The first part of a two issue mega-issue. Gee, you would think that we would’ve thought it out better and just put out the “Overrated Book” instead of clogging the magazine racks for a year!
Man of the Cloth: The Gospel According to Pen Rollings
To put it bluntly, Loincloth is the most amazing fucking metal -band in existence right now. They exploit the most powerful and substantial components of their chosen genre while strenuously avoiding any cartoonish excesses or clichés. The group’s blindingly proficient, all-instrumental distillation of rapid-fire doom-riffs, logic-defying time changes and destructo-prog beats leaves no room for such common distractions as corny solos, hackneyed Viking vocals or lyrics full of study-hall angst. Every one of their catastrophic downstrokes, thrilling kick-pedal volleys and quick cymbal bashes exhibits a refreshing purity, conviction and lack of posturing. Loincloth’s fully formed wallop is all the more remarkable considering that their only studio output consists of a four-song CDR demo, parts of which wound up on John Reis’ Swami Sound System Vol. 1 label sampler and as a single on Southern Lord Records.
The long-distance quartet-its members reside in Richmond, Raleigh and the rural Virginia mountains-features several familiar faces. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, extraordinary drummer Steve Shelton and bassist Cary Rowells comprised the rhythm section of Confessor (and subsequently, Fly Machine), whose odd, acrobatic chug freaked out the era’s shaggy-hair-and-pentagram kids. World traveler Tannon Penland (the Kenmores, Köszönöm) is Loincloth’s “guitar left,” while the inimitable Pen Rollings, who during the previous two decades guided such knotty, post-hardcore champs as Honor Role, Butterglove and Breadwinner, manhandles “guitar right.” Here’s what the latter had to say over a soundtrack of beery swigs and King Crimson licks:
It’s been about 10 years since you’ve made a record. What have you been doing since the end of Breadwinner?
Breadwinner was a unique experience for me. I was playing with two people that were really fucking killer. The drummer [Chris Farmer] quit. We tried to find a new drummer and we did. He kicked, but it just wasn’t right. That’s when I was still playing guitar; that’s what [instrument] spoke to me at the time and that’s what speaks to me again. When it wasn’t working out, I had to back off. As a kind of respite from it, I jumped into the drum role for a band called Ladyfinger. It was cool, but it wasn’t the same at all. Hitting that note with the pick in your hand, and having it play through a wall of amps while you look over at [Breadwinner] bassist Bobby Donne is hard to match. To this day, that’s hard to match. When the drumming thing pissed itself out, I just sold all my shit.
Drum shit or guitar shit?
All my shit. I was like, “Fuck it, I just don’t really wanna play music anymore. I’m not driven anymore to create. It’s just not very important to me.” I was just working and being honest and playing my life out. Paying my bills and existing and having wonderful friends around me. I was not even contemplating playing music at all. And it was like that up until me and Tannon from Loincloth sat stupidly in a bar and pretended that we were gonna be a band with Steve Shelton. Up until then, I never imagined that I’d play guitar again. It was me and Tannon sitting in a bar joking, “We’re gonna start a band called Loincloth, and Steve Shelton’s our fucking drummer!” Tannon’s one of the best guitar players in the entire world and he’s my buddy, one of my best friends, if not my best friend. He was on top of the game-probably more so than anybody in town-as far as understanding metal and fucking freaked-out shit. I’d known him for years and we always played together. He had been in Prague for years. When he left, I cried. Then he came back and he moved to Milwaukee, and we talked on the phone and joked that we were gonna see Manowar, who were playing in Chicago. Manowar is probably the most absurd, shitty metal band in the world. I said, “I’ll meet you in Chicago and I’ll bring you home [to Richmond] for two weeks, so you can see your parents.” This was probably in 2000 or something. I drove out there, and on the 13-hour drive home, we spoke romantically about what we theoretically missed about punk rock and about the whole idea of underground metal and how it’s all been ruined and commodified. It’s bullshit; complete rust and pollution has taken it over. We made a pact then that we were gonna start a band. We came into Richmond with two minutes to spare for Halloween. He ended up staying for longer, and I got him a job. Then, probably in about February, Steve called and said, “Am I in a band with you?” And I said, “Um, I guess you are.” And he said, “What’s the name?” And by the tone of his voice, you could tell he knew what the name was. And we said, “Well, it’s Loincloth.” And he was like, “Really?” and we said, “Yeah, you’re in a band called Loincloth, dude.” At the time Steve hated the name, but I think he really understands the power of it now. When he called back, it was like, “Oh my God! I guess we gotta fucking do it! We’ve got the chance to do this!” To me, this was just magnificent. It’s infinite. It was like, “Let’s fuck some shit up and let’s hope that Steve doesn’t give a shit about anything expect creating good music.” And he turned out to be 100% behind us. It’s like having the hottest girlfriend at the prom. In my mind, there is no drummer in the entire fucking world that can do what this man does. It was happenstance. Then my friend found a guitar in a dumpster. He gave it to me, and it cost $80 to make it into a [functioning] guitar. My other friend called me up and said, “Look, I’ll sell you a Mesa/Boogie half stack for $400.” And I got my tax return for $400. It all kind of happened. I was like, “Yeah, do it. Play music again.” How could you not play music if you could be in a band with Steve Shelton? I just bullied him into it. But the bottom line is: I’m playing in a band with Steve Shelton. Fuck, yeah.
Wasn’t Bobby Donne supposed to play bass back when Loincloth was still a joke?
He’s one of the absolute best bass players I’ve ever played with. That man is a goddamn genius. I think that Bobby digs the metal structure and the metal voice, but I don’t think it’s what he wanted to do at the time. I think he can stand aside from it and say, “Yes, I respect that.” But I don’t think he wanted to embrace the quote-unquote complexity.
How did you pull in Cary?
Cary played with Steve for a long time in Confessor. After they were broken up, Steve and Cary were playing in a four-piece called Fly Machine. For whatever reason, that stopped. Then Ivan [Colon], who was the guitarist in Confessor, passed away. The remaining members of Confessor got together to raise some money for his family, and they decided to keep going. They’re still playing together now, and we’re doing what we’re doing now. We’re on the same team, but we’re doing two different things. It all works out. Steve has been very generous with his time. He’s a brilliant person and a wonderful guy. He understands the whole agenda of this music: that we’re just trying to really create the metal record that we want to hear. And it’s all about sharing our music at a reasonable price. The way Loincloth operates is that I burn these CDs on my computer, sitting next to my ashtray. We sell them for $4 post-paid. One thing we will never do is rip off anybody. Our whole motivation is to be able to give our music to friends and to share it with people we don’t know, at a reasonable price. Four songs for $4. If someone has enough interest to get in touch with you, don’t rip people off, don’t fuck them over.
Was Tannon into black metal when he was in Norway?
No, he thinks it’s all bullshit. We all do.
That’s refreshing. Certain types of indie boys seem to follow it like it was pro wrestling.
That’s why we have a song called “Church Burntings.” The night the concept of Loincloth started-as we drove on the way back from Chicago-we were, comic book-wise, looking at [convicted murderer] Count Grishnackh [aka Burzum] and saying, “Wow, that’s freaked out.” But after 13 hours, it’s not freaked out anymore. It seems like bullshit, and that guy’s a fucking jerk.
Black metal is the new goth.
Yeah! And goth always sucked, too! Whatever these little pansy-asses did-burn churches, kill people-their hate and all that bullshit blows over in the wind. That’s why we called our track “Church Burntings.” The night we got back to Richmond, the name we thought up for our record was At War with Norway: For All Your Burnt Churches, What Have You Learned? Nothing. We went to a church that night. We threw matches at it going, “We’re gonna burn you! Look at us, we’re from Norway! We’re so heavy!” Even at that point, when the band was a fucking joke, we already knew we were heavier than that bullshit. Loincloth fucking kicks Burzum and all that black metal bullshit’s ass because we’re not pretending anything. We’re not joking around and being all fucking angry. Our music is joyous. Our music is true and real and very, very exciting to us. That makes it eternal.
Honor Role was not a metal band. Breadwinner and Butterglove were metallic, but maybe a little too arty. Loincloth, on the other hand, is most assuredly full-on metal. How did you arrive at this point after playing the more indie rock-ish stuff?
Loincloth is the sum of its parts. We’re playing with probably the best metal rhythm section in the world. Removing ourselves from that, Honor Role did what we did, and it was very organic and real. As we saw and were inspired by things, we made them part of our fabric. And for me, Voivod, King Diamond and Mekong Delta were a part of that. They really spoke to me. And Tannon was always the young metal dude standing on the side of the road, waiting for a ride. He was very influential in showing that stuff to me. Also, during Honor Role, I was always down in Raleigh, hanging with Corrosion [of Conformity].
But it wasn’t bullshit. At that point, they were really, truly brutal as fuck.
And it was actually enjoyable, as opposed to something like Suicidal Tendencies or D.R.I.
That’s a big part of my metal heritage. The Corrosion guys would say, “Hey, we’re going to Baltimore to open for Slayer on the Haunting the Chapel tour. Do you wanna ride with us?” And I’d say “Fuck, yeah.” They’d stop in Richmond, get some fries, and we’d head on up. And we’d hang out with Slayer. Next time, Corrosion would play a show with Metallica, and we’d go meet Metallica on the Ride the Lightning tour. The energy of that underground circuit was cool. I don’t discount Honor Role’s energy at all; it was cool, too. But our language only had so many words. From there, with Butterglove and Breadwinner, I went in another direction and my brothers in music went there with me. I think that in this musical climate right now, we all need to just sit down in front of an amp stack, with a guitar, and stare at it. And we need to think, “What can I do to shake some shit up within myself?” Enough said. If you can’t do that, don’t pollute the circulatory system of the independent music industry with some patronizing bullshit. Turn up, fucking rock out and fuck some shit up. I really think that physicality and truth and honesty and passion and vision are essential in the music underground right now.
That’s all very much lacking in underground music right now.
Totally. Fuck making a living. I’ve had shitty jobs for years. My music is not my job. My music’s my garden. It’s something I can share, something I don’t have to count pennies for or bank on pennies coming in for. It’s just goddamn fucking music.
How has your guitar playing changed?
Remember that I stopped for like 10 years. Now, I try to be a nice counterpart to one of my best friends in the world, who also plays guitar in a manner that I completely revere and respect. I try to sit back and have his back. My tone has more bass because I sold all my amps. Now I have a Boogie and I have more bass to my sound. It’s nothing pre-planned. But my guitar playing and my passion for playing is the result of playing with Tannon. Our overall tuning is hugely low. It gets really wobbly with the strings. Some of our tracks are in that drop D thing that Limp Bizkit uses, I guess. And I think Tannon has always played in like drop C or something.
How do you write the songs? The riffs seem to chase the drums.
We come up with a riff and we drive three hours and we have about three-to-six hours [of rehearsal] to make some meat of it. Basically, the unique way Steve plays inspires us to find little pockets and dovetails within our riffs. And we just double it up or drop out or do things just to fuck some shit up and freak it out. Then we start to tie it together. It just becomes what it becomes. It’s very honest music. It’s not hard to play. It’s not math. It’s not calculated on any level.
Will your future material utilize the kind of weird, scratchy leads that you played in Breadwinner or Honor Role?
