Top 10 Favorite Skateboarders, One Through Five
Top 10 Favorite Skateboarders
Although this Tumblr is largely reserved for music, if you know me at all you’ll know that skateboarding played a major part in my life. With that in mind I decided to list my top ten favorite skateboarders of all time. Here are the top five with the rest to follow soon.
1. Matt Reason
The second skate video I bought was 411 Best of Volume 2. It came out the year I started skating (1995) and Matt Reason’s part really stuck out. I had seen some of the New Deal videos earlier that year and although I had just started skateboarding, I knew that “Da Deal” truly was dead. Matt’s part was raw, black-and-white footage with no music. Matt skated clean, fast and switch. He truly was the antithesis to Damon Byrd tech. I purchased every Matt Reason board I could; I recall picking up a number of 8.5” wide Illuminati boards. Matt’s career fizzled out by the late ’90s, but his skating left an indelible mark on me. (I’ve always ridden wider boards with bigger wheels—and that’s solely attributable to Matt Reason. No small feat as I grew up in Southern California, the home of tech skating.) Much respect.
2. Lennie Kirk
Best of 411 Volume 2 also had a Lennie Kirk Profile. While most pros were skating Pier 7, Lennie was hitting Hubba Hideout with switch backside 5-0s. It was totally mind blowing for late 1995. At the time I thought Lennie would be huge. And he was—for a while. In 1997 Kirk had a well-deserved ender part to Time Code. After that—nothing, only rumors. It turns out the rumors were correct: a long stint in prison following a holdup and a religious conversion actually did happen. But prior to the ubiquity of the internet, Lennie’s disappearance was all hearsay. Rumors, silence and a few amazing video parts were all I had to go on for years. Irrespective of what happened to Lennie, he’s another guy that had a huge impact on my skating and was clearly light years ahead of everyone else.
3. Justin Case
Justin Case is a good friend of mine and I was lucky enough to see his skating develop firsthand. He was so unbelievably talented. Being really young and competitive, I didn’t appreciate his talent at the time which is something I deeply regret. Personal setbacks curtailed his career, but I’m convinced Justin Case was one of the greatest street skaters of his generation. He’s also a great person to boot. Much respect.
4. Van Wastell
Van Wastell is a Newbury Park legend. Then again, the Wastell surname was synonymous with great skating before Van influenced everyone in Ventura County: Kurt Wastell was a bona fide legend and rumor had it Van’s oldest brother Jeff Wastell was equally talented (that rumor also turned out to be true). I think of Van often; I really miss him.
5. Mark Gonzales
It’s the Gonz. Enough said. Just watch Video Days!
Jeremy Scott of Reigning Sound and Toy Trucks Interview
Jeremy Scott, former bassist extraordinaire for the Reigning Sound, talks about his early days in New Jersey and laying down the low end for the original incarnation of the Reigning Sound. Jeremy still lives in Memphis and currently plays in Toy Trucks.
Interview by Ryan Leach
Ryan: You’re from New Jersey, correct?
Jeremy: Yes. My parents were born in Philadelphia. South Jersey is where most of my family is from; a number of them still live there. I moved around a lot when I was young. I even spent a couple of years in Memphis when I was two or three—sometime around ‘73-74. My folks and I moved to New Jersey in 1975 where I grew up. I lived there until I moved to Memphis in the summer of ‘99.
Ryan: Were you playing music in New Jersey?
Jeremy: I was in several bands (in New Jersey). I had started taking guitar lessons (after clarinet and sax) when I was thirteen. I was a late bloomer in that I didn’t play in a band until I was in college. I was in a three-piece band called Sponge; this was before the alt-rock band of the same name hit it big. We were punk, sort of pop-punk. This was in 1991 before pop-punk became synonymous with Blink 182 and other crimes against nature. My band mates were into Gorilla Biscuits, Descendents, Shudder To Think, things like that.
Ryan: None of the New Jersey bands you were in formally released a record?
Jeremy: No. It was like a curse. We’d record, self-release a cassette or a disc and then someone in the band would move away or there’d be a falling out.
Ryan: What brought you to Memphis?
Jeremy: I met someone at SXSW in ‘98. We were part of the same internet chat group, oddly. This was back in the early days of the internet and before SXSW blew up to its current state. She lived in Memphis. The relationship ended up imploding, but I had a job lined up in Memphis so I went anyway. I wanted out of the Northeast. I was sort of lost for a second in Memphis, with the relationship over and the job I lined up being pretty bad.
This is quaint: since the internet was still relatively new, I actually put an advert in the local weekly, The Memphis Flyer, trying to find people to play with. I got a bunch of bad calls. Only two ended up being somewhat interesting. One of them was from Greg Roberson. He wanted to write songs with someone. He didn’t tell me at the time that he was writing songs with (Greg) Cartwright. Three weeks later, he told me that he was working with Greg and asked me if I wanted to play bass with them. I hadn’t played bass in forever and I didn’t even own one at the time. We got together one night and it was fun. It sort of went from there.
Ryan: Were you familiar with Greg Cartwright’s previous bands? Were you into Crypt Records?
Jeremy: I did know The Oblivians and The Compulsive Gamblers by that point. I wasn’t so familiar with the Crypt stable. I listened to a lot of older (Nuggets era) garage rock when I was young though so I was able to grasp that stuff.
Ryan: Although your first year in Memphis (1999) was inauspicious, it was a great time for underground music in Memphis.
Jeremy: Well, it was an interesting time, kind of transitional—both for local music and for Greg (Cartwright). As far as Greg was concerned, The Oblivians were over. He’d returned to doing the Compulsive Gamblers. I think the Gamblers, Mach II, was a crucial development for Greg. Side two of Bluff City (1999) was kind of a blueprint for The Reigning Sound. There are the ballads on one side, the rockers on the other. Shades of what we’d do later on the vinyl version of Time Bomb High School.
Ryan: What were the early days of The Reigning Sound like?
Jeremy: We probably weren’t very good at first. It took several months to really get it together. Roberson hadn’t played drums in a while and Cartwright had new songs he was working on, kind of outside the mold of what he had been doing. Alex (Greene) wasn’t with us from the beginning, so we played several gigs without him. We practiced a lot in Melissa Dunn’s basement—Melissa being Duck Dunn’s niece. It was kind of intimidating as a bassist in a way. I would say we practiced a lot more at the beginning than a lot of local bands did—remember, we’re talking Memphis here, where on-stage rehearsal had been elevated to an art form. Early on I remember practicing two or three times a week, two or more hours a shot. We were working intensively. Apparently there was time for everybody to do this; speaking for myself, I was single then. (Sorry, Pam.)
Ryan: Gene Clark was a big influence on the early Reigning Sound. There’s the Clark cover on the debut single (“Here Without You”). You mentioned Roadmaster being a staple in the van while on tour.
Jeremy: Oh, yeah. Roadmaster was always in the van with us. Sir Doug also. I kind of wish we had chosen another Gene song. It’s not that there’s necessarily an obvious Gene Clark song—most people don’t know who he is—but that song was already covered on Mavericks, the Holsapple and Stamey (ex-Db’s) record. But that’s the one Greg wanted to do. That track came out of the same recording session for Break Up, Break Down.
Ryan: You recorded Break Up, Break Down (2001) at Easley McCain, correct?
