Saturday, April 06, 2013

Mick Collins interview - talks Gories, opening for Rob Tyner

Here's an old 2009 interview I did with Mick Collins of The Dirtbombs and The Gories. For some reason (likely a low paying job) it was forgotten and I'm just now posting it - four years later. This was right before The Gories first reunion tour, the one with The Oblivians.

Reading back through what Mick had to say, it seems like he wasn't too stoked about the reunion idea - at first. Since then the band has played many other shows - so I guess it wasn't so band? Right, Mick? Anyway, here's a long overdue interview with Mick - circa 2009. Be sure to check out what he remembers about The Gories' first show with fellow performer, Rob Tyner of the MC5.

By Rich Tupica

richtupica[at]gmail.com

Why didn’t you guys play a reunion show sooner?

We didn’t want to, and plenty of other reasons.

Did people harass you about reuniting the Gories quite often?
People never quit asking, ‘When are The Gories going to get back together?’ I’d always answer, ‘Never!’ So apparently hell froze over.

So what made you agree to an actual tour then?
Momentary lapse of reason. I don’t know why. Everyone else said OK, so I was like, ‘Uhhh, maybe I’ll do it.' It’s only a few shows. I hope I don’t sound like an asshole.

I heard a couple years ago The Gories were thinking of playing Coachella, is that true?
We were contacted by Coachella in 2007 about playing the 2008 festival, but that fell through. So doing a reunion show of some sort has been on the back burner since then. When we got asked by The Oblivians we thought, ‘Well, sure.’

Are there going to be new Gories songs on this tour?
We’ve talked about writing new songs. Dan and I kept most of the stuff from when we were actually together. There were some half finished things that we’ve looked at, song ideas we knocked around at the time and never did anything with. We might actually do some of those. There is a possibility. Part of the reason we are practicing with Peg is to maybe do some new material.

We have lyrics for some and guitar parts for others. It’s just stuff laying around. We have one where we remember how the song goes, but none of us can remember what the words are. And there is another one where we got the lyrics, but nobody can remember the music. We’ll work something out.

Are you nervous about playing The Gories reunion?
I worry about my voice. That stuff was really hard on my voice even then. Other than that, I don’t foresee any other issues - I won’t be jumping around as much, but stuff will probably still get broken.
My amps are a lot more durable now. My amps are doctored before they go onstage so they’re able to take the abuse I dish out on them.


How did you, Peg and Dan get along as a band?
We didn’t, that’s why we broke up when we did. We actually broke up four times. During the six year run of the band we broke up three times. They were serious, full-on breakups. We broke up in March of 1990 after we’d cut a bunch singles for all these people. We did a Sub Pop single, and Estrus single - we cut all of those singles and we broke up. About six months later they (the labels) started calling and saying, ‘Where is our record?’ We were like, ‘Oh, yeah. We forgot about that. Didn’t you hear that we broke up?’ Then we had to go back in and mix them. I think we mixed all four of those singles in an hour and a half. We sent them out and forgot about them for another four months. We didn’t talk to each other. I got a call from Dan saying, ‘We have to cut those singles. They called in March, now it’s September.’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.’

So what was the reason for the final break up?
We stopped liking each other. That was all, like every other band, you stop liking each other. The European tour was in ‘92, after that we broke up for the final time.

How did you first meet Dan Kroha?
We were introduced by a mutual friend. We had known each other for a while before we started the band, like a year before we started the band. It was more of an after thought than anything, we had just been hanging out. The band kept happening because it developed an inertia of its own. It wasn’t the beginning of our friendship by any stretch of the imagination.

What did you guys expect to get out of the band?
We figured we’d have a 45 record before the whole thing was over and that would have been our musical legacy. I don’t know how it kept going from there.

The Gories had a cool look, with the suits and all, where did that idea come from?
We all met because we were mods. We all had suits. I just stuck with the one suit all the time. I got a suit jacket I liked and there was a dry cleaner near by that didn’t mind taking care of it. We’d go out and play a show Friday night and I’d show up Monday morning at the dry cleaners with the thing covered in sweat and the guy would take care of it. I just kept wearing it and it became kind of a trademark, which is why I don’t wear it anymore, because it was a pain to keep clean. I stopped wearing it during the Black Top tour, I didn’t have a chance to get it clean over a 35-city tour, by the end of it the jacket was just wrecked.

What was your first Gories show like, wasn't it at a church or something?
It was at St. Andrews Church down on the campus of Wayne State. I have no idea how the show went, but the act immediately before us was Rob Tyner. This was, again, a kind of community concert series. Basically you come in and sign up, and he went on before us, that’s all, it wasn’t like he opened for us. He was just there, he got to the sign-up sheet before we did.

How was Rob Tyner's performance?
It was alright, you know. He did two hours of Vietnam protest songs on auto harp. The guy before him played Santana songs on a big analog synthesizer, that was pretty cool. He played a great, nine minute, version of ‘Black Magic Woman’ that I wish I had on tape because it was really intense. I never forgot it, that’s how good it was. It’s been over 20 years and I never forgot because it was brilliant.

Where did The Gories play at in Detroit?
Paychecks in Hamtramck and Reruns, which was just across the border into Dearborn. We also played a lot of house parties. Anyone that gave us $25, and/or beer got a show. The picture on the back of ‘House Rockin’ was taken at somebody’s party. The picture on the front of ‘Outta Here’ was taken at a community concert series at Dally in the Alley.

How would you describe a typical Gories show?
We were drunken messes. We would show up completely out of our heads. We had maybe eight or 10 songs, we would knock out the songs, but we just sounded ridiculous, really. It reached a point where we realized we either had to learn how to play or stop drinking before the shows. We could either keep drinking or learn how to play, but we couldn’t do both.

Back in ‘80s, how did you hear the rare records that influenced The Gories?
It wasn’t rare in Detroit. Everyone talks about that stuff being rare, they weren’t in Detroit. Those records cost a quarter. Everyone you knew had all those records. What would happen would be someone would discover a record that they paid a dime or quarter for somewhere. Within 10 days they had played it for everyone, and everyone could buy one because they were so cheap and easily available. Then we go to a different city and find out these records were impossible to get and cost a fortune.

Have things changed? Because Detroit doesn’t seem to be overflowing with cheap, rare records anymore.
It doesn’t really happen anymore. Detroit has gotten pretty much picked over. All the stores that used to have all the really good stuff for low prices aren’t there anymore. You can still occasionally find something really cool, but you won’t be paying a quarter for it anymore - you may pay six bucks for it. That’s extortion.

Were you into Fortune Records when you first started The Gories?
I didn’t discover all of that stuff until I was in my twenties - now I’m 43. A lot of that late ‘60s soul was just coming out when I was a kid, it was on the radio it was all around. I listened to a lot of Stax and later, a lot of Philly soul. Of course, I’m in Detroit so everybody knew somebody who worked at Motown so that stuff was just everywhere. There was no escaping it. That’s just how it was, you grew up listening to Motown records. It was everywhere, that was the music I listened to.

I read that your dad had a huge record collection that influenced you, is that true?
All the early rock’n’roll stuff, it wasn’t my dad’s collection, well, my dad got it, but my sisters took care of it until I inherited it all. All that ‘50s rock’n’roll and the early ‘60s stuff, those were records in the basement. I listened to them and I loved them all. It was only an influence as far as that’s what I listened to. It’s hard to say I discovered it, because it was already there. I was always listening to it, I never discovered Fats Domino or Sam Cooke, or any of the ‘50s. Anything rock’n’roll, we got a copy. I can’t say I discovered Little Richard or Chuck Berry, I just grew up listening to it, from before I could walk.

Did other area bands go see The Gories at shows ?
Once we started playing, other musicians are always going to go check you out. People would come to see us, we met other bands like that. We’d play gigs with bands we never heard of and bands that never heard of us. We just became a part of a scene at that point. Bands are pretty easy to come by in Detroit, we were just another one of them.

What bands did you play with the most back then?
We played with a band the 3D Invisibles quite a bit. Another band, The Hysteric Narcotics, we played with a lot. Oh, who else …. (laughs). I don’t know, that’s pretty much it. I guess there were the only two bands in town that’d let us play, everybody else thought we were horrible.