There are a couple songs that we’re working on that have places for that kinda stuff. We’ll see what happens. I do think that there’s gonna be some cacophony in us. I do think that we’re gonna create something that is, down the line, a lot smarter than we think we are right now. It’s gonna be very convoluted and mean and sharp and fucked-up. But when you play noisy stuff, it has to be there for real. There has to be a catalyst for it. Right now, we’re still looking at baby pictures of this band. Right now, we’re very fetal. When we finally start to grow and have shoes and stuff, shit’s gonna get very freaky. And I’ll owe it all to Shelton and Cary. Me and Tannon are in such a lucky position to be able to throw our ideas against that kind of a sounding board. They’re very smart individuals. They’re very metal, yet they revere the idea of organic music.
Any plans to play out or make an LP or tour?
All of the above. But right now, we’re just trying to write some more songs that are as innocent and unaffected as the ones on the demo.
Were you born in Richmond?
Was Honor Role your first band?
My first band was called the Donors, with John Morand, who produced most of the records I play on. We covered punk-rock songs. He’s the man who opened my mind when I was a youngster, in ’79 or something like that. I went to see Devo, and the next night, I went to see Atlanta Rhythm Section. I went to see every concert; I didn’t know any better. Devo really changed my mind about all that. I felt gypped that I bought an Atlanta Rhythm Section ticket. I saw John at the Devo concert. And I went up to him in high school and I said, “Hey.” I was a freshman, he was a senior. He was in a prog rock band that had their own tracks. And we went to his house, and his uncle was an independent record buyer. He had the “Anarchy [in the U.K.]” single on his wall, he had Residents posters on his wall, he had Devo posters. He had every single, every album. And we would hang out in his basement after school. He would be like, “Look through our records and put on anything you wanna hear. Listen to it. Have fun.” And it changed my life. John Morand had my back before I got into the big city and figured out what punk rock was. It was about being honest, it was about being true to yourself, it was about being passionate about something. It was about nothing else.
You had remarked that being gay reminds you of early punk rock. How? Why?
I grew up gay. I knew I was gay. Everybody who grew up gay knew that they were gay the whole time. When you invest yourself in a community that’s supposedly so free-thinking, you start to realize that you’re still not comfortable enough to tell people that you’re gay. You realize the faults and the falsities of that community, that they’re not as open as you think they are. If they were, you would feel comfortable. I think that the punk rock community and the gay community are different now, obviously. But the gay community reflects the punk-rock community before all this commodification happened. That commodification will happen to the gay community in time. But right now, we’re in a place where people think gay people are different and are freaks. It’s like when people thought that anyone who was into punk-rock music, regardless of what they looked like, were violent or freaks or whatever. America right now thinks that homos are sexual predators and all that.
Maybe it’s because I’m in New York, but I think that gay culture has already been commodified. You’ve gotWill and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on TV. Being gay is more accepted now, but only if it reinforces clichés. If you’re a homosexual, you’re expected to have good taste, you’re supposed to listen to dance music, and you’re supposed to wax your back and wear tight t-shirts.
Exactly. You are the queer eye for the straight guy.
You’re not supposed to be this beer-drinking guy who plays guitar in a metal band.
Totally. Goddamn, there are plenty of free-thinking, rowdy motherfuckers that are homos. But the bottom line is that over half of them don’t want to be associated with the mundane existence that is being a homo in whatever city they live in. The majority of out gay culture tends to be the stereotypical, fucking ’70s disco-laden, kinda weird, snap-your-fingers-I’m-gay, girly type of bullshit. There are plenty of people out there that don’t even come anywhere near that stereotype. And I happen to be one of them. Personally, all I’m trying to say is: yes, I’m a fucking homo. And I’m a goddamn motherfucker of a metal guitar player with my metal brother, who’s not a fucking homo. Nobody else in the band’s a fucking homo. And this 25% gay band will kick anybody’s ass! I fucking mean it. That goes for any fucking face-painting, drag-queen, black-metal band. Honestly, if you really had to find something “gay” in music right now, you should look to these drag queens that play black metal. I don’t look in the mirror and put makeup on before I go onstage. I don’t figure out how my mascara’s hitting up against the fucking toner on my face. I think that’s very important. In the metal community, there’s this big anti-gay thing, but the majority of the popular metal bands are basically drag queens. You wanna be all heavy and fucking burn churches in Norway, with your cute, dainty makeup? Why don’t you spend a humid summer in Richmond, Virginia, with that makeup on? It’ll drip off your face. These guys all sit around in the winter. Winter is very brutal, but you can wear leather and cover yourself up. You have a humid summer; what do you do? You get naked. That’s the best you can do. You can’t wear all those furs and those leather chaps and eye makeup. I’d love to see Mayhem, dressed the way they do in their comfortable Norwegian woods, standing on the street corner here in Richmond, Virginia, in August. I’d like to see how long they last and see how heavy they think they are.
I’ve been all over Scandinavia. It’s a pretty comfortable place. I don’t know how those guys amass so much angst from maintaining one of the highest standards of living in the world.
They’re upset because somebody built a church on their land. I guess all young, rebellious cultures have to be mad about something. If you’re in a place where there’s nothing to be mad about, paint yourself up like a drag queen and burn churches down.
I’d like to see how they’d fare in one of Richmond’s less savory neighborhoods.
Sure. With their swords and their chalices. I’d like to see how long they’d live, just three blocks from my house. Come over here and try to burn a church down in a bad neighborhood and see what you get, with your sword and your chalice. Though it’s not like I can do anything about it because all of those fucking guys could probably kick my ass. Big fucking deal. My ass has been kicked before. But I’m just saying, “Stop acting like you’re Thor. You’re not even Xena!”
So the Donors led to Honor Role?
The Donors broke up. John graduated. The bass player, who was John’s younger brother, Matt, and I slowly evolved into what Honor Role was [in 1983]. It was me and Matt Morand hanging out in high school, trying to write some tracks, realizing that we generally hated everybody around us and that they all hated us. Matt went to college, so we got another bass player. [Drummer] Steve [Schick] moved here from Indianapolis, and then we recorded [the 1984 seven-inch EP] It Bled Like a Stuck Pig, the punk-rock record. It was cool but I was a fucking idiot; I couldn’t sing. But it was punk rock. God bless it.
There’s a huge change between that first and second single.
The first single was still us growing up. Then [vocalist] Bob [Schick], Steve’s older brother, moved here from Indianapolis. Bob sang backup on our punk-rock single. Grant [Willeford], the bass player, went to college. Bob’s roommate, Jeremy [Bunn], was a bass player. So we said, “Y’all wanna play?” I sucked as a singer; I knew that. They stepped up to the plate, and Honor Role just organically moved along. We got totally slow. But even when we were punk rock, there were a lot of songs that weren’t on our first seven-inch that were a whole different take on things. Then Chip [Jones] moved in on bass. Chip, Bob and Steve were all in a punk-rock band in their hometown in Indiana.
Scattered, smothered or battered? Honor Role made perfect sense and we created music that, to this day, I still like. I don’t like the mixes sometimes. We were just kids. John Morand was a kid working in an eight-track studio at the time. We were like, “Wow, what’s that? A digital reverb?” We went crazy with it.
The production is insane but the songs stand up. I love that stuff, man.
I do, too! I think it’s great. I’ll stand by that. I was fucking 19. We were children when we did that. [In late 1987] Steve quit, then [drummer] Seth [Harris] joined and we did the  Craig Olive single and [the second album] Rictus [in 1989]. During Rictus, I started playing in Butterglove. I think that Honor Role wasn’t quite seeing eye to eye anymore. I don’t think it was anything personal. A lot of it was just petty bullshit on my part. But Honor Role just wasn’t breathing anymore. It was time to stop it and move on. I think we all moved on very unashamedly. I don’t think anybody did anything dicky.
You’re pretty much all still friendly.
Totally. I think Bob is a majestic, awesome person. I think he’s a fantastic lyricist. He can put things into words that a lot of people on this planet wish they could put into words. I was very lucky to be in a band with him. Realistically, that was my last band that involved lyrics. Bob was majestic with his choice of words, and I think he spoke to a lot of people. I love him to this day. And that’s not bullshit. Bob’s married. He has children. I do think Bob will play music again. I think he’s just waiting for the right opportunity to share his voice with us again. I’ll see him tomorrow, probably.
How many Honor Role reunions have there been?
We just did that one weekend [in 1993] when my friend Wayne [Taylor] ran for mayor of Raleigh. We played once in Richmond to raise some money for him, and then we did one show in Raleigh.
How did Butterglove segue into Breadwinner?
Seth, the drummer from Honor Role and Butterglove, just didn’t wanna do it anymore.
What happened to the other people involved?
[Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist] Rebby [Sharp] lives up in the mountains now, and I don’t know what’s up with [bassist] Sean [Harris]. In a way, it was wonderful when Butterglove ended because Seth was so honest about it. I realized that I still wanted to play. I knew [Breadwinner’s] Chris Farmer from seeing him play drums around town. I made one of the smartest moves I have ever made in my life by asking a friend to ask Bobby Donne if he would like to play bass with me. I didn’t know him that well. That was over 10 years ago, and Bobby Donne is still one of the top five people I know in my life. He has a very clam demeanor and he understands that you’re supposed to do what you fucking do, without bullshit. He understands that you have to be real about it and not fancy it up. Bobby and Chris were a little younger than I was. We ended up playing together and we were fascinated by the idea of what we were doing. But we ended up getting criticized for being too thought-out.
But it wasn’t like that. Maybe you just got a bad name because of all of the sterile, quote-unquote math-rock that followed in Breadwinner’s wake. You could just as easily blame that on Steve Albini. A lot of really awful bands also watered down what he accomplished.
Or Slint! You wanna hate Slint? I mean goddamn, they ruined music!
That’s a very good example.
They were perfect. They were great, but they ruined music. They ruined indie rock.
On a grander scale, you could hate Zeppelin for the same reason.
Totally, but I’m thinking indie rock. I’m thinking of our heritage and the people we are. If any band ruined anything, it was fucking Slint. My friends and I have this game: if you had a time machine, which band would you go back and kill to stop all the band music [that followed]? Slint comes up a lot. Everybody who mentions it says, “I love Slint, but…””
I was just gonna say those exact same words!
Yeah! Slint was awesome! Slint kicked. When [Brian McMahan] goes, “And I’m sorry/And I miss you” [on Spiderland’s “Good Morning, Captain”], that’s heavy! That shit was fucking heavy! But did it ruin indie music? Yes! I can’t think of a good example of who it created, but Slint’s a good one to kill. You should kill them because they’re so influential.
Ladyfinger didn’t last very long.
We were just beer-drinking party people. I was playing drums. We had Ron [Demmick] on guitar, Elisa [Nader] on bass and Sean from Butterglove singing. Then this guy Patrick [Kennedy] sang, and then we became instrumental. We were just doofuses. We opened for Rocket from the Crypt, up at Maxwell’s, in Hoboken. The place was sold out. It was New Year’s Eve or something. It was a kids’ show. After every song we finished, it was complete silence except for Tannon and my friend Greg. The only thing we heard when we finished a song was both of those guys, cackling hysterically. Everybody else in this sold-out room was hating us and weren’t even acknowledging us with a clap.
It was wonderful. It was pure silence, except for laughter. And when we finished the set, a kid came up to me and said, “Hey man, can I get your set list?” I went and got him our set list. And I handed it to him, and he threw it at me and he said, “Hahahahaha! What are you, crazy? You sucked!” And I was like, “Yeah, all right, cool! Indie rock!”
A fine way to spend New Year’s Eve.
The squares have taken over. But goddamn, we kicked that night.
Blame it on Slint.
