Wednesday, November 30, 2016

At Lanalou's tonight: A Series of Dogs - a mini-interview with John Armstrong

John Armstrong, 2016 (provided by Mr. Armstrong)

Now updated with a brief email interview!

The Modernetttes' John Armstrong has three books out there now: Guilty of Everything, his Vancouver punk rock memoir; Wages, about his time spent as a journalist; and now, A Series of Dogs, which is based on a great idea: it's a canine-centric memoir, about the dogs in Armstrong's life. I have not read it yet, but I fired some last minute questions to Armstrong, and he shot me some quick answers while commuting to Vancouver for the booklaunch, tonight, at Lanalou's, featuring The Judys. Our Q&A is below.

Allan: Am I confused? I thought from following you on Facebook that you were working on a dystopian science fiction novel. I wasn't expecting your next book to be about dogs.

John: Not confused; that book called Schadenfreude, Inc. is finished and waiting for a blurb from a certain Big Time SF author who lives in Van. But he's trying to get his own book finished on deadline so ... waiting. That novel is one of four I have coming out in the next year - the last five years' work. We can talk about them some other time as it would eat up space and I'm typing this on a bus.

[John pauses to ask me to please fix typos - if he attempts to address them, as he jostles along he makes "three new ones." Virtual keyboards suck, indeed, but note that some of what follows was so typo-rich that I MIGHT have introduced errors of my own here!]

Can you share an anecdote from the book? Does it overlap with the time frame from your previous books, or is it in sequence with them, like "part three" of your memoirs...?

It runs from my youth on a dairy farm on the Island to today. I think nine dogs in all. I'm in it as much as they are - we were friends, good friends, and its about our relationships, and concurrent human ones. So yeah, it covers the same years and beyond, through to my current years - going on ten - on a mountain at tthe ass end of the Fraser Valley, at the foot of the Cascades. My Rotweiller Bobo made the move planning with me from the Downtown Eastside to the country - I mean, hillbilly country - and we both went through some serious READJUSTMENT. The first time he saw a 'coon he looked at me as if to say, "What the fuck is up with that cat?" He had no clue how to be a 'dog' - wouldn't eat salmon down at the river even though my new wife's dogs caught one and dropped it at his feet. Bobo did not trust food that didn't come from either a can, a bag, or my plate.

Any intention of doing anything musical tonight? (Any background with the Judys?).

I'm not planning on it but two or three beers ... I've known Dennis Mills for 40 years - Rhythm Mission, AKA, Jazzmanian Devils... one of my favorite people and on a very short list of same.

The last time I saw you make music was at Ron Reyes' birthday bash, a few years ago at the Rickshaw. It was pretty great, actually - I enjoyed it more than I expected - but I didn't recognize the songs. Did any of that get released or recorded? Will it?

We recorded ten or eleven new songs with the current band - they still need final mixes and mastering, but $$$ is in the way.

Curious - since you live kinda near Gerry Hannah, one of the funniest stories in Guilty of Everything is where you catch him blowdrying his shoulder tufts in a bathroom before a show. How did he take that? You guys good neighbours? Ever run into each other?

Gerry is a sweet guy and held no grudge - it's never come up, anyway. We usually only talk politics. He's amused that I'm more radical in my dotage than when I was a punk rock agent provocateur.

 Whatever happened with The Rebel Kind, the film adaptation of Guilty of Everything? (The film was set to be directed by Canadian filmmaker Reg Harkema, with Jay Baruchel as a young John Armstrong). 

The Rebel Kind is on life support and not expected to recover. The star publicly announced he was all in, then made a bunch of Hollywood movies and by the time he was available again he had broken up with his girlfriend, who was set to play Mary. But who knows, weirder shit happens in Hollywood every day?

Any stories from the Modernettes tour of Japan? 

Japan was one of the great experiences of my life. We were the Beatles for ten days. People wouldn't let us carry our own bags or gear, hung out with us like little kids, eyes shining. "Please use my amplifier, Mr. Buck-san!" 

What else is up? Musical plans? Writing? Anything you want to tell people about? 

I'm going to start writing and recording soon. I have an album's worth of songs, all about show business in some fashion, a song cycle if you will. Hoping to get Gay Nineties to be the band, with Paul Leahy on guitar when he's feeling better. But we're not likely to play live around here - not really fun or lucrative, and I insist on one or the other. Don't much care which it is but one of them is required! I'm thinking of doing Europe in the summer, twenty or twenty-five shows. 

Lastly, what am I doing now? I write 1000 words a day, five of seven days on average. The goal is ten books in ten years and I'm halfway there. Only one nonfiction left in me, about aging, called The Back Nine: grimly, bleakly amusing. 

Otherwise it's work forty hours a week, play basketball at the Y, hang with wife and kids, don't hardly drink, gave up bad drugs yonks ago... got to stay alive and healthy so that when the world finally appreciates me, I'll be in shape to enjoy it. But mostly I write, and when I'm not writing I'm thinking about it. I'm told this fairly common. if i miss a day at the keyboard, I feel out of sorts. I'm finally addicted to something that won't kill me,

John Armstrong at Richards on Richards, 2007 (?), by Cindy Metherel, not to be reused without permission

John Armstrong will be reading from his book A Series of Dogs tonight at Lanalou's. Event begins at 8pm. Admission is free! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Frank Frink 5: are you ready for the country?

Before I listened to rock music - and long before I got into metal and punk, I listened - thanks to my parents - to country music. They played it in the house sometimes, on a big black and white console TV/ stereo that eventually lived in my room. I loved some of their LPs, and still have a couple of them (like my Dad's copy of Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, which is one of the greatest country albums ever made, by my estimate, and one everyone I discuss it with agrees on, including Joey Only, Adrian Mack, Petunia, and, indeed, Nick Jones, below - we'll get to that presently).  

As a child, they brought me to concerts, too, at the Pacific Coliseum, by Johnny Cash - I'm guessing on August 24th, 1980,  and, I think, Charley Pride. (I have no clear memories of either show, though I thought "A Boy Named Sue" was funny, and clearly remember it on the set list, along with some gospel with June Carter Cash). When we would go for drives in the car, an old American Rambler, the cassettes we played on the little portable shoebox player were Jerry Lee Lewis, Charley Pride, Fats Domino, and Elvis' Gold Records (though later when I was starting to develop my own tastes we added the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies to the list, my selection of which was more a matter of chance, having found it in a bargain bin, than taste, though I still love that album to this day). As a result of those drives, I am still more familiar with Charley Pride's version of "Kaw-Liga" than either the original by Hank Williams or the Residents crazed cover of it, though I grant that it's the least of the three, and the most problematic politically (because a black man appealing to white audiences by singing a song about a wooden Indian, lacking any irony, and complete with faux-Indian yelps, is just disturbing, which was lost on me at age eight, which is about the time period under discussion).

However, you have to make a break from the music of your parents at some point, or at least I did. Once I got turned on to the Sex Pistols - at around age 14, in 1982 - I was part of the "country music sucks" club, rejecting all that country stood for, reviling it even more than disco (which I knew even less about). It was actually pretty common to say "country music sucks" among my peers in high school - country music was the out-group that helped us define our in-group, it was a consensus that even the headbangers and the punks could come together on. I still have friends who are part of that club - who take it for granted that they can proudly proclaim their hatred of country music and thereby bond with me. I'm not sure they realize that these days, when someone says that, I feel kind of sorry for them...  

Two things changed things for me, when it comes to country. The first was Eugene Chadbourne, and especially his album There'll Be No Tears Tonight - featuring John Zorn and Tom Cora. I got into Doc Chad in my 20's, despite the protests of my comrades in psychedelia, who basically forbade me to play Shockabilly or anything by Eugene when we tripped (though I would occasionally sneak something in). I still don't really understand what freaked them out so much, because even my father came to appreciate Doc Chad, delighting in particular in his cover of Phil Ochs' "Knock on the Door" and on the wittiness of "The Last Word in Lonesome is Me." Doc Chad's fusion of country music with jazzy, psychedelicized avant-gardism pleases me to no end - and is not just a matter of sending stuff up; he's said that he is quite, without irony, a fan of stuff like Roger Miller (whom he frequently covers), and that country music is as much a part of his palette as other stated influences (like Bugs Bunny and Boris Karloff). 

Back when I thought he was making fun of it, Doc Chad made it safe for me to listen to the odd country tune; when he told me his fondness for it was sincere, it helped crack the door a bit further. 

The second thing that swung me back towards country was digital technology, which allowed me to easily make playlists for my parents, so that we could listen to their music during Scrabble games. I found I could easily remember their favourite tunes - the things Dad would sing to himself as he went about the day, like Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me" (a troubling song to hear a family man singing to himself; it ended up being the last song he requested I play at the hospice, though wouldn't you know, I didn't have that particular CDr with me that day). Listening to those mixes with them, certain songs grew on me unexpectedly - like Roy Clark's "Yesterday When I was Young," say. So songs by artists I associated with country began to sneak their way onto my playlists - like Kris Kristofferson's "The Piglrim - Chapter 33," which for years was the only Kris Kristofferson song would acknowledge; it popped up on a CD mix I made to give away on my 38th birthday, which had plenty of folk (Dylan, Ochs, Townes van Zandt and such) but only one or two flat-out country tunes, like Hank Williams' "Lost Highway" or maybe some of the Rick Rubin-period Johnny Cash. 