Jeremy: Yeah. The whole thing seemed to happen quickly once we got rolling. The first weekend in August 2000, we played our first show with Alex (Greene). Within the next week we’re in the studio. Alex hadn’t spent a lot of time with those songs when we went in. That might have been part of Greg’s design—not getting too familiar with the material. For instance, there were always one or two songs on every record we cut that we learned in the studio. I’m fairly certain we learned “You Don’t Hear The Music” in the studio. It was a great experience, cutting Break Up, Break Down. We were working with Stuart Sikes who would eventually work on White Blood Cells a few months later. It was wild—how that record blew up. Anyway, Stuart and Alex were crucial to the sound of Break Up, Break Down.
Ryan: Sympathy wasn’t known for tour support. What were you doing to promote Break Up, Break Down?
Jeremy: Oh, no—money wasn’t coming from Long Gone John. We recorded Break Up, Break Down in August of 2000, but it didn’t come out until May of 2001. In the meantime we’d gotten a lot tighter, playing locally on a regular basis. We did do a two-week tour right after the record came out; we played about twelve shows. We did have this guy who booked the tour, Scott Winland. He put a rider out to all the clubs. It was nothing out of the ordinary: hook them up with beer and food or give them a buyout. One of the shows—I believe it was the fourth show of the tour—was in Columbus, Ohio. We had played the previous night in Detroit. It was the White Blood Cells CD release party. The White Stripes had shows booked on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night of that week in Detroit, in three different venues and with different opening acts each night. We opened one of those shows in Detroit—it was a great night, I met both Jim Shaw and Mick Collins also—and then we drove to Columbus to play a place called Bernie’s Distillery. It was a pretty rancid place. They did have a kitchen but it had just closed, but we didn’t know this on arrival. When we asked what they had to eat, the guy there told us to hold on; he’d check the fridge. He came back and said, “Okay, there’s a thing of ham in the fridge. The top is green, but I can shave off some of the bottom for you.” We told him, “No, we’ll get some pizza!” One night you’re playing with the White Stripes, the next you’re contending with rancid ham. And then there was the bathroom, which was horrific. Put it this way—you’ve heard about the infamous bathroom at CBGBs? I’d found myself in the CBGBs bathroom a few times and it was never like the one at Bernie’s. Maybe in the ’70s it was but it’s hard to imagine. Scarring.
Ryan: You signed to In The Red for Time Bomb High School (2002).
Jeremy: Time Bomb High School was mostly recorded over two different sessions, so it took somewhat longer than Break Up, Break Down, which was recorded over one four day period. We recorded some tracks for Time Bomb High School and then resumed recording for the album a few months later. We had sent the record to Larry (Hardy) and he wanted a couple of extra tracks; it was a short record so we wound up adding on another four songs. I remember Greg showing us “Straight Shooter” and “She’s Bored With You” in the studio. Recording that record felt more like what we were doing live, and obviously Alex was more integrated in the band by then. Lori—better known as Lorette Velvette—Alex’s wife was pregnant at the time and due very soon, so Alex was there for the sessions intermittently. Alex was there for most of the basic tracking, but there were a few songs where we did the basic tracks as a trio and Alex overdubbed his part later. As a performance, I’m pretty proud of “Brown Paper Sack” which was a first take with no overdubs, everybody present. It’s not one of Greg’s songs—The Gentrys did the original—but that track is a good example of what we were about at the time.
Ryan: Was Time Bomb High School recorded on analog tape?
Jeremy: Yeah, Doug didn’t use Pro Tools for a while. A few years later, I did a record with Harlan T. Bobo. This was after Easley McCain got hit by the fire, so we were in another studio. Doug was learning Pro Tools at that point, I believe (2005 or 2006).
Ryan: Time Bomb High Schoolwas the record that really got me interested in The Reigning Sound. I was twenty when it came out and it had enough rockers on there for me. That’s what I wanted at the time.
Jeremy: Seemingly we had this rule: if we weren’t pissing someone off with each successive record, we were doing something wrong. With Break Up, Break Down I think there were a lot of people who were thrown off due to the laid-back nature of the record, but some did wind up coming around. During that first Reigning Sound tour for Break Up we played Richmond, Virginia. There were a bunch of people there to see Greg. They knew about The Oblivians but not so much about the new band. Understandably, they wanted Oblivians-type stuff. They were feeding us shots and beer in anticipation of the high-octane rock show they thought was in store. I was getting drunk and I remember thinking, “I’m not sure how this show is going to go.” The band that opened the show was good, but it was sort of a hardcore thing; their average song went at a faster speed than our fastest. We went on and about four songs in we played “Since When.” This dude, in the center of the crowd, stood straight up, fist pumped and yelled, “Holy shit!” No irony employed whatsoever. The show wound up being one of the best—a two-and-a-half hour war of attrition and as we got drunker, the more revved up we got.
I get a lot of feedback from musicians about Break Up being their favorite. With Time Bomb, some people missed the sound of the first record, as we went in more of an up tempo direction. With Too Much Guitar—good lord. That was the “ugly rock” record.
Ryan: You guys were getting some real press around the time of Time Bomb High School. You mention in another interview that Steven Van Zandt was playing your records on his show. There was the tour with The Hives and I think Cartwright might have made Rolling Stone or Spin. I recall a picture of him with Howlin’ Pelle in a mainstream publication. Pretty mind blowing.
Jeremy: That was helpful to a point because at some level people have to be told what to like, even intelligent people who think they are making their own decisions. Maybe “guided” is a better word. This is where publications like Rolling Stone come in and now in the days of online media, sites like Pitchfork. As far as the Rolling Stone bit, The Strokes were a “thing” and The Hives were becoming “a thing.” We were sort of affiliated with The Hives in a way but coming from a somewhat different place musically. And we were older than them. That’s a reason why we never bullshitted ourselves into thinking The Reigning Sound was going to be a big thing. It’s harder to sell older guys who aren’t exactly male model material. But it was pretty amazing, being around The Hives in 2002. That’s the closest I’ll ever get to being around The Beatles, circa A Hard Day’s Night. It sounds dramatic but the atmosphere around the Hives was insane at that point.
Ryan: They reached casual music fans with decent music. That’s saying something in this day in age of no free format or regional radio stations.
Jeremy: Oh, yeah, those days are over. (Free format and regional radio, not decent music!) I’ll say this: The Hives put on a great live show. I guess I saw it thirty times. They were pros and delivered every night. You can say what you want about them but the Hives were a great rock ‘n’ roll band. As people, they were pretty egoless and just nice.
Ryan: Did The Reigning Sound first go to Europe after Time Bomb High School?
Jeremy: Yeah, after some more touring domestically. We did part of the big Hives tour in 2002. They were big Oblivians/Cartwright fans and wanted us to join them for their entire tour but we all had jobs which precluded this. We only did the West Coast shows, maybe six or seven gigs. We hit the Rust Belt frequently: Cleveland, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit. We did another longer tour toward the end of 2002. Half of those shows were with Dead Moon. Christ, what a band. That was educational. We did wind up going to Sweden and Norway in spring ‘03. That was a great trip.
Ryan: My favorite Reigning Sound record is Too Much Guitar.
Jeremy: Mine too.
Ryan: Alicja and Jay recorded you guys with a digital 24-track. I think she got that from Larry (Hardy) so that the Lost Sounds could record Future Touch on it.
