Jeffrey Novak Interview, Part Two
Ryan: Larry [Hardy] was really receptive to the early Cheap Time demos you were sending him.
Jeffrey: Yeah. I met Larry right after The Rat Traps broke up at a Redd Kross show. Even before I had recorded the demos, I told him my idea for the band’s sound was a cross between Pussy Galore and Redd Kross. Those were my two favorite bands at the time. Larry said, “Yeah, that sounds really interesting. I want to hear the demos.” We started recording the demos right after July 4, 2006.
Ryan: Cheap Time’s lineup changed early on. You had your girlfriend at the time in the band.
Jeffrey: She played on the first single. I actually play drums on it. That was recorded in my parents’ attic. That was a demo that turned into a single. On the last Rat Traps tour we played in Vancouver. My friend Jeff Green—who I had originally met in Texas—was there and said he was starting a label called Sweet Rot. I mentioned I was starting a new band, Cheap Time. He said that he’d like to put out our first 7”. That’s how that first single came out.
Ryan: I heard that you had gotten really into Sparks and The Quick when you were recording your first album for In The Red.
Jeffrey: Steve [McDonald of Redd Kross] had joined Sparks and In The Red had just put out the Hello Young Lovers LP. I had never heard of Sparks until then. Steve was in town and he played me Kimono My House in his rent-a-car. I didn’t like the record at all when I first heard it. I thought it sounded like Queen, but worse. Of course, it ends up being one of my favorite records. I then started listening to everything Sparks released up until the mid ‘80s.
Ryan: You recorded a cover of “People Talk”, a Jack Oblivian song he recorded with his mid ‘80s new-wave group, The End. How did you get a hold of the track?
Jeffrey: I bought that single when I was in The Rat Traps. They had about thirty copies of it at Goner. They were two dollars apiece. I wish I had bought more. We actually covered it a few times in The Rat Traps. We did a really under-rehearsed version of it. It’s a really cool song that nobody knows. Cheap Time was the band that allowed me to cover and record it properly. The original single by The End is worth money now. At the time it wasn’t worth shit.
Ryan: I had no idea Jack was playing in a new-wave band back in ’85.
Jeffrey: Have you heard the other side of the 45?
Jeffrey: It kind of sounds like Van Halen. “People Talk” is the B side.
Ryan: In 2008 you released your first solo album, After The Ball. Were you consciously dividing songs up between Cheap Time and the solo album, or was song selection happenstance?
Jeffrey: I moved back in with my parents when I recorded that album. I wanted to learn how to play piano like I could play guitar and to get a hold of an 8-track recorder. I wanted to learn more about recording because I was really disappointed by the results from the first Cheap Time record. I wasn’t thinking about dividing the songs up, really. I wanted to try something new with the solo record by putting myself out there more. I was scared that people might really hate it, but it was exactly what I wanted to do. I don’t think the first Cheap Time album sounded as good as the demos for it. It was recorded in a studio and it took so long to come out. It sold well but it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Having the album come out on In The Red was incredible, though. It’s my favorite label. The Cheater Slicks and The Lost Sounds were on In The Red. We also got to record with the same guy [Mike McHugh] who recorded The Hunches records. Larry told me, “Your first album is what people are going to know you for.” When it came out I thought, “I wish people didn’t know me for this record!”
Ryan: Really? I thought the first Cheap Time record sounded great.
Jeffrey: People liked that record. It wasn’t what I wanted, though. I guess I felt like I needed to make a solo record. But I don’t even have a copy of After The Ball in my record collection. It’s a rough record. It expresses what I was going through at that time; living with my parents and trying to date a girl in New York—something that didn’t work out. I just wanted to be alone all the time. I wanted to be sixteen years old when I was twenty-two! [laughs] I’m proud of that record though. It took a lot of work and I had to learn how to play the piano.
Ryan: Your first solo record and Cheap Time’s second album [Fantastic Explanations (and Similar Situations)]reminds me a lot of the early ‘70s Kinks records. Your vocal phrasing at times reminds me of Syd Barrett’s.
Jeffrey: Some of my favorite songs are on those two records. “Never Together” is a song I still play on piano. I was listening to a lot of Kinks and Alex Chilton during that period. Chilton was heavily influenced by British music. It was a matter of adapting that British influence to Southern singing. The funny thing is I don’t have a Southern accent. Jay didn’t either. People didn’t believe we’re really from Tennessee. I was born and raised in Tennessee!
Ryan: Yeah, you don’t sound like Greg [Cartwright] or any of the other people from Tennessee I’ve interviewed.
Jeffrey: No. Not at all.
Ryan: When I interviewed Jay he said that the only British band he listened to was Wire. He said that he didn’t like foreign interpretations of American rock ‘n’ roll. But later on I had heard that you two were so into British rock that you were going to name the studio you were building at Jay’s house “Anglophile Studios,” or some other similarly named tribute to British rock ‘n’ roll.
Jeffrey: That’s right! I can’t remember the name of it. But it had anglophile in the title. I had totally forgotten about that. That was the plan. A lot of my favorite American bands like Sparks and Alice Cooper were trying to sound like British bands. I guess I was trying to do the same thing.
Ryan: You moved in with Jay in between recording the first and second Cheap Time record.
Jeffrey: Yeah. Jay mastered the first Cheap Time record. My sister [April] lived with him before that. Jay had helped me mix the Rat Traps single for Shattered Records. Jay was always trying to give me advice about cooking and recording songs. Larry was sending everything to Jay at the time to master. I learned how to master records from Jay. He was also giving me advice about touring Europe and how to get shirts made. We did two tours together. After the solo record, I went to see Jay at the Hi-Tone. It was that tour he was doing with TV Smith. I asked Jay to help me master my first solo record; he said of course. He was really excited about it. He offered to put out a single and to issue my first solo record on CD, something he didn’t end up doing.
Jay said he wanted to produce my next solo record. Larry said he’d put it out. That really surprised me. Jay must have sold Larry on it; he did end up producing it. Right around the time the idea sprang up for Jay to produce my second solo record [Baron In The Trees], I was about to leave for Europe for six weeks to tour with Cheap Time. Jay said that he only had two weeks open to record it right after I got home from tour. He also wanted demos in advance. I only had two weeks before the European tour, so I wrote fifteen songs and created the demos in order to properly record them with Jay when I got back.
Ryan: That’s how it went when you rolled with Jay, huh?
Jeffrey: That’s what I miss about him. That spirit. You were always working. You had that next project lined up and you didn’t sit around on your ass. We recorded Baron In The Trees in two weeks and we hung out for the rest of the summer. Our girlfriends both broke up with us at around the same time. He then got a great deal on a house and bought it. I could live with him for free if I kept working on music and helped him build his studio. It was an offer I couldn’t turn down. Jay was someone I looked up to and here he was taking me under his wing. He taught me so much about recording. We ended up doing the second Cheap Time record in Costa Mesa.
Ryan: With Mike McHugh.
Jeffrey: Jay didn’t like the sound of the first Cheap Time record. He gave me the confidence to produce the second album. He told me to take charge. Of course, that didn’t work out too well. [laughs] Fantastic Explanations (and Similar Situations) ended up being a mess. We had a rough time with Mike and the record took forever to come out.
Ryan: That process didn’t go well for you?
Jeffrey: No. It was awful. We spent a lot of money on studio time and got next to nothing done. Mike was so difficult to work with. He was heavily into drugs. It was very sad and frustrating. Mike kicked us out of the studio [The Distillery] by gunpoint. We were supposed to start mixing. The band and I were at a diner when he called me. He asked, “Do you have my money, you fucks?” We told him that Larry was going to pay him. He said, “No? Then get your equipment and get the hell out of here.” He told us earlier in the session that he had a twelve-gauge shotgun. We went back to the studio and loaded our equipment. It took us forever to get our tapes back. We didn’t get them back until after Jay died.
Ryan: I had no idea that went down at The Distillery. Larry has been sending bands there for more than a decade.
Jeffery: Larry was just glad we were safe. At first he didn’t believe me. People still ask me if that really happened.
As we were leaving the studio I asked Mike if he had my tuning pedal. He said, “Buy a new one, you sellout fuck.” He went in, found it, and put down his shotgun. He handed me the pedal after we loaded everything up. The last thing Mike ever said to me was, “Run for your life.” [laughs] I can remember that day like it was yesterday. It was very frightening. He was our friend at one point. It’s sad to see what drugs can do to a person. Having your friend point a gun at you and tell you he wants the money in your socks is very scary.
Ryan: I didn’t know the back story to that record.
Jeffrey: It’s very sad. Mike’s a recording genius. He’s an amazing guy. He’s just a mess. I think he still hates me. I hope he gets clean. I have no idea what going on with him. I’m not trying to put him down. It was just a very bad experience.
Ryan: You have the right to be a little bitter and disappointed.
Jeffrey: Other bands have tried recording with him—like The Black Lips and The Spits—and have had poor results. Larry gave him so many chances. Mike sent me a bunch of mean e-mails later. It hurt my feelings, but I try not to take it personally. I never got to play the second record for Jay. He wouldn’t have liked it anyway. He would have gotten on me about the drum sound. It would have been a record to argue about. The band was also at a low point and people weren’t receptive to the record when it finally came out.
Ryan: I got an advance copy of the third Cheap Time record [Wallpaper Music]. It sounds like a cross between the first and second albums; some of the tracks remind me of Magazine. Did you record the record yourself?
Jeffrey: It was done in my bedroom on a 16-track recorder. It was recorded over a year ago, before the second record came out. We couldn’t tour until Fantastic Explanations (and Similar Situations) came out, so we had almost a whole year off. It was a fun record to make. It took a long time and it was a major learning experience. I did it on a Tascam tape machine. We recorded the solo record digitally. I don’t think it has that great of a sound, but that’s how Jay wanted to record it. I like the third Cheap Time record. It’s listenable. I made this record with the idea of playing it live in mind. The songs had to be fun to play. People have been really receptive when we’ve played the songs live. We had the opposite reaction to the material off of the second record. It’s great when people like what you’re playing and you like it too. The album deals with Jay’s passing. It was a therapeutic process. I’ve never been more depressed about anything in my life. I was in a bad place when I made that record. I had to make it. It has that driving spirit in it.
Ryan: Do you plan on recording and producing most of your material from here on out?
Jeffrey: Yeah. I’ve gotten better at it on every release. I’ve learned how to record and mic instruments better. I can take my time and record exactly how I want to without worrying about expensive studios. Larry seems happier with this record.