I still wouldn't go so far as to say I loved country music, at that point. It wasn't really until my mid-40s that country music really took hold, and while I can't say whether the change was mostly one in me or in the culture, suddenly the stuff was all around me, with bands like Petunia and the Vipers pointing the way, to country swing, to authentic roots music, to some fantastic, moving, and very entertaining songwriting. Adrian Mack helped. Having a girlfriend who doesn't much want to go to punk shows helped. And seeing punks cross over into country music, assuring me that in fact this was respected and approved of stuff, that this was actually cool to listen to, helped. 

And though I have only seen them once, at the Railway, quite some time ago, the Frank Frink 5 helped.  

The following is an interview with Pointed Sticks' vocalist Nick Jones on his country/ crooner side project, the Frank Frink 5, who are going to be doing two of their seasonal shows this weekend, on December 2nd and 3rd, at Lanalou's (I will be missing the show on the 2nd, the actual country show, to see Pere Ubu - see my previous post - but I hope to make the 3rd, the "City Frink" night). Here's an email interview with Nick! 

Allan: Orient me, Nick, if you would - what's the backstory of the Frank Frink 5, once again? How long have you been doing this? 

Nick: The Frank Frink 5 have been playing gigs since 1982, in one format or another.the current lineup is Butch Norland (me), Billy Clyde Frink (Randy Carpenter) Dash Schmidt (Gord Nicholl) Jelly Bean Beaudine (Bob Petterson) Stinking Tim Connors (Jon Card) and Mink Frink (Scott McLeod) .Past members and guests have included just about every scenester from our generation, including Dimwit, Brian Goble, Rockin Ronnie Scott, Stephen Hamm, Ford Pier, Barry Taylor and more. In fact, pretty much every Vancouver drummer named Taylor (and there are a lot of them) has played in the band at one time or another!

"Live on the Mud Bay Delta, probably 1983 or 84???", provided by Nick Jones

Thank you! So ttell me about Country Frink - City Frink. What are the differences going to be between sets/ lineups/ approaches?

Same lineup, but the first night will be country music in the Gram Parsons/ Buck Owens/ Roger Miller/ Johnny Cash mode... the second night will be more eclectic, mostly 60's and early 70's classics ranging from the Standells to Redbone, and everything in between...Lee Michaels, obscure Kinks, Buddy Miles, Mashmakan and so much more .

Did you always like country music and crooners and such or did you ever reject that stuff in your youth? If the former, what were formative influences? If the latter, what was your road back? 

The closest country music came to my radar when I was young was watching the occasional episode of Hee-Haw... but in 1981, after the advent of Hardcore, I turned my back on punk rock as it had become (violent, musically limited, intellectually dogmatic, misogynistic, and exclusionary, particularly to women and girls) and started playing rockabilly with Buddy Selfish. That led to country, and Randy would have been the principal influence in introducing me to Gram Parsons and his many incarnations... it expanded from there.

What kind of music did your parents listen to, anyhow? Did they have any impact on your tastes, positive or negative or...? Are there any songs you got from them that you really, really love? 

My Dad was past president of the Edinburgh Jazz Society, so through him I heard Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sinatra etc etc.... I loved, and still love all of that music. I never thought it was square.

If you were going to name five country artists (or crooners) that most punks would off the cuff turn their nose up at, who you think they should give a chance to, who would they be? (Can be on the basis of songwriting or singing or playing or whatever you like, but maybe let us know why you picked'em!). 

Obviously Johnny Cash, because everyone loves the Man in Black, but Hank Williams, because he was the Chuck Berry of country music, Buck Owens, who invented a new type of tougher, west coast country, Ray Price, because his music swings, daddy-o, and of course, Gram.... the Keith Richards of country, who despite his image being so overwhelming, was a very good songwriter, and an incredibly emotive singer.

Do you have any actual "guilty pleasures?" Bands or albums that you're kind of embarrassed by liking? (It's weird - I actually am quite proud of loving Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads, have even had it on my wall, though I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't get it... but I am kind of embarrassed that I own and have fondness for Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell). Do you ever include a song in a Frink set that you're embarrassed of liking, as a way of fighting back against your own embarrassment? (Does this question even make sense?). 

Well, if you knew the history of the Frinks,we usually tried to play the most embarrassing songs we could find. How about "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo?" Or "Honey?" Or "Tennessee Birdwalk"... I keep a copy of K-Tels' Goofy Greats close at hand at all times! And Gunfighter Ballads is a wonderful record, no need to feel guilty about that! We often do "Big Iron," or "El Paso"...even "Cool Water"... Bat out of Hell??? I guess ABBA might count? That is, if liking pure pop genius can be considered a guilty pleasure.

Are there ever disagreements about songs that are included on a Frank Frink Five setlist? Do people have the power of veto? 

 Yes, I do. Seriously though, we all have a remarkably similar take on what constitutes a good Frinks song. We did however, veto Dimwit wanting to play songs by Budgie...

Are there any "original" Frank Frink Five songs? I actually don't know this. Do they still feature in the set, if they exist? 

 We wrote a stunning Neil Young tribute called "Emma Joe" that we played a couple of years ago. We also play "Thinking of You, Drinking For Two," by Sawhorse, off the second Bud Luxford record. I wrote that. We're also playing a song that Randy and Buck wrote for the Modernettes called "Tears Will Fall". That will be on the country night.There might be more. Memory ain't what it used to be.

This has been a kind of rough year for celebrity deaths. Will there be any special songs added to the set in tribute to anyone who passes? (Prince's "Erotic City" might be fun). 

No special tributes to dead guys by the Frinks. Of course, almost all of the songs we play are by dead guys.

Are there any heroes of yours, country-music-wise or crooner-wise, that you've met and interacted with? (In your "other" career, do you ever do merchandising or such for country singers?). 

 The only country band I ever worked for were the Dixie Chicks, and I went out of my way to avoid interaction with them. As I do with most artists I work for. Its a job.
By the by, the Pointed Sticks have a gig coming up, right? Anything special or unusual about that one? 

Well, its an early show. Doors at 7, the Top Boost, who are a stunning young band from New West will be onstage at 7:45, followed by the talented and sexy Eddy D and his band, then us. We have to be off stage at 10:30 , as I'm told the Fox turns into a pumpkin then. I've noticed that Keithmas is on the same night, which is unfortunate, but the Rickshaw goes until 1, so there is plenty of time to attend our show, and still make the 2 minute cab ride to the Rickshaw to catch La Chinga, Rich Hope and Biff do their Keith impersonations.One great night, two great shows...... as for what surprises the PS show might bring, you'll have to be there to find out. We always have a rabbit or two up our sleeves...

The Frinks at Lanalou's, "a couple of years ago..." photo by Corinne Kuan

Here's the link for the Facebook page for Country Frink - City Frink (Dec. 2nd and 3rd at Lanalou's) and for the Pointed Sticks show at the Fox Dec. 16.... see you at one of them, at least?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thee Oh Sees meet the Ice Cream Truck (a Pere Ubu tickler), plus a Kyle Morton afterthought

NOTE: This article got briefly taken down so the real Pere Ubu feature could be at the top of my blog. This is actually a post from BEFORE I wrote that feature. The Oh Sees gig was last week. Anyhow, I'm putting it back up. 

"Once and for all, there is a great deal I do not want to know" - Friedrich Nietzsche  

Since there isn't much \intelligent discourse around rock music, things that people say about it that are significant and strikingly true tend to stay with you. 

For instance, there is a song called "Ice Cream Truck" that appeared on Pere Ubu's 1989 album Cloudland that I constantly return to in my head, even though I haven't owned that particular album, or heard that particular song, since around the year of its release. Ubu leader David Thomas is a very smart man whose statements (like his observation that properly understood, punk and metal are actually forms of folk music; or his issues with public arts funding when it comes to the making of music; or his opinion that rock and roll is a brotherhood and that women who wish to participate must become honorary men - I'm paraphrasing on all three counts, here) may seem provocative and disagreeable, or else simply and obviously true, depending on your own point of view (for the record, I go along with him on the first but am at best uncertain on the latter two). Without even troubling with the song itself - playful and accessible, from a period where Ubu were beginning to experiment with a more commercial and straightforward sound - there's an element of striking, significant truth to the lyrics that has kept "Ice Cream Truck" with me for something like 27 years. 

Those lyrics go like this:
Here it comes. Here it comes.
Here it comes again.
Here it comes, the ice cream truck.
People flyin' out the doors, runnin up the street.
They really love their music.
Man, it's just my luck.
Baby! Baby! Baby! Come here quick.
The melody's about to make me sick.
Baby! Baby! Baby! Shut that door.
I don't think I can stand anymore. 
There's too much music in the land.
You hear it everywhere.
Everybody's in a band - can't get enough of it.
Brother Jimmy,
Cousin Ray,
Mom and Dad on bass and drums -
someone here's just gotta quit. 
Baby! Baby! Baby! Come here quick.
The melody's about to make me sick.
Baby! Baby! Baby! Shut that door.
I don't think I can stand anymore. 
It's not the sugar.
It's not the sticky sludge.
People wanna eat that stuff I don't hold a grudge.
It's that music - there's too much of it.
I wish someone had the guts to quit. 
Baby! Baby! Baby! Come here quick.
The melody's about to make me sick.
Baby! Baby! Baby! Shut that door.
I don't think I can stand anymore. 
There's too much music in the land.
You hear it everywhere.
Everybody's in a band - they can't get enough of it.
Brother Jimmy,
Cousin Ray,
Mom and Dad on bass and drums -
they just can't help it. 
Baby! Baby! Baby! Come here quick.
The melody's about to make me sick.
Baby! Baby! Baby! Shut that door.
I don't think I can stand anymore.

