Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Bobby Harlow of THE GO INTERVIEW!

The Go's front man, Bobby Harlow Photo: Ami Barwell

By: Rich Tupica

The Go, fronted by Bobby Harlow, is one of Detroit’s finest rock-n-roll outfits. From one album to the next the band seems to evolve while remaining true to their unique 60s influenced songwriting.
The band formed in 1998, before Detroit was plastered throughout NME and other music rags around the world. The Go’s vision was a part of the blue print that would soon define the revival of Motor City rock music.
In September of 1999, Sub Pop released The Go’s debut album “Whatcha’ Doin.” Buried under the fuzzy, lo-fi recordings were a handful of great songs penned by Harlow and his long time friend and band-mate John Krautner. The original Go lineup also included guitarist Jack White (White Stripes), who not only performed, but also co-wrote two songs on the record.
Following the band’s debut album, the band has since acquired a loyal fan-base that extends far beyond the United States. Records on various labels and successful tours have filled much of the band’s time.
The dirty-garage-rock sound heard on the first LP has developed nicely into a finely tuned classic sound.
Mixing psych and pop with some Beatles, Stones and a pinch of their own secret ingredient, The Go’s new album, “Howl on the Haunted Beat You Ride” (Cass Records), presents classic sounding guitars with thoughtful lyrics.
Ben Blackwell, owner of Cass Records, has witnessed firsthand many transformations The Go has gone through since their formation.
“If I hadn't noticed a change in The Go's sound, I'd be deaf,” Blackwell said. “As a band, it seems like they've never stopped evolving while still maintaining a consistent feel or vibe that so many other acts just can't get their arms around.”
“They’ve never made the same record twice,” Blackwell added, “and yet it still always sounds like The Go,”
Blackwell has known Harlow for many years, and he recognized early on that he was not only an artist and musician, but also a unique individual.
“I first met Bobby Harlow in fall of 1998 while The Go were recording demos in southwest Detroit,” Blackwell said. “I had a copy of the MC5 Saginaw Civic Center bootleg LP with me. The cover photo is a striking color shot of the band live with Rob Tyner laying prostrate. When I showed it to Bobby he said, ‘I wonder how Rob Tyner ended up in that position?’ It's something I never would have thought of myself and seemed to almost establish a higher form of thinking that I’ve come to expect from the man,” Blackwell recalled.
After nearly a decade together, bassist John Krautner said he and his band mates have grown as people and musicians.
“We've changed musically by growing as individuals,” Krautner said. “The great thing about being in The Go is that change is always welcome. Changing stuff up all the time makes recording a fun experience.”
From The Go’s earliest recordings to the new LP, one factor has always remained: Harlow’s distinct voice.
“He doesn't like to brag so I'll do it for him,” Krautner said. “His singing voice is one of a kind.”
To find out more about The Go’s trials and tribulations, read the interview with Bobby Harlow!

What high school did you go to? What bands were you into back then?
“I attended Kimball High School in Royal Oak, Michigan. Like so many teenage kids, I was into a bit of everything. It was all modern, aggressive, goofy stuff. The big groups of that time were Metallica, Danzig, Public Enemy, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nirvana, Ministry and Primus. Some of my friends were into Joy Division and others were into the Grateful Dead as well. I liked heavy metal.”

What was your first band, any before The Go?
“When I was 15 years-old I started playing the guitar. At the age of 17 I bought my first 4-track tape recorder. Before I met John & Marc (guitar player & drummer for The Go) I was obsessed with recording. I would lock myself away, for hours, all night and record songs alone."

Bobby Harlow (right) in 1991, with friend Shane

Didn't you live in Grand Rapids for a period of time?
"When I was 20 years-old I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan and there were many musicians attending the university. I met a great deal of good, talented people and I recorded and produced an entire album with pianos, strings, brass; beginning to end, 12 songs. My 21st birthday was spent in the studio, producing. The album never saw the light of day. Very few people have heard it and I don't care. There are plenty of interesting sounds on it but I don't plan to let anybody in. There were actually two records, the other was 30 minutes long and was supposed to be the soundtrack for a cartoon feature.”

