lot less of an anxious situation, so I think that comes across in how it sounded kind of warm. I think it’s all of those factors, all together.

Were you a fan of Sebadoh before you knew Jason and Lou?

Oh yeah, definitely, I can remember sitting with my friends, in a car smoking pot, listening to You’re Living All Over Me when that came out, I remember it vividly, it was a mind-blowing experience and then when Sebadoh came out we were all totally into it. At the time I was living in a crazy house in Brooklyn, 4 floors – all artists and musicians, everyone was just totally into Sebadoh, we were all cranking those records, and I didn’t know Jason then or anything, just ended up meeting him years later coincidentally. But yeah, I was definitely a fan for sure.

Bob D'Amico

How did you meet Jason? Was that when you were in the Fiery Furnaces?

I met him before, we had this mutual friend named Kevin Mazzarelli. Jason was doing his first solo album, he needed to put a live band together to go tour, Kevin played bass and suggested I play drums. We jammed then became fast friends, and had a great time. Jason put out this record called At Sixes and Sevens, his first solo album and I was in that band.

Wow I saw you guys play when that first came out!

In Montreal?

No, I was living in New Jersey at the time, so it was in Brooklyn.

Yeah, so the first version of the band was just me, Kevin, and Jake, and then Kevin left and we had this guy Deron Pulley for a little while, but it was mostly me, Kevin and Jake for that. So we did a good amount of touring, and then I ended up getting the gig playing with the Fiery Furnaces and they were looking for a bass player and I said why don’t you get Jason Lowenstein. They were like do you think he will play with us, and I said I think so, so he came down and jammed. I was sort of returning the favor and then he ended up getting a gig playing with the Furnaces. He played mostly bass but he played guitar too. We had a pretty long run with those guys.

Photo by Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns

How long were you playing with them? 

I think we started in 2005 and it went till about 2012. It was good, it was a nice run, we were pretty busy. Did a bunch of records and stuff. And then they’re band broke up and we were kind of doing this and that and then the thing with the Bakesale/Harmacy reissue thing came up…and then I got that gig playing with Sebadoh.

I want to talk about the song you wrote, “Leap Year”. It’s such a great song

Thanks a lot!

What’s that slide-y noise from? Is it a keyboard?

It’s just me plucking on a synthesizer – one note..It sort of low and registered, do-di-do-di-do-di,  I wanted more of it, I had my own thing on and off..

You also wrote the instrumental, “Once” on Defend Yourself.   Both such strong additions to the album with really cool parts and sounds. These songs sound different than Lou’s songs or Jason’s songs but it’s a nice addition. Do you think you’ll do more songs like that? 

I think those guys traditionally give the drummer a song, but with Sebadoh with Eric Gaffney, originally, the way I look at it, he wasn’t just a drummer, he’s a founding member. I love Eric Gaffney’s music, I’m a big fan, but I think basically I’m granted one song, and that’s great, that’s cool with me. I feel very lucky to have even one song, I’m surrounded by these two guys and I have a massive amount of admiration and respect for them, their talent and everything so if I can get a song on the record it’s pretty amazing to me.

One thing I want to say about that Leap Year song, is that it has this middle section that sort of goes on for a really long time with nothing happening, I had a sample in there and I made that part that long because the sample was this guy who used to be the president of Mexico named Vincente Fox and he did an interview on Telemundo, this Spanish TV station, and he was talking like Trump in Spanish, and it was really great, the way he phrased his words fit perfect, sort of matched the lyrical idea – so that part is that long because it fit the length of that sample, but then the label were like we would have to pay $5000 to leave that sample from Telemundo, so we ended up having to take it out. So, whenever I hear the song, I’m like ‘aahh!’, I would have shortened that part. It would have been better with the sample, let’s put it that way, but it wasn’t worth five grand so what can you do.

Bob D’Amico photo by Mikala Taylor

Can you talk a bit about the other projects that you’ve worked on? 

Circle of Buzzards was a thing I was doing with Jake, sort of in-between stuff, just a duo, sort of loud sludgy bass and drums rock stuff. If people asked us to play a show, then we would play. We weren’t trying to make a record or do anything, we played maybe a dozen shows, if that. We did do a Sebadoh tour where we opened for ourselves.

No Chief is sort of these songs I had been writing, I put together musicians to record it here and there, but I couldn’t get any momentum. The biggest problem was trying to get a permanent singer in NY. I was lucky enough to have this woman, Petra Haden, sing for me a couple of tunes in LA, but she’s out there, so I was trying to find someone to do that stuff in NY, and I was having a lot of trouble and it was sort of disenchanting. I’ve recorded a ton of stuff I haven’t finished. I was thinking when this Sebadoh run is over I’m going to try and re-explore doing that. I’m building a studio down here, so I’m going to start that up again.

I heard No Chief on bandcamp and the song Finally Found has got this 70s horror movie vibe, with weird synth/organ…

Painting by Michael Beauchamp

Yeah, the droning base line, it’s sort of the idea. The band was supposed to be a real visual thing too, I had this grandiose idea for this band, a lot of it was to be visual, the way the bass line is in that song, kind of like certain sounds will trigger certain images, so the idea of the tune is sort of half visual, half musical. I don’t have the dough to do the proper video for it but I’d like to one day. But yeah, that’s pretty perceptive, I think.

And the other song, Ride, it’s sort of this progressive indie lounge music slightly off kilter

Painting by Michael Beauchamp

Yeah, especially with Petra Haden singing, she’s a jazz singer, I was so lucky she did that, she did it for me for free, just came down and did it during the day, it’s pretty amazing. I was trying to get a singer to do that stuff in NY but no one could even come close to her, I always had her, the way she pulled that stuff off, in the back of my head. She’s so talented and amazing, I’m a huge fan. I consider myself unbelievably lucky that she was able to sing on those songs.

What about Saqqara Mastabas

Yeah that’s me and Matt from the Furnaces. We started that at the time, he was living in Paris, I was living in Brooklyn. I recorded a ton of these free form drum pieces, no form, no bar lines, just free drumming, and I sent it to him and said just play on it just for fun, we sent the tracks back to each other, it was great, and he was like would you do that for me, and we did it over and over again. We ended up with like 20 pieces of music that we did remotely, transatlantic-ly, so we thought we should put this out and we coaxed Joyful Noise into putting it out. We played a handful of shows. It was fun to do that for sure. We were never in the same room at the same time when we recorded it.

Saqqara Mastabas-libras-1_1024x1024

Saqqara-Mastabas

What about Set On Stun?

That’s on old band of mine a long time ago, in the 90s. We recorded with J Robbins, played a ton of shows. I’m still good friends with all those guys. That was sort of my thing, me and this other guy, the bass player, we wrote all the tunes.

So, you’re in Florida, Lou’s in Massachusetts and Jason’s in Brooklyn – so are you guys going to work on another album…are you on a break now, or are you going on another tour?

Yeah, not really on a break, we have three tours coming up, in January we’re going to Asia for three weeks, then we’re going to Europe in March, and then we’re doing another US tour, maybe some Canada dates in April and May. I’m not sure if we are going to Montreal, maybe we are. So, we’re going to do that, maybe some other stuff, but Lou is starting up with Dinosaur, they’re recording right now. That’s the issue, we lose Lou for a bit, we sort of have to work around the Dinosaur schedule. But apparently, we are going to try and do another record, I think, and it’s a good excuse to get back out and tour.

How did your tour for Act Surprised go? Any particular highlights from the tour? Do you enjoy it?

Yeah, it’s mostly a day in day out grind but I think we have fun, and I personally love going to Europe and stuff because of the stuff you get to see and experience. We had a day off on my birthday in Europe, and the tour manager took us to Chartres, the big gothic cathedral outside of Paris.  The stuff you get to do in Europe is really fun, an experience you won’t ever forget for the rest of your life, as opposed to outside of Cleveland on a day off. I love it, when I’m home for a bit I start to get a little antsy.

sebadoh_credit_to_travis_tyler (1)
Photo by Travis Tyler

What do you do in your spare time, when you’re not touring?

I work and make money, I have a painting business, painting people’s houses. I’ve done the same thing, for like 25 years, in between going on tour, come home, get into that again. Try to make money, pay the bills. Briefly for a while when I played with the Furnaces and first started with Sebadoh I thought maybe I won’t have to paint anymore, when one cycle ends the other begins. Just like with Lou, he can go from one to the other and doesn’t need to get a regular job. Of course, I was playing with the Furnaces, I got the Sebadoh gig, and then the Furnaces break up, ah shit, back to the grind. I was lucky for about 6 months, it all came together. It’s ok, it’s fine, I don’t mind it.

So what’s there to do in Florida?

Well I go swimming every day!

That’s amazing.

Yeah, I live really close to the beach. Let me put it this way, since I moved from NY about a year and half ago, I haven’t gotten sick once. I think it’s because I’m swimming in the ocean, the salt water’s going up your nose, it’s sort of cleaning everything out. I just hang out in my backyard and garden a lot, but most I go swimming as much as possible. I love the heat, I don’t mind when it’s blazing hot and humid. It’s like when you play at shows, you start to hallucinate a bit, I like it, it makes me feel alive. I always hated Florida, I always hated it, but then I found this neighborhood where I live now, it’s all these old houses from the 30s and 40s, beach cottages, and it’s pretty liberal, it’s kind of like a weird little green zone within Florida. It’s near the beach.  It’s a cool little spot surrounded by a lot of crap.

Are there any places to go out and see music?

I don’t really go out, I’m mostly gone a lot since I’ve moved here. But I’ve gone to a rock venue in a little downtown venue where I live, where cute little bands play. I like that place, seeing kids starting to do it, it’s gratifying to see.

Do you miss NY?

Yeah, I grew up there, so there’s certain things that are just part of a normal life, that here I just go ‘what the hell is wrong with these people?’ that sort of normal day in NY common sense stuff, so I miss that.  And I like to cook so finding certain cooking ingredients that are real hard to find down here. So, I miss it of course, but like an old man, the weather is a huge factor in my happiness I have to say.

So why did you decide Florida, do you have roots down there, do you know people?

I’ve got family down here. One by one they all ended up down here. I just wanted to find a place where the cost of living is less, the weather is good and it’s not too far away, so I ended up here.

What are you listening to at the moment? Any favorite new bands?

