Another awesome cover by cartoonist Ted Rall and an issue we still look upon fondly. And hell, it’s when we’d actually do interviews with people! What’s not to like?
The only thing I can think about when you say Miami is carjacking… You know, all the German tourists being shot down by drug-crazed felons in the streets of that Florida burg? It’s sort of a spooky backdrop for the cacophonous shriek that is Harry Pussy. Much like a criminal coming up next to your car, they’re definitely unexpected. And the good part is that you don’t have to worry about them stealing your car at gunpoint! Hey! Ho! Hey! Like that isn’t a deal starin’ you in the face!
My encounter with this unassuming trio started while fellow Siltbreeze recording artists and dyed-in-the-wool Texans Charlambides (pronounced Shar-lom-buh-deez) were mesmerizing a modestly sized crowd at the Atomic. While sitting at the bar, I recognized one of the Harry Pussy’s guitarists. So I jumped for it. He grabbed Adris, HP’s drummer and occasional vocalist, and we headed towards the back as Charlambides played on. They first asked me if I was the fanzine writer in town who said that they should be hung. Nah, I didn’t say that.
And before the interview cuts in, I found out that their shocking band name is nothing more than a nickname that John Lennon used for Yoko Ono. Or at least that’s what they told me. I would’ve never made that connection, would you? And one last thing I was told that Harry Pussy’s video was shown while Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore was hosting MTV’s 120 Minutes. I’m a bit suspicious here, but I think the Black Crowes story they throw at me is a load of bull dookie. I’ll let you be the judge. So without further ado….
So what have been the worst reviews you received?
Adris Hoyos: As far as anything written? Yeah, we had one review from a local Florida fanzine called Spray saying that the music sounds like something out of an insane asylum. It was a bit insulting, but I was flattered by it.
I guess your last LP made the most sense to me, but….
AH Why did it make the most sense to you?
Everything seemed a little more connected. I listened to those singles and thought What the fuck. . I just didn’t understand it, but I kept on having people say that I should listen to ya’ll again…
AH: Well, if you understand something, what’s the point of listening to it over and over again?
How has your response been since, was it Thurston Moore on MTV, played your video?
Bill Orcutt: No, it was the lead singer for the Black Crowes…
AH: Yeah, he’s our biggest fan actually We played this show at his Mom’s birthday party last year
I was trying to figure out a way of saying this without being mean or offensive, but how do you feel about your music being considered ‘white noise’?
AH: I don’t think it’s white, I’m Cuban.
I don’t mean ‘white noise’ as in color of skin, I mean sheets of indistinguishable noise.
AH: Well, why is it white?
It is just a general description of things that blend into a massive sheet of goo… I remember the show you did at the 40 Watt, and everybody around me was saying ‘What’s the deal?’. Because everybody’s read the zines where Lou Barlow says ‘Harry Pussy is great.’
AH: Well, we played a couple shows with them.
So what you’re interested in doing is…..
BO: Going back to the roots of just pissing people off It seems that if you just go on stage with oscillators, it is not going to piss people off If you pretend to play rock music which doesn’t sound like anything.
So do you think it could be a case of ‘the Emperor has no clothes’?
AH: What do you mean?
People will start to enjoy you because they think they’re supposed to instead of actually getting something out of it?
AH: Oh no.
BO: No, because I like it. It may sound like it’s just random, but it takes so much time We have so many hours of bad Harry Pussy on tape that It’s so obvious when we have good Harry Pussy recorded. It’s there some people can see it and some people can’t. Besides, what are we talking about? Are we saying that with music that I want this to sound a certain way and when I go to the show it’ll sound like that? This is what I want from bands? To provide me with these boundaries and a certain arrangement? If that’s all that rock and roll is, then that’s shit. Because there’s alot more to music than predictability. Predictability is boring and I’m not interested in making any kind of music that people will expect to hear. Music that pushes the boundaries is…..
That sounds so cliche….’pushing the boundaries’.