There are a few reasons why that's a memorable lyric. First off - though I didn't realize it back in 1989 - that's an agreeably clever riff on Blind Gary Davis' "Cocaine Blues" in the chorus ("Hey baby won't you please come quick/This old cocaine's makin' me sick.") It sort of indirectly illustrates Thomas' point that folk music - I'm expanding a little here - is the basis of popular music, including, at least in this case, Pere Ubu itself. Of course, this assumes you go with me that the blues is in fact a form of folk music, but certainly if you go back far enough, it's nearly impossible to tell the difference. It also cleverly likens music to a drug, which I don't think most music addicts would argue with much. 

But the main reason the lyric stays with me, of course, is in fact the point of the song: that there is "too much music" in the land. As I remember it - sitting in my bedroom at my Mom and Dad's apartment, lyric sheet on my lap, pondering the words - I didn't really feel that way in 1989, thought Thomas was just being provocative (and maybe a bit hypocritical, being in a band himself). Too much music? Of course, at that time, my record collection wasn't a fifth of the size of my current collection, and I didn't have an entire universe of popular music accessible via the internet. Too much music? Hell, how can that even begin to be true?

I sure feel that way now, though. It may be that it's a function of age: once you're in your late 30's - as Thomas was in 1989 - as your awareness of what's happening in the world expands and the boundaries you built in your teens and twenties - when I was much more judgmental about what music was cool - start coming down, you start to get overwhelmed by just how MUCH music there is out there. Maybe you even start trying to shut things out - start adopting a self-protective posture to keep you from being overwhelmed. Certainly for the last few years I have been on that page: fellow music geeks (bev davies and David Ames, I'm looking at you in particular) suggest bands to me and I go no, no, I don't want to know, I can't keep up with my own interests, let alone take on new ones. Part of it might be that I'm a music critic deluged with requests for attention. Part of it might be that given my budget and the size of my apartment, I really can't fit many more records or LPs into my life. Hell, since I got rid of my storage locker, I had to sell off a quarter of my music just so the remaining 3/4's can fit into the apartment. I haven't the space, room, time, or need for new music, especially with all these remastered vinyl reissues popping up (see my Tad Doyle piece, a few posts ago).  

But another thing might now be true: maybe there simply is too much music out there at present for anyone to keep abreast of? (A "glut," as my friend David M. calls it). These things are hard to quantify - and I certainly can't speak to 1989 - but apparently, as of 2009, at its peak, there were five million bands on Myspace. Which is only a thin sliver of the amount of popular music out there, because you also have to take into account not only bands that existed off the Myspace grid, but bands that formed since Myspace became a negligible force. AND - here's where it really starts to weigh you down - you also have to take into account all the music recorded before the internet even existed, that never HAD a Myspace presence; this includes stuff that has never been digitally released in any format, but which exists in the form of LPs, tapes, or wax cylinders, but is particularly relevant in the case of digitized music, because thanks to digital technology, all popular music that does exist in a digital form is present or potentially present at all times, available via your computer, competing with current bands for your listening attention.

Which brings us to Thee Oh Sees, playing the Rickshaw this Saturday (not sure if there are tickets left for this gig, but I recommend acting fast, since at least some places say it is sold out). This time, I blame bev davies for my interest - since she wrote me about going, and I felt compelled to at least check them out, which - given the ears-in-fingers posture described above, I hadn't, as yet. And as I usually feel these days when I discover a band that merits my attention, my reaction was, I must confess, something like, "ah, damn it to hell. They're good."

 Thee Oh Sees by bev davies, May 8 2015, Austin: not to be reused without permission

I don't begin to have anything intelligent to say about Thee Oh Sees, however. Like Guided by Voices, they appear to be extremely prolific (also cause for cursing). Their most recent album, An Odd Entrances (linked under the word "good," above) is one of two they released in 2016, offering a sort of trippy psych-garage with an element of the Pixies. I'm playing it now, and it is wholly agreeable - but so were the Black Lips, Spider Bags, and Titus Andronicus, other current bands that I've experimented with taking on in the last couple years, since I reached my threshold for new stuff. But I can see why Bev likes them so much. Indeed, so does Mo Tarmohamed of the Rickshaw, who tells me they "were one of the top 10 bands on my wish list to book" - a wish which he's been lucky enough to fulfill twice, now.

So while I'm not even going to try to do Thee Oh Sees justice, I think I'm going to check out the show tomorrow. It takes a pretty remarkable band to get past my "I don't want to know about it" barricades these days, but I can't resist, when I hear a band that just might manage the trick; I gotta at least give them a chance.  

On the topic, meanwhile, of Pere Ubu, they're another band on Mo's wishlist, though they're going to be playing the Cobalt on their next trip to Vancouver, not the Rickshaw, on Dec. 2nd. They're presently on the Coed Jail! tour, playing only material from their earliest years (1975 to 1982). It's a smart, crowd-pleasing gesture, because that is some classic stuff - presumably including their take on the original version, by proto-Ubu band Rocket From the Tombs, of "Sonic Reducer," as well as classics like "Final Solution," "Heart of Darkness," "Non-Alignment Pact," and "Street Waves." Mo writes that he remembers "being mesmerized by Dave Thomas stage presence / antics at the Commodore when I saw Pere Ubu open for the Pixies in 1991." We're assuming he'll be in the audience at the Cobalt on the 2nd, licking his wounds that the gig isn't happening down the street and around the corner.

That is really all I have to say - Thee Oh Sees sound really good, but I don't know if I have room for them in my life, because of - see "Ice Cream Truck." But while I have your attention, here are a couple of other photos, of Thee Oh Sees audience at that Austin gig, also by bev davies. The first one is one of my favourites of her photos that I've seen lately, capturing the almost entire spectrum of possible audience reactions to a live concert in one photo:

The only thing missing from the above is a stage dive, so she also includes this:

Thee Oh Sees audience, Austin Texas, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

But finally, when it comes to the Rickshaw, Mo asked me to give a plug to Midge Ure - best known as a member of Ultravox, but also Thin Lizzy (!) and others - who plays the Rickshaw January 5th. and finally, plugwise, he also thought it worth mentioning that Kyle Morton of Typhoon is coming on January 9th. Morton is apparently a Lyme disease sufferer, touring his solo album What Will Destroy You. He says of that album in the press release:

"Most of these songs were written in about a day, many of them while walking aimlessly around Portland, others wrote themselves in the moments just before sleep. They were recorded and mixed with the invaluable help of Paul Laxer from the inviolate comfort of his living room, mostly in the evenings during the winter and early spring of 2015. At the outset there was no deliberate attempt at an overarching concept, though once finished and lined up together the theme of my subconscious was revealed to me: this was a record about love, more specifically (not devolving into platitudes just yet), the ambivalence of erotic love."
Needless to say, that's all wayyyy too much for me to take in, but Thee Oh Sees - maybe. And Pere Ubu? Definitely.

Upcoming: a Pere Ubu interview. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Unprecedented, Un-Subsequented Music of Pere Ubu: interviews with David Thomas and Robert Wheeler

"I believe that long after rock and roll has run its course, Pere Ubu’s uncompromising and panoramic vision of it being not only capable of, but well-suited to, complex and original expression, will be recognized as one of the most vibrantly conceived and uniquely executed in the form’s history."
- from "Elitism For The People: In Praise Of Pere Ubu" by Entrippy!

Pere Ubu by bev davies, Biltmore Cabaret, 2013, not to be reused without permission

I kind of hate top ten lists. As they exist on the internet, these days, they're often lazily assembled by people who know less than you, either to confirm your tastes and suck up to you ("my favourite ___ made the list!") or to challenge you to quibble. You play the game anyhow - you click, you read, and feel either validated or scandalized; but the number of times you learn something that is useful and interesting is pretty small, and most often you go away unimpressed.

But the challenge of assembling top ten lists is another matter. So who would you call the top ten most creative/ unique/ original rock bands of the 20th century?

I am only sure about a few of them: bands whose approach is so unique, so game-changing, so without parallel or equal that they get a space without argument. Let me start with two of the bands that wouldn't make the cut, first off, so you see where I'm going with this: the Cramps and the Gun Club. When I interviewed Kid Congo Powers earlier this year, he argued for the uniqueness of both bands, because "there was not really a psychedelic rockabilly band before the Cramps, and there wasn’t really a punk blues band before the Gun Club." (He was a member of both bands, of course - incidentally, having first really gotten to know Jeffrey Lee Pierce at, yes, a Pere Ubu concert). I agree with him on both counts, but it's still not enough to make me include them on this list, because given the environment from which they emerged, eventually, there WOULD have been a psychedelic rockabilly band without the Cramps, and there WOULD have been a punk blues band without the Gun Club. Maybe they wouldn't have been as good, but the combination of elements in either band's music, great as it may be, just screams inevitability to me. You've got the fries, you've got the ketchup, you've got the rum and the Coca-cola: and sooner or later, someone is going to put them together. They might deserve credit for doing the inevitable BEFORE anyone else, or doing it better, but overall, bands that rooted in the music that had gone before them would need to do something very, very unusual with those influences to make a list like this - which points to another problem: how can you describe a band as the most creative/ unique/ original anything when you can more-or-less encapsulate what they do with two words? (And no, Ubu cognoscienti, "avant garage" doesn't really apply here, since it barely gives you any idea what Pere Ubu might sound like if you don't already know, whereas "punk blues" and "psychedelic rockabilly" give a pretty strong image).

Don't get me wrong: I love the Cramps, especially. They might appear on some OTHER list of mine - maybe even "top ten all-time favourite bands." But on a list of "the most creative/ unique/ original rock bands of the 20th century?" Hardly.

