INTERVIEW: Eric Davidson und der Gunk Punk Undergut

I’d think by now it’d be pointless to tell readers of who Eric Davidson is, but here’s the quick synopsis. He was the singer for one of the best bands of the 90’s, The New Bomb Turks (read more about my history with him/them here). Since the band has gone from being a full time endeavor to a labor of love (time permitting), Eric writes. He’s written things here and there for countless publications (Chunklet included!) and has his first book coming out in a couple months called "We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001". Actually, Eric asked for me to write for the book and he was left to tell me that it was cut. So be it. I’ve been in his shoes. But don’t fool yourself, "We Never Learn" is teeming with the kind of detail and enthusiasm that only somebody like Eric could accurately write. Out of my excitement about this impending release, I asked Eric a few questions for the website….

So give me the personal run down of exactly what We Never Learn is.

It’s a bunch of pages bound by glue and shit. But seriously folks, it’s basically a rundown of that strata of trash punk bands and their indie labels from the 1990s (mostly, with some late-80s antecedents) who were neither swept up by the "alternative rock boom" or the Green Day/Offspring neo-punk trend; nor were all-out noise fringe-sters. Just hard-working rock’n’roll bands that basically took their re-lit on fire sounds from 50s/60s raw roots, 70s punk, and kind of eye-rolled the leftover macho hardcore dogmatics. Ended up getting sideways validation when that "neo-garage" trend of the early 2000s finally hit (White Stripes, Hives, Strokes, Jet, Donnas, etc.). And loads of my pals and I in said strata noticed that the major mag press for that trend was either only mentioning the old blues and classic rock these new bands liked, or treated it like a fad — when bands like Dwarves, Supersuckers, Mummies, Devil Dogs, Oblivians, NBT, Bassholes, Jon Spencer, Gories, Cynics, Didjits, Billy Childish and many many others were doing the updated raw roots garage thing for about a decade; many still doing it. And with bands in this tome — like the Mummies, NBT, Oblivians, Gories, Rip Offs and others — reuniting of late, it’s become apparent that these bands have had a slow-boiling influence for newer bands like Black Lips, King Khan & BBQ Show, Jay Reatard, Vivian Girls, Human Eye, Times New Viking, and many more…
    Yes, there’s basically a Death of a Salesman "Attention must be paid" vibe; and my band, New Bomb Turks, is in it a bunch. But it’s not a memoir or whatever. In the end, it’s mostly just loads of wild stories and insider low-rung music biz myth-busting (and around 100 rare fliers/pix/ephemera) that I think would make a great read for any music fan, even if you don’t think the Sons of Hercules are underrated.

Judging by phone convos with you, you cast a pretty wide net, but you were still selective about the bands you chose. Why?

It’s weird. First off, there are only so many bands you can cover. As it is, I interviewed over 130 people for this, over a two-year period, and I’m sure I’ll still get shit for that band "you should’ve fuckin’ talked about, dude!"
    I guess when you take on a topic to write a book about, and there’s a company of any size willing to pony up moola to print it and distribute it, you have to make a confident assumption that they think they know what you’re talking about; and that this is your idea, and just go with it, assuming many will disagree or nit-pick or whatever. Especially considering the bands/style in this book basically has never had a book written about it. Original Gaunt drummer Jeff Regensberger asked me, "So, is this like ‘Eric Davidson’s Favorite Bands’?" And yeah, sort of. But I did include bands that I personally don’t think are that great, but other people mentioned them as being important for numerous reasons; or I remember them having some modicum of success at the time (considering the cult status of most of the bands here) and should be mentioned.
    I basically narrow it down to two lanes of trash garage-punk driving — one being the ultra-lo-fi end (Gories, Mummies, Oblivians, Teengenerate, In the Red, Rip Off Records, etc,) and the faster buzz punk style (Dwarves, Devil Dogs, Supersuckers, NBT, RFTC, Crypt, Sympathy, etc.). (I mostly laid off the surf stuff, though Estrus and some of their bands are in there…) Yeah, it’s a wide net, but I can say that unlike many rock books, the author here was actually in a touring band for 13 years. And I also have been writing freelance since 1989. My editor said, well, if anyone’s gonna write about this stuff, you’re the one to write it.
    Oh, and the editor wanted a kind of "Best of" list at the end of the book. But I made sure to ask a few deep-throated record collector cats to weigh in; and I listed it alphabetically. 50 singles and 100 albums. Should be fun for debate, but at least I didn’t just say, "Hey, Blood, Guts & Pussy is the greatest record of all time!"

I know you didn’t want this to be a "punk rock thru the eyes of the Turks" but would you consider that a bad thing?

