With the current state of alterna-rock crumbling before our very eyes (look at the Lolapalooza circus), it's good to see bands like Colombus, Ohio's Gaunt holding the punk rock banner high. Amen, brutha! Coming from a scene, that in recent years, has become akin to that of a 'normal' college town (i.e. the bored kids starting rock bands epidemic), it's inevitable that sooner or later people would pay attention to their work. However, it seems as if local Ohioans don't think too much of what is going on. Sound familiar? Almost the same thing happened 20 years ago when bands like Devo, Pere Ubu, the Dead Boys and the Electric Eels sprung out of the desolate farmland known as Ohio. God bless America!
Starting over three years ago, Gaunt has quickly become a band that can tour the US and Europe to throngs of adoring punks. As for Gaunt's raw sound, it's easy to see why people shrug their shoulders in disbelief, but as for me, I'm drawn like a magnet to their powerful, three-chord attack. It's good to see that their primal attack has garnered them some well deserved attention.
Also, it should be noted that 'spokesman' for the band (given that title because he was the only one who spoke!), Jerry (guitar/vocals) is co-founder of Anyway Stuff, a record label in Columbus. Anyway is responsible for much of the vinyl undercurrent that people have been hearing about coming out of their town. Make sure to contact them. The address is at the end of the interview.
Present at this interview was the entire band, but Jerry seemed to do most of the talking. Jovan (guitarist) also threw in his two cents, but really didn't want to talk. The Gaunt rhythm section Eric (bass) and Jeff (drums) barely spoke. So with that said, let us join the discussion in progress, which was held outside the Midtown Music Hall in scenic Atlanta.
So what's Columbus like?
Jovan: It's square...
Jerry: It's good, it's alright.
Is it 'Cowtown'? How did it get that name?
Jerry: There's a lot of places called 'Cowtown.' There's a famous photo with a cow and in the back is the Columbus skyline. I think that's where it's rooted from. You see cows walking down the street because the city's pretty incestuous, pretty small.
Is it safe to live there?
Jerry: Safe? Yeah, as long as there isn't a Michigan football game going on or something. It is a big 10 school and that's what fucks up Columbus the most.
Athens is that way, too.
Jerry: That's the worst part of living there.
Do you live like the Turks live? Y'know, basically living week to week, buying 40 oz. missles of malt liquor?
Jerry: No. I used to be roommates with the Turks, and we're all pretty tame human beings. We're all pretty mellow.
Yeah, you're nothing compared to the Antiseen.
Jerry: Right. But as far as this band goes, Eric runs a frame shop, Jeff plays drums and Jovan...
Jovan: I recycle...
Jerry: And I work at a record store.
Slow down!!! Those are some great jobs!!
Jerry: There's something I've noticed and that is that from town to town there's a lot of inner city punk rock kids who really don't give a fuck about music. They just want to fuck shit up.
Jerry: Yeah, you don't have that in Columbus necessarily. I'm sure it exists, but it's not tolerated.
Not to pick Columbus out from, like New York or Berkeley, but can you explain why all of a sudden, people are giving a shit what's going on in Columbus?
(Jovan shakes his head)
Jerry: Reviewers got bored of something else and the journalists got bored of talking about Seattle or San Diego. All of a sudden, there's this slew of singles coming out from Columbus and there was a CD that came out shortly thereafter.
Why were you shaking your head?
Jovan: I'm not convinced that Columbus is nothing more than a little blip.
Jerry: Oh, it's totally a blip.
Jovan: I don't think there's anything happening outside of our own minds. There's really not that big a scene there.
That's what I meant though...
Jerry: There's a shit load of bands, but SPIN isn't coming to town. Nobody gives a shit, really.
Give them a couple of years.
Jerry: Yeah, you don't have your larger level magazines giving a shit, but any fanzine I've ever picked up has one Columbus review in it which didn't happen before. I don't understand the attention at all. I blame it on journalists being bored. We were an area that had a slew of singles coming out and they said Oh, this area looks interesting. I think the New Bomb Turks are a big part of that. If it wasn't for the Turks, I don't think there'd be this much attention.
What started it?
Jerry: Datapanik started it. It was Craig Regala who started it.