BO: ‘The Emperor wears no clothes’ is a cliche….
Yeah, but what I’m saying….
BO: To me, l just wanted to do the wildest, most out of control band I could. l can point to certain points in our records where I think we’re great. The best rock and roll that’s been made in ten years, at least. Fucking totally wild. Either you see it or you don’t. It’s just there. It has structure, but it’s completely wild and completely insane. It’s what we’re about. It’s not college rock. It’s not instrumental. It’s not about sing along Iyrics. It’s the most wild, insane sound you can get.
Do you ever worry about having to explain what you do to your grandkids or your parents?
AH: No, only to you!
BO: Sometimes I do…..
AH: I don’t feel like I have to explain myself…
BO: Definitely not to my parents.
What? Do they just shake their heads and go back to watching TV?
BO: Well, we don’t live at home with parents, so we have pretty limited contact with them.
Any parting thoughts?
BO: Uh, long live the Black Crowes!
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Long live the Black Crowes. Whatever……
OK, so moments after our conversation, Charlambides leave the stage, and after an ever-so-brief between set change over, Harry Pussy start their show. Well, like their previous show I saw at the 40 Watt with Sebadoh and Smog, it definitely left me annoyed. But as Bill said as we were finishing up the interview, and the tape recorder was off, he thinks the whole point of seeing a band is to come away with some sort of definite emotion regardless of which one it is. Well, don’t worry, l did.
Funny bits of their show? About 10 minutes into their set, Bill states over the layers of feedback and scree “We were interviewed by some guy before the show” There was a bit of a pause. “And he asked us “So is it true that you guys suck?”” Garsh! How flattering! Another five minutes passed when Adris, in a moment of rage (maybe?) leapt off the stage right onto my shoulders!!’ Now, l’m no wussie, but I didn’t want to hurt the li’l lady. So l let her do her thing, and then I knelt over so she could get off. I think she was expecting me to throw her around or some other retarded hoo-haa, but that just ain’t me, toots! Shortly after that, I made my way to the door with the uncoordinated, dyslexic harangue of the Pussies beginning to muffle behind me. They finished their set by the time exited. Total show time? 20 minutes. Somethin’ else, huh?
Well, l’m not going to fool you. I still have no clue as to whether l like these folks or not. I’m not sure people are supposed to like their brand of ‘music’, to tell you the truth. By watching them, you’d think that they don’t know what they’re playing. Randomness for randomness’ sake, if you will….. And for this reason, l respect the hell out of Harry Pussy. I remember another ‘Pussy’ band-this one fronted by Jon Spencer and called Pussy Galore-getting the same sort of puzzled reaction (from me and from many others) when they started. Hell, l gave my copy of their first single away, and it’s now worth a small fortune. I’m such a loser! Fortunately for Pussy Galore, they eventually got their act together. Perhaps only time will tell if the same will happen to Harry Pussy. Ironically enough, l gave my copy of the Harry Pussy Nose Ring single away as well. Will it ever be able to put your kid thru freshman year of college? Can’t rightly tells ya. But it does get you to thinkin’, doesn’t it? If you love ’em, hate ’em or are just plain perplexed by them, l believe they have done their job rather well. Don’t you think?…….Their stage has now been set. That is all.
Fifteen Questions Answered by Damon Che…
Necessary background information for the uninitiated. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Damon Che Fitzgerald is the nucleus behind the band. He’s also been a member in the hardcore band Half Life (which broke up in the late 80’s) and the progrock outfit called Don Caballero (break up status unknown), both from Pittsburgh. He played (plays) drums in both of those bands, but in the Canaries, he beats the guitar with as much reckless abandon if not more so. The first Canaries record is called ‘The Joy of Wine’ (on Mind Cure) an is sadly out of print. His newest opus is a double LP/extended CD called ‘Songs for the Terrestrially Challenged’ and has hi-fi and lo-fi versions available on Scat and Mind Cure respectively. All of these recordings have Noah Leger from Hurl and Karl Hendricks from his self titled trio. The band is now without Karl and is now plus a more-than-quiet gent calling himself ‘John’. They rock like a mother, and are ten times as loud. The following are questions I asked Damon via the United States Postal System.