Fuck Slint! But I love Slint, I really do. I think that Spiderland is an album that you could throw in my crematorium with me. It’s one of those records. It’s a brilliant statement and a majestic step away from the mundane things of that time. But goddamn, if I had a time machine, I might go kill them.
Independent music has changed considerably since Honor Role, since Ladyfinger, even. Do you perceive less of a sense of community now?
I’m pretty outside of it now, but I firmly believe that it’s changed a lot. I read interviews with people that I respect, and they say the same thing. I think that now people create music thinking that it’s gonna get them something, even on the smallest level. I know some punk-rock kids that I hang out with and they’re like, “Well, we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do that.” And they probably will.
They’ve got it all figured out, and it’s all mapped out for them. They know exactly how they’re gonna sound and look before they’ve even played a gig. It’s so self-conscious. Even the smallest bands all seem to have publicists and booking agents now. There are no real outsiders left.
Yeah, and you’ve gotta throw in the guy with the dreads. You’ve gotta have somebody with dreads in the picture. That’s the way it works now. God bless them all, if you believe in God. If you don’t, turn the cross upside down and let them all be crucified upside down with smiles on their faces. In a way, I’m all about saying “fuck you” to these kids and their bullshit, and I hope they all fucking get into van wrecks. And I mean that. I hope all these goddamn careerist little pricks of punk rockers and indie thinkers wreck into each other in a communal area, where no one else gets hurt except for them. I think they’re desecrating something. A lot of fucking people-not me, I had nothing to do with it-paved that road for them. And they’re just exploiting it and dancing around, and I hope they wreck. The last thing in the world you could do is desecrate something like that. It’s really uncool.
Why has that purity been lost?
I dunno. Nirvana? Capitalism? Careerism? Huge [mosh] pits in crowds. Even if you’re Tori Amos, you get a pit. When it becomes that simple to satiate people, you’re gonna get all the fucking retards and short busses coming in to exploit it. And that’s what has really changed things. People realize how fucking easy it is to hat-trick people and to make people think they’re being independent and to make people think that they’re doing something interesting and to make people think that they’re actually traversing a terrain that has never been traversed before. People really, truly exploit that, and I hope they fucking wreck. I don’t want them to die, but goddamn, I’d love to see them rolling around in wheelchairs.
But you still seem to like bands from Richmond.
As long as I’ve been aware of an underground community in Richmond, there has always been one or another driving force within it that has been unforsakeable and cool, whether it’s Labradford or the Rah Brahs or the Orthotonics or Sordid Doctrine. There are so many bands that have happened here, and they’ll continue to happen here because nobody here gives a fuck. People here generally know better than to give a shit. Musically, when they create, I don’t think that anybody in Richmond acknowledges anywhere other than here. I don’t think that music here is based on the idea that there is something better. They’re just driven to create something cool. There really has not been one year where there hasn’t been at least one Richmond band that kicked ass.
Do you still listen to indie stuff now, or do you just listen to metal?
Basically just metal. The one thing that I love about metal that I don’t like about independent music is that metal still has something going on where everybody is trying to fuck some shit up. You can find some band called Vomitorium or whatever, and you can still put on their record and find at least 15 seconds that make you say, “What the fuck is Vomitorium doing right there?” You don’t get that with indie rock. With indie rock, what you get is like Midol or tampons or CVS. You get something so terrible, something so – I don’t know how to say it.
Yeah, mundane. But I used that word before. I’m trying to be more majestic here. You get something that is very high-trafficked. It will never be imitated by anyone at all. You listen to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or something, and you’re like, “Goddamn, this is a fucking joke. This is the band that started punk rock because people sat in the audience and said, “This sucks, and I wanna start making my own music.'” You know what I mean? The White Stripes, the Strokes, all that kinda bullshit is the shit that, when I was a kid, made me say, “Fuck that! I wanna start my own band.” All these critics are jumping through hoops for all these bands that are playing this crap. I spent some time with that Yeah Yeah Yeahs record, and nobody would pay attention to them if that chick in the band didn’t put on fishnet armbands or whatever she puts on.
Those moves have all been copped. It’s nth-generation fashion rock. Like a copy of a copy. A really bad Xerox.
Dressing up and dancing around and hoping that their song will get picked up for a Volvo commercial. But you know, when you grow up with something that really meant so much to you and you watch children desecrate it, you get a little bitchy about it. But, if you’re talking about math rock and all that shit, you can also get bitchy from listening to people like me bitching about how they didn’t get what they wanted. There are so many weird, reverent, historical interviews with people that missed the boat. Somehow, nothing fucking happens for them. In a way, it’s the same thing that’s happening right now in this interview: you’re talking to some old fuck that’s played music that hardly anybody noticed when it was happening. Some people think it’s cool; and it was cool. But these people in these interviews are kinda vaguely bitter, but also a little Hollywood-style glamorous. And it’s so fucking lame to watch all these old bands be so what-if about everything. When you read it, you’re like, “What the fuck? Did you play your music for yourself or not? And if you played your music for yourself, how could you ever, ever fucking feel discounted? If you play for yourself and kick yourself in the ass, it’s all good. Don’t you remember how you just did what you did and a few people actually fucking cared? And isn’t that enough? Isn’t it enough that one person wrote you and liked your fucking music? Stop bitching about success! Why don’t you bitch about the right things? Why don’t you bitch about the same things that you would have bitched about back when you pretended to give a shit? Why don’t you bitch about the fact that fucking assholes run things instead of bitching about missing your chance to sell out?” It was a weird time back then. Now it’s all glorified through rose-colored glasses. I don’t wanna be a part of that bullshit, either. Honor Role did exactly what we wanted to do. What we ended up becoming made perfect sense. That’s all the success we wanted. All we wanted was gas money to get to the next show, and we’d hope somebody would let us sleep on their floor. We just wanted to sell a couple singles. We weren’t decadent. That’s what we got, and we were happy with it. We made approximately $57 in royalties each from being in Honor Role. I consider that an immense success.
The important thing is that you made records that you can still stand by.
Right. And that they mean something to the people who took to them. It astounds me that [Rocket from the Crypt’s] John Reis finds me to be any sort of influence on him. It astounds me. He’s a smokestack of a guitar player. He’s in a league of his own, and I’ve read interviews where he speaks reverently of me.
That’s how people should measure their success.
For me, it’s also how I measure my own personal embarrassment! It’s like, “Wow, John. Stop! You kick ass and you will always smoke.”
Speaking of smoking, do you prefer drinking beer or smoking weed when you play?
Weed. Because I can count when I smoke. Beer I can only handle to a point; if I get too fucked up, I become clumsy. Weed is the one. Honor Role wasn’t a weed band. Butterglove definitely was. Breadwinner wasn’t, except for me. I was the weed guy. You need to create an environment that you’re comfortable in. You need to be able to throw down under any circumstances you may put yourself in, i.e. weed or beer. It’s very important for my personal well-being that there are kids out there who fucking throw down some good shit, so that I can have some music to buy at the store. Because I don’t ever wanna have to go to the store and buy something that’s crap. I want people to create music that’s fucked-up and challenging and unabashed and unselfish. Something that’s very, very organic, something that speaks one very simple language that says, “I have to play this music. If I don’t play this music, I am going to be very uptight.” There will always be those people out there. Let’s hope that we hear from them. When I look back at my musical heritage, I just think it’s very important for people not to be afraid of creating, sharing and really, truly not worrying about what anyone else fucking thinks about it. Hopefully any of the kids that do that and miss the fucking bandwagon aren’t gonna do an interview 10 years later and talk about how they felt left out. Because if they do, they can blow my fucking dead dog’s dick. I’m speaking out my ass right now, but goddamn, I really mean everything I’m saying.
PEN ROLLINGS DISCOGRAPHY
It Bled Like a Stuck Pig 7″ EP (Eskimo) 1984
“Judgement Day” 7″ (Eskimo) 1985
“Purgatory” 7″ (Eskimo/No Core) 1986
The Pretty Song LP (Eskimo/No Core) 1986
Craig Olive 7″ (Homestead) 1988
Rictus LP/CS (Homestead) 1989
Album CD (Merge) 1997 [compiles everything but the first EP and one song from Rictus]
“Sleep Thirsty” live [mistitled “Nordic Lumberjack”] on The Pre-Moon Syndrome, Post Summer (of Noise) Celebration Week LP (Sun Dog Propaganda) 1989
The Lunchbox Drama 7″ (Shakedown) 1993
The John Morand Session CD (Speed Kills) 1997 [includes the songs from the 7″]
“Tourette’s” + 2 7″ (Merge) 1990
“” + 2 7″ (Merge) 1991
Supplementary Cig 7″ (Merge) 1994
Burner CD (Merge) 1994 [compiles all three singles]
“Yard” live on Rows of Teeth CD (Merge) 1994
“1 Trick Pony” on Dixie Flatline (Wilson Interrupt Mix) CD (Radioactive Rat) 1994
demo CDR (no label) 2002 [includes the songs from both releases listed below]
“New Jersey” 7″ (Southern Lord) 2003
“Noise International” on Swami Sound System Vol. 1 LP/CD (Swami) 2003
Loincloth – Thagina
Loincloth – New Jersey
Loincloth – Church Burntings
Loincloth – Noise International
IS OUR MOVIE RUN RONNIE RUN OVERRATED?
You bet. Here’s why.
By Bob Odenkirk (as told to Henry Owings)
[Run Ronnie Run] was written by David Cross and myself with Scott Auckerman, BJ Porter, and Brian Posehn – most of the writers of the last season of “Mr. Show.” The goal of the script was this strange kind of hybrid between telling a linear story with a single character as our focal point – it included telling something you would see in a typical big-budget studio comedy, say your Rob Schneider, Adam Sandler, David Spade-type comedy – [and] something that would, on the poster and in the preview, look like a traditional comedy, a typical mall theatre comedy with one very funny crazy main character and his story, so that we wouldn’t scare away [the audience]. Our goal was to reach out to those who don’t know “Mr. Show,” which is a lot of people. Our goal was to present a movie to them that, on the face of it, looked like a typical comedy that they would seem very willing to take a chance on.
Our further goal was to very cleverly skip off our little linear story and do little scenic bits that would be more like “Mr. Show,” and that would hopefully enhance the story, and make the movie a more interesting experience, and yet not intimidating, because you return to the story that you’re used to. We thought we could gently prod people into seeing a movie with an alternative sensibility, but mask it in a kind of traditional structure. That was our high-minded goal.
I would argue that the script was not airtight, or perfect, and I never thought it was. I thought it was just the best we could do in the time we had, and good enough to go shoot and try to make work. The only thing that matters in that little formula is [that] in order to make it work, you need David and I in the editing room, just like we edited “Mr. Show.” David and I were the executive producers of “Mr. Show,” and we oversaw the directors, the writing, and all the editing.
Well, what happened with Run, Ronnie, Run, was [that] the director, who was somebody we’d known for six years – I’ll refer to him as Jack Frost – had been very cooperative and willing to execute our vision, and pretty much give it up to us at any time in the process, whether it was in the editing, or even in the directing. However, in this film, he got really distant from us, and then when it came time to edit, he asked us to leave. He came to us after the film was shot, and asked, “Is it okay if I do the first cut?” We said, “Sure, you worked so hard, go ahead and do the first cut. Just do us a favor and don’t overcut it, so you don’t mind changing anything.” He assured us he wouldn’t, but of course he did. He cut like crazy. He was extremely proud. He thought he’d made a perfect film. And then when we went in and started giving notes, he immediately got really frustrated and angry, and on the second day of our effort at editing, he kicked us out. And from that day on, we were not allowed to call him directly anymore, only talk to his assistant; we were never allowed to see dailies of the movie; we could only make suggestions based on cuts that he had already made, or on our memory of the shooting from weeks before. We had no recourse, and he knew it.