Yeah, I listen to and hear new music a lot because I listen to, all day and every day, this one particular station called WREK, it’s college radio at Georgia Tech, it’s the best.  Every time I listen to it, it’s usually stuff I never heard before. I heard this great band today, they’re called Plax. I hear great stuff all the time, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s no frills. Being from NY I used to listen to WFMU all the time, of course, it’s an institution, but all the DJs doing their shtick and everything it got old to me after a while. But WREK, they never talk, they’ll come on once in a while and are like that’s so and so, then right back to it. It’s one great new fantastic band after another. So, I’m just constantly Shazaming it, ‘what was that? what was that!?’ I’m always in my backyard, I have one huge speaker so I’m usually just streaming it – it’s free. It’s fantastic, you should check it out. It’s great, it’s gives me a lot of hope for the future, let me put it that way.

Being down in Florida, if you want to start writing again – how will you do that? 

Well I’m building a studio, I have like a detached garage, so with recording, I’ll just bring people down here, do more No Chief stuff eventually. I also want to start a local band down here, play in a bar band, a Zeppelin cover band or something. There are tons of sort of little bars around here with little bands playing, get a hot little classic rock band together.  But the priority is getting this studio together so I can start making some music…bang away on the drums.♥

Mike Krol and the ramblings of a fangirl

After months and months of waiting the night had finally arrived – Mike Krol was in Montreal!!! We’d been rejoicing on this moment to come with much anticipation, my daughter Sophia and I. For those of you who don’t know Mike Krol he is one of our favorite musicians. He creates the best emotive, garage-y, pop-punk songs around.

On August 9th, getting ready with t-minus 4 hours before the show, we donned our favourite Mike Krol t-shirts and left for the Vitrole club  early with the hope of somehow seeing Mike Krol, this rock god in our star-struck eyes, meandering about before the start of the show, so that we could maybe chat him up, introduce ourselves, tell him we are the biggest fans, become the best of friends and have all our wishes come true. These are the brightest hopes and wishes of a fangirl such as I.

At the show

As we entered the bar, basically almost the first to arrive, we walked in, took a loving gander at the plethora of merch assembled on a wall and table. We talked about which Mike Krol shirts we were going to buy, noticed we already had all his albums for sale on display. There was other stuff too from the other bands, but on a night like this where the focus was defined and shot like an arrow on the one and only our thoughts and desires for other bands just couldn’t stray or betray the love of the evening.

We then headed for the ladies room and in passing through the curtained off area saw, just could hardly believe, Mike Krol, sitting with Allison Crutchfield of Swearin’, closely and talking quietly together.  It was kind of dark but I noticed his orange striped  racing jacket he so wonderfully adorns in photos.  Immobilizing shyness crept in and I just couldn’t approach him, it felt like it just wasn’t the right moment.  We hoped he’d notice us wearing his shirts, one home-made no less, and realize we are his biggest fans then come over to us, but of course, this wouldn’t happen, be that easy.

Mike Krol in Montreal at Vitrole

Since we didn’t get the urge to approach him we headed to the bar and bought ourselves a couple of gin & tonics – which is when he came RIGHT UP TO THE BAR AND STOOD RIGHT NEXT TO US… He asked the bartender what kind of juice they had and looking at a list on the bar, asked what “Pamplemousse” was…so ADORABLE!!!  It’s amazing when you anticipate a moment like this and then it’s right here in front of you, and it’s even better than you hoped or imagined! Well here he was, right next to us and I still couldn’t muster up the courage to talk to him, until after having a couple of drinks in me and after the first band, The Bambies, played.

Our hopes were finally answered

Another chance came up when we spotted Mike Krol in the back of the club talking to some people and I felt it, the right moment, now or never, he’s relaxed and chatting with people/fans, kind of a perfect moment. We positioned ourselves toward the area he would have to walk by on his way backstage. Well the moment came when he walked by, well he actually zoomed by quickly and so I thought, ok, no biggie, another moment is sure to present itself, and then before I could think, he was back again, and AGAIN right in front of us, like 5 inches away and getting himself a glass of water at the bar, so I lightly tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around…and just like that here we were talking to Mike Krol!

I told him we were total huge fans and we were so happy he was here. He complimented Sophia’s handmade Mike Krol shirt and she leaned over to tell him how she made it a couple of years ago before any merch was available, and you could tell he was impressed by that. I mentioned how we were such huge fans that we even had his poster of him from Power Chords up on our living room wall. He said, “Wow – that’s quite a commitment!” and said he hoped to put on a good show for us, to live up to our expectations. Just such a nice and sweet and funny person to talk to. We shook our hands and chin-chinned my drink and drink/fist-pumped Sophia’s hand.

He asked if we knew Swearin’ who were actually on stage playing and I said I didn’t but asked how he met them and he said the singer, Allison, was his fiancé and they were on the same label – Merge. I asked were they from California and was he still living there, and he said that Swearin were from Pennsylvania but that Allison lived with him in California.  He then politely excused himself and said that he had to rest his throat before the show, and so we cheered again/fist-glass bumped again and said that we could talk later.

Mike Krol and us

Sophia and I then took in a few minutes of pure bliss from speaking to our legend and then went to catch the rest of Swearin’s set, eventually making our way up front.  Swearin’ were quite good, kind of a mixture between Eric’s Trip and the Breeders, in my opinion, poppy distortion-y rock songs. They explained how this was a double headline bill, and that every night they and Mike Krol would trade off who plays last and tonight it was Mike Krol’s turn to play last – (Thank GOD) – and that they tell people so that people don’t leave after their set. As if!!

Time to go nuts

When Mike Krol came on, well just – – – HOLY F%*K!! For starters, we were floored by the band’s appearance. Each member was dressed in a different one-color whole-body jumpsuit sort of outfit, which worked excellent visually, along with their spirally colored guitar cords. And Mike had this debonair casual flair going on, with white jeans, white shirt, a swanky burgundy leather belt, and burgundy Doc shoes. The way he moved around was great, the way he grabbed the mic and belted out his heartfelt singing and switching his sound pedals and strobe light on and off during various parts throughout the songs. He even did some stunts, jumping off the drum kit and with his tambourine. And then he paraded around the floor.

What a grand showcase and fun entertainer he is! The show was AMAZING of course!  Mike Krol and his band belted out one song after another, no breaks in between, for quite some time, from Power Chords, and Turkey and from Trust Fund  and I Hate Jazz…they took a slight break when the guitarist broke a string and Mike asked the audience if the strobe light was bothering anybody and if it was he would stop using it, or use it sparingly. Sigh – it is sweet how caring and sensitive he is. After this they then continued the onslaught of songs from all his records.  What can I say, we loved and cherished every minute of it!!

We ended up talking to Mike for a few minutes after the show while he was putting away his distortion pedals and strobe equipment. He signed Sophia’s t-shirt!  What a night to remember forever!!! ♥♥♥

The Jackets Interview

Strange to say I hadn’t heard of The Jackets before Matt from Voodoo Rhythm Records, a cool garage rock’n’roll  label out of Bern, Switzerland, sent me a promo of their recently released album Queen of the Pill. But yeah,  as soon as I slapped that baby on was I ever mightily impressed!!! The Jackets deliver such a powerful punch of intense and stylish garage punk that  immediately draws you, hook line and sinker. And then later when I heard from Chris Rosales, The Jacket’s drummer, that they toured the US and Canada a couple years ago was I ever bummed!  They played Montreal and I didn’t know it!  Kicking myself, I feel I’ve missed out on what must have been an incredible, crazy and memorable live performance! Well now I am so thrilled that I know them and get to experience their sheer exuberant and maddening garage tunes, and maybe I’ll be lucky if they come back this way again so I can experience their killer live show – as you can see from the photos borrowed for this interview.   I hope if you don’t know them you will do yourself a favor and check them out and then love them like I do!

– Samia ♥

What’s the story of how you all first met and formed The Jackets?

Chris Rosales: I met Jackie at a show I played (Lightning Beat-Man) in Zürich in the late ‘90s. We started a relationship and one of our goals as a couple was to start a great Rock and Roll band. We started writing songs together and rehearsing with just guitar and drums, which was our original idea for the band. Eventually we wanted a fatter sound so I asked one of my favourite bass players here in Bern to play with us, Severin Erni from a band called Tight Finks. We had our fist show in January of 2008. We had good bookings right away. Our fist shows were actually a tour with the French band Magnetix from Bordeaux. The calendar started filling up fast and we even booked a studio to do our first LP after that Summer. This was a bit too fast for Severin. He was about to start a family and wasn’t really prepared to start a new Rock and Roll adventure so he agreed to finish all our bookings we had so far and to play on the record but he couldn’t go on with us after that. We met Sam as a promoter at a small countryside club that we played at. Severin left on the train after the gig and Jackie and I stayed up all night drinking and talking to Sam. To make a long story short, Sam became our bass player a month later. He even plays a little guitar on our first LP but didn’t start playing shows until January of 2009. Jackie and I are no longer romantically linked but we are the best of friends, confidants and partners in crime!

Describe what it’s like being a Swiss garage band…What’s the culture like in Switzerland…Is it easy for a band like yourselves to work on your art? 
What’s the garage music scene like’s there?

Chris Rosales: Well, we aren’t a Swiss Garage band. We are a band that is based in Switzerland. We spend most of our time outside of Switzerland and lately outside of Europe a bit. The National Arts Council in Switzerland is very happy to have Swiss bands go outside of Switzerland to play and we get a certain amount of subvention from the State which we are grateful for! I think this is unique to most of Europe besides France. I have also heard that Canada gives money to bands and artists as well. Switzerland is a small, traditional country with not much experience in the music world but things have been changing for the last thirty years. Bands like Yellow and The Young Gods broke internationally as well as others from the hard rock genre. But Switzerland is famous in the underground Garage Rock and Roll scene because of Voodoo Rhythm Records and Reverend Beat-Man. In this scene, all of Europe has heard of Switzerland and Bern is probably one of the Garage Underground capitals in Europe. There is a Punk, Ska, Rockabilly, Garage and noise scene here because of the influence of Voodoo Rhythm Records and Beat-Man.


The Jackets @THE BUNKHOUSE LAS VEGAS USA PHOTO BY MELANIE COFFEE 2017

Jack Torera, you have such a powerful voice… who are some of your influences?

Jack Torera: I developed my voice basically on stage playing live with bands over many years. I never really had an idol  or a certain style that I wanted to achieve, I couldn’t do that anyways. Of course I like strong female singers like Nina Hagen, Patty Smith or Janis Joplin, mainly because the have a very unique voice and style. I like voices that have personality and don’t sound like everybody else or are perfectly trained.

Who came up with The Jacket’s unique style, makeup, look and outfits?

Jack Torera: The make-up comes from a character I also play in my One-Woman-Plays called Jack Torera, my alter ego. I also do costumes and we were looking for a simple outfit that is comfortable to wear (and wash!) and that is timeless and recognizable as The Jackets.

The Jackets Queen of the Pill

What brought you to Voodoo Rhythm Records and getting King Khan to produce and Jim Diamond to mix and master you record Queen of the Pill? 