1.What’s yr name?
2.What do you do? More importantly, why do you do it?
Claw, (struggle), pry and scratch. Why? What else is there?
3.Is thore one thing that reviewers say about the Canaries that will drive you to besome a postal worker it you hear it one more time?
Some people get it and are appreciative. Most people have no idea what they’re talking about in our reviews or anyone else’s. Unfortunately, this will never cause them embaressment [sic] or ever be a problem for them in there entire career. That’s just the way the world is, especially in the music world. For instance, in a Chunklet review of our last record, you yourself state there being 3/4 time signitures [sic]. There are no 3/4 time signitures [sic] on that record. Get my point?
4.Not that I’m complaining, but why two Van Halen covers on the new LP?
That’s the kind of question that will drive me to become a postal worker.
5.What’s up with the Canaries right now?
We’re going to do a big U.S. tour and see what happens. We’re very interested in survival. If things are not looking so hot in the near future then expect maybe the last album in a long time.
6.When can we expect a video?
Will you be wearing a dress in it? Don’t hold yer breath. MTV would never show the kind of videos I want to make.
7.How much hair do you have on your chest?
You’d have to be a nerd to care.
8.Do you hate Madonna? Why or why not?
No, I don’t know much about her. She seems like she could be sorta cool, but I expect it could be all poserish (i.e. her ‘Sex’ book). Promises. Promises.
9.Any favorite drinking games?
The Get-Drunk-and-Beat-Henry-Owing’s-Ass is sure to be a huge favorite.
10.Tell us your favorite joke. How about worst joke?
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is probally [sic] my favorite joke. The worst joke is definetly [sic] how few respectable, professional, intelligent and pride driven sound men there are in the world today.
11.What’s the funniest bodily noise you’ve ever heard? Where and how did it happen?
I’m sorry, Henry but that’s not a very intelligent question, ask the HAL9000 System. I dunno.
12.When you were in school were there any sports that you were particularly good at? How about ones that your performance could best be described as horrible?
Softball was the best, basketball the worst.
13.Name 15 or 20 recordings that you take with you on every road trip…..
New Tar, Billy Carter’s Greatest Hits, B-Five Twos, actually our van is one constant pile of tapes. It’s hard to say what comes along every time.
14.Anything (non-musical) that really makes your day?
Ah gee, do you have about two years? Books, girls, open spaces, girls, Elvis’ diet, girls, Bar-B-Que, Girls, beer, girls, learning to shoot pool, girls, etc. Actually now that I think of it most things that interest me are musical, even girls.
15. Can you cook? How about souffle or something fancy sounding?
No. Macaroni, spaghetti at best.
OK, I know the first thing you’re saying to yourself is “Why did I unpack the Ouija Board to contact Sun Ra?”. Well, I don’t believe in that hocus-pocus biz, but I did actually interview the jazz (forgive the term) pioneer-or at least somebody sitting next to him-three years ago. First off, I don’t think I’ve ever conducted an interview via phone with somebody as insurmountably odd as this Alabama cum Saturn musician. OK, so I did a pretty lousy Janitor Joe interview once where all we did was talk about the weather, and oh yeah, I did have Crain tell me about absolutely nothing for the better part of a half hour, but c’mon! We’re talking about Sun Ra here!!! Just to add to the weirdness factor-which was already tipping the scales at this point-I was forced to conduct this interview through some smug, monkey-dicked manager named Spencer. Boy, like he wasn’t a dream. I left in all the gory details of our brief conversation just so you see that I’m not coming out of left field on this one. Alright, so the big question I’m sure you’re asking yourself is why this interview never ran and why it’s finally showing up now. That’s pretty simple to answer. first off, Thee Mighty Ra along with his Arkestra were to play the 40 Watt in October of 1992, but due to health problems, it never happened. Shortly into 1993, Sun Ra died. And why is this showing up now? Beats the hell outta me, I just wanted this retarded bit of quasi-journalistic goofiness to see the light of day. Now picture if you will the hapless interviewer (me) in an office with people talking in the background-noises equivalent to that of a bus station swarming all around me. My telephone connection was horrible-like using two tin cans and a piece of string to talk to somebody in Bakersfield. Sounds like a dream, right? Wrong. So after calling Spencer’s answering service, I get the correct number to call, and on the fourth ring, ba-da-bing, my man Spence answers…….