Did the band ever do a proper tour of the United States?
Not really. We did a couple cities on the Ozark Plateau with Cordell Jackson. We played in Memphis, we did a bunch of New York shows and a couple of shows in Windsor, Ontario and that was pretty much it. Literally, the only tour we ever did that was American was the shows with Cordell Jackson.

Did you actually record the ‘House Rockin’” LP in a tin shack?
Yeah, pretty much. It was recorded at Wang Head studios, which was really a Quonset hut that was a machine shop, it’s made out of corrugated steel, this one had a dirt floor. He had the studio, but we didn’t like it. He had a recording studio, but the studio was at the back of this machine shop and we liked the sound of the machine shop better than the sound of the studio. He set up all the mics out in the machine shop and that’s where we actually did the recording at. He just ran all the cables to the control room.

How did the second LP, "I Know You Fine, But How You Doin'" come together?
The second album was cut in Memphis at Easley Recordings. We recorded in a place before the one that burned down. Before he was in that big, nice studio, he was out in a garage behind his sister’s house.

Why did you choose Memphis?
We didn’t. Alex Chilton produced it and that’s where he wanted to cut it at.

What is your favorite Gories album?
Our singles, if they were on an album, that’d be my favorite. There is actually a fifth unreleased single that never came out and may finally see the light of day. That would be my favorite Gories record if it was an album.

Are you going to have the black cat Gories T-shirts for sale again?
We have to find the screens. The only reason we haven’t been doing them over the years is because one of the screens got busted. When we went to do the second run of that, we found out one of the screens got busted. They turned out with a partial discoloration, we weren’t happy with them so we stopped making them.

Looking back, what was more fun, playing with The Gories, or now with The Dirtbombs?
It’s always been fun. Making records, for me, is the fun part. That’s the part I like, being in the studio. When I look back, and we were cutting all of those singles in Dan’s bedroom, that was a really fun time. Being in the studio with Alex Chilton, that was really fun. I can’t remember a time I was in the studio where I had a shitty time. I prefer recording to the live shows. A lot of shows are fun an all, once you finally get on the stage for the 45 minutes to an hour that you’re actually doing the show, that part is fine, it’s the other 23 hours that stink.


How much did the ‘Back From the Grave’ LP compilations influence the band?
If anything was an influence on The Gories, the ‘Back From the Grave’ series was. We thought, ‘Finally! This is our crowd. Once we heard them we were like, ‘Now we know what to do, this is us.’ Until ‘Back From the Grave’ you couldn’t hear that stuff unless you were a serious, nerdy collector. The only thing you had were ‘Nuggets’ kind of things - even that was way more complicated than what we played. By then we had already been listening to the music that influenced those bands. We weren’t really imitating the bands from ‘Back From the Grave,’ we went back, found out what those (Nuggets-era) bands were listening to and we tried to play like that. By the time 'Back from the Grave' came out, we sounded like we belonged on it (laughs).

All those (more popular Nuggets bands) bands were trying to sound like Chess blues. And the band’s on ‘Back From the Grave’ were trying to sound like The Yardbirds and The Pretty Things, which were bands we had already known from being mods. We knew The Yard Birds and The Pretty Things were trying to sound like Chess Blues records. All those Chess blues guys, like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, J.B. Lenoir, and anything Lafayette Leake played on; or was written by Willie Dixon, we learned to play ... but because of the musical level we had, which was zero, the end results sounded like ‘Back From the Grave.’

There was that garage rock revival, but you guys didn’t sound like them, did you avoid that on purpose?
There had been one. We figured we were way late and we didn’t sound like any of those bands. All of the Ugly Things type bands had the bowl cut and paisley thing going on. That really wasn’t us at all. There garage rock was totally different from the garage rock that we liked. When ‘Back From the Grave’ came out, we were like, ‘These are our people! This is the garage rock we like.’

I heard you used to break the guitars, and Dan would fix them?
That’s partially true. I smashed up a few guitars and Dan fixed them. The guitar that I play now has been broken so many times. I still have it, but I don’t smash it up anymore. It’s not as if I smashed them on purpose like some sort of art rock thing, they just got broken. There is a difference between deliberately smashing a guitar, and flailing around until you fall on your amp and things get broken. We were definitely a flailing around band. We’d break the guitars, break the amps, the mics, the mic stands; on a couple of occasions we broke a stage. Stuff just got broken. It wasn’t on purpose.
Unless we got angry, which did happen once or twice, where we got mad and decided to stop the show.

What used to piss The Gories off at shows?
One thing we couldn’t abide was when an out of town band came in to town and thought they were better than Detroit. We just couldn’t abide it. On a couple of occasions, that happened. We were like, ‘Alright, we’re going to teach you a lesson tonight!’ There was one occasion where we ended with my amp on fire and the stage in pieces. We got so mad that the actual show was a blank. All I remember was crawling out of a hole that was in the stage.

What were you up to after The Gories ended?
There was Blacktop, which lasted for 14 months. The Screws, which happened during the Dirtbombs. The Dirtbombs isn’t really a band like that. It’s really a brand that I make records under - these days, that’s what all these bands I play with is. The Dirtbombs have lasted longer than most with the same lineup.

Has playing in a band in Detroit changed over the years?
I get asked that a lot, and it hasn’t. The only thing that has changed is the music that influences people and in Detroit, even that hasn’t changed much because it’s still a lot of the same influences. It’s just interpreted differently these days. It’s the same and vibrant as it ever was, there is just no one looking right now, that’s all. There’s no huge media attention, but there is still a million bands and bars and art galleries all across town that will let you play. It’s all still there.



Thursday, May 03, 2012

Early '80s Lansing Punk Scene Revisited

Written by Steve Miller
(Former member of The FIX)

When I came home one afternoon, I realized that being part of a nascent music scene meant some great perks.

Other than the loud noise you could inflict on strangers, the Bad Brains would roll you joints in your living room, play your entire Pablo Moses collection with the bass turned up the right way and cook spinach noodles with spicy peanut sauce for lunch. 


In the ‘80s, the music may not have been any better than today, but it was easier to find because it stuck out more. In Lansing, it sometimes came to my door.

As a member of a Lansing-based hardcore outfit called the Fix, the only such unit in town, I was also part of the network of hospitable places to stay for bands touring the U.S. I had used the network and it was only fair to give back.

The Bad Brains stayed for a week at my place at 2204 Stirling. Black Flag stayed at the Fix house at 823 Beulah after a sold out Black Flag/Fix show in March 1981 at Club Doobee, now The Watershed Tavern & Grill in Haslett. Walk in the place and little has changed since it hosted Oingo Boingo, the Fast, Lydia Lunch, Destroy All Monsters, and D.O.A.

The latter were also guests at the Beulah house. They outdrank us – no easy feat – like the proud Canadians they were. One morning D.O.A. bassist Randy Rampage was walking out to the van looking rock as could be, with bleached do’ flying high and wallet chains dangling hipside. Some kids came up and asked him if he was in a band.
“Yes, I’m in KISS,” Rampage told them.

Most of the local venues were at first tenuous and often one-time only shots. There was a Hobie’s downtown, where the rich realtors are now building their so-called “lofts” off Washington, that was used on at least one occasion. That would be the night Ron Wood of The Dogs let off a fire extinguisher toward the end of a Fix set in the jammed back room of the eatery, choking every drunk soul in the place.

The Lansing Civic Players hall also worked a couple of times – Minor Threat on one packed bill. That place ended in acrimony when someone uptight noticed that local heroes the Crucifucks were on a bill that was to include Boston hardcore band SS Decontrol who were big for five minutes.

It wasn’t that the Crucifucks were on the bill, but the flyer.
“The Civic Players found out about it and I got like thirty calls in the middle of the night,” said Meatmen honcho Tesco Vee, who was putting the show together. “I put my phone number on that flier, and some guy started calling, “What the hell is this Crucifucks shit?” Vee, of course, also co-founded the legendary Touch & Go zine in Lansing along with Dave Stimson.

Madison had Merlins, Ann Arbor had the Second Chance; what was taking E.L. so long to establish a full-time venue for our music? What is now Harper's in downtown East Lansing was Dooley’s at the time. It was good to go just one night a w
eek, the usually dead Mondays. The Stranglers played there twice, as did the Ramones, X, even U2.