Chris Rosales: I have known Beat-Man of Voodoo Rhythm Records for over twenty years and King Khan is also an old friend that I met in the 1990’s touring Europe in one of Beat-Man’s bands. So we are all friends and associates. After our last record, we wanted to work with someone who could produce us. Make us work harder but in a fun way and we decided to go to Berlin and do a few songs with King Khan and it worked really well so we decided to go back and do a whole LP. Jim Diamond has been writing us for years about doing something but we never met personally so it never happened. By accident we met on on airport shuttle in Spain at Asturias Airport and started talking. He asked again if we ever want to do something he would like to work with us. After the Berlin session we decided to send him a few songs to test mix and the rest is history!

As a band who are some of your inspirations?

Chris Rosales: We like a lot of different things. Theatre, Painting, Movies, so we find inspiration in more than just music. Our musical inspirations are endless but a few who I could list would be The Cramps, The Monks, The Music Machine, The MC5, The Stooges and The Kinks.

The Jackets The Jackets @WACHINA WACHINA VALENCIA, SPAIN 2018

Your videos are loads of fun! Can you talk about what are your favorite ones and why you like them and how you made them?

Chris Rosales: Videos are a lot of work! Jackie is a film maker and went to film school in Zürich so we have an advantage technically. We have had great experiences and we are lucky to have worked with some really great film people. We made “Wasting My Time” all by ourselves in the south of France with a tripod and the three of us taking turns holding the camera. One was a film compilation (You Better) while we were on tour taken by our driver. Two were major productions (Freak Out & Keep Yourself Alive) with budgets and a professional crew. The last one (Losers Lullaby) was a professionally shot with one camera person and a set assistant. I think they all have their own personalities. I don’t really have a favourite but I always like the newest one!

You’ve been around since 2008 so how has your style and sound changed over the years?

Chris Rosales: I think our song writing has developed a lot. We are still attempting the same things but I think we are way more successful at them now. And that goes for our recordings as well. We are just getting better at it, or making better decisions now. But if you listen to our first record (Stuck Inside 2009) and then our second (Way Out 2012) there is a big change. We have just refined the “Way Out” sound for the last 7 years.


-thejackets-press-pic-by-in-ki-esnaola_orig

What are some of the most outstanding moments for your band – greatest shows, or experiences that really stand out?

Chris Rosales: Playing Funtastic Dracula Festival in 2013 which really put us in the spotlight here in Europe. Also the two tours of the USA in 2017 and 2018 were very important for us as far as exposure in another continent. The Jackets have had so many great moments (for me personally). I am really lucky and really grateful that I can do this crazy job.

What’s on the horizon for the Jackets with your upcoming release of Queen of the Pill record?

Chris Rosales: Well, We are on tour at the moment in Switzerland and as I write this (June 2019), we are on the way to Spain to tour. We will be coming to the rest of Europe (France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, etc.) starting in October.

The Jackets @THE FINSBURY LONDON, ENGLAND PHOTO BY ZIG CRISCUOLO 2017

Any plans to tour North America?

Chris Rosales: Yes, we are thinking about coming early Spring 2020 but maybe just the North West/ South West USA and then maybe Mexico. But we would like to come back to Canada. You know we played Montreal, Quebec City and Sherbrooke in 2017?

Does the band have any special messages for the audience?
Chris Rosales: Give Pizza Chance!

Queen of the Pill - The Jackets

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…

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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 GD Bear Co. on Monday, 19 March 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, 26 April 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.

the-cramps-sunglasses-after-dark

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.

lux-interior-poison-ivy-records

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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Steven Cerio’s amazing suburban kid world

Steven Cerio’s world is filled with the innocence and refreshing newness of childhood discovery.  As an artist he communicates this animated sphere of his younger years through  an extensive range of very detailed  ink drawings and colorfully vibrant paintings of a myriad of joyful worms, bees, pig-tail girls, minnows, giraffes, and whales. Discover his boundless  creativity in his free flow doodling in band posters, films, comics, books and music.  Read  about his early childhood experiences, his love for folk and outsider art, the useful self-marketing tips he learned from legendary artists and illustrators in NYC in the late 80s, his love for improvisation, abstract expressionism, and DIY thinking.  Take this trip and delve into Steven Cerio’s  magnificent  and captivating macrocosm  about all of the above and so much more in the interview!

At what moment in your life did you realize your calling as an artist? 

I think it was really early for me, cause I found boxes of drawings that my mother saved. I think I was encouraged more than most because my dad – both my parents were first generation Americans, my mother’s family is from Yugoslavia and my dad’s was from Italy – he couldn’t afford to go to art school but he had skills and wanted to go but couldn’t so I think that’s why he enjoyed the fact that I liked drawing so much. If I even mentioned offhandedly, you know, asked like, “what’s oil paint dad?” we’d be in the car driving me to buy oil paint at 7 years old. And I got interested in typography early on, signs, and my father would take me to the museums. I think he was taking me partially hoping that I would be interested but he was interested in it himself. I think that got me on track at an early age. I used to say as a kid I wanted to be either an artist or an archeologist.

Do you have any of your dad’s paintings?

He didn’t paint a lot or draw a lot around the house, sadly. I wish everybody did.  Sometimes I try to make people do it – pretty much anyone I was too close to in my family is passed away now. It would be so nice to have just a painting, a very simple painting that my grandmother did of her house or of a puppy, whatever. To me, well you know, I believe in art, it speaks to me, so to be able to answer “what is that weird bean shape on that canvas?” with “oh my grandfather did that; he was 82”. I wish I had stuff like that, but I do have this though, I have a painting that my dad did of a pot full of flowers, a still life that he did when he was showing me how to paint. He was showing me how to do shading and highlights. I have that exact painting, I kept it, I have it framed on my wall. And that thing is so strong to me it can drive me to tears on the right day. And I just wish that I had stuff that mother did, or my grandparents – not specifically for me but just a doodle or something. That would say a lot to me.

Painting by Steven Cerio blue and greenWere there artists on both sides of your family?

No, no one on either side of my family. No, they didn’t like doing it. I wish I had pieces by everyone of them though. No, there wasn’t a lot of that around me growing up. I just believe in anyone, even non artists.  I think especially non-artists do the most interesting stuff anyway, I really do. I mean honestly the things I pay the most attention to since I was a kid are folk art and outsider art. I got into outsider art in NY in like ‘89 or ‘90.

What’s outsider art?

Outsider art would include a lot of folk artists of course, but it would be people that didn’t have any training, that weren’t doing work to have it be in galleries. It would be somebody like Henry Darger, one of the more famous ones. When he passed away they found in his apartment a book that was thousands of pages long and it had a lot of illustrations and paintings. There’s other ones, like the Philadelphia wire man. Someone passed away in an apartment and they threw away everything that was in there, all these abstract strange wire sculptures. That stuff speaks to me. Like to me the people who say they can’t draw, when they sit down to draw they have these unique styles.  Dubuffet was the first one to promote it and use the term ‘art brut’ to describe it. And then you have a place called Gugging which is a mental facility in Austria and they started having people do drawings and paint every day, and they’re not painters and artists, and they created some of the most original and telling work. To me that flies in the face of all the training that people get, conceptualizing the way people do nowadays.

So, it’s like the natural trait in humans…

Right, it’s a human trait, it’s no longer a college graduate trait, or well educated trait, and to me that’s big, that’s strong human instinct.  Look at someone like Howard Finster, one of the biggest folk artists in the world, one day he just decided that he was going to do sacred art, as he called it that was it, he just woke up one day and decided to do it. It’s an American thing. You see it in Europe and elsewhere but it seems to be a very common American occurrence. Waking up one day and going, “oh, I’m going to be a film director now”, you know, that was afforded to us back when there weren’t as many troubles as there are now, it’s still going on. 5-6 years ago, I got up one day, and decided, “I am going to start doing films” and then asked myself, “I never shot a film before, why am I going to do a film?”, and that’s why I started a film, because I had never shot one before. And I don’t know, I guess I carry around that Do it Yourself attitude, where if I don’t do a film one day I will look back and admit I didn’t do a film, but if I do a film, then I did a film. It’s as simple as that, right?  And if you feel drawn to it then go ahead and do it. Going back to folk art, Grandma Moses decided, she was 72 or 73 when she started painting. You know, why not.  Like some people are like – I wish I learned an instrument, and they’re like 40. You have plenty of time to learn an instrument. Pick up a guitar and play it your own way. If you are interested in it enough, you put in a couple hundred hours just messing with a guitar, you are going to start writing songs, you’ll start figuring out where your favorite notes are, you’ll start figuring out how to structure things or what appeals to you, I think it’s like that with everything. I wish there was more people that would do that, I wish there was moDrawing of girl - steven ceriore naïve music out there instead of the worried, businessy dress up music that the labels award themselves for.

When you talk about composition and theory in art and music, it’s nonsense. It’s nonsense to educate on composition. That’s old silver haired white boy stuff that they still stick to. It’s not that I’m revolting against it. Now think about composition in music – John Coltrane- Cecil Taylor goes out, Ornette Coleman goes out, and they improvise completely.  They learned structures/patterns, how to play a song, that there’s an introduction and a chorus, it’s not really that hard to learn.  And you learn that stuff and when you go to improvise – Coltrane still created beautiful music even though it was improvised. If Coltrane just plays a theme at the beginning and just runs off that theme like Ornette Coleman did, who is to say that that’s not music or a composition. To predetermine doesn’t take skill or taste, just memorization. That is what music is, not pop music, it’s actual music. And these ideas from composition come from old classical techniques that the composers used but when you take rules away you realize most people invented their own rules anyway, Shoenberg, Cage and Varese. If you get different pieces of colored paper and you throw them on the ground a composition got created. Composition isn’t something that you need to go to school to be good at. Composition is something that just happens. I feel like a lot of these things that people believe they need to learn kept them from becoming an artist or musician, I think they could have just gone right past it. Composition and theory, theory is just that, it’s a theory. A person that just sits down and plays and starts doing music is going to have a catalog of 5000 new songs before a lot of these other musicians learned enough theory to improvise yet.

Do you use this same philosophy in the music that you write?