Ryan: Do you now have a stable lineup of Cheap Time?
Jeffrey: [laughs] I play all the bass on the third Cheap Time record. Our bass player was living in New York and he quit the band. He said he had no interest in putting down his bass parts. We got another bass player from Minnesota. I think his girlfriend broke up with him and he inadvertently quit the band. I tried getting a hold of him but got no response. I now have my friend Cole [Kinnear] playing bass. Cole has actually never been in a band before. He’s never played bass. I taught him the bass parts to our songs. He’s practicing right now as we speak. Our new lineup should have a single coming out soon. We’re also big fans of The Fall. A new lineup is exciting—we think we can make a better record. I don’t get stressed out about people leaving. But I’m pretty excited about this lineup. I don’t want to see it go.
Ryan: Cole will hopefully be your Steve Hanley.
Jeffrey: [laughs] Yeah! Our first show with this lineup is next week.
Jeffrey Novak Interview, Part One
Photo by Mor Fleisher-Leach
Jeffrey Novak is the driving force behind Cheap Time. He’s also cut records with The Rat Traps, Jeffrey Novak’s One-Man Band, and has released material under his own name. It’s a pretty impressive discography for someone still in his mid twenties.
Novak spent the last couple years of high school obsessively recording material (“an album a week”) and studying the dates seminal records were released (although it didn’t make it to the interview, we discussed all the great musicians and bands that cut two albums in 1970). He’s a diehard record collector with an deep interest in great bands and musicians—Kevin Ayers, Sparks and The Cheater Slicks to name a few. Novak’s own records reflect these obsessions; hints of his latest influences can tastefully be found in all of his albums. Jeffrey also spent a lot of time with the late Jay Reatard. Jay taught Jeffrey how to record music and tour more effectively. Jay’s work ethic also left an impression on Novak.
Jeffrey has a new Cheap Time (Wallpaper Music) and solo record out (Baron In The Trees) now.
Interview by Ryan Leach
The following interview originally ran in Razorcake #67 (www.razorcake.org)
Ryan: Although you live in Memphis, I know you grew up a bit outside of the city.
Jeffrey: I’m actually in Nashville now. I’ve lived in Nashville for the past two years. I only lived in Memphis for about half a year. My sister lives in Memphis. My family lives about an hour outside of the city [in Henderson]. I used to stay with my sister in Memphis a lot and then I crashed with Jay [Reatard] for about half a year.
Ryan: But you’ve always lived in Tennessee.
Jeffrey: Yeah. Henderson is about an hour away from Memphis and two hours from Nashville, so I used to go to Memphis a lot when I was younger. I dated a girl out in Nashville; she bought a house and I moved in with her. We split up and I later went to Henderson to record an album [After The Ball] at my parents’ house. After that I moved to Memphis to live with Jay. When he died I moved back to Nashville. I made a big circle.
Once Jay visited me in Henderson and he was astonished at how far out in the middle of nowhere my house was. [laughs]
Ryan: I interviewed Jay in 2006. One of the things he liked about Memphis—and I’m sure this goes for much of Tennessee—was the cheap cost of rent. He said he could focus more on his music without the burden of working.
Jeffrey: That’s the truth. That’s a big part of what keeps me in Tennessee. It’s especially true of Memphis. Nashville is a more expensive place to live—likely the most expensive city in the state. My rent is still only $220 a month.
Jeffrey: I haven’t had a real job in five years.
Ryan: You’d be hard pressed to get a room for under $500 here in Los Angeles.
Jeffrey: In Memphis you can get a room for $100 a month. When I was living with Jay, he didn’t charge me rent at all. He just wanted me to work on music all the time. That was a big incentive to living with him.
Ryan: Digressing back a bit, you were playing music at a really young age. You formed your one-man band while you were still in your teens.
Jeffrey: I’ve been recording and writing songs since I was fifteen years old. Early on I’d record with two microphones into my parents’ stereo. Later on I upgraded to a 4-track recorder. In my last two years of high school I’d write an album a week. I completed twenty-eight albums. Every day in school I’d write down twenty to thirty song titles, and every album I created had to have outtakes. I was obsessed with recording material.
Ryan: Were you under the assumption that people produced records like that? I’ve interviewed a lot of people and I’ve never heard of anything like that.
Jeffrey: I don’t know what the inspiration was to record that abundance of material. I had no idea that you had to take your time recording songs. I was into producing art that way. As soon as I pushed record I’d have to come up with material. It was about improvising. I was obsessed with it.
Ryan: You’re one-man band is a great example of the European labels being on the pulse of Memphis music in the early and mid 2000s. All of your 7”s were released by overseas labels: Yakisakana, A Fistful of Records, P. Trash and Perpetrator.
Jeffrey: The American labels were not interested at all in what I was doing. Even Goner didn’t care. The only people who were interested in Memphis music at the time were the people behind labels like Yakisakana from France, P. Trash from Germany, A Fistful of Records from the Netherlands and Perpetrator from New Zealand. If I were to do my one-man band now—say I were the same age today that I was then—it would be a much different story. There would be a local label wanting to put it out.
I must have sent out hundreds of CD-Rs to people. I’d send them out with letters that read, “You put out this 7”. You might like what I’m doing too.” When you’re living in the middle of nowhere [Henderson] it’s your only contact with people. I never toured. I only played Memphis and maybe Nashville. There were no scenes then. Memphis had a little more going on back then [as opposed to Nashville] because of the older people in their thirties and forties who had been around music in the ‘90s. Jay and Alicja [Trout] were the younger people from that Memphis crowd—the post-Oblivians group of people. In Nashville there was nothing.
Ryan: I’ve been to Memphis, but never to Nashville. Nashville always seemed like ground zero for overproduced commercial music due to the Nashville Sound. Is there an underground scene there?
Jeffrey: There is now. There are young kids who want to play underground music. It’s currently a trendy thing. When I was seventeen or eighteen, no one really cared about underground music. It took a couple of years until I saw kids at shows who were my age. All those kids I first met ended up starting Magic Kids. Most young people that I met then were into hardcore, which I only got into later—bands like Redd Kross, Adolescents and Black Flag. I was all about White Light/White Heat and Funhouse.
Ryan: You were doing a Captain Beefheart cover in your one-man band.
Jeffrey: He’s the real deal. That type of music sucks you in. You don’t like it the first couple of times that you hear it.
Ryan: That’s the mark of a great record; it doesn’t immediately appeal to you. Captain Beefheart is another example of a guy creating great music in the middle of nowhere—Lancaster, California.
Jeffrey: Having isolation helps. Even though I no longer live in Henderson, I rarely hang out with people in Nashville. I have a studio at my house. It’s difficult living with my parents. [laughs]
Ryan: Was your one-man band formed out of necessity?
Jeffrey: Sort of. I had tried to find people to play with in high school. It was my dream to get a band together. I started collecting records when I was in fourth grade. I bought all of my Beatles records at antique stores. I wanted to be a songwriter even back then. I bought a bass at fifteen but there was no one to play with, so I decided I had to learn how to play all of the instruments and sing. I did that to create all of those records I made in high school.
In my freshman year of college I saw the Cheater Slicks and The Oblivians. It was their Halloween 2003 reunion show. That was a big deal. I liked the Oblivians. The Cheater Slicks opened for The Oblivians. After seeing the Cheater Slicks I had almost no interest in watching the Oblivians play. I had never heard the Cheater Slicks before that night, but their attitude and sound convinced me that they were the best band I had ever seen. They had that proto-punk sound I loved. They had an amazing, negative vibe. It was something of an epiphany. The song “Murder” really stuck out to me. That show was on a Friday. The next morning I decided I needed to figure out how to play live music. The post-Oblivians bands like The Reatards and The Persuaders influenced me next. They were really punk and that was the sound I was going for with my one-man band.
Ryan: Your story of seeing The Cheater Slicks reminds me of Jay seeing The Oblivians.
Jeffrey: It’s funny that seeing The Oblivians that night didn’t have the same effect on me. They were still really good. They played for two hours. But it was the forty-minute Cheater Slicks set that did it for me.
Ryan: If you talk with Greg Cartwright or Alicja, they mention Jay being younger than everyone, but you’re a number of years younger than Jay. The influence his music is having on the generation that’s coming up after him is interesting.
Jeffrey: He was about twenty-three or twenty-four when I met him. By then I knew who The Reatards were. This was back in 2003 when no one really knew who they were and their records were really hard to find. The Lost Sounds were a famous band to me. They had a very unapproachable vibe. They were known for doing lots of drugs and being very creepy. I was scared and in awe of them. I saw Nervous Patterns play with Oneida and American Death Ray in November or December, just a month or two after the Halloween Cheater Slicks show. I couldn’t even talk with Jay or Alicja. I’m usually not like that with people, but they seemed so unapproachable.
Ryan: I caught the Los Angeles show of the last Lost Sounds tour. They were so aggressive.
Jeffrey: Yeah. I eventually met them at a show I was playing at Murphy’s with the CC Riders. It was Jeffrey Evans’ band with Jay and Alicja. James Arthur was in the group too, but he had moved back to Texas a little earlier. Jeffrey introduced me to Jay at the bar. Jay was eating chili fries. We started talking about Peavey amps and synthesizers. Alicja came up to me and said, “Hey, I hear you’re putting out these CD-Rs. I’d like to distro them for you.” I was surprised by how nice and friendly they were. I was eighteen years old. That meeting had a big impact on me.
Shortly after that, Jay started dating Alix [Brown] and he was living in Atlanta for a while. I didn’t see him much until he moved back to Memphis. He had started Shattered Records and I was in The Rat Traps.
Ryan: You formed The Rat Traps with your sister April and brother-in-law Joe [Simpson].
Jeffrey: They were living in New York but we talked about putting something together. They moved back down to Tennessee. I ended up playing drums because I was better than April and Joe at them, but I still wasn’t a very good drummer. The Rat Traps lasted about a year.
Ryan: The Rat Traps played the second Gonerfest.
Jeffrey: Yeah. We played at the Buccaneer.
Ryan: You sang most but not all of the songs in The Rat Traps, correct?