Johnny Thunders and Gang War came and Thunders spent the night in the East Lansing jail. “The dumb fuck robbed the bar and left a trail of coins out to the van,” says Ron Cooke, Gang War bassist.

When Flat, Black & Circular owners Dave Bernath and Dick Rosemont opened a small café in East Lansing, a lot of folks thought that the college town was catching up. Bunches Continental Café served sandwiches with sprouts on them, then at night opened its glass tabletops and Cali-copped wooden booths to music. Not some weak jazz or blues that was wasting everyone’s time in the area, but real music with a backbone.

Gun Club played two sets one night in March 1982 to almost nobody. Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s plastic cowboy boots hurt his credibility. It was the Ward Dotson/Rob Ritter version touring the Fire of Love LP.

R.E.M.
wheeled in around the same time and was listless and standoffish to the few curious locals there. Southern-fried hicks trying to play some bastardized Byrds. ‘They’ll never amount to much,’ we sniffed. The band got $300 that night.
The Bad Brains showed up a couple weeks later and showed everyone how it’s done. Two nights of mayhem that came off with nary a blemish to the plants, the old-school glass pie display and other very enticing breakables. 

The Boners from Detroit played Bunches, and singer Jerry Vile couldn’t keep it together around the pastries. “Towards the door there was one of those rotating things with pies in it,” recalls Paul Zimmerman, who put out the White Noise fanzine with Vile in the early '80s. “Jerry was eying that thing. Next thing I know, I’m turned around talking to someone and sure enough he hit me with a pie.”
blackflag 
The owners could have been mad, but nothing was busted. In fact, “None of those glass tables ever got broken,” Bernath marvels today. He was booking the good stuff with little regard to what made him dough; MX-80 Sound played to a dozen people. Eugene Chadbourne came in. The Flesheaters, the Panther Burns. When the place closed in November 1982, Bernath was in talks to bring NYC legends Suicide to town.
 

Lansing didn’t have a Mr. Brown’s (Columbus) or a Seventh Street Entry (Minneapolis). It did have a moving host of little places, though, that could bring the national, now legendary, noise.

Visit Steve Miller's blog, here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

New Nolan Strong tribute LP features Dirtbombs, Reigning Sound, Mark Sultan & more

Coming soon (October 2010 at the latest) from my small label, The Wind Records and Norton Records!

"Daddy Rockin' Strong: A Tribute to Nolan Strong & the Diablos" is a vinyl LP stocked full of smokin' Nolan Strong & the Diablos covers! Executive Producers Rich Tupica and Billy Miller have been compiling this track list for over a year, and it was worth the wait.

It features songs by The Dirtbombs, Reigning Sound, Andre Williams, Cub Coda, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, The A-Bones, Mark 'BBQ' Sultan, Lenny Kaye, Outrageous Cherry, The Hentchmen, Demon's Claws, Gentleman Jesse & His Men, Danny Kroha & the Del Torros & more!

The record also features heartfelt liner notes written by soul legend Andre Williams, a close friend of the late Nolan Strong and fellow Fortune Records artist.

Nolan Strong was a Detroit singer, a fantastic pre-Motown star. "The Wind" and "Mind Over Matter" are two of the best songs to ever come outta the Motor City - those songs are remembered on this tribute LP.

This record marks the second release from The Wind Records ... Norton Records will kindly distribute the LP.

Visit The Wind Records web site:
CLICK HERE to visit THE WIND RECORDS

For more information, e-mail Rich Tupica at:
richtupica@hotmail.com

Friday, March 05, 2010

RIP Jay Reatard .... thoughts from Greg Cartwright, Alicja Trout & more


R.I.P. JAY
Here is a link to a story I recently wrote about the late Jay Reatard for Razorcake.
LINK to read:
CLICK HERE to read the Jay Reatard tribute story..
This story features thoughts and memories from Greg Cartwright (Oblivians/Reigning Sound), Alicja Trout (Lost Sounds), Steven Pope (Jay's band/Barbaras) and Scott Bomar (Memphis producer/musican).

I had the honor of interviewing Jay three times. Links to those can be found at the link below:
CLICK HERE to read the previous interviews with Jay

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Jay Reatard Interview! Addresses the haters.


Jay Reatard is blowin' up!
Photo by Rob Walbers

CLICK HERE to BUY the "Watch Me Fall" CD/LP

By Rich Tupica
richtupica@hotmail.com

Success has been bittersweet for songwriter Jay “Reatard” Lindsey.
While he has been basking in recent accomplishments and a steadily growing fan base, the 29 year-old Memphis native has also been facing ridicule from friends who had previously supported him since he started playing music in 1998.
What is it that’s made some of Lindsey’s old supporters turn their backs on him recently? Comparing his first band, The Reatards, to his electro-black metal band, Terror Visions, shows the versatility he has accomplished with every record. He has been continually evolving, which makes the sudden backlash seem more related to success, rather than a dislike for his latest records.
Could it be that Jay is being savaged by haters?
The title Watch Me Fall,” which is his new album on Matador Records, is a reference to the sudden onset of shit talk.
Though, according to Lindsey, the subject matter on the new LP hasn’t changed much from his usual motif.
“The record is about the same crap I’ve always written about; death, girls and a general dislike for society,” Lindsey said.
He also said the record touches on a new element.
“It’s also about me coming to terms with being a little older and dealing with mortality issues, a kind of slipping away from the whole youthful idea of being immortal,” he said. “It’s serious, but with a sense of humor as well.”
Read the following interview to get the scoop on his new album, the story behind his performance with Beck at the Nokia Theater, and a bunch more.

To read my previous interviews with Jay, visit the links below:
CLICK HERE to read the first Turn it Down JAY interview
and
CLICK HERE to read the second Turn it Down JAY interview


So, Jay, do you think you’ll be able to take a break from touring anytime soon?
I don’t know. I’ve already got a lot of my next album already written. It looks like I’m going to be pretty fucking busy until next year, around this time, until I get another break.
I don’t really write too much when I’m on tour. So I utilize all the time I have when I’m home.

How did you book TV Smith from The Adverts to tour with you as an opener?
The whole thing was my idea. I just figured out a way to get in touch with him and asked him if he ever toured America. He said, “Not much at all.” He’s been waiting on the right situation to do it. I sent him a copy of my record and he really liked the Adverts cover I did on there. We just started chatting and it all came together.

How long did it take to complete the new album?
I recorded the entire thing, then I flew to New York to turn it in. I worked on it from May through January 2008 in my spare time. I turned in 14 songs and started talking to the guys at Matador. I told them I felt I was kind of rushed through this process. I still had to master it at that point and take the cover photo. They said, “Well, you’re kind of right, we did kind of rush you through this process.” So I just flew back home, and I think I recorded about four tracks, and re-did a bunch of them. I ended up with like 17 songs and about 20 different tracks to pick from. I narrowed that down to 12 tracks. The first 3,000 or so LPs are going to come with a 10-inch EP; you can’t buy the 10-inch individually, you have to buy the album to get it. With iTunes you’ll probably be able to download all 17 songs, I’m not sure though.

Will you release some of the unused songs on 7-inches?
I was going to do that, but unfortunately whatever you turn into the label, the label owns. If I would have had the foresight to see that those songs were going to be cut, I could have held them back and released them on my own label or whatever. Before the year is out I think I’ll still have three or four 7-inches out.

Did you wind up using any new instruments on this record like you’d planned?
I built up a lot of different stuff that I was going to use, some different instrumentation. In the mixing process I scaled it down. I think there may be two songs with cello, but it’s really subtle, I don’t think you’d even notice it’s there. It’s just a wall of sound. I think I left some mandolin parts on one song. There is some Farfisfa and upright piano on some. It’s not really that big of a departure. At first I was starting with all these different instruments, but I wound up leaving the songs more skeletal.



Cover for "Watch Me Fall" (Matador)


Why is the new LP titled "Watch Me Fall"?
I feel my life has changed drastically. You would think after you move to a better label that your peers would be cheering you on. The close friends I keep around me were pretty excited that I was going to do something different. But I was very surprised by a lot of people that I thought were my friends, how they flip flop on how they stood as far as what I was doing musically or with my life. Which kind of turned into the same thing, there is not much of a separation anymore. I thought people would be stoked to see my endeavors in life sail at this point, but I guess success is really relative to a lot of things.