I sit down and play, if something works it works, if I enjoy listening to it I’ll continue working on it, and I’ll go that direction. There’s that instinct, if you are playing, even if you don’t have something written down, hopefully I know enough than to play a D sharp for 7 hours straight, you know what I mean? Some people think that if you don’t have something written down, if you don’t know where you are going you couldn’t go anywhere good. But if you get in your car and you drive you could very well wind up somewhere good if you keep driving long enough. That’s where I draw the line between what songs are and what music is. I think music, John Coltrane is music, I don’t think of John Coltrane as songs, I think of music as from higher level of thinking than that. Not that I think that there’s anything wrong with anyone listening to it or anything. I think at some point I grew out of the idea of songs. Grew out of the idea of even listening to them. If I know a verse is coming and I know a chorus is coming I get bored awfully quickly. Something might grab me for a little while but like most pop music it becomes disposable after a while. Where Coltrane, or Captain Beefheart say, even though his work was very structured, it’s hard to wear out. You could play the same song in a row for a decade and you still hear something different every time. I know it’s not for everybody.

Can you take me through the evolution of your artistic style?

When I started, the first thing when I started that I was in love with was the dictionary. It was the first thing that I saw that impressed me as a kid. I saw those tight engraved lines and I didn’t know anything about printing, I thought they were drawing all those little lines, and I thought those drawings were done that size too, I became fascinated with the idea of really tight line work when they brought out black ink in school, and then I saw the first Santana record.  A friend of the family gave me a copy of the first Santana album, the Lee Conklin cover, it’s a drawing of a lion, and I was sitting around with it and I knew there was something up with it, I didn’t know what it was and I kept looking at it on and off for a couple of months and all of a sudden I saw the girls inside the eyes making up the nose and that’s when I started drawing.  I asked my father for ink and I started drawing in ink, too much maybe –I got called into the school psychologist and I didn’t know what was going on, I thought I did something wrong. He sat me in a room and now that I look back, they were watching me through some glass or something, this was in the 70s. He watched me for a while and then he came out and the first thing I said to him when he came in was, “Is that a Boston pencil sharpener?” Because I loved Boston pencil sharpeners and you could see a lightbulb go off over his head, Ching!, cause that’s what I was there for. He asked “Why do you care if it’s a Boston pencil sharpener?”, and I reached into my pocket and I pulled out 5 pencils and he let me sharpen the pencils and then he asked, “Why are you sharpening those pencils?” and from my back pocket I pulled out a couple handmade sketch books that I had made out of folded paper. I would carry them to doodle during recess, and he asks “What are these?” and I go “Sketchbooks – I’m making sure the pencils are really sharp because I am doing detailed drawings” and he goes “Okay, you can leave.”  They thought I was just obsessively sharpening pencils for no good reason, the reason why I would get up during class was because I wanted to draw all day. 10 years later I won a couple of scholarships to go to college to art school so it all worked out I guess.

I kept with the ink work, then I started giant scale charcoals and I Steven Ceriowas painting a lot. When I was around 20, I was doing all ink drawings, I had moved away from color, just ink drawings. I switched from a technical pen to a brush in ‘90, and I worked with a brush ever since then. I started painting seriously somewhere around the mid-90s in a looser kind of style, sometimes almost completely abstract. It’s a completely different animal. I started showing the paintings now and I’m realizing how strongly people react to color. Cause to me I care more about composition more than I do about color. I had no idea, all of a sudden I’m doing work that people will hang in their living room and their wives will let them buy it. I think that the energy in my drawings is very aggressive to some people, it makes them nervous. So I am at both ends of the spectrum now, doing tight anal retentive drawings and really loose paintings. The way I see my stuff, even as a little kid I could see in my stuff, I’m always trying to build structures, they’re sketches for sculptures, and David Smith had a large part to do with that. It was one of the few sculpture books at the library in the town where I grew up, and I just adored it right off the bat. He was a big inspiration for me, still is. So a lot of my work is sketches for massive sculptures that I could never afford to make.

How did your poster making for bands come about?

Well that was one of the first gigs I got.  I moved to New York, I got out of school in 87 and I was in NYC in 88, and people laugh about this but I moved there with $700 dollars in my pocket. That was enough to get situated back then, it was so cheap to live there, and the second day I was there I landed a job at Psychedelic Solution Gallery in the East Village. Steven Cerio Frank Zappa posterSo I was working in a place where artists come in, Rick Griffon would come in, I got to know him, we’d have shows – artists would be coming through so I picked up a lot of advice from people’s work who I admired since I was a little kid. From there I started meeting people that would come in to look at art. My skin’s always been thick about art, it’s aesthetics, someone’s gonna like your work, someone’s gonna hate it, and I think I just knew that as a kid, I’m never really bothered, if someone doesn’t want to use me for a project I don’t become offended by it, I may not be good for the project or they may not like my work, I’m ok with that, it’s not really bothersome to me, I never let that get in the way. So every person that came in I was helping with a print I’d ask, “Are you in a band?” NY back then was all creative people, cause it was cheaper to live, you’d meet people that would make a living from having a little tiny record store in the back of a book store, everyone was doing something, but I’d ask enough and I met Kevin Hine who is one of the art directors for Screw magazine. He had me doing little spot illustrations for that and then I did a single cover for the Dust Devils, that was the first record cover I ever did, and from there I’d meet people, I did a poster for White Zombie before they broke really big, just a Xerox street poster, and I did some for Monster Magnet before they really broke through, so there was a lot of those bands around and people would come to me to do posters. Sometimes I would just accept a few beers for it, and the poster scene, there wasn’t really a poster scene back then, it was just Xerox street posters, it wasn’t until one day somebody came in with a Frank Kozik poster that we realized that anyone was still printing posters anymore because all the posters we were selling, nothing went past 1974, they were antiques that we were selling.

The Residents by Steven Cerio

So how did you get involved with work for the Residents?

That happened by an old business technique where some of these older illustrators and gallery artists told me, don’t ever sit at home and wait for a gig, don’t do that, you go out and you knock on doors, that’s the way it’s done. Rick Griffin, Robert Williams, Ron Turner, Robert Crumb told me go and knock on doors, that’s the way you do it. And they didn’t mean as a beginner either, they meant as a professional artist, you knock on doors. That’s essentially what I did with the Residents, I got a mailing address for their office and I would spent $15 on Xerox copies, send them in, not hear anything back, send some more in, get a little note, and then one day they asked me to work on a film with them. Back then you used mail, the physical object, getting a physical object and holding it I still think has so much more power than getting an email. You can overlook an email but if you mail someone a 2-pound packet of Xerox copies of your drawings and they hold it in their hands and they wind up on their desk, you know they don’t get turned off, objects can’t get turned off, who knows, someone pins one up on a wall. I’ve sold art to people because someone they met had a poster of my work on their living room wall, or a postcard pinned on their cubicle at work. You can’t account for where people are going to see your works, putting actual copies out there still seems to me that it works much better than e-commerce.

Can you talk about some of the reoccurring characters in your work?

Yeah that goes in deep, all the way to my childhood, it takes a long time for a new character to be accepted into my stuff, I think carefully about that. All of the images I use started when I was a little kid, to me everything in there is suburban. The worms…I remember as a kid, I grew up in central NY, not a lot of sun, and I remember us calling each other and going “It’s a blue sky day” and looking up and having no clouds and having that beautiful blue sky, the green of the grass, certain things have a special resonance when you first start noticing them, I remember falling in love with lawn grass and finding toads and a puddle at the bottom of the driveway after it rained and there might be some worms in it. So you’d have this black pavement with this bright pink worm moving under the puddle and then you have a bright green frog hopping through bright green grass and to me there is a lot of poetry in all of that. It brings me back to those experiences and I remind myself of their beauty and because I’ve done that I’ve never forgotten. I talk to my friend Cindy, we’ve known each other since we were 3, and we talk about our neighborhood and the fields. She saw my art after we hadn’t spoken for a few years and said “I knew your art would look like that”, which I thought was great, and she remembered more stories than I did, like she remembered how obsessed I was with bees when I was a kid, which are still in my drawings, she goes “Remember the burning bees?” and I go “No..”  I guess at one point my dad had a jar with some gas in it, he was cleaning screws, and I just emptied the gas out and I caught bees in it and we left it in the sun and it blew up cause of the fumes and we were freaked out, we didn’t know what was going on, some strange other worldly physics were going on. But all of those things like the yellow of the bees, of the yard, all of that, and building dioramas as a kid was a big thing with me and if you notice in almost all of my work has a short depth of field. I never use deep space, I never try to do reality, I never try to make something realistic, I’ve never been interested in it.

a-vivified-sugar-cube-explains-the-universeI was obsessed with view masters, I remember holding one on my face so long that I actually got bruises around my eyes from bumping into things. I wanted to be able to walk around and be in that Charlie Brown world. I kept hoping that if the light was just right I could still look at Charlie while I did my homework or while I was eating dinner. I think that’s where the love of shallow space comes from. To me, my work is all very innocent .I call myself a psychedelic artist but I don’t mean that in the most way that people use that term. I’m not a habitual drug user. I’m not saying I never had psychedelic experiences though. To me the psychedelic experience is just a pleasant sense of confusion. To get lost in something, to not know where you are for a while is very pleasant. I’ve experienced certain psychedelic states looking into a swimming pool and the light moving around, I don’t think it necessarily has anything to do with drugs, to me it’s just the way your brain is reacting to things. Alan Watts said, “after you get the call you can hang the phone up”, I think it was helpful to me, it helped me focus and realize things, but I don’t base my work in anything that’s happened to me, I’m on play not record, I want to confuse myself, I want to look at something and wonder why I did it, and guess at what state of mind I was in to make it, and I think that goes right back to my love for outsider art, if I am looking at a piece of art and can’t figure out why the person drew a fish or a house the way they did, I’m probably going to enjoy it .

What about the whales in your art?

I went on a whale watch out in Maine and they were swimming right along the ship, I was able to pet a couple of them, they were babies. I met whales – I was out there in the water with them, I was out in California, I saw whales out there – didn’t draw whales, for years I didn’t draw whales. You think that that experience alone would trigger something. No, it took 8 years. Things have to feel right, there has to be a reason- not necessarily rational- why it’s there. Sometimes I’ll put something in and it doesn’t look like it belongs, like even my giraffes. My giraffes aren’t really giraffe’s, they’re toothpaste. I was doing a drawing one day and I drew some toothpaste squirting out, it was a tube with a chopped off end like a log, and then I drew an eye on it, so in my head it’s ok having toothpaste in a drawing about the suburbs and my childhood ’cause it just reminds me of the Crest tubes. There’s always bees, there’s always lawn grass, and there’s always worms, that’s been in everything for about 20 something years. But if I have water now I have I certain type of minnow I draw all the time because I had been up by a river, hiking up in the Adirondacks, and there was one dead silver minnow laying out on a rock, perfectly laid out on a dry rock. It looked like it had only been there for a half hour and it just struck me for some reason, like the shape of it, and how silver it was and how big the eye was and I took a bunch of photographs of it and then I started drawing minnows the next day. It just made an impression on me, it came into my work organically.paintings-by-steven-cerio-variousTo me it’s comfort food, art is comfort food to me, it makes me feel good. I don’t do irony or politics, to me art should be about confused comfort and pleasure, some people get it, the people that like my work get it. Everyone wants to feel better, no matter how many skulls and graveyards they tattoo on themselves.

 steven-cerio-holding-a-painting-overheard-by-christopher-molloy

Can you describe your studio space?  ? What environments are you most comfortable or enjoy most working in?