Jeremy: That sounds right.
Ryan: She told me that Too Much Guitar has such a hot mix because she and Jay didn’t know how to use the digital 24-track properly at that point.
Jeremy: Yeah! (laughs) I don’t doubt that’s a significant factor. I think they got it the week before we started recording. We had done a whole record before that; I remember hearing it mixed and sequenced. Some of those tracks were released on the Home for Orphans record. Alex (Greene) told us he was leaving the band just after we finished listening to the “original” third album. Consequently, Greg was thinking for a minute about dissolving the band. Then again, Greg said he was thinking about breaking up the band about four times when I was in it, but this was probably the closest it came to actually happening. We had been trying to decide whether to pursue Reigning Sound full time or not. Alex had one baby at home and another on the way, so I could understand his hesitation. Anyway, we did a few shows as a trio, rearranged many of the tunes we had been doing, and decided it was still viable. That’s when Greg reached out to Jay and Alicja.
Ryan: Did you guys record Too Much Guitar completely at Legba? Or was part of it done at Easley McCain as well?
Jeremy: It was done almost evenly between the two places. Alex is on half the record, the earlier material done at Easley. I think the album properly credit Alex. “We Repel” was recorded at Legba. The version of “I’ll Cry” on Too Much Guitar was recorded at Legba. “Drowning” was done at Easley. It was a little less revved up than the Legba version. “Medication” was an outtake from the Time Bomb High School sessions at Easley. The Easley tracks were remixed in such a way as to sound similar to the Legba stuff.
Ryan: Your bass playing really stands out on Too Much Guitar. Once your ears adjust to just how loud the record is—and filters through the guitars and cymbals—your bass playing really holds that album together.
Jeremy: It’s nice of you to say that. I think there was more room for me now that the band was a trio. Too Much Guitar was about attacking the listener. The guitars are brittle. Roberson was doing his stomp thing. I mean that in the best possible way. Roberson’s a totally solid drummer and his playing allowed me to move around a bit.
Ryan: Did Jay and Alicja record half the record and then later on master all of the tracks?
Jeremy: They did all of the stuff at Legba. Alicja was there a lot more than Jay. Jay had some place to be. I believe he had a sound gig. Alicja and Jay set everything up together, fought a little bit, and then Jay split. Alicja supervised all of the overdubs. Those two are responsible for the sound on that record. I dig what they did with it.
Ryan: You mentioned confounding people earlier. Too Much Guitar is not for the faint of heart. But if you have the good sense to listen to it—I think the record’s already a classic.
Jeremy: It’s hard for me to judge that kind of stuff!It does grab you and that’s what a rock record should do. Although Cartwright, Roberson and I were together as a three-piece for less than a year, there was a different vibe to that band. It was more aggressive. We did a tour right after finishing the record. I mean from the first show it was completely fucking on. It was a great trip despite the three of us getting sick at one point or another during the course of the tour. In fact, I would like to formally apologize to the fine city of Buffalo, eleven years after the fact, for the show we gave you that night. I think all of us were pretty under the weather at that point.
Ryan: It wasn’t too long afterwards that Roberson left and you got Lance Wille in.
Jeremy: Lance joined in the spring of 2004. Going back a few months, Cartwright mentioned to me and Greg that he wanted to fold the band in December ’03. I was upset in that I thought Too Much Guitar, which was still a few months away from coming out, was the best thing we’d done and now it looked like it was all going to be over. Greg (Cartwright) was also planning to move to Asheville, North Carolina, which I don’t believe Roberson or I knew when Greg sat down with us. Anyway, Cartwright moved around the end of 2003—could have been early 2004—and things were quiet for a while. Then around April ‘04, I get a call from Cartwright. He told me, “You know, we have an opportunity to play some shows in support of the album.” We talked about a possible European tour, booked by this woman named Ankie who worked at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. Greg was like, “Ankie is arranging for us to play a bunch of shows in Holland and Belgium. It won’t be a long tour—maybe a week and a half.” Also, the Hives wanted us to tour the US with them and the Sahara Hotnights, a three-week tour which would start maybe a week after we would get back from Holland. There was going to be some money for us as well. Cartwright asked if I was in and I said yeah; I figured I could somehow get the time I needed off from work. Then Greg said, “Well, Roberson isn’t going to be with us,” which was a surprise. Greg told me of three potential drummers, but from the way he was describing Lance, I could tell that he was the one Cartwright really wanted. Looking back on it, on one level he needed me to say “yes” before he brought the drumming situation up. I’ve thought about that from time to time. I don’t mean to overstate things, but it was a crucial moment because Reigning Sound was able to continue.
Ryan: It was a transitional period for him. I see your point.
Jeremy: I went to Asheville and practiced with Lance. We did a show there and then got on the plane to Amsterdam. Lance was a little nervous. Going from Greg Roberson to Lance was a big shift. Greg has a limited amount of colors in his drumming palette but what he does, he does very, very well. He plays with a certain amount of “authority.” Lance could do things Greg couldn’t do, but he didn’t have the authority of Roberson. Kind of a trade-off in a way, but I think you need a certain amount of authority on drums, especially in a three-piece rock band. That said, please don’t get me wrong—Lance is a great guy and I dug playing with him too.
Ryan: I’ve always felt the Too Much Guitar lineup was the definitive Reigning Sound lineup.
Jeremy: Well, again, Alex was on fifty-percent of that album. But I get what you’re saying—the sound of that record is definitely more aggressive. Truthfully, some of that might have been fueled by animosity by that point. We didn’t always see eye to eye at that point, which is not unusual after a while. How long are bands supposed to be together anyway? Looking back, I would chalk some of it up to the forceful personalities involved. In other words, it wasn’t any one thing that created the tension.
Ryan: I know some stuff came out after the tour—including the Live at Maxwell’s record with Lance. But with Cartwright in Asheville, that was pretty much it for you in the Reigning Sound, huh?
Jeremy: That show was recorded the night before the Hives tour. It was a one-off headlining gig, then the bus showed up the next morning to take us to the first Hives show in D.C. That Maxwell’s show felt good at the time and the audience was fantastic, but Greg had broken about three strings toward the end of the set and the guitar is out of tune on the recording. There was a backup guitar about three feet behind Cartwright that he apparently couldn’t be bothered with. I haven’t listened to that recording in a long time, so I don’t know if this bit made it onto the album, but someone was actually gesturing toward Greg to use the backup, and Greg leaned into the mic and said, “I enjoy a challenge.” (Laughs.) We did a few other shows after the second Hives tour, including a wedding at CBGB’s, interestingly enough. The last show I played with The Reigning Sound was on New Year’s Eve 2004, at the Hi-Tone. Insane show. A great night and in retrospect a great way to go out, even if nobody realized that was going to be the case at the time.