Jeffrey: I sang about a third of the songs. April and Joe had their songs too. That was the most democratic band I’ve been in. After The Rat Traps, I decided I didn’t want to form another band like that. It wasn’t me thinking egotistically. We just fought so often that it wasn’t much fun. While we were on our last tour, I was writing a lot of the songs that’d eventually show up on the first Cheap Time record. I remember running into Alicja in Boston and telling her I was going to start a new band. I wanted her to play drums. I tried to get Joe from The Rat Traps to play guitar for me. It was hard to get people to play with me back then! [laughs]
James Arthur Interview, Part Two
Ryan: If I’m not mistaken, The Necessary Evils wound down sometime around 2000. Did you move back to Texas?
James: I moved to Memphis in 1999. Steve Pallow was working all of the time. I think Jimmy had gone to jail. Kyle (John Hall), The Necessary Evils’ drummer, had moved to San Francisco. Kyle fell out of a window—from either the second or third story—and ended up shattering both of his heels. On Sicko Inside Me, he’s playing drums in a wheel chair. There was no falling out with The Necessary Evils. We’re all super tight still. It was just time to move on.
Ryan: Not many people know about the CC Riders, largely because your Self-titled album received a limited, one-hundred copy CD-R release (Contaminated Records, 2001). Nevertheless, the lineup was heavy: you, Jeffrey Evans, Alicja Trout and Jay Reatard. How did you guys get together?
James: When I moved to Memphis, I played with The Reatards briefly. In Memphis everyone plays with one another. There are some recordings out there of me playing with The Reatards. It’s just me, Jay and Rich (Crook). I have no idea what happened to them.
Ryan: That’s amazing. A lot of great people played with The Reatards. Greg Cartwright was even a Reatard briefly.
James: Yeah. It was cool playing with Jay. One of the last times I saw Jay, he was talking about doing a Reatards reunion show with everyone who’d played in the band. After playing with Jay, I approached Jeffrey Evans. I was really into ’68 Comeback and The Gibson Bros. I saw the Gibson Bros. with Jon Spencer on guitar when I was in high school. I was really hammered when I asked Jeffrey if we could play together. I’m not sure how the lineup came together for CC Riders. That band was a lot of fun. I have a set list from the group that I saved. I framed it. Jeffrey used to write the show number and the tempos for the songs on the set list.
Ryan: Do you remember recording the CC Riders album?
James: They recorded that after I moved back to Dallas. I think I might be on some of those tracks. I remember recording some stuff with Jeffrey.
Ryan: He mentions you on the recordings. Before one solo, he yells something like, “Take it, James.”
James: (laughs) Yeah. We might have recorded some of that material at Jeffrey’s house. At the time I was also in The New Memphis Legs with Eric Friedl (aka, Eric Oblivian). We recorded some tracks with Jeffrey. Jay was on those recordings too.
Ryan: You were playing with Jay and Alicja as they were forming The Lost Sounds.
James: That’s right. I actually still have one of their organs. Whenever I talk with Alicja, she always reminds me that she needs to get her organ back! Jay and Alicja were super volatile as a couple but also very creative.
Ryan: You played drums on the first Golden Boys LP.
James: Feast of Snakes was the first band I played in when I got back to Dallas, though. That was with Alex Cuervo, Hank Tosh and Angelique Congleton. Mark Ryan from The Reds played with us briefly. I had another band called The Signals. We recorded an amazing record. It was just organ, guitar and drums. Unfortunately, the album never came out.
Ryan: Memphis seemed like a good fit for you. What brought you back to Texas?
James: My wife and I started our business (Moon Shine Shades) in Memphis. We manufacture lamps and lightshades for a lot of big businesses—like Chili’s Restaurants— and we sell stuff online to people. Dallas is the home of the lighting industry, which is why we moved back to Texas. A lot of people who work for us are in bands. They are always on tour, so we give them work when they need it. A lot of people from Austin and San Antonio were coming out to our place in Spring Branch for jobs. Matt Hoopengardner came out to work for us. Matt and I just clicked. He was a cool dude and he wrote songs. That was the start of The Golden Boys. But then Matt and I couldn’t find a drummer. So I said, “Fuck it. I’ll learn how to play drums.” I had met Wes (John Wesley Coleman) out in Denton. He was working for us too and joined up. Later on, Ney Ney (Nathan Arbeitman) wanted to go on tour with us. So we said, “Shit, why don’t you play keys?” We put out some singles. Italian labels like Solid Sex Lovie Doll released one of our 7”s. Perpetrator from New Zealand did another one. I started Hook or Crook Records around this time with Chris Owen, who was living in San Francisco. For some reason, Chris and I decided that our first three releases (The Golden Boys, Killer’s Kiss, The Rebel) should come out on CD. (laughs) I still have boxes of them. Andrew Tolley put out the vinyl release of Scorpion Stomp #2 (The Golden Boys’ first LP) on Perpetrator.
Ryan: Did you and Chris start Hook or Crook with the intention of self-releasing The Golden Boys’ CD as a way to jumpstart the label? Or did Hook or Crook just coincide with the release?
James: I’ve never had a game plan. Chris is just an old buddy. He used to intern for Crypt Records. He moved out to California. We were chatting on the phone one day and decided to start a label. Then the reality set in a few releases later! I had to get out for personal reasons. Chris then took it over. It was cool for a little while. We were rockin’ there.
Ryan: You did a great Demon’s Claws album (Live In Spring Branch, TX).
James: They came down here to my place. Demon’s Claws are great. Matt Hoopengardner and I recorded that album.
Ryan: With your new project, James Arthur’s Manhunt, you’ve been into instrumentals.
James: A lot of that had to do with Steve Pallow. He had asked me to create instrumental music for a movie he was making. I’ve got tapes and tapes of stuff. I found these tapes of my grandfather singing at funerals. He used to go to Baptists churches and sing there. I’d run his vocals through effects boxes and make them sound creepy.
Ryan: The Manhunt record was a little bit of a departure for you.
James: Well, after I quit The Golden Boys, I had to take a break from music.
Ryan: You dropped out for a while.
James: I thought I was pretty much done after The Golden Boys. The Manhunt record was me messing around with instruments at the house, just after that period. I started getting back into music with Manhunt. Again, Steve was really the impetus for that. Steve and I have always kept in touch. But then the movie Steve was working on fell through. My buddy Richard Stanley from Australia—he was in the Onyas—was really into the work I was recording for Steve’s movie. Richard and I ended up recording some things. He encouraged me to put the songs out. That’s how the Aarght! Records LP came about. I sent a bunch of songs to Richard and Mikey (Young) of Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Mikey mastered and sequenced the record. I sent him twenty or thirty songs. I told him: “Take what you want.” I’ve got hours of music recorded.
Ryan: You were recording this material as you were getting out of a low point. And it seems like you’ve opened floodgates: you’ve got singles with Perpetrator and In The Red planned, plus a record on 12xU.
James: Manhunt is pretty intense. There’s going to be elements of the instrumental stuff. That’s partially because I don’t like recording with a whole band as much as doing it myself. Recording with a group is laborious; people spend a lot of time staring at each other with nothing to do.
Ryan: With the instrumental material, you can get it done the way you want to when you record it on your own. You don’t have people looking at you, asking, “What’s that chord sequence again?” Plus your creating some pretty idiosyncratic effects with you guitar.
James: Totally. There are elements on Manhunt that were the result of me testing out microphones; some really random things. I’d get an idea and start adding onto it. I’m not a big songwriter. I don’t like writing lyrics. Even to this day, I’ll change lyrics to songs at shows. To me, it’s more about how you’re saying something as opposed to what you’re saying. I’m much more interested in the pattern of the vocals. I’ve got my house set up where I can flip shit on and start recording.
Ryan: Is the lineup for Manhunt still pretty loose?
James: Now I’ve got a core group. Bryan Schmitz—the bassist of Golden Boys—is in the band. My other friends Sean Morales and Orville Bateman Neeley III are in the group too. Orville is in Bad Sports. He’s a kid—25—and a real go-getter. Manhunt is a real band which is what I wanted. The soundtrack stuff is hard to pull off live. Manhunt is really noisy which I’m into. Controlled Chaos.
James Arthur Interview, Part One
Photo by Renate Winter
Over the course of many years covering music, I’ve never encountered the level of encouragement I received from others when I mentioned I was interviewing James Arthur. The general consensus among the garage-rock fans I spoke with was that James was overlooked and that it was about time a rock rag gave him some coverage. These positive responses let me know that I was on the right track—shedding light on great artists, especially those who typically go unnoticed by glossier mags is why I cover music.
Looking over Mr. Arthur’s discography—and taking into account his formidable guitar playing—the encouragement makes sense: James was a one-time member of Fireworks, The Necessary Evils, CC Riders, Feast of Snakes and The Golden Boys. His latest project, James Arthurs’ Manhunt, puts James in a relatively new place: band leader and songwriter. The group’s Self-titled debut contains some of Arthurs’ best work to date. And with several releases on the horizon, and heaps of unreleased material at his disposal, there appears to be no shortage of music from James in sight.
Interview by Ryan Leach
The following interview originally ran in Razorcake #65 (www.razorcake.org)
Ryan: You were born in Texas, correct?
James: I was born and raised in Texas. I grew up in a small town in East Texas. East Texas is more of the Deep South. It’s a lot different than a place like Austin and the general West Texas area. I dealt with all the problems you’d encounter in a small Southern Baptist area. I wanted to get out of there. I was accused of being into all kinds of weird stuff, like Satan worshipping. (laughs) This was when Geraldo was covering it. (In 1988, Geraldo Rivera produced a TV special entitled Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground.) It was total nonsense. I can tell you weird stories for days about hillbillies and rednecks. I was also really into skateboarding. This was back in the ‘80s, when you’d get your ass kicked for riding a skateboard.
Ryan: During the late ‘80s, Texas claimed the legendary vert skater Jeff Phillips.
James: I looked up to those guys on Zorlac Skateboards. Certainly Jeff Phillips. We’d go to their skate demos. Skateboarding sort of leads you into punk rock. I was also into classic rock. For whatever reason, I really liked Cream. When I was sixteen, my sister got pregnant. She was about a year older than me. It was a small-town scandal. So my family moved to Denton, Texas. Denton is north of Dallas. It’s a college town. A lot of bands come out of there. The Riverboat Gamblers are from Denton. In addition to skating, I was also into getting drunk and collecting records. I met Darin (Lin Wood) in Denton. I joined Fireworks. Darin was about six years older than me. I was still in high school when I met him.
Ryan: If I’m not mistaken, Fireworks started sometime around 1992.
