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Two Sides of the Beast

16 Mar

WOLF PEOPLE‘s Tidings LP (Jagjaguwar Records, 2010) is out, and what a heavy temporal trip it is. Recorded primarily by WOLF PEOPLE leader Jack Sharp over nearly half a decade, it documents the pre-history of his current band in homemade, quilted fashion. The sound is a kind of hermetically sealed and delicately wrought English psych/prog, comparable in approach to the earliest BEVIS FROND records. Jack renders things economically with the assistance of a few choice friends, a stack full of scratchy old LPs, and an assortment of vintage instrumentation. Some songs are honed to fine points, jousting out of the speakers like lost Roger Chapman & FAMILY demos; others are rough sketches that fragment and/or coalesce in beautiful ÄLGARNAS TRÄDGÅRD dislocation; still others meander quietly in the background, lilting on the periphery of collective folk memory for weeks after. It’s a really intimate, beautiful statement that, while steeped in the rock forms of another generation, is imagined and executed in ways only thoroughly modern cats could, circa 2010.

But studio creations like this do have their limitations, since absolutely nothing can top the cathartic rush of seeing a great live band, doing it in real time. And WOLF PEOPLE, today, are doing just that. Recent gigs have been phenomenal, demonstrating a refined sense of musical interplay that’s moved far beyond any of their waxed evidence to date. TELEVISION comparisons remain the most apt, with the anxious, Richard Lloyd-like freakouts of gtrist Joe Hollick acting as a foil for the Tom Verlainesque pose of Jack himself. But then, there’s that hardened rhythm section powering it all – Daniel Davies’ fat, upfront bass lines and chordage (shades of Jack Casady!) meshing powerfully with Tom Watt’s faceflattening drumming. Taken in toto, the whole concoction bowls me over every goddamn time.

I wanted to know more about this two-sided beast, and decided to do something about it. As there are already a few interviews with Jack Sharp floating around the internet, I lobbed a few questions toward Joe Hollick, perhaps the quietest WOLF person of all. And lo and behold, he’s happily answered them all, and in wonderfully candid fashion! Heck I’d reckon even WOLF PEOPLE newbies should be able to appreciate this one, so crank up Tidings and read on . . .

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1. WOLF PEOPLE’s Tidings LP is a kind of archeological dig, exhuming your very earliest studio stirrings. Can you talk a little about how things have changed since those recordings were made? I imagine anyone seeing you guys live today would be struck by just how evolved you now sound.

The way we’ve developed is a little odd in terms of how bands usually get together, we’ve sort of ‘reverse engineered’ the current sound from the act of learning to play Jack’s original recordings. Tidings is basically the sound of Jack in his studio experimenting. When his first recordings were picked up by Jim from Sea Records and Doug from Battered Ornaments, there was no live band whatsoever. I’ve known others who have done solo projects and they’ve really struggled to recruit a band with any real ‘life’ in it, but not with this project, its managed to really bed in and take off. I feel really lucky to be playing this music; I’ve always wanted to be in a band like this since I was 10. Jack has chanced upon musicians who have the same interests, playing styles and almost identical backgrounds, at times spookily so. When learning the songs that comprise Tidings, we found we couldn’t do them exact, so we just started bending and stretching the songs to fit us, that’s how the current sound has evolved into tougher things like Caratacas and Tiny Circles. Its also been so much fun playing the tunes live that it made us feel like a proper band very quickly. The main problem we have is it differs from the Tidings sound, I just hope people understand the lineage and appreciate how we’ve changed.

2. Do you guys all contribute to the music, lyrics, and arrangements? It’s some potent, heady stuff for sure.

Musically, the current setup is almost a rough four way split, leaning heavily towards Jack, we don’t really discuss it too much, our ideas seem to lock in, we are all on the same page. Jack looks after the lyrics and arranges his ideas in anticipation of how we will play them. None of us know too much about his lyrics, but it’s the only band I’ve been in where I’ve been proud to hear them sung, they describe a certain Englishness that I think is missing in all music I hear now from this country. Personally I think Jack uses me as riff-o-matic generator, I’m terrible at arranging but the only thing I can do is occasionally have some weird thing fall out of the fretboard to be given up for dissection. The next record is going to be the sound of us, mixed with the production elements and ideas that Jack originated with. You can hear the influences of the other musicians creeping in gradually, Cotton Strands was the first thing me, Jack and Ross did. Tiny Circles is the sound of Jack writing a tune knowing in advance how we play live, and knowing how good Tom and Dan can be when given a great big nasty riff to dig into.