Michael De Luca – who was the executive at New Line who helped get the movie made – was a huge “Mr. Show” fan, and he understood that it was David’s and my sensibility that made “Mr. Show” great, but he’d been fired in the course of shooting our movie. So Jack Frost knew that we had nowhere to go over his head. On top of this is the fact that we’d given up our producer credits in this movie-at Jack Frost’s request before it was made. He came to us and said, “In order to get these two guys, Warren Burgin and Mark Coolis, to help-to be producers on the movie, and to help get it made, we need you guys to give up your credit, ‘cuz there’s too many producers on the banner.” And we immediately agreed, because at that point, Jack Frost had been nothing but friendly and cooperative and great to us, and we never foresaw that he would be anything else.
I think the reason he did it was twofold. One, I think he walked away from the shooting thinking, “There’s no way I can fuck this up.” David Koechner, David Cross, everybody had been so funny in their parts. I think he was grinning ear to ear when it was over, and he pretty much felt like, “I don’t need anyone to tell me how to make this funny.” And just so you know, he still thinks it’s a great movie. It may have some good moments, but it’s not a great movie. But he still thinks it’s fucking awesome. And secondly, I think he’d had enough of doing whatever we told him, over the six years of “Mr. Show.” Everybody has an ego, and in this case, his ego finally decided, “That’s enough. I’m not going to listen to anybody anymore.” And it was a horrible, horrible experience. The worst experience I’ve ever had in my career by far. It was a nightmare!
If you rent the DVD – and I encourage people to rent, not buy – what you see is a much slower, less focused, much less funny movie in its first edit. We basically polished a turd; we didn’t do any alchemy. So as the editing process went on, we basically influenced it with arguments, begging, kissing ass, and long emails thanking Jack Frost for putting jokes in that had been cut, and begging him to try other things that we thought would work. I feel like there’s a chance that, based on the weaknesses of the script, and let’s even point out my own weaknesses as a performer, maybe there’s no great movie there. But I can’t say that unless I get a chance to edit it first. The things that are wrong with the movie are that it shifts gears between being kind of dry and funny and a little bit harsh, which is very Mr. Showy, to being saccharin-sweet and strangely emotionally cloying, and begging for your sympathy in a very weird way with this music and these shots that have no sense of irony to them at all. So it’s this really weird gearshift that happens constantly throughout the movie. It’s one of the reasons the movie feels so long. It’s a very short movie, but it feels really long.
I was talking to somebody about it, and it occurred to me that there’s a lot of comedies that come out where people like only four or five scenes. I remember the last Austin Powers. You know, you’d talk to people about it and they’d go, “Oh, it’s great! I didn’t like Goldmember, but I liked this, and that, and this!” And they name, like-everybody names, like, three things. And it’s like, “So you liked three things and that makes it a great movie?” And the difference between that movie, which I do think is a good comedy, and Run, Ronnie, Run, which I think is a bad comedy, is that when there’s a weak joke in Goldmember, it still belongs in the movie. When there’s a weak moment in the movie, it’s not from another movie; it’s just an attempt at an Austin Powers joke that maybe isn’t the best, but somehow it all works together, and when you’re done, you’re thinking only about the parts that work. But with Run, Ronnie, Run, the parts that don’t work and don’t fit are so wrong in tone, they’re like from a different movie, and they weigh the movie down. They drag it down. You can’t just dismiss them and forget they happened after they’re over.
The thing that’s missing is the gap that exists between our reputation and movie studio executives’ awareness. To “Mr. Show” fans and people who know us, it’s ludicrous that we would get kicked out of the editing room of a movie that I wrote. But movie executives have never heard of “Mr. Show.” Ever. None of them. Except for the lower-level execs at pretty much all of the studios – they’ve heard of it and are fans. But all the top guys, these 50-year old German billionaires, they don’t know “Mr. Show.” And they do pay attention to what goes on their networks, and they do pay attention to what movies they put out, and they’ve just now started to hear about, you know-they’re barely gonna become familiar with Jack Black in the next year. He’s a new face to them that just has never done anything before until this new movie comes out. They live in Aspen, they live in Europe, they live in, you know-they go to Japan and Australia, they just aren’t living anywhere near the level that you and I live, and when these younger executives who are so excited about us and want to work with us, go to them, the guy who writes the check, and say, “I want to do a movie with this guy,” they say, “No fucking way, I’ve never heard of him.” “Well, he’s got this TV show, and he’s done this, and college kids like it…” “Well, I’m not a college kid, and I’ve never heard of it, so you can’t have $8 million. No.” There is a major disconnect there. It’s a strange thing, but it’s really true.
And the reason the movie is so overrated is because it was buried by New Line, which was a relief to David and I. It was a very strange situation, because we were under the impression that it was going to get released, so we fought like crazy to champion the movie, to be on its side, so we could have as much influence as possible over the content of movie. If we were seen to be slagging the movie off before the edit was done, nobody would’ve even read our e-mails, or our long memos that begged for changes and jokes and all of these moments to be protected, or put back in, or discovered. So we had to fight for the movie. And people say, “Why did you seemingly change your opinion on your movie?” For months on the website, we were fighting for the movie, but we had no choice. We very quickly sized up our situation. We could tell everybody, “the movie’s gonna suck and we hate it and we’re angry,” but then the movie was planning to come out. So our effort was to have as much influence on it as we could, and the way to do that was to appear to be championing the movie and hoping for the best. The day that we found out they weren’t going to release it was a huge relief for David and I. We were even deluded by our own efforts to go, “Yeah, yeah, it’s gonna be good, we’re gonna try and make it good!” And then we find out they’re not gonna be releasing it, this strange feeling of joy descends, like, “Oh, wow, I don’t have to lie anymore! I can just tell people it’s just not good.”
Look, people are angry at New Line. Don’t be angry at New Line. The only thing New Line did “wrong” was not defend us. But in their defense, they didn’t know who we were! There’s nobody at New Line, and certainly nobody in the upper echelon, who has ever heard of “Mr. Show.” Never heard of us at all! People in the movie business don’t watch TV. They barely know the top movie stars. They’re very busy going to parties and flying around on private jets. They really have a lot to do. So in New Line’s defense, they didn’t know who we were, and they just saw a movie that was sluggish, slow, oddly offbeat and unpleasant, and that didn’t test that well. And I agree with them. They would’ve lost their fucking shirts if they’d put that movie out and spent another $12 million on promotions. On the other hand, the person to blame is the director, who knew us, and knew how important we were to our own comedy, and chose to freeze us out, hold us at arm’s length and not let us influence the movie nearly on the scale that we should have.
Movies can be made and broken in editing. Everybody knows that. Let me re-edit Casablanca for you and turn it into a big fat piece of shit. The raw comedy is so much about little moments, playing the tone just so, and taking a scene and just hanging on it a little bit longer than you would normally, and giving it that awkward moment that makes it human and raises the level of humor. It’s all about tone, and the person editing it has to have a sensitivity and a sensibility to that. It’s overrated because it was shit on by the studio. It’s [considered] this “lost gem” when really it’s a lost fucked-up gem.
It’s hard to overstate the amount of excitement I derive from the revelation that one of my friends has never heard of Stella. Instead of offering an explanation, I usually drag them to my abode, where we watch the DVD the New York comedy troupe has been hawking at their live shows. What optimally ensues is an evening of couch sores and severe nausea caused by excessive laughter and alcohol. However, if said experience does not occur — if my counterpart responds with a lethargic shrug of the shoulders — our relationship is usually reduced to that of mere acquaintances. It may seem petty, but it is true.
There are others out there who understand this mentality. Others who cling to fading memories of MTV’s mid-nineties sketch comedy show The State. Others who can quote every line from 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer. Others whose senses of humor have been shaped by these brilliant, but rare, comedic endeavors. And though the historical intermittence in the output of these geniuses has resulted in little more than in-jokes between friends, the world of comedy has been graced again by the constancy of former State members David Wain, Michael Ian Black, and Michael Showalter, the trio better known as Stella.
You might recognize Michael Ian Black from NBC’s ED or from VH1’s I Love The 80’s series. Similarly, you’ve probably seen Michael Showalter in various film roles, including Signs. You probably wouldn’t recognize David Wain on the street, but, needless to say, he’s funny as hell.
Where Wet Hot American Summer (written by Showalter and Wain, directed by Wain, and starring Showalter) was a step above the comedy of The State, Stella reaches far beyond anything the three have ever put their names on. That is to say, there is a bold lack of censorship apparent in the homemade sketches (accessible at Stellacomedy.com) which accompany their absurdist, even emotionally erratic, stand-up show. Stella brings to the alt-comedy scene a blend of nonsensical, low-brow bits rife with sarcasm and wit, that satirize everyday occurrences like ordering a pizza, playing whiffleball, and just being bored.
As much as I admire these three individuals, I learned in the course of this interview that they are there, and I am here, for a reason. It is tough to hang with Stella. Do not attempt it. You will only fail. They are smarter than you, and you will not be able to keep up. What follows is an interview conducted this past September. The awkwardness (due to poor means of communication — entirely my fault) and blatant sarcasm, often undermining the discussion, remain completely intact. I leave it to you, the reader, to try to distinguish the serious from the sarcastic. Enjoy.
David Wain DW
Michael Ian Black MIB
Michael Showalter MS
Let me start off by asking you about basic history. When did you guys first meet? Were you friends before you worked on The State?
DW: We didn’t meet until long after The State was over, actually.
MIB: Well after. The State was a fairly large group. There were eleven of us.
DW: I knew half of them personally.
MIB: I had read some of David’s work and knew of him. But we didn’t meet until…God…
DW: …About a year ago.
MIB: Yeah…about a year ago.
DW: Do you know what I just realized?
DW: If you pull on your penis it gets thinner.
MIB: Well, it depends.
DW: Well, I’m looking at it right now.
MIB: You’re looking at mine or yours?
DW: Mine. (laughs) But, uh, yeah. We met in ’88.
What were you doing?
DW: Going to school.
Where’d you go to school?
Oh, I’m sorry. (silence) I went to Purchase College for a little while.
MIB: That’s a state school. We went to a private school.
Yeah, you had more money than me.
MIB: No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying we’re smarter than you.
DW: We used to drive over to the public school and beat them up. But then we’d get our ties all loosened, so we’d tighten them up and go back to our private school.
How come you’re not working with anyone else from The State at the moment? How did it end up being just you three?
DW: Well, we’re always working with [people from The State], but it was a huge group. Since we stopped working together in ’97, we’re always working in different configurations on different projects.
Tell me what happened with MTV. Did you move onto CBS because it was a better deal, or was it censorship? Or was the time up?
DW: Because we were retarded.
MIB: Yeah, it basically came down to retardation on our part.
Did you ever have a problem with censorship on any of the networks?
DW: We had problems with all of the networks…
MIB: Hold on a sec. I have another call.
(Michael leaves and then returns)
DW: CBS was actually shockingly less censorious of us than MTV was.
DW: We were shocked at some of the things CBS let us do.
MIB: Hey, Michael Showalter is on the other line. He’s trying to get in on this shit.
DW: I don’t know how to do that. Can you do that?
DW: Yeah, can you do three-way calling?