James: That sounds right. I graduated high school in 1991. But I had been hanging out with Darin for a while before I joined Fireworks. I’d go to his shows. Darin had a minimalist rockabilly band called The Red Devils. They’d set up with a reel-to-reel for their live shows. It would play the drum parts that they had recorded. They would put their two guitars over that. It was really fucked up and cool. I was getting into weird rockabilly and blues at that point. Darin would make me mix tapes. He had spent a lot of time in New York; he’d been around. I was regularly going back and forth between Denton and Dallas to play with Fireworks. The band existed before I joined them. Chris Merlick played guitar at the beginning; Fireworks had three guitarists at one point—me, Chris and Darin. We put out a record on Crypt (1994’s Set The World On Fire) and went to Europe. But then Darin started getting into drugs again. That pretty much put an end to Fireworks.
Ryan: Going back a bit, Fireworks released an early In The Red Records single (1993’s “Untrue”). Was Darin your connection to Larry Hardy (founder of In The Red)?
James: Definitely. I didn’t know anyone at that point. I was just a punk kid. Darin had played in ’68 Comeback as well. Darin was a real go-getter back then. “Untrue” was a really early In The Red release. I remember meeting Larry Hardy on tour in California. I think he was still working at a grocery store then.
Ryan: Going to Europe must have been pretty big for you. You mentioned coming from a very provincial town.
James: I had never been on a plane before that trip. I had hitchhiked a lot, though, venturing out to California. But Fireworks put the bug in me. After that, I just wanted to play in bands.
Ryan: Fireworks ended acrimoniously. But it seems like Darin was a bit of a mentor for you, at least in terms of music.
James: Darin turned me on to so much stuff. He got me into the Gories. We were friends at one point. It did end bitterly. Fireworks was all I had at that point in my life. It was a big deal for me.
Ryan: You mentioned earlier that he’d been in New York. I know Darin played with Cop Shoot Cop briefly.
James: Yeah. He had played with the Black Snakes too. Richard Kern and Jack Natz were in the group as well. It was pre-Cop Shoot Cop. Very sleazy, New York rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t really speak with Darin anymore. However, with the advent of social networking we have exchanged a few messages over the years.
Ryan: You moved out to California to play in The Necessary Evils with Steve Pallow. I understand that Larry Hardy helped you guys get off of the ground.
James: Yes. But I had met Steve Pallow earlier; Fireworks toured Europe with The Beguiled. Steve and Mike Ball (of The Beguiled) and I got along really well. Then Mike was killed by a drunk driver (September 1994). He died leaving a Fireworks show, actually. It was a real shame and totally shocking. After The Beguiled ended, Steve Pallow had this band called The Black Panthers. He played me some of the recordings they had made, which were amazing. I was on tour with the Cheater Slicks for some reason. I was just riding around in the van with them and we were listening to the Black Panthers recordings. Steve and I talked about working together. Larry sort of initiated what became the Necessary Evils. He sent me the money to fly out to Los Angeles to play with Steve. A lot of the early Necessary Evils material was based off of the material Steve had written with Mike Ball. Initially, I wasn’t really bringing much to the table except for my noisy guitar parts. Steve ended up living right behind Larry in Hollywood. And I’d stay with Steve.
Ryan: The Necessary Evils material is credited to “The Necessary Evils”. As you mentioned, the first album was largely written by Steve and Mike Ball. But how did the songwriting dynamic change for the second LP, Sicko Inside Me? Jimmy Hole was on bass by then.
James: The first album (Spider Fingers, 1997) we recorded next to Mike McHugh’s studio (The Distillery). The Sicko Inside Me (1999) album we recorded at The Distillery with Jimmy Hole. We wanted a bass player so we got Jimmy. The first show we were supposed to play with Jimmy was up in San Francisco. I don’t think the show happened because we showed up late. But Jimmy head butted this dude at the venue. He just dropped this guy. I remember thinking: “Wow! This guy is cool.” The fact that Jimmy is still alive is pretty amazing. He’s such a nice guy you’d never expect that other side of him.
Ryan: Was Jimmy doing design work for In The Red Records then?
James: I’m not sure. I think he was primarily working for Epitaph then.
Ryan: Sicko Inside Me is a thoroughly Los Angeles album: the ominous incidental music; the 1930s science-fiction monologues; the song “Man From Mars” about Forrest Colson, the early ’50s holdup man who, dressed as a space alien, performed robberies around LA. The record has a Mike Davis City of Quartz and Kenneth Anger feel to it; behind Los Angeles’ boosterism lies a pretty ugly place. Were you thinking along these lines when you were coming up with material for Sicko Inside Me?
James: You’d have to talk with Steve about that. He’s the movie collector. Steve’s also an encyclopedia of weird California history. A lot of the incidental music was the result of us sitting in Steve’s garage and playing with broken synthesizers and tape loops. I do think living in Hollywood had something to do with the sound of that record. It was so fucking gross down there; there was so much desperation. It was weighing on our minds a lot. I was angry and hungry. I was going through a journal the other day that I had written during that time period. It was depressing to read. It seemed like every day you’d see something fucked up. It’s not a cool place. That’s why we all moved to Burbank! But in terms of songs, we’d just rifle them off: “Okay! That’s a song. Next! Let’s throw some weird noise in there.” It wasn’t like our precious baby or anything.
Eric Oblivian Interview, Part Two
Ryan: Was The New Memphis Legs the next thing you did?
Eric: I think so. After The Oblivians I was just kind of hanging out. James (Arthur) moved to Memphis and I was determined not to be in a band with him. It seemed way too obvious. We would drink whiskey on a Saturday night and ride our BMX bikes to places with pinball machines. Eventually we decided to work up some songs. We already had a drummer. But then we realized Forrest (Hewes) from The Neckbones was in town. We ditched the first drummer because Forrest was around, but we were too chicken to tell him he was out of the band. We claimed that we had formed a new group. That’s why the band is called The New Memphis Legs (laughs). As soon as we got Forrest in, the band was amazing. The first drummer was good, but Forrest has amazing time. He can sing. His kick pedal was like a bass. James is a great guitarist. He was wild. The New Memphis Legs was a really fun band. We were listening to a bunch of Australian ‘60s stuff from the Ugly Things compilation. We covered some of those songs and made up a bunch of dumb originals.
Ryan: As far as I know, The New Memphis Legs only had one properly released song on a Shangri-La Records compilation. Goner is going to release a posthumous full-length LP, correct?
Eric: We are going to release a New Memphis Legs LP. A buddy of ours had an early recording program on his computer. He said he’d record us. We were into it, so we recorded some songs in his living room. At the time we weren’t into how the recordings turned out. But it’s another example where as time moves on you start picking out the good things you missed earlier when you were solely focusing on the aspects you didn’t like. Eventually James and I decided to put it out.
Ryan: Bad Times was another case of having the right people (Eric Oblivian, King Louie Bankston, Jay Reatard) at the right place, huh?
Eric: Yeah.I was just breaking up with this girl. I don’t remember what was going on with Jay, but Louie was getting divorced. Jay and I decided to go down to New Orleans and record a record with Louie. We drove down. Jay had his four-track. We spent a day recording. The next day we mixed the record. That was it. It was the same experience we had with The New Memphis Legs. We thought the recording was crappy. There was too much delay on the vocals. Later we changed our minds: “It sounds pretty good. Let’s put it out!” Recording the album was fun. I’ve told this story before, but when we got back to Memphis—it’s a six-and-a-half hour drive from New Orleans to Memphis—at three in the morning, Jay came home to find out that his mom had kicked him out of the house. All of his stuff was on the front lawn. I dropped Jay off with his buddy Sean. I asked Jay if he was okay. He said, “Yeah, I’m fine, man.” I said, “Okay. You can stay at my house.” I don’t know what he did that night. We were going through bad times. That band was aptly named (laughs)!
I also played in the Dutch Masters. The band was me, Punk Rock Pat on drums, Scott Rogers on second guitar, and at various times Talbot Adams, Joe T and Robin Pack on bass. We put out a 7” on Goner. The highlight of the band was playing Horizontal Action Blackout Fest and getting asked by Fred Cole of Dead Moon to go on tour with them. Which, of course, never happened. That was a total bummer.
Ryan: When you opened up The Goner store with Zac (Ives) in 2004, you two took over the location Greg (Cartwright) previously occupied with Legba Records. I don’t know much about Legba. Was the shop open for long?
Eric: No. He only had it for a couple of years. Greg is a big record collector. Legba was doing pretty well even though it seemed like Greg wasn’t putting much effort into it. The inventory was mostly his collection. Of course, when you own a record store, records just seem to show up at your door whether you like it or not. We asked Greg what kind of money Legba was bringing in. We bought most of his stock when he moved out to Asheville. His wife got a job out there, so they were moving out of town. He told me and Zac, “I think you should take over this store front. I’m moving out of town. People know this location as a record store.” It just all fell into place. Goner is in a nice neighborhood. There are other shops around and places to eat.
Ryan: Things seem to develop around you. Gonerfest is another example.
Eric: That’s the worst example of that happening. I started Goner (the record label) in 1993. But before 2004, I hadn’t done too much with the label. I had gotten into a car wreck in the mid ‘90s. For years I didn’t know whether I was going to get sued or not. That’s why I didn’t keep putting out Guitar Wolf records. I didn’t know if I’d lose all of my money in a lawsuit. I would have released more Guitar Wolf records had the car accident not happened. The band asked me to. Looking back on it, I should have just gone for it. Guitar Wolf ended up releasing albums on Bag of Hammers and then Matador. I had put out a few records prior to opening the shop, but not many. Zac and I wanted to run the shop and get the label really going again. King Louie had his one-man band thing. We did the first King Khan and BBQ Show record. King Khan and BBQ had sent those songs out to a lot of people. Apparently no one listened to them. We loved them. We thought they were great. I knew The Spaceshits; they had done a show with The Oblivians. But King Khan and BBQ had a reputation that was pretty terrible. So Goner put it out. We had two releases coming out at the same time (by King Khan and BBQ and King Louie Bankston). King Khan and BBQ were on tour. We said to King Louie: “King Khan and BBQ are playing a show this Friday in Memphis. Louie, if you want to come up and do a show on Saturday, we can release Gonerfest editions of your records. We’ll call the two nights ‘Gonerfest’”. The Black Lips were on tour with King Khan and BBQ. We just padded the rest of the lineup out with Memphis bands. All of a sudden people said, “Man, I’m going out to Memphis. This is going to be great!” We had people come in from England. People from Italy like Frederico (Zanutto), the guy who runs Solid Sex Lovie Doll, came out. It was ridiculous. The place we held the shows at (The Buccaneer) holds about seventy-five people. There were easily two hundred people there. The shows were great. People were going bananas. It was sweaty and packed. The bands were excited. It was such a great time. Those accidental things can turn out so great. They’re so surprising and shocking. That was the start of Gonerfest. We called it a festival as a joke. But people like coming to Memphis. It’s cheap. There’s great BBQ. And what’s better than drinking beer and watching great bands for a whole weekend? Gonerfest works well too because the bands really want to play. They think it’s cool. We couldn’t afford to fly people in or provide guarantees on most of the shows. It’s grown because the bands are doing it out of their own goodwill.