Hi, is Mr. Sun Ra there?
My name’s Henry Owings. I’m calling from Athens, Georgia.
Yes, he’s here. Do you want to conduct an interview?
OK, well, you read the questions and I’ll ask Sun Ra, and we’ll do it that way. I’m Spencer Weston, and I’m the spokesperson for Sun Ra.
Are you a performer in the band?
I’m the manager for the band. [note: by this time (not 20 seconds into the interview) I felt so completely ill at ease that I didn’t know what to say]
Ah cool….well, the first question I wanted to ask was why Sun Ra changed from his post World War Two rhythm and blues to jazz in the 50’s. Is there some particular reason he changed his outlook on music, or changed his sound?
OK, just a minute. (PAUSE-appx. 20 seconds) Sun Ra says “because of creativity”.
Alright. What has the 90’s proven to be like for Sun Ra?
(PAUSE- appx. 15 secs.) Sun Ra says that people are not in charge of the planet.
Oh, I guess you misinterpreted what I asked. What I asked is have Sun Ra’s performances been good during the 90’s? Has he been good during the 90’s? Is he a good guy in the 90’s?
Alright then (PAUSE- appx. 25 secs.) He says “the performances change according to the environment and political situations”
Hmmm, has Mr., er, uh, how do I call him? Sun Ra? Mr. Sun Ra? Ra?
Sun Ra is sufficient.
OK, how has he been feeling? A girl here was telling me he had to cancel some shows last year due to his health.
OK, just a minute (PAUSE- appx. 5 secs.) He says he’s been feeling very well.
Oh, he has?
Um, well now let’s see, is there going to be an imminent tour coming up soon? Sun Ra is coming to Athens……
We’re on tour right now. The first stop is in Athens, then the next night on Halloween will be in Atlanta.
Is Sun Ra looking forward to Halloween night? It seems like he would….
Yes, he is….
….that along with some other days would be some of his favorites.
Let me finish off the tour for you. We go to Portland, Oregon, then we go to Seattle, Washington and then three or four days in Oakland and then Santa Cruz, California. Athens will be the start of our fall tour.
Has he ever played in Athens?
Yes, we have played Athens before.
Does he like the town? Does he like the people?
Just a minute. (PAUSE- appx. 10 secs.) He says that Athens is a very pleasant place.
Hmmm, I’m glad to hear that. What kind of a band is he bringing along with him? I’ve heard he brings a 10 piece orchestra to a really big…..
We’ll have about 13 people.
13 people? And what will this be consisting of?
Well, there will be our reed section, brass section and rhythm section.
Oh, OK. Um, is Sun Ra from around here? I believe he is.
Hold on. I’ll ask him. (PAUSE- appx. 10 secs.) He said the closest place would be Alabama.
Oh, OK. Um, something about Saturn keeps popping up in all the information I keep reading about him. Does he happen to pop into any other Saturnians while on tour?
(PAUSE- appx. 20 secs.) He says “yes”.
Oh he does? Uh, is it pretty much a common occurrence to just like….OK, I’II leave it at that.
Well, l guess that’s about it.