Here are some bands I know I would put on the list. The Residents, for sure. Nothing else has ever quite sounded like them or approached music in quite the same way; while there are other bands that are weirder (Nihilist Spasm Band? Smegma? The Haters?), they weren't really making rock music, which the Residents clearly are, at least for the most part. And while they did have their influences - especially if you look at some of that very early footage that crept out awhile back, where they're carrying on like theatrical, costumed, Beefheart-inspired hippie freaks - nothing that came before them would prepare you for what they became, once they actually started releasing albums; a lot of what you hear in their music comes not from some apparent outward influence but from some space INSIDE the band and its members, some interior cauldron of weirdness where precedents are either meaningless or impossible to track down. The immensity and singularity of their accomplishment is only reinforced by how prolific they are and the fact they are still around.

Pretty sure, also, that Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention would deserve to be on the list for their theatricality, independence, their fusion of jazz and classical music into rock, and Zappa's sense of satire and emphasis on virtuoso musicianship. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, too. True, Beefheart owes plenty to bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf in what he does, especially early on, except nothing about combining surrealism and free jazz with Howlin' Wolf seems like an inevitable combination of pre-existing elements. If Beefheart hadn't made the music he made, I'm not sure anyone else would have, could have, or would have even wanted to, had it occurred to them. And there's an aggressive insistence on the primacy of the artist, even a sort of quasi-cultish, you-get-it-or-you-don't authoritarianism that seems to come not from anything that had gone before in rock, but from the mind and soul of the man himself (though Zappa and he reinforced it in each other for a time, it seems).

That's three artists/ bands I'm pretty confident belong. But it gets murky after that. For the all the Velvet Underground's importance - even to Pere Ubu, who have acknowledged them as an influence and would probably have opinions on my not immediately mentioing them - there are pretty discernible forebears, including avant garde minimalism, a pinch of Bob Dylan (on that first album, anyhow) and more than a pinch of NY beatnik performance poetry: just listen to "Venus in Furs" and imagine Lou Reed in a beret and turtleneck (items of clothing I am  not sure he ever wore, but boy it is an easy thing to visualize). And it's not easy to separate them out from everything else that was bubbling up in the cauldron of New York City at that time, in the same way that the richness of swingin' London makes me pause before asserting Pink Floyd. They might belong on the list, I don't know - I am not arguing that they don't, and, like I say, the list is unfinished - but for one reason or another, I feel reluctant to include them at the outset.

Ditto the Ramones: influential, sure, but - sorry! - it's hard for me to tap any band as the most creative of anything when their songs all sound so similar to each other. And even if those songs don't sound much like anything ELSE that had existed previously, the fact that there are so many bands that SUBSEQUENTLY came to sound like them - and that COULD sound like them, if they wanted - makes it very hard to want to include them here.

Call me a heretic if you must, but in fact, there is only one other band I would confidently, definitely include on this list (without a lot more thought or discussion, that is): that being Pere Ubu.

Pere Ubu 2016, by Kathy Thompson, not to be reused without permission. Left to right: Steve Mehlman, Robert Wheeler, Gary Siperko, David Thomas and Michele Temple.

There's nothing inevitable going on with Pere Ubu's music at all. Whatever else was happening in Cleveland in 1975 - and it does sound like there was quite a bit! - and whatever non-musical influences they've described, like the strange beauty of the industrial landscape around them or the avant-garde theatrical provocations of Alfred Jarry - there is an immense creativity to this band's music that really has no equal. Listen to 1975's "Heart of Darkness," the B-side of the single, "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" that started it all, Compare it to anything else that had gone before. Sure, there are recognizable elements: youthful angst and introspective alienation, a garage-band directness, a propulsive beat...  but what about Thomas' downplayed, half-muttered, doubled vocal, the stripped-down emphasis on the bass, the strange skronkiness of the guitar? You can see the influence in bands that came after (Mission of Burma, who have covered the song, and Sonic Youth, especially); and the noisiness of it obviously owes something to the Velvet Underground. But there was still nothing much like it in 1975. And the band would evolve quite a bit further, over the next few years, into something even more unique. By 1978, with Dub Housing - which I believe was voted Pere Ubu's greatest album, by fans - they're making music that sounds like nothing anyone has ever done or would do, that stands totally alone in contemporary pop.
Take "On the Surface" as an example (it's actually my ringtone, so I can't listen to it without compulsively wanting to answer the phone). The catchy little keyboard signature that starts it off seems like a harmless and friendly pop gesture, almost like something you could find on Pet Sounds. The bassline bubbling up under it is a bit weirder, but definitely hooky and unthreatening (and about as "dub" as Dub Housing gets). But fifteen seconds in, once David Thomas' fluttery vocals kick in - two voices, blissfully muttering and humming at each other like preoccupied co-workers in a Fleischer brothers cartoon, melancholic but not totally unhappy in their labours - you're in completely uncharted territory; pop music had never sounded quite like this before, and - this is essential - it has never sounded like this from any other band, ever, since. Not only is it without precedent, it is without subsequent. There's nothing quite else like this anywhere, and once Pere Ubu stops, there's probably never going to be anything quite like it again.

This early material - spanning a handful of singles, and including their first five LPs (The Modern Dance, Dub Housing, New Picnic Time, The Art of Walking and Song of the Bailing Man) are all relevant to the Coed Jail! tour the band is presently on, entering the West Coast end of it. I have no arguments further for catching them when they play the Cobalt on December 2nd (or, for those reading this outside Vancouver, on one of their other West Coast dates, listed at the bottom of the page): the main one is that this is one of the most creative and original bands in rock history, which surely must mean something to you. Even if you don't get it YET - and I know people who became huge Ubu fans who were completely non-plussed at first blush, who were made flat-out uncomfortable the first time they were exposed - you should seize the opportunity, because you may never have a chance to see them again. You CAN'T see Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart (or the Velvets or the Ramones or Syd-era Pink Floyd). And if you're a music geek on the West Coast you probably ALREADY have seen the Residents, who have been pretty active touring lately. But Pere Ubu doesn't tour North America that often, and when they do, they don't always get out west. They're not getting younger - this is a band that has been playing for over 40 years, with frontman Thomas now 63. (His retirement seems unlikely, but who knows?). Don't let your future self regret the chance you had, that you didn't act on: this is an opportunity not to be missed.

People who have yet to be convinced are further directed to Entrippy!'s article, quoted at the top of this piece, and endorsed on the Ubu homepage ("if you really want to understand what Pere Ubu does, read this," the band writes; how proud Entrippy! must be). That article places them in the light of the work of another great original artist, Bob Dylan (who I would definitely have included on my list, except I don't really think of Dylan as making rock music). You might also want to look at my Big Takeover interview with David Thomas, from 2013, or the Pere Ubu website, which has a wealth of information.

Two interviews follow: first, a brief email interview with Pere Ubu's sole original member, David Thomas, who was quite candid in saying that he doesn't really care for interviews ("I think about what I do. I don't have to talk about it also.") I decided to let him off the hook for the remainder, and shifted instead to talking with Pere Ubu's current sythesizer/ Theremin man, Robert Wheeler, who has only been in Pere Ubu since 1994, but who has been on the Cleveland scene from the outset, and a witness to some of their earliest performances.  Both of these interviews took place a few years ago, in fact - and have been sitting waiting for the moment to use them; but they are still relevant now, and in the case of Mr. Wheeler's section, it was updated by him last week...

Robert Wheeler (foreground) and David Thomas (background) at the BBC, photo by Kiersty Boon, not to be reused without permission

David Thomas interview 

Allan: Do you dislike discussing the meanings of songs? I remember you writing somewhere that lyrics should not be printed, is that part of the same thing or different?

David: Yes, if the 'meaning' of a song can be condensed into a few sentences then what is the point of making a song? As for printing lyrics, it's a different issue (though possibly related), rock music is not poetry bolted onto naive folk art. I covered this a little in 'Book of Hieroglyphs.' Rock words and music are not separable. Printing lyrics, though sometimes desirable, serves to validate the schism. I went through a long process trying to make it work. It is very clear from my solo work of the 80s that every unintelligible utterance vocally is intentional and functional. When I am comping vocals in the studio I go thru and add or delete ruthlessly. Nothing is there by neglect (mostly). If you actually work to understand every syllable coming out of my mouth on many of those recordings you can see that I am introducing a running commentary of doubt or an Intrusive POV into the 'meaning' of the words/music partnership. If you sat down with me and listened to one of those songs I could explain to you exactly what that third "unh" in the 4th line was doing. Over the course of one line of vocal delivery there can be an entire journey that swings wildly from one POV to the other. If I could actually write out all the 'lyrics' so that you could follow then this might be clearer to the listener. Unfortunately, what you would get is a long sheet of partial words, untranslatable utterances and syllables. I tried it. It didn't work. And eventually I revised my vocal approach to get this under control and move off in another direction. I have gone thru a number of vocal reinventions over the course of my career because I get comfortable and I don't like the feeling of 'getting comfortable.' I like what I was doing with this method but in the end the idea is communication and I wanted to look at other methods that might work better or differently.

I would love to hear some stories about how certain songs were written, where they came from, how you assembled them...specifically, would like to know how you wrote "Sonic Reducer" with Cheetah Chrome, to start with?

I don't do anecdotes and often the process is so convoluted, or so straight-forward, that I forget. For example, there is an entire series of songs inspired by nothing more than looking out the window as I was driving along the Yellow River out in Montana or somewhere and saw the sun flashing thru the leaves of trees along the river bank. Not a single one of those songs mentions or alludes to that scenario. As for 'Sonic Reducer' I don't remember much. I came up with the lyrics probably because 'sonic reduction' was so evocative that I figured I should do more with it. I came up with the words first, as I remember, which is a very rare way for me to work. Cheetah had some music and we put them together or something. Ask him.