This happened ten years ago, so maybe the statute of limitations has run out. We hadn’t gotten together in early 2005. Cartwright gave me a call after some time had passed: “I think it’s about time to kick it in the head. We’ve had a good run. We do have an opportunity to do a few more shows though.” By this point I was back at my job full time, so I told Greg, “That’s cool, just let me know the dates.” It was getting harder anyway, with Greg in Asheville and me in Memphis. Then maybe a week later someone on the Goner Board asked, “Hey, what’s up with The Reigning Sound? It’s been a long time since you’ve gone on tour.” Greg wrote back, “Hey, man, we’re playing these shows with Jeremy. They’ll be his last shows with the band, then we’re going to do these other shows with Dave Gay, our new bass player.” That’s how I found out. I called Cartwright. “I read something funny on the Goner Board.” He said “I can explain!” Greg said he was thinking about going out under his own name. He talked with club promoters and they told him they’d be happy to book him, but by that point The Reigning Sound was more of a recognizable name. Also, he talked with some friends about whether he should continue using the name; they said yes. I mean, he was the front guy and songwriter. I might have done the same thing if I were in his place. I just wish he would have told me first. It’s 2014 and it’s all water under the bridge now. We’re friends to this day, but at the time, it did bother me. I can’t lie. It did make sense for Greg to go with Dave—he and Lance had played together in the Unholy Trio. In fact, when I first got together with Greg and Lance, Dave was living upstairs from where we were practicing. Greg needed someone local. I get it. But it was bizarre for a minute. In the meantime, I had already started playing with Harlan T. Bobo, which I wound up doing for awhile. Harlan became somewhat of a Memphis sensation, but that’s a story for another day…
Bruce Moreland Interview, Part Two
Ryan: Dark Continent is consistently my favorite Wall of Voodoo album. How do you feel about the record?
Bruce: Consistently it is my favorite album as well. But we were still disappointed by the recording. However when I look back it’s my favorite album that we made. It’s just so different. It’s one of the most unusual albums around.
Ryan: You had started receiving some recognition around the time of Dark Continent. Wall of Voodoo was featured in Urgh! A Music War and you had shot a music video for “Call Box.” Although it certainly wasn’t a huge amount of notoriety, how did you and the band feel about this growing recognition?
Bruce: We didn’t really get that much commercial response, but it was something. We weren’t really getting any radio play. IRS was always hounding us about getting more exposure: “If you don’t make it soon, you might only have one more album.”
Ryan: It was a weird time for bands that outlived the initial punk blast. A group like Wall of Voodoo goes from being an esoteric L.A. punk band to breaking Billboard’s Top 200 and it’s still not good enough. Labels like IRS and Sire were expecting you and your contemporaries to break the Top 50 at least.
Bruce: It sucked. You come up with this great record and they make you feel like it’s an inferior product. They try and get you to change stuff.
Ryan: Not long after Dark Continent, you left Wall of Voodoo. What happened?
Bruce: I had my own problems—drugs. I also never did get along with Stan. We butted heads. I had a direction I wanted Wall of Voodoo to take, Stan had his different direction. We both wrote about an equal number of songs on the first two records. The first two albums have songs credited simply to “Wall of Voodoo.” But really, the first EP was mostly me and Marc. Dark Continent was me, Marc and Stan pretty much splitting the songwriting in thirds. I was the least commercially-minded person in the band. IRS Records was aware of this and they kept telling Stan that I was a bit of a mess. Wall of Voodoo was under pressure to get a hit. Stan thought I was the problem; I thought Stan was the problem. Stan and Miles Copeland had a very good relationship; they were very cozy. So I just said, “Fuck it.” I could see what was going to happen. My drug of choice was heroin. The rest of the band was on speed and alcohol. My drug was looked at as the bad one. So I left by mutual decision. After I left, they did Call of the West (1982) which was a big success. Of course, I felt really bad because of all of the pain and suffering I went through before I quit—and here they have their big break.
Ryan: It’s the only Wall of Voodoo studio album you’re not on.
Bruce: Yeah. It was painful—for both me and Marc. Marc wanted me in the band. But at the same time he didn’t want to lose the band. So he stayed with them. Later on, when Stan left Wall of Voodoo, the other members were like “Bruce, come back!”
Ryan: You mentioned songwriting credit andthat was something that I wanted to ask you about. In the Andy Prieboy-fronted Wall of Voodoo, songwriting credits are clearly attributed to specific band members—either to a sole member or collaboratively if that’s how the song was written. In the Stan Ridgway-fronted Wall of Voodoo, songwriting credits are attributed equally to all members of Wall of Voodoo on every song. In a certain sense, that’s pretty cool—it seems fairly egalitarian. Nevertheless, it does leave one curious as to who actually wrote a lot of those songs. For instance, I know Marc came up with the bulk of “Mexican Radio.”
Bruce: Yeah, my brother wrote all of the music for that one as well as the title and chorus. Stan wrote the verses. I remember who wrote some of the stuff. I wrote the lyrics and music to “Can’t Make Love.” My brother came up with the music to “Long Arm” and Stan wrote the lyrics. I wrote the music to “Passenger,” Stan did the lyrics. That gives you something of an idea of how our songwriting went in the early days.
Ryan: As an outsider looking in on Call of the West, how do you view the record?
Bruce: I love the songs “Mexican Radio” and “They Don’t Want Me”—which was another track my brother wrote. But I wasn’t really crazy about “Call of the West” or some of the other songs.
Ryan: About a year after the release of Call of the West, Wall of Voodoo went on hiatus with the departures of Stan Ridgway and Joe Nanini. The group’s last show with Stan was at the ’83 US Festival—also the last show The Clash would play with Mick Jones. It seemed like a lot of post-punk bands were running out of steam by 1983. A lot of money was coming into the picture for some groups, which might have been a divisive factor. What happened at the US Festival?
Bruce: I don’t think it had anything to do with the US Festival. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that if a band was going to break up—anywhere within seven or eight months of that show—they’d stick around to play the US Festival because the money was so good and because they were already contracted to do it. I think that’s why it might have seemed like so many bands broke up after the US Festival. But they were already on that course. With Wall of Voodoo, it had a lot to do with Stan’s ego getting a little too big. He had done a track with Stewart Copeland for a movie, which probably gave him the idea of going solo. Stan just thought he could get songwriting credit all to himself. People assume that the lead singer is the songwriter and leader of a band. But in Stan’s case he wasn’t. And I think it became obvious on his solo records that Stan wasn’t the creative force behind Wall of Voodoo.
Ryan: Can you discuss the situation Wall of Voodoo was in after Stan’s departure? I know you approached Andy Prieboy about singing for Voodoo.
Bruce: When Stan left, the other guys (Marc Moreland and Chas T. Gray) wanted to keep Wall of Voodoo going. They wanted me back and I was into it. We just needed a singer. I ran into Andy at a party and he seemed perfect. I had heard his earlier band Eye Protection. Although Eye Protection wasn’t our style, I remembered that Andy could sing well from listening to the band. And he was very intelligent. Andy is a super-talented person. He’s an incredible songwriter, musician and singer. But I think a lot of people were expecting Stan and Andy’s not Stan.
Ryan: The Andy Prieboy-fronted lineup generally gets three responses from Wall of Voodoo fans: 1.) some malign it; 2.) some view it as an extension of the first lineup; or 3.) others prefer it to the original lineup. I think for the people who fell into the first group—they missed out on Seven Days In Sammystown, which is an excellent record. It didn’t get its due because of the recent departure of Stan.
Bruce: I agree. I think that’s one of Wall of Voodoo’s best records. Unfortunately, people were expecting Wall of Voodoo with Stan. They expected to hear his voice and they weren’t getting it.