You can call me back if you want.
MIB: Can he call you? Would that work?
I don’t have three-way calling either.
MIB: How’d you get through to us, then?
(silence) I have no idea. (silence) Hello?
(5 minutes later)
Hi. Welcome back. Let me ask you about the first form of Stella. Was it built for the stage? Is that how it started?
MIB: It was, maybe, built for speed. Like, at first we got the RPM’s up really high. We were psyched about that, but then we burnt out the engine.
DW: We had a problem that we couldn’t drive 55.
When did you first premiere it? When was it ready to see the world?
DW: January ’97.
Were you making videos then or were you just performing in clubs?
DW: The videos were part of the club show. They started soon after we did the club show.
I saw your live act in Boston a few months back. You have a really unique stream of consciousness delivery, like you’re sharing one brain. How much of this is written and how much is improvised?
MIB: It’s a combination of both scripted and improvisational stuff. But the fact is we do share one brain, but it’s not ours.
Whose is it?
MIB: You know that dude Nathan?
DW: You’ve seen him probably at the malt shop.
MIB: Yeah, you know him. He’s got, like, a brush cut.
He’s a good-looking fella.
MIB: He’s all right, I guess.
Did you ever do any stand-up before Stella?
DW: Not really. Showalter’s still there, right?
MS: (silence) Yup. I’m just loving what I’m hearing.
DW: The three of us had done alt-stand-up in New York previous to Stella, from which Stella evolved, kind of.
MIB: I saw some stand-up on cable once.
I’m seeing you guys everywhere nowadays on television, on…let’s just list off some things. I’ve seen Michael (Showalter) on Sex and the City, Michael Ian Black on ED, all over VH1 – twenty-four hours a day…
That’s okay. David and Michael Showalter have two web pages directed towards them and I’ve heard you guys all have Friendster accounts, too.
Are you megalomaniacs?
DW: I don’t know about you and your fifty-dollar-words.
MIB: I think we just wanna have jobs.
What’re you doing when you’re not doing Stella?
MIB: Talking to you on the phone, for one…
DW: Last night I went out for organic food.
What do you do for fun?
MIB: I work with orphans.
There’s a lot of music in the Stella skits. What kind of music do you like? Do you go out and see shows?
MIB: Music shows? I like Shoenberg, Lithe, Mahler.
DW: Did you catch the Mahler show the other night?
MIB: It was incredible.
DW: It was so hot. Oh, my God.
DW: I like Wagner.
MIB: I used to like Wagner ‘til I found out he liked Jews.
Can you tell me about the Pretty in Pink recreation you’re doing with Upright Citizens Brigade?
DW: It’s a show where they play all the songs from Pretty in Pink with a live band and different singers. And then comedic actors are doing scenes from the movie in between. So it’s like a live version of the movie and it’s very funny.
MIB: I would say that the actors perform scenes from the movie, and in between the scenes the band plays songs from the soundtrack.
DW: You say that because you’re in the scenes and I’m in the songs.
MIB: That’s right.
DW: I’m in the band.
MIB: He auditioned to be an actor but he didn’t make it.
DW: Ducky is Jack!
I don’t know if I know Jack.
MIB: You know Jack. He hangs out with Nathan.
Okay, okay. David, what’re you playing in the band?
DW: I’m playing the drums and the bass.
Michael, what’re you doing?
MIB: I’m playing Steff, who’s played by James Spader.
That’s excellent. That’s really cool. David, I understand you and Michael have written another movie together. Can you tell me a little about it?
DW: Its called They Came Together. It’s a New York romantic comedy. And we’re hoping to shoot it this fall.
Are you directing it?
Do you have any plans for who is going to be in it?
DW: None that we can speak of at the moment.
With Wet Hot American Summer, did you find more doors open after the movie?
I don’t know about the box office, but I know it has a huge cult following.
MS: It made a lot of money at the box office compared to a teacher’s salary.
DW: Like, a public school teacher would be psyched to receive the gross box office earnings of that movie.
What’s the future of Stella looking like?
MIB: Well, we’re doing a special for Comedy Central.
Is it gonna be stand-up?
DW: It’s gonna be similar to the show you saw in Boston. We’re also developing a series that will hopefully be on some network, hopefully soon.
MIB: Well, we’re developing. It doesn’t mean much. Developing basically means hanging out.
You all have done some eclectic roles over the last couple of years. What are some of your favorite roles that you’ve done?
MIB: I loved Topple in Fiddler. Incredible.
For you, though.
MIB: Oh, oh, oh…
DW: I’ve done a Kaiser roll.
MIB: You were really good in that.
DW: Thank you.
Did we lose Michael Showalter?
MIB: I think he’s here and ignoring us.
DW: Okay. He was asking if we’ve lost you.
MS: (long pause) No, I’m here.
MIB: He’s auditing this interview. He’s not getting any credit for it: he’s just going to audit.
MS: I’m having some issues with the interviewer.
MS: I feel like he’s aggressive.
MIB: I thought so, too, but I didn’t want to bring it up.
I don’t mean to hurt feelings. I’m sorry. I’ll change.
MIB: (pause) Sho…?
MS: You’re too hormonal.
MS: You have that teenage…boy…needs sex vibe.
DW: A plus for me.
MIB: I did think you were a little hormonal, as well.
MS: It’s flattering to be come on to like this, but it’s making me feel uncomfortable.
Okay. Well, maybe if we were in a bar or something…
DW: I don’t know about this. It’s not a sexual, dirty intercourse thing we need from you right now.
MS: What we need is a dirty discourse.
Hey, you were talking about your penis earlier.
MIB: Yeah, but in a clinical way.
MS: I only use my penis for peeing.
MIB: The only things I use my penis for are urination and procreation.
DW: When I’m screwing someone and it’s time to put my penis in, I secretly switch to my elbow at the last moment.
MS: Which is great, because David can actually ejaculate from his elbow.
DW: It’s something that everyone in my family is able to do.
MIB: But he ejaculates grape jelly.
DW: I didn’t even know it until Aunt Bea showed it to me.
MS: But it’s weird, ‘cause it’s that kind of half-peanut-better-half-jelly-jelly. It’s disgusting, is what it is.
DW: Sometimes it’s marshmallow fluff or Nutella.
MS: It’s totally disgusting, unless you’re hungry.
MIB: In which case it’s a lifesaver.
DW: It’s was great when we got stuck on that raft that time.
MS: Without your ejaculating elbow, we would have died.
DW: All we had was bread and chips. We had no peanut butter and jelly.
MS: We were so lucky that we had that bread.
MIB: And you were able to fuck that bread. It made everything so convenient.
Well, how ‘bout that.
Where did you grow up? What did your parents do for a living?
I grew up in Worcester, MA, son of Howard and Shirley Benjamin — good, hearty, i.e. sickly Jewish stock. My mom was a ballet teacher and my dad owned an electrical supply shop (Benjamin Electric). It was a great mix of influences. Many days hanging out with electricians, who I remember all seemed to fit the stereotypical construction worker mold of yelling at women to sit on their faces and other days hanging out with my mom at rehearsals with ballet dancers, then going to the doctors for a hepatitis b shot (hep b — that’s my cute nickname for hepatitis b). It was the gay disease of the seventies/early 80’s. I remember a lot of hep b shots. It might sound totally trite, but what I do now is really just play characters based on the people who surrounded my childhood, like, I’m pretty good at characterizing electricians and dancers or misogynists who can move well.
Did you always know you would go into show biz? Were you a drama kid in high school and that sort of thing? How did you first get into performing as a comic?
I was never interested in doing theater or comedy growing up. I was sort of funny, but never outwardly funny. You had to really know me to get something funny out of me. My real talent was lying. I loved to lie, not to be funny, but more to try and be interesting or to entertain myself. I must have been left alone a lot as a child. In college, I found people who would also like to lie and that was how we had fun. We would get drunk, go to parties and lie to people just to fuck with them. I remember going to a party with my friend Sam Seder and we would pick who we were going to be before we went and I chose dental student and he chose something like a guy who worked designing missile systems for huge defense contractor. And we would stick with those characters for the whole party. The first person I got into a conversation with was this girl who asked me what I did and I said I went to Tufts dental and she said, “Oh my god, I go to NYU dental.” So, we talked about some new dental instrument for like five minutes until I finally had to tell her I was lying because I knew nothing about dentistry. And she was like, “Why did you lie?” I don’t know. My friend and I lie to people for fun. But, a few years later, Sam started doing stand-up in Boston while I was going to grad school in Chicago. After I finished my year, I moved to Boston and really got into comedy through him. But I was really reluctant to perform and he was fearless, so finally we started doing this thing where we would be introduced as this comedy duo called Sam and we would come up and he would tell jokes and I would sit behind him and read the paper. And then we would just leave, never explaining my presence. That turned into a more developed act, then we met David Cross and joined his group. Now, twelve years later, I just sit back, recount the old stories, and count my millions.
So how did you get into doing voice acting for cartoons? What sort of job did you have prior to voice acting?
I never sought out to do voice work. It really was just a product of getting hired to do this show Dr. Katz and from that I’ve done a few other cartoons for the same company. But, it was really more of a side thing for me, with my main interests being shopping and playing video games. But, Dr. Katz was my first job in television and things have pretty much bottomed out since then. At the time I began Dr. Katz, I was working in the Cambridge public library as a book stacker, which exposed me to all sorts of dirty books (note: not dirty in the sense of racy, but dirty as in ‘not clean’), and the occasional masturbator in the stacks. The Cambridge library did have open stacks and the floors were like metal grates so you could stand on one floor and look up to see a masturbator on the floor above. That was one of the perks.
How did it end up that you, David Cross and Todd Barry started doing the Tinkle nights together?
Dave and I have known each other for a while. I used to be in his sketch comedy troupe in Boston called ‘Cross Comedy.’ I think I just wrote the word ‘troupe.’ Oops. ‘Group’ is better. And Todd I met on Friendster. But we were sitting in this new club (at the time) called Pianos one afternoon and we saw the back room and all thought we should start a show there. I often think, “Man, what if it were just David and Todd sitting in that bar on that humid afternoon and not the three of us. Man, then this weekend I wouldn’t be performing on a shitty booze cruise for four hours tomorrow night, where I will be desperately sea sick the entire time. Thanks Tinkle, you cruel rapacious bitch.”
I have heard rumors circulating that you guys might be trying to turn Tinkle into a TV show. Any truth to that?
Tinkle has no plans to be a TV show, but we are considering all pitching in to buy a townhouse together and putting cameras all over the place and streaming it on the web. I think a lot of people will want to see how Todd Barry brushes his teeth and how David Cross jerks off into thimbles.
Do you have a role in booking the bands for Tinkle (recent guests include Ted Leo, Nada Surf, etc.)? Who is on your wish list of bands to book if you could book anyone?
We do have someone book the music for the shows, but some of them usually know one of us — mainly Dave. I was instrumental (Yay, finally, a pun!) in trying to book David Clayton Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears for the booze cruise, but he declined. I would love the original Van Halen to reunite at Tinkle. They’ve been through so much and it’s time for them to heal the wounds and make some much-needed money. Eddie, if you’re reading this, please learn how to read! Other than that, there are so many bands I would love to get to play… Good Charlotte (acoustic), Lenny Kravitz (shirtless), The Go-Go’s, the soundtrack to Coyote Ugly. Actually, I would like some other types of music at Tinkle. I recently saw this dj, Ted Shred and he was good at dj-ing. And that seven year old concert violinist… He’s cute and talented.