How did the RFTT and Ubu versions of "Final Solution" materialize? It seems the most "reworked" song in the transition from band to band... Do you have a preference between them? Was it odd dusting off the RFTT version?

That's the way different musicians interpreted it.

David Thomas with Pere Ubu, onstage in Vancouver, 1980, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

You joked onstage about how people take you for a "grumpy weirdo," but in fact you seem to have gotten a lot chattier with the audience over the years. I don't remember a whole lot of banter when I saw you in Vancouver in 1988, except for joking that people who cover "Final Solution" often sing it so the words can be understood, which you regarded as a mistake. But you were very warm and talkative during the recent Vancouver show... has your approach to performance changed over the years? What's driving it?

I evolve what I do. I've got places to be, things to do. Members of the audience see me in snapshots spread over decades. I see myself in a continuum, in a stream. The water is flowing, the current eddies and swirls. Sometimes I swim, sometimes I drift.

Is your stage patter worked out in advance, or totally spontaneous, or does it evolve from show to show? In Vancouver you started with a rap about ghost towns, then moved largely to joking about performing for "the ladies" in the audience... if I had seen the Ubu shows before and after the Vancouver gig, would I have seen a progression in these themes?

It evolves from show to show. This year I have had 3 basic stage 'stories'. There are certain routines I like and will repeat. Others I do a few times and drop. Depends on what the focus of the particular show/tour is. The stories are there for a reason. Often the same story can be applied to different purposes. I don't joke. Humor is a tool. I use it in a Skinnerian way. I manipulate an audience. I toy with them and exploit them to achieve an end. Very rarely do I say something without purpose. Even when it seems I'm babbling or getting off-track or stumbling, I very rarely am. 95% of it is ruthlessly designed either in the moment or in context. Some times I simply figure I should appear to be rambling so that's what I manufacture. There's no point to asking me why. Often right before a show I will come up with a plan or at least a starting point for that evening. Sometimes this involves telling the band I/we will be doing something in a particular way. Sometimes I head off in a direction knowing the band will pick it up. They tend to be sensitive to nuances.

Robert Wheeler by Alex Horn, not to be reused without permission

Robert Wheeler interview

Allan: You're just a few years younger than David, right? So did you get to experience a "before punk came to Cleveland and after," or was there already a fertile scene happening there when you started going to gigs and listening to music? Any insights into the genesis of that scene?

Robert: There was a strict 18 yr old+ bar policy. I was not old enough to get into clubs, tho' I did go see lots of rock shows, like Hawkwind, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople. Cleveland was where David Bowie and Roxy Music broke (and bands like Rush also, tho' I was more into English bands). Interesting note: my mom said, I’ve been hearing this guy David Bowie on the radio, are you going? Me: no.

It was his first North American show. I have no insights.

What are your memories of early gigs? What bands did you see? Was there a feeling of something new and exciting happening, or…?

The first shows I saw were at Pirates Cove in the flats. Pere Ubu, Peter Laughner’s Friction, Chi -Pig [no relation to SNFU], Styrene Money Jazz Band were the first local bands I saw. For me it was new and exciting.

When did you first meet David, and what did you make of him? Any stories to share…?

I remember David from when I was in first grade; he was probably in 6th grade.  I was in school with his little brother Allen from kindergarden to high school. I could almost see their house from our apartment, just across Cedar Road and up a few houses on the right. David was a big guy (to a first grader). That made him imposing. I went to Allen's house a few times, I don’t remember David there.

David has written about - I can't quote - the unusual, vibrant, and not at all negative experience of growing up in the industrial landscape of Cleveland, suggesting it was an inspiration... did you feel that way, too? What was your relation to the landscape, and did it shape your reaction to the music...?

When I was 2 to 5 years old, my mom would take me driving down through the flats, I remember the winding, twisting roads that run along the Cuyahoga, the big trucks, the smelting plants, the steel factories, the huge bridges that would lift to let the ore boats through. We would go exploring - abandoned factories and desolation of places below the view of the city at the top of the hill. Smells and clouds of smoke, banging of the heavy machinery plants. My parents both worked in Cleveland, and on weekends we would go to the family farm in Milan. Ohio. I was blessed to have grown up in the city and the country. My heart was in the country.  

Hideo's Discodrome is a helluva cool name for a record shop. Were there Japanese involved in the running of it? What was the history of the store, how vital was it to local musicians, and how unusual was it in Cleveland?

Hideo’s Discodrome was John Thompson’s record store, the 1st incarnation was around the corner from where I lived. It would move 2 times. Eventually the name just became DROME! No Japanese involved. For me, it was vital. My old record store was Record Revolution on Coventry, great for its time, but seemed too ‘hippy’ Drome had a different buzz about it. David worked there. Peter Laughner worked there. For me, it felt like a record store for those who didn’t fit.

If it wasn't by Ubu, what was, by the way, the first single or record that you think of now as punk that you acquired? The first gig you think of now as punk that you saw? Was the word part of the discourse in the early scene in Cleveland? When the world finally started talking about punk - did it feel like old news to those of you in that scene?

My memory may be shot, but I think "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" was the first ‘punk’ record. By punk, I mean someone who put out their own record. Other than that Ubu has nothing to do with punk. Malcom McLaren created punk we know to sell clothes, it was a marketing tool. "30 Seconds" was by people who wanted to make their own music - very little in common with each other, except they happen about the same time and neither sounds anything like Boston...   this is before Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, Ramones, Damned, and way before Sex Pistols.

It says you saw the band play "their first night at Pirates Cove" in your bio. Probably my fault - I haven't researched deeply - but I'm not entirely clear: does that mean their first gig, or their first gig at that club? What do you remember of it? Tell me everything you can recall, all impressions, reactions, observations (if your memory is like mine these will be few and strange - it's odd what the brain files, eh?).

Not their first gig, but the first of 2+ years at Pirates Cove on a weekly basis. Pirates Cove (the flats in general) was kind of a scary place at first for me - dark abandoned streets. not many street lights. Seemed to be about 30 of us (though I’m sure there were more) at first. and it always seemed cold in the winter, like "wear gloves" cold. I remember Cheetah Chrome dropping his pants and mooning people... the cute girl who I later found out was Chrissy Hynde (once she moved away and became famous)...  Chris Yarmock (later of Easter Monkeys) became my first friend of that music scene.

Were you listening to/ aware of electronic music before you saw Ubu? What?

I don’t know if Hawkwind and early Roxy Music count, but I had most Hawkwind and all Roxy. All Kraftwerk. Heldon from France. Cage and Terry Riley. Nonesuch sampler. I don’t count Switched on Bach.

How would *you* describe (original Pere Ubu synth player) Allen Ravenstine's innovations with electronica? What was hearing him like?

Great seeing someone play live electronics, and play it in a way that very few did. Most synth players are keyboard players that play a machine that plays notes and sounds like strings or woodwinds or try to emulate other sounds. Allen and early Eno play electronics like they have their own voice. Much more exciting.

It sounds from your bio that you bought your first synth in emulation of  Allen. Did you ever interact with him? How did you learn your instrument? What's this about "electronic school?”

As I used to see them every week it was a natural to ask him what type of synth to buy. I had it down to Buchla or EML. He said EML. How do you learn an instrument when you don’t have a manual? You sit down and play. and experiment. and patch and explore. and try everything.

When I turned 21, I had no skills, nothing marketable. When I went to Pi Corp to try synths and buy the EML, I was fascinated by the smell of warm resistors and solder and feel his shop had. I asked how he (David Yost) learned how to do this, he said he took electronics. A friend of my father's said you should always know a skill to do with your hands. Being good in math and science, and [because] it looked like we were on the cusp of an electronic revolution, I chose electronics. I have an Associates Degree.

If I recall, there's early Home and Garden stuff out there to be heard, on the bonus disc from the old Ubu box, but what about your other early projects? (Savage Tractors - are there recorded examples of that? Are any still in print? What did you sound like? Ditto Dr. Bloodmoney...?)

I have cassette tapes of Savage Tractors. We never thought we were ‘good enough’ to go into a studio, though a number of people said we should. We did 2 covers off of "Spiral Scratch" (1st Buzzcocks 45),  a Joy Division cover off a Factory Records sampler - but we played it at the wrong speed. it was a 33, we though it was better at 45, that’s the version we learned: fast.

(Ubu / RFTT drummer Steve Mehlman by bev davies, not to be reused without permission)

Was science fiction a big influence on any of you back then? There's something very SF about some of that early Cleveland music, and obviously, Dr. Bloodmoney is named after one of Philip K. Dick's novels.... Incidentally, that was my introductory comment to David Thomas when I met him briefly after the RFTT gig in Vancouver awhile back - that he looks like Philip K. Dick when he has a beard. (Just a little). He didn't really react.

I read tons of science fiction. so I assume it must be an influence, as Ray Harryhausen movies would be.

Why/ how did you keep joining bands that Tony Maimone left? Just a coincidence, or…?

I was asked. Tony was a great supporter of people and projects. Tony introduced me to Linda who would become my wife.

Robert Wheeler onstage at the Biltmore, 2013 by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Did you grow up aware that you were related to Edison? Did this shape your interest in electronic music, or in invention, or... in any relevant way?

Was I aware? Yes, as a 2nd grader. Did I know what that meant? No. What impact he had on me: not a clue. I don’t think it shaped me in that way.

How does one make a homemade Theremin? It sounds like you knew how to make one long before you knew how to play it. Incidentally, can you play "America the Beautiful" on it now? Will you be playing it - the Theremin, not "America the Beautiful" - onstage with Ubu?