Ryan: Andy Prieboy’s “Far Side of Crazy” was the hit off of Seven Days in Sammystown. The song was incredibly popular in Australia. Occasionally a record will hit it big in Australia, while being completely overlooked in America and Europe. It seems like Seven Days in Sammystown met that fate.
Bruce: For some reason, Seven Days in Sammystown did take off in Australia. It was strange. We didn’t even know how it happened. In America, we’d play smallish halls or large clubs. And then we’d go to Australia and play these huge stadiums. We’d wonder what in the hell was going on. It was such a weird juxtaposition. But the Australian radio stations played us heavily. They liked the Andy Prieboy lineup a lot. There were other places too. A music magazine in France voted Seven Days in Sammystown the best record of the decade. There were other areas we were doing great in. We just didn’t do well in America.
Ryan: Seven Days in Sammystown was a different record for you. Obviously, that has a lot to do with the departure of Stan and Joe Nanini and the addition of Andy Prieboy and Ned Leukhardt.
Nevertheless your brother’s guitar playing is more prominent on Seven Days in Sammystown. In terms of production, it was also your slickest record.
Bruce: I think we finally found out how to get what we really wanted on Seven Days in Sammystown. The first two records—the EP and Dark Continent—we liked the songs on them but we were disappointed with the production because it didn’t capture our live sound. Call of the West was too produced. For the first time we got to choose the producer (Ian Broudie) of Seven Days in Sammystown. Previously, we’d simply worked with whoever was available: “This guy knows how to turn some knobs, so he’ll produce your record.” Actually, we sought out Conny Plank first. He was a German guy who produced DAF, Eno and Kraftwerk. We met with Plank and discussed the record. He then went on a tour of South America with a band he was playing in. He ended up getting sick and dying. So our second choice was Ian Broudie who produced Echo and the Bunnymen. We really liked those recordings as well as Echo and the Bunnymen. We went over to Liverpool and recorded Seven Days in Sammystown.
Ryan: How were the early Andy Prieboy days of Wall of Voodoo for you?
Bruce: Stan was very controlling. If you had a song, he’d always want to change something. Andy was just easier to work with. We would collaborate a lot more on songs when I rejoined the group.
Ryan: Let’s talk about Wall of Voodoo’s last studio album, Happy Planet (1987). I really like your cover of the Beach Boy’s “Do it Again”. That song should have been a hit.
Bruce: I know. I don’t know why that song didn’t catch on. The rest of that album is so-so. Richard Mazda—the guy who produced Call of the West—was brought in again for Happy Planet. I didn’t care for him and I didn’t like his production work on Call of the West or Happy Planet; both albums are so sterile. It was a bad situation. Miles Copeland was on us: “Seven Days in Sammystown didn’t sell so well, so this one has to be a hit. It has to be commercial. We want you back with Richard Mazda who you had experienced success with earlier.” Everything was so forced by that point. We were under the watchful eye of Big Brother. It was a very uncomfortable record to do.
Ryan: That’s too bad. It seems a bit easier these days for bands that had some commercial success to drop down to a moderate-sized indie label and have more control over their records. In the Red Records is a good example of a label that’s independent, visible and sympathetic to artists—yet has released records by Sparks.
Bruce: I know. Back then IRS was an indie label. Sire too. Independents couldn’t get the distribution they can now. There are no major labels today—except Sony and one or two others. Everyone is on an indie label now.
Ryan: The last record Wall of Voodoo released was a live album (The Ugly Americans in Australia). You had left the band before it was released. Why?
Bruce: I knew Wall of Voodoo was going to fall apart and I didn’t want to die with it. It was too sad for me. I hated what the record label was forcing us to become.
Ryan: Wall of Voodoo did disband just after the release of The Ugly Americans in Australia. With the exception of Andy Prieboy, the rest of Wall of Voodoo essentially became the backing band for Nervous Gender in the late ‘80s.
Bruce: That’s right. We actually jokingly called that band Wall of Gender. It was Wall of Voodoo backing Gerardo (Velazquez) and Edward (Stapleton) from Nervous Gender. And it was fun. We were doing hardcore music again. We didn’t care about record labels anymore. We were avant garde and heavy. It was like going back to early King Crimson. In the early ‘90s, Marc and I did the Skulls again. In the mid ‘90s Marc started playing with Johnette Napolitano (of Concrete Blonde) and they formed a band—Pretty and Twisted. I wrote a song (“The Sky is a Poisonous Garden”) for Concrete Blonde which appeared on their Bloodletting album.
Ryan: I really like the last record Marc did—his first and only solo album, Take it to the Spotlight (2002). His guitar playing is phenomenal on that album.
Bruce: Oh yeah! I like that album too. But I’ve only listened to it once and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I can hear the pain in Marc’s voice. He was so sick when he recorded it. I can’t listen to it because of that. It takes me back to that horrible place. It tears me apart. I would fly over to Paris and visit him. He couldn’t stay in the States because he was so sick and he couldn’t get health insurance. So Marc had to stay in France because it was the only place he could get a liver transplant. He wanted to be in the States. It was really hard for him because he didn’t understand French that well. He couldn’t make out a lot of what was being said to him at the hospital. He only had his wife Frederique with him who was French. It was the most painful experience of my life—that last year of Marc’s life.
Ryan: I imagine. Especially taking into consideration how close you were. In some ways, you guys remind me of Bobby and Tommy Stinson from the Replacements. They too were very close and Tommy was indebted to his older brother Bobby for getting him to take up the bass.
Ryan: You’re doing your own thing right now.
Bruce: Ravens Moreland. Back in the Wall of Voodoo days, people were like, “Bruce, you should sing.” We were always having troubles with Stan and then when he left we needed a singer. But I never felt confident enough to sing. Actually, Ravens Moreland has roots in a band I was playing bass in about seven years ago. We were supposed to record an album with David Bianco who had produced the early Danzig albums. I liked his work a lot and I traded him some flooring for studio time; I lay floors for a living. So I had all of this studio time. But two weeks before the band went in there, our drummer—who also happened to be a great singer and was going to handle vocal duties—quit the band. He was a Christian and he found out that our guitar player was a Satan worshipper! So he left. I was like, “Give me a fucking break.” Then the guitarist said, “Fuck it. I’m not playing with him and I’m moving back to Texas anyway.” So the band broke up and I’m two weeks away from this great studio time that I worked my butt off for. So I said, “Fuck it.” I wrote new songs and worked on my singing and two weeks later I cut the first Ravens Moreland record—Lock Up Your Mothers. I dug the experience so I got a full band together. I play all the instruments and sing in the studio. A year later I did another album with Bianco. I then built my own studio in my house and learned how to produce on my own. I just finished my third album, Candy Bad and Pretty Things, which was released this week. You can see the Wall of Voodoo roots but it’s rawer. There’s more of a Cramps and Danzig influence.
Ryan: Have you been able to tour outside of California yet?
Bruce: I’m planning my first big tour this spring. We’ve just been playing around California. It’s really hard to tour with the economy in such bad shape. I also don’t want to put a band through hard times. Because I write the songs, I feel responsible for the other guys in the group. And I don’t want the three or four other people in the band to put a lot of work into something and get nothing out of it financially. It’s hard on you. I’ve done it. I’ve been there—touring around the United States in a van. I don’t have the heart to do it. I can’t do the old fashioned tours. They killed my brother and Joe Nanini. It almost killed me.