I think the one thing I took from the environment living in NY was the horror vacuous approach of it all; televisions playing in windows and all the trains back then, this was the late 80s when I just got there so the trains were still really beautiful. They were big beautiful murals rolling through the city. We’d all stop and watch the # 7 trains go by, they were just painted from top to bottom. Even riding those trains was a treat. I already had those kind of horror vacuous instincts, the idea of activating every available space, but I was still drawing nature, I never really found cities, boxes and squares very beautiful, but after I moved up to the Hudson valley in the Catskills my style really started changing a lot quicker. I never thought much of inspiration, I never thought that I needed to be inspired by anything outside of me, just like Picasso said – inspiration is just fine but when it shows up it better catch you working – I’m paraphrasing but that’s the essence of it. I got up there and found giant centipedes and caught frogs on the way home, after being in NYC all day I’d stop at a pond on the way home, and be careful not to hit raccoons on my bike when I was going to get pizza in the evening. That really inspired me. Nature started becoming increasingly important in my work. Even now though I’m technically in a suburb but separated by big lots, being able to go out in the garden every day helps me get a lot of work done, my brain just opens wide up. The pollen, the bees, just the color green, I love the summer. For my studio set up I keep everything in the same room, one giant room where I have all of my books, the television is in here so I can leave movies on, the stereo, my computer, two drawing tables, a surface for cutting stuff and trimming stuff. A brain where you can go in there and there’s all this activity going on and hopefully some of it grabs you. Everything is an arm’s reach away. I’m stalked up on pencils, erasers and ink and there’s stacks of unfilled notebooks. I love the idea that there’s paper I haven’t drawn on yet. I like knowing there’s tons of work that I still need to do. That really inspires me knowing that there’s all that blank paper in the world. I love facing an empty canvas, I love facing empty paper, I love it, because there’s nothing there and when you are done there’s something there.

I’m trying to remember a long time ago I think you told me how you enjoyed working in the south west, maybe Arizona…

Yeah, I’m very attached to that area, especially the southwest corner of Arizona.  My friend Dave and I used to fly out there about every year or two years and go out there to hike and drive every road we could and mark it on the map, all through New Mexico and Arizona till we found something interesting. I fantasized about living out there, the idea to me of just having nothing to do but work sounds beautiful to me. I don’t hate people but I like the idea of being out there in the middle of the desert and no one’s going to disturb you. Of course that was pre cell phone days, but to really be in the world, I know it sounds simple and almost hippyish but the idea of being in the world and getting wet when it rains- being there in the elements. I brought my mother’s ashes out there to Arizona near Organ Pipe National Monument. When she passed away I brought her ashes out into the desert. I like thinking of her ashes being there cause it’s so incredible the view, you can see 20 miles into the desert from where I climbed and that’s what my movie was about, The Magnificent Pigtail Shadow.  The idea came from that day where I was up on the mountain and a bird followed me up and all the way back down then sat underneath the car. My half-sister Michelle said – “That was your mother!”  – and I go  – “My mother followed me down and sat in the shade of a rental car and ate potato chips from a bodega in Tucson?”  – and I found that insulting (laughs)! No, my mother didn’t inhabit a bird and eat Ripples underneath our Ford rental car! When I was up there laying out her ashes, I took some photos. Only in Arizona can you have really strange shadows casted from rock formations you can’t see from where you are, and there was this rock casting a shadow that looked like a girl with pigtails. It reminded me of a picture of her when she had pigtails when she was getting her communion as a little blond girl in Simpson, Pennsylvania. For a second I thouSteven Cerio painting pigtailsght, “wow that looks like that photograph” – but I don’t go for superstition or mysticism so I was bothered by the fact that my brain was trying to make me believe that her spirit was moving in strange fantastic ways and I rejected it and I still reject it but when I got home and showed my sister that picture, and she said that- “that was your mother!” – it didn’t make me angry at my sister but it made me realize how un-superstitious I am, how un-spiritual I am, and for a while I felt a little bit guilty about that.  One would assume that I am a cold person but I’m not – I just believe that we should do whatever we can while we are here. We should enjoy this world as much as you can while we are here. The movie is  about that sensation, it doesn’t have a sinister tone to it but it’s slightly mocking, like oh, you can think of something better than this desert or that beautiful tree, you’ve got something better, what is it, a vision of heaven that you’ve never seen that someone sold you on that they invented and you are going to wait for that instead of enjoying where you are here? I’m not trying to attack religion but superstition is fascinating to me. I’m using images of the earth and laying them on top of one another and it looks very meditative and very psychedelic so technically speaking, me doing a film isn’t me being here and enjoying the world either, it’s me doing a film to tell everyone that they should enjoy the earth (laughs). Creating art isn’t enjoying a sunset either.

Can you talk about or describe the various techniques you use?

The paintings I’ve been showing, I hadn’t shown them for years. Doing the tighter style that I do which is the really tight polished style with the brush, I call it the germ free style. But that stuff is a stunt, I don’t draw like that in my sketch book. I have to control my breathing when I do those, there’s a specific brush I use and there’s no mistakes on them. Since I was a kid I liked the idea of art just coming out of you-happening to you. I think of the great folk artists and outsider artists as cavemen – they did what they had to do to get the image down or to create the object, they didn’t care what they made it out of.  Look at Salvation Mountain, its’ made out of mud. He needed to get that image out in the world and he couldn’t afford cement so he was making adobe out of mixing water with the dirt that was out there in the desert. I approached art initially as a little kid, and at this point the pieces that I do have no performance anxiety in them at all, there’s no test to me in it at all, it is me getting an image down. I put a color I don’t like down I’ll either paint over it or I’ll tear it right off cause I paint on paper now, I stopped painting on canvas, it was starting to take up too much room and I just liked the absorbency of paper better and I like the texture of paper better and I didn’t enjoy spending hours preparing for every painting or drawing. On paper I can do work on 6 paintings at the same time, and there’s not much prep time involved really, and there’s no such thing as mistakes anymore and sometimes they wind up being fifteen layers of paper and weighing a couple of pounds, but in the end the image comes out the way I want the image to come out and they follow that caveman approach where I’m going to get this image down no matter what. It’s an attitude that has nothing to do with style, it’s not a statement in itself, it is only the urgency of getting something accomplished, something recorded, something done, something out there, I hesitate to ever use the word expressing because that word seems odd to me, like I don’t really feel like I’m trying to tell anyone anything and I think expression means you are trying to tell somebody something, I’m not trying to tell anybody anything. It’s about structure and it’s about beauty. I think of it as art of course, but a bit like putting in a bathroom floor in a way. I think of it as what my dad did being a carpenter. Those instincts sound ‘selfish’ in this age, but art is selfish, or at least it used to be .Now the art world wants art to be ‘socially redeeming’, but I didn’t get into art to illustrate American politics. I feel like a lot of gallery art has become very illustrative where abstraction has become a dirty word, like it’s something that self absorbed people did instead of painting the US flag dripping its red stripes like blood.  I’m not inspired by CNN to do art.

eyes Steven Cerio When you are facing a blank sheet of paper do you know what you are going to draw?

I will definitely have an intentionally loose idea of how I want something to come out. It’s usually from the most simple thumbnail sketch imaginable and I’ll keep it on the wall while I’m doing the piece. The inspiration is often a simple shape. Everything comes off that big shape. I’m always thinking sculpturally. A thumbnail that took me 3 seconds to draw might talk to me for some reason. The sketches that I really prepare for I rarely end up using ’cause I feel like I already know what they look like in my head so there’s no mystery in it for me anymore. If I plan too much the mystery is gone for me. It’s the same thing for me in music, if I know where the verse and the chorus is and how long the song is and when it’s going to end I don’t want to play it anymore. I kind got really fed up with playing pop structures and songs.  I wanted to sit down and do music and play music like you go for a walk, like you think, and what happens, happens, and when it ends, it ends. You don’t really know exactly how long it’s going to be, you just need to have that mystery, the possibilities and open-ends of it is what inspires me. But with my paintings I’ll start with nothing. I’ll start making gestures on the paper and just feeling out. There’s no performance anxiety, it’s just jump in, sink or swim, but really, there’s no sinking because I can always tear out the part that I don’t like.

Do you ever get commissions for work?

Galleries, commissions and book/print sales is how I make a living.

Do you still do posters?

People usually don’t tell me what to do when they want posters done. It was back in the 90’s, I worked for Entertainment Weekly and Nickelodeon and all that and it was very precise stuff, like we need a dog and the dog needs to be this color, or the article is about this person, do a portrait of them. It was easier doing that than, you know, cleaning dishes, for me. I could make more money doing that so I kept at it for a few years. Most of the commissions now are for paintings, I’ve been doing more paintings than usual and then some people will commission posters and graphics for bands and what not. I’ve been working on a lot of books now, the one sad thing about book publishing now is that there is no such thing as advances anymore.

sunbeam-on-the-astronaut-by-steven-cerioCan you tell me about your book, Sunbeam on the Astronaut?

It was a collection of what I wanted in narrative work. I like abstraction in writing. I used many of my automatically written shorts alongside veiled stories of my sister’s death, hallucinations and dreams.  It is far from a comic but has some influence of 60s undergrounds. I used any style needed to push the writing. I often invented styles for a specific piece. Its being re-released as a boxset with my new book Charming the Sugarbowl– a full color collection of my paintings. The box will also have a collection of my music and films.

Sunbeam on the Astronaut

Can you talk about your whole toy making experience?  

I was talking to a friend about ideas for The Residents toys that I wanted to do. I had the blessing of The Residents to do it, and he had just met Lev from Toy Tokyo, so we made plans to go down. Lev at first wasn’t too thrilled with the idea. I am sure he has to say no to like a thousand toys a day I would guess, but he kept a few images from me and then a month later he called me, and I lied and told him that I knew how to make toys. I called up some friends who knew Residents toys photohow to design toys, found out it wasn’t horribly detailed and I didn’t need to go to school for 8 years to learn how to do it so I jumped in, got it done. I ran everything past the Residents and we were good to go. I told that story to my students and they didn’t seem to think I really got the gig was their impression. They thought asking someone for a job doesn’t really mean that you got the job, that you were essentially begging for it. They seem to think you get on a TV show or win a contest and the next morning you wake up to a career. I hope that magical thinking works for ‘em, but I haven’t seen any evidence of it. There’s only so much I could do teaching seniors that had never been taught any business at that school. I think if you go into art school you should be learning business at the same time. I’m not saying that you have to be like Andy Warhol where 99% of your day is business. It’s often painful for me. I don’t really dig the business side of things but I don’t hate it either, and I know that it’s necessary, I know that promoting my art gets me more commissions, gets me more gallery shows, gets me more books, and that gets me more work to do so I can use up all that paper in the corner.

steven-cerio-holding-a-painting by Christopher Molloy

Visit Steven Cerio’s website to get lost in the gleeful abundance of his work in a multitude of mediiums!