Jovan: The fact that Datapanik, not to burst anybody's bubble, was simply....if Craig liked the band, the band was allowed to use the Datapanik name. If that makes any sense. What it did was it created a sense of cohesiveness or style that might not have been generated had all these bands put singles out under their own label.
And when did that start? Five, six, seven years ago?
Jerry: Four, five...in '88.
Jovan: We put out our first two singles on Datapanik, and we've only been together three years. But I think the fact that everybody sort of agreed to work under this banner and that a lot of the production qualities shared similarities, in that they were fucked sounding.
Jerry: Yeah, but that wasn't intentional. That whole lo-fi, Mummies thing is bullshit. I like the Mummies, but starting a band to be intentionally lo-fi is kind of defeatist. I hate to use somebody else's quote, but Steve (Albini) put it best when he said "It trivializes most music." And it does, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I think Belreve (an Anyway band) from Columbus shouldn't be lo-fi. Appalachian Death Ride (another Anyway band) shouldn't be lo-fi. The only reason they're lo-fi is because it's a matter of economics. It's poverty. There are no engineers in Columbus, and there's no studios worth a damn.
So it all goes onto four track?
Jerry: Yeah, so that's why it goes lo-fi. If you live in Chicago, you've got Brad Wood and Albini. If you live on the East Coast, you got 'x' number of people who know what they're doing. At Fort Apache, or whatever. You've got your West Coast and Conrad Unos and your pro engineers. You don't have any of that in the Midwest. You can name a handful of bands that came out of the Midwest, everything else comes from the coasts. You've got Husker Du, the Replacements, there's not that many bands that come from our area of the country.
Jerry: Yeah, but big bands, mind you. Chicago is an exception of the Midwest. That's why it was interesting for journalists to mention Columbus. It was like 'What the fuck?'. I never noticed anything good coming out of our town.
Well, at least for 10 years....
Jerry: Well, you have your first generation Columbus bands like Scrawl, but as Jovan said with the cohesiveness, Craig put together the name Datapanik. People are record geeks. If a label starts up, and the New Bomb Turks have a single on Datapanik, some obscure label, people say 'What else is on that label? I need to have their catalog!' All those record geeks. And Craig is one of the smartest people I've known. I'm sure that entered his mind that record geeks would buy it.
Well, you do have to pander to them, to a certain extent.
Jerry: Yeah, you've got to give a lot of credit with the singles thing to Sub Pop. Then, you've got to give more credit to Mudhoney because a lot of people weren't interested in buying singles until Mudhoney.
Really, you think so?
Jerry: When I heard "Touch Me, I'm Sick," I though it was a great song. And if it said 'Sub Pop', I'd buy it. There weren't many singles coming out before Sub Pop. They revived the whole singles thing. From '82 to....when did "Touch Me, I'm Sick" come out?
Jerry: Say '87-'88, there was a lull there where no one was putting vinyl out.
They were few and far between.
Jerry: Right, but it wasn't like this big craze, this whole singles bullshit. But that's the same way it is with anybody. If I or Bela (co-founder of the Anyway label) liked a band, they're given permission to use the name "Anyway." We usually put up half the cash. We try to get that back to them, but as far as the label goes, there's no business corporation thing at all.
But you have to do taxes and that crap, don't you?
Jerry: Oh, we don't do taxes. We do 500 copies of each single so...
Well, I asked Mark Robinson (Teen Beat Records owner/Unrest guy) that same question, just because it wouldn't surprise me that he didn't have to do taxes.
Jerry: But he's a subsidiary of Caroline. Isn't he?
Jerry: I was pretty sure he was associated with a bigger label. Look at those glossy singles covers.
Yeah, but I think Unrest itself had a lot to do with that. He still does some pretty lo-tech sleeves like Blast Off Country Style (a Teen Beat band).
Jerry: I just thought he had distribution through Caroline or something.
We're straying off the topic.
Jerry: Yeah, let's just say in answer to that question that Jovan is extremely touchy about that situation.
Which subject is that?
Jerry: "What's the attention about Columbus?" He just totally disagrees with that. That's why he walked away.
I didn't mean to offend him.