How have people been talking shit? On the internet, you mean?
The internet is the easiest way to do it, but I don’t put much value on those people. It’s more like people who are close to me. It’s not a big deal. Well, I guess it’s a big enough deal that I named my album something like that. I felt it was a fitting title, it’s not too cheery of a record. It’s not as upbeat as anything I’ve made before. The A-side is a punk record, when you flip it over it turns into this moody, not necessarily indie-rock record, but I guess closer to that than what people consider punk.

Do you think some people may have turned on you because you moved up to a bigger indie label?
Labels are the easy thing to judge by I guess. I don’t think what I’m doing has really changed all that much. I still record in my dining room. The type of songs I’m writing are slightly different, but that’s not a valid excuse for somebody to absolutely write off what I’m doing. I’m not super self aware or anything but I am almost positive that with every band I’ve been in, from album to album, there has been a slight departure in style from the one before. I do try to keep a general aesthetic with my music, which is: home crafted punk rock. It’s been kind of a weird year for me.

Do you feel that you have succeeded musically?

The fact that I made this record and I’m done with it, I feel I’ve succeeded, I’m done with it. Whether it sells or not, well I really don’t base success on numbers, monetary value or anything like that. I feel like there is a lot of people around me that probably do think that way, so this record is just me sounding off to those kind of people. It’s tongue in cheek, I guess.

What’s the story behind the “I Did Coke With Jay Reatard” pins that have shown up on eBay?
Oh yeah. It’s really strange. I was looking around at those. I was like, “Oh, ha-ha, funny.” Then I noticed the eBay seller is from Cleveland and the girl I’ve been living with for the past couple of years is from there. So I asked her if she recognized this guy’s seller name, I was like, “You have a friend named that, right?” And she said "yeah." So she e-mailed her friend and said, “What’s up with those pins?” He was like, “Yeah, they’re funny, huh?”
There is only one degree of separation between him and me. I think that’s a little bit close for his comfort. I have a sense of humor, but I can honestly say that I’ve never did coke with that guy in my fucking life.

Do you get tired of people spreading drug rumors and talking about you punching people?
I think it’s funny that people think doing coke makes people violent. I didn’t try any hard drugs until I was at least 23 - my most violent period was probably from age 17 to 21. I didn’t even drink alcohol until I was 20 or so.

What comes first for you in songwriting, lyrics or music?
Definitely music, because that’s what my ears go to first. I feel like words have to come naturally, you have to write about what you know. If you don’t do that, it’s going to be apparent. I refuse to use words in my lyrics that I wouldn’t use in conversation. I think a lot of people pull out the thesaurus when they write lyrics and it comes off a little contrived. I’d rather be accused of having my lyrics be too simple or obvious than too abstract or too wordy.

Are your live shows going to change on your next tour?
Once we start playing the new set we will definitely try to make the set more dynamic. It’s changed a lot, even from just a year ago. It’s a lot more noisy now, but more dynamic. It’s not just balls out all the time.
I also think we are going to have longer sets. Every time we go out we extend it a little longer. We’ll probably play closer to 20 songs now, about 60-minutes long. Justice from the Final Solutions may come along and play guitar.



Jay packs the house. photo by Caio Porto


Did you record this album at your house and did you have any help playing the instruments?
I did one track in a studio, a reel-to-reel 8-track studio. I was happy with the results. Billy played drums on four out of 12 songs, I played everything else.

What have you noticed about becoming more popular and playing shows?
I guess what people try to do is, the more popular the band becomes, the more they try to recreate the comforts of home on the road. It’s kind of fighting a losing battle. That’s one of the worse parts - if you enjoy being home. You can’t bring your house on tour with you. That’s the biggest downfall, no matter how much money you’re making, or how many people show up, you still can’t sleep in your own bed. The first week of touring you always miss home. From the second to the fourth week you are kind of numb and you want to go home. It takes time adjusting back and forth.

You recorded a cover of a Beck song, which he used as the B-side on a 7-inch, how did that come about?
Beck’s manager sent an e-mail and asked if I was down for it. I guess he is a fan and wanted to work together in some form. That was the idea they came up with. Rather than doing remixes for the B-side of his newest single, he got somebody to cover it. He thought it’d be a little more creative than just doing a remix. I flew out to LA after that and we played a show together, hung out a little bit. He’s a nice dude. It was kind of strange, he wouldn’t take no for an answer - he wanted me to come out and sing with him on the song. I was kind of like, “I don’t know the lyrics, man.” I recorded the song and I heard it on the radio two or three times, but I hadn’t put much thought into it after that. I should have seen that coming and learned the fucking lyrics. I had his manager go print them out on a piece of paper!” I was nervous, I thought it was going to be kind of corny, but you know whatever. It’s one of those things if you pass it up, you’ll regret not doing it for the funny memory.

Was it weird playing on stage with such a huge star or are you getting used to it?

No, I never get used to anything. The only thing I got used to was playing shows with no one there. I got really used to that. Now it’s so far out of my element that it feels incredibly weird. I am getting more confident and trying to do things that I’d normally be afraid to do musically. Two years ago if you would have asked me if I would ever walk out on stage at the fucking Nokia Theater with Beck I probably would have laughed at you.

You also did a split with Sonic Youth, who arranged that 7-inch?
Well, we’re on the same label but I know that for awhile now Thurston Moore has been paying attention to what I’ve been doing. Way back, close to four years ago, he came to a Shattered Records showcase at SXSW and bought every bands’ record. He hung out and watched the Angry Angles set, he’s a nice guy.

What’s up with your label, Shattered Records? I notice you are pressing new records?
I have a bunch of releases lined up. It’s all about finding time to do them. I got Hunx & His Punks, a Box Elders single, Cola Freaks - just a lot of bands I really like. I recently signed up Nobunny for his third LP. There is this punk kid from Memphis named Seth who has a band called The Useless Eaters. I think he’s like 18 or 19 years old. He’s just making stuff on his 4-track in his bedroom.

How did you hear about The Useless Eaters?

I think I heard his shit on MySpace. It’s really exciting to start working with a young, snotty brat again. Not unlike myself when I was his age. I didn’t know him and he lives in town. I e-mailed and asked him if he wanted to do a record. I gave him money to pay his bills and what not. Took him out to eat a few times. He was really stoked. I feel any label can put your record out but anything extra people did when I first started putting out records, to make me feel like they actually cared about me personally and what I was doing, those small things went a long way.

Do you see yourself staying in Memphis? Or maybe moving to New York or something like that?
I could never live in New York, I can’t be caged up like an animal. I think I’ll be in Memphis at least for a few more years but I might be here permanently. I’m probably going to be buying a house in the next few months. The house I’m buying is essentially two apartments, so I’ll hopefully be able to use it to run my business and studio out of the other side.

Buying a house - that’s a pretty grown up move.
Yeah, if you also would have asked me awhile back if I’d own a house and have an actual, legal business in the state of Tennessee called “Jay Reatard,” I probably would have laughed. But I think if I would have had this kind of ambition when I was 18, I don’t think things would have turned out the way they did.

What has been the high point of the past two years for you?
I guess the times we have been to Australia have been incredible, man. We played a traveling festival, we played outside everyday. We toured by airplane so we didn’t have to sit in a van. It was just a great experience. I ate a lot of healthy food and spent a lot of time with good people. I’m to the point now where it’s not all about getting completely shit faced and trying to put on a spectacle for people. It’s become something else. I’ve found an audience that’s willing to except it. It’s entertaining enough for them to just watch somebody get up and play some songs and convey a little emotion as an energy. They don’t need the next step. They don’t need to see a three-ring circus with a guy trying to destroy himself on stage every night.
The high point is - almost everything. I can’t really think of any negative points in the past year and a half of my life. It’s all been up hill. I know that stuff eventually runs out, but whatever. I’m just enjoying everything. I try to take it all in and remember.


