Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Exorcism Number Eighteen: Annie Strong

HELLO. Here we are back with the luminous and inspiring Annie Strong. I met Annie in 2010 when Black Wine first toured the USA! USA! I promptly fell in love with her and her pets. I listened to This Is My Fist shortly after this meeting and was blown away of course. Her voice is so striking and so honest. (That sounds like some serious bullshit, I know. But it's one of the rare occasions where the cliche is worth using because it actually applies.) THEN I FOUND OUT THAT SHE LOVES QUEEN AND ALAN RICKMAN AND IM LIKE, "OH MY GOD WHATTTTT?"

Here's the interview. It was an honor to read the answers.

1.     Where did you grow up? What are/were your parents like? Do you have siblings? What are THEY like?

I grew up in Bensenville, IL.  It was a smaller town, built around a train freightyard.  We lived in an old farmhouse that was kitty-corner to a sheep farm, which may explain my eternal love of small ruminants. Bensenville has the distinction of having been partially eradicated by the O’Hare Airport expansion.  It turned a large section of town (about 600 homes) into an apocalyptic-looking wasteland… empty houses, broken windows, overgrown weeds… like you expected virus-infected zombies to stumble out at any minute.  It’s sad, and I know Mayor Geils fought the expansion it for a long time before he was voted out of office.

My parents were both pretty much hippies, I guess.  My mom has a good story about hiding from cops under a truckbed during the ’68 riot during the Democratic Convention in Chicago.  She lives in the woods in northern WI with her dogs.  My dad and stepmom are RV nomads that wander around the country, finding work as they go.  My folks had me when they were very young, in 1974, and my two brothers followed not long after.  My brother, Tim, is an ER doctor who, for now, splits his time in CA and TX.  My youngest brother, Andrew, was in the process of going to nursing school before his daughter came along.  I think it’s weird that all of the Saunders kids ended up pursuing medical careers (I’m a ex-vet tech who made the possibly unwise transition to vet school).  I also have three kickass nieces that are the coolest. 

2.     What bands got you into music and made you want to play vs watch? Are there specific moments you remember where you felt it was more important for you to take part in making music rather than be a spectator?

I really liked Weird Al Yankovic as a kid.  Still do.  ‘Polka Party’ was the first cassette I picked out at the music store, and I listened to it until the tape broke.  The first bands I got into on my own, around 13-14, were more New Wave, industrial, or hair metal: Depeche Mode, The Cure, Bauhaus, Ministry, New Order, Guns & Roses.  That kind of stuff.  When I was 15, our school received another weirdo kid, a punk skater with a pink mohawk, so I was immediately smitten, of course.  Him and his friends introduced me to Naked Raygun and Black Flag, and I took off running from there.  My first real punk show was Life Sentence / Contracide at the Number One Soul in Elgin, IL.  It was the first time I saw a circle pit and people going nuts, and also the first time I didn’t feel completely isolated rom the people around me.  After I got my drivers license, I went into hyperdrive with going to see bands play.  It seemed like all I did was go to shows.  But that first one in Elgin, that has stuck with me for a long time.  Also, I thought the kids in Contracide were so cool.  They played in a band but also hung out together, ate together, tried to astral-plane project themselves to another dimension together… they were very family-like and that, I think, was what made me try to pursue that kind of relationship with future bands.

When I was 14-15, I wasn’t playing in any bands, but I was teaching myself guitar using my dad’s electric and tiny Crate amp.  I would put on the Standing on a Beach album by The Cure and just go song by song, learning by ear.  My pink-mohawked beau was in a band called Vomiting Babies on Fire (holy shit, I can’t believe that was a real band name).  VBOF had songs with titles like “Napalm” or “Cigarettes.” Their singer, Kurt, could not sing and play bass at the same time.  I was watching them practice shortly before their first show in a garage; meaning the 6 other skaters in town were going to come watch them practice too.  The drummer, Matt, was really frustrated; he looked at me and said, “Can YOU play bass?” and I was like “Yep.  Sure?” and they taught me their songs.  Thirty minutes later, the skaters showed up and I played my first show.  I was in the band after that and it was pretty fun, though we didn’t really do much.

The real “awakening” came, however, on my 16th birthday.  My mom’s two biker friends, George and Liz, were living in our basement and I thought they were the coolest people in the world.  I mean, they had a ferret and rode motorcycles!  On my birthday, they took me with them to test drive semi trucks and then bought me a distortion pedal and taught me how to play “Ace of Spades” on the guitar.  That was one of the best days of my adolescent life and changed everything for me.
3. What instruments do you play and when did you start playing them? Which musicians inspired you as a kid? Which musicians inspire you today?
 Mainly now I play guitar and sing, but also have played bass and drums.  I have a real drumset now in the basement so I’m trying to get more confident with that.  I didn’t really start to write my own songs until I was about 22 or so.  At the time, I was really into the gruffer, melodic-type punk.  Dillinger 4, The Strike, Scared of Chaka, ManAfraid, M-Blanket… those were all bands I really felt inspired by, then and now.  The time from age 20-25 was a really intense and weird time of feeling truly immersed in the subculture I had been drawn into.  It was also a time where I was having crippling anxiety attacks, and the desperation of wanting to feel better was in bitter combat with the part of me that knew I was at my most creative when extremely anxious.