Ryan: How is working out the logistics for Gonerfest? I imagine it must be difficult. You’re now doing shows at the Hi-Tone, The Buccaneer and the Goner store.
Eric: It’s a lot to organize, but it hasn’t been too hard. Again, when you’ve got bands that want to be there, it goes a lot easier. If someone’s playing a show strictly for money, it’s a different situation. The backstage might not be what they thought it’d be. Little problems can escalate quickly. But with a little bit of goodwill, things go a lot easier and everyone has more fun. The reason we started doing all of the other shows was because they started popping up anyway. You’d think that having twelve bands playing over three days was enough. But all of these other groups would show up to the festival and would want to play. So we started doing afternoon shows. Instead of having someone else book it—and maybe getting crappy bands in there—we started taking control over it and booked the shows ourselves. The afternoon shows have occasionally been better than the night shows. It’s just an outdoor party. It’s worked out pretty well. Planning for it hasn’t been too difficult.
Ryan: Did True Sons of Thunder just sort of happen like most of your other bands?
Eric: Funnily enough, True Sons of Thunder is probably the most planned out band I’ve had. The main singer, Richard Martin, plays a half banjo, half guitar that was made by a guitar and amp genius in town named Robert Hinson. Richard has been in noise bands like Corn For Texture. He was doing that in the ‘80s. I always wanted to be in a band with Richard. We started hanging out. Sam Liemer had moved up from New Orleans. He had played bass in Mangina. Abe (White) from The Oscars wanted to do something. Joe Simpson was around too. Joe had played in The Dutch Masters and The Rat Traps. We decided to do something. I was sort of in the middle of everything; not everyone knew each other. The first time Sam met Richard he thought Richard was homeless. Richard is six years older than I am. I’m probably six years older than Sam; Sam might be six years older than Abe. That sounds like eighty years! It’s a strange mix of people. Richard’s banjitar spews out this weird, effected noise that sounds like no other instrument. We did a record (Spoonful of Seedy Dudes) that our friend Chad (Booth) from New Orleans released. We’ve got other recordings that we’re trying to figure out what to do with. We like opening up people. It’s a good way to help touring bands. We know that we’re not going to be the most popular band in town. But that’s not the point. It’s for our own enjoyment. We think we’re great (laughs). It doesn’t really matter if we are or not.
Ryan: The Oblivians have recorded a new record that should be out fairly soon. I’ve heard some early mixes and the tracks are incredible.
Eric: Thanks. As far as The Oblivians record, it turned out pretty well. It was a little bit more work. We each brought some songs together. We recorded it in a fancier studio. It was pretty ridiculous. We tried to use this nice, two-inch reel-to-reel tape player that didn’t work. We’d do a take and if we wanted to listen to it, we’d have to stop and pull a section of the tape player apart. It was kind of perfect. It was recorded on broken equipment, even though we worked in a nicer studio. Doug Easley helped to produce. He didn’t do much because the engineer had to do all this technical stuff to keep the session going. It was perfect for Doug. He’d just nod his head from time to time and give some advice. Doug has a studio now that he does digital recordings at. After taking part in The Oblivians session he said, “Man, hearing how crappy that stuff sounded made me check to see if my old analog machines still worked.” We ended up going to Doug’s studio in Memphis and recorded stuff on his tape machine. It worked out well. The record was fun. “Call The Police” is a fun song to play. I think the record sounds like the Oblivians. I hope other people feel the same way.
Ryan: Usually when bands experience long gaps in recording, their new material sounds off. Production values will be different and songwriting changes. But the new album sounds like an Oblivians record.
Eric: I think so. It’s definitely not us drunk in the back of Shangri-La Records. But we haven’t really changed that much.
Eric Oblivian Interview, Part One
Eric playing with True Sons Of Thunder (photo by Renate Winter)
Eric Friedl (AKA Eric Oblivian) has played in some incredible garage-punk bands: The Oblivians, The New Memphis Legs, Bad Times and Dutch Masters.
Friedl spent most of his youth in Hawaii and moved to Memphis in the early 1990s. With Greg Cartwright and Jack Yarber, he formed The Oblivians in 1993. Friedl started Goner Records the same year.
The Oblivians released three seminal full lengths on Crypt, as well as singles and EPs on Goner, Estrus, Sympathy For The Record Industry and In The Red. Friedl’s early selections for Goner Records were nothing short of amazing. When no other label was interested, Goner put out Guitar Wolf’s debut LP and released the first Reatards single, featuring fifteen-year-old Oblivians fan Jay Reatard banging on buckets for percussion.
After the Oblivians disbanded in 1997, Eric formed The New Memphis Legs with James Arthur (ex-Necessary Evils) and Forrest Hewes of the Neckbones. As Bad Times, Friedl recorded a one-off record in 2001 with King Louie Bankston and Jay Reatard. A couple years later The Dutch Masters released their sole 7” on Goner.
In 2004, Eric and Zac Ives opened up the Goner storefront. Known for its incredible selection, Goner has become one of the most respected record stores in the United States. In 2005, Friedl and Ives started Gonerfest. Formed as a joke, the festivals have become major events, gathering diehard garage-rock fans from all across the world.
When not busy running the Goner storefront and label, Friedl currently plays around Memphis with True Sons of Thunder. To the delight of garage-punk fans everywhere, The Oblivians recently recorded Desperation, their first full length in fifteen years. Look for it on In The Red Records.
Interview by Ryan Leach
The following interview originally ran in Razorcake #72 (www.razorcake.org)
Ryan: What prompted your family to move to Hawaii from San Diego when you were young?
Eric: Although my dad wasn’t in the navy, he worked for the navy. They moved his job to Hawaii when I was twelve years old. We went from one nice beach place to another. It was perfect for a kid. I ran around on the beach all day. It kept me out of trouble.
Ryan: Was getting access to records difficult in Hawaii?
Eric: I grew up listening to Top 40 radio. I was really into pop music and Dr. Demento. I didn’t have an older brother to turn me on to Led Zeppelin. When I moved to Hawaii there was a DJ my friends and I knew—I don’t remember how we became friends with him—who gave us tapes with Ultravox and The Damned on them. We listened to those tapes a lot and the music on them spanned the gamut, from New Romantic to punk. By the age of thirteen I was looking for any records that seemed odd. A lot of weirdos ended up moving to Hawaii in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They got rid of their records by the ‘80s. Vinyl was cheap and their collections varied from Funkadelic to punk. Not a whole lot of live music was going on in Hawaii. I eventually found some people who were into punk.
Ryan: I read that you sang in a band that eventually became known as The Dambuilders. They later signed to a major label.
Eric: Yeah (laughs). It was pathetic. I was the worst singer the band ever had. We were called the Exactones then. I wanted to play music but I couldn’t play an instrument, so they made me the singer. We were really bad. They loved REM. We started out playing aggressive, fast songs. As the group got better at their instruments, they wanted to play prettier songs. For whatever reason, death rock and gothic music were really big in Hawaii. Bauhaus was popular. We’d play bills with these gothic bands. We were wimps and totally afraid of them. We played at a million miles an hour. The audience loved it because the gothic bands were playing at one mile an hour, pretending to be junkies. It was fun and the guys in the band put up with me. When they got more serious about their music, they moved to Boston. They took me along on one of their tours as their soundman, even though I knew nothing anything about being a soundman. They kept making bad decisions (laughs).
Ryan: How long did you live in Hawaii?
Eric: I stayed there through high school. Afterwards, I went to the mainland to go to college and wander around. When I got to Los Angeles, I started getting into weirder music. There was a lot more going on.
Ryan: You moved to Los Angeles from Hawaii?
Eric: I went to college in Los Angeles. I ended up moving to San Diego after I graduated college in ’88. I stayed in San Diego for a year. I moved to Boston next, stayed there for another year, and then I went to Memphis.
Ryan: What prompted you to move to Memphis?
Eric: I had a friend in college named Sherman Willmott. He was opening a record store in Memphis.
Ryan: Shangri-La Records?
Eric: Shangri-La Records. He asked me to come on down and help with his store. I wasn’t really doing anything, so I said, “Sure.” That’s how I started out in Memphis.
Ryan: Did you play in any other bands in Memphis before the Oblivians?
Eric: Not really. Jack (Yarber, AKA Jack Oblivian) and Greg (Cartwright, AKA Greg Oblivian) had already been in great bands. Even before The Compulsive Gamblers, they had played in The Pain Killers. I loved The Compulsive Gamblers. Their shows were ridiculous. They’d have horn sections. It was a spectacle. They’d let me get up on stage with them and sing some songs. Greg and Jack started hanging out at Shangri-La more often.
At the last minute, Greg was asked to play drums for 68 Comeback with Jeffrey Evans. While Greg was on tour, Jack showed me some guitar chords and we wrote some songs. When Greg came back, we asked him if he wanted to start a band. He said, “That sounds stupid. Why not?” I think Jack and Greg were tired of having to coordinate the practices for The Compulsive Gamblers. They wanted to do something stripped down and simple.
Ryan: It had to be simple. You were just learning guitar.
Eric: I knew nothing about playing guitar. Jack and Greg could do what they wanted to do, so long as I could keep up. “Show me the chords, and I’ll do my best to hang in there.”
Ryan: Jack mentioned in an interview that The Oblivians sound was largely attributable to the instruments you were using. Jack played the now infamous Airliner. Greg played a Harmony Rocket. I’m not sure what guitar you were using, but it looked like a Japanese model from the ‘60s.
Eric: When we formed The Oblivians I had to go out and buy a guitar. I found a ’60 or ‘70s Gretsch solid body. It was called a Corvette. I bought it for $100.