Bruce Moreland Interview, Part One
Bruce Moreland was an integral part of the early Los Angeles punk scene. He DJ’ed The Masque (under the punk alias Bruce Barf) and joined the Weirdos as a replacement bassist, taking over for David Trout. Moreland is best known for his tenure in the seminal Wall of Voodoo — a band he formed with his late brother Marc Moreland (1958-2002). Like Paul B. Cutler, Marc’s playing was formidable and innovative. Over the course of our interview, Bruce was more than happy to open up about his talented brother’s guitar playing.
During the latter days of Wall of Voodoo, Bruce played in Nervous Gender (one of Richard Meltzer’s favorite bands) and The Skulls. He’s currently in Ravens Moreland.
Interview by Ryan Leach
This interview originally ran in Razorcake (www.razorcake.org).
Ryan: Both you and Marc grew up in West Covina, correct?
Bruce: Yes, we did.
Ryan: Can you tell me a little bit about your childhood? I know Marc was a little older than you.
Bruce: Marc is one year and two weeks older than me. We were pretty close in age. Marc was my only sibling. My mother had us when she was still really young; she was only 16 years old when she gave birth to Marc. We were raised by her. My dad and my mother split up before I was born, so Marc and I never knew our father.
Ryan: Was your mother a music fan?
Bruce: She was really into music. She actually took me and Marc to the Forum to see Jimi Hendrix play. That was to celebrate my eleventh and Marc’s twelfth birthday.
Ryan: That’s so cool!
Bruce: Yeah. She loved Jimi Hendrix. She turned us onto a lot of music.
Ryan: She would have been in her late twenties at the time, so she was definitely hip to what was going on.
Ryan: Did Marc pick up an instrument before you?
Bruce: He did. I was more into dragsters and cars. I liked music a lot but I didn’t think about playing it. At that time Marc and I were listening to the Seeds and the Electric Prunes. We were really influenced by them and the psychedelic stuff. I’d say those groups spawned Marc’s interest in playing guitar. But then Marc wanted me to get something going too. So I played drums. We started playing around the house—sort of pretending really. But then after a year or two my mom helped us get cheap instruments at Sears. Marc got like a twenty dollar guitar and I got a twenty dollar drum set. We played around on that stuff. We were very poor. My mom worked at the Santa Anita Racetrack, serving coffee and donuts in one of the concession stands. We were raised off of that and her tips.
There’s a funny story about the early days. Back in the late ‘60s you could get awesome records at liquor stores. We got the MC5’s first album from one and brought it home. We thought it was the coolest record. Since we were poor, we lived with our grandparents; my mom, Marc and I shared a room. So we played the MC5 record over and over again on our little turntable. One day my grandmother overheard John Sinclair’s “Kick out the jams, Motherfucker” intro and made us return the album to the liquor store. (laughs) We were so bummed.
Ryan: (laughs) It’s pretty incredible that at one time you could pick up an MC5 album from a liquor store. Was Marc the kind of guitar player who once he picked up the instrument that was all he did?
Bruce: Yes. That’s all Marc did—play guitar.
Ryan: You’re known as a bassist. Can you talk about the transition from drums to bass?
Bruce: I had played drums for two or three years. I never got really good at them. I could do some simple stuff. I remember one day Marc said to me, “Bruce, everyone either plays guitar or drums in the neighborhood. No one wants to play bass. So you’re playing bass.” He was my big brother, so I listened to him.
Ryan: Was that for the first band you formed with your brother—Sky People?
Bruce: I had picked up the bass before we formed Sky People. We just had informal garage bands before Sky People. Sky People was our first real band, though.
Ryan: There are no recordings of Sky People. But I’ve read your description of the band and it sounds a lot like Zolar X.
Bruce: Exactly. That was what our style was like—especially visually. I had the shaved eyebrows that went up like Spock’s from Star Trek. My hair came to a point in the middle of my forehead—like Ygarr from Zolar X. We had the platform boots. It was very glam rock. But we were heavier than Zolar X. We were influenced by early Black Sabbath. We also liked odd timing stuff—early King Crimson.
Ryan: Besides you and your brother, did anyone else from Sky People move on to punk?
Bruce: Not really. I almost hate to say it but we did several shows with Van Halen. We were Eddie Van Halen’s favorite band from the San Gabriel Valley. We played the same clubs. The drummer for Sky People was Audie Desbrow, who’d later play in Great White.
Ryan: How random!
Bruce: Yeah. I hear a lot of mixed things about Eddie Van Halen but back then he was a real sweetheart. Sky People didn’t have transportation so he’d drive his Ford Econoline van over to our house and pick up our equipment for shows. And then he’d drive me and the gear back home later.
Ryan: You and Marc really made a name for yourselves with the arrival of Los Angeles punk; you played bass in the Weirdos, Marc was the guitarist of the Skulls. Can you describe the transformation the Los Angeles music scene went through in the late ‘70s—from glam to punk—and workout the timeline of events for you and Marc?
Bruce: We were still doing the Sky People thing when punk hit. We played the Starwood (a club synonymous with Los Angeles punk) with Van Hanlen. After that we became aware of punk rock; Marc and I jumped right into it. We had been into the Stooges. You can’t classify the Stooges as punk rock but they were definitely influential to the punk rock movement. Then the Ramones and the Sex Pistols came out and the feeling was incredible. All the progressive rock crap—like Gentle Giant—we were grossed out by. Kansas was horrible. We were over the virtuosos. We wanted in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll. We were only about 16 years old when punk arrived. Marc and I lived about twenty minutes east of L.A. We were friends with this group called the Dogs. The Dogs were originally from Detroit but they had moved to Los Angeles. We used to take my van down to their place and hang out. One day it broke down across the street from their apartment on Gower so we just lived in it for a while. The guys in the Dogs introduced us to Brendan Mullen at the Masque and took us around town. My van was eventually towed by the City of L.A. so we needed a place to stay. Marc ended up living with the Dogs; Brendan allowed me to live at the Masque if I helped out with maintenance of the place. I became sort of the Masque’s handyman as well as an MC for shows. I had a new name—Bruce Barf. I used to do a lot of crazy antics. Dave Trout, the original bass player for the Weirdos, left right after the “Neutron Bomb” single. The Weirdos asked me to join them so I did. Marc joined the Skulls at about the same time. We went our two different ways. It was the first time we played in different bands.
Ryan: You’re very affable and outgoing. In the early punk days you were known for really pushing the envelope at shows. On the other hand, Marc was quite the opposite.
Bruce: Marc was incredibly shy. Although he was my big brother, I felt like I had to protect him because he was thinner and much more sensitive than I was. I was almost like a parental figure. If someone messed with my brother, I would get pissed—threaten them. We were so close. I was very protective of him. He was so shy around girls. I would try to help him out with girls; it was so hard. Girls almost had to beat him over the head with their clubs and drag him back to their caves in order for them to hook up with him.
Ryan: You ended up playing with the Skulls, correct?
Bruce: I would fill in with the Skulls. I also played with the Controllers from time to time. In the ‘90s, the Skulls got back together and Marc and I played with them again for about a year.