Now, I think that I get inspiration from other sources.  In This Is My Fist, it was mostly about being so fed up with all the bullshit, whether from people I cared about acting foolish, the over-the-top and ridiculous class/race disparities of the Bay Area, or that Bush Jr. had just started a goddam war.  Musically, inspiration comes from artists like Bob Mould, Matty Luv/Hickey, The Who, and Frank Black.  I saw F.B. play solo once in SF and his voice was so beautiful, it  brought tears to my eyes.  Each of these people/bands has something unique that just latches on somewhere in my heart and tugs and tugs at it.  Frank Black has this weird way of structuring songs so they sound like they volley between 4/4 time and 3/4 or 5/8 time, even though often, it is still just 4/4.  I also like to write songs that work with a rule-of-three in 4/4 time.  It sounds like you’re changing things up a lot within a song, even when you’re not.  Bob Mould and his crazy chords are something I can relate to personally. When TIMF started, I was not expecting to play guitar, but I ended up doing it.  Todd was a much better guitar player than I was.  I didn’t know how to play any actual chords, so I would just figure out what sounded OK and go with it.  In some of our later songs, I had learned a bit more and was using regular chords a lot and I don’t think it has the same discordant urgency as the earlier stuff.  I still like it, it was just different.

4.     Do you feel like you value different aspects of music/musicianship now vs when you first started playing? How has that affected your music/writing/that kind of thing over the years?

Definitely my relationship with music has changed.  When I was younger, it was all spitfire and beer and craziness.  The shows that Ambition Mission would throw at our house often ended with something on fire or things equally as entertaining.  Now, there are bands I like for the musicianship and not necessarily that I think songs are great.  David Bazan is a good example of that.  I never liked Pedro the Lion or that type of music in general, but his solo stuff is dark and well-crafted.  Even though I don’t like all of his songs, there are a few that I listen to frequently just so I can hear certain chord changes or bits of lyric that are really awesome.
I try to be more thoughtful when I write lyrics now.  I don’t end up singing the first thing that pops into my head.  I usually write the lyrics out, sit on it for awhile, then go back and change things that I don’t like.  It didn’t used to be like that, I would just go with my first gut instinct, which resulted in several embarrassing-to-sing songs.

I’ve got a new, two-man band thing going now with my friend Ben, and I am really pleased with the songs so far.  I’ve got two more years of school to go in this town, so I’m really excited to see what happens with it.

5.     I know you're a big Queen fan (AND SO AM I) TALK ABOUT HOW AWESOME THEY ARE!

Oh my… this could turn lengthy.  Haha.  I get a lot of flak for being so into Queen.  I think Queen wrote exceptionally well-crafted songs.  And Freddie Mercury’s vocal abilities and musical talent far exceeded those of his contemporaries.   His voice has a timbre, much like Frank Black, that moves me deeply.  Every measure of a Queen song is so thought out, and the effort and love that was put into it is completely inspiring.  They have a lot of songs that are truly horrible, but even still I can respect the musicianship that went into their construction.  The wealthy excesses of Queen go against pretty much everything that I hold sacred in punk, and I recognize that it is hypocritical to hold them in such high regard.  But, the art they created was real and beautiful, and that is an uncommon trait to be found in arena-rock.  Plus, I really love that they just didn’t give a fuck about anything and made music that THEY liked, as opposed to bands that were crafted by outside tinkerers.  I also feel that way about The Who. 

Onstage, Freddie Mercury was a human tornado.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone that has the same bravado and natural ease in front of a crowd as him.  The only person I can think that has that same sort of strength is John from The Fleshies.  Yeah, I just compared John Geek to Freddie Mercury.  Haha.  But it’s true.  John is someone who, if he does not feel completely at ease onstage, is a master bullshitter who deserves an Academy Award because he is so good at what he does with his music.

6.     Talk about the songwriting process in TIMF. What inspires your lyric writing? How do you go about putting a song together?

The process with TIMF was a lot different than my previous band, Ambition Mission.  In the Mission, someone would bring in a riff or part and we’d all work on it together and Frankenstein a song together.  There were very few songs where someone brought it in finished.  It was a very communal process and I really loved that.  In TIMF, one of us would bring in a completed song that we would just tweak a bit.  The early three-piece incarnation of TIMF was the most inspired one, even though towards the end, it was rife with conflict and our own immaturity; we literally imploded upon ourselves.  We were destined to burn out and sometimes I wonder if we should have just called it quits after we booted Will out of the band.  The later group was, I think, more solidly dependable and on the same page as far as playing shows and traveling, and got along better.  But at that point, it felt like it had turned into “my” band instead of “our” band and I really faltered under the weight of that.  We had so much fun playing together but it was extremely difficult for me to write anything new.

When I write a song, the music comes first, almost always.  The tone of the song sets the tone of the lyrics and I go from there.  I have a really hard time writing lyrics.  I never want them to sound like I didn’t try, although that has not always worked out in the past.  I have written some real stinkers over the years, like, songs that the band liked to play as a whole, but I could barely play live because the words were so embarrassing.  That’s my own inner shit, though, and I really have to just get over it.

When I was first writing songs, they were solely about things that made me angry.  Not that it is not the same now, there is still a great deal to be angry over.  As much as I hate to admit it, I think I’ve mellowed a bit.  I mean, unless we’re on tour, I can’t deal with the 5-6 band show that starts late and ends at 2am anymore.  A three-band show that ends before 10 or 11 is perfection to me.  When I was 20, I think I spread myself too thin with issues to feel impassioned about and would routinely get exhausted from being angry at the world.  Now, I’m rounding the bend towards 40 and have learned to pick my battles.  Things still make me angry or anxious enough to write about it, but they tend to be more focused on specific topics that mean the most to me: rich vs poor, haves vs have-nots, the brutal pragmatism of nature, and the desire to escape into the woods and never come back.

7.     Have you ever had any kind of stage fright and has it changed over the years?

Oh dear lord, yes.  My first real, functioning band I played in was The Mushuganas.  I played bass, no singing involved.  But I was terrified.  I pretty much just looked at my hands the whole time and would not look at the friends we were playing to.  I was also at the peak of my anxiety problems, and I still don’t know if playing shows helped or hindered me, but my gut says it helped.