On Labor Day weekend 1994, I had the privilege of being part of the Pine Tar .406 baseball extravaganza/rock show in Chicago. The poster for the Sunday night show boasted a lineup including Chicago’s own Shellac and Tar, Providence’s Six Finger Satellite, and San Francisco via Bloomington musical gymnasts MX80. And in small print under MX80 on the poster, it states “yes, the original MX80 in their only Chicago appearance ever”. Ooof!
When my tour guide picked me up at the scenic Midway airport (ugh), l thought it’d be a weekend of a couple of cool shows, some beer and maybe some record shopping thrown In for good measure. Upon arrival at my host’s house, he explained that he had to go back to work, but that I could go over to Steve (Albini, Shellac member and Pine Tar conspirator)’s house and hang out with the gentlemen from MX80 who had also just arrived in town. “Maybe you could ask them what it’s like to be in a band for 20 years” he suggested. Not a bad idea! And so, without forethought, an impromptu interview was set.
As l entered Steve’s house/place of business/hotel, the fixin’s for the impending Pine Tar show were adding up quicker than you could say “Major League strike”. Baseball uniforms and unbagged peanuts on the floor, Steve, Todd and Bob practicing for the first time in a couple of months in the basement, and the four MX80s sitting around on one of the many color uncoordinated barcoloungers sofas and recliners in Steve’s living room. r introduced myself, pulled a Home Boy soda out of my bag, pushed the red “record” button on my tape machine, and the rest, as they say, is rock and roll history.
For the people who are younger than me, who have never heard of MX80, please give a brief description of what life has been like the last 20 years in a rock and roll band.
Dale Sophiea: How young are these people?
Younger than 25.
Rich Stim: Older than Nico……
Bruce Anderson: It’s a habit by now. I don’t ever think about it.
RS: Because we haven’t had to tour and all kinds of record company stuff, there hasn’t been much of anything. There hasn’t been any kind of heavy duty thing. It’s totally not, because we don’t have to tour.
DS: We’re just into regular practices and we keep playing music and whenever a gig comes along. We have our own CD and record label that keeps things going.
BA: I think we’ve been propelled by a series of failures in the business that’s kept us going.
Marc Weinstein: Uhhh…..
Where do you start?
BA: No, we’re just very good friends who’ve kept playing music and don’t even think about it. We’ve played with alot of other bands, but we try and keep busy. It’s just been that we enjoy MX80 for the art of it and whenever an opportunity comes up. I mean, in our own area we’re really not that popular, never have been. Alot of people are surprised when I meet German tourists and they see us in a little dive on a Wednesday night. they go (in a lousy Kraut accent) “What are you playing here for?! In Berlin, you’d be gods!” We get that shit. I’ve talked to alot of people over the last six months where they’re surprised. I talked with David Hill from the Boston group the Gorls, and he just had a totally different image of what MX80 has been doing in the Bay area for the last 16 or 17 years. We have a certain amount of respect and I think if we don’t play too often then several people will show up to our gigs. Our best gigs are with bands from out of town. Codeine requested us as their warm up. That was a great show, but we’re not a sought after commodity in the Bay area. When we come out East, it’s a totally different thing how we’re treated and the respect that we get. We’re still basically a mid-Western band as far as the aesthetic sensibility of it. It seems to go over better on the East coast as it does on the West.
So the band started in what?
RS: We started in ’74…..
DS: as MX80
RS: ….as MX80, and…
RS: In Bloomington, Indiana and we didn’t come out to San Francisco until ’78.
So ’78, that was in the heat of things.
RS: Oh yeah, the heat of art school punk. We went out there and it was like oil and water. They didn’t know what to do with us. We didn’t know what to do with them.
MW: People couldn’t stand strange timings and too much guitar in those days so there’s an extent to which people were cynical of our sound at the time.
RS: Definitely, yeah.
DS: Alot of it was if you knew how to play your instrument, you were suspect. You were some sort of traitor to the cause.