3. Without Ross Harris’ flute, your Telecaster has gradually taken on a more prominent role in the WP sound. Was this a conscious choice you guys made?

Not at all, Ross is a great friend who turned up at rehearsals and now is busy playing with his other project, THE SPEAKERS CORNER QUARTET. We made no active decision to get a flute player, he just started hanging around, and it sounded brilliant, he’s a real force of nature that lad. He’s way too good for us, he knows Pythagorean scales and can play under water backwards. It is really hard to fill the gap when he is not there though. I’m not the most confident of guitarists and quite like hiding at the back with my head down getting on with it, and it was easy to hide behind Ross. He provides a real focus point live, and without him at first we were just exposed as a basic guitar band, but it made us kick up a gear. I’ve had to try and turn into a lead guitarist, and take some of his improvisational style and constantly reinvent parts every gig.

I must point out that my poor old Telecaster was a stop gap guitar, I’ve given it back to my dad. My main guitar was my old 67 Firebird III that has the best neck pickup ever, but that does not like being in a car or actually being played at all, and I want to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone concerned for the 3 years of out-of-tune gigs that wonderful guitar provided. I tried putting the Firebird pickups in the tele, but it sounded rubbish, I think its got something to with the placement of the neck pickup in relation to the 12th fret of the Gibson, or some voodoo like that. Its all changed since I found this Strat though…

4. Where in god’s name did you learn to play such blistering leads and bluesy slide?

I’m flattered, that’s the first compliment I’ve ever had from someone who isn’t a family member, unless its sarcasm? Are you not getting confused with Jack?! I actually find playing guitar very hard and very painful, I actually don’t know what I’m doing. My Dad taught me to play when I was 5, but only one chord for the first year, he taught me how to hammer on and do a staccato rhythm before I learnt chords, so I would just sit and chug away on an E chord. He never used a pick, but gave me a bit of cardboard, this soon wore away so I learnt to use the back of my fingernail. At this time I didn’t know why you played guitar, it was just something my dad did, so I developed this odd way of playing that has either provided me with a different thing to others, or has hampered me in terms of developing. I get stuck in ruts, and try to overcome technical inability with nervous energy. I really don’t like performing, I feel like such a fraud stood on stage, and I get incredibly nervous, so I end up getting over it by grasping it and almost have to will the notes out of the guitar, I think this sometimes translates and other times sounds like a bit of racket.

My favourite guitarists are people like Richard Thompson and Neil Young, they manage to turn mistakes around and I think that’s what I’m ok at. I like playing acoustic and play really softly, but with an electric I feel like I’m bending bits of barbed wire. Without a pick you get lots of subtle sounds with your fingers and nails but you don’t get the clarity that a pick provides. My index finger is more trebly, whereas my middle finger is used for chords, and I occasionally I play with two fingers and a thumb. Through a squashy valve amp on full its amazing the sounds you can get. I think me and Jack compliment each other, he can do all that technical stuff and play in a very clear, melodic and articulate way, whereas I tend to play more percussively. I’m better live, but can’t record for toffee, I can’t play the same thing twice and have to push myself very hard to get it right, and I’m never happy with what I’ve done.

5. I’ve gathered that Jack Sharp arrived at the current WOLF PEOPLE rock trip via hip hop, originally as an attempt to create the very music he was sampling, but on real instruments. Certainly, the cut n paste mixing of the LP reflects that. Did you also come at all this through hip-hop/DJ culture?

No not at all. I am about as hip hop as a cupboard. I love that Edan record Beauty and the Beat though, and a guy called Sonic Sum. I grew up listening to people like J.J. Cale and Richard Thompson, the Strict Tempo album and Calvary Cross being favourites. By chance I heard CAN when I was too young and that blew my mind right off. I did get into dance music and electronica, a lot of ambient drone and noise type stuff. However meeting this lot and hearing the music that peers Cherrystones and Rich Hero play has just opened the floodgates. I’m not massively into records though, the others are in a big way, and I don’t listen much at home. I have a record player but it only plays DUNGEN 4.