When Ambition Mission started, I was still weird about playing in front of people but the band was like, “you need to sing too,” and I really balked at it.  The other folks in the band were so encouraging and positive, though, that it ended up being something I became really comfortable with, as long as we were at practice.  For live shows, however, I would need beer or whiskey or something.  I remember having a conversation with my friend Pete, who was the singer/bass player for a local band called Oblivion that I adored.  Pete was/still is an amazing frontman. He’s a pretty mild-mannered guy.  He’s quiet and thoughtful.  When we were roommates, he took naps everyday after work.  It was very cute.  But when he got on stage, he turned into this crazy animal, contorting his face and body, all without influence of drugs or alcohol.  I have never not been utterly entertained while watching his bands play.  I asked him how he did it, how he could just get up there and yell and be such a goof.  He told me to just mentally berate the crowd; he didn’t mean personally attack anyone, just not give a shit about their presence, which seemed completely antithetical to what the spirit of communal punk was about.  I once watched him go into full tirade mode to a crowd at the Fireside Bowl about how they don’t appreciate the influence that the Rolling Stones had upon rock and roll.  It sounds weird but it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen at a show.  So, I tried it and it really worked.  I would be up there thinking “fuck all of you fuckers, even though I really adore every one of you” and what-the-hell, it worked.  I think that practice only lasted a short time and then, probably by pure desensitization, I got over the stage fright part.  If I play solo, however, then all bets are off the table.  I am pretty sure I’ve been lit for every solo show I’ve ever done because it is still so nerve-wracking.

8.     How awesome is Alan Rickman? Talk about how glorious he is.

Oh, where to start?  The sweeping waves of auburn hair… the feline eyes… the deep, rumbly voice saying “Give me my detonators;” my love is strong for this one.  My least favorite incarnation of A.R. is the Snape character.  I thought I would love a goth-y Alan Rickman but it turns out I do not.  He is one of my top movie-star crushes.  It is a weird group that also involves Christopher Guest, Gene Wilder, and Ed Harris. 

I do love that you and I have this mutual fascination with A.R.  It is a bond that will stay strong forever.  I am pretty sure that decades from now, when he dies, no matter where we are, we will think of each other and that makes me smile.

9.     Have you any stories involving the strange and paranormal?

OHMYGOD, yes!!!

When I was fifteen, I fell asleep on the couch watching the Kids in the Hall.  I woke up to whispers in my ear.   They were so close that I could feel the breath on my skin.  I brought the sheets up over my head and just sat there, shaking, trying to process what had happened.  My heart was beating frantically, but I eventually calmed down and was starting to conclude that I was dreaming.  Then, something hit the pillow next to me with so much force, like someone slamming both fists downwards or dropping something from high up in the air.  It left a softball-sized indent in the pillow.  Now THAT scared the shit out of me, for real.  I had been fully awake when that happened.  I straight-up bolted out of the living room and into my mom’s room, like a scared kid.  I asked if I could sleep with her and she mumbled “of course” and fell back asleep.  So, I laid down, lying on my back with the sheets still pulled up over my head, and just freaked out internally for a while.  I felt our big tom-cat, Bruno, jump up on my belly and sit there.  That was something he always did.  He was a big guy, but he got heavier and heavier and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  I moved the sheets away from my face so I could push him off of me and there was nothing there.  But something was still pressing down on my stomach.  Then, that pressure just felt like it moved down through me, out my back, and into the mattress beneath me.  I never had anything like that happen again but I did not like our house much after that.  I don’t know if it was something physical/mental happening in me, or a ghost, or whatever, but I can’t explain it.  The really crazy parts that happened occurred when I was fully awake. 

Interesting addendum: My pink-haired beau’s parents were super religious zealots.  Like, they would sit us down and make us watch videos from their church about how Michael Jackson and Ozzy Osbourne were minions of the devil.  Or, that a sign of the impending apocalypse was that we would all have chips embedded in our skin, and that Revelations was already upon us.  The day after I had that experience, I mentioned it to Ryan’s mom while we waited for him to get home from juvie.  She told me some crazy stories about hooded figures lifting up her bed and demons chanting in her ears… all kinds of nutty shit.  She asked if I had a Ouija board and I said that I did.  My parents had gotten me one for Christmas.  She asked me to bring it over and I got kind of stoked.  Like, this crazy person that thinks Michael Jackson is an evil warlock is going to try and conjure up some demons and shit, so, of course, I was all for it. I went and got the board and brought it to her.  She ripped it out of my hands, and before I could say anything she was out the door, carrying a container of kerosene.  She brought the board down to the creek and lit it on fire.  Then, she started chanting and praying over it.  She got all sweaty and trance-y and it was probably the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.  I just stood there and couldn’t stop watching her.  Then she came back to the house and made us some sandwiches like nothing insane had just happened.

THANKS ANNIE YOU ARE THE BEST... <3 (I got a sneak peek/listen of Annie's new stuff with her friend Ben and it is AMAZING. I'll definitely be sharing it when it goes up for real on the internet and in real life.)

Check out This Is My Fist here. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Exorcism Number Seventeen: Tara Cohen

HEY IM BACK. Here is an interview with Tara Cohen from Rattlesnakes and Fur. She and her husband Brian rule and let Black Wine sleepover when we played Portland, ME. ENJOY.

1-Where did you grow up? What are/were your parents like? Did they encourage you as far as music is concerned?

I grew up in South Jersey…don’t judge me My Mom was cool when she wasn’t totally preoccupied with her full time job as a small business owner. She was a member of that mail order CD thing in the 90’s where you could send for a bunch and it only cost a penny or something. She would let me pick out the ones I liked. She also bought me a keyboard for Christmas when I was like 10. My real father was an asshole and always tried to squash my dreams of being a musician. When I was 7 I begged for violin or piano lessons but he refused, saying I wasn’t a good listener. 