Ryan: That’s a great guitar.
Eric: It was. I didn’t have an amp, so I played through my home stereo. Plugging my guitar into a mic input on a tape deck gave me a great sound. It was completely fuzzed out. That helped hide the fact that I couldn’t play at all. I had gotten really excited one day and smashed that Gretsch. I didn’t know it at the time, but finding a great guitar is not easy. I had gotten lucky finding that one. I eventually picked up a Stratatone. I played that for most of my time with The Oblivians. Some of the guitars I played in the band were given to me. I’d change them up so they’d work for me. I’d put heavier gauge strings on them so they wouldn’t break.
The instruments we used were important. Greg’s distorted hollow body guitar is the early Oblivians sound. On the first recordings we did with (Doug) Easley, I’m still playing through my home stereo. That was my amp. That’s all I had.
Ryan: The Oblivians recorded some demos early on that later showed up on the On The Go record. Just after recording the demos, Jack moved down to New Orleans. You guys weren’t too serious about The Oblivians at the beginning, huh?
Eric: No. The Oblivians was a joke band. We wrote songs that we thought were too dumb to listen to but were fun to play. The songs gave us a reason to get together and have some beers.
Jack did go down to New Orleans for a while. The move didn’t really work out for him. Greg was in New York then. He played on a record with a girl named Casey Scott. He told Jack to come to New York because Jack had never been there before. We figured since two-thirds of the band was in New York, I should come up too and we could get some shows. Through working at Shangri-La, I knew Billy Miller (of Norton Records). He put me in touch with Todd Abramson; Todd booked Maxwell’s. Todd stuck us on a bill opening up for the Blues Explosion. That was an amazing experience; the Blues Explosion was just starting out. Jon Spencer loved us and gave our tapes out to people. It was a totally accidental thing. We gave a couple of songs to Larry Hardy (In the Red) and Tim Warren (Crypt Records) for singles. Eventually we decided to do a whole record (Soul Food). But for a long time we never took The Oblivians seriously.
Ryan: You started Goner Records in 1993 with the Guitar Wolf LP (Wolf Rock!).
Eric: The Oblivians and Goner started at about the same time. I went to Garage Shock and saw Guitar Wolf. I thought they were amazing. They weren’t even invited to the festival but showed up anyway. Dave Crider said, “Well, you came from Japan so I guess you can play.” They performed on a slot that was setup for a sound check, before the festival was supposed to start. They were completely out of tune and going bananas. I thought they were great. We followed them up to Vancouver. Guitar Wolf borrowed Young Fresh Fellows equipment. They managed to break an instrument or an amp. Young Fresh Fellows were not happy about it. It left an impression on me. Guitar Wolf was going to be in The States for a while. They came down to Memphis, played a couple of shows, and left me a cassette tape of their songs. It was great. It didn’t seem like anyone else appreciated their music—although they had a better reception with their live show (laughs). Guitar Wolf and I were faxing each other back and forth once they got back to Japan; this was pre-Internet. They thought I was asking them to do a 45. Until the records ended up in Tokyo, they thought it was going to be a 45 and not an LP. It was the right time. The garage-rock thing wasn’t played out yet. And Guitar Wolf was a weird mix—sort of a noise rock and garage-rock band. Distributors like Forced Exposure, who liked noisier stuff, could relate to it and the rock ‘n’ roll guys liked it too. Guitar Rock! is a fun record. Guitar Wolf ended up bringing us to Japan later on. It was a great time.
Ryan: Whenever I talk with Larry Hardy about the early days of In The Red, he mentions the early to mid ‘90s as being a great time for mail order and starting a small label.
Eric: It was. I was looking at old Forced Exposure magazines from the ‘80s recently. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure The Gibson Bros. would sell five thousand copies of a record. People were looking for those albums. Five thousand copies is nothing for a major label. But it is a lot for an indie label. Today we think of The Gibson Bros. as being obscure. But the bands we think of as big now, they likely don’t sell five thousand copies of a new release. Goner started at the tail end of that great period for mail order. Back then if someone you knew gave a good recommendation on a 45, you’d send off your three bucks.
Ryan: Another incredible early Goner release was the first Reatards 7”. The Oblivians influenced Jay tremendously. Do you remember meeting him for the first time?
Eric: Jay was just a bored, hyperactive kid when I met him. He wrote us a letter. The Oblivians were his favorite band. Jay asked for some stuff so I sent him some stickers. He sent me a tape. I was blown away by it: “Holy shit! This is exactly what I wanted to hear.” He was banging on buckets (for percussion). He played everything on the tape himself. It was like The Oblivians but a little bit different. The Dead Boys were in there too. He was also covering Buddy Holly songs. Jay was absorbing a lot of influences at a very young age. The single was so exciting. I sold a number of those. I remember I went to the Austin Record show. I was sitting there, sharing a table with Tim Warren. All these garage rock and punk rock people were stopping by. They were real collectors. I had a weird Moondog record that I wanted to sell for good money and a few other rare 45s. I had a stack of brand new Reatards records on the table too. People kept saying, “This Reatards 7” looks really cool!” It was on the same table as a bunch of rare records, and these collectors probably didn’t want to miss out on it. They played the 7” on a battery-powered turntable. It was all treble. It sounded like white noise. People asked, “How many of these can I buy?” We sold a ton. In retrospect, it might have been twenty. But the number of people who approached me about it was a total surprise. We had no idea that Jay would keep progressing. At the time he was just a kid coming up with great stuff. We didn’t think about the future. It was all about the present.
Ryan: I’m amazed that Jay used found objects for percussion. That’s something Bo Diddley did. People today rarely display that kind of ingenuity.
Eric: (laughs) I know.
Ryan: Your intuitiveness was really keen as well. You could have had three hundred Reatards singles stuffed away in your closet. Jay was just an unknown kid from Memphis then.
Eric: Jay was playing exactly what I wanted to hear. It was so exciting. The DIY aspect was appealing too. It was perfect. I started Goner because I wanted to release records that other labels wouldn’t. The Reatards single was one of those records. Here’s a fifteen-year-old kid from Memphis, banging on buckets. Jack, Greg and I loved it. Jay started hanging around. He used Jack and Greg as drummers at different points.
Ryan: Did you record all the early Oblivians singles that later showed up on the Soul Food LP with Doug Easley?
Eric: Doug recorded all of those songs. We recorded most of them in a single day. They were pulled from a cassette we had recorded in the back of Shangri-La. Doug is a really quiet guy who’s sort of hard to read. He’s a great guitarist; he played with Tav Falco. We’d throw songs out there and ask, “What do you think, Doug?” He’d respond, “I don’t know. What do you think?” We ran the vocals straight through a guitar amp. Anything we suggested he was fine with. Doug was sort of starting out too. It was perfect. We felt really comfortable recording with him.
Ryan: The Oblivians always chose great, varied covers: Trio, Love, Lightin’ Hopkins and the song “The Locomotion.”
Eric: We chose songs that we thought we could play together. That being said the Love song (“Alone Again Or”) was one we probably couldn’t play.
Ryan: It has a really intricate guitar part.
Eric: It does. I haven’t listened to that session in a while, but I’m pretty sure there’s a guitar amp that’s not mic’ed. We recorded the song live for a radio show. It’s a whacky recording.
Ryan: It’s a great cover. Love gets the Oblivians treatment.
Eric: Greg really liked Trio. He was into them for a long time. They were an underappreciated band. Everyone knows “Da Da Da”. Their songs were simple and had great riffs. We would take Blue Oyster Cult songs and dumb them down to the point where we could cover them. We never planned anything. I don’t know why Jack chose “The Locomotion” but it was a great song to play.
Ryan: Not long after The Oblivians formed you guys toured Europe. Did Tim Warren make that happen?
Eric: Yeah. We had only been around for a little while and hadn’t done much. Tim wanted to release all of the songs we had recorded with Doug Easley as a full-length record (Soul Food). Tim said, “Yeah, man, let’s put out a record and you guys can come and tour Europe!” We had done about ten shows, including the ones in New York with Jon Spencer. Tim put us on a tour with The Country Teasers for two months. It was great but the tour contained a lot of shows. We became tighter and more confident. When you’re playing in a hostile environment, you have to keep it together and just keep hitting people with songs. We developed that ability which was a good thing that came out of those shows. A bad thing about the tour was that we were drinking like crazy. The Oblivians was a half-assed band. We didn’t want to perform every night. That wasn’t really why we formed the band. We just wanted to play funny songs. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure if becoming tighter as a band was a good thing. Maybe by getting better at our instruments we were getting worse as a band.
Ryan: That’s sort of like The Shaggs. Although their second recordings are good, they’re not as brutal as the first ones on Philosophy of the World.
Eric: Right (laughs).
Ryan: Most things with The Oblivians seemed impromptu. You recorded Popular Favorites at two places—in New York with Jerry Teal and with Doug Easley in Memphis. Some of the tracks have a fuller sound.
Eric: We were actually surprised at how well they went together. We recorded the stuff with Jerry when it was freezing out, right at the end of a tour. We weren’t really feeling the tracks at first, but over time they sat well with us. We tried to do some stuff with Doug (Easley) afterwards. That wasn’t that great either. We ended up picking and choosing what we thought was the best stuff from the two sessions and putting them together for the album.
Ryan: The Oblivians Play Nine Songs With Mr. Quintron LP might be my favorite Oblivians record. It was a really different album for you, venturing into gospel music.
Eric: I really like it too. Jack and I didn’t stop writing songs. Greg just happened to have all of these gospel songs. He wasn’t feeling the rock thing then; he really wanted to do some gospel recordings. I was fine with it. Greg suggested Quintron. We were friends with him; he’d come through Memphis often. We called up Quintron and he said, “I’ll do it, but I have to have a (Hammond) B3 organ.” We thought, “Man, Quintron knows what he’s doing.” We found a studio that a friend of ours had. We had never recorded with him before but he had a B3. Quintron gets off the bus and into the studio, sees the B3 and says, “Man, this is great. A B3! I’ve never played one of these before.”
Ryan: (laughs) That’s hilarious. He was dead certain he needed a B3, yet he had never played one before.
Eric: Right. And we didn’t know that. We thought that he only played B3 organs. The session turned out pretty cool. The guy (Steve Moller) we recorded with had good instincts. He recorded Quintron again later on. It was kind of frustrating because we recorded a bunch of takes that didn’t work. We had never really recorded like that before. Normally, two or three takes was the most time we’d spend on a song. If we didn’t get it by then, we’d drop it. We didn’t know how the record would be perceived by people. It’s still pretty raw for gospel. The organ’s crazy. I don’t think anything really sounds like that album. It’s cool for that reason.