You start with a schematic and a sheet of copper. Use black tape and mask off, on clear plastic, what you want the circuit to look like. Spray the copper board with a photo-resist, shine a bright light on the plastic that is now taped to the copper board. Acid bath to remove unwanted copper. Get a small drill and drill holes; insert parts; solder, tweak, adjust, tweak, adjust. I had not seen anyone play a Theremin, I didn’t know how the antennas were to be tuned. I assumed you would not want it making noise all of the time, only when you got close (not the way it was designed).  So mine originally got louder as you got closer to the antenna. I have never attempted to play "America the Beautiful" since. I will have a Theremin with me.

Where do you turn for inspiration re: the Theremin?

Jack Daniels. (Not really, I just like to tell people the more you drink, the easier it is to play) I don’t follow any Theremin player. I get inspired by beautiful music, art or nature.

 (By the way: a very, very cool Theremin player is on the Vancouver scene, namely George McDonald, of the Melodic Energy Commission, a band whose early claim to fame is that they included an early member of Hawkwind. I would be happy to pick up some CDs of their music for you and swap them for yours at the gig.)

Ok. (We eventually swapped).

How did you end up in Ubu, and how did that feel? 

This was the 3rd time I had been approached by Scott Krauss. I didn’t have the confidence in myself and I had full time work and a small baby at home. My wife Linda said, this is the 3rd time they’ve asked, it’s your favorite band and they won’t keep asking. You better accept.

They had just come off their "digression" into making pop music for Fontana and such, right?  I confess that I kind of tuned out during that period. Had you been following them throughout? What was the mood of the band like at that time? Ray Gun Suitcase seems like a bit of a back to roots kind of album...

Of course I followed what they were doing. my bandmates from Home and Garden were in the band (Scott Krauss and Jim Jones and Michele Temple). And it had been my favorite band. Right when I joined, Scott quit Ubu. I thought the mood was good, at least mine was. With Jim and Michele in the studio, we were ‘jamming’ and it was just like playing with Home and Garden - David started the recorder and we got the song ‘Horse’. Played it once, and never again. I assume it’s back to roots, because Ubu had an analog synth again...  back to the beeps…

Michele Temple by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

What are your favourite recordings with Ubu - the ones where you're particularly proud of your contribution? Can you pick one and walk us through what you're doing? (I, by the way, am NOT a gear geek and have no real clue how you make the sounds you do).

I really like "Vacuum Cleaner" (AKA "Vacuum in My Head") from Ray Gun Suitcase: the little squggles. the Indian finger cymbal samples.

Robert Wheeler and Allen Ravenstine, photo provided by Robert Wheeler

Do you have favourite songs to play from BEFORE your time in the band? Why? Did you go back and try to learn what Allen was doing so you could duplicate it, or did you just come up with your own solutions/ approaches?

I used to say I loved being in Ubu because I got to hear Tom Herman's "My Dark Ages" guitar every night, and I had the best seat in the house, 5 feet from him. Honestly, that guitar makes my heart soar like an angel on gossamer wings and then that angel cries tears of blood. Tony’s bass line. it’s all too much. I go for the feel Allen had, I don’t try to duplicate it. On that song it’s the constant relentless THUMP like Chinese water torture and the uneasy wobble on the chorus. On virtually every song he played on, I don’t try to mimic. I can’t. I’m not that good.

When did you first meet Allen? What was that like? What are your recordings with him like? I haven't seen I Dream of Wires yet [electronic music documentary that united Robert and Allen and lead to two solo albums worth of electronica].

I first met Allen at the early Ubu shows. I remember the band standing at the door as we left, saying ‘thank you for coming, and drive safely’ (probably more Tony, Scott and Tom than Allen and David… but that’s fuzzy.

What are our recordings like? No rhythm,  no notes, no melody - does that help?

Any favourite tour stories with Ubu? Do *you* have pastimes on the the road? What is the mood like in the (music-free, comfort-free van?).

The tour van is pretty quiet, usually silent. People have headphones or books, or look wistfully out the window, wishing they were home. Or that they lived in the little town in Italy we just passed through. Driving through snowstorms in Wyoming when they are about to close I-80 and you can not see the highway was memorable. not in a good way.

Funny, I think of the things that were miserable. Unable to fly home in time for Christmas because we can not fly out of the Paris airport for 3 days. (I did make it home about 8PM on Christmas Eve). No favorite happy stories coming to mind...

What's working with David like? Any insights into his personality as "bandleader?" What is the concept of leadership like in Ubu? (How collectively are decisions made?).

David is a hard driving, super sharp leader. During recording or on tour. It’s a real treat to work with the other members, we are a machine. No one needs to be told what to do, we all know our jobs when we arrive at a venue. All venues and audiences are different, but we are the same, we give 100%.

Pere Ubu West Coast tour dates 2016:

12/10/16 Casbah, San Diego, CA

For Pere Ubu touring information go here.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Of Jeffrey Lewis: an interview, also involving Peter Stampfel, and the Holy Modal Rounders, and the Fugs, and Harry Smith, and Leonard Cohen, and the whole goddamn history of punk rock and popular music as we know it

Jeffrey Lewis played Vancouver last night. Those of you who didn't cram into the Toast Collective to catch the gig are going to have to wait a bit before he's next in town. What follows is a slightly rewritten version of the interview previously posted here, for people in other towns. Nothing has been added (except a photo of Jeffrey with Chris Towers of the New Creation - see below). Tour dates for Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts are here

Before we get to the interview, though, we need to delve a bit into the context, to make sure we're all on the same page, because the story begins, as more stories should, with Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders and the Fugs. Peter is second from the right, below:

Is the significance of any of that unclear? No sweat, but stop there, and listen to this (Peter on backup vocal and fiddle, that's Steve Weber, the other original Rounder, on the lead). Then listen to this (Peter on background vocal). And no, the Holy Modal Rounders did not perform "Don't Bogart that Joint," on the Easy Rider soundtrack - it's a strangely common misconception. They did "Bird Song" over this scene. (Hi, Antonia!). And for a video of recent Peter, hey, it looks like he did that cover of "Shombalor" he told me he was going to do! (More on that in a second).

To really the appreciate the significance of Peter Stampfel, the Holy Modal Rounders, and the Fugs, you kinda need to go the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, recently mentioned in my piece on Willie Thrasher. It's kind of another story, except without the Smith anthology, there would have been no New York folk scene in the 1960's, or at least not as we know it - no Dylan, no Ochs, no Holy Modal Rounders or Fugs. And though I like to think Dave van Ronk would have happened anyhow, I'm probably wrong. There might also have been no late-phase revival of blues musicians like Mississippi John Hurt or Son House or Skip James or such, or at least not in the momentous form that revival took, which was directly influenced by Smith and his anthology. Without it, contemporary folk music would be very very different from what it is now, as would, it follows, contemporary punk music - because I'm with David Thomas of Pere Ubu (playing Dec. 2 at the Cobalt) that punk and metal are properly understood as varieties of folk music. So popular music of all sorts would simply not be the same without the anthology: Smith DID tune the monochord of the universe with that release, just like he put on the album cover (above), and his gesture had an immeasurable impact on popular music (which is why I disagree profoundly with David M's assertions that Alan Lomax was more important, but that is another story, too).

Harry Smith

So everyone who loves popular American music of almost any stripe owes a profound debt to Harry Smith, and has a connection to that anthology, whether they realize it or not. But the lineage, in the case of the Holy Modal Rounders and the Fugs, is more than usually direct, because Harry Smith produced that first Fugs album, back when Peter was in the band.

So when I spoke to him - what was this, in 2007? - I had to ask Mr. Stampfel about meeting Harry Smith, what he thought, what he felt, what happened. And this is how he responded, talking first about how he felt about Smith BEFORE he met him:

Peter: I revered the man. I thought that Harry Smith was absolutely one of the great geniuses of the 20th century. Hearing the Anthology and looking at that booklet, with the grand monochord of the fucking universe on it, y’know? - I mean, the guy really called to me, like, amazingly. And then when I finally met him in ’64 or ’65, it was like - “Who’s that creeped out guy dressed like a bum with dishevelled hair who is, like, drunk and obnoxious?” I was expecting this Godlike figure. But, y’know, appearances, and blah-blah...  
Allan: How did you actually first meet him? 
Peter: He produced the first Fugs album. 
Allan: Yeah, I know, but... Ed Sanders talks about him about being a regular at the Peace Eye Bookstore, before that album came out. So what was the first occasion, for you?  
Peter: I don’t remember. I’m not sure whether it was ’64 or ’65, but I remember that there were a bunch of people somewhere on the Lower East Side, I don’t remember where,  and (adopts a voice): “Do you know that that’s Harry Smith over there?” “You mean him? Oh my God.” That’s all I remember.  
Allan: Did you stay in touch, did you become friendly?  
Peter: Not really. In retrospect, I wish I had.  Besides my disillusionment, and the fact that he was kind of usually like (clears throat) drunk and loud... People would be worried about his collection of films and stuff like that, because he was careless with his smoking, so this one guy offered to take all his stuff and store it in this nice safe place, and a week later, it burned down. He was kind of like that - there’s a cartoon strip called Li’l Abner, and there’s a character called Joe Btfsplk, who always has a storm cloud above his head, and wherever he would go, catastrophe ensued, and Harry Smith was a bit like that. Although miracles ensued as well.