 2-What bands influenced you as a kid? Do you remember a song or album that made you want to play music specifically rather than just listen? 

When I was real young I remember watching Madonna and Debbie Gibson and that really inspired me to want to sing. In High school I was in a band called Therapist to impress boys. We were really into Bright Eyes, Fevers and Mirrors era. I was also trying to be a hippie girl and was obsessed with Pink Floyd, Dark Side Of The Moon in particular. In college I found a cassette of Surfer Rosa by the Pixies at the Farmington thrift store. Listening to that tape made me feel so inspired and cool. I remember showing it to the hippie guys I played music with and them being so confused and like hating it because it wasn’t Ratdog. That’s when I knew I wanted to play more than acoustic/electric twelve-string. I evolved, cut my dreadlocks, then started the Rattlesnakes shortly after that.

3-What instruments do you play? What musicians made you want to pick those instruments? Do you have specific musicians whose style helped shape your style? 

I started out playing acoustic guitar singer/ songwriter style. Joni Mitchell’s Blue was really inspiring. I love finger picking guitar. When I started the Rattlesnakes I played Bass. I was obsessed with Kim Deal. Now I play drums in Fur. I love simple, fast and steady beats. Sometimes I like to pretend I’m a drum machine. My Drum influences are Bonham, Dave Grohl, Gary Young from early Pavement, and Martin Rev’s drum machine. 

4-Talk about your current songwriting process in comparison to the first songs you wrote. Talk about writing in Fur vs The Rattlesnakes. 

When I first started writing songs I would come up with a couple guitar chord progressions I liked then add lyrics. When I wrote lyrics they would be fragments of arbitrary phrases that sounded cool. I would make it up as I went along too. Now it’s more organized and has flow. Writing with my husband Brian has taught me a lot. In Both bands we jam on stuff he’s thought of on guitar to get familiar then later we refine and write out the lyrics. The songs I write for Fur I usually come up with a bass line and vocal melody and then write a drum machine part then Brian will add guitar. We add lyrics last.

5-What influences your lyric writing? What singers inspire you? 

I am inspired by the human condition, getting older, being pissed, nature…I’m actually really bad at writing lyrics. Currently my friends in bands here in Portland inspire me. The singer of Foam Castles, Tyler Jackson and the singer of Metal Feathers, Jay Lobely have been really inspiring for me lately. Also, I LOVE Boston band Fat Creeps singers Miriam and Gracie. I have WAY too many famous favorites to mention…Brian Cohen will always be my favorite song writer, though. 

6-I kind of don't know you at all, but I felt an instant kinship with you. Not necessarily with me, but do you feel like that happens sometimes to you with people? What the hell is that? 

Aw that’s awesome. Ya, I can totally say that happens to me. When it happens I always just attribute it to being unpretentious, kindred spirits but I don’t know. I’d like to think it’s something more mystical than that.

7-Do you think that growing up in the 90's was helpful in cultivating your interest in music in general? (Because it was in a sense another "punk" renaissance where it seemed like anyone could and anyone should be in a band...) 

I don’t know…probably a little subconsciously. I was in kind of young for most of the 90’s and out of touch with the indie stuff happening. I do remember feeling a little suspicious of all the mainstream music I listened to and purposely hating bands like Nirvana (even though I think they are pretty great now). I think if my parents were more in tune to the indie or “punk” stuff happening and exposed me to it I might have been even more influenced (either by loving it or hating it in an attempt to rebel against them). But anyway all I had access to was like sneaking to watch MTV. I know the 90’s are really in vogue right now and I wish I could take more credit for being a 90’s child but I’m just not that cool. I didn’t really get into the good 90’s music and stuff (that I think you’re talking about) until I was a like 18-19. I feel like my interest in music would have been there no matter what period I grew up in.

8-Do you think where you live influences the type of music you make and it's overall sound? 

Oh yea definitely! In so many ways! I think you’d have to try really hard not be influenced by where you live. I think if you’re depressed because it’s winter in Maine and you haven’t seen the sun in a while it’s going to come thru in your music. 

9- Do you have any heroes (musical or otherwise) whose personal life is embarrassing but whose art is amazing and you kind of have to stand up for that art and ignore their personal shit? 

Courtney Love… maybe a little I don’t know! I liked early Hole. But, yea she is a dickhead! Have you seen that documentary, Hit So Hard, about Patty Schemel? (She was an amazing drummer!) Court does not make herself look good in it. Pink Floyd too just cause I’m embarrassed I was so obsessed with their most popular album for a large portion of my adolescents and it’s associate with this burnout, stoner-hippie stereotype but it was like more than that!

10-Besides that you are very good at it, what makes you want to keep making music? 

I want to leave some kind of legacy. 

11-Do you have any paranormal experiences you'd like to share?

Ha! Sometimes I feel like I have ESP and I can feel when other people are thinking about me. Also, I love coincidences. I feel like it’s so much more then happenstance.


Rattlesnakes  Fur

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Exorcism Number Sixteen: Steve Gennarelli

Hi! This interview is with Steve Gennarelli the drummer from brick mower! Steve is an all around rad person and an awesome, weird drummer to boot. He just got accepted to the Institute of Culinary Education (or...ICE!!!!) to become a baker/pastry chef. So... obvious bonus points because who the hell doesnt want cake and cookies in their life??

Anyway here is his interview. Enjoy! And thanks for reading. <3

1-When did you start playing drums? What made you pick drums? Do you play any other instruments?
I started playing in my elementary school band, but I don't think I actually touched a drum set until I was a teenager. It’s weird because I didn’t exactly pick drums, my dad had played them when he was a kid and my parents thought it would help me with school. It paid off because all my siblings had to do sports in high school, I got away with marching band. To be honest I wasn’t into it at first and complained a lot... I wanted to learn guitar but they thought that would only lead to me doing irresponsible things like playing in bands and living out of a car for weeks at a time instead of getting a career.