You haven’t done the Midnight Pajama Jam recently. Do you have plans to keep doing it?
I don’t do them much anymore… mainly because it got quite difficult to perform in a one hundred and fifty seat theater for an audience of six. The last show at the UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) had a mom and her two kids, three writers for The Onion and a seventy year old couple who I think had passes to the theater that existed in the space before it became UCB. So, that was something of a death blow. But, it was a fun show to do. It seemed like no one wanted to see it though. Too bad for them and me.
On behalf of all the female readers of Chunklet, I have to ask if it is true that you were in an episode of Sex and the City, first season? If so, which one of the girls did you screw? If you could choose any of the four main women on the show to sleep with, which one would you choose?
I was in one of the episodes in the first season and had one scene with Miranda. We did not have sex. If I were to imagine who (in real life) out of the four TV characters in Sex and the City I would have sex with, then I would probably try to kill myself, wind up in the emergency room, then imagine myself fucking the (real life) nurse who puts in my IV.
Can you tell me about some of the movies you’ve appeared in, other than Wet Hot American Summer? When I google your name it comes up with all sorts of incomplete listings. I know you’ve been in a few movies that haven’t made it to theaters yet, like Martin & Orloff, alongside a lot of the Upright Citizens Brigade folk.
I’m livid at Google right now. We are not talking. I’ve been in a few other films, one called Next Stop Wonderland, which is only worth mentioning in view of the fact I am sometimes parenthetically credited for that, like Jon Benjamin (Next Stop Wonderland). Otherwise, I’ve been in many movies that never made it to movie theaters, but were shown to me by the respective directors in their studio apartments. I was in Martin & Orloff and I don’t know if that’s just another one that will only be shown in the director’s apartment. I must say, though, that the director of Martin & Orloff had the nicest apartment out of all the other directors I have worked with.
Your IMDB listing is sort of fishy. According to it, you have been in some movie called Puppet.
Puppet?! I have no idea what that is! Get me a copy. I hope it was a thriller and I played Daniel Baldwin’s crazy/funny friend.
Who are some of the comics you look up to or have been inspired by? Any newer comics you would recommend to our readers?
Doing Tinkle, I see a lot of really good comedians, some who I know and have always liked, like Louis C.K., Dave Attell, Marc Maron and new performers who I’ve met more recently, and are great like Eugene Mirman, Demetri Martin, Vernon Chatman and Fred Armisen.
Do you have any upcoming projects to plug?
Let’s plug Puppet. I don’t think it ever got the attention it deserves. Soon, I’m doing a cartoon with David Cross for Comedy Central called Freak Show about a group of freak show freaks who work for the president. Or should we call that show, “The Bush Administration?” HA, HA, HA, HA, HA HA HA HA AHA A HA A HAHAHAHAHA HA HAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHHHAHAH (continuous loud laughter for several minutes)!!!!!!!q
Unnecessary c”ause of death: Emphysema
Way to make people think you’re interesting: Cite clinical depression
People to worship: Politicians
Art form: Virtuosity on any instrument
Destination of ex-pat Southerners: New York City
Genre to be obsessed with: Ska
Celebrity to be obsessed with and endlessly imitate: Elvis Presley
Indie rock fashion statement: Cheap Velcro shoes
Movie and subsequent sequels: Matrix, Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions
Physical attribute: Being tall
Schtick: (tie) Orchestrated controversy, and relentless sarcasm
Album you can’t escape from on classic rock radio: Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon
Pastime the public goes ape shit over: Sports
Use of a car: Daydreaming
Thing on television: Backup dancers
TV chef: (tie) Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse
Beverage: Micro-brewed beer
Cuisine: New American
Holiday: New Year’s Eve
Publicist: Nasty Little Man
Novelist: Don DeLillo
Sexual position: 69
Radio personality: Ira Glass
Starlet: Scarlett Johansson
Bodily function: (tie) Shitting and orgasm
Western European country: Belgium
Chicago Cub: Sammy Sosa
Cartoon character: Hello Kitty
Instant orange drink mix: Tang
Lifesaver: Butter rum
Synonym for pancake: Flapjack
Darrin: Dick Sargent
Dick: See hand
Death: Princess Di
Electrical current: Direct
Cartoon locale: Jellystone Park
Cartoon guest stars: Harlem Globetrotters
Manifestation of self-deprecation: Shame
Commandment: Coveting thy neighbor’s wife
Charity: March of Dimes
Genetic defect: Down Syndrome
Women’s hair restraint: Scrunchee
Post-Warsaw Pact-era Czechoslovakian leader: Václav Havel
Man-made lake: Mead
Wagon: Radio Flyer
Letter of the alphabet: C
Piece of living room furniture: Entertainment center
Euphamism for an entertainment center: “The Holodeck”
Excuse: “I forgot”
Canadian: Paul Schaffer
Air filter: AC/Delco
Pseudo-shocking term for confusion: Clusterfuck
Symbol of male homosexuality: A lisp
Symbol of female homosexuality: Amy Ray
Ironic statement of this century: Moustache
Co-billing on a split 7″: David Cross on the Chunklet-released David Cross/Les Savy Fav split single
False accusation for musicians: Child pornography
Redux of pointlessly competitive high school yearbook activity: Friendster
Celestial event of the last 59,619 years: Mars being closer to Earth than it’s been in 59,619 years
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor: Paxil
Premeditated quirk: Pronouncing “schedule” like “shed-jool”
Book series people usually read because “it’s much better than you’d expect”: Harry Potter
Guitar activity: Playing guitar
Reason to live: The love of another human being
Sexual practice: The Dirty Sanchez
Ice cream: The marble slab kind
Form of “comedy”: Complaining about George W. Bush
Ass-to-mouth scene: Scene 3 from Weapons Of Ass Destruction
Hope for the future: Children
Spam: EXTEND YOUR ROCK_HARD MORTGAGE RATxz.*&_jgjo./.’_uwejhsxe
Expensive food: Monkfish liver
Long Gone John claim: “I haven’t even heard ‘Elephant'”
Assasinated U.S. president: Kennedy
Waste of so-called soul cleansing: Fasting
Sex aid: (tie) Ice cubes, candles, penis and vagina
Pseudo-hip goodbye gesture: “The Slide”
Weather condition: Hot
Vehicle: The SUV
Young Turk author: Jonathan Safran “I-got-$500,000-for-my-senior-thesis” Foer
Way to spend the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays: (tie) Work and sleep
Dog: Labrador retriever
Record label: Matador
Grrrl: Kathleen Hanna
Black rapper: Puffy
Flash-in-the-pan fashion accessory: Foam-mesh trucker baseball cap with semi-ironic logo
Smell: (tie) Rose and toast
Non-naturally occurring material: Polyurethane
Alternative-to-corporeal existence: Death
National comedian: Colin Quinn
International comedian: Eddie Izzard
Reason for an indie kid to grow a beard: Grandaddy
Political band: Super Furry Animals
Band who believes they’re a political band: Radiohead
Musical genre: Alt.country
Recording engineer: Steve Albini
Penis: Jon Langford
White rapper: Bubba Sparxx
Blind band: Blind Boys of Alabama
Non-profit religion: Atheism
Rock singer: Robert Plant
Thing to write a joke about: How women are different from men
Group to write a racial joke about: Mexicans
Reason to read Chunklet: Because Elyse on America’s Next Top Model was reading a copy during an episode
Reason to become a comedian: Because you make your girlfriend and/or mother laugh
Reason to be an asshole: You’re jealous of others
Ironic piece of wardrobe: 80s rock T-shirt
Pimp: Bishop Don Magic Juan
Profitable religion: Judaism
Filmmaker: Wes Anderson
Condescending fat fuck: Michael Moore
Celebrity appliance: The George Foreman grill
Part of pornography: The money shot
Common surgery: Wisdom teeth removal
Vacation spot: Cancun, Mexico
Bar-B-Que menu item: Ribs
Gen-X food: Ramen noodles
Cum rag/toilet paper: NME
Sexual stimulus: Chunklet
Life-giving gas: Oxygen
Kitschy interest: Mexican wrestling
Pyramid scheme: Christianity
Hair fad: The irony mullet
Graven image: The Alabama courthouse Ten Commandments monument
Long Gone John Mermis
Owner/Swindler, Sympathy for the Record Industry
I’m sure thousands of other people have their own gripes about Long Gone, whether it be Glenn Danzig-who punched him for flooding the world with bootleg Misfits 45’s-or anyone who’s ever sold a record on Sympathy’s extreme lack of royalties (read: greedy pig fucker), but he makes the asshole echelon in my book for something so piddly, you can only wonder what goes on in that philandering, wig-covered head of his. On the White Stripes East Coast tour of June ’01, Mr. Long Gone accompanied the band for mere shits and giggles. While dispensing much-needed humor on the tour (like calling Pete Townsend a “chin-ball wizard”), his presence was a hindrance the rest of the time. Put the beast behind a driving wheel and you’ll have a newfound appreciation for seat belts. Worst of all, the man couldn’t even spring for his own hotel room, instead crashing the already cramped quarters of the “roadie” room, meant for John Baker, Stripes’ tour manager, and me. Baker and I, not interested in bear love with the Anti-Mogul, were forced to share a bed, and in some cases, sleep on floors while Long Gone’s carcass undeservingly snaked a snuggly warm bed out from underneath us. He was a waste of space. Sure, he’s Long Gone John, but he’s an asshole.
Chunklet‘s “Shit List” issue wasn’t just clever marketing: this band really is shitty. But I don’t hold that against them. Instead, after their allotted time of caterwauling, they invade the upstairs at Fletcher’s with the drummer’s corpulent, cornrowed girlfriend in tow. This wouldn’t be a problem besides the huge fucking sign that leads to the band room that says “BAND MEMBERS ONLY! NO FAT CHICKS! Etc., etc.” They then proceed to drink all the Von Bondies’ and White Stripes’ beer, when they were given drink tickets and told specifically not to drink any of the beer in the band room. When presented with the situation, Todd, the promoter, sends a bouncer to quell the situation and more trouble arises. Apparently, the drummer took offense to being called “brother” by the black bouncer and some macho chest thumping takes place. Todd confronts the ringleader of the Convocation of Assholes about it, and the whole time he acts like a spoiled kinderbrat, saying that they should’ve had more beer, and bitching that they always have to open shows and never get to headline. Cry me a river. John Baker then asked the Convocation man about bringing people upstairs. “Can’t you read the sign?” “No. I can’t read.” Feigned illiteracy is sooo passé. Assholes, apparently, are always in style.
“Wrong!” says a Chunklet writer who’s been there.
I know you. You’re a male between, what, 18 and 35? Probably well educated but slightly underachieving, kind of nerdy in an ironic-so-it’s-okay kinda way, and a huge fan of independent rock music. And if you’re like most people in this demographic, it’s always been a dream of yours to be in a band. Not just any old local band that stinks up basements and the occasional opening slot at the student union or some dump in the warehouse district. But a real band-one that tours and draws crowds and gets interviewed and written about and inspires people as much as you’ve been inspired by your punk rock heroes.
Well, gather around, kids, ’cause Uncle Pat’s gonna disillusion your ass.
Bluntly put, being in a working band is one of the most overrated experiences a person can have. Sure, there are some advantages, if you manage to pull it off. You get to travel a bit, meet new people, be creative, and postpone that vaunted institution known as reality for another few years. It all looks so enticing that, surely, it must be a lifestyle worth pursuing, right? Ninety-nine percent of the time, definitely not. In fact, I aim to persuade you that you’re better off just going straight to graduate school or getting your career on track and remaining an honest, ordinary music fan with no pretensions of rockstardom.