Reatarded Links:
CLICK HERE to visit Jay Reatard.com
CLICK HERE to visit Shattered Records, Jay's label
CLICK HERE to visit Jay on MySpace




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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Greg Cartwright interview! Oblivians tour, new Reigning Sound and growing up in Memphis


Greg Cartwright photo by Theresa Kereakes

By Rich Tupica

richtupica@hotmail.com


Today’s world is filled with generic punk, contrived garage rock and sappy love songs. I figure it must be hard to pay homage to a form of music without becoming a parody of it.
Fortunately, Greg “Obliv
ian” Cartwright has continued to release tried-n-true records for the past 20 years that echo influences properly.
His songwriting may reflect his massive collection of old vinyl records, though after listening to any album by The
Compulsive Gamblers, Oblivians or Reigning Sound, it’s obvious Cartwright has something to say and he does it in a genuine style all his own.
He blends classic soul, rock, folk, country and doo-wop into a melody and tops it with honest storytelling lyrics that often lean toward heartache.
Having been born
and raised in Memphis, as a teen he absorbed the hotbed of music that surrounded him. His high school days were spent at the Antenna Club, a now defunct music venue, that booked punk and rock’n’roll shows - one show, in particular, helped to set the course of his future in music.
After spending the 1990s and 2000s releasing a pile of albums, Cartwright has established a dedicated following while continuing to reinv
ent his sound with every record he puts out.
Now living in Asheville,
NC with his family, Cartwright seems more focused on music than ever. He may be busy raising children with his wife Esther, but he still finds time to sneak out to his garage where he writes music.
Aside from his work in Reigning Sound, who
have a new studio album, Love & Curses (due out August 11, 2009), Cartwright is also a midst a much anticipated reunion tour with The Oblivians, along with The Gories. There are also a couple of planned reunion shows with The Compulsive Gamblers set for this summer.
To find out more on th
e ‘Two Sides’ to Cartwright, read the following (world’s longest!) interview with the man himself.


When did you first get into rock‘n’roll records?
Growing up, m
y dad was a record collector, so we always had lots of records around. I just really liked the kind of stuff that he played. He was into a lot of British invasion bands and some early American rock stuff like Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Kinks and all that. When we were in the car we always listened to oldies stations, so I got a big dose of doo-wop and R&B. It used to be, when I was a kid, oldies stations were not as limited as they are now. You’d hear a lot of oddball things, like local hits, not just Top 40 stuff. I think kids nowadays listen to oldies stations and get the idea that there were only about 90 hits from the years 1956 to 1970.

Oldies stations don’t really play any ‘50s music at all anymore.
No, they really
kind of deleted a lot of that stuff. In fact, I remember when I got my very first car when I was 17, it was a Dodge Dart, and I listened to an oldies station religiously. They played a lot of doo-wop and R&B that I was really in to at the time. I remember the day I was driving to school my senior year and I heard an ad on the radio that said, “The new Oldies 98, no more boring doo-wop! Just hits from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.” I thought, man, what is with this? Not only do you have to take away all the good music, but you also have to insult the people that like it? (laughs)

Which is funny, because it’s not boring in any sense.
No, it’s great. It just goes to show, as each generation gets older, I guess they decide that the people who
want to hear that were a dying breed and they weren’t going to cater to them anymore. Little did they know there were kids who grew up on that stuff and really dug it as well. The times roll on.
Now you look at the schedule at any given bar, in any given town there is inevitably an ‘80s night. Now, that’s an oldie. Madonna is an oldie. I guess to some people it is, to people who grew up during that time period it may be classic. As the decades roll on, the concept of what is a truly classic song changes.



Reigning Sound's debut 7", "Two Sides to Every Man" (2001)


You’ve mentioned how you spent a lot of time with your grandmother growing up, why were you at her place so often?
Both of my parents wo
rked and my grandmother didn’t so I just spent most of my time with her. At one point we lived right across the street from her. Eventually we moved, but it was only a couple blocks away. She was always only a bicycle ride away. That was from when I started kindergarten on. Every summer was spent with her. This was pre-day care days. Beyond summers, I spent almost every weekend with her. She was a real interesting person to hang out with. She’s a real character.

Was your family always in Memphis?
I pretty much
grew up there my whole life. With the exception of when I lived in New York for about a year or so.

Did you grow up in a suburb or Memphis proper?
I was not in a suburb until my
last two years of high school. But up until then we lived in a part of town called Frayser (in North Memphis), that was inside Memphis proper, in the area where the International Harvester Tractor manufacturing plant was. That’s where my grandfather worked, where one of my uncles worked and then my father worked at the Firestone factory making tires. At that time in Memphis, you had the agriculture, which was still a big part of commerce there - but there was a bit of factory work as well, and two of the biggest were Harvester and Firestone. Everybody pushed to get a factory job right out of high school. There wasn’t a lot else, to be honest. But then Harvester closed and Firestone closed and the ‘70s up to the ‘80s were some lean years for Memphis. There was some bad things about that, because obviously there was no money. When there was no money coming in and no reason for people to go there, Memphis kind of got trapped in this time warp of things not changing very much for a decade or two.

How did you get serious about record collecting?
My dad was a record collector, so the idea of having a lot of records was something I w
as born into. When I was just a six year old, I had a portable record player that I’d take with me everywhere I went. I inherited all my uncle and aunt’s records that were at my grandmother’s house where I spent most of my summers. She gave me all of their 45s, there was a lot of oddball Memphis stuff in there that you wouldn’t hear on the radio anymore. There was just a lot of odd stuff in general in there. Also, spending my summers with her, she was a total pack rat and we’d spend our days going to thrift stores and yard sales and she’d give me like $2 to spend. And once I grew out of the stage of buying GI Joes and stuff I started looking for other things and I always liked records, so my appetite for getting more records just grew and grew. By the time I was in my teens I was getting introduced to other things by friends at school, like a lot of punk stuff, more out-there things that were on the fringe of culture that my dad didn’t know about - things I wasn’t going to hear on the radio.



Greg at Goner Records in Memphis photo: Bullyrook


What got you paying attention to punk rock?
A lot of the punk stuff really clicked for me because it really seemed like a lot of the same aesthetic that I like
d about other music. There was a definite line you could draw from some ’50s and ’60s stuff to The Misfits because the chord changes are basically the same. Also, a lot of my friends in junior high and I would go to see these all ages shows at the Antenna (a now defunct Memphis club). A lot of those were hardcore shows. I really gave it a shot, but hardcore never really clicked with me, aside from maybe one or two bands. The things I liked most about music - the melody, really good lyrics and all that, was not there. The energy and angst was there, but it didn’t seem to have any hooks, it all seemed the same.
Like I said, there were exceptions, but for the most part I saw 100 hardcore bands and liked three of them.


If you didn’t dig hardcore, what were you into?
I remember I wen
t with a friend one time to see an all ages show, I was probably about 16. We waited and waited, I can’t even remember who the band was, but we waited a long time for the show to start. Finally McGee, the guy who owned the Antenna, said, ‘Well the band called and said they have a flat tire, they’re not coming.’ So we were kind of bummed. I was too young to drink at the time but we always managed to find alcohol anyway, so we found some alcohol, went somewhere with a couple quarts of malt liquor and then wandered back toward the Antenna to see what was going on. We managed to get in and it looked like there was a band loading in stuff, there was going to be a show. We were thinking maybe something happened and this band made it after all. But it wasn’t the hardcore band at all, it was a local band that I was totally unaware of called Tav Falco & the Panther Burns. When I saw that I thought, ‘Well, this is infinitely more interesting than any of that stuff that people had been dragging me to see for the last year and a half.’

So you dug it right away, huh?

It instantly clicked
with me. Although it was chaotic, there was definitely a wild, almost punk element about Panther Burns. But he was into all the kind of stuff that really turned me on. That was Tav’s thing - blues, rockabilly, country, odd R&B. Suddenly I thought I’ve been wasting my time trying to like hardcore and here’s this thing that was in my own backyard that I was totally unaware of. From there on I started looking for more bands like that. Then you get into The Cramps and all of these other things that kind of ride that line, that are really good, gritty rock‘n’roll, but are also on the outside of culture, like punk. So that was a real eye opener. I continued to hunt records in thrift stores and junk shops.
The fun part of reco
rd collecting, especially back then, and this is obviously pre-internet, is that when you find something, if you find a really cool Andre Williams 45, you’ve got no point of reference, no internet to research it, you’ve just got this totally amazing jewel. It’s a mystery. You sit and listen to it over and over and think, ‘Where did this come from? How could somebody make something like this?’ That’s definitely what sparked me as a record collector and to want more records. Those mysteries are what keep you going. When you think you’ve heard everything you find something way-out and crazy.