6. I’ve noticed your audiences seems pretty disparate: a diverse mix of young hipsters, longhair stoner types, gristled old hippies, even the odd American nutcase or two. This must make for some interesting audience reactions. Has there been a most-memorable gig thus far?

There have been gigs that make you question why you even own a guitar, yet there have been some gigs where it has felt like the planets have aligned, but I don’t really like looking up at gigs, so I can’t tell whether people like it or not really, this isn’t meant to sound arrogant, I just have to concentrate really hard. We have had some great support, at the last gig two lads drove down from Birmingham and back for the night, incredible, we really appreciate it. We tend to play well when we are the under-dogs. There was one gig at a festival where we went on way too late and all had work next morning, something clicked during the set and it reminded me why you spend £90 on petrol and 11 hours on the road, it was great, I love that feeling, where you lose your sense of place. I have great respect for the other members as musicians, I’m really proud of this band. We’ve actually got limited confidence on stage, though its growing. We’ve had some tough gigs where we’ve had mute reactions, but people who get the influences and see an honest enthusiasm tend to enjoy it.

I’ll always feel daft when someone pays to see us though, I feel like giving them a bit back for a pint to say thanks or something. Mainly as everyone can play guitar and is in a band it seems, so I always over-think about what we are offering in comparison to everyone else. I really hope the audiences stay diverse, I like to think we appeal to both record-heads and casual listeners, the sounds are there yet we try and keep it easy to digest. There are many bands that do long wig outs and noisy sections but we are trying to reign them in and concentrate them into shorter bursts, which for me is more interesting.

7. Aside for WOLF PEOPLE, you’ve also played on another Battered Ornaments release: THE LAUGHING WINDOWS double 10″. Can you tell us a bit about that project?

Its based around just meeting up with Luke Insect and Mike Sharpe and seeing what happens. We went to Pete Hedley’s (BENEATH FIRE & SMOKE) beautiful studio in south Wales and pressed the record button. After a year or two we collected enough bits and pieces to stitch together an EP, some of it recorded with one mic in a rehearsal room, there’s tons of other bits that went unused. I love it, it doesn’t matter whats in there, it is the attitude in which it was done. Its nice to just go and not to have to worry about structure or chord changes. Its really innocent and not trying to be anything with any purpose. We now live at opposite ends of the country but I think it will be something that’ll rear its head every now and again.

8. By day, you’re also a freelance graphics designer. Are you responsible for WP’s striking visual imagery too?

The first three sleeves are by the incredibly talented Luke Insect, who is a proper graphic designer. I did the Tidings sleeve, which was good fun, mainly as I could make models of machines. I was trying to copy the way Jack makes music, often going from one media to another and back and forth, from tape to hard drive and back. I took photos of all the gear involved, printed them out and made them into models and re-shot them. With other work, I just try and get by, I find the bread and butter work hard, but occasionally I get inspired. Most of the stuff has been done quickly and as a way of experimenting for other work, but I would like it to start getting better and more involved.

I used to work for Storm Thorgerson of PINK FLOYD/Hipgnosis fame, that was incredible, a real experience. He’s a great fellow, even though I was made to walk into EMI dressed as a section of The Wall. I wasn’t trendy enough though to get by in the freelance London graphic design world, I still get work down there and get to do a sleeve or illustration, but to make ends meet I have a part time job in a building restoration charity in the outskirts of Burnley. Its good for keeping your feet on the ground. It does mean that all future artwork is going to take on the influence of Georgian architectural plans however, but I feel this fits with the music, its quite solid and painstakingly built.

9. And finally: when are WOLF PEOPLE gonna go try and conquer the States? Americans are gonna devour it, I promise.

When we can all get holiday from our jobs and scrape together our loose change for the ferry. We’d love to come over, some of our most positive comments have come from the US, they really get it. I’d really like to know what more people think. I think its an import/export thing. To certain people here we are not ‘exotic’ or mysterious, just scruffy blokes from Bedford, London and the Yorkshire Dales. There’s a definite attitude over there that has allowed great bands like HOWLIN’ RAIN and THE BLACK KEYS to flourish. I think that an English band playing like that would be put down over here by our over-critical mainstream, in the States it seems they embrace it and let it breathe a bit more. It appears to be a dirty word to play your instrument with skill and finesse at the moment, but I’m proud of UK bands like VOICE OF THE SEVEN THUNDERS, SOUNDCARRIERS and THE LIFTMEN, they are going a long way to readdressing the balance.