Not really, I guess that could be a fun book. But I just thought from early on that since I am casting a wide net, I’d like to get a lot of voices in here. Originally, the idea was to have loads of sidebars straight from many horses’ mouths. But when I handed in the book at twice the length they wanted, I had to cut LOADS of stuff; and the sidebars for space/layout reasons too. Being my first book, this was a total learning experience. Also, from early on, the editor and I agreed that a kind of memoir would be goofy, cuz let’s face it, I’m neither an experienced enough book-length writer to turn my own life into it’s own solo story; and New Bomb Turks ain’t exactly U2 or Springsteen; hell, not even Rocket from the Crypt on the household name scale. But I did try to interview the bands so that if they had a story about, say, getting into a fight with a German fan, I could say, "Yeah, that happened to us," and the conversations, I think, went off on more in-depth tangents than just a usual rock writer would be able to follow….And I’d say 95% of the people I interviewed (and that includes fans, fanzine writers, groupies, and booking agents in addition to the mostly bands/labels) trusted me, knowing I too have puked on stages, fought with club owners for that extra 27 dollars, and been shoved at after-parties by jealous boyfriends many a time.

The author doing what he does best with the Turks at Stache’s ’92?

I know you hacked my part out (no hard feelings) but how much ended up on the editing room floor, so to speak?

    Yeah, seriously, they wanted about 80-100,000 words max — and I handed it in at 167,000 words. Same goes for images in the book, gave them like twice too many. I was able to salvage a bit of those aforementioned sidebars as quotes in different sections. And we’ll be launching around the time of the book’s release, where I’ll be periodically posting stuff that got cut from the book, and adding interviews or blog rants or whatever. Maybe not too many blog rants, the world has enough of those damn things…

What one piece that was cut do you wish remained in the book?

    Too many to mention, but the Henry Owings piece, of course. But seriously folks, this great ol’ pal from Toronto wrote a great story of her and her 14, 15 year old girlfriends seeing the Dwarves for the first time and going to a Denny’s afterwards that was a great, sleazy, ultimately heartfelt story. Chet (Quadrajets) gave me an amazing story about playing Garage Shock and other intense personal things, but it was just too long. I had to cut loads of stuff from my New Bomb Turks pals, and that was really really hard, of course. Mike Rep gave me a good/funny list of his favorite records no one would think he’d like. And I had to cut many things that were personally important to me, but again would come across as memoir-y. Oh, and a great story of a failed Gaunt t-shirt design. Again, too many to mention, but hopefully many of them will get onto the website.
    All that said, I will say that I have learned once again that editing — despite the prevailing opinion of interweb weenies — is a great thing and helps your writing. I think the absolute best stories made the book, the book reads better for it, and had it been 167.000 words, it would’ve been about 600+ pages, and most trash-punk fans would’ve looked at it, and it’s probably $30 price tag, and said, "Fuck that!" And if I just dumped it onto a website, you couldn’t take it to the can with you and use it in case the toilet paper runs out. Take that, Kindle!

Also, are you planning on a book tour? Speaking engagements? Signings? When is the book officially out?

    We Never Learn: The Gunk Punk Undergut, 1988-2001
comes out in June on Backbeat Books. I am planning a book tour, late-June/early July. Lots of readings around NYC/Brooklyn during the summer too. I’ll let ya know when the dates are set. I’ll have We Never Learn Facebook/MySpace pages going too, so probably put the dates on there. I hoping to do a reading/Q&A thing; and I’m also compiling a DVD of very rare clips of bands from the book, and I’ll hopefully be able to show that at all the readings too. Maybe a band playing afterwards too, depending on the venue…

June 26
Brooklyn, NY
Bell House
NEW BOMB TURKS reunion gig, featuring LiveFastDie and the Ex-Whites
Early show! Reading, 6:30; bands, 8-10:30; DJs at front bar ‘til whenever…

June 29
Seattle, WA
Easy Street Records
book signing, 3pm (20 Mercer St.)
Snoose Part Dieu (in Greenwood), reading/DVD showing, 8pm

July 1
San Francisco, CA
Reading/DVD at Hemlock Tavern

July 2
San Francisco, CA
DJ party @ Pop’s Bar (2800 24th St.; Mission District; btw Bryant St. & York St.) – 9:30-2am; featuring your’s truly and DJ “Classic Bar Music” (Erin, from Top Ten)

July 7

L.A., CA
Stories bookstore?
Reading/DVD action

July 9
Columbus, OH
Wexner Center
Reading/DVD action; after-party at Café Bourbon St. w/bands

July 10
Columbus, OH
Surly Girl Parking Lot Blow-Out?- New Bomb Turks gig, plus the Gibson Bros. and Scrawl!!! (Early evening; more bands TBA)?- More action later with the Cheater Slicks and the Oblivians!!! — at The Summit, right next to Cafe Bourbon St.

July 13

Museum of Contemporary Art