Ryan: When your brother formed Wall of Voodoo with Stan Ridgway, his guitar playing changed. Marc went from being a very good punk rock guitarist to a formidable and inventive post-punk guitarist. His playing in Wall of Voodoo reminds me somewhat of Andy Gill’s work in Gang of Four. But then there’s also this overt Ennio Morricone influence going on with Marc. Where did this incredibly interesting and unique playing come from?
Bruce: My brother was always changing. Back in Sky People, he was into Mick Ronson and Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath. He was very heavy then—bar chords and guitars played through Marshall amps. And then he would change. Marc would then play a cheap guitar. He would play the Fender no one wanted. He played a Fender that was half Duo-Sonic, half Mustang guitar. He wanted to do the opposite of what everyone else was doing. He was playing through a Fender Twin-Reverb in Wall of Voodoo when everyone else wanted that Sex Pistols sound—the big Marshalls Marc used earlier. Marc had also gotten really into Johnny Cash when Wall of Voodoo formed. He really liked Cash’s guitar player, Luther Perkins. Marc was into that stuff before country punk was around. We were both into that. Marc started integrating the country sound into his playing. He liked Robert Fripp as well. He would play Fripp-inspired distorted and bizarre sounds, and then twangy Luther Perkins-type stuff. The other big influence was Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music. I’d say those three guitarists—Perkins, Fripp and Manzanera—were Marc’s biggest influences.
Ryan: Can you describe the origins of Wall of Voodoo? I’m lead to believe that it was Marc and Stan Ridgway who formed the genesis of Wall of Voodoo in their attempt to get a low-budget soundtrack company going.
Bruce: Marc and I were always comfortable playing together. We were actually living together in an office building across from the Masque when Wall of Voodoo formed. We wanted to do another band together. I told him to go find a singer. He found Stan. Stan was singing in some dorky band at the Masque at the time. They were almost like a cartoon band. When Marc told me he wanted to do something with Stan I just said, “Really? You want to play with that guy?” Marc replied, “Yeah, it would be cool. He’s like an anti-singer.” So I just went with it—that was cool with me. I told Marc to give me a couple of months and that I’d play with him and Stan. I was still in the Weirdos. Marc and Stan had played for a month or two before I joined. They had about three songs worked out. When I joined Wall of Voodoo, it started taking a different direction. They wanted to do “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, so I came up with that synthesizer part.
Ryan: Wow! That’s an incredible synth riff. “Ring of Fire” really got the Wall of Voodoo treatment with that addition. You used the synthesizer in a more atmospheric way. A lot of new wave bands treated the synth as sort of a novelty instrument.
Bruce: Yeah. Thank you. So it was Marc and Stan at the beginning, but it was known that I was going to join which I did a month or two later. It was really the three of us who worked out the band’s original sound.
Ryan: Wall of Voodoo was both original and incredibly rewarding. How did the group’s sound come together?
Bruce: It did all blend together really well. Stan was the Ennio Morricone influence. He loved the Western movie soundtracks. Then there’s Marc with the great guitar playing—Robert Fripp meets Carl Perkins. He was also a quirky songwriter. At that time I was trying to play keyboards like Beethoven. So I was on a really big Beethoven kick. “The Passenger”—I think the Beethoven influence comes out on that one. So it was all of this weird stuff working together. Plus we didn’t want to do punk anymore. We wanted to do something more innovative. We were inspired by early Roxy Music and early King Crimson.
Ryan: Was Wall of Voodoo a band that rehearsed intensely?
Bruce: We rehearsed a lot. Sometimes six hours a day, five days a week. We treated practicing like a job. We were very serious. Our sound never did come across on record. I think a major reason why it never did come across properly was because we were using rhythm machines. Nobody was recording rhythm machines back then. Also, the electronics we were using were very cheesy—rhythm machines that came out of organs and although synthesizers had progressed, we were still using the original Moog synthesizers. It was difficult for people to record these very crappy or old synthesizers properly. Live it was easy: we’d just amplify everything. I always wished we could find the right producer for our albums. We were always disappointed in our records.
Ryan: Can you explain who released your first self-titled EP (1980)? Did Miles Copeland (of IRS Records) approach you about it?
Bruce: No. Initially Phil Culp put it out on Index Records. Then we sent out a copy to Miles. He came and saw us play—after he listened to the EP—and signed us right after. So the Index EP was put out by Phil Culp on Index—but was sort of re-released by Index via IRS Records. We had already signed up with Phil to do it on Index, but Phil agreed to let Miles put it out in large numbers.
Ryan: Do you recall recording the first EP?
Bruce: Hardly. (laughs) All of the incidental music between songs was recorded on a two-track recorder. We did those songs on an old Teac reel-to-reel recorder that we loved to use because you’d get this weird echo out of it and every time you’d ping-pong a track it’d create this new generation. We loved that sound. We’d try to recreate the sound we got from the two-track in the studio and it never came out right. I wish we would have released the stuff on the two-track recorder instead. But it is what it is. I don’t recall too much; I’m sorry. I’m sure we did it in under a week; maybe two or three days. To me it was like another rehearsal session. I don’t even remember who recorded it or who produced it.
I do remember recording Dark Continent (Wall of Voodoo’s first full-length LP, released in 1981). Jim Hill produced it. By that time we were signed, so we did it at A&M Records in Studio B. At the same time, Lionel Richie and the Commodores were recording in Studio A. During the recording sessions for Dark Continent, Marc broke his guitar. So Lionel Richie came by and loaned Marc his Telecaster. A lot of the guitar work on Dark Continent was done on Lionel Richie’s guitar.
Ryan: Damn! I might have to give Lionel Richie a little more credit. (laughs)
Bruce: Yeah. He was really nice.
Ryan: Can you discuss the Dark Continent time period? You had some financial support from IRS by that point.
Bruce: IRS was supporting us. They’d put us on grueling tours; we’d make no money. We’d play six shows a week for two or three months. We’d drive 500 miles everyday. It was killing us. That was the beginning of the end for a lot of us. The drinking escalated. Drugs were consumed. Everyone drank like fish in the band. Joe (Nanini) and I started using heroin to cope with the stress. Everyone was using speed. We did do some cool shows though. We played the Leeds Festival in England. The Cramps, Bauhaus and The Human League were on that bill. Maybe the Cocteau Twins too. Some incredible bands played at that festival.
Ryan: Some bands that had some success after punk were uprooted from L.A. for various reasons; I know the Gun Club had a much bigger fan base on the East Coast—prompting the group to relocate there—and The Go-Go’s spent a good amount of time in England. Did Wall of Voodoo still feel connected with the L.A. scene after it experienced a modicum of success?
Bruce: We were always connected to the L.A. bands. Some of the bands we had the most camaraderie with would probably surprise you. The Mentors were one of our favorites. They played several shows with us. Whenever a club would let them play, we’d have them open for us. Usually Blackie’s on La Brea would let the Mentors perform. We also were friends with some of the Phoenix bands—B People and Human Hands. Black Flag did one of their earliest shows with Wall of Voodoo at the King’s Palace. Jane’s Addiction as well. We toured with the Stranglers—they wanted to produce us. IRS did uproot us for a while. We were in New York for two or three months for publicity reasons. We were in Bologna, Italy for a while; we toured Europe and used that city as a hub. We were in England for eight or nine months recording. But we always felt much more kinship with the L.A. bands—the Gun Club and Tex and Horseheads especially.