Greg Cartwright photo: Paul D


Unfortunately, there is a lot of garbage to sift through to get to the good stuff.
You got to know what
kind of things you’re looking for. Back when I was just hitting thrift stores all the time records cost a dime. I could buy a handful and if half of them were stinkers it was no big deal, I still only spent a dollar. Things are more expensive now and with the internet you got these people that try to hype records that are really only average, or in some cases, just flat out bad. They use tag words like “fuzz,” “northern soul,” all these things that trick people into buying bad records. Back then it was a cheap gamble. Now you have to know exactly what you’re looking for because things are more expensive.

When di
d you first start writing songs?
Probably by the time I saw Tav I alre
ady had a band. I was already trying to write songs. The first band I had … Well, I played with people in their garages and stuff as early as 7th grade. Probably by the time I was in my last year of junior high school I had a band with these guys I went to school with, The Stiffs, I think, was the name of the band. The name of the band changed a couple times. It was me and this guy named Chris Coble, Shaun Jacobson and another buddy of mine, Tom, played guitar for awhile. I would write songs and we’d do lots of covers. Not long ago I found a rehearsal tape, there was a couple of my songs and there was a cover of The Yardbirds’ … I can’t think of the name, but it wasn’t a common Yardbirds track. It was on one of the LPs my dad had, a track I really liked. These other guys, some of them were aware of the music I was listening to, but some of them weren’t and it was pretty amazing that I managed to drag these people along to play with me. They were kind of weird songs, they dug them but it was one of those things where you hope to get somebody else to dig what you dig. It worked out pretty good.
I was trying to write songs and listening to my dad’s records and would try to cop what some of the people were doing. I remember when I was 14 or so I was really into The Man Who
Sold the World and Ziggy Stardust albums, I just thought those records were so amazing and I was really blown away by Mick Ronson’s guitar playing. I was just starting to play guitar and I was really trying hard to cop Mick Ronson’s sound. It was really exciting to me.
At the same time I was also trying to write songs in the mold of John Lennon and David Bowie, all these people I heard on a regular basis at my house. That was the roots of what I was trying to write like.

When did you start to take playing music a little more seriously?
I kept playing, I was playing in bands all that time. There was never a time when I wasn’t playing music. I graduated
high school in 1988, but I think when things really clicked was maybe a year out of high school. A friend of mine who was friends with Jack (Yarber) introduced me to Jack. Actually, he had gone to see a movie with Jack and his girlfriend on a double date. This guy was Terry Tate, he was my roommate and he said to me, ‘I went out and saw a movie with this guy last night, he likes all the same kind of crap you like. You guys should get together and play some music.’ So I think we got together once with Terry who played drums with us. But that didn’t really work out because Terry was more into a pop-funk sound, that was kind of popular at the time. So that didn’t work out so well, but me and Jack did hit it off and we kept trying various lineups. We would recruit pretty much anybody who would play with us.
There were a coup
le of stoner guys who lived in Jack’s building, we got them. One guy, Boyd, was a bongo player! We got him to play drums with us. Boyd’s stoner friend, who didn’t even really play an instrument, we got him to play bass. We would play songs and record them. We did a demo tape with that lineup. I can’t even remember what we were calling that band. We’ve toyed with releasing those things over the years, but I don’t know, they’re pretty bad (laughs). I can say when I met Jack I felt like I had a real cohort that I could bounce ideas off of. Things took a more serious turn at that point.



Gamblin' Days: Jack & Greg


So how did The Compulsive Gamblers get together?
The Gamblers came after a band we had called The Painkillers, which was our first real band we had that we played shows with. It’s kind of blurry, but that was probably ‘90 or ‘91. Our first EP came out, we recorded that sometime in ‘91. Jack an
d me lived together and recorded over in our apartment on Madison. We had a big kitchen and we set up all the gear and recorded all of that stuff in there.

Most of those Gamblers’ recordings didn’t surface until later, am I correct?
Yeah, Sympathy (For the Record Industry) released them later. We released two 7-inches. We released one ourselves (Joker 7-inch), our friend put out the other one (Church Goin 7-inch … note: the Goodtime Gamblers 7-inch would later be released in 1995) .
The bands went on a little longer and we made some more recordings but we didn’t have any money to do anything with them. When we got The Oblivians
going, after we did a couple Oblivians records, I approached John and said, ‘You know, we had this other band before that had a couple EPs but there is a lot more material and if you want to do a retrospective CD or something it’d be great to have this stuff put out.’ John said, ‘Yeah, I’d be interested.’ And I said, ‘How much will you give us for it?’ He’s like, ‘I’ll give you $300’ (laughs). Which obviously didn’t even cover what it cost recording all that junk. At that time I had almost written it off as things that were never going to get released anyway and $300 covered some photos and paying a friend of ours to write the liner notes.

While the band was around, where did the Compulsive Gamblers play shows?
We mainly played around Memphis but we did venture down to Louisiana a couple times- and Mississippi. We played places that were close enough to be little weekend trips. We didn’t travel very far.

There was a band that came through town and bought one of our EPs and they were really into it and were courting us, wanting to put out an LP by us on their label, it never happened.
They were doing a big show in Chicago, it was a Ticketmaster event so there were like real tickets, which was a big deal for us.
Then I found out that something came up and we weren’t going to be able to play the show. That would’ve been our biggest show, furthest from Memphis. There were tickets printed with our name on them. I still have one ticket.

How serious were you and Jack Yarber
about playing music and recording?
We were just really into doing what we were doing. I was very serious about making good art. That was the extent of it
. I wasn’t serious about wanting to make a lot of money or wanting to move to Nashville and get clicked into the industry or anything like that, but we were both really passionate about what we were doing. I don’t think either one of us had any illusion that there’d ever be anything but a limited appeal type item. At that point I was aware of a lot of other bands that were mining the same territory as us and none of them were making a million bucks and I didn’t see any reason why I would be. At best I just wanted to be able to make records that would rub shoulders with those records and be available to the same crew of crazy people who were buying these things. There is no motivation for me to do anything but that.

How did you wind up
recording the Creep City (1993) album with Casey Scott for Capitol Records?
I went up to New Y
ork to work on the record with her. She was a friend of a friend. The Compulsive Gamblers bass player at the time was Fields Trimble, and Fields was Casey’s college roommate. When Casey came down to Memphis she had already been signed to Capitol Records and she was just hanging out. She came to see us play a couple times and approached me after a show and said, ‘Man, I really like the way you play guitar. Do you want to come to New York and help me make this record? I just signed a deal with Capitol and I need to make this record, but I don’t have a band.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds like fun.’ So I did it.

After your stint in New York you returned to Memphis, what did you do when you got back in town?
Not long after that I came back and we did a few Gamblers things. Then Jeff Evans needed a drummer at the last minute for this tour he was doing with 68 Come
back. That was a two-month tour, so that was one long junket after another for me with those things. And without me around it was kind of hard for the Gamblers to play shows. Eventually the band just deteriorated. Also, our drummer moved to live where his girlfriend lived and our violin player, Greg Easterly, moved down to New Orleans with his wife to own a clothing store. It seemed that the whole thing was drifting and I felt something else would come up soon. But we were in the middle.



The Oblivians, 1997, in Detroit photo: Steve Shaw


After the Gamblers were finished, how did The Oblivians start up?
While I was out playing with
Jeff Evans, Jack had started playing with Eric and this other guy whose name I cannot remember, but he lived in the same apartment as me and Jack and that guy had a band called The Pump Action Retards. Anyway- Jack, Eric and this other guy who was probably playing drums, they had started jamming around. They had one show and Jack always acted as if it was a catastrophe. The name of the band was The Gold Diggers.
Not long after I got back to town, Jack said, ‘H
ey, I’ve been playing with Eric. We had this drummer guy, but he’s kind of an alcoholic and it’s not working out.’ I said, ‘I just played drums for two months, I got my skills now.’ So we went over to Shangri-La Records, where Eric was working, and in the evening after the store closed we’d go in the back room and play music.
At first I was just going to play drums, then I had a song so Jack said, ‘I’ll play drums and you play guitar.’ Then we got it to w
here it was rotating nicely.
Eventually, pretty quickly, maybe a month's time, we scraped up enough songs between the three of us to do some recording; which became the first set of singles a
nd the first album.