Semicids Don’t Do That

4 Mar

It’s easy to disrespect later 80’s hardcore; hell I’ve done it more than once here at PS RECON. This stems from an adolescence watching the halcyon days of ’81 – ’83 SoCal hardcore punk unfold from afar, over the handlebars of a Schwinn Scrambler, ensconced deep in the suburbs. When I came of age to actually participate in it, I found that – voila! – it was fucking over. Early scene figureheads had moved on to different musical terrain, and the new crop of hardcore bands were merely trading on past glories. In comparison to what that first RED CROSS EP had sounded like to my 11 yr old ears at the dawn of the 80s, the HC of my teens seemed blandly formulaic and self-righteously rigid, a pale ghost of what had come before.

But regional differences still counted for lot back then, and what defined mid/late 80’s hardcore in SoCal didn’t necessarily way out in the MidWest. The college towns of Bloomington/Normal, Illinois once had a thriving HC scene with their own identity and trajectory, blossoming later and utterly distinct from anything I grew up near. Outta this time & place once sprung a great little band called THE SEMICIDS.

THE SEMICIDS came to my attention when I roomed next to their gtrist Max Deutsch in the UCSB dorms in ’89. While I had always thought of myself as “punk”, it was probably in my own mind only. Max, however, was the real thing – the living/breathing, walking/talking kind. He was in a hardcore band who played dozens of gigs in poolhalls and rec rooms thoughout central Illinois. He risked ridicule & physical harm by proudly wearing his JOY DIVISION t-shirt out to MANNEQUIN BEACH gigs, and tried to sell the NAKED HIPPY LP to anyone who’d stand still. He walked with a swagger, had a half shaven, mop-like hairdo, and quickly sussed that most of the beachtypes surrounding us were totally full of shit. True to punk, he was also really smart.

I was knee deep in NICK CAVE/SWANS/LYDIA LUNCH worship at this point, but Max’s music pulled me back to fast and furious things I’d grown up with reading Flipside a few years earlier. We sulked together, fried together, even FUGAZIed together – before going our separate ways a year later. But we’ve kept in touch ever since, and I eventually got to meet SEMICIDS Brad & Ed (both great guys) when passing through the midwest in ’91. As I’ve always fondly remembered those times and the wildass HC recklessness exhibited on THE SEMICIDS lone recording (the Recess demo cassette from ’89), I decided to throw Max some questions about them now faraway days.

1. Just what is a SEMICID, who comprised this band, and how did it all come together?

‘SEMICID’ is ambiguous, referring to either a brand of vaginal suppository contraceptive, now discontinued, or else a member of the mid to late eighties punk rock band, SEMICIDS, now discontinued. The band was composed of Ed Young-v, Max Deutsch-g, Brad Christensen-b, and Rob Reed-d. Post-‘89, Phil Karnatz played g for a year or so. Brad and I (Max), friends since junior high, decided to buy guitars and start rockin’. At that point we called ourselves CONSTANT PAIN, after an early PUSSY GALORE tune.

We looked around for a drummer and singer. A guy from my high school’s marching band gave drums a go, but wasn’t nearly fierce enough. We ended up posting a ‘seeking drummer’ flyer and Rob called. He was older (26) and had studied percussion in college a bit. He was a fantastic drummer, and easily adapted to the demands of playing fast, loud, and mean. As a bonus, he was living in a dilapidated building in downtown Bloomington where we could practice and store our gear. We met Ed through our close friend, Dave ‘Hongfoid’ Hungerford. Ed was a badass punk, the type the jocks and preppy fucks were scared of. Since no one was scared of Brad or me, and since he could yowl and scream like his head was going to pop right off, he seemed like the perfect front man. And he was.

2. Who were you guys modeling yourselves after? Certainly not your fathers.

Not our fathers, no. Brad and I listened to hardcore punk rock and liked many of the DC bands of that era, MINOR THREAT, GOVT. ISSUE, etc. We also listened to BLACK FLAG, and some of the other early SST punk stuff. The REAGAN YOUTH lp got played to death. And I had the PUSSY GALORE ‘Feel Good About Your Body’ 7”, which I thought was just dandy. We covered tunes by WIRE, BLACK FLAG, CIRCLE JERKS, and JOY DIVISION, as well as some ridiculous song by AGNOSTIC FRONT. Brad and I were also in to rap: NWA, PUBLIC ENEMY, RUN DMC. Ed had more expansive tastes. He was a punk and listened to plenty of punk rock proper (GERMS, STOOGES, etc.) but went through a LA glam phase (via the NEW YORK DOLLS) and also liked 60s/70s garage rock. Rob had interests in jazz and rock bands such as CAPT. BEEFHEART. Another local band, NAKED HIPPY, was a major influence. We opened for them a lot, and we loved them. Several NAKED HIPPY gigs from the 80s still rank as the best live gigs I’ve ever seen.