Jerry: Oh no, you didn't offend him, he just doesn't understand. The rest of us are making the leap of faith with Datapanik where he looks at it and laughs. He thinks Datapanik is totally stupid. It's a pretty touchy situation in Columbus. There's a lot of bands that have been playing in Columbus for ten years and won't get noticed because they're not very good. They've tried their hardest, and then all of a sudden, this band called the New Bomb Turks starts and three months later, they have a single out. Matador's giving them their utmost attention. That's going to piss off a lot of people.
Well, justifiably so. It's like nobody gave a squirt of piss about Scat (Records out of Cleveland) until Guided by Voices became the 'Next Big Thing.'
That's bullshit. I don't think Robert (Griffin, Scat Records owner) wanted it to be that way.
Jerry: Robert had some good bands before Guided by Voices that no one gave a shit about. So there's a tight knit group in Columbus that stick together. I think within the incest of Columbus, that if you're not part of that group, which is pretty loose and anybody can be a part of if they so choose, you don't get the perks. And the perks being putting out a lo-fi single.
Onto Gaunt's music....So who's Jim (from their "Jim Motherfucker" single)?
Jerry: It's Jim from the New Bomb Turks. When our first single came out, which was a split single with the Turks, he took it home and on the sleeve it says "All Rights Reserved, Motherfucker." And it says "Motherfucker" three or four times on the single. He took it home and showed his parents and said "Hey, I got a record out now." His dad just freaked, went through the roof and said "I can't believe I spent all that money putting you through school and to buy that guitar so you could use language becoming of scum." So then, of course, "Jim Motherfucker" is an easy target.
A logical extension.
Jerry: He was in the band for a while. He was in for two summers. Then the Turks decided to start having more responsibilities.
That's kind of funny, don't you think? Don't you think the song would get airplay....
Jerry: (interrupts) It does?!?!
Well, I'm just saying it would get on the air with a title like "Jim Motherfucker." The shock value...
Jerry: Oh, I have no idea how it gets played. I didn't know it got played. I figured that it would be radio un-cool.
Well, the second it gets on Get Hip (the label that repressed and distributed the "Jim Motherfucker" single)...
Those guys are professionals!!!
Jerry: The pros, they're professionals down to the bottom number.
So what do you think of the progression of how Gaunt's sound has gone from the first singles recorded with a 4-track to now where your recording with Mr. Albini.
Jerry: We didn't know how to use a four track and I didn't know how to write a song. Slowly but surely, we learned how to use a four track and learned how to write a song.
Eric: Jeff didn't know how to play drums. He never played drums before Gaunt. So everything had to be really simple, as simple as we could make it, so he could understand it.
Jerry: Right, and we're kind of growing into him. He's growing into us, it's working out real well. Jeff's got a real unique style.
Jeff: I'm incapable of copying anybody else. That's what it amounts to.
Jerry: Yeah, he's a self-made man.
Jeff: I couldn't copy another drummer if I wanted to.
Eric: Well, there's the 7 Seconds guy...
Jeff: Yeah, I can do that 7 Seconds guy pretty good, but that's about it...
Do you take pride in the fact that youre not professionals?
Jerry: I try to be a consummate professional (laughs).
I guess there's a fine line between people who are unprofessional for the sake of being unprofessional and people who are unprofessional because they don't know what professionalism is.
Jerry: Um, I don't even look at either one of those. I don't think either fit into what I'm doing. I enjoy playing music and that's it. The minute it's not fun, or it becomes an issue of professionalism, I don't want to play music anymore. If I were a pretty good bowler and enjoyed bowling, I don't know if that would really be an issue. I would just bowl. I think people try and make too much of an occupation of being a musician sometimes. Just have fun. I try to have as much fun as possible.
So you'll stop when it's not fun?
Jerry: I'll stop when we start to suck.
Will you be judgmental enough to know when you will suck?
Jerry: Well, I've not really been pleased with anything we've put out (laughs). No, there's a lot of things I like that we've put out. I would hope that I would know when I'd be saying "Boy, this is really bad." And then just scrap it. Give up. I can't say everything we've done is good. I've always tried my hardest. However, when I think I have no clue, I'd become what Ron Asheton (guitarist for the Stooges) said one time "I'm a really good guitar player now, but if I'd had known now what I did with the Stooges, we'd have been much better." There's no way those Stooges albums could get better. He would've ruined those records. So I try to keep that in the back of my head. That Asheton line kind of haunts me.