The Almighty King Khan communes…

Anyone who’s been to a King Khan and the Shrines show knows all about the sheer cathartic energy, the wild and crazy exuberant antics onstage and the adoring crowd as they worship the almighty King Khan and his sensational Shrines in all their fantasmic musical glory, as they spread their wicked voodoo charms, in their whacked out glittery caped costumes.  It’s a soul-filled, garage-y, horn smattering love-fest of spiritual liberation, excitation, and sexhalation. While on his latest tour, the multifaceted man about town, King Khan, kindly finds time to answer some questions:

 

What lives inside the mind, heart and soul of King Khan and the Shrines?

I really feel like what we do is some kind of spiritual service especially in such a corrupt world nothing can soothe the mind and soul more than soul music. If the intentions are holy and it provides the proper opiate that both alleviates pain and exposes hypocrisy then we have a true catalyst for change which is precisely what rock n roll really is… breaking all sexual and social boundaries…. Little Richard was nothing but an Indian deity!

 Where do you get your flashy and sexy outfits?

King KhanMy wife makes all the uniforms, i guess she understands my body the best after 17 years of marriage. She seems to control how much i expose myself to the world.

 Can you describe the journey that you are taking us on?

Well it is basically trying to find your own path of illumination. This can only begin when you are spiritually liberated and start to learn the tools to control your destiny. Once that path is found, everything falls into place…. order out of chaos…. the light shines thru and your visions become crystalized and begin forming….  the dance of reality is what my mentor and guru Jodorowsky calls it.

 Who or what inspires you to do the things you do?

Its hard to say, everything inspires me, i am very passionate about the things i do and i think people feel that and see that my intentions are good and dont revolve around trying to get rich or climb a bullshit social ladder. AS much as i feel like a receptor for divine information from the cosmos, i also feel like a 12 year old boy who wants to make jokes and laugh all the time. That childishness is something i cherish deeply and share very profoundly with most of my closest musical brothers and sisters, especially Mark Sultan, him and I have been giggling all the way to the bank for a long ass time.

I love your crazy hilarious videos. Who comes up with the stories and ideas for them?

I do all the story writing for the videos. I have a wonderful team in Berlin called the HYLAS brothers…. whenever i gave them a script they always made all of it come true, even when i wanted Jesus squirting red wine out of his eyes and shooting white bread out of his hands…. they literally make my dreams come true.

Any favorites?

Sleepwalker video for moon duo is one of my faves, I lay a cult leader/aeorbic instructor…. its really funny.

KingKhanandtheShrinesfromCoolDadMusic.com

You must have traveled all of the world spreading your glorious music. Which places have you like the most and why?   

Mark Sultan and I drank fresh cobra blood and spinal cord in a vicious cocktail in Jakarta, i love that place. Playing the Sydney opera house was also pretty crazy cuz we got to hang with Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson for a few days and do Tai Chi with them. Spain is always wild and fun, Berlin too…. i feel very fortunate to have traveled the world over and over again with the people i love the most.

Where do your wildest fans live?

Berlin, Spain, USA, Oakland, all over i guess.

King Khan Black Power Tarot

Tell me about your wondrous Black Power Tarot cards.  What went into creating them? Did you design the cards?

I designed them based on a dream i had of Jodo and i hanging out and him asking me to show him a card that is weird. I woke up knowing exactly what i had to do. When i told him my idea Jodo really loved it and gave me his blessings. Michael Eaton, the artist,who does lots of stuff for Game Of Thrones, reached out to me and i filled him up with the vision. Then every card was sent to Jodo to be approved, and that’s when happiness began!!!!

How did you get involved with Alejandro Jodorowsky? Did you meet him? 

His son Adan, who was the kid in Santa Sangre, played bass while i played guitar and sang a Charlie Feathers tune at a buddy of mine’s wedding. Afterwards we met and i told him that i had been studying his fathers teachings for a long time. He told me he loved my music and would love to send me to meet Jodo. I felt i wasn’t ready to meet him at that time and waited a few years till i felt strong enough and then it happened. Jodo invited me to his home in Paris, gave me my first deck of the Tarot de Marseilles, taught me personally and finally I got to be one of his spiritual warriors.

What’s your favorite film of his?  Can you related to any of the characters in his films?

That is tough, i love Holy Mountain and El Topo equally. I love that each of his films are like a ritual, with the intention to mutate the collective soul, to teach all of us something profound, hilarious, surrealistic and mind blowing. The world needs more things like that to save our souls and keep us laughing till it hurts.

What’s the story behind the William S. Burroughs “Let Me Hang you” record?

Let me Hang youThat was a gift given to me by Hal Willner. Hal was Lou reed’s best friend and producer and i met him and Lou at the same time and became close buddies. A few years back Hal wrote me that he had a surprise for me, he sent me seven tracks of William S. Burroughs reading the most unspeakable parts of Naked Lunch. My mouth dropped, i made the music for all the tracks and one of them even made Hal cry! WSB has always been one of the biggest catalysts of change in my life, i read Naked Lunch when i was 14 years old and it mutated my brain and turned me into a absolute freak worshiper.

What do you think William S. Burroughs would say today if he heard that record?  

I think he would love it…. and maybe fly me to Tangiers and feed me the black meat and eventually I would turn into a fez wearing mug wup juice drinking queer or maybe not.

king-khan-shrinesfromtinymixtapes.com
Having just played Burger Boogaloo, what was it like meeting John Waters?

Meeting John Waters was a dream come true… i think his films inspired me just as much as all the r&b and garage punk and teenage bubble gum rock n roll i grew up on with the Spaceshits. When john introduced the King Khan and BBQ Show, he was blown away and gave us the best compliment ever… he called us the love child of gorgeous george, liberace and bunker hill!!!! This year he introduced the shrines and i got to hang with him a lot. It’s amazing that he can still whip out a sentence and have the whole room open mouthed in awe at how offensive he can be…. i cherish that in people very much.

Did you get to meet Traci Lords? 

Not only did i get to meet her, but i kissed her hand and just that act alone completes a circle of orgasmic energy that was created in 1999 when i found a tape of hers in my wife’s VHS collection and of course I am gonna marry a woman who can watch hours of Sun Ra with me and then enjoy some of Traci’s finest performances…. especially Cry Baby!!!! I think Traci is one of my super feminist dream goddesses, what she single-handedly did to turn the porn world upside down and empower herself could only be masterminded by a TRUE BANDIT QUEEN of the highest order of filth and i mean that with the utmost respect and admiration. I am trying to get her and Willie Nelson to sing a duet of this country song i wrote with my daughter Saba Lou who is 15 called “you’re only as good as the woman you love”.

So, being chosen by John B. Smith, founding member of The Invaders, to do the soundtrack of The Invaders film, was a wonderful experience for you…. Can you describe how you felt, what that meant for you, and how you tackled the project with the feelings you had? Have you always been interested in Black Power and such subversive groups?

My father told me he saw the Black Panthers speak in the Univ. of Montreal in the 60s and gave me the Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was 12 years old. I was raised to love Black Power and learned at an early age that black power meant “All Power to all People!” The fact that this film actual tells a new side of civil rights blew my mind, I had no idea that MLK embraced a militant group and was impressed by their incredible work in organizing the youth of Memphis, getting all the kids to drop their gang colors and fight for Black Power. MLK was always painted as the peaceful one and Malcolm X was the tyrant, this was total bullshit. They both were radical in there own ways. It was the greatest honor for me to be chosen by John B. Smith, the man who had secret meetings with Dr. King and helped organize the poor people’s campaign. During the two years of working on this soundtrack John B. adopted Prichard Smith, The Director, and I like real family.  

Had you heard about The Invaders Black Power organization before all this?

I had no idea about the Invaders, i feel like it was the powers that be that tried to erase there existence. Luckily Prichard was from Memphis and his mother told him about the invaders long ago when he was a kid.

Did you have an opportunity to watch the film and decide what tracks you wanted write and where to place them?  Or was it a different sort of process?  Describe the process.

I basically was given carte blanche. They sent me the film with no music and i got to put what i wanted where I wanted. Since it was about Memphis, Prichard and our record collector buddy Andrew Macullogh wanted to use a lot of our favorite soul comp called “Chains and Black Exhaust”…. I also wanted to put some real Black Power Free Jazz into it so I used some amazing tracks by Philip Kelan Cohran and The Art Ensemble of Chicago. 

How has this whole experience changed you, and the way you write?

It gave me a reason to start writing more about getting involved…. I choose to stay away from heavy politics in my music by choice. Music is a spiritual thing for me, and also a strong opiate… I prefer making music for those purposes, but now i also try and throw some serious issues into them. 

How did Ian Svenonius  and Jack Oblivian get involved in the project?

I got Ian involved cuz I love his writing and we are very good friends and always talked about collaborating, this was the perfect thing to get together for. Ian is a super genius! Prichard got Jack involved in the beginning of the film and he provided a couple of tunes with his new band The Sheiks.  

What did you grow up listening to as a kid? Did you live in a musical household?  When did you passion for music start?

My dad used to book very big Indian classical music legends when i was a little kid. My mom used to put headphones on her belly before i was born and make me listen to Indian classical music in the womb. That’s why my brain is paisley inside, haha. My parents loved music and made me learn guitar when i was 12. They were very supportive of my weird musical taste and let me discover all the music i wanted to so I guess my passion from music was pre-natal.

Do you believe in some sort of afterlife?  What do you believe happens when you die?

I believe in the universal soul, a place in the stars where all our spirituality comes from. Humans are 20% magma and 80% water…. the magma in us wants to return to the sun our holy mother, just like the planet earth whose blood is magma and wants to rise and go back to mama sun. All spirituality wants to erupt and go back to space. The moon is our bloodless sister which we are tethered to so that we are reminded of the cycle of the days.

What are some of your all-time favorite movies?

There are way too many to mention…. but here are some films that changed my life….