3. For the benefit of us costal types, please give us a brief snapshot of the Bloomington/Normal Illinois HC scene circa ’88.

B/N was just far enough away from Chicago to grow its own music scene. There were great punk bands, namely SEMICIDS and NAKED HIPPY. IMPETIGO, ARMAGEDDON, and METAL KILL were kicking up heavy metal dust. There was a college rock, new wavy outfit called THAT HOPE. There were plenty of venues, really. A bar on the college bar strip (B/N is home to Illinois State University), The Gallery, booked punk/metal stuff fairly regularly. The building we practiced in, the Eddy Building, had a cooperative performance space called Electric Coffee and we played there many times. We would fairly regularly play with bigger bands that came through town. We also played out in many of the surrounding towns and cities—Peoria, Champaign/Urbana, etc.

The scene was pretty a-ok, looking back now. Lots of kids were down with the music and it was rare to play to a small crowd. There was (and still is) a great head shop/record store called Mother Murphys that doubled as a hang out for us punks. On the down side, there was something a touch redneck about the B/N scene that was distasteful to me. For example, there were kids in the scene in Peoria who were openly gay, but out our way, that could get your ass kicked. With that exception, the B/N punk scene was just the place for outcasts and losers it was supposed to be.

4. Your cassette has alot going for it: a powerful singer, a trippy jazzoid drummer, some great gtr/bass interaction and a bunch of cool post-MINOR THREAT tuneage. Hell there’s even some cool accidental U2-like harmonics thrown in there to boot. Who or what gave you the idea this would be a winning sonic combo?

The cassette recording is muddy—way too much low end. Live there was plenty of feedback and more trebly, distorted guitar noises. Still, I’m happy to have the tape and some aspects of it still put a smile on my face. I think Ed, Brad and Rob sound pretty damn good, actually. As for crafting the sonic combo, well, it wasn’t really a matter of craft. We plugged the instruments in and tried to play them as fast and loud as possible. It was punk as can be in terms of musicianship.

5. Best/worst live gig you guys played? Please, spare no detail.

The best show was at Illinois Weslyan University with NAKED HIPPY and ARMAGEDDON in probably 1988. We were finally comfortable with our sound/songs and we were confident and animated on stage. There was a large crowd of supportive fans who got whipped into a violent frenzy. What could be better? And NAKED HIPPY was on fire. There were no bad shows.

6. A few of you guys were pretty heavy acid eaters (no names mentioned). What was your take on the prevailing straight edge ethos at the time?

Brad and I identified with the straight-edge scene at first, but Ed and Rob would have none of that malarkey. Brad and I eventually came to see the error of our ways and lost all of our straight edges, becoming amorphous, drug-addled blobs. I think it appealed to us at first because the straight edge ethos emphasized the music over other elements of the scene, and we were adamant about punk as music as opposed to, say, a style of dress. But the edge kids were pricks, mostly. Congratulations, you’re square, and you want everyone else to be square or you’re gonna beat em up. Fuck you.

7. There were other, non-SEMICID people I’ve heard you reference in the past. People with names like Up Chuck Chow. Now’s the time to pay tribute to the little people without whom it wouldn’t have happened.

At a show in Champaign, Il., Chuck wore just boxers and a cape and leaped and danced around wildly during the performance of our song, ‘Man of Steel’. At one point, he stopped and popped Ed square in the mouth. This significantly enhanced our punk rock credentials. He is hereby thanked for this, and for various other SEMICIDS-centric behaviors. (This has been a carefully guarded secret for decades, but now’s the time to let the cat out of the bag: Chuck = The Dude of Steel. There, I said it. What a relief.)