2-Talk about any other early bands that you were in before brick mower.
My first band was in 8th grade we just covered a couple blink-182 songs- still think that was my best one. After that I basically ran the gamut of suburban kid band genres - punk, ska, hardcore, weezer covers. I played in a reggae/punk band for a few years during college, probably not the best precursor to a band like brick mower, but luckily I loved enough of the same bands as Eric and Kristin that I could get it together.

3-How did you meet Eric and Kristin and what was it like joining a band that had already been in progress?
I had stupid luck and found Eric and Kristin on craigslist. I remember Eric sending me a link to their Myspace page and listening to Until It Hurts My Arm. Joining a band in progress was exactly what I wanted, I hadn't really been playing for the past year and I wanted to get right back into playing shows and start finally touring. 

4-What is the songwriting process like with mower?

We have a pretty simple dynamic. Eric and Kristin usually bring a song- or part of one- to practice and I come up with a drum part. Once we all kind of know what we're doing, we just play the song over and over again until it all falls into place. Then usually I’ll screw up some part of it and it’ll sound a lot better than what I came up with so I’ll just start doing that instead. It’s pretty much foolproof.

5- What is the recording process like with mower?

Almost all the songs we’ve done were live tracked. There’s one track on the new album we just recorded which was the first time we tracked everything separately. Otherwise we mainly stick to the 3 tries rule: if we cant get it in 3 tries, we put the song aside and try again later. It only takes a day or two for us to track most of an album. I know Eric and Kristin went really hard on the new tracks with mixing and over dubs. I haven’t gotten to hear any of it yet but even they’re psyched with the way it sounds.

6-What is you dream drum kit? Do you have any pet peeves with other drummers?
My dream drum kit weighs five pounds and folds up to fit in a backpack. Holy crap that would be awesome. No, I don’t really have any gear preferences, in fact if I had to buy a new kit tomorrow I have no idea what I’d look for. I put my drums through so much abuse anyway, I’d feel odd buying a nice one. So many pet peeves, I’d sound like a spazz if I listed all of them. The definite worst though is when drummers twirl their sticks between hits. I cringe every time I see it.

7-How do you feel touring affects a band musically and personally?
It definitely changed the way I looked at my function in a band. I try to look at whatever I come up with and make sure it’s what will compliment the band as a whole. It doesn’t pay to pull of a more complex fill or weird beat if it doesn’t match the rest of the song. Kind of like no one part should be pulling at too much of the attention.
And maybe it has to do with having to sit together in a car for hours upon hours, but you also learn how to get along with people. You put up with their bad days because they put up with yours - one of the best lessons I think someone can learn growing up. I honestly have no idea how people transition to adulthood without touring in a band. It became such a common thing to do so fast. My normal is weird.


8- What are your parents like? Do you have any siblings? Whats the deal with them?

My parents are your average conservative baby-boomer types. We disagree on a lot of stuff but we find ways to get along. I have an older brother and two older sisters, they all have their own families so that means I have a wealth of nieces and nephews to play Legos with on holidays. Their ages, names, and nicknames are as follows:
(6) Ryan “Hambone”
(5) Malena “Malenasaur”
(3) Nathan “Nasty Nate”
(2) Molly “Molly Kong”
(2) Izzy “Izzy”
(1) Lucy “Worm”

9-What made you want to be a musician instead of being a fan/spectator?

I’ve always had this thing where when I see people doing something cool, I’m never ok with just watching. Even now my apartment is filled with a bunch of unfinished projects, like the half chapter of the novel I’ve been writing for two years or the stand up act I never had the guts to try. I don’t know if it’s the best quality, but it definitely paid off with music. I remember going to my first shows at the Middletown Knights of Columbus and watching local bands for the first time. For a short, anti-social nerd with no friends, getting on that five inch high stage and playing to a bunch of awkward high school kids looked like the coolest thing in the world! I wanted nothing more than to play a show, then after that it was playing a basement, then playing out of state, going on tour, seeing the west coast, now I just really want to play another country. (Canada counts)

10-You just made the decision to start studying at a culinary institute for baking? How did that come about?

Well it was more like something I couldn’t avoid. I’ve always loved baking since I was a little kid and it just seemed like the right thing to pursue now. I’m really sick of working construction which I’ve been doing for the past year and a half, so I started looking at schools and everything just kind of fell into place, kind of like it was meant to be. So yeah, by this time next year I’ll be a pastry chef. It’s pretty cool to think about.

11-Any ghost stories?

Just one, I’m pretty sure you know it already too. One of our tours we were staying at this kind of creepy house. The friend putting us up said there were two empty bedrooms, one we could use and another one we should leave alone. Through a weird confusion involving a bunch of cats and people switching up their spots sleeping, I ended up sleeping in what I thought was the bedroom we were allowed to use. I ignored all creepy feelings and staring cats until I fell asleep.
I woke up to the bed shaking underneath me. It scared me awake and when I told everyone no one was as surprised because apparently everyone knew that room was haunted but me.
That’s the best I got. Kristin’s are so much better.

Thanks Steve! Also, I do remember that ghost story. (gulp)  
Check out the brick mower bandcamp here.

Happy holidays everyone. <3

Monday, November 25, 2013

Exorcism Number Fifteen: David Yow

SO. I interviewed David Yow, the lead singer of the Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid. 

When I asked Mr. Yow for this interview, he could have said no thanks and I would have completely understood. Instead this sweet gentleman gave me his phone number and said to call him whenever. So I did. On Halloween. It seemed appropriate!