What sessio
ns were the On the Go tracks from?
Those were the demos that were actually recorded at Shangri-la. Just live recordings which we put out as a cassette. It was our first release. One side was us, the other side was an instrumental surf band that Scott Bomar had called Impala.

How big, or small, was The Oblivians’ local following?
We had a small following in Memphis. I would not say that it was a lot of people. It was definitely a group of all of our friends who were all into the same stuff and people who just liked to get drunk and party. Those kind of people will listen to
pretty much anything as long as it’s not terrible (laughs).
You got to pull in all your music geek fans and your non-stop party people and soon you got a little scene going. We could always count on 50 or 60 people at a show. It wasn’t bad. As time went on, over the course of three years or so it got to be bigger, but never a lot bigger, in Memphis. It got to be where we could draw a couple hundred people. It was always amazing when we’d go out of town,
to Chicago or somewhere, and play to 500 people. We’d be like, ‘Wow! Why are there 500 people here?’
But it was a total hit or miss thing, because then we’d play in Atlanta to like five people so we just never knew. Until the end when we had three records out, by then we built up a fan base.

What bands did The Oblivians often play with?
We played with The Royal Pendeltons. They’d come up from New Orleans and play with us a lot. We’d play with Impala. And if there were any bands passi
ng through town that were into the same stuff, like The Hentchmen put out their first single not long after The Oblivians put out our first single, The Hentchmen are a great band; we’d hook up with them, they’d come down and play in Memphis. You just kind of put out your feelers. Singles were really big at the time, a lot of bands were putting out their own singles. When you heard something that really grabbed you, you’d contact them and say, ‘Hey, we play rock music like you’re playing, if you want to come here and play a show we’ll book you something. Probably get you a $100 and some beer, a little pizza or something.’

Did you have much to do with trying to get The Oblivians on Crypt or any of the other labels?

That was more Eric. You should talk to him about that. He was more focused on people putting out the records. I was just focused on trying to write songs. Eric worked at a record store so he knew all the labels and stuff.

Going from th
e Gamblers to the Oblivians, did you intentionally change your songwriting style?
I didn’t try to change my writing style, but we limited our sound. We went from a band that had two guitars, drums, bass, organ, violin,
saxophone, trumpet - towards the end, we had a pretty big band. We basically peeled it back to two guitars and not even a full drum kit, it was a floor tom and snare. When you do that you’re automatically simplifying. You’re pulling it down to the bare essentials. When you do that, everything becomes a little more primitive. Once we started playing together, and we got a feel for what kind of chemistry that was, then that creates it’s own sound. Once we got the feel of what it was going to sound like with just the three of us, we’d write in that context.
Eric had just started playing guitar, the whole thing was just kind of simple and primitive, and we were all Bo Diddley fans so you could feel this was closer to Bo Diddley than Bob Dylan.
We had gone from b
eing some sort of a rootsey bar band, to some primal thing. Although I didn’t intentionally change my song writing style, it naturally changed due to the circumstances, you work within the medium.

What is one of your fondest memories of playing in The Oblivians?
The first tour of E
urope with the Country Teasers was probably one of my favorite things. Even though we didn’t have a lot of money and it was miserable at points, there was so much fun had, it was so fun because the Country Teasers were a funny bunch of guys. They had an incredible sense of humor between them, it made it a sort of surreal experience. Some of the shows on that tour were good turn outs, some not so much. It was up and down, every country was a little different.
The second thing for me was when we cut the record with Quintron (Play 9 Songs LP). We had been playing as just this little three piece, it was really interesting to bring in another instrument because it opened everything up. All the sudden what had been really primitive before was still primitive, but we could expand the barriers just a little and bring in more melody and flush out the bottom end; we had no bass, but the organ could cover the low end. We were like, ‘Well, we can progress outside of this a little bit, and then stop there. There isn’t too much further we can go with this vehicle.’ It was a good note to end on.
It would be hard to go back. That is the thing with music, either you are going to continue to progress or you’re going to stop where you are and say, ‘OK, this is the sound.’ But as man says, ‘Don’t ever look
back, because you can’t go back there.’ Once you’ve stepped outside, all you can do is pretend to go back, you can’t really do it. The Stones release an album every ten years or so and they think they’re going back, but they are really not (laughs).

What did you do after The Oblivians called it quits?
The Oblivians ended and we did the Gamblers a
gain for awhile. First we did an album called Bluff City (1999). Then we did another one called Crystal Gazing, Luck Amazing (2000), which the band was broken up by the time the record came out but we recorded it and did a small tour, then that kind of folded. Jack started working on other stuff, and as a pair we had gone about as far as we could go. It was time for both of us to stretch out a little. Jack knew what he wanted to do and I kind of knew what I wanted to do and it didn’t sound much like anything that I had been doing before. We were both looking to stop and collect ourselves and figure out what we wanted to do next.



Original RS: Greg, Jeremy Scott, Greg Roberson, Alex Greene
Photo: Dan Ball


How did Reigning Sound form after the Compulsive Gamblers broke up for the second time?
I had a handful of songs ready for some kind of project. My wife Esther and I did a record called Greg Oblivian and the Tip Tops (Head Shop LP, 1997). It was just some demos and things, some 4-track stuff we had been working on. Then I met the original drummer, Greg Roberson, and he had not played drums
in 10 years or something but he was thinking about playing again. He was calling me a lot saying, ‘Hey man, you need to start doing something, you need to get another band together and I want to play for you.’ So I said, ‘OK, Esther has been playing with me, but she has work and other commitments. So, yeah, let’s do it.'
We did that for awhile. Then G
reg (Roberson) was more of the kind of person who was on the internet, looking around in musician chat rooms and things like that, which I think is how he came into contact with Jeremy Scott, or on a Web site or something - I think Jeremy basically said he was new to town and looking for people to play with and he listed some of the music he was into.
Greg (Roberson) said, ‘I talked to this guy a couple times over the phone and I think it might be a good match. He’s (Jeremy) is from New Jersey, he just moved here (to Memphis) and he’s into a lot of the stuff you’re into. He likes Gene Clark and The Byrds, 1910 Fruitgum Company’ - and all of these other things, it just kind of clicked, you know. He was into cool rock‘n’roll music. We made an appointment with him to meet us at this house to get together and play. I think it was Me, Greg (Roberson), Jeremy and my friend Tim who had also just recently moved to Memphis. We all played and maybe did one show with Tim playing with us. But Tim was chasing his own thing, trying to get his music going.
Then my friend Lorette Velvette (of The Hellcats) moved back to town with her husband, who was Alex Greene. They moved right across the street from me because they called and said, ‘Hey, we’re moving back to town, we need a place.’ I told them there was a place right across the street, it’s available. I knew
Alex played keyboard and guitar so when he moved back I said, ‘You should come over, we got this little thing going with Greg and Jeremy and me.’ He came in and started playing keyboard with us and it just seemed like a great fit. I said, ‘Well, maybe you could trade back and forth, play a little guitar and a little organ.’ We got it going and pretty soon we had enough songs, so I contacted (Long Gone) John at Sympathy and said, ‘Hey, I got this new band, and some songs. I think I could get this whole thing wrapped up for about $800.’ He agreed, so we did it. It went pretty quick, not long after that we had enough stuff for another album so we did another (Too Much Guitar!) and then things chugged along pretty well.

What do you think inspired the tr
ansformation into that first Reigning Sound LP, were you listening to a lot of Byrds at the time?
I was listening to a
lot of things like that, but at the same time, really what a band sounds like, you can have all the influences in the world but what determines what a band sounds like, whether it’s the Reigning Sound or the Gamblers or The Oblivians, is the chemistry that those people make together. Once you start playing and you see what kind of groove everybody locks into best, that determines the course, that’s how you figure it out. It’s like, ‘I got these songs, and I can go any which way from Sunday, but this is the dynamic that these four people are best at.