Alicja Trout Interview from 2011
Photo by Jamie Harmon
Alicja Trout has been a fixture and major contributor to the Memphis garage-rock scene since at least the mid ’90s. She’s best known for her work with Lost Sounds and River City Tanlines. Alicja also ran Contaminated Records for many years.
This interview originally ran in Roctober fanzine.
Ryan: Tell me about growing up. Didn’t you go to school in New Orleans?
Alicja: I didn’t go to school in New Orleans. I lived there for a little while though.
Ryan: Did you spend most of your childhood in the Memphis area?
Alicja: Yes. I went to art school in Memphis. I completed a semester in New York too. I moved to New Orleans for a while afterwards. But other than that I’ve lived in Memphis most of my life. My family moved to Memphis from Baltimore when I was seven or eight years old.
Ryan: I recently read a couple of Peter Guralnick’s books. In Sweet Soul Music he makes a case for Memphis being a sort of vacuum and refuge for outsider musicians and eccentrics. Do you agree? Does this generalization hold up generations later?
Alicja: Well, as far as STAX goes—being from Memphis I don’t know what kind of impact STAX’s music has had on the outside world. Music from Memphis has obviously inspired me because I live here. I don’t know what kind of publicity STAX had back then. It seemed like there were more touring opportunities for Memphis bands back then—especially overseas tours. As far as the vacuum theory currently goes in Memphis, it’s true. People often don’t feel inspired to venture outside of the city. Bands from Memphis sometimes don’t make the impact they should. There is a lot of stuff going on Memphis. You just wouldn’t know about it.
Ryan: In a Razorcake interview (with Miss Erika) you mention your incredible productivity being spawned by the feeling that you were making up for lost time spent in graduate school.
Alicja: By the time I was in graduate school—going to art school was something I always wanted to do when I was younger—I was making records and touring and I felt an overlapping of pursuits: Art or rock ‘n’ roll? And rock ‘n’ roll was winning. I thought that I shouldn’t have gone to college because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing. I felt like I hadn’t done anything important by my mid twenties. I had been floating around, going to school and trying to find freelance jobs. When I decided to do music, I felt like I should be doing it full time.
Ryan: How did Contaminated get going?
Alicja: Contaminated started because I had a girl band called The Fitts that wanted to put out a record. Releasing our 7” was a fun experience; I liked the process of sending stuff out for review. I heard The Ponys from Chicago. I was friends with Jared (Gummere); I knew him through his old band The Guilty Pleasures. I decided to release a second 7” with them.
I was the merch girl with The Lost Sounds. We would always make special stuff for the tour. Everyone had their own side-project band so I had a lot of extra releases from people in my band plus the Contaminated stuff, which I’d sell and trade with people. I had a mail order too. At the time, a number of people were running small labels and mail orders, so there were a lot of people to trade with. I don’t know how the little labels and the mail orders are doing right now. Just before I had my daughter, the cost of mailing things went up and so did the cost of pressing records. I became disenchanted. Additionally, because of my daughter I couldn’t go on tour anymore and trade records with people. I sort of lost interest in Contaminated.
Ryan: Jake Austen wanted me to ask you about Mouserocket and The Lost Sounds’ Rat’s Brains and Microchips record. Have you recorded any other songs or been involved in any other project with rodent connections? Have you ever done any Alvin and the Chipmunks-style voice speed manipulation?
Alicja: We based the whole Rat’s Brains and Microchips album on a story about rats used to explore space. I’ve been fascinated by rodents ever since I went to the Natural History Museum in New York City and read that we descended from rats, which makes sense. I used to sit and watch the rats in New York City go to a bread factory trashcan and steal bread to bring home. They are such bad asses; if you were to flush one down a drain it could potentially chew through a pipe and get out. I named my booking agency Electric Rat booking. MouseRocket was originally MausRocket with an ‘umlaut’ because it was based on a graphic novel I had got fifteen years back called MAUS. My only Alvin and the Chipmunks reference is that one of my first favorite records was “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” by The Chipmunks. I didn’t know who the Beatles were when I was six years old, which is about when I heard the song.
I have a lot of rat references. “You Can’t Change” by Nervous Patterns has the following line: “telepathic rodent brains may try to change your thoughts/but once a fool starts running his soul can then be caught.”
I have a Black Sunday song called “Rat Tunnel”, and even a stop-motion youtube video for it. It’s completely about becoming a rat and going to live in tunnels underground and saying “fuck you” to the world. I was angry at the music world when I wrote it; I guess I felt annoyed by the strong hipster popularity contest going on with the music. I resented it because I wasn’t popular and hip.
Ryan: Did Nervous Patterns form as the result of having too many songs for The Lost Sounds to record?
Alicja: Yeah. We always had extra tracks lying around. We’d go on tour and sell these outtakes CDs. We’d come across someone who’d say, “Hey, I want to put that out.” Nervous Patterns wasn’t stuff that Jay and I did together; it was more like songs that he had done on his own and material that I had recorded on my own. The only real exception was the “You Can’t Change/Beautiful Brutal” 7” released on Zaxxon. We did those songs together.
Nervous Patterns somehow formed into a band. We played a couple of shows with Patrick—who played bass in The Lost Sounds—but he was actually a great guitar player. Again, he played bass and Jay and I switched between guitar and drums. The songs were close to the ones we’d record for The Lost Sounds, but they just didn’t fit for some reason. Maybe we just wanted to play drums, like all guitar players!
Nervous Patterns songs were more about the bass tone as opposed to having a keyboard or guitar driving it. The songs were also more melodic; there was less screaming going on.
Recently, Martin from Red Lounge Records translated “You Can’t Change” into German. I rerecorded the song in German. It’s actually the exact same version as the Zaxxon single because I have the original recording still; I just moved the vocal tracks over and rerecorded the vocals in German. I don’t know when it’s supposed to come out. It was something that Martin wanted to do.
Ryan: You recently released an Alicja-Pop 7” on Certified PR. Since you’re a mother now, do you find it’s easier to do projects that center around you playing all the instruments yourself? Alicja: Yes. However, I am currently recording a River City Tanlines album. It’s just that now things take about ten times longer to complete than they used to. I don’t really have so much of my own time now. My focus is all over the place. I have more of a schedule I have to adhere to. I released a Mouserocket album this year. I couldn’t find anyone to release it so we just put it out online on bandcamp. I’ve been trying to keep busy with home recordings and putting out 7”s. I don’t spend much time touring or promoting right now. I’ve got a lot of stuff done, it’s just that not too many people know about it.
Ryan: Is River City Tanlines a band that’s more of a joy than anything?
Alicja: Actually, River City Tanlines was getting really boring for me. We were still touring in the early stages of my pregnancy, and I remember thinking, “I’m really ready for something new.” We’d been playing the same songs for so long and the style of music was getting on my nerves. When your music is boring when you’re not drinking, you really have to think about what you’re doing. I was getting sick of the simplicity of the music. I wanted something with more dynamics and difficulty. In turned out that everyone in the band felt that way. Recently, we’ve been writing songs together that breaks out of the old formula. It has helped out a lot. That’s where we’re going with River City Tanlines.
Ryan: Any idea on when the new album will be out?
Alicja: We’re hoping February or March (2012). We haven’t started the final mixing yet.
For more on Alicja: http://alicjatrout.blogspot.com/