Besides introducing us to Ed, Dave Hungerford influenced our collective musical taste by buying many, many records, punk and otherwise, and blasting cassette recordings of them while we cruised the dangerous streets of Normal, Il. in his powder blue Ford Fairmont. Also, he used to yell at me for tuning my guitar too carefully at band practices. That was helpful. Smilin’ Dan Malin, drummer for NAKED HIPPY, served as roadie on countless occasions and was a consummate fan.

7. Tell us a story about BLOODY MESS & THE SCABS we don’t already know.

What in the world would you know about Bloody and his SCABS, London-via-SoCal boy? He once left a message on my parents’ answering machine. Bloody (in a gravelly, Lemmy-from-MOTORHEAD sorta voice): “Yes, hello, this is Mr. Mess calling for Max, please have him call me, Mr. Mess, at 555-5555. Once again, Mr. Mess calling for Max. Thank you.” That freaked my parents’ shit. I once saw him piss on an adoring fan at a house party in Peoria. That freaked my shit.

8. What brought about your demise?

I left for college in California, as you well know. The SEMICIDS carried on for a time with a different guitar player. Most recently, Ed was playing in a great rock-n-roll band, THE RESINATORS. Brad and Dave Hungerford played together in TRAILER PARK DEATH SYNDROME, with Dave on vocals. In college, Brad played bass with 4 INCHES OF DESTRUCTION. I sat in my dorm room twanging away on an acoustic, dreaming of the good old days. I still do a little of that, but not in a dorm room. Briefly, Chuck Chow and I played together in a band called WIDTH. We were extremely talented, and very clever lyrically, but literally no one else seemed to think so, not even our very close, musically inclined friends. We played one show, in the room of the studio apt we shared in S.F., to two neighbors in our apt complex, who came over on the promise of free drinks.

9. A few of us heard some of your CCR-inspired, riff-oriented tunes you were working on, ca. ’89. Sounded cool to us at the time! What happened with that?

Glad you appreciated that stuff. I don’t know what happened with it. It just faded into the woodwork. But I can still put together a nice guitar riff. Move to HK and we’ll start a band.

10. Finally: what are you up to these days, musically speaking?

I read PSR religiously. What more do you want from me?

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THE SEMICIDS – “El Camino” (Recess demo, 1989)

THE SEMICIDS – “Madness” (Recess demo, 1989)

Q&A With Craig Gray

22 Jan

(Note: this is a reup of an interview I did with SF gtrist Craig Gray in the early 2000s, originally published as part of a larger piece on the godlike TOILING MIDGETS in the now-defunct Die Cast Garden webzine. Yes things have moved on, the band has since reformed and they now even play out occasionally . . . and while I’m not sure why this returns to the web today, I do know my love for all things MIDGET still stands tall. Enjoy.)

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M: I think a lot of people have come to see THE TOILING MIDGETS as a kind of SLEEPERS Mk. II. Not only did you have Tim Mooney and Ricky Williams in the fold, but your sound seemed to harken back to THE SLEEPERS late-70s work in tone and complexity. Was this something you guys consciously tried to do, or did THE SLEEPERS tag dog you no matter how hard you tried to shake it, like a piece of wet toilet paper trailing from the bottom of your shoe?

Craig: I first met the Sleepers in 77 when I was in Negative Trend. Will Shatter and I lived in a huge flat at 8th and Howard. People would come over after gigs at the Mabuhay. Michael Belfer and I would play and write together all night. Both bands did songs written by both of us. She’s Fun on the first Sleepers EP was written by me, Michael and Ricky. I actually played a couple of times with the Sleepers as a second guitar. It was just a natural devlopment rather than a conscious effort. I don’t think I was aware of how people perceived us.

M: Similarly, alot of know-nothings liked to lump you guys in with FLIPPER – obviously a product of lazy, provincial thinking. Who did you feel most musically akin to at the time?

Craig: No one. I felt very insular, more connected to the music than the real world. The Flipper thing is just cause of the Negative Trend connection but i never really cared. It was kinda embarrassing.

M: What was a typical MIDGETS gig like? And are legends true about you guys preferring to play with your backs to the audience?

Craig: Typical? I don’t think there was one. Chaos maybe. Yes we played with our backs to the audience, or at least I did. It started at the last ever Negative Trend gig. Rik L Rik pulled a no show so I tried to sing a song. I was so embarrassed I couldn’t look at the audience so I quit singing and turned around. We finished the set instrumentally and I haven’t turned around since.