Ryan: The Oblivians dissolved in 1997. Was the band becoming a little too serious? I know you’re all still really good friends.
Eric: Actually, we were getting a little sick of each other at the end. We broke up on a tour. Greg and I weren’t really getting along. The Oblivians wasn’t supposed to amount to much. We did way more than what we expected to do. Once it wasn’t fun, it lost its appeal. The Oblivians wasn’t supposed to be a band that was hard work. Ending the group was the right thing to do at the time. We did get back together for shows later on. It’s always been fun since.
Monsieur Jeffrey Evans Interview, Part Two
Jeffrey with the Gibson Bros., July 2010 reunion show. Photo by BullyRook.
Ryan: Moving on to 68 Comeback, Jack Taylor was a great lead guitar player. There isn’t too much information out there on him. Tell me about Jack.
Jeffrey: Yeah, I liked his playing too. He had a deconstructivist style. He was an interesting guy. Kind of mysterious. His real name was Richard Violet. Supposedly he was a tennis star in high school in Urbana, Ohio. He was well mannered, but not pretentiously so. I remember we did a show in Tucson, Arizona. We were unloading equipment. We weren’t there for fifteen minutes and Jack shows up with a Mercedes. I mean, brand new Mercedes. He hadn’t been gone five minutes; we were still loading the gear into the club. He says, “I met a girl. She loaned me her car. I can’t help it if she’s rich!” It didn’t take Jack long to assess the scene. He was a likeable guy. Very polite.
Ryan: With the exception of Ross Johnson, who’s a great drummer, you tend to stick with minimalist drummers: Ellen (Hoover), Peg (O’Neill) and Greg Cartwright. I think Greg had about three weeks of drumming experience before joining 68 Comeback.
Jeffrey: That mostly has to do with who’s around. Greg Cartwright is a very advanced guitar player, but not a tremendous drummer. Jack Oblivian is a fantastic drummer. Jeff Bouck who played on some of the latter 68 Comeback albums was great too. It has a lot to do with a person’s personality. You have to put up with them for eighteen hours in a van.
When we had the five-piece version of 68 Comeback, it gave me a lot more freedom on stage to sing and play harmonica. I like playing guitar, so when we switched it to a four piece, that was interesting too.
Ryan: Tell me about CC Riders. There’s very little information on the band out there.
Jeffrey: We started in ’99 or 2000. It was a side project for all of us. James (Arthur) was in New Memphis Legs. Jay and Alicja were doing Lost Sounds. I was slowing down with 68 Comeback. Out last big tour was in ’98. Basically I was doing what I always did, covering songs and writing a couple. We had a Friday night practice. It was fun. Some people play cards. We played music. We practiced from like eight to ten, so we still had time for dinner before practice and then maybe catch a show afterwards. My house had a good practice room. It had high ceilings and hardwood floors. It had a great sound. We were right next to a restaurant, but we could play as loud as we wanted. Once Jay and Alicja started taking off with Lost Sounds, they were gone a lot. That’s probably why the CC Riders ended.
Ryan: "Long, Long Ballad of the Red Headed Girl" on the CC Riders record is one of my favorite of your originals. It has the same arrangement as "In The Company of Kings."
Jeffrey: It’s a walk-down chord progression. The song also appears on I’ve Lived a Rich Life.
Ryan: Yeah, acoustically.
Jeffrey: It was much more orchestral with CC Riders. I don’t know if I could write a song like that today. It does have the same progression as “In The Company of Kings”. I only have so many progressions. We just banged that CC Riders record out. We got what we got. I don’t think James appeared on the record. We did some earlier recordings with James. His style was more cantankerous than Jay’s, and a little more atonal.
Ryan: You released a single with The Southern Aces on Big Legal Mess. Are you going to put out a full length any time soon?
Jeffrey: Yeah. We actually have a record done. It’s sort of sitting in the can. It’s pretty much the same group of people. I’m hoping it comes out soon.
Ryan: Whenever your name comes up, you’re sort of like Charlie Feathers. It’s common now for people to say you never got your due. How does that sit with you?
Jeffrey: You get what you get. You can say that about a lot of people. It’s like being in high school. Popularity. Part of it is being at the right place at the right time. It would have been nice to have been successful at a young age. We had great hopes and wishful thinking. I do take pride that some of the people that I worked with—Jon Spencer and Jay Reatard—became successful. I don’t think about it too much. It’d be nice if people were like dogs. They run up to you and think you’re the greatest person in the world. It’d be nice if people were more like that.
Monsieur Jeffrey Evans Interview, Part One
Photo by BullyRook
Like rockabilly pioneer Charlie Feathers, Jeffrey Evans is a musician whose influence can’t be judged in record sales. For more than twenty-five years, Evans has fronted some of the best rockabilly and garage-rock bands around: The Gibson Bros., 68 Comeback, CC Riders, and Jeffrey Evans and his Southern Aces.
Originally from the small city of Findlay, Ohio, Evans spent his early years collecting records and pursuing photography, eventually earning an MFA from Ohio State University in photography. In Columbus, Ohio, Evans formed The Gibson Bros. with Don Howland (ex-Great Plains, future frontman of The Bassholes), Dan Dow, and Ellen Hoover. Although obsessed with American roots music, Jeffrey Evans—like Tav Falco before him—wasn’t interested in replicating early rock ‘n’ roll by the numbers. The Gibson Bros. seamlessly placed Alice Cooper covers next to traditionals. Humor was another element of The Gibson Bros. live show and recordings, captured in Jeffrey Evans’ onstage banter and songs like “Bo Diddley Pulled a Boner” and “Poor White Trash.”
Although hard to believe now, The Gibson Bros. really pissed off rockabilly purists in the mid ’80s (they possibly still do). Myopic greasers likely missed the deep reverence Jeffrey Evans had for rockabilly; his thorough knowledge of the genre was already present on the first Gibson Bros. album, reviving obscure rockabilly gems like Sparkle Moore’s “Skull and Crossbones” (featuring a great vocal by Ellen Hoover). Unlike the ossified records of rockabilly revivalists, the vitality of The Gibson Bros.’ catalog remains intact more than two decades later.
In the early ’90s, Jeffrey formed 68 Comeback. Numerous heavyweights of the ’80s/’90s garage-rock scene passed through the band: Darin Lin Wood, Mick Collins, Greg Cartwright, Peg O’Neill, and Jack Oblivian. However, outside of sole constant Jeffrey Evans, late guitarist Jack Taylor likely left the most indelible mark on the band, employing his deconstructivist style to Evans’ originals and choice of covers. 68 Comeback toured constantly, traveling across the United States in an early ’70s Cadillac hearse. After a succession of great albums on Sympathy, 68 Comeback wound down as the 1990s came to a close.
In the early 2000s, Jeffrey Evans formed The CC Riders. A heavy lineup—Alicja Trout (drums), Jay Reatard (guitar) and James Arthur (guitar)—and limited-run CD-R on Trout’s Contaminated label followed. For much of the past ten years, Evans has been playing with fellow Memphis legend Ross Johnson (formerly of the Panther Burns). Jeffrey Evans’ newest band, The Southern Aces, released a single on Big Legal Mess a few years back. A full-length record has been completed and should be out soon.
Interview by Ryan Leach
The following interview originally ran in Razorcake #73 (www.razorcake.org)
Ryan: You formed the Gibson Bros. in Columbus, Ohio. Is that where you’re from originally?
Jeffrey: I was born in Northwest Ohio in a city called Findlay. I moved to Columbus when I went to college. That’s where I met the other members of the Gibson Bros.
Ryan: You were born in the late 1950s. When you were in high school, glam rock would’ve been popular. On I’ve Lived a Rich Life you mention your parents telling you to play Johnny Cash. Were they big country fans?
Jeffrey: Totally. They’d watch a lot of the country shows that were on in the late ‘60s. Buck Owens and Porter Wagoner had shows.
Ryan: Johnny Cash did too.
Jeffrey: Yeah. I’m not the first to say it—rock ‘n’ roll, blues and country have a lot of the same chord progressions and lyrical messages. I absorbed a lot of the music my family was into. There were also dance shows on after school at that time like Hullabaloo. Lloyd Thaxton had a show. Being from a small town, I got a lot of my exposure to music from television. Live music was almost unheard of in Findlay. I remember going into the grocery store and they’d have three bins of LPs. Above them were the 45s. Being a kid, I didn’t have any money. I’d look at the records and dream about what they sounded like. I’d check out the clothes the bands would wear and try to get a hold of them; the big square belt buckles. What I couldn’t get on TV, I’d just make up the rest in my mind. I started taking guitar lessons at nine years old. But I didn’t really apply myself. When I was a teenager, I got my guitar out again. I started playing in bands with people who were more advanced in their playing than I was. I learned things from them much more quickly than had I kept taking lessons.
Ryan: I know that Charlie Feathers ranks really high with you. He also had a big impact on Tav Falco and Nikki Sudden. A lot of younger people reading this may not be familiar with him. Can you talk about the influence Charlie Feathers had on you?
Jeffrey: Charlie was at Sun before Elvis, cutting demos. Charlie would bring a song to Sam Phillips. Sam would say, “That’s not right for you, Charlie.” That’s what happened to “Tongue Tied Jill.” Charlie later recorded for King and Meteor, but Sun Records was the Cadillac of record labels. There was a tribute to Sun that aired; I can’t remember what it was called. Younger guys did songs with some of the older guys. Paul McCartney was on there. It was a good thing. Billy Lee Riley, who had some success in his later years, still had a chip on his shoulder about his time with Sun Records. He had a song that was released around the same time Jerry Lee Lewis had one out. Sun only had so much money for promotion, so they spent it on Jerry Lee. Billy kind of got pushed aside. But those guys felt like they only had one chance. They didn’t see music as something they’d be doing at fifty. They were twenty-two and didn’t see their careers lasting more than a couple of years. They were hoping to make enough money in that short span to see them through later on. Your success was based on how many records you sold. Carl Perkins picked cotton.
Ryan: Billy Lee Riley picked cotton too.