Allan: Were you interested in the occult when you met him? In the Indian War Whoop liner notes, you say you’re interested in magic, but I don’t know if you were interested in ritual magic or Cabalism in the way Smith was. 
 Peter: I was interested on a much more superficial level. Me and Antonia went to the House of Candles and Talismans, which was a botanic in the Lower East Side - 
Allan (confused): The House of What? Peter: Candles and Talismans.  
Allan: Oh, sorry. I thought you said Cannibal Talismans. 
 Peter/Allan: (laughter).  
Allan: Sorry. 
Peter: No, that’s all right. And we would burn candles for various purposes, like, getting more amphetamine was one of the things we tried to do. So we’re out of speed, there’s no speed around, so we burn a “get some speed” candle, and then, like, a day later, there’s still no speed available. I went over to the candle, and not only had the flame gone out, but two flies had died in it and were encased in wax. I’m like, “The answer is no.” It was weird the way the magic seemed to interact.
Anyhow, before we get too far afield, when I was having that conversation, almost ten years ago, I had never heard of Jeffrey Lewis. I was interviewing Peter for Bixobal. And he had just seen Jeffrey in Berlin, and gave him a rave review:
Peter: Besides writing songs, he’s a brilliant cartoonist, and he does a whole bunch of songs that have full-page cartoons, and he’ll sing the songs while turning the pages. Some are funny, some are just whacked, and he has a four-part history of Communism set to music. 
 Allan: In cartoon form?  
Peter: Yeah, in musical and cartoon form. He’s amazing. He’s in his 20’s, and he’s always travelling around Europe - where he’s gotten an audience - and he talked to the Berlin people about having me come over there representing the New York folkie 60’s deal. And I met Ed Ward there, who wrote the liner notes for the reissue of the first two albums on double vinyl, so he’s been an old friend, and I knew that he’d moved there fourteen years ago. I looked him up. And he said, “I’m going to play this amazing thing. You won’t believe it.” He puts it on. It sounds like a Jamaican name, and it sounds sort of lot like doo wop/ early reggae, plus weird rhythm and blues shit, and I said, “That’s like Jamaica 1960, but it doesn’t sound like early ska, and it should...” And it’s a Brooklyn group, and it was released in 1958! (This being "Shombalor," above, written by Chinese-Trinidadian record exec and surf master Aki Aleong and recorded by Sheriff and the Ravels. And later, the Cramps). 
[Anyhow - we're skipping ahead here so just imagine Peter says "Anyhow" - ] I met Lewis at [the Fugs'] Ed Sanders’ birthday party, and there’s two kids onstage, and one of them says, “We’re going to do a history of punk rock on the Lower East Side which is a history of punk rock, 1959 to 1975,” and I thought (skeptically), “Yeah, kid - yeah, right. This is gonna be good.” And he proceeded to do this twelve minute thing starting with Harry Smith, going to the Holy Modal Rounders, and then the Fugs, and basically namechecking every single punkish influence, and then in 1975 the Ramones get to England and people believe that punk rock is invented. And he would sing a little snippet of every single group he was going through, and he nailed it! I mean, he did a brilliant job of exposition - he remembers things that I’d forgotten, you know? And I went up to the guy - “Man, that was fucking great - you nailed it!” And subsequently he asked me to record on an album behind him called City and Eastern Music, that Kramer recorded.  
Allan: Called what?  
Peter: City and Eastern Music - as opposed to country and western!

Peter Stampfel has gone on to record with Jeffrey Lewis.

Stampfel's wholehearted recommendation was enough to make me interested, but shortly after that conversation, I learned that Jeffrey Lewis had done an album of folk (or anti-folk) rearrangements of Crass songs. I've been a fan since, seen him once, interviewed him years ago for The Skinny. He has tons of fun songs of his own, too, neverminding history lessons and homages and covers, like "The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song," which figures below, as does his low-budget public service announcement in support of Hillary Clinton - because, as you see, he is also a comics artist. But I'll let you explore more of that stuff at your leisure, there is lots to see and hear (but do include "The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane").

Like I say, Jeffrey Lewis will be playing the Toast Collective on Kingsway on Monday. He has also, as I mention below, gone out of his way to record and do things with both Tuli Kupferberg (now deceased) as well as Peter Stampfel (who is still kickin', and writing a memoir, though the only part of it I've read involved snot, and might get edited out, because his family were grossed out by it; I'm rooting for it to stay in). Working with either man is hardly a fame-whore's idea of a career boost, but it situates him in a lineage in an interesting way, because while all of contemporary popular music is in fact in the lineage of the Harry Smith anthology, even if it doesn't know it, Jeffrey's work is, well, a bit more direct in that lineage than most, and it does know it.

Plus he's a great songwriter and cartoonist and should be totally famous, but isn't, maybe because he is simply too good for that. Or maybe he genuinely prefers playing packed, intimate shows than big, faceless ones? (Last night's gig in Vancouver was certainly packed and intimate).

Jeffrey with Peter Stampfel... meantime - commence interview!

Allan: Do you know, follow, or have a history with any Vancouver cartoonists? I'm thinking in particular of two friends of mine, or at least Facebook friends, Robin Bougie (of Cinema Sewer) and Colin Upton (also known for his time in the noise band the Haters). But those are the only guys *I* really know on the comics scene here... (I mean, I love Reid Fleming and have met David but I don't, like, "know" him).

Jeffrey: Never heard of those folks, but of course I know the Reid Fleming stuff. The underground/alternative comix world has had a real explosion in the past 10-15 years, there’s probably a ton of good stuff out there that I’m not aware of.

I loved your PSA on Hilary Clinton. So do you have any reactions to the election? (Is this question going to make you want to puke and/or cry? Have you written any songs about Trump? (Are they "movies" too, or...?). Or are you trying not to think about it? How do you cope with this development?

I did feel like simply writing an anti-Trump song would be too easy, which is why I made that pro-Clinton piece. Election night was definitely one of the worst nights of my life, couldn’t sleep a wink, in disbelief that the American public could elect a multi-billionaire sleazeball to the highest office. He seems utterly transparent, his main objective is to gratify his ego and to give himself a huge tax cut. Characters like him need to be utterly repudiated and rejected from public discourse, not rewarded for their behavior. So we live in a more immoral country than I’d let myself really believe. The idea that Clinton, with her supposed lies and secrets, is anything comparable to Trump, is truly a sad joke. She’s been more investigated than almost anybody ever, and yes, she’s a politician, with all the compromises and disappointments that come along with that, but Trump is just a shark. Anyway, it’s done, now we take the next step. I think people probably needed this kind of wake-up call, myself included. There’s work to do.

A few Leonard Cohen questions. Besides the new one, which everyone no doubt wants to hear, what is your most essential Leonard Cohen album?

People may be surprised to hear that I have never owned a single Leonard Cohen album, and I’ve been a voracious music listener and buyer for about 25 years. Wait, I do own a CD of “The Future”, which I bought on the street in Brooklyn. But in my life I’ve got about 17 Dylan albums, at least 20 Jonathan Richman albums, probably 40 albums by the Fall, every record Lou Reed ever released, just about every Grateful Dead album ever, in addition to fanatically complete LP collections from a lot of more esoteric artists, like my complete or near-complete LP collections of Country Joe & The Fish, the Fugs, Pearls Before Swine, the Incredible String Band, Love, The Seeds, Phil Ochs, and a lot of others from that era. But I never felt compelled to buy or actively listen to Leonard Cohen. Yes, I do have one song that mentions him, and of course I’m aware of a lot of his material and he’s a great lyricist. I just never felt very drawn to that stuff, stylistically.

Is is "The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song" in your setlist, or is that too painful? Do you sing other songs re: Mr. Cohen? (Have you ever covered one of his songs? What covers do you do?).

I don’t tour with a set list, we try to play different stuff each night and rotate through my catalogue of performable options depending on what feels right each night, and I’ve played my Chelsea Hotel song a couple times on this tour so far. I’ve never covered any of his songs, though I’ve probably covered about 20 Lou Reed songs, and at least a dozen songs by Daniel Johnston and the Fall and other artists.

Did you ever get to meet or interact with Leonard Cohen? Was he aware of your work at all? Did you get to see him play live? Did you ever hear any stories about him via people on the New York scene?

I never met him but I was dating a woman around 2009 who was in a band in Australia who got to tour as Leonard’s opening act; she said she was thinking about asking him if he’d ever heard my song but I think she never did, I don’t blame her, I imagine it would have been very intimidating! I once saw him play live at a festival in the UK, I was playing the same festival and it was a good opportunity to see him. I was in the middle of a bad breakup and it was a very moving and intense experience. He’s certainly much better live than Dylan; but on the other hand Leonard did that thing on stage where he tells these stories and jokes as if it’s off-the-cuff and then you find out that he does the exact same stories and jokes at every gig, and at least you can say that Dylan doesn’t bother to do that stuff.

What is more upsetting to you, that Donald Trump is President or that Leonard Cohen died? (Why can't it be the other way around?).

Not many things could be more upsetting to me than the Trump election, but I’m trying to keep an open mind about it. He promised a lot of people that he’d make their lives better, so now he’s got his chance to prove it. A particularly upsetting aspect is how wrong the polling data was, I think none of us will be able to look at polling data the same ever again, and that’s a scary thing. You rely on those polls to give you a sense of what’s going on, and with the polls so badly debunked it means that for the rest of your life you’re just kind of in a soup of mystery, without anything to turn to for a reliable weathervane of how things are going. Sorry for the mixed metaphors. Anyway, I did think that Leonard’s death at that moment was a real parting gift to us all, the final artistic generosity in a lifetime of artistic generosity, because it broke the spell of the election shock, and it gave us all something totally different to think about. Something about art and life and poetry, so it was a welcome reminder that the world is made up of a lot more kinds of people.  