M: How representative was the Sea of Unrest LP of the MIDGETS?

Craig: Very. As with all of our recordings, they represent us at that particular time.  

M: Who played all those meandering, feedback gtr-atmospherics on that record: you, Paul, or Mick Ronson?

Craig: PAUL RONSON

M: How did Ricky Williams contribute and/or mess things up?

Craig: Ricky was our human voice. Yea he was a mess but his voice and his skewed perception were unique. When he sang he wasn’t capable of holding back, and he was what he sang about, an inspired mess.

M: What about producer Tom Mallon? His production on Sea of Unrest is downright apocalyptic.

Craig: Mallon was our interpreter so to speak. He found the beauty in the chaos and helped us shape and define it.

M: During the post-Sea of Unrest days as documented on the Deadbeats LP, in the great tradition of MOBY GRAPE and LYNYRD SKYNYRD you guys had three guitarists. What was that all about?

Craig: Deadbeats was supposed to be a five song EP for Rough Trade. It would have been Preludes, Caverns, Before Trust, Black Idol and a song written by Annie called Richard Speck. Rough Trade changed their mind. Thermidor said they would put it out but wanted an LP. We were pretty much broken up by then (Nov. – Dec. 83) so Tom and I pieced together an LP but Annie didn’t want Richard Speck on it. Great song tho.

M: Annie Ungar impressed me as a kind of West Coast equivalent to THE CONTORTIONS’ Pat Place. What did she add?

Craig: Songs. More sound. A medium ground between Paul and I. Her style was fluid like Paul’s but more rhythmically based like mine. Her tone was different from both of us as well. More slide oriented which gave us more range. It gave me an opportunity to play less of a basic roll and more of a textural one within the music.

M: Why did the original band wind down in the mid-eighties?

Craig: DRUGS

M: A lot really great, regional music scenes were developed and consequently destroyed by shifting economic climates. I’m thinking of NYC in the late 70’s and any number of US college towns in the the 80’s. Did the economic situation in that city at the time play any part in what you guys were able to accomplish?

Craig: SF was a town full of bands then and as we all know the dotcommunists fucked it up. But as they leave the city changes again.

M: Was there ever a moment when you thought, shit, the MIDGETS might just possibly be poised for world takeover?

Craig: Which world?

M: The MIDGETS come-back Son LP (Matador, 1992) was a bright spot in a decade littered with truly tasteless music. Less feral in approach than Unrest, but equally effective in conjuring up vivid, darkly-flickering images. How satisfied were you with this?

Craig: It was a good record. The problem was by the time Matador got the record out we weren’t working with Eitzel anymore and he didn’t want to tour with us.

M: The addition of AMERICAN MUSIC CLUB singer-songwriter Mark Eitzel on vocals must have surprised some folks. How well did he gel with what you guys wanted to do?

Craig: For me it was his best work.

M: A few of us heard tapes of a great, post-MIDGETS project called Wet Ash. What happened with this? What are you and the others doing artisically these days?

Craig: Wet Ash was recorded in late ’89 to early ’90, after I had just returned from living in England for 6 years. It was written by my brother Jason and I. We had a band called LAZY GIANTS and it was on our demo. Mallon recorded and mixed the orchestral version. I have always been writing, playing and recording. I have a G4 based studio at home and just finished soundtracking a short film. Paul and I have been recording online so it continues in a new way.

M: What’s going on with the new album of unreleased MIDGET and/or Ricky W. tapes? Us MIDGETheads can’t wait.

Craig: There’s about three records there maybe four, a Ricky one, and a couple of instrumental records. Tom and I have just started sorting thru the tapes.

M: What is sadcore, and can it be blamed on the MIDGETS?

Craig: HAA HAA

M: And finally – just what the hell is the Microage?

Craig: Where Ricky is.

One Man and His Toupee

21 Jun

styler

There’s a man in New Orleans with a voice. It’s a voice that you could get lost in, that’ll get you drunker than you’ve ever been before, that’ll take you away from all the sick, horrible nonsense you gotta endure every single goddamn day of your life. But it’s also a voice that’ll sucker-punch you, shove you into the gutter, and steal your girlfriend away into the night. Laughing all the while.

But don’t worry: that voice has its own issues, ones your girlfriend wasn’t banking on and won’t be able to handle without spiralling down into sick, horrible nonsense herself. So she’ll leave that voice, and come back home. Leaving the voice more alone than ever.