Jeffrey: Making records was clean work. It wasn’t picking cotton. When “Blue Suede Shoes” came out, Carl Perkins was living in public housing. As the song went up the charts he was still living there. The labels don’t tell you that you don’t get paid that day. It takes a while. Back to Charlie Feathers: He could sing and write as well as anybody. People have pointed out that he was illiterate. I remember him signing autographs at Shangri-La Records. It took him a couple of minutes to sign his name. It wasn’t like Charlie was going to write a paragraph on your record. He could sign his name and that was about it. People like to make that out as a level of Charlie’s intelligence, but it wasn’t. He phrased things well. He had that song, “We’re Getting Closer To Being Apart”. It was a clever play on words. He had so many of those. They show the depth of his emotion. Whether you can write your name or not, you can write a song. I always tried to take that lesson to heart. Don’t sell people short. There was also a change that happened to rockabilly singers. Johnny Mathis later cut pop and country records. Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Rich went country. Charlie Feathers never changed. He stayed with his own version of rockabilly. In the ‘70s, his son (Bubba) played lead guitar for him. He had embraced the wah-wah pedal. Things that were not considered straight rockabilly, Charlie went with. It’s funny. Being from California, I’m sure you get a lot of the retro rockabilly bands. They play letter perfect songs. Straight out of 1954, with absolutely no distortion on their guitars; the amps are set at three. I liked Charlie’s approach. He didn’t change his music but he kept his mind open. “Well, my son plays guitar this way, so we’ll throw that in the mix.” There was something about Charlie Feathers, and people like Gene Vincent and Bobby Lee Trammell, that really appealed to me. I remember when I met Cordell Jackson for the first time, she said, “I think I have a song you can sing.” It wasn’t a criticism of my voice. It fit my vocal range. I’m more of shouter. They thought like that.
It’s odd, thinking about the monetary success versus the actual art that was produced on those 45s. There were records released on smaller labels than Sun. They might have had only a few hundred pressed up, but they’re world-famous records. You can find a great rockabilly or garage 45, put it on eBay, and someone in, say, Finland will buy it. It’s likely they know more about the record than you do.
When I moved to Memphis Charlie had stopped playing regularly. I did get to see him play live two or three times. But I don’t know what it was like back in the day.
Ryan: You have that great line in “In The Company of Kings”: “I think about Charlie Feathers and what must have been going through his mind.”
Jeffrey: Yeah. All of those guys were at the same place (Sun Records) where greatness struck. Elvis was considered too wild. Of course Charlie Feathers, Billy Lee Riley and Jerry Lee Lewis were much wilder. Elvis was living in a mansion while Charlie was living in a modest house. The music we are involved in today has no commercial potential. But back then, there were regional markets and airplay. Someone could have success.
Ryan: That’s right. That reminds me of the story of Tommy James and The Shondells. The group had fallen apart, but a DJ (in Pittsburgh) found their “Hanky Panky” 45 long after it was released. His airplay made it a regional hit. It revived James’ career. Nowadays, everything is much more spread out. Like you were saying, someone in Finland might buy that rare 45 and know everything about it.
Jeffrey: We’ve got the Internet now. I like to joke that, “The fanzine world is my private world. But the Internet is something my mother has the same access to.” I remember we were playing in Holland, and they were streaming us playing live. My mother was watching it back in Ohio. It’s bizarre. But I liked it better when it was a secret world. It wasn’t that long ago. Only about thirty years ago.
There was a glimmer of hope in the early ‘90s. Nirvana was playing a different type of music than us. It was unsettling to a lot of people but it started selling. It got you thinking, “Maybe our music will catch on and we can make a living at it.”
Ryan: It’s easy to see the parallels between Charlie Feather’s career and your own. Charlie did a lot of blue-collar jobs throughout his life. While he might not have had much commercial success, it didn’t stop him.
Jeffrey: Oh, yeah. You used a good term there: blue collar. Charlie was blue collar. Of course, Elvis was too. He was a truck driver and an electrician by trade. I’m not sure if Elvis became an official electrician.
Ryan: He drove the company’s truck.
Jeffrey: He did. There was a show called Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour. Elvis wasn’t on that show, but The Rock and Roll Trio were. Paul Burlison, the Rock and Roll Trio’s guitar player, worked at Crown Electric with Elvis. Elvis was a pretty good truck driver. Paul Burlison and Elvis didn’t think playing guitar would put food on the table for any prolonged period of time. Peter Guralnick described Charlie Feathers as a part-time stock car racer and ambulance driver among other things. But Charlie considered himself a musician, a songwriter.
Ryan: Before you formed the Gibson Bros, you went to Ohio State and got an MFA in photography. You were a teacher there as well.
Jeffrey: I did. I taught as a graduate student. They gave me free tuition and health care. I got a $500 a month stipend. And you could live off that back then. I had three old Cadillacs. It was about a half hour procedure to decide which one to drive that day. I had a leaky transmission in one, so I’d have to fill it up every time I’d drive it. That was an interesting period of time. I worked for a weekly newspaper, taught, and shot one or two weddings. I figured out photography wasn’t for me. At the same time I was doing music. I formed The Gibson Bros. during that period. Music was a much more immediate thing. You can get a show in a week. With photography, it can take two years to get an exhibition together. Music had a better rush to it. I was going to flea markets two to three times a week, buying records. I’d say to the band, “We should cover this song off this record I just bought.” We’d learn it on Wednesday and play it on Thursday at a bar.
Ryan: The Gibson Bros. were doing something different.
Jeffrey: Dan (Dow) owns a record store now, but back then he worked at a record store for someone else. He was a collector and so was I. We were a good mix. I was interested in rockabilly and country. Ellen (Hoover) had a good sense of rhythm and timing. None of us had a great mastery of our instruments. There weren’t many subcategories in Columbus at that time. You had one crowd who supported all of the underground music. There weren’t rock or metal crowds. I had a vision of pompadours and matching cowboy outfits.
Ryan: The cover of Build a Raft, where you guys are playing at an elementary school, is so great. You’re grinning ear to ear, playing a huge hollow body. Ellen’s dressed up country, but it’s sort of ‘80s country.
Jeffrey: Exactly. People have always been strict about rules. The Cramps were too far gone for people who were fans of traditional rockabilly. That’s what made The Cramps so great. It did cross my mind that covering someone like Hank Williams—there was a grey line where it could become irreverent. It wasn’t irreverent because of the attitude, but because of the volume and the use of fuzz and slide guitar. Thinking that it’d be irreverent to cover one of his songs in that way today would never cross my mind—we’re used to combining genres—but at the time it was more of a risk.
Ryan: I know what you’re saying. I interviewed Dave Alvin once and he said that blues purists in Los Angeles absolutely hated Jeffrey Lee Pierce and the Gun Club.
Jeffrey: What Jeffery (Lee Pierce) was doing wasn’t irreverent. It just came out different. The purists were more professional. When we were doing The Gibson Bros., they’d tell us, “Use a tuner.” Well, we did use a tuner before we got on stage. But I guess we didn’t know enough to keep in tune. I play with Ross Johnson a lot now. He said to me, “The music you guys were playing—not only could you not get a gig, but you could get beat up for playing it.” Times have come a long way. Even commercials today use music that some would consider atonal. I remember the Rotters had that song about Stevie Nicks.
Ryan: “Sit On My Face Stevie Nicks.”
Jeffrey: Yeah. The nerve they had to put that song on a record is great. In some ways, that helped bring down the walls.
Ryan: What I really like about The Gibson Bros. was your transformative use of songs. On Dedicated Fool, you have “Lone Wild Bird”—a traditional song—but there’s also an Alice Cooper cover on it. They mesh so well together on the album.
Jeffrey: There was something uncool about covering Alice Cooper. It’s almost as if we were making a statement. It’s like having all the right clothes on but wearing the wrong shoes.
Ryan: You got to record at Sun Records with the Gibson Bros. For someone like you, who made the pilgrimage to Memphis, that must have been an incredible experience, although I know the circumstances surrounding the session for Memphis Sol Today weren’t great.
Jeffrey: I got to record at my dream studio a month before my band broke up. We recorded it the day after a thirty-day tour. We were tired, but really tight. It was bittersweet. It meant so much to me, but our drummer, Rich Lillash, had never recorded in a studio before. We had all these vintage guitars and amps that were available. Don (Howland) had this pawnshop, solid state Crate amp. It was a fifty dollar amp. I told Don, “Hey, why don’t you try one of these amps they’ve got?” He said, “No. I’m cool. I’ve got my tone.” That was pretty cool. The budget for the record wasn’t much. Sun was charging about one hundred fifty to one hundred seventy-five an hour. It sounded really high. The owner at the time had just worked with U2. That raised the price. Then again, we did the record in eight hours. It cost less than two thousand dollars. But we had just been in a lawsuit with Norton Records.
Ryan: That was from the A-Bones sample on The Man Who Loved Couch Dancing.
Jeffrey: Yeah. Homestead was really mad at us. They settled out of court with the A-Bones for a small amount. It was more of a symbolic victory. It might have been a month’s rent in New York City. Eight hundred dollars. All the press was favorable toward us. They ran photos of Miriam (Linna) posing in front of a Neo-Nazi organization. The A-Bones got all the shit thrown at them. We put the needle down on their record, recorded it, and spliced it onto our album. That was the era when Michael Jackson was being sampled by rap bands. It was like a seven second rule—any sample longer than that and you could get sued. We didn’t know the rule and we didn’t care. It was funny. The A-Bones went to the company that handled the Michael Jackson samples in New York. Homestead was pissed. I remember we got a call on tour from them. They said, “Don’t sell anymore copies of Couch Dancing at your shows.” I told them, “Sorry. That’s our gas money.”
Ryan: Gibson Bros. records go for good money. Any chance of reissues?
Jeffrey: We signed a contract with Homestead that was for perpetuity. I’m not sure where the masters are. Long Gone John was interested in reissuing them. He was sent a letter, telling him that he couldn’t. He took the letter, peed on it, wrote in crayon, “Sorry, I didn’t know what I was doing,” and sent it back. I don’t know what’ll ever happen with that stuff. Luckily most of it is online. In the back of my mind, I always hope someone cool bought one of my records.
Ryan: Alex Chilton did.
Jeffrey: He did.
Ryan: It’s all about quality over quantity.
Jeffrey: It is. And just trying to stay happy and not taking the business side too seriously. It’s a great hobby and great art form, but it’s a shitty business.
Jeffrey Evans with the CC Riders, Gonerfest 10. Photo by Mor Fleisher-Leach