Jeff transcribed this and was kind enough to leave out most of my insane fan-girl rambling. And then upon editing, I was was smart enough to remove the REST of my insane fan-girl rambling. ENJOY FOLKS! <3

Miranda: The first thing I want to ask about are the recent acting projects that you’ve been involved in, and if you could talk about what got you into acting, and that kind of thing.
David: Sure. I took acting...I took high school a bunch, but I wasn’t so serious about it. Then in Chicago at the end of the eighties/early nineties, I knew this fellow named Jim Sikora, an indie filmmaker. For some reason or another he thought I was good on camera and asked if I’d do a couple movies. I did, I guess, a total of four movies with him. I didn’t do much after that. After the Jesus Lizard broke up, I moved out to Los Angeles, mostly to do graphic art and photo retouching stuff, and also hoping to eventually maybe do some more acting. Early on, about 2003 or so, I put together a reel on a dvd, and I talked to some people at the William Morris Agency. There was a guy there, and I told him I put a reel together cause I wanted to do some acting, and he said “Oh, this is gonna be easy. Get me five copies of it on DVD and in no time, we’ll have you set up.” And, so, about 6 to 8 weeks later I hadn’t heard from him, so I called him and he said “Oh, yeah, yeah, sorry. Nobody was interested.” Well, it was because my reel, well, it sucked. There was nothing on there, certainly nothing that was impressive or that would make a casting director go “Hey, I gotta have that guy!”
But then, some years ago-seven years ago-a fellow named Dennis Hauck asked if I’d like to be in a western that he was doing and I got into it. It was really, really fun. Then I did a couple other tiny things, and I decided to pursue it more diligently. I took some improv classes, acting classes, workshops, did some writing classes and monologue classes. Some of that stuff has been tremendously helpful, some of it was just throwing money down the toilet. I was really, really nervous, either in rehearsals or just reading lines, certainly when the camera was rolling I’d get nervous and get choked up and not do it the way it’s supposed to be done. Then recently I worked with Bill Hellfire on Upsidedown Cross and when we wrapped that weekend, having shot two days in New York and then having shot stuff in New Jersey, something just happened at that time where I wasn’t afraid anymore and it was like turning a corner. It became really really fun. Like when the teacher says “Relax, have fun with it” and both those times I really had fun. Then I came home and shot this thing where I was a restaurant manager and it was fun and easy, and there’s just tons of stuff going on-I’ve got three scripts that I’ve been asked to do, there’s a famous guy who’s written a script where I’d be a hitman and we’d shoot in NY, NJ and Manchester. Tons of cool stuff.
M: That’s awesome. What do you feel helped you get over the fear? Was it just something that happened all of a sudden, or were there certain techniques that you employed to make it easier for yourself?
D: I think it’s experience. It’s a culmination of the number of things I’ve done up to now. I don’t even know how many movies I’ve done now. I mean, none of them are that big of a deal, but they’re all experience, and I think that the cumulative effect of these things sort of got me to the point where I’m not as afraid. In auditions I was absolutely petrified, but a couple of weeks ago I had an audition and it was FUN. It was the casting director, the producer, and the director, and the movie is very weird and disjointed, and I didn’t really understand the script. I asked the director a couple of questions beforehand, and we did the scene, and he said-twice, “That’s exactly how I pictured it.” So I said “That’s great!” Then he didn’t call me back, which is a very Hollywood thing, but the fact that it was fun was huge. I think it’s the experience.
M: Right, like once you do it enough and you’re not scared, you’re like “I don’t NEED to be scared to do this at all.” That kind of thing?
D: Yeah!  So many years ago I had an audition in Chicago, and I’d sort of become friends with Michael Shannon, and I talked to him the morning before I had this audition and I told him how nervous I was, and he goes “Fuck that! What are you nervous for? Fuck those people. Just go there, show them what it is, and get out of there. Who gives a fuck what they think?!” And I was going “Man, I wish I could have that attitude. There’s no way I can think that way.” And I still don’t think that way, really, it’s more along the lines where I’m just not afraid of them.
M: That’s great. Relating to what you were just talking about, I wanted to ask about this: I just read that you were not originally supposed to be the singer of Scratch Acid, you were supposed to be the bass player, and then the singer got kicked out so David Wm. Sims moved to bass and you moved to singing. Were you prepared to be the singer? Had you ever sung before? Did you have stage fright?
D: I had not really had experience before, but it’s funny that you ask about stage fright, because the first show we played where I was singing was at a place in Austin called the Skyline Club, and it was us-we played first, Butthole Surfers, The Big Boys, and TSOL…
M: That’s insane.
D: …and I’m terrified. I threw up all day long.
M: Oh my god!
D: I was absolutely terrified. I had crazy stage fright.
M: And you had only sung at practice? You hadn’t sung in previous bands? That was your first experience as a singer?
D: Yeah, I’d never sang in front of more than three people.
M: That’s intense. And so, do you feel like there’s a relationship between what you do on stage as a singer and the acting you’ve been doing? Not like cause and effect, but what’s in common between those?
D: I think only the performance aspect of it. At least with any of the bands that I’ve been in I’ve had completely free rein- particularly live- to do whatever the fuck I wanted, to either sing the real words or make up words, or not even sing words at all, or go over there and do whatever. Whereas, most of the time with acting, you have very specific things you have to say in a specific way, and a specific thing you have to be doing at the same time. So, as far as that goes, they’re pretty different.
But the most nerve wracking stuff…it depends on the role. Like I told you, I came back here and shot the thing where I’m a restaurant manager and it was really straight forward-I was basically just talking to this woman. But then the stuff I did with Bill Hellfire in NJ, there was a lot of quote-unquote “performance” going on, and that’s a little more analogous to the band stuff where you have to continually step outside of yourself and do things that you would never ever otherwise do.
M: Right. And for the sake of it being a good show, that kind of thing, you would go above and beyond?