Holy Mountain and El Topo by Jodorowsky
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song by Melvin Van Peebles
Black Orpheus from  Brazil
Three Cabellreos by Disney
Naked Lunch and Dead Ringers by Cronenburg
Psycho and Vertigo and Birds by Hitchcock
Spirits of the Dead: Toby Dammit episode by Fellini
Taxidriver, Meanstreets, American Boy and Goodfellas by Scorcese
Space is the Place and Joyful Noise by Sun Ra
and The Third Man and Touch of Evil by Orson Welles

In the film you did the music for and acted in – Back to Nothing – was this the first film you acted in?  Did you enjoy playing the character Pontius?

Actually Miron Zownir the director wrote that part for me! I did a bunch of films as a teenager with Mishka Gollner aka T.T. Rogers, as well as some low budget films with German film maker Iris Cuntze…. Hombre Fatal! I loved playing Pontius, but filming with Miron can be torture, but only in the best way!

Have there been other soundtracks besides The Invaders and Back to Nothing that you did for films?

The first major motion picture i scored was Schwarze Schafe by Oliver Rihs in 2005…. its a great German black comedy…. The Invaders and Back To Nothing were the other two major films I have done.

If Hollywood discovered you and wanted to hire you full-time to create soundtracks for super grossing films, would you quit touring and do this full time?

Probably not…. i love doing ALL of those things. Touring and making rock n roll is my service to the world, to heal their ills with my opiate….

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Gerry Alvarez of The Gruesomes and The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey

After seeing the legendary band The Gruesomes play a live show in Montreal recently, after what’s been like decades, it left me feeling totally ecstatified!  The show was so simply amazing!  They garage-rocked the house down! And prior to the show I pulled out all the Gruesomes CDs I had (courtesy of Ricochet Sound) and started reminiscing and feeling utterly head over heals.  I was also listening again to The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey – Candy Prankster CD remembering how special  it is! In fact a few days after The Gruesomes show and wearing out their CDs from constant rotation, I decided that in order to give The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey a proper listening to I had to put away The Gruesomes for the time being.  Sad but true. And believe me, was I ever blown away, I mean I couldn’t fully appreciate it until I saw it as a separate entity.  I was absolutely enthralled.  I felt a  connection to the songs and  I decided to see if Gerry was up for an interview and he was.  We met and Gerry was super nice and funny,  and so I was happy to hang with him for a bit and ask him these questions.

So I find there is a lot of eastern religious or Buddhist references in most of your lyrics, and also in the imagery of the artwork…. Does this come from your actual personal ideas, beliefs, or experiences?

Yes, yes it does.  I’ve been into meditation since my early twenties. Spirituality I think is a very strong artistic energy that I’ve always been interested in, and have read books on Buddhism and meditation. And artists that I really admire as well have also been influenced by eastern philosophies so because of them I was influenced as well.

Which artists have inspired you?

George Harrison, he was big in eastern philosophy and many other artists. When I was young it kind of piqued my interest and then I just got involved into it on my own. I think in order for art to last for a long time it has to be spiritual, it can’t be just sexual or just material. If you want it to be listened to in 500 or 1000 years it has to be more profound. Leonard Cohen, he  is  spiritual,  is into Buddhism, and he’s an ordained monk. Nobody knows that, not many people know that, they think he’s just Jewish. He’s just open minded, I like that, and I like to study things, and to learn and use that as an influence in lyrics and music.  I grew up with punk rock music and rock’n’roll, and I got into psychedelic rock. But you know I’m not a teenager anymore, my lyrics just evolve by themselves, I didn’t force it, it just happens.  I do still write songs sometimes about relationships but sometimes I’m on another level. And to inspire others as well to get into it.

Do you follow any practices that involve meditation or visiting Buddhist or Zen temples?

Well I don’t have much opportunity to do that but I used to go to Buddhist temple in Toronto and study meditation, I had a monk teacher. I’d love to go to Asia or South America and see temples.

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What books would you recommend?

I’m into Joseph Campbell, the Power of Myth, it’s a great book. I also like all of Leonard Cohen’s interviews, I’m thinking of that right now because I’m being interviewed (laughs).

Also, I get a feeling of deep relaxation and balance from certain songs that have that hypnotic trance like rhythm, sort of what you might experience from listening to chakra healing music.  Is this effect intentional?

Yes, it is, I listen to that a lot. I like frequency music too as well, 528 MHz, it’s like relaxing sounds at the frequency of 528. It’s really cool. Once you get into that, it’s nice, it’s very relaxing and spiritual. It’s a mathematical equation from nature, all the cells reproduce themselves using that mathematical process, formula, and that’s the tone, 528. It’s the tone that makes you feel positive, and it’s healing, and I find that that music is influential for my music as well. You mentioned liking the song “Heaven” before, it’s kind of like that music – transcendental. Yeah, that’s an influence.

Are you working on writing new songs?

I’m always fiddling with new songs, I just write down ideas all the time, and then I’ll see what happens, no plans on a record yet but I do think about it.  Right now I’m painting, I’m doing canvases.

Right, I wanted to ask you about that..

Sure, nowadays I do acrylic paintings on canvas, they’re very 50s and 60s beatnik-y kind of influence and they are again very primal and mythological kind of stuff, psychedelic-y in a way too, It’s hard to describe, I enjoy it. I went to art school.

Right so you are an artist, and practice art?

Yes, Then I became an art director in advertising, a graphic designer, so it’s all part of the same baggage.

Do you have a large collection of your own art that you’ve done over the years?

Well, I have sketch books, and prints, I’ve got a few canvases, but now I’m really focused on creating a series.

Are you going to have an exhibition? Where will you do that?

Yes, I don’t know yet, I am just going to accumulate the work and then I will find a gallery or something in Montreal. I’ve been to a lot of galleries and art shows in Toronto and Montreal. I’ve always been into that. I enjoy it. We’ll see what happens. There’s no money in music too so (laughs), it’s all fun making a record and playing in a band, but it costs, you don’t make much.

How big are your canvases?

They’re 30×40 inches, something like that.

There is a theme running through them?

Yeah, they all have that same style, mid-century modernistic.  I love Picasso, huge influence, he’s Spanish. He’s my guy.

It’s figurative then, not just abstract?

It’s abstract figurative.

You said you may not be putting out a record soon, but do you plan on playing any shows?

Well with the Gruesomes, we just did a couple of Gruesomes show, and we might do more shows, but as the Odyssey no because it’s kind of hard to play in two bands at the same time, so I kind of tend to focus on one at a time, one thing, one project at a time.

So right now you are more in Gruesomes mode.

Gruesome mode, yeah, I’ve turned into a Gruesome again (laughter).

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When was the last time you played before this last time that you played?

It was in 2008, at a festival in Montreal.

Is it fun, getting back together?

Yes, it was fantastic. We’ve played together for so long, for so many years, that we’ve developed deep grooves that we can easily get back on. We know each other so well and the songs so well, it’s easy to get back on it. It’s fun for us, well for me.

Is the new material similar to the last two in terms of the psychedelic rock sound?

Yeah, more or less, it’s hard to say cause you just do it and see how it’s going to come out after.

What are your musical instruments, effects and pedals you use to make The Gerry Alvarez Odyssey sound?

I play a fender telecaster, and I use a Vox amp, which is a 60s quintessential amp, the Kinks used, and the Beatles and the Who, that’s got a beautiful sound. I used to use a distortion peddle but I don’t use it anymore, I like the natural distortion of the amplifier, of the Vox amp. I didn’t use one in the 80s and 90s because they didn’t make any reissues, they were original 60s amps and they were old and banged up and they were rare and expensive so I used to use Fender all the time. For peddles, in the Odyssey I use backwards peddles for a backwards sound, makes like a backwards effect, and I use a sitar effect as well, to get a buzzy sound, so you can play a sitar through your guitar (laughs). I also use a tremolo on my Vox, and that’s about it.

In certain songs, like the Trail, that has a sort of noodling fluid thing going on in it…

Yeah, it kind of has a delay kind of thing. I don’t know the names of these things, I just screw around and get the sound and don’t know what it is but it sounds cool.

Can you talk about the difference in production between Candy Prankster and Omega Tea Time?

Well the first one is more layered. I really was into making a record that was really psychedelic, full of effects, just want to paint imagery and landscapes and go crazy and make long songs that are very trippy. On the second album I sort of gone back to my roots, more stripped down. I’d been on a trip to Liverpool in England and really got back into my early Beatles fandom, my punk rock roots. I’d made a more stripped down power poppy kind of record, still with some psychedelic flavor to it, and spiritual flavor. But it’s more stripped down and shorter songs, tighter. Production is cleaner, you know it’s hard to make the same record twice. I don’t want to make the same thing twice but if you try it’s hard cause it’s like trying to make the same exact cake twice. It’s impossible.

Are there any songs on either of your records that you’ve written that stand out for you as more meaningful than others – in terms of when you were writing them and what influenced you?

That’s a good one cause they are all like your little kids, it’s hard to pick one more than the other ones. I kinda like Cosmic Weaving at the moment, from Omega Tea Time, because it’s very cosmic, it’s heavy, and it has some personal meaning to it as well. It’s got Who influences, Beatles influences, the kind of stuff I enjoy, I always liked. It’s the kind of song I always want to do and I’m very proud of it. Yeah that’s a good one.

Can you talk about how the cover art of Omega Tea Time came about? The collage of images and concept?

Oh yeah I did that, I’m into collage art. I published a book of illustrations and poems and songs and lyrics with drawings and collages to sell at shows.  I did a lot of collages on the computer,  I did a silkscreen from one of my collages and then I did one for the cover. So it uses a lot of imagery that I like.

Did the images come from books?

Books, anywhere online, I just screw around with it and make my own art out of it.

Do you have the original framed up somewhere?

Uh, yeah I have a silkscreen that’s sort of based on it. I took that silkscreen and then I tweaked it for the album cover. I have the original. I love travel as well. I work for a travel agency that I do graphic design for and I learnt a lot about itinerary and cultures from around the world, and I started my own travel blog, Mythic Journeys Travel. I get the information from all over the internet, and I am working on a book for that, I love travel and culture so that cover reflects a bit that vibe.

How do you feel about people downloading your songs on ITunes or listening to it on Spotify? Do you think that they are missing out on actually owning a copy of the CD?

Yeah, it used to bug me. The thing is I sort of gave up on all of that, I used to care. I used to get hurt when I’d see people on those download softwares but there’s nothing you can do anymore. It’s a free for all. It’s busted, broken, it’s done. It’s like water, it’s done. Who cares anymore? I’m not going to make myself sick worrying about it. No, I did it for fun and I hope people enjoy it and it gets around.

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But the sound quality is not the same, right?

A CD is much better. It depends what kind of recording you got, and what kind of song you got, what format, but CDs I think are better.