That voice is owned by GLYN STYLER. He’s a man possessed, when he’s not trying to sell you orthopedic mattresses. He’s done what Lou Reed woulda been capable of, if only Lou had never ever left home for money-driven Manhattan; what Scott Walker coulda been, if only Scott’d had found a sense of humor; what Frank Sinatra might’ve accomplished, if like the Tinman, he’d found his heart.

The good news is that EVERYTHING this man has recorded (The Desperate Ones EP featuring Lydia Lunch, the solo Live at the Mermaid Lounge EP, plus a few stray compilation cuts) sparkles out of a musical void not unlike a lost gold cufflink winking up at you from a trash-strewn stormdrain. The bad news? Well, his total output numbers less that a dozen tracks, and a number of those are quite difficult to come by. Need I say: we want more!

For those starting out, your best bets are the EPs, available through Truckstop Records. If you don’t happen to live within stumbling distance from the Circle Bar in New Orleans, you’ll have to settle for seeing him lipsync to his hits in Doris Wishman’s Satan Is A Lady DVD, or check out the short PBS video interview clip included here. But come you must; his hungry voice is waiting.

styler2

Q: Glyn Styler would seem to be equally motivated by equal parts beauty and perversity. Who or what gave you the idea that this would be such a winning combination?

GS: Rene Coman and I were hired to tour with an 80’s band called GREEN ON RED – I was the drummer and Rene played bass. During the tedious soundchecking of the drum kit, Rene would sit at the organ and I’d sing absurdly as a distraction. We started writing intentionally tasteless jazz/pop songs. We decided to do a public access TV talk show with an obnoxious singing host (like Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin) and named him Glyn Styler (with sidekick Tommy Baldwin on the piano). This is how GS got started.

Q: Give us an idea of who your influences are/were.

GS: Isn’t it obvious? Lou Reed, David Bowie, Jacques Brel, Frank Sinatra, sex, love, life itself. It’s a tradition. Everything is beautiful and everything is horrible.

Q: Authenticity is clearly an important concept down in New Orleans—I’m thinking here of all the original blues, jazz & zydeco music that folks associate with that part of the world. Yet Glyn Styler seems fly in directly the face of all that. What are your thoughts on this?

The only thing authentic in New Orleans is the crime and stupidity. There’s no good music here. Louis Armstrong would have loved me but I’m not appreciated here. I do understand your comment and agree with you – I am subverting tradition, but these morons don’t get it.

Q: How do audiences react to you?

GS: Most people just love the live show. I light the fuse and there’s an explosion of emotions and everyone basks in the fallout. Everybody understands a nervous breakdown. Only single guys get upset with my show which makes sense.

Q: How did you come to hook up with Ray Davies, and what is your favorite post-Muswell Hillbillies Kinks record?

GS: Ray’s girlfriend saw me perform at the South by Southwest showcase in Austin a few years ago and told Ray about me. He came to see me in New York and we’ve been friends ever since. The music industry doesn’t give a fuck about either one of us. Nobody wanted to fund a Ray Davies produced Glyn Styler album. My favorite post Muswell album would be (definitely) Preservation (Acts 1 & 2)!

Q: What’s going on with your new recordings?

GS: I have three albums worth of demos that I want to record, but can’t find a record deal. I have no manager, no help whatsoever. Ray did all he could. The industry doesn’t want me. They want Justin Timberlake. I refuse to put out my own record. I’ll sell mattresses instead.

Q: How does Rene Coman figure in to Glyn Styler?

GS: Rene is my songwriting partner and bassist.

Q: Some of us heard a great protest song “No Newts” you did for an obscure Mermaid Lounge compilation in the mid-90’s. What motivated you to record that?

GS: I hate what has happened in the last 20 years. Everyone has accepted so many blatant lies and stood silent. The media is so demented. The empire is falling AND IT SHOULD but I’m terrified because I’m so much a part of it…

Q: There’s been talk that you may be headed overseas, this time for good. Are you still making plans to leave this sinking-ship-of-a-nation of ours?

GS: The entire world is saturated with American anti-culture. There’s nowhere to run now. One can only hide.

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*originally published in the now-defunct DIE CAST GARDEN webzine in 2004, hence the slightly dated questions. But my love for GLYN still stands.