D: Exactly. Erin Russ and I talked about a scene in Upsidedown Cross where I had to throw her into an ice bath, and she, understandably, didn’t want to do that. I was saying it’s only going to be four minutes of hell, and it’ll be great for the movie, and that’s what we’re here for. You have to make those sacrifices to make the movie as good as it can be. I told her I have to eat fried eggs and it makes me want to throw up, but for the sake of the movie it was kind of fun to choke that shit down. That was our pact. If you take the ice bath I have to eat a fried egg.
M: Haha! That seems fair! So, what led to your vocal style? Do you have inspirations? There are some singers where I know exactly what the person is going for, and when I listen to you I have no idea. It’s really unique in that way. I’m wondering if you could talk about what led to your vocal style, and what kind of vocalists you listened to that brought you to that?
D: Well, when I was a teenager I was a huge Led Zeppelin fan, but I was also aware that Robert Plant was the weakest link in Led Zeppelin. There some things he would occasionally do that I liked. When punk rock came around, I was a huge fan of Lee Ving, Lux Interior, Johnny Rotten, and particularly Birthday Party-era  Nick Cave, and I think that’s pretty apparent, especially in Scratch Acid and early Jesus Lizard stuff. But, because I wasn’t very good at, you know, traditional singing, I had to work with what I had. So I think my limitations probably forced me to make adjustments…
M: Like in vocal performance?
D: Yeah well I can’t sing very pretty, but I make these awful noises a lot, and that’ll be entertaining. I think early on with Scratch Acid I listened to a live tape before we put out a record and it just sounded like this kid trying to rip off like Nick Cave.  I remember thinking “I’ve got to stop that!” You know, I didn’t WANT to do that. But, I think it’s very natural and acceptable. In whatever artform, or endeavors, where you are particularly enthralled by something that someone else has done, its normal for you to imitate that. And then hopefully, ideally you metamorphose into your own thing, and I hope that something like that happened.
M: Undoubtedly.  Do you feel like your singing evolved a lot? Can you talk a little bit about the evolution from your earliest singing to the later Jesus Lizard records, and even today?
D: Early on it was really tweak-y. There were all kinds of horrible squeaks and things that would happen because I had no control over my voice. And I didn’t really care. I wasn’t trying to have control-I didn’t bother with singing lessons. Hitting the right pitch or the right key-I don’t remember that ever being a concern. If I felt like it worked with whatever we were doing, I’d stick with it. As far as trying to harmonize, I don’t think that really happened. After the Jesus Lizard broke up and I came to Los Angeles, I joined a band called Qui, that was just a three piece. Those two guys are really good and taught me a lot. Paul Christiansen taught me a lot. I actually took lessons from him. I don’t care much about playing music these days, but I can sing better now than I did then. (Mock vocal warm-up scale)
M: Nice! Can you talk about the songwriting process for the Jesus Lizard, and if lyrics or music came first? And also what was it like to be in a band with three of the best players of all time, as far as I’m concerned.
D: There were no rules as far as like, the music came first or the lyrics came first-both happened. We talked about trying to write music around the words a couple times, though I don’t think we ever did that. Duane in particular really liked the idea of me writing something and figuring out some kind of phrasing that I like and then building a song around that. I don’t think we ever ended up doing that. But, gosh, the lyrics. Jeez, Miranda, I don’t remember. A lot of them came from dreams I had. From the beginning of the song to the end of the song there’s not necessarily a cohesive thing where it’s about one or two things. Often I felt it was more important what it sounded like than what it was saying. My father was really quite a wordsmith, and I think I inherited a bit of that. There were some little cleverisms that I liked, but it was never really important to me if that came across. If I wrote some line and was like “Oh, that’s a good line.” I was more concerned with the way it sounded than with somebody saying “Ooh that’s a cool line.”
M: Cool. What was the recording process like?  Do you have any specific memories or anything funny to share about the recording process with The Jesus Lizard?
D: Well, specifically with the Jesus Lizard, like you said, the other three guys were pretty good at what they did. We practiced like motherfuckers. We rehearsed like crazy and we toured a lot, so whenever we went into the studio, unless there was something brand spankin’ new that we wanted to work on, we had it down. Certainly 75% of it, at least. So, it was usually really quick, and Steve (Albini) was very efficient. I think in his world, you never really need to do more than two takes, and we never really did more than one or two takes. We had all the screws tightened down before we went in.
Some of the stuff Steve did was pretty cool, sort of experimental mic-ing. He did all sorts of kooky things. They would tape microphones to my head, or I would be inside of a trash can. They would have a microphone on a stand in front of my mouth, and then another microphone hanging from the ceiling about a sixteenth of an inch from the other microphone, and as I started singing I would swing the one hanging from the ceiling so that as it passed by the other one the phase would shift. Goofy shit. It changes things. I don’t if it necessarily makes it better, but he was really into that kind of thing, and I got a kick out of it.
M: Yeah. I’m sure it makes it more unique sounding, even if you’re not really aware of what exactly is happening when you’re listening to it.
D: Yeah, instead of (sings a note), it would go (sings a modulating note.)
M: Nice. Did you have any specific things that you used to do to record vocals? The vocals are so performance based-I’m trying to say it the right way... I mean, it seems like you couldn’t really make it sound right without doing it full on. Did you have specific things you would do when you when you were recording your vocals to make it as real as possible?
D: Usually we’d drink way too much. I was soused. For instance, when we recorded Head, we had a list on the wall, a checklist of things that had been done and things remaining to be done. We came in one morning after being in the night before and the song “Pastoral” was checked off, and I said “No, I still have to sing that.” They said “You did that one last night.” That’s the version on the record. I was so drunk I didn’t know I did it.
M: Can you talk about the Jesus Lizard book that just came out, ”Book?”