MW: We always maintained a real primitive feel anyway with the two drummers who were not really slick by any means. That really added a crunchy sound to it. I think some people listened to it, and thought it was fusion which to a certain extent it was, but not really at all.
RS: I’ve always heard it called “punk fusion”.
Well then, how would you not define yourselves?
DS: It’s a very eclectic blend of influences, but it’s still rock and roll.
RS: It’s definitely one of those things where you have four weird personalities and each one has a different take on it all. It’s a real pain in the ass to compare when you’re in the band.
BA: I think probably the most unique thing about MX80 is our rock ass harmonics, and also, we have our own vocabulary. Everybody’s a real stylist In this group as far as a player, but that’s the thing I’ve always found the most unique. Marc doesn’t play metal mashing drums. We have a pretty flexible rhythm section. It’s not really jazz. We play in some other groups, the closest thing to this is sort of this fake jazz, but there is sort of a jazz-like influence because we all listen to the stuff except maybe for Rick. I think MX80 breaks alot of rules as far as what alot of rock groups do in terms of rhythms and harmonic content. I play very, very few normal chords in MX80. They’re all sort of strange and indented.
Well, that’s an understatement…
BA: And they don’t come from a jazz thing….
MW: I think another big influence that should be mentioned is soundtrack music and narrative that’s related to soundtrack music. Rick and Dale are really into film, but it isn’t even the film aesthetics, but specifically, the soundtrack aesthetic.
RS: Let’s not forget the Broadway show tunes, too…
MW: Like Mancini or Marconi….
BA: And one of Rich’s big influences is Fred Astaire. Remember in the Broadway shows you have songs that would tell stories. They weren’t always “I love you” because you had to go from scene to scene so they’d have all the story plots. So that’s definitely one thing we’re into. It doesn’t have to be about trying to get a date or that kinda stuff.
Who are some of your musical contemporaries?
RS: Pere Ubu most definitely. I don’t think anybody would want to be our contemporary, but Pere Ubu is close.
Steve Albini: Were you guys around when the Dancing Cigarettes were playing?
DS: We played a gig with them in Bloomington when we went through there.
SA: Really? When was that?
DS: About ten year sago….
SA: Really? Because I was under the impression MX80 had never played Chicago in its proper line up.
DS: Well, that line up [of MX80] was called the Minus Humans.
RS: I was in law school for a few years. I graduated and became a very……
DS: High powered attorney….
RS: (laughs) Still am, actually! The only alternative group that has an attorney in it. So I don’t know if that good, bad or whatever….
Are there any other contemporary bands that you’d consider on your level? I know you mentioned Codeine.
BA: Codeine really likes us. They actually did one of our tunes off Crowd Control called “Promise of Love” I and they did a pretty reverent version too. And that song is real slow, so Codeine can do that well.
Are you pretty pleased with how things are going band-wise?
BA: It’s not going, it just is. It has no direction or real purpose anymore, it just is. So we would definitely like to get more out and all the other things that other bands do, but I guess we’ve sensed how do you pronounce it? Ennui?
I proceeded to spend the next couple of hours chatting with the MX80s, and then after showering after the long day, went out to a .406 funded dinner with many of the participants and performers involved with the Pine Tar event. The one thing that stuck with me from dinner was when Bruce Anderson told the entire group at dinner that John Cougar Mellencamp Jingleheimerschmitt was a big MX80 fan in the mid-70’s. Apparently this didn’t go without notice. When Cougar was trying to set up time to record at a studio in Bloomington at the time, one leery producer agreed to work with him only after finding that he was an MX80 aficionado. Small world, huh?
Anyway, the MX80s are still planted firmly in San Francisco and play out once in a while. On a good note, the fine folks at Atavistic in Chicago have had the smarts to re-issue the Big Hits EP and Hard Attack LP on one CD. The entirely instrumental, and long out of print, Das Love Boat CD has also been put back into publication by this fine mid-Western label. I shouldn’t have to tell you that, unless you’ve already got all this stuff, you should get with it immediately.