Here’s a breakdown of the whole being-in-a-band thing that should illustrate what a load of rubbish it is. Best wishes.
Okay, so let’s say you’re in a band that’s written a set, played a dozen or so local shows, made some connections, and put out a 7″ or-if you’re really resourceful-a CD. To get to the next level, you’ve got to take your act on the road. That’s the whole point of this, after all: to get people to listen to your music. An artist doesn’t paint something and stick it in a closet, and a chef doesn’t cook a meal and stuff it down the sink, so naturally you want an audience for the tunes you’ve worked so hard to craft, and your records are simply not gonna fly off the shelves by themselves.
The first notion you must dispense with is that it’s easy to book a tour. Ask anyone who’s done it-it’s a colossal pain in the ass. For a start, no one knows who the fuck you are. It’s one thing if your band is established, but by the time you’ve got a bunch of CDs out, someone is probably doing your booking for you anyway. So you’ve got to start from scratch, calling and e-mailing everyone on God’s green earth who you think can help get you a show. Trouble is that promoters and other people who put together shows are at worst scumbags who will screw you over as soon as look at you, or at best flakeoid drug casualties who are good-hearted but thick as a plank of wood. Dealing with them will test your patience to the max, and make you feel like your tour is doomed before you pack up the van. Even if you eschew nightclubs in favor of house parties or campus shows, you’ve still got to deal with college students-and sometimes they’re worse than the scumbags and flakeoids, because students are not attempting to do this for a living. For students, putting together shows is a lark to pass the time between exams and their weekly two-hour radio spots. As such, they tend to be completely unreliable and will only humor you as long as you seem to like them. This motley collection of ne’er-do-wells, sprinkled liberally over our vast land, holds the keys to your future in rock. Persevere, cajole, kiss ass, whatever-do what you gotta do, because without them, you and your tour are going nowhere. My advice is to spare yourself the indignity and not interact with these people at all, but if you’re still determined, maybe considering the hardships of the road will change your mind.
Now let’s say you’ve overcome the odds and somehow cobbled together a several-week tour that takes you to a host of dingy bars and dormitory rec rooms in your region. You and your bandmates chip in to rent or buy some crummy van, pack it up with your gear, kiss your girlfriends goodbye, and roll out. For the first few hours, your mind is flooded with romantic notions of Kerouac, amber waves of grain, and all the brave pioneers who came before you. But after a while it occurs to you that most of the country looks the same: painfully dull. Long stretches of fields and forests are broken up only by the occasional gas station, fast food joint, big box store, or fireworks stand. The faded backs of houses and trailers are stoic reminders of how quotidian much of American life actually is. Truckers look at you with bemusement or homophobic rage, if they notice you at all. After barreling along for hours, you finally alight, set up, play, pack up, and go somewhere to crash. Then you wake up the next day and do it again. Twenty or thirty times in a row.
The mental aspect of touring is fatiguing enough, but I can’t emphasize enough how taxing it can be on the body, as well. Hotels? Forget it. Unless you’re independently wealthy, you’re staying at someone’s house after the show. There may be an available couch or extra bed now and then, but generally you’re in a sleeping bag on a hard wooden floor covered with dirt and cat hair. You sweat your ass off in the summer and shiver when it’s cold, and usually wake up tired, coughing, and with sore muscles. After the first week, the camaraderie and chattiness in the van is replaced by snoring or staring into space. The worst part is loading in and out over and over. It’s a lot different when you play in your hometown once in a while; you only drive a few miles and friends are always around to help carry gear. You think, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” But in some distant state, it’s only you and your bandmates who are responsible for lugging your shit in and out of venues, sometimes up and down multiple flights of stairs. Even the most hearty of souls wear down from the lack of sleep, repeated heavy lifting, and sweat and grime. Everyone gets sick at some point and unselfishly passes the bug around. And I haven’t even mentioned the food yet. Real bands get catered with deli trays and sandwiches, or maybe fresh pasta. Chances are that you, however, will stop at a taco or burger stand and load up on greasy crap before the show; and instead of juice or milk, you’ll probably end up drinking too much beer or soft drinks from the bar. By the second or third week you feel ill and disconnected, disoriented, and maybe even a little homesick, wondering why you bothered doing all this in the first place.
A lot of people start a band to avoid working; ironically, it is some of the hardest work a person can ever do.
As if the process of spending hours per day staring out the windows of a cramped van weren’t dispiriting enough, equally mind-numbing is what happens once you get to your destination: waiting around for several more hours before you play. It’s probably too dark to read, so pinball and billiards soothe the pain somewhat. But generally you shuffle about, change strings or drum heads, set up the merch table, and basically- just-wait around. Real bands get a soundcheck so their music will be evenly mixed during the show, and then chat with well-wishers and do interviews for a while before their set. You, on the other hand, will not only not get a soundcheck, but the bitter and condescending soundman will resent the fact that you even exist. You will hear nothing in the monitors and there will be no vocals coming out of the PA. After you play your set for 10 people (what, you didn’t think anyone was going to come out early to see a band they never heard of, did you?) you hastily drag your shambling collection of amps and semi-working guitars offstage so the real band can get up there and proceed to blow you away in front of 200 people. A couple of geeky dudes from the local college/record store kinda dug your set, so they take pity on you and offer you a place to crash. They have several cats.
The next day, you wake up, sore and tired as usual, and drive to the next show. The scumbag/flakeoid/college student tells you upon arrival that the local band on the bill broke up, or the fire marshal temporarily closed the venue, or he simply forgot there was a show tonight and did no promotion whatsoever. So it’s cancelled. Undaunted, you decide to drive all night to the next city, sleep in the van, and maybe do some sightseeing the next day. On the way, though, you get a flat tire or the van breaks down, you get pulled over by a cop for speeding, or someone slams his hand in the van door-breaking a finger. Or you get some equipment stolen from your van. Or someone’s girlfriend back home finds out she’s pregnant. Or someone’s mom dies. Or the van rolls over and everyone in the band dies.
You see where I’m going with this. Scores of bad things can go wrong while on tour, and the number of cataclysmic events that can take place is inversely proportional to the popularity of the band. Which means that you-Mister “I want to start a band and go on tour regardless of how retarded and unworkable the idea is”-are destined for not only failure, but abject misery and humiliation.
Being Creative & Getting Reviewed
If you’ve defied fate and have come home from tour in one piece, and your band hasn’t broken up or had all its shit stolen, congratulations! Now you get to do the most difficult part of all: writing another set of material and recording a new album. The first one was easy, wasn’t it? Everyone worked together and contributed good ideas in a fun, enthusiastic way. But now, the concepts don’t flow so readily. You all have improved your chops, but seem to be overthinking and forcing the music to come together. Buoyed by the feeling of success that accompanied the first album or single, you went ahead and booked studio time. But that time is fast approaching and you’re nowhere near ready to record; you’ve only got a bunch of half-baked parts of songs and”Christ!”hardly any lyrics written. Practices are long and tempers are short. You get to the studio-a better one than last time-but feel lost in the array of gadgets and dials you’ve never seen before. The engineer is a nice enough fellow, but he’s running a business, and has no problem with indulging your need to write material in the studio and experiment with different sounds. Eventually, you go way over budget and come away with a tape that sounds nothing like your band. Luckily, an indie label has offered to put the record out, but deep down you don’t like it as much as the first one. You’re secretly relieved when the label-actually a college dropout who inherited a bunch of money-completely bungles the distribution of the record.
A few ‘zines miraculously get a hold of some copies and they like the album even less than you do. After the first single or album, which you lovingly financed and released yourself, a few local rags picked up on the buzz generated by some of your friends and acquaintances and wrote some blurbs about it. They weren’t at all unfavorable; in fact, they admired your freshness and even compared you to some of your favorite bands. But this time, some reputable publications with rather wide circulations had a listen, and when they weren’t totally dismissive, they took the time to lay into your derivative style, your knowledge of dynamics, and even the bogusness of the entire scene in your town. Most people would take the hint and abandon the rock ship; but no, you chalk up the bad reviews to jaded, mean-spirited hacks who can’t play music themselves and are therefore relegated to writing about how much they hate everything. It doesn’t matter that critics generally know what they’re talking about and would much rather write a good review on any given day, and it doesn’t matter that even you yourself know on some level that what you’re doing is just wasting everyone’s time. You doggedly press on, taking up shelf space in the pantry of entertainment with your bland, moldy cookies that no one wants to eat.
Inspiring People, Giving Back to the Music Community, Blah-Dee-Blah-Blah
Your family and friends are good people and they don’t want to discourage you from following your dreams. But they’re not doing you any favors by blowing smoke up your ass about how good your band is. So I’m just gonna give it to you straight:
You have no talent.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love a lot of punk and indie rock, and am aware that the “do it yourself” ethic is essential to the subculture. A lot of great art-not just music, but graphics, filmmaking, or what have you-started and stayed in the amateur ranks. And I believe that everyone should try to express himself artistically if he thinks it will make him a better person. But the downside of DIY-and this is seldom talked about-is that it opened the floodgates for every swingin’ dick with a guitar and 500 bucks to put out a record and try to get a show at the local rock club. Apparently, it’s not good enough for people to recognize their paltry talents and limit their audience to their families and friends. No, they’ve got to have delusions of grandeur, and believe that they can also achieve fame and fortune, and be an inspiration to others. What a pile of narcissistic shit! It is so rare, so incredibly rare, that a musician or group of musicians has the ability to make quality music of lasting value that it’s a puzzle that anyone attempts to clamber up on a stage at all. Yet there they are-this nonstop parade of buffoons who continue to annoy us and embarrass themselves because someone somewhere said it’s okay for them to give it a whirl.
If you’re one of those people, let me repeat: being in a working, touring band is extremely hard work, fraught with tension, illness, discomfort, and shady characters. Play music if it makes you happy, but don’t get all cocky and assume you can do it for a living, or that you would even want to. The odds are overwhelming that you’ll merely make a putz out of yourself and give it up broke, disappointed, and wishing you’d stayed in the audience to begin with.*
*The author would like to add that the band he was in during the early ’90s was, by most accounts, actually pretty good, but that even then the experience kinda sucked a lot of the time. -ed
Van Halen, US Festival ‘83
As many of you will remember, Apple Computer threw a weekend festival called the US Festival ‘83 at the Glen Helen Park in Southern California. Among televised highlights (at least as far as I remember) were The Pretenders, The Clash and an overly theatric U2 with Bono climbing the stage’s scaffolding, almost breaking his neck in the process. What a goon.
Well, as luck would have it, Van Halen closed ceremonies on the middle night. They were paid $1.6 million for their performance, which was, at the time, the most a group had ever been paid for a gig. As legend has it, they insisted on being paid more than David Bowie in order to play. Bowie was paid $1 million. Not bad for a night’s work. Now, David Lee Roth is a man who conjures up equal amounts of sheer amusement and respect around the Chunklet offices, but on this particular night, he couldn’t have been more whacked out of his mind. Here’s the deal….
What We Saw On Television: Right before Van Halen went on stage, millions of viewers saw a pre-taped (read: staged) skit go on backstage involving Diamond Dave, a piano, two groupies and a bottle of Jim Beam. However, the reality of the situation was far more rock (read: hilarious).