One thing I really respect about you is your respect paid to your forebears, writing songs about the history of punk on the lower east side, and doing videos with Tuli, or recording with Peter Stampfel. In that spirit, do you have any great Tuli Kupferberg stories or insights? Any favourite moments working with Peter? (Will you have the CD you did with him on the merch table?). Are there any other greats that you'd want to meet or work with?    

Well, Tuli was always funny, full of wry wit, he’d leave these funny answering machine messages and he had all these little one-liners, I don’t know how much of it he came up with himself or how much might have been from old comedian bits, but it was always with a real spirit and a sort of despairing political humor, that kind of classic Jewish humor that’s kind of hopelessly depressed and upliftingly funny at the same time. At some point towards the end of his life I said something like 'how's it going' and he muttered 'I grow old, I shall wear my condoms rolled'. perfect Tuli- an existential literary reference, plus a sad and funny reference to diminished sexuality in old age, plus a lampoon of someone Tuli probably considered a pretentious anti-semite, plus just filthy and outrageous.  For all i knew it was an old line from Lenny Bruce, or a common college joke from the 40s or something. But he had a million of those. He was a Fug 24/7 till the end.

And Peter’s another character, totally different from Tuli but definitely the most uplifting and enthusiastic person you’re ever likely to meet. He’s like a guru, like one of those laughing buddha legends, he’s not fat like a buddha but he has that way of just enjoying the heck out of every moment and every thing he sees, it crosses the line between goofiness and an enlightened philosophical way to live your life. There’s a lot of other folks I’d love to work with someday, but they’re people who are more out of reach, like, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to end up chatting with people like Tuli or Peter because they are New York City characters, always visible at gigs and art events and in the streets and shops, it’s not the same as hoping to someday encounter Brian Eno or Dr. Dre or somebody like that. In New York City you just run into people like Peter, if you’re going to the same sorts of places.  

I do not know your newest album at all at all at all and I didn't bother to research it because I'm going to the show anyhow and I'm stressed out and lazy and hoping I can get away with this crappy question! But what is it? Tell us about it! Sell! Sell!

I think my most recent album Manhattan is sort of my masterwork, I deliberately tried to make the best album I could make, which meant waiting until I had written a whole lot of songs and then picking the best ones, plus not rushing the recording process, working in a way that let me experiment and relax and think about things. Sometimes that’s not a good thing, you have too many chances to over-think things in this modern world, and I often try to avoid over-thinking. So maybe my next record will go back to an off-the-cuff creative style. But it’s fun once in a while to try to make something as good as you can make it, writing each song until you’re happy with it, rather than rushing. At this point there are already seven Jeffrey Lewis albums in the world, plus side-projects and stuff, so I don’t feel like I need to create an 8th album unless it’s particularly good. I think it’ll be hard for me to follow the Manhattan record because I really put my all into the songwriting and the recording and the album artwork and packaging too. I’d like to just bask in it for a little while, but in reality I have to get back to work. I’ve already got about 25 or 30 new songs since then, but only maybe three of them feel really good to me at the moment, I need to do a lot more writing I think.

What is your newest work, comics-wise? WIll you have it with you?

Newest one is Fuff issue number 11, which I published in March 2016. Like the recent album, I do think it’s my best-ever comic book issue, so it’ll be hard to follow up, but at the moment I’m just super proud of it. I’m bringing about 10 different comic books on this tour, traveling with a wide array of stuff.

"Cult Boyfriend" is a really fun song, but my (decidedly non-cult) girlfriend was enjoying it a bit too much. Do you also have a non-cult partner - is that how the song got written? Have there been any interesting fan reactions to it? Have you gotten any feedback from cult girlfriends with non-cult boyfriends, out of curiosity?

I’m not even sure if I know what the heck you’re talking about, all that cult and non-cult talk made me dizzy!

Who is in the band, and how do you travel, these days?

Right now it’s Brent Cole of the Moldy Peaches and Dufus on drums, and Mem Pahl of the Fem Doms on bass, we’re traveling in my old 1997 Nissan Pathfinder.

What are the most helpful and supportive things fans can do for you on the road?

Paying for tickets rather than trying to get in without paying, that’s a good thing. Also, it’s super helpful when we have decent places to sleep, when people let us sleep at their houses and actually let us sleep, rather than making us stay awake to “party”. We slept at a really nice comfortable house in Denver last night, with beds and towels for everybody, we even got taken out to breakfast, that was all totally great treatment.

What are the least helpful and supportive things they sometimes do? Is there anything fans do at shows that you POSITIVELY ABSOLUTELY DREAD?

I positively absolutely dread beer near the merch table. People think I’m being over-sensitive when I tell them to keep drinks away from the merch table, but one bad spill and I’m looking at a huge pile of beer-soaked comic books that are ruined and unsellable, plus CDs and records that are sticky and gross for the rest of the tour. People get very casual about putting a full pint of beer right down on the comics, or leaning over to take a look at a CD while pouring their drink all over the whole table, it’s a disaster. What sometimes makes it even worse is that the person is drunk, so then they want to blabber on and on with an annoying drunken apology while you’re scrambling around trying to minimize the damage.

Just curious if something is on your radar: there was a Vancouver development that got a lot of attention where a guy named Kevin James Howes, who digs deep for pop cultural artifacts, put together, with Light in the Attic, this momentous anthology of First Nations music called Native North America, with people like Willie Thrasher, Morely Loon, and others, which has spawned a series of fantastic vinyl re-releases that next to know one knew even existed beforehand... it's sort of the First Nations equivalent of the Harry Smith anthology, in terms of bringing forgotten and neglected music back to light, though it's mostly First Nations rock, folk, and psych from the 1960's and 1970's. Just wondering if that's made a mark in New York? (Howes was nominated for a Grammy, as I recall, but I don't think he won it...).

I’ve never heard of Kevin James Howes, thanks for putting that on my radar, I love that sort of stuff. Glad to know there’s always more to discover.

What is your favourite "comeback story," of a musician no one was paying attention to, that most people totally had forgotten, who suddenly got a new career, by some means or other? (I kinda love unlikely comeback stories - there's Mississippi John Hurt, Rodriguez, or locally, The New Creation, Willie Thrasher, or noise band Tunnel Canary... just wondering if you've got favourites?

I’m very glad to hear you mention the New Creation, that old record is a very special album to me, I was introduced to it by a record-collector friend in Texas who deals in super rare LPs that are far too expensive for me to hear in most cases. Of course nowadays most of that sort of stuff has been reissued, so it’s a lot more accessible to hear. Still, it can be a bit of a fun challenge even to find the reissues sometimes, or to find a website where you can get your hands on a download of a super-obscure weird amazing record. I met a guy at the Lawnya Vawnya festival that I played in St. John’s who is involved with a thing called “Weird Canada,” always on the search for more Canadian lost gems. As far as new career stories, I did buy that New Creation comeback album and it’s surprisingly enjoyable. My personal most exciting comeback story was when Silver Apples returned to performing in 1997, I worshipped that band and it was like an unbelievable dream come true to see that first comeback gig at the Knitting Factory in NYC. It was mostly sort of pre-internet, so it felt extra special, even just to be in a room full of people who were fans of Silver Apples.

(Jeff with Chris Towers at the Toast Collective, Nov. 21, 2016).

Do you have a big vinyl collection?

Yes, but not at an insane hoarder level. Just a normal record-geek level. I’ve been a fanatical buyer of used vinyl since I was about 14 or 15, back in 1991 or so, and by now I do have a lot, but my buying has slowed down. Everything’s too expensive now.

Do you shop for records on the road? What do you usually look for?

I do still addictively flip through records and CDs when I get a chance, but things are really different nowadays. For one thing, there’s barely any record stores left. When you see one, it’s a special thing. Also everything has been picked over and over and over, your odds of finding a great and/or rare album at a great price is almost zero now. The internet has screwed up the whole game. Most of what I look for is 60s psychedelic, garage, and folk stuff, and I have a rule to never spend more than $15 on a record, so that has always kept my buying to a nice slow pace. I’ve got a fair amount of indie-rock, and punk, and folk, and a little bit of jazz and other stuff, but the majority of my collection is psychedelic stuff.    

Any other cool associations with Vancouver? Favourite music from here? Places you like to go? Positive/ negative associations? Anything else you want to say to Vancouver audiences?

I’ve had a lot of great shows and great times in Vancouver! And there’s that great little record shop, I forget the name or location but I’ve been there a couple times, at one point they had an original vinyl copy of The Plastic Cloud up on the wall, which was cool to see in the flesh. I’ve never been very familiar with the city, just passing through to play gigs at random intervals over the years. But I’ve come in contact with some great people and musicians, like Ora Cogan, and the folks from OKVancouverOK, I love those guys, and Rose Melberg, and other folks.

Oh: one more question re: old timers, did you ever see, interact with, or do anything musical with Dave van Ronk?

I’m definitely a fan, the album Dave Van Ronk Sings the Blues was a really good discovery for me a bunch of years back, and I’ve bought a few more of his LPs since then. I think I did see him play live once, when I didn’t really know who he was, at a left-wing church in the west village. He was doing a gig with my uncle, the political rapper Professor Louie, which is why I was there. It was maybe in the 90s. I would have liked to have met him, I think if he was still around I’d probably try to meet him. Same goes for Phil Ochs, I really love all of that stuff. I feel a lot of affinity for the early 60s Bleecker Street folkie stuff, and a lot of those records are still pretty cheap to find. I thought the Coen Brothers movie was pretty bad though, unfortunately. I was really looking forward to it. 

Jeffrey Lewis is presently on tour! (Plays Olympia Washington tonight, Nov. 22).