Reigning Sound: David Gay, Lance Wille, Greg, Dave Amels


So would you say your songwriting is heavily influenced by the other members in the band?
Absolutely, I write the songs but which
direction the songs take is really about the players. It’s the difference between me doing “Stormy Weather” and John Coltrane doing it. Neither one of us wrote it, but the instrumentation and the way the people play it determine whether it’s blue or a jump song. Unless you’re the type of band that get together strictly for the purpose of playing Ramones style things, but I’ve never been in a band like that. I’ve always gotten into situations with people who are into all kinds of good music, then when you play together you put all of those influences into the band, sift it and see what’s left (laughs).

How often do you write songs?
I’d say slightly less than I was a few years ago. But when things slow down enough for me to write, then I write a lot. I’ve got three kids and family life takes up so much of your time when you get older that sometimes I just don’t have time.
Toward the end of last year I decided to quit my day job, I was doing electrical work, to focus more on songwriting again. I’ve kind of been in a period of writing a lot more songs. That’s good, that’s what I’m
trying to aim at for this year, to get back into writing more songs.
A lot of it was that I moved, the band was in flux, I had an expanding family with the new daughter and all. T
he timing was just not right to be a prolific songwriter. There were changes going on inside the band and in my life. Now that everything has settled again, and I have a lineup that’s solid and it’s people who I know are going to be there, I’m ready to invest more time and energy into it.

Is there a process to your song writing?
I just go out in my garage and grab a guitar, usually I write on the acoustic, sometimes I write on the electric but that’s rare. I just strum chords I like and hum until I’m humming a melody and I’ve found a nice chord change. Then I thin
k, ‘Well, OK, this chord change works, is this a chorus or is this a verse?’ Then I try to find a complimentary melody to set next to it. Then I start to think about the lyrics, like, ‘What is this one going to be about?’ Well, usually the tone of a chord change pretty much sets the mood. So you already have a mood, you know if you’re going to be writing about something happy or sad, exciting or telling a story - the music dictates that already.

You tend to write a lot of lyrical bummers, is that intentional?
That’s kind of what I’m good at! (laughs). I’m a big reco
rd collector and music geek, I’m a fan of all these people like Harry Nilsson, Gene Clark and Dion; all these people who have great range, 10-octave voices and stuff, but I don’t have any of that. But at the same time, the world is lousy with perfect singers. You can turn on American Idol and every one of them is pitch perfect, and not very interesting. But what I really like is someone who can raise emotion and can write a lyric that makes you feel that you can relate to that. Whether it’s something general or super specific, either way.
When it comes to the kind of singers that I
like, I like people who can sing like a bird, but I like people like Dylan as well - who, it’s not how well he sings, it’s the charm of how he sings. I don’t sound anything like him, but that’s kind of where I’m at. I don’t have a whole lot of range. But the thing about people who don’t have a lot of range is that they usually sing in a peculiar kind of way. They don’t have the range, it makes them work a lot harder to hit the notes, which makes them sound like they’re in pain. That lends its self to heart breaking songs.

Are your lyrics inspired by your life, or are they just stories?
I can’t really write outside of what I know, not convincingly. Everything I write about is either about me or something that happened to someone I’m really close to. For the most part it has to be something that happened to me, somethin
g I’ve thought about a lot, or something I’ve felt. Most of it is things that have happened to me. Life gives you plenty of fodder for being sad.

Unfortunately, right?

Well, no, fortunately in my case! (laughs)



New! Reigning Sound LP


How would you describe the new Reigning Sound album, Love & Curses (on In the Red - due out August 11, 2009)?
I don’t know! (laughs). You’re goin
g to have to listen to it and tell me. There is a bit of everything. There are some ballads, I really like those. There are some rockers and some things that are a little country flavored. But there are also some things that are angsty and punk. There are happy songs that are about being glad for what you got, and there are songs about being sad for what you don’t have. It’s a mixed bag. I don’t know what to compare it to as far as things I’ve already put out - except it sounds very much like me. So if you like what I do, there is something on there for you.

How long did Reigning Sound spend recording the new record?
Too long. We recorded some songs in Memphis. I wanted to record at my buddy Doug Easley’s studio but then his studio burned down. He started up a new studio but his tape machine broke on him. So we went to Memphis and recorded with him anyway, but we did it at Ardent Studios. Which, Doug is awesome, he did a great job, but the tape machine was not calibrated right and we had some problems with mixing and with the recordings. Once we cut everything to tape, we took it to another room to mix it and it was really distorted because of the mis-calibration. That was really disheartening. Bu
t we mixed it anyway because I didn’t have any choice and I was paying thousands of dollars to do it. I think I tried to over compensate for how fuzzy it was,by making it cleaner, and it came off feeling a little sterile to me, so I was disappointed with the whole thing.
Then we tried to record again here in Asheville at a studio called Echo Mountain, with that I got some great results, we got about three or four songs. So I said, ‘I like this, I want to go back there and do some more.’ So I went back about a year later and cut some more songs there. I needed a place like that and nobody had that here in Asheville. Then Echo Mountain opened up and it was like an answer to my prayers. It’s an all analog studio with great equipment. So everything worked out great. The resulting album is mostly the Echo Mountain stuff, peppered with a few things from the Easley/Ardent session that I really liked. Hopefully it will all mesh together nicely, but the album is made up of three different sessions. I think it all falls together pretty nicely.


Lance Wille has been drumming for Reigning Sound for quite some time now, but this will be the first studio album he has played on, right?
There was a stop-gap album that came out in-between Too Much Guitar! (May 2004) and this record, that was Home For Orphans (September 2005), it was just odd-and-ends, Lance was on a track or two on that. Lance also did singles and things, also the Mary Weiss record. But this will be the first Reigning Sound album with Dave Gay on bass, Lance Wille on drums and Dave Amels on piano and keyboards.

How was it adjusting to not being in Memphis while recording an album?
I think I longed so much to be in Memphis an
d be comfortable in that way, but when I tried to do that it didn’t work in the way I thought it would. I think once I came to grips with the fact that now I live in Asheville and I did the recordings here and were so happy with them, I realized this is my home now and I’m usually most comfortable when I’m at home. I like to work in analog and stay analog the whole process. I don’t go to Pro Tools or voice correction programs - it is what it is when you get a Reigning Sound album. It’s pretty much all analog, there is not a lot of studio tricks.



New Oblivians LP (In the Red)

How did the 2009 Oblivians and Gories reunion come to be?
The first person who brought the idea of doing some shows and the European tour to my attention was Peggy O'neill (Gories drummer). But then Peggy claim
s it was Eric who brought it to her attention. So I don’t know where the real genesis of it is. But the first person who talked to me about this at any length was Peggy.
I just totally jumped on her bandwagon. I was like, ‘That would be great! It’d be really fun.’ The Oblivians have done a reunion, but The Gories have not. There are thousands of people out there who would kill to see them who never had a chance.
I think it will be really fun, I think it will be better than old times. I’m not looking to relive any glory days (laughs) but I am looking forward to getting together with a bunch of friends. I’m good friends with all of them.

After all these years, how will it be to work with your old band mates?
After The Oblivians folded there were some tense times between us. We had spent so much time together and anyone who does spend a lot of time together, you start to grind on each others’ nerves. It was like a mixed blessing when the band ended. Me and Eric were just about at each others’ throats. That doesn’t mean either of us were wrong or bad people, it was just too much time together. It happens with bands, it happened with The Gories. I’m sure there was a bit of bitterness when that band folded and there was bitterness when The Oblivians folded.
The great thing about time passing is you get to put that stuff behind you and learn how to be friends with that person all over again and appreciate them for what they are.
The best thing that buried the hatchet with everyone in The Oblivians is having this reunion tour. When we started having rehearsals and I said, ‘Man! We have chemistry, this is fun!’ You start appreciating what the people do for your music and that you can do for their music. That’s really cool. It creates a chemistry. When a friendship ends, you just have that lasting bitter taste, that memory about what it is that irks you about that person, you don’t remember the good things. You really need to be reintroduced and see why you were friends with that person to begin with.


Greg links:
Reigning Sound on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/reigningsound

Reigning Sound on MySpace:
http://www.myspace.com/reigningsoundfans

In the Red Records:
http://www.intheredrecords.com

Goner Records:
http://www.goner-records.com

Compulsive Gamblers MySpace:
http://www.myspace.com/compulsivegamblers

Oblivians on MySpace:
http://www.myspace.com/oblivians


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