What Really Happened: Moments before going out on stage in front of 670,000 fans (not to mention all of the viewers on then-two-year-old MTV), DLR was barely able to stand up, after a day of rocking and/or rolling. As the rest of the band went on stage to earn approximately $200,000 per hour per person, their soon-to-be-shitcanned lead singer puked and followed that up with two lines of cocaine, then rushed on stage! Now, that, dear reader, is rock’n’roll!
Below is the transcript of the “stage banter” after the second song. Elapsed time is five minutes! The time was necessary to get Roth to sober up, but what transpired was nothing short of hilarity! Please keep in mind that Roth is performing in front of what The Guinness Book of World Records called the largest attendance for a concert. Let’s take a look at the damage:
(“Runnin’ With The Devil” ends) Well, hello, Glen Helen Regional Park! Look at all the people here tonight! Oh, man! I’ve got to make an announcement right here. Can you hear me out there? (screams from crowd) Hey, man, don’t be squirting water at me! I’m gonna fuck your girlfriend, pal! I just wanted to say that as of right now, this time tonight, more people have been arrested today than the entire weekend last year, man! You a rowdy bunch of motherfuckers! (extensive screaming, 48-second pause) Who likes rock’n’roll? Yeah! Yeah! I’ll tell ya, this is the time of the evening when the band gets to have a drink, right here. Ooooohhh-ohhh. (Roth’s midget assistant comes out and hands him a bottle of whiskey.) Is everybody having a good time so far right here? (screams, whistles and cheers, 40-second pause) I want to take this time to say that this is real whiskey here. The only people who put iced tea in Jack Daniels bottles is The Clash, baby! (segue into “Jamie’s Crying”)
DLR transcription by Sarah Jacobson
aka More Jokes That Will Make You The Big Hit At The Only Industry Snoozefest You’ll Ever Attend
Q: What’s the difference between the Danielson Family and the Hare Krishnas?
A: At least you can tolerate the Hare Krishnas’ music.
Q: What do you get when you cross Jimmy Buffett with ‘now’?
A: Sammy Hagar.
Q: What has the same properties as Napalm and looks great on Bobby Conn?
Q: What sang on the White Stripes album and is more homely than a wicker basket?
A: Holly Golightly.
Q: How many members of the Polyphonic Spree does it take to change a light bulb?
A: 23. One to change the bulb and the other 22 to suck my dick.
Q: Why aren’t hipsters good at karate?
A: They never can get past the white belt.
Q: How does Erase Errata get their fans to eat shit?
A: They wipe forwards.
Q: What’s the difference between Napoleon and Glen Danzig?
A: A half an inch.
Q: What’s more boring than being trapped in a block of ice for several million years?
A: Seeing the Sea & Cake perform.
Q: What do you get when you mix the Pixies circa 1989 with 375 lbs. of human fat?
A: The Pixies reunion tour.
Q: What do Ike Turner’s hand and Tina Turner’s tampon have in common?
A: They both have her blood on them.
Q: How many members of Ladybug Transistor does it take to paint a wall red?
A: It depends on how good your swing is.
Q: What does Peaches’s crotch have in common with rotten chicken meat?
A: Salmonella thrives in both of them.
Q: What looks like an episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and is as unfunny as a root canal?
A: Kaiju Big Battel.
Q: What does Kim Gordon have in common with your grandmother?
Tinkle Booze Cruise
New York City @ Queen of Hearts
23 September 03
My only hope is that in 20 years, just mentioning to people that I was on this cruise will spark fires of jealousy. Maybe it’s just because I’ve lived outside of “industry” towns my entire life (thank God), but, to me, a boat full of the titans of New York’s improv-comedy scene cruising around Manhattan is the stuff legends are made of. The name dropping could get obscene, but the hosts of Tinkle (Jon Benjamin, David Cross and Todd Berry) worked two separate stages simultaneously with an array of actors/comedians, to simply indescribable results. It’s got to be great to live in a city where outrageous events like this are embraced. I’m green with envy. And, not to be outdone, Chunklet faves Les Savy Fav performed a brief set on the poop deck, ending with Tim being (quite literally) man-handled as he hung from the outside of the boat. In a perfect world, events like this would take place every Friday and twice on weekends.
All Tomorrow’s Parties
Long Beach @ Queen Mary
7 &8 November 03
I wrote off music festivals a long time ago. Not only are they reduced to nothing more than endurance tests, but they fetishize the very music they’re championing and leave music geeks (yes, such as myself) totally burnt out and somewhat disenchanted. Enter All Tomorrow’s Parties. What started out as a British affair nestled in Camber Sands (a run-down vacation resort outside of London) is now a full-fledged international sensation. And, whereas the intimacy (read: no proper backstage, no access laminates, etc.) was a refreshing change in the UK, the business-as-usual vibe of the Matt Groening-curated ATP in LA left me a bit….oh, I don’t know, disappointed. Whereas you could be sitting at the pub knocking pints back with Mark E. Smith in England, there was a clear sense of separation at this most recent festival. While Bob and I were attempting to get interviews for our new yet-to-be-published fanzine The Underground Railroad, it was impossibly difficult to find anybody. And here I was thinking that dressing up as train engineers would’ve helped our chances of getting an interview with those on the laundry list of proto-indie celebs in attendance. Hell, I bumped up against Vincent Gallo as he was talking to Kim Gordon! I don’t believe federal law allows cred to be piled on much thicker. Regardless, those bands you would’ve expected to be good (Mission of Burma, Magic Band, Minutemen Duet) were damn good. Those you would expect to blow (Cat Power, The Mars Volta) did so quite effortlessly. And then there were a couple of surprises (Jackie O-Motherfucker, DanielsonFamily) that kept me wanting to pace the quarter mile between the main stage and the Queen Mary. There was something rather off-putting about seeing !!! and Black Heart Procession playing early on the first day under the bright California sun instead of at night, but that’s just being picky. However, the corpse felching of Elliott Smith was in reckless abandon, with a 45-minute tribute set in lieu of his scheduled appearance. Thanks to his suicide (you pussy!), we now had to endure people “paying tribute” to his corpse. Christ, you should’ve stabbed me in the fucking chest while you were at it,Elliott. However, let’s not cheapen this review, and let’s instead say that there was no more substantial reason to traverse this continent than to see the headliner for the second night on the big stage: Iggy and the Stooges. With Mike Watt on bass (I couldn’t have made a better choice myself), the Asheton brothers and Iggy looked like they were having the time of their lives. If they’re actually able to keep this reborn phoenix from burning up (again), this reunion could be the great shaking motion of the oversized Etch-a-Sketch known as rock music. It was the only time I could forgive a band for playing the same song twice in one 50-minute set. A double dose of “TVEye?” Where do I sign?
Rocket From The Tombs
Atlanta @ Echo Lounge
I never thought I’d be known as the guy who is more excited about nostalgia acts than the new bands coming around, but I guess I’m slowly edging towards that semi-creepy demographic that I see at Marshall Crenshaw shows. Ah, how time changes things. As far as reunion tours go, this one is a bit of a stretch, only because the band (featuring founding members of Dead Boys and Pere Ubu) never really toured, never put out a legitimate record until two years ago and barely made a name for themselves during their existence in those pre-’77 days in Cleveland. But it’s remarkable what almost 30 years has done to this group of old farts. For more than a decade, RFTT’s David Thomas and Cheetah Chrome talked smack about each other in the press, but no one is gladder than me that the smoke has settled and everybody has kissed and made up. With Television’s Richard Lloyd on rhythm guitar (I guess he’s waiting for an offer to do another questionable solo album), this was the one show that I was most excited about during the second half of aught-three. And I can say without hesitation, that it was all I’d hoped it would be. The first third of the club smacked of the über-geekiness of a Magic Band show (read:guys in trenchcoats with bad facial hair), but, hey, at least they have good taste. I do think the posters were stretching it a bit thin by saying this would be a “once in a lifetime affair,” but it still came across as an essential and fun performance for all involved.
Atlanta @ Roxy
9 October 03
I can forgive any buzz band for a relentless tour schedule. The older I get, the more I realize that any “buzz” band has at least a handful of yes-men managing-types sitting behind them whispering things in their ears. “Strike while the iron is hot.””You can take a vacation after this upcoming 6-week tour.” “We can get your video on MTV if you do this one tour with Aerosmith.” I can only imagine what has been whispered in the ears of the guys in Interpol, but I’m sure it’ll be great fodder for their VH1BehindThe Music in 20 years. That is, if they last through recording a semi-respectable follow-up record… Just look at how The Strokes have done. Williamsburg isn’t entirely bankable, I reckon. Although I take most touring stories with a grain of salt (or, in their case, Dixie Crystals. Hey, at least it looks like salt), it was painfully obvious to me that Interpol needed to put their Chameleons-cum-goth pop schtick on ice for a year even before I saw this show. After seeing them put on a really decent show at the 40 Watt earlier in the year, I was anticipating a bunch of suck for this Roxy show, and, I wasn’t at all off the mark. If the phrase “phoning it in” were in the dictionary, a photo of this show would be right next to it. An uninspired and flat performance, but, hey, that was one helluva light show. Man, to think I drove into Buckhead, paid too much for parking and got this; I’m glad I didn’t actually pay to get in, otherwise I would’ve been genuinely pissed off.
Athens @ 40 Watt
18 January 04
Ever since the early 90’s, every underground sub-genre has become more divided out of some desperate need to differentiate its members from their peers.Therefore it comes as no surprise that this show wasn’t so much about the music as it was about the phenomenal people-watching opportunities that were laid before me. Although I wasn’t told in advance to wear black or a hoodie or a chain wallet or cartoonish facial hair or a baseball hat, I guess 99.3% of those in attendance did, in fact, get that memo, because, sweet shit, was I feeling out of place! And to think none of these people took us up on our tattoo offer in the last issue. Ferchrissakes, it was a veritable walking sea of drunken ink. Take gutter punks and trailer trash, add buckets of booze and a big stoner rock show, and then just stand back and watch the drama unfold. Although it had been seven years since I’d seen Nebula (their first tour opening for Mudhoney in ’97), their “thing” hadn’t changed one bit. I mean, come on, doing Deep Purple and Blue Cheer covers can’t be that difficult, so why can’t they at least do something that would approach a stage production?Lights!At least a couple of lights would be nice, guys. What’re you saving that money for, anyway?A new, diamond-studded bong? Next was Neurostodon (or Mastosis, take yr pick) who now that The Rock*A*Teens have cashed in their chips, have effortlessly won the crown of the best band in Atlanta. Of course, some would say that there’s more competition in, say, Iowa City, but I digress. Mastodon definitely brought their “A Game,” and played at least 50% new material. Even though some of the new material kind of blends together, and the same can be said for some of the older stuff, it’s really impressive to see a band fromGeorgia (unironically) embrace metal. My only regret is that I don’t get more opportunities to see them live. And, although I’m sure it comes off as even too jaded for Jaded Robot, I’d not seen Clutch since ’91 when they opened up for Jawbox. I mention that only because, holy shit, they’re not even a hardcore band any more. I know, surprise of surprises; but they’re a flat-out stoner band now that would give even Frank Kozik a chubby. Having expected at least a glimpse of their once great hardcore/noise roots, I was already entirely bummed half-way through their first song. On my way out of the 40 Watt, I had to commend all four bands on the bill (the first band, whose name I forgot, was a Nebula clone… ugh) for filling not one, but both walls in the corner from floor to ceiling with T-shirts and hoodies. Although funds were running tight by the end of the night, I at least know where I need to purchase my wardrobe for the next show like this I decide to attend.