Oh and another thing, the big influence on me that I didn’t mention before for the Odyssey is Stanley Kubrick. I can go on and on about Stanley Kubrick. And the Odyssey is from 2001 Space Odyssey. For me it’s the new bible for the 3rd millennium. The new Odyssey, from Homer, from the 3rd Millennium, because 2001 is the first year of the 3rd millennium, it’s the new age. The opening sequence is by  Strauss called Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It is also a book by Nietzsche with the same name, on the ascension of man to superman. Just the intro, it’s ascending climax, the attention to detail to everything, how far ahead that movie is.  It was done in ’68. Every time I eat while watching my iPad I think of that movie, they were doing that, eating while reading their iPad on the table. 50 years ago. Because it’s the new bible and Odyssey for the new millennium that means that in 1000 years that movie will still be good and watched.  I always tried to be at that level, it’s an inspiration. So it’s kind of like my Odyssey, the records, my experience.

Is the Odyssey available on vinyl?

No, but we are planning on doing a greatest hits on vinyl.

Tell me more about the book you put out?

The illustrated book of songs, poems and stories, it came out with Candy Prankster to sell at shows.

How many did you make of those?

I don’t know I got it published online, maybe about 20 or so. But I can print those whenever I want. I started working on a new one that includes the lyrics for Omega Tea Time and stuff, new art…

Does the CD have the lyrics in it?

No, that’s why you have to get the book (laughing).  It’s nice to have swag for shows too so I did that one specifically to sell for the record/CD., and it’s got poems, just whatever – scribblings, so I’m working on a new one, and it’s taking a while, it’ll come out someday, long term projects.

What in your music collection is the least psychedelic or garage sounding?

In my records? Ok, well let’s see…uh it’s a good question (laughter), well I have movie soundtracks, like zombie movies, and sci-fi Logan’s Run soundtrack. But I like this band called Zombi. I listen to that kind of stuff, soundtrack-y kind of music, like Goblin.

From Dawn of the Dead?

Yes, that’s right. I’m just throwing that out there, I mean that doesn’t sound psychedelic, I have a Johnny Cash record. Leonard Cohen doesn’t sound very psychedelic or garage sounding.

Do you have a lot of records?

Vinyls? No I have a small collection, I used to have a lot, now it’s dwindled.

You got rid of stuff?

Just through the ages, moving here and there, I got rid of stuff, cause it takes a lot of room, but I am trying to get my old collection back.  I’ve given records to friends years ago and I’m trying to get them back.

The same ones?

(laughs) Ha yeah the same ones.

You lent them?

Yeah, lent them, I don’t know what I did.

Are they going to give them back to you?

Well, yeah (laughs).

You’re hoping.

Well a friend of mine already started giving some back.

That’s a good friend.

But I’m not trying to build a huge collection anymore, I enjoy listening to either CDs, vinyls, whatever… It’s all over the place now. I don’t have the energy to really go for collecting. I used to collect but not anymore.  I have so much on the computer so why bother spending money on the vinyl version if I have it on the computer.

So you download it?

Well I pay for it, but no I really haven’t downloaded much music, it’s just CDs that I copied over. I still have a good CD collection, but who buys CDs anymore.

Well I buys CDs, or went to this used record store recently and they had a lot of great CDs. They were like 5 bucks each.

Oh nice, it’s a good price.

Yeah, Cheap Thrills.

Oh, it’s around? I used to buy records there in the 80’s.

They have a lot of records there.

Do you remember Dutcheys?

Yes!

Oh you do? Wow.

Yeah I bought my first record there, I’m sure.

Yeah that was a great place.

It was.

Those were the days!

So what music do you put on if you want to get psyched for a show or event?

I like Tom Jones (laughs). I have this record since I was a kid, Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas, it’s bursting with energy and I enjoy singing along with it. It’s really really something. It’s great.  I mean I don’t collect his music or records, it’s just that particular record live at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, in the mid-60s. It’s fantastic, incredible. It really really gives you a lot of energy.

So what’s one of the best shows you ever went to?

We opened up for the Fuzztones in Quebec City in the late 80’s and there was a balcony, and after we played John Davis and I went to the balcony and watched the Fuzztones. Rudi Protrudi was incredible, really the best show ever, it was amazing. Really something, yeah.  What a performer that guy, memorable. I think we were on the sweet spot too, the sound, the visuals, the seating, just a big difference, get the sweet spot, bang! We were right on the edge of the balcony and you could hear perfect and it wasn’t a balcony really high up, it was kind of a low balcony too. In Quebec City, I don’t remember the club.

Any advice you would give to the kids today who are starting out as musicians?

Well, part of me would say don’t do it (laughs), do it if you really really have a real meaning of life feeling about it. So if it’s everything to you, then yeah, do it. Go for it, but don’t put all your eggs in that basket, just be careful, it’s not easy, not an easy life, especially nowadays.

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Are there any newer bands that you know or like?

Garage bands? Any bands? Well you know online you get to see so many bands, on Facebook, you have new bands just playing clubs. There’s a band from Seville, Spain, called the Smoggers, great garage sound. New bands, I see so many online,

Do you listen to them online?

Yes, on Facebook and Youtube. I will like their page and they post their stuff, their music and their videos or whatever, clips of their shows.  A lot of people I like are my friends, are musicians in bands and post a lot of music stuff that their into, that they are playing and doing like the Montreal band, The High Dials from Montreal, they used to be on Ricochet Sound. They were a mod band before called the Datsons but then they became The High Dials, but their first two albums as The High Dials are phenomenal. Some of the best stuff to come out of Montreal. I don’t know much about their later stuff, their current stuff is more 80s sounding and another band that came out of that is called The Elephant Stone, that’s a good psychedelic, more laid back, more groove, trance-y, lounge-y kind of stuff.

You mentioned some shows might be in the future for the Gruesomes, like in Mexico maybe? And you mentioned some festival too… I imagine you played in Europe also back in the day…Would you consider touring again?

Yeah, we got offers, We were offered to play in Mexico and a festival in Montreal so we will see how it goes. We’ve toured Europe, yes, the thing is it costs a lot of money to go over there and nobody’s forked it over yet (laughs). I don’t want to pay for it. We are open for anything. We were supposed to do a tour in 2008 but I think the big crash that happened kind of cancelled the tour, people just didn’t have money in Europe after that. Nobody wants to pay for bands. Sometimes I don’t mind punking it out but if it’s for a whole tour and not making any money and punking it out at the same time, no, I can’t do that.

Any chance you guys would start writing songs again, as the Gruesomes?

Not really, no.(laughs). No not with the Gruesomes, no.

No chance in hell? Just playing the old stuff, which is great!

No, not really. Yeah, we thought of maybe doing a record of cover songs, but it’s too much time and money for what its worth for what we get back from it.

Who’s the “band leader” of the Gruesomes? Like the main organizer.

John Davis. He works at Concordia. He’s been working at the Concordia music department at Loyola campus for over 20-30 years.  He’s a stage manager, in the music department. So he organizes all the bands that come in and all the stage handling and all that. He’s the guy, he takes care of our stage managing.

So he’s the one who organizes the shows, and calls the clubs and is like hey ok, be there. And you are like ok.

Yeah, well we have a bit of our input if we want to or not. Well I handle the online, the Facebook page, so people contact me through that and then I talk to John.  I guess I’m more PR than the other guys. I’m more the advertising guy, I’m the one who does most of the posters, the albums, the CDs.

Between you and Bobby, how did you decide who was going to sing what song?

Well it depends on the style of the song, if the song is a more trippy more smooth song, I do it, if it’s a more growler song, it would be Bobby, or who wrote it.

Whose house is on the cover of Tyrants of Teen Trash?

I don’t know, somebody who lives on Cote St-Luc (Montreal).

So you just stood in front of a random house?

Yeah, Bobby had got permission and then we posed there.

Did you guys meet in high school?

John and Bob did, they’re friends from Westmount high, or something like that. I knew Bob and John from the clubs hanging out, downtown Montreal hanging out back in the early eighties. The Mod scene, the Montreal Mod scene. I bought a guitar and was looking to jam with different musicians. Somebody told me, “John, Eric and Bob got instruments, are starting a band” I said “oh, I’ll try it out.” I showed them how to play their first chords for the first songs, and we had different names. I don’t remember who came up with the Gruesomes, was it Eric Davis or Bobby, I don’t remember, and it took off from there. We became really popular really fast because we had a schtick, a style, we had a look, we had  the sound, we did what we wanted, it was stuff that was easy to play. We were all really into it. I remember when I was still really young and I heard The Count Five doing Psychotic Reaction and I was playing air guitar like crazy, and I said I could do this crap easy. And so there you go, that’s how it started, in garage music, in punk garage, yeah it started from there.

Anything else you want to talk about?

I don’t know.  We could have been way bigger, I think. The Gruesomes could have been way bigger.

Maybe if you started later when garage became more mainstream?

Yeah, I think we played in the 80’s underground scene that never really got really mainstream till much later. We had really burned ourselves out touring Canada many many times. Canada is not like England, you know, all these British bands they toured, it’s nothing. Canada is enormous. It kills bands. I wanted to tour Europe, and the States and it wasn’t going on, it wasn’t taking off enough..

Have you toured in the States?

Yeah, we toured all along the east coast, but it just wasn’t the right time for that. I think we could have been as big as the Cramps or the Ramones (laughs!)

How did your relationship with Ricochet Sound happen?

Ray, he was a fan, he contacted us, he had a record store back in the day. He wanted to re-release our stuff. We released our vinyl records at the end of vinyls, in the 80s CDs were coming out, and we’re releasing vinyls, and our music started first coming out on Cd’s in the 2000s. “Cave In” was our first CD in 2000. So we were way behind in producing digital music, and so not only did we miss the vinyl thing we missed the CD thing too. By the time we started releasing all the original stuff on CDs, the first three CDs came out in 2003, on Ricochet, thanks to Ricochet Sound our stuff was released finally on CD. So we were way behind, so bad luck there too. We could have had more impact if our CDs were released way earlier. During the whole 90s we had no CDs out there. And that was the peak of it. And vinyls were dead back then, and that was all we had, was just vinyls. So it was poor management.  I mean OG was great, they released our stuff, we were thankful for the release, but there wasn’t much in promotion or anything so it kind of spudded away. We gave it our all but it just died off. And then we got back together in 1999 to make Cave In, and I’m glad we did that, that was our best record and finally we ended on a good note. So that was great, I’m happy about that one.

Anything else you want to talk about?

So whenever anyone interviews me for the Odyssey, the last question is always “When are the Gruesomes coming back?!” (laughs). I used to say I don’t know, maybe, never, I don’t know but you never know. You really never know.

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