Bobby on stage! Photo: Carl Hoff

What did those early, Grand Rapids-era, recordings sound like?
“I believe I was 19 or 20 years-old (when I recorded) the cartoon soundtrack called 'Dr. Puerco Drinks the Ooze.' It had its roots in classic rock-n-roll, but wasn't restricted from venturing into other territories. The more traditional rock album (I recorded) sounded like a hybrid Pink Floyd, Stooges, Velvet Underground influenced imitation. The recordings from when I was 17 and 18-years-old are all very pot-headed and Beatles driven … surprise. Now, I'm full circle but without the pot, I'm merely headed.”

What university did you go to in Grand Rapids?
“I didn't. I dropped out of school when I was 16 years-old. I was interested in music and nothing else. I was tired of the musicians in my circle. I wanted to go to a place where things were entirely different so I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in order to experience something new. I lived there for one month and was depressed because it was winter and all of the palm trees were limp. I explored the college in Tempe but the students seemed too content in their cave and I didn't think they wanted to be interrupted. Also, I was being haunted by aggressive-ghosts, that's true, so I had to leave. I moved to Grand Rapids to take an opportunity with the college kids and their desire to create music. I could also use the university piano rooms for recording. I'd walk in like I owned the place and set up shop. Nobody would question me. I was able to develop quickly there.”

Attack! Bobby on stage in Brixton photo:Ami Barwell

Did you finish school, or did music take over? Would you ever go back to school?
“School was boring. Music is exciting. That's how I had felt. I've now set my path. If a person's ambition is to become a surgeon, they attend medical school. If a person's ambition is to become a musician, they would have to attend music school. And if a person's ambition is to somehow psychologically emancipate from those preconceived notions, good luck with that. There is always sacrifice. My friends who have become lawyers could not seriously pursue a musical career, even if they wanted to, unless they jumped ship. Even then, they would not have the experience to make certain crucial judgments that are detrimental to an artist's struggle for a unique, individual voice that speaks of the common, human conditions. It would be next to impossible for them.”

Bobby Harlow Photo: c/o Sinister Foxy

Do you see yourself finding a career outside of music?
“I rarely think of anything other than music. I've never allowed anyone's will or determined views to be imposed upon my creativity. The sacrifice is, it seems that there is no financial security in the business of music. The artists always sit on the doorsteps of the rich. Charles Bukowski told me that in one of his books. I've been fortunate enough to set my own pace, believe my own idealistic dream and remain a stubborn character. I don't take the virtues for granted. I have a sound in my imagination, anything that deviates from my minds song is wrong. Anyone who has ever worked along side of me knows that what I want is very specific. I don't like to work with people who don't know what they're doing. I know what I'm doing... it may not be to everybody's liking, but I'm doing it one way or another.”

Bobby in black & white

Other than rock-n-roll stuff, what types of music do you listen to currently?
"I listen to Jazz; Sun Ra, Coltrane, Miles, Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Monk, Dizzy, Bird, Brubeck, Keith Jarrett, I like Lee Perry. I periodically go through hip-hop phases and listen to Eric B & Rakim, Wu Tang, DMX, N.W.A., old stuff. Mainly, it's Jazz & rock-n-roll. I guess I listen to a lot of soul as well. I just kind of lump that in with rock-n-roll though. I love Little Richard and Diana Ross. I like Michael Jackson."

How did The Go get together? How did you all meet?
“John & Marc were in a band called 'The Rail Face Wonder Wheel.' We had a mutual friend who told them that I could record groups. They hopped in a car and drove up to Grand Rapids. We hit it off and I thought that they were excellent musicians. We recorded our first song called 'Send Me Down Love' which is a Doo-wop number. I moved down to Royal Oak (Michigan) and we started The Go.”

Bobby recording the "Super Cuts" LP

What is life like in Detroit? Do you live in the city? Ever get your car broken-into? I have a couple times out there!
“I've had my windows bashed in. I lived in the city for one year and that was enough for me. I like Detroit but I don't want to worry about my stuff. I prefer the suburbs.”

What were some of the early gigs like? Didn't you guys play the Gold Dollar? What was that place like to play?
“We were Gold Dollar regulars. Our first Detroit show was a secret gig at Paycheck's Lounge in Hamtramck. We were afraid to let people see us so we booked it under the name 'Blackula.' Just so happens that Zack Schipps, who's now in the Electric Six, stopped in for a beer that night. He was the only person to see The Go's first show. He says he liked it. The Gold Dollar had a real communal vibe. Most everybody knew each other and we had a great time there. The Gold Dollar houses my best memories of Detroit.”

The Go with Jack White (far left)

How long did Jack White play with The Go? Did he have a major role in the band?
“Jack played on our first record. Jack and I wrote a song together and he wrote with the entire group as well. He was important to us but we were on a path that couldn't be interrupted. Jack, I believe, really enjoyed his time in The Go. We were the only rock band that he ever officially joined. Unfortunately, it just couldn't work out. I miss Jack, a bit. He's a very talented guy, as you know.”

What are some Detroit bands that you are digging these days?
“I like The Pizazz, The Human Eye, Loretta and Julie Lucas, and Zoos of Berlin. On the garage side of things, I like The Muldoons.”

Bobby and Marc Fellis on drums Photo: Corwin Wickersham

Hasn't The Go gone through quite a few line-up changes? Is it hard to keep a band together for so long?
“John, Marc and I have played together for over 10 years. Marc and John have been playing together since they were both 16 years-old. We've always enjoyed changing the sound and experimenting. That's why, I believe, we've been through so many lineups. We just enjoy making music and creating new identities through sound. It's kind of like acting. We can become different people, play new roles with each new song. I've never liked to be the same person for too long.”

The Go promo photo: Fabrizino

Is it true that Sub Pop rejected The Go's second album, "Free Electricity," because it was too noisy? I read that on Wikipedia.
"They certainly didn't reject it because it was 'too noisy.' Wikipedia is full of shit. It's a useless website. Sub Pop definitely didn't agree with the type of noise coming from their speakers. Artists should be able to do whatever they want. If they're not doing it for money, I say it should be completely untouched by all outside parties. Sub Pop did not comply. What did they want? Who knows?
They provided The Go with it's first record and from there we've never looked back. I couldn't be more grateful for Sub Pop. They really drew a lot of attention to the band."

How has The Go's sound developed over the years? Your latest album sounds quite polished and focused.
“Thank you. I don't know that our sound has developed, but our approach is different. I record and produce everything now. It's allowed us to experiment a great deal more than before. Our sessions are private and we can create as much, or a little, as we choose without having the pressure of other people's opinions and agendas.”

Bobby Harlow Photo: c/o Sinister Foxy

The Go's latest album, "Howl on the Haunted Beat You Ride" has great album art. Who designed it?
"Thank you. A very good friend of ours has been working with the group. Michael Wartella is a cartoonist. I like his personality so much that I just asked him if he could design our album art and direct our videos. He's extremely talented and has brought so much more life to the band's identity, in my opinion. Not only has he designed our album art but he's also completely responsible for the 'You Go Bangin On' music video. He's just finished the art on our holiday single called 'Christmas on the Moon' as well."

The Go released the latest album with Cass Records and a single with Italy Records, another Detroit record label, any reason behind that?
"Ben Blackwell, head of Cass Records, is a friend of mine. I've known Ben since he was knee high to a grasshopper, which is still taller than me.
I think we've got, 'we' meaning Detroit music groups, we've got all the advantages to create, record and release great music. Dave Buick (head of Italy Records) and Ben Blackwell both have record labels because they love music. They're not looking to make a profit, just break even, hopefully.
They're genuine music fans who make certain that good music is available to people who want to hear it. That's why I'd like to go into recording and production. I want groups to be heard as well. I won't charge any money to record a good group. It's free, kind of. If a group has good songs then they ought to have good recordings as well. They ought to have great recordings without the burden of studio costs and with the opportunity to work with somebody who actually cares about the end result."

The Go, live at Piano's Photo: Thee Roxxan

What equipment do you use to record your band?
“In my experience, I've found that microphones are the most efficient way to record music. I used to be quite retro, believe it or not, and was in the habit of recording everything using a quill and stretched Egyptian cotton. That came to a screeching halt when I had accidentally spilled black ink on the guitar player's new jeans. He then stood up, removed his silk glove from his purse and slapped me across the cheeks. We dueled at dawn ... I was victorious ... he forgot to bring his pistol. Guitars players are so predictable.”

How is touring all over the U.S. and other countries? What are the best and worst parts of it?
“There is no best or worst, in my opinion. It's all the same. I like the big cities like New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and Portland. I hate L.A. with a passion.”

Bobby's mugshot! Photo: Joshua Band

How many tours has The Go been on? Do you remember the first one?
"My best guess is that The Go has been on somewhere around ten to fifteen tours, including Europe. I do remember the first tour. It wasn't that long ago, actually.
In fact, the first tour was seven years ago. If you visit The Go Myspace page and look through our photo album and you'll find a picture called "The Free Electricity Band," which is pre-Free Electricity. That's a photo from the first tour. That tour was completely insane. I'm still recovering."

Ever have any horror stories happen on the road?
“We could write a book. Somebody else should tell the stories. I won't do it, too incriminating.”

Who writes the songs in the band? What is the band's process of writing songs?
“John and I write the songs. When we first began, as a group we would write together. John would play the guitar and we would both sing. I would write the words down as we made them up. Now we write independent of each other. John calls me and says, ‘I've got a song named ‘Invisible Friends’, then we record it.”

How often do you write songs?
"I write when inspiration hits. Sometimes I write 10 songs or none. It depends on whether I have something to say. Usually, I write when I'm annoyed. Really, if I feel strongly and emotionally about something I can turn that into a 12 song record. I can't write when I'm feeling content. That's why I never play the lottery. If I won a million bucks I'd be washed up. It's not worth the gamble."

A few years back attention on Detroit was crazy, are there still good turnouts to shows?
“The turnouts are still very good. It's the same as it was before, I think. If your music is good, or your show is entertaining, people will turn up at your gig. The Gold Dollar was no different. The 'Detroit Craze' was no different."

The Go!

I heard you guys recently had one of your songs on a major network television show? Did you guys notice any extra attention towards The Go after it aired?
"No. We make money by having our songs placed in movies and television. There is no extra benefit from having a song in a show unless you've written the theme for Taxi or are featured in a Michel Gondry film. Actually, there is one exception... we have two songs in the remake of 'The Hills Have Eyes' and the art-damage-punk-rockers loved it; more horror please.”

What are some of your hobbies aside from music?
“I like to collect microphones, compressors, preamps, equalizers and reverbs in order to make music, if anybody would like to contribute to my collection. I enjoy items found with tubes in them, or dated before 1977. Just in case a potential sugar-mama decides to read this correspondence, she should know what's expected. No surprises, no drama. I'm expensive.”

A recent Go promo photo

What is next for The Go? Is there anything in the works?
“We're currently recording new material. I have plans to record and produce other bands as well. There are a few local groups that, I believe, would benefit from the sound I'm able to achieve. I may start a website. Maybe open a bank account. I may begin speaking with an Australian accent. I was thinking of beginning a nightly activity of reading under low light, therefore, in a few years, I'd be able to wear prescription glasses. The works are in the works, as they say.”

How long will The Go keep playing music? Is there any end in sight?
"Not sure. As long as the songs sound good, I suppose we'll continue to release albums. A band like Guided By Voices or The Flaming Lips have been around for twenty some years. The Go have really only made it to eight years.
I guess we've got a lot of work ahead of us. That's really, ultimately, the deciding factor... if The Go keeps it's members busy then we won't have much time to think about quitting. It's kind of like war; if a soldier focuses on killing his enemies then he won't have time to think about killing himself. Just thought I'd add that bit of inspirational insight. Har har. Oh, all of this and it's not even 9 a.m. yet. Sometimes I wonder..."

GO to these LINKS:
Official Website of THE GO:

THE GO on Myspace:
Cass Records:
Italy Records:
Other GO-able Links:
Check out these cool sites!
Photo-Link for Ami Barwell:
Sinister Foxy! (Go Pics):

Thanks Ami!

Please write richtupica@hotmail.com for permission to use quotes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



11:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really interesting interview, nice!
Two thumbs up from Hamburg, Germany

10:30 AM  

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