D: Sure. I’m not certain actually how it came about. I think it was Johnny Temple from Girls Against Boys, who runs the publishing company Akashic. I think it was his idea. He approached us about it, and my knee jerk reaction was, “What a tremendous waste of time.” We broke up, I don’t even know how long, fourteen years ago? I really didn’t see any point in doing the book. But we talked more about it, and had some ideas and stuff. I said if I can design it, I’d be willing to do it. Because-I don’t want to get into specifics-but the things that have been released that I had nothing to do with I was not particularly happy with. And I was not willing to have a book come out on us where I didn’t like the way it looked. So, we started doing it and we got a shit-ton of photographs from different people. We scanned them, color corrected them, retouched them, and sort of got an overall look I wanted for the book. Then we handed them off to Henry Owings who does Chunklet Magazine, who has a much much better grasp on how to lay out a book. So, he did the layout, after I sort of figured out what it should look like, and I’m really, really excited about it now. I have a copy of it at home. It looks great. I think it’s completely worthwhile. There’s tons of written stuff in it by a lot of contributors-particularly, to me, Alex Hacke from Einsturzende Neubauten and Mike Watt are just incredible. Really, really great! Mike’s piece is like beatnik, Dada, Abstract, Jackson Pollack.  It’s great. The way he writes…it’s like he’s got his own language. But yeah, they’re great photos of us as kids, each of the four of us, stuff about our lives, a detailed list of every single show we played. It’s really worthwhile.
M: Awesome.
D: I think the pre-orders will ship before Christmas, but they’re not going to be in stores until February or March.
M: Okay, I just want to ask a couple more things about personal stuff, and then we’ll be done. Thank you so much. I really appreciate this.
D: Of course!
M: What were your parents like growing up?
D: Well, in the book I describe where I was born and I describe my mother and father, and I think the last line in the paragraph about my mom, I think I said “I’m not lying when I say that my mom was the sweetest little woman to ever walk the face of the Earth.”
M: Aww. That’s nice.
D: That was my mom. My dad was pretty great. He was a fighter pilot, he flew incredible airplanes and did some amazingly dangerous things. He was an officer in the Air Force, so there was a fair amount of the discipline and regimentation, and he could be a real fuckin’ prick. There was a time, right after high school, like right when the punk rock thing was going on where he and I did not like each other at all. At all. And then so many years later, he kind of cleaned up his act, and the last thirteen years of his life, we were really tight. I’m really grateful for that.
M: That’s great. Really great. Do you have any siblings?
D: I have a sister who is two years older than me. She lives in central Texas with her enormous family.
M: Do you still hang out with her?
D: No, no. We talk on Christmas, her birthday, and my birthday.
M: Was there something that made you want to be in a band as opposed to just being a spectator or fan? And not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, but was there anything that specifically made you go “I want to do this and not just watch it?”
D: I think punk rock.  When I was a little kid I was a huge Beatles freak, and I’m old enough that I bought the 7" when they came out. Like I bought the “Hey Jude” 7 inch when it came out and stuff. I was living in Virginia at the time, and then we moved to England in the early and mid 70s when there was T. Rex and Slade and The Sweet and I loved all that shit and then Led Zeppelin and stuff. But with that kind of music, I didn’t have the wherewithal or the desire to learn to play an instrument well enough to play in one of those bands. They were so far removed from anything that I would be interested in. But then when the punk rock came along, I loved the idea of the sort of do it yourself-ness and that you didn’t have to be very good at what you were doing. I think that’s what opened a door for me, like “I’m not gonna be good either!”
M: Ha. I think that happened a lot. I think, like, a lot of people feel that way.
D: And about that time, I lived in this little house with a friend in Austin, when I was in my first little band called “Toxic Shock” where I played bass. We would do whatever to get a show. Behind the house we lived in was this garage where this other band practiced and they were sort of like prog-rock, jazz-fusion. They were really really good at it. Now... I didn’t care much for it, but they were really good. But it never occurred to them to play a show! They would practice, you know, 8 days a week for 5 hours a day, and then expect some record scout to just stumble in and say “Hey, do you want to do a record?” And meanwhile, we’re playing all the time having a screaming blast!
M: Okay, last but not least: any ghost stories?
D: Any ghost stories?
M: Anything that ever happened to you. Any kind of paranormal activity that happened to you in real life.
D: I think there are two. The first one was when I lived in Chicago. We lived in a sort of a two story, sort of like a brownstone thing, and we always entered the side door. For some reason we never used the front door. One day-I don’t remember why-but I opened the front door instead and one of the cats ran down the stairs and got out. When I went to go get him-and I’d only taken a couple of steps- he came rocketing back up the steps. He was going so fast he was on the wall, not the stairs.
M: Whoa!
D: He was a tough guy, and I looked at him and he was freaking out. He was hyperventilating and his fur had gone insane. I thought “What the fuck!” I checked downstairs and there’s nothing there. There’s one of those beneath the stairs storage spaces and there’s nothing there but a snow shovel. There was no hole where a rat or mouse could’ve gone in or anything. There was nothing there. So, I think he saw something there that I couldn’t see, and it scared the fuck out of him.
And then here in Los Angeles, there have been a handful of times this sort of ghost cat shows up every now and then. Most of the things around here are easily explained away. Like it’s a reflection, or out of the corner of your eye or whatever. But one morning my girlfriend got up and went to the bathroom, and you got past the guestroom to get there, and she yelled back “Hey, David. Did you move the guestbed?” There are three paintings above this bed, and the bed is centered beneath them, and the bed was moved like 18 inches. And I have no idea. That is not our imagination.
M: Right, that’s physical.
D: And the cats certainly can’t do it that quick.
M: Yeah. Haha!
D: One of the ghosts decided to move the bed.
M: That’s intense. Well, thank you for talking to me.
D: Thanks.

Thanks David Yow. Check out this website to see David's artwork. And this one for his acting info and some Jesus Lizard video.