Saturday, September 3, 2011

This Is Norway: An interview with Rene Og Sa Videre (Baesj 74)

I first encountered Rene Og Sa Videre, and his musical project, “Baesj 74”, a few years back via the Knock Knock Records message board. Most of the people online seemed to think that a person claiming to be from Norway, who idolized Blink-182, and produced (or lack there of) weird minimalist songs, consisting of Norwegian accented vocals, choppy guitar, and pots and pans for drums, was a fake persona. But as time went on Rene produced too much circumstantial evidence against being an America playing pretend behind a keyboard, and was indeed a Norwegian creating what I would best describe as outsider music that combines elements of punk, noise, and acoustic folk, under the moniker Baesj 74.

I initially contacted him when Screeching Weasel announced the tracklisting for their last album “First World Manifesto”, with the idea that he write and record songs off of the same titles, before hearing the original versions, and release his version of the album the same day. Rene nixed the idea, but later agreed to do the same concept for the songs of bands playing the 2011 Insubordination Fest, in an effort to release a free album that would be found via a url listed in the Insubordination Fest Zine (look for it at the at the end of the interview).

After combing through song titles we settled on ten songs, “Black Friday” (originally by Iron Chic), “Brain Scrambling Device” (originally by Kepi Ghoulie), “Feels Like Dying” (originally by The Jetty Boys), “French Perfume” (originally by New Creases), “Navigation Point” (originally by The Dopamines), “Pentagrams” (originally by The Copyrights), “Regan McNeil” (originally by Emily’s Army), “Tour Boyfriends” (originally by Karmella’s Game), “Punk Rock Boy” (originally by The Potatomen), and “Robot Girl” (originally by The Quarantines), with the latter two song titles being combined into “Punk Rock Boy, Robot Girl”.

As warped fate would have it, a lot of the album, including songs like Black Friday and Feels Like Dying, was recorded on Friday July 22, during the terrorist attacks on Norway. Parts of the recordings came out very dark, and it was split into two versions. I called one “The Black Friday EP”, which I remixed (in true poor production Baesj 74 spirit), and cut up not to include some of the less serious songs. The other was called “The White Thursday EP” which is the original version Rene recorded.

The following is the interview I did with Rene after the EPs were finished:

D: What does Baesj 74 mean?

R: Shit 74. It actually is a pretty embarrassing name. I think a lot of people remember it though.

D: Does the number 74 have any significance?

R: No, but I don't think Bæsj 75 would have sounded as good.

D: Have their ever been other members besides you?

R: It's always been a one-man project. Though on one song called "Different Frame" I have guest performers.

D: Were you ever in a band?

R: I'm in a band, but we don't practice much and we haven’t written many songs.

D: They don’t play Baesj 74 songs?

R: We have tried playing some, but we haven't practiced since 2008.

D: Wow you weren’t kidding you don’t practice much. Are the others still aware you consider the band active?

R: Yeah.

D: When was your last show?

R: We haven't even played shows.

D: What do you use to record Baesj74 songs?

R: I use pro-tools and a soundcard on most of the songs. Sometimes I just make an EP on the laptop mic and ironically they usually sound better.

D: Didn’t you once use pots and pans for drums?

R: I mostly use candy and cookie boxes and I still do even on the new song “Navigation Point”. I got he candy box when I was four years old and started beating on it so it's always been kind of a nostalgic thing.

D: Is there any artist you could compare your music to? I feel like your sort of doing a Wesley Willis thing, in that it’s uncharted territory.

R: I don't think there is much I usually compare myself to, I'm not very good at recording so that and the fact that I use the unusual percussion makes it sound weird. I do enjoy what I've heard of Wesley Willis.

D: Do you have a page where all your stuff can be downloaded?

R: Not all of it, but I think the best stuff is on the Baesj 74 myspace and bandcamp pages.

D: Has anyone ever offered to put out a physical copy of your stuff?

R: I haven't got actual offers, but people have mentioned it ever since 2004, I don't think they are being 100% serious.

D: Was your new song “Black Friday”, or the tone of it, based on the Norwegian terrorist attacks?

R: When I saw the title, I googled it and found out it meant Friday the 13th, and could also mean Fridays that are related to tragedies. I found examples so the song had each verse about different days known as "Black Friday", each seen from the point of view of someone experiencing it. It was recorded a few hours before the terrorist attack. Having recorded it did creep me out afterwards, and a part of me wanted to delete it, but I think the message in the song is stronger than ever.

D: Was it recorded before the tragedy, or just written beforehand?

R: It was written and recorded before the tragedy.

D: Wow. What about the other songs, were they written and recorded before it took place?

R: I was recording "Feels Like Dying" when I heard about the bomb and I wasn't sure about how serious it was. I just kept recording the songs and I felt like I was in a state of denial, and when I heard about the shootings I went into a shock and stopped recording. and saved the rest for later. I felt weird about finishing the two last songs the next day, which were “French Perfume” and “Navigation Point” as the themes were light-hearted.

D: I think the recordings as a whole mark a turning point for you, like when your favorite band Blink-182 did their self-titled album; it was darker and more mature.

R: I tried to write a lot of acoustic tracks as I've always felt that I sounded more mature doing them. I think the lyrics go from serious (“Black Friday”) to not that serious (“Tour Boyfriends”). Your mix of navigation point actually reminded me of the style of Blink’s self-titled album

D: Yeah, Navigation Point was sort of like the Blink-182 song “Violence”, with the drum beat at least. And Black Friday, thematically, reminded me of The Clash song “Straight to Hell” in the way it interweaves all those historical moments. One of them in your song was about the Nazi attack on Norway during WWII right?

R: What I gathered from it was it was an attack from the allies on German boats, but they missed and hit Norwegian boats, and the Germans could continue to move their attacks. The narrator in the song is someone who has lost his boat and understands that the Germans should be fought, but the fact that they missed, and boats are sinking, and people getting hurt, just showed the meaningless of war.

D: Content wise that’s a lot different from what was being sung about on the past Baesj 74 songs, how do you think people will react to this?

R: The song “.... And The Tale Continues” from my EP "The Masterpeas" is a similar song, but it's not based on real events. I've always had some serious songs and some not so serious songs. I think I’m most known for the not so serious ones so it might surprise people.

D: Any other comments on your new recordings?

R: I'd just like to say I wonder if the bands that have the same titles will check out the song and how they will feel about them.

D: Well next year I’ll try to get them to write songs based on your titles.

D: Do you vote Labour party (the party targeted in the terror attacks)?

R: I did vote for them in the last election. I'm kind of all over the place politically, I've always felt centrist (though other places might consider a Norwegian centrist very leftist), but to me it was more important to not get a conservative government.

D: Is it a parliamentary system?

R: Yeah, there’s a seven party parliament. Technically it's a monarchy, but the King is more for tradition, similar to how it is in Britain.

D: What do you think about Glenn beck's comments?

R: His recent comments?

D: Yeah, about the kids killed in the Labour Party being like the Hitler Youth.

R: I read an article about it. I wouldn't even expect someone like him to say that, it's a pretty disgusting thing.

D: Yeah Glenn Beck’s an irrationally paranoid person, he’s actually a former addict, and it’s pretty clear he’s burnt out. He’s been parading as a newsman, but even Fox News seems to have gotten sick of his act. Do people like that exist in Norway?

R: Not one that is famous or that appears regularly, but there are definitely people that share his opinions who write in newspapers and blogs.

D: But they don’t get the platform of a major TV or radio station?

R: Definitely not. They would probably get to speak, but I don't think TV or radio channels would hire them or want anything to do with them.

D: Are most of the channels owned by the same parent companies like they are in America, or is the media more diverse?

R: Well we don't have that many TV channels. While a lot of them are owned by the same company, some are sent from other countries and are owned by companies in those countries, however the biggest ones are owned by the state, similar to PBS in America, but from what I understand way bigger. A lot of people are against paying extra taxes for it, but I think it's good to have a commercial free alternative.

D: Other than what just happened is there much depression over there? It’s always ranked at the top of the happiest countries.

R: Well I think seeing a psychiatrist is more taboo in Norway. I think that we’re a spoiled country that in many ways suffers from boredom. We make lots of money on oil, but there isn't much going on.

D: But the government is giving the people a lot right? Like education, health care, etc…

R; Yeah, the problems we are facing with all those are lines to get into them, but I'm glad that we get that. I've never been into any kind of national pride, but I think the way that the leaders have dealt with what happened on Friday has been good, and I agree a lot with the "Norwegian ideals" related to the case and how people are handling it.

D: How long is the wait for those services?

R: I'm not sure on the exact statistics, but there is a lot of critique especially when it comes to old people. Society has gotten healthier so people live longer, and old age is increasing. I'm sure it’s similar in most countries.

D: Yeah that’s true here as well. Is there much poverty in Norway?

R: It might be a guess, but I'd say less than in other countries. I don't think there are a lot of filthy rich people here, and there aren't as many under the poverty line. Norway isn’t considered the richest country, but I think its number one in how good people have it.

D: What’s is your impression of America?

R: 90% of interesting things are from America: rock n roll music, movies, food and drinks, it makes me want to visit and I think if I did it would be a good trip. I also like the "rags to riches" idea and a lot of the values when it comes to freedom, but there are a lot of political aspects I disagree with. I do think a lot of Europeans have an unhealthy view and wrong stereotypes of Americans.

D: What sort of stereotypes?

Q: I think a lot of Europeans think Americans are rednecks who know nothing about the rest of the world, which is ironic because I don't think Europeans know much about the rest of the world either.

D: Do they differentiate between the North and South?

R: Some stereotype everyone; others view the southern states differently from the northern. Yet they still watch movies from America and listen to music from there.

D: Will you ever come over to America?

R: I've always wanted to, it'd be a trip that would take lots of planning though and I don't think I have time now, as I am still a student. I'd like to experience first hand how it's like and how the people are like, I have met a lot of Americans in Norway.

D: What parts of the country would you want to see?

R: I'd like to see New York, even though I've heard a lot about their pizza lately that I've found weird. I'd also like to see the Midwest, places like Minnesota where there are a lot of Norwegian-Americans, the southern states where rock n roll first started, and California.

D: What part of New York pizza is weird?

R: It seems to be less common to put on toppings other than cheese and sauce on the pizza.

D: I guess the whole idea is that the slice should be long and thinly crusted so you can taste the cheese and sauce, but you can still get toppings on it. Do you like Chicago style pizza better?

R: I haven't had it. I've had Pizza Hut and I like that style of pizza the best, but I love all pizza. I just find it weird to not have toppings on it. The fact that it's a concept with crust, cheese and sauce and you can put about anything on it has always been my favorite part of pizza. The fact that a lot of Americans and Germans don't like ketchup on hot dogs is also something that I've found weird

D: I think that’s a Midwest thing. The Chicago style hotdog is sort of weird.

R: I first heard about it on Weasel Radio.

D: Yeah it’s a regional thing. Do you think the Northeast or Midwest has better punk bands?

R: Musically, I think that there have been a lot of good bands lately from all around the world. When it comes to pop punk I've always enjoyed the 90's style the best, but I also do enjoy a lot of the newer styles. I think that when there is so many bands few stick, but I think The Steinways and The Ergs! have stood out as the best bands of the last ten years, so I'll have to say the Northeast. Though I still think the best bands from the U.S. have come from California.

D: Is it common for Norwegians to speak English well?

R: It's pretty common to at least know a normal amount of English. We start learning English at age six or seven. There's a theory that countries like Norway and Sweden that never had a plan to become a leading empire, don't find it insulting to have English as a common world language.

D: Ok final question and I’ll let you go, do they show the Maury Povich and Steve Wilkos shows in Norway?

R: I don't think so; I haven't seen them at least. They might air on satellite channels.

D: Ok thanks for your time.

The Black Friday EP can be downloaded at,1

The White Thursday EP can be downloaded at,1

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Okay, Enough Reminiscing II: Video interview with Mikey Erg

As a companion piece to the transcribed interview below, I've uploaded the video interview with Mikey Erg. Enjoy!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Okay, Enough Reminiscing: An interview with Mikey Erg

For those of you living under a rock, The Ergs! were one of the most influential punk bands of the last decade. Hailing from New Jersey and fronted by lead vocalist/drummer Mikey Erg, the band kicked around from 2000-2008 before the three members called it quits and went on to other projects.

Mikey currently plays drums for Star Fucking Hipsters, Ensign, House Boat, and a slew of other bands, as well as being a solo artist, which was the hat he was wearing when he played a bill at New Hampshire Punkhouse “Slaughter House 5”. The show also featured Hunchback and Black Wine, both bands consisting of the other former Ergs! members. The following interview took place afterwards:

D: Thanks Mike for taking the time for this.

M: Of course.

D: The last time I interviewed you The Ergs! had just broken up, and you said Psyched To Die was gonna be your main band, then a few months from that you moved to Minnesota.

M: (Laughs) that’s true.

D: During your set today you said that was a mistake. What was wrong?

M: It happens all the time where you think “this is where I need to be, this is what I need to do” and then it turns out it’s not what you need to do … don’t move anywhere for a girl.

D: (Laughs) was there a plan to start a band out there?

M: The plan was kind of like to not do bands for a while, to chill for a bit. But then it’s me, so I just was like “I can’t do that”. I immediately started a few bands.

D: What were the ones you started?

M: Well I started playing with The Slow Death. I started playing with Nato from Used Kids and Modern Machines, we started a band but then I stopped playing with them and started playing with The God Damn Doo Wop Band. I just started playing with any band that would have me out there (laughs). It became exactly what it was on the East Coast, but I can’t not play music.

D: Would you say you have a nomadic lifestyle?

M: At this point, yeah.

D: Where’s home, New Jersey?

M: Yeah I keep my stuff at my mom’s house and it’s just kind of like a storage.

D: How often do you stay there? Ever?

M: 2-3 weeks at a time, maybe 2-3 times a year, never all that much. She doesn’t mind and it’s not really like I’m living at home. All my stuff is there so it’s not like I have to pay for a storage space.

D: Exactly you’re saving money. So when was the last time you had a day job, you know a 9-5?

M: I worked for my dad for most of my life. He owned a recording studio and I worked there until that went under, which was the same year The Ergs! broke up.

D: Right when the recession started, right?

M: Yeah all that shit just happened at the same time. I was living at the studio, so I lost my job, my house, and my band (laughs). Everything just happened at the same time. It was late 2008, and then 2009 on I’ve just kind of been doing this touring thing.

D: Did you ever go to college?

M: I didn’t. I wanted to go to recording college, and my dad, owning a recording studio, kind of gave me shit about it. He was like “I can teach you everything you need to know”, and now I really wish I went to recording college because I would know a lot more then I learned being at my dad’s place.

D: At this point would you ever considering going back to school?

M: I think about it a lot. I mean I’m at the point where I can tour all year and that’s cool. But at certain points it would be nice to have a home base. I’m not there yet but pretty soon I’ll probably get there and go back to learning something.

D: But for punk rock you’ve sort of made it so to speak, you know? I mean so many people would love to have that sort of lifestyle.

M: Yeah, I’m very lucky to have made the connections I made, and to have done the things I’ve done. To be able to, with a bunch of different bands, tour most of the year, it’s good. I’m not making a crazy living, but I’m living and that’s awesome.

D: When you went to the Bay Area to record with Star Fucking Hipsters, I guess that was when you played Gilman with Mike Dirnt’s band. Who else was there? Fat Mike and Jello Biafra?

M: In the course of a week we recorded in Fat Mike’s studio so I met him, and then Mike Dirnt got us on a show with his other band The Frustrators. Then the next night we played at a club called The Parkside, and Jello was there because Jello put out the second Hipsters record. So in the course of a week I met Fat Mike, Mike Dirnt, and Jello Biafra.

Jello Biafra came up to me and said “Did you really only have one practice with the band?” and I said “yeah we practiced today for like 40 minutes” and he said “that’s the best drumming I’ve seen for any of Sturgeon’s bands ever.” I was like, “well you’re bullshitting me but that’s awesome!”

D: (Laughs)

M: I went up to him and introduced myself, I’m a huge fan, and he knew who I was from seeing me on stage. It was really weird and surreal, I wasn’t prepared for it.

D: I read an interview with Sturgeon where he said he didn’t vote. Do you know if that’s still true?

M: I don’t know. I don’t know much about him personally.

D: I know Jello, on his spoken word albums, has whole tracks about why he didn’t vote for years, and then why he was so gung-ho with the Punk Voter stuff and trying to get kids registered.

M: Sturgeon’s very political so it seems he would’ve done that, but I could see people being lazy and not registering.

D: What he was saying was no candidate really represents his views.

M: That totally could be true because his views are all over the place (laughs).

D: Right, though the whole argument that Biafra makes is that it’s not really the big races like Senate, or President, or what not, that matter, but the ballot questions. Here in Massachusetts… oh wait this is New Hampshire… where we live in Massachusetts, there’s always stuff you get to vote on directly. There’s some cool ones recently like banning dog racing, and there’s always Republican groups trying to get rid of taxes for all these state institutes that need it, and it’s quite fun to vote those down.

M: Yeah definitely. From what I know he’s all over the place, I don’t know where he actually is on any of that stuff.

D: Are those guys all vegetarians?

M: Yes.

D: You’re a big fast food junkie, right?

M: (Laughs) I am.

D: So wasn’t there some compromise they had with you?

M: Sturgeon’s very anti-corporate, so there was a lot of “These fast food restaurants are good because they do this for their employees…these restaurants are bad because they do this…” There was a lot of that, so I had to compromise and sneak things (laughs). He doesn’t drink Coke products, he doesn’t go to McDonalds, and that’s fine. It’s just, sometimes you’re at a rest stop and the only fucking thing there is McDonalds, so I eat McDonalds if that’s the case. I’ve gotten in trouble for that a couple times.

D: What’s funny is the first time I knew those guys were into you was when I saw them play, and one of the guys had an Ergs! Shirt on.

M: Yeah the guitar player Frank.

D: Yeah the guy from Ensign. I guess that was also in another photo of them they used for publicity, but then in the same picture one of them is holding a can of Coors, I think it was Nico, Sturgeon must have not liked that.

M: I mean we’ll drink Pabst. It’s more “if you can help it, don’t”. “If you can help it, don’t go to fucking McDonalds”, or “don’t do this”, or “don’t do that”. “Don’t go to Walmart, don’t go to whatever”, but if McDonalds is the only thing around that’s what I’m gonna eat because I’m starving.

D: Why did Nico leave the band? It seems like she just quit suddenly.

M: It’s not my place to say. She was there one day, and then one day I woke up in the hotel room and she wasn’t there anymore. I don’t really know what happened.

D: The new girl in the band, what band did she come from?

M: She’s in a band called "Chump Change” from the Bay Area.

D: So she moved out east?

M: No she’s still in the Bay Area. Our guitar player Frank moved out to the Bay Area too, so we’re kind of a bi-coastal thing at this point.

D: So you just meet up when you tour?

M: Yeah. Because the Nico stuff happened in Denver, and then we were going to the west coast, we played a few shows without her, and then we met up with Kelsey (the new singer). She flew up to Portland and we had a couple practices, and we toured down the west coast and then went to Australia. She just kind of jumped in because she was recommended by a friend of ours.

D: Which one of them is gonna be on the new record?

M: I haven’t heard any of the record. I believe they kept some of Nico’s stuff. We re-recorded all of Nico’s stuff before we left the studio. Sturgeon went back with Kelsey and a few other people, but I think there’s some Nico stuff, and I think there’s some Kelsey stuff. But I don’t know, I haven’t heard any of it.

D: Did you write any of the songs?

M: Me, Frank, and Sturgeon ended up basically writing the record. Sturgeon and Frank had stuff, and I contributed drum parts and stuff like that. There are a couple songs that we jammed in practice. There’s a song called “From The Dumpster To The Grave”, which is the title track for the record, Frank had a riff and I started playing, and Sturgeon started playing, and we put the whole thing together in half an hour. That song we’re all super proud of. It was the three of us “writing” but “writing” in a very loose term.

D: Is it gonna be more ska based?

M: Yeah, most of the record from what I gather. There’s a couple pop punk songs, and a bunch of ska punk.

D: Yeah I remember him saying when they played in Cambridge, “We have a new album coming out and it’s gonna be called Ska Fucking Hipsters!”

M: Yeah and that was forgotten by the time that we started working together. Then I, coming in as an outsider, was like “Ska Fucking Hipsters, it actually kind of became that.” He was like “Yeah, I guess we planned on that for a minute and then we forgot about that. Then with the lineup change this shit happened”. I came in and we were writing ska songs, which for me is awesome because I’ve never been in a ska band, and I’ve always liked that kind of music.

D: Were you in Star Fucking Hipsters with Frank, before you joined him in Ensign?

M: Yeah. I played the last Measure [sa] show, and I was walking offstage and the bass player from Ensign was like “Hey I need to talk to you! We need a drummer for these next few shows, can you do it?” I was like “I don’t really have a lot of time but give me the dates”. It turned out that the dates were in the places that I didn’t have anything to do. So I learned all their songs, and played a couple of shows, then we’re going to Europe for two weeks.

D: No plans to record with them or anything?

M: No, not for me, just because I’m so busy. I literally just had those couple weeks open, so I was like “yeah I can do this”.

D: You just mentioned The Measure [sa], when I talked to their frontwoman Lauren, she was saying how great of a basement scene New Jersey has. Can you talk about your experience with that?

M: I missed a lot of the Bouncing Souls stuff, a lot of the Lifetime stuff, a lot of that stuff that was happening in the mid to late 90s, I missed all of that. I was going to shows in New York City, bigger shows because I was into bigger bands like the Teen Idols or Chixdiggit!, the bands that would play the mid-sized 300-500 to maybe 750 capacity places. I wasn’t into the basement scene at all. I was aware of it, I knew about all of it, but I never went to New Brunswick alone to go see a basement show.

Then The Ergs! started, and one of the first shows we ever played was a basement show in New Brunswick, and I was like “Oh cool we’re playing a basement in New Brunswick”. It just kind of built up to the point where people were crediting us for starting this new revolution of basement shows in New Brunswick. Thursday, and Bouncing Souls, and Lifetime had all left, and we were the next thing, which I didn’t think of it as that. We were just playing shows at houses that would let us play. But I didn’t get to see any of the cool Thursday/Lifetime/Bouncing Souls house shows.

D: I don’t think you missed much with Thursday.

M: I agree.

D: (Laughs)

M: But with the Souls and Lifetime there was obviously a fucking thing going on that I didn’t know about. I saw Thursday play when Discount played their last show in New Brunswick, it was their last tour, and Thursday opened. I’d never heard anything like that and I wasn’t into it, I was just like, “I don’t get what’s going on here, this guy’s really putting it out there”. Later it got to where I could understand what he was doing, but at that point I was still young, I was in high school so I was probably 18. But everybody around me was totally all for it, and I’m like “I’m not in my element right now”. Then two years later, they were the biggest thing in the world.

D: Are a lot of those basements still around?

M: There are the legendary “This was the Lifetime basement” or “This was the Bouncing Souls basement” ones. I don’t think we ever played any of those places, but every time a new crop of college kids came through they were like “Oh we have a basement. Lets’ do shows!” The house that we always played was at the end of Hamilton Street. It was dubbed “The Parlor” after a Hunchback song. The Ergs! and Hunchback played there all the time, that was our home base. That was when the two of us were the New Brunswick thing of that later period. Fid from The Measure [sa], who was there from the Bouncing Souls/Lifetine days, said that was when it got good again, “When you guys came through, and you guys started going on tour, and you brought bands back”.

Apparently the Screaming Females were influenced by us, and they got it going again after us. It goes in cycles; if it’s true we were a part of that thing I’m glad that that happened.

D: How does it compare to places like here? Have you played any other houses in New England?

M: Yeah. We played… (thinking)….

D: The Ant Cellar in Lowell? Or any of the places in Boston?

M: The Used Kids played a basement in Boston, it might have still been when we were the Modern Machines. I know we played a basement in Boston, we’ve played basements in Philly, but this is great. I always heard about Slaughter House 5. I’d never played here until The Dopamines played outside of here and then someone wrote me an email, “Do you wanna do a solo show in our basement?” Absolutely. I walked down here and there were already tons of people down here waiting for me to start. That was the second solo show I’d ever played in my life and I was like “Wow people wanna hear this? That’s cool.” I played here later again with House Boat, and then played solo. This is just such a cool place. The Ergs! played venues in New Hampshire and Boston, and so forth, but we never played basement shows here.

D: These places are always better than the venues.

M: Yeah, if The Ergs! could have done it any other way we would have had our last show at one. I mean we played a “secret” show as our last basement show, but for our last show we wanted as many people that could’ve made it. People were flying out and shit, so we had it at a venue.

D: That must have been pretty flattering though, hearing people are coming in from out of the way.

M: It was, but honestly for me I remember the basement show more. I mean the last show was the last show and it was fucking awesome. The fact was Lemuria just happened to be in town and they needed a show, so we booked them a show, and we’re like “Okay it’s two days before our last show, we’re just gonna play it, we’re not gonna announce it”. But people kind of knew. It was at The Parlor, at the place we’d always played for years, we just got up and played, and it was so magical. Tonight was the first time I’d seen Hunchback in a basement since that show. Tonight for me, that was my perfect Hunchback show, I can’t even describe how amazing that felt.

D: Yeah, it was cool that the three of you were all here with different bands.

M: Yeah I’m glad too that we all could be here. I wish Night Birds could play, but it was so fucking rad to see that and not know if that’s gonna happen again. Just to see that and have that in my mind and in my heart, that’s what I wanted to see, and it’s fucking awesome.

D: There was that secret show and the official last one, then you did that cancer benefit last year, and didn’t you play someone’s wedding?

M: Yeah we’d already agreed to that before we’d decided that we were breaking up, so we did all the last show shit, and the guy wrote us, “So I guess you won’t be playing our wedding”, and we were like “No we said we were gonna do it, we’ll do it”. Our last show was our last show, this was as invited guests. We practiced a couple times for it, we played, and it was fun, it was great. It was really fun but it was an invited crowd, and people got video of it so if anybody didn’t get to see it they can see it on youtube or whatever.

Even the cancer benefit was just that we wanted to help out. We practiced for a few days and were like “It still sounds alright, and we’re not fucking things up by doing this.” We did it, and we honestly played like an hour and forty-five minutes or something, we played a long set. I don’t think it’s ever gonna happen again, well I don’t know if it’s ever gonna happen again, never say never, but we were kind of playing as if that was the last time it’s ever gonna happen. But it was good to do it and we helped immensely, more than I’d ever thought that any band I would’ve been in could have helped monetarily.

D: Was it that you helped in paying for the medical bills?

M: Yeah basically it was raising money for the medical bills.

D: Were you able to cover it?

M: Well it’s cancer, so you never know when it’s gonna stop, but we raised a lot of money, way more than I ever would have thought. It was really nice to be able to do that.

D: I’ve always wondered this, how many artists do you have in your itunes library?

M: That’s a good question. It’s in the thousands (laughs).

D: What would you guess five thousand? Or closer to three or two thousand?

M: I don’t even know, I never even thought to look actually. Probably in the two to three thousand range.

D: What album would people be most surprised to learn that you own?

M: That’s the thing with me; I like so much dumb shit. I mean there’s Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart, which is a classic record, but it’s an unlistenable record to a lot of people. There’s so many weird records that I like.

D: Do you have Kriss Kross or something like that?

M: Certainly when I was 12 years old I was listening to Kriss Kross, but I was also listening to Nevermind. Surprising in that way? I have the Right Said Fred record.

D: (Laughs) how are the songs besides “I’m Too Sexy”?

M: There’s I’m Too Sexy, and then there’s “Don’t Talk, Just Kiss”, then I don’t remember any of the rest of them.

One of the ones that always sticks out in my mind as a weird record that came out when I was young: Duran Duran’s Big Thing. It wasn’t like a big hit Duran Duran album, it wasn’t Rio, it was like their ’87 record. It’s a fucking great record. Then they came back with Duran Duran’s self titled album, that was with “Ordinary World”, in their early 90s hit period. But there was a record right in the middle of that called Big Thing, and I love that record.

D: Then you obviously got the Neurotic Outsiders album that the Duran Duran guy did with Steve Jones.

M: Yes! That was Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, and the guys from Guns N’ Roses.

D: Duff and Matt.

M: It was the perfect melding of dumb shit that I liked throughout my life.

D: (Laughs)

M: It’s a shitty record. It’s not a good record, but “Nasty Ho” when you’re 12 years old is kind of a funny song.

I went and saw All once when I was in high school, I might have been out of high school actually, it might have been 2000 or 2001. This band opened up called Wretch Like Me, and they covered Nasty Ho. I was watching it and Stephen Egerton came out and played it with them. That was like the one song I knew from that band, and I was just rocking out. I was like “We should cover this song, it’s cool. Stephen Egerton from the Descendents knows it, so it’s cool.” So we covered it just because we thought it was funny.

Jeff and I both had that record, we were both into that band. Jeff’s younger than I am, but we both discovered it at the same ages. We decided to cover it, but it’s a dumb, fucking stupid, song.

D: It’s a fun song.

M: It’s a sexist piece of shit song, but it was funny at the time (laughs).

D: Did ABC No Rio ban you guys because you played that?

M: They banned us, and I assumed it was because of that. We had our lyrics printed on our website, and that’s the most sexist The Ergs! ever got besides “I love you, you’re cute” (laughs). Nasty Ho might have been the only sexist thing I ever sang.

D: And you never wrote that, Steve Jones wrote that.

M: But we got banned from ABC No Rio, and I was like “Was it because of Nasty Ho?” That’s the only thing I could think of that would’ve been a problem in our catalog. At that point, Dorkrock wasn’t out, The Ben Kweller EP wasn’t out, it was just our demos and seven inch. Nasty Ho came free with a seven inch. That’s the only song I can think of that has anything that could be misconstrued as sexist, which it is sexist, I’m not saying that we were right in covering it, but we were stupid fucking 20 year olds when we recorded it. I wanted to leave it off of Hindsight is 20/20, but it was out and we might as well put it on there.

D: There are some stuff missing from Hindsight, like That’s it Bye, I don’t know if that came out afterwards.

M: It came out afterwards. Anything that came out after was left off, but there will be a Hindsight 2.

D: Is that what it’s gonna be called?

M: I believe it’s gonna be Hindsight is 20/20 Volume 2: Okay Enough Reminiscing. It’s gonna be all Dirty Work references. It’ll be everything commercially released that’s not on Hindsight. The goal is, if you have Dorkrock, Upstairs/Downstairs, Ben Kweller EP, Jersey Best Prancers, and then the two singles collections, you’ll have everything we ever recorded.

D: I’m gonna go off topic, but you mentioned Dirty Work, are you an Artie Lange fan?

M: Oh yeah, absolutely.

D: Did you hear he was back on the radio for the first time in years?

M: I didn’t hear that. Not on Howard Stern right?

D: No.

M: Because I’ve been listening to Stern, I’m a huge fucking Stern fan.

D: He guest hosted one of those sports shows.

M: Like the Norm show?

DL No it was with Nick DiPalo, the comedian from Boston. It was The Tony Bruno Show.

M: I love Nick DiPalo too. I love that he’s Mr. Boston, he’s so fucking funny. I loved that he played a Boston cop in Beer League. It’s so great, that was the perfect role for him.

D: He hosted a radio show again. I’ll send you the link, they have a podcast version of it.

M: I’d love to hear it. Howard doesn’t want Artie on; he wants to make sure that he’s okay, because that’s gnarly shit that happened to him [Artie relapsed on heroin and tried to stab himself to death]. Howard doesn’t want anything to do with bringing him back at a time when he doesn’t need to be back in the spotlight. I think that Howard feels pretty responsible for the bullshit that happened with Artie, even though if you’re that fucked up, you’re that fucked up. Nothing’s gonna change it unless something drastic happens.

D: That show, for all the talk that it’s sexist or whatever, there’s been a lot of cool punk bands on it, like the Joey and Marky Ramone fight.

M: Stern rules, and anything that Richard Christy [drummer turned Stern show writer] does, Richard Christy is a drumming idol to me. Ever since I found out about him I was listening to him. He can fucking play the drums. I’ll never play like that.

D: If you had to name one drummer as your favorite, do you have one?

M: Bill Stevenson is obviously a huge influence, but from here, some New Hampshire/Maine/Boston pride, Chris Pierce from Sinkhole. Him and Duncan from Snuff, they’re the two people that made me realize I could play drums and sing at the same time, and they’re both incredible drummers, I owe a lot to both of them.

Chris Pierce happened to move to New Brunswick. The Ergs! half hazardly wrote to him, “Hey would you wanna record this dumb band we have?” And we recorded some shit with him, what ended up being Thrash Compactor, a couple comp tracks, and the country seven inch. We just went in and recorded a bunch of dumb shit with him, just to see if it sounded good, and it sounded great, so we went and did almost everything else we ever did with him. He’s a huge influence on me, and it was really hard to play and sing in front of him.

D: Could you name a favorite artist? Do you have one or would there just be too many?

M: Of all time? It’s tough.

D: What about five of them?

M: My favorite band in the world is probably XTC, because they’re so weird. They’re weird and poppy, the perfect mix of weird Beatle-esque pop and weird funky/new wavey kind of shit. Andy Partridge is a huge lyrical influence on me, in the same way that John Lennon and The Beatles are.

The Beatles were probably my first favorite band of all time. Apparently my first words were “yeah, yeah, yeah” from what my mom tells me. In the early 80s she would bring out her Beatles records. I always loved John Lennon’s wordplay, I always tried to copy that. Andy partridge had that too, and Elvis Costello was kind of influenced by John Lennon in that respect.

So Elvis Costello, John Lennon, The Beatles, XTC, and I love Joe Jackson. He’s in the same kind of vein of angry young man turned punk for a few years and then ventured out into other things. I like that you get into it from the punk thing, because that’s what you can understand, and then you realize you can expand upon that.

So those are probably my five favorites, The Beatles are probably number one, because that’s my first favorite bands. Not that I’m anywhere near as good as Elvis Costello, or The Beatles, or XTC, but those are my three favorite songwriting influences.

D: Do you listen to The Adam Carolla Podcast at all?

M: I have.

D: He’s always saying his favorite artists are Elvis Costello, and who’s the other guy you just mentioned?

M: Joe Jackson?

D: Yeah, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, The Pretenders, and some other guy I can’t remember.

M: Yeah, The Pretenders are awesome, Chrissie Hynde is great. That’s rad. I didn’t know that.

If I had three bands I’d say everybody should listen to it’d be XTC, Elvis Costello and The Attractions, and The Beatles. Then you go into other genres like punk: Black Flag, The Minutemen, there’s a ton of fucking bands out there that are worth listening to.

D: What about albums?

M: Well Minutemen’s Double Nickels On The Dime, that taught me you didn’t have to stick to a formula, your formula was you could be all over the place for eighty minutes and be awesome. XTC did those records too, they did English Settlement which is eighty minutes of every fucking thing you can throw at an audience. Then The Beatles did The White Album which was one of the first double albums ever, anything you could throw at anybody. They were like “Fuck it, we’re The Beatles! Listen to all this shit, fuck you!”

That’s kind of what The Ergs! did as a whole because we were all super influenced by everybody. On Upstairs/Downstairs we were like “Here’s a few pop punk songs, here’s a slow song, here’s a song that kind of sounds like Fugazi, here’s a song that kind of sounds like Johnny Cash, here’s a song that kind of sounds like this, here’s a song that’s eighteen minutes of noise.” We kind of tried to throw everything at the audience, I don’t know if it worked or not.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"If It’s Not Political, You’re Playing Speed Pop": An interview with Steve Patton of the Have Nots

Boston ska-punks the Have Nots, have a new album titled "Proud" coming out May 3rd on Paper + Plastick Records. I had the opportunity to talk with drummer Steve Patton in the following interview:

D: When was the band started and was it always the four of you?

S: We started in 2006, but I’d consider the real start of the band like 2008. That was when we got our shit together and started recording and touring and such. It’s always been the four of us, fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it).

D: Is there a primary songwriter or does everyone write together?

S: Jon and Matt write the songs for the most part. Jameson and I help with the arrangements and tell them when the songs aren’t good.

D: Are you all originally from the Boston area?

S: Matt, Jameson and I all grew up in suburban Boston in the towns of Lincoln and Sudbury. Jon grew up in upstate New York. I'm not quite sure how he ended up here, probably something to do with bike messaging.

D: Why was your first release a full length instead of an EP?

S: Well we released a four song demo early on, so I guess we kind of looked at that like an EP. We just had a lot of songs written and were chomping at the bit to put out a record. It’s a good thing we did, knowing how long it takes us to do things, if we’d only put out an EP we’d probably still only have five songs out in the masses.

D: Is this demo available anywhere?

S: I'm honestly not sure. You might be able to find it somewhere if you look around a bit.

D: Did you guys release "Serf City USA" yourselves before Paper + Plastick picked it up, or were you with a different label? I remember there was a gap in time between when it came out and when you signed with them.

S: Yeah we fucked around with this other label for a little while but that wound up being a huge pain in the ass, so we wound up borrowing some money and putting the record out ourselves before Paper + Plastick signed us.

D: You released that album as a free mp3 download (in addition to physical formats), any plans to do this with "Proud", or maybe just an EP/Single or outtakes?

S: I think we might need people to pay for this one. Turns out being in a band is real expensive these days, what with gas prices and all. We might try to think up something creative though.

You can download one track, “Louisville Slugger” for free now at We might have some bsides and such up for free download soon.

D: I really liked Louisville Slugger when you were playing it live over the paste year. What's funny is I thought the lyrics were "I got a Louisville Slugger bat to the heart" and it was some unrequited love song; I'm not sure if it had all those upstrokes in it, especially at the end, and I told you it sounded like a Green Day or Screeching Weasel-esque pop punk song. Then I hear the recorded version and I sort of sour on the actual lyrics because they seem to be advocating violence against violence, and the band issues a statement against that notion. Finally everything comes full circle because on the bands twitter you re-tweet a joke about the song being written about Ben Weasel.

S: Haha yeah, I asked Jon to write that blog because I think the lyrics are really interesting, but it's not a pro violence song. I think we all find the Ben Weasel saga to be pretty fucked up.

Will the other songs on the record be more diverse than Serf City was, or are most of the songs based off that original sound?

S: I’d say the record is more diverse overall, while still retaining that Have Nots catchy ska influenced punk rock sound that you’ve come to know and love. There are some slower numbers, some faster numbers and some in between numbers. We fucked around with acoustic guitars, organs, pianos, harmonicas, and background vocals a bit more this time around. But, at the end of the day, it’s still pretty much good old fashioned catchy punk rock.

D: How did you get Stephen Egerton from the Descendents to work on the album?

S: He’s a good buddy of Vinnie Fiorello (founder of Paper + Plastick Records), and Vinnie recommended him to us. He mixed and mastered the album and did a swell job.

D: How did Vinnie originally find out about you guys? Had you already toured outside the Northeast at that point?

S: Yeah we’d toured the whole country a couple times before we started talking to Vinnie. We have some mutual friends, I think it was Stephen Foote from Big D & The Kids Table that played our stuff for Vinnie originally. At first I heard that he didn’t like the record very much, but then we started talking, and it turns out he did like the record quite a bit, he had to listen to it on shuffle before he “got it.”

D: One song from that album, "Used To Be", seems to suggest that once someone gets inside the political system they can't effectively change it, do you agree with that point of view?

S: To a certain degree, yeah. The system has a way of corrupting people to the point where nothing ever really gets done. But then again, I’m sure some people can avoid that and do good things within the system.

D: I ask because I'm actually working at a city hall now. I think it's more that the political system attracts a lot of people that, when it comes down to it, were never really all that idealistic. More often than not office holders come from a background as lawyers or businessman, and they won't want a staff who strays too hugely from their way of thinking.

S: Yeah the song inspired by a lawyer type guy that made a comment on a Clash shirt that Jon was wearing while delivering packages downtown one day.

D: A lot of the songs on the first album seem to focus on political and societal issues. Why do these appeal to the band?

S: I’m not sure. Jon once said that if you play punk rock and it’s not political, you’re playing speed pop, and Matt once said that political songs were way more interesting than his own life. I think we wound up catching heat for both of those comments, so maybe the better answer would be that it’s important to stick up for the folks in our society that don’t necessarily have a voice.

The new record is a bit less political though, we’re getting soft in our old age.

D: I know your kidding, but how old actually are you guys?

S: Mid twenties for the most part, Jon's a bit older.

D: Has anyone gotten the knuckle tattoo from the Serf City album cover?

S: Nah. The other guys all have various other Have Nots tattoos though. I’m the only one with no tattoos. I’m trying not to conform. It’s punk rock to not have tattoos now.

D: That's the gist of what Billy Zoom of X said 30 years ago in The Decline of Western Civilization.

S: That's funny. I'm only like 20% serious. Really I just can't think of a sweet tattoo to get. But, it was interesting being I think the only guy, out of probably 20 people on the tour last month, with no tattoos.

D: It seems like you've been touring constantly for the past year. From reading "Get in the Van" and other things of that ilk, I get the impression that constantly being in small circles with other band members can sour friendships. Do you think this is the case and have you guys experienced it at all?

S: Being on tour probably drives everyone a little crazy after awhile, sharing the same hotel room and van and just spending all of your time together everyday. Everyone has their moments on tour when they’re not at their best or happiest or whatever, so you just have to give them space and let them work through it, and be there when you can.

D: You've been fortunate to go on tour with a lot of big name punk and ska bands. At this point who are the dream bands that you'd like to go on tour with?

S: Flogging Molly, Streetlight Manifesto and Tom Petty are my top three.

D:I would have never guessed Tom Petty.

S: We're huge Tom Petty supporters. That's a bit of a pipe dream. Flogging Molly or Streetlight could probably actually happen.

D: When you went to the U.K. what was the punk scene there like? What are some European bands people should check out?

S: We played some shows with this band Random Hand that’s pretty awesome, also check out the Sonic Boom Six. It’s like the mid nineties over there, people still go to punk rock shows, it’s crazy.

D: That's interesting, did that seem to be the case all across the region or just certain cities? Also was a lot of the draw to American bands coming over, or were their local bands, mostly unknown here, who are drawing everyone in?

S: I mean the shows were still kind of hit or miss, because it was our first tour over there. But, in general, there's a wider audience for our type of music in Europe than in the states right now. It was pretty all over the place. We played some headlining shows that were well attended, and did some shows with this Random Hand that did well. There were some local bands that drew a lot of kids too.

D: How receptive have American audiences been outside of the Boston area?

S: For the most part, very receptive. There was one night on this past tour with Street Dogs where a fight almost broke about because some jokester in the audience was telling the Street Dogs to “go back to Boston.” Lenny Lashley wound up chasing the dude around the parking lot with a flashlight, it was pretty funny. But the vast majority of crowds we’ve played to at least pretend to like us.

D: Have you heard of the Connecticut punk band The Havnotz? If so do you know which of you came first, and would you ever do a show or split with them?

S: I'm not sure which band came first, but we have played together before. I think we had a rift one time because our manager told them to change their name. I felt bad about that, I hope they don't hate us still.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Measuring Sexism & Homophobia in Punk: An Interview with Lauren Denitzio of The Measure [sa]

Earlier this year Lauren Denitzio of the band The Measure [sa] wrote an article on sexism in punk rock titled "You Know What Makes Me Feel Unsafe?". Since then there has been much discussion over the articles content, including this interview with her published yesterday at During the same time period as that, Lauren talked to me in an interview which she indicated she was far happier with (I suggest you read both to get the fullest perspective). I've separated it into two parts, one dealing with questions related to her article on sexism and one dealing with questions related to music.

D: In your column you identify yourself as "queer" yet there is little mention of homophobia and instead a focus on sexism. Is this because you feel homophobia is not as prevalent a problem within the punk scene?

L: I was asked to write a piece on sexism, so I kept that as my focus. I mentioned queer as identifying my perspective and experiences. I think issues of homophobia can be handled with the same mode of thinking that I'm trying to talk about regarding sexism.

D: What things would you say make an LGBT person uncomfortable at a show, that the perpetrator might not even realize?

L: For me, I think those things are probably much more relatable in everyday life, not just a punk show. Like, when someone assumes you're straight, and addresses you as such. Or when people who I think should know better use dyke or fag in a derogatory way. It's the kinds of things that are insensitive to someone else's experiences or lifestyle, making light of things you shouldn't be. Not like I don't have a sense of humor, and my bandmates in The Measure crack jokes sometimes about my identifying as queer, kind of as a way to out me to people, but those are people who know me really well, who I can talk to if something goes too far or if I'm not comfortable with a comment. I think my point of just being accountable for our words and actions can alleviate a lot of tension if someone feels alienated in a certain way.

D: There's always been a debate on what makes a band or person punk, and if there's a certain criteria. The same could probably be said for feminist. How would you define feminism? Can someone like Sarah Palin be a feminist?

L: It's been said that feminism is "the radical notion that women are people," and I think my feminism falls into that definition. I think it's also about identifying patriarchy in a variety of forms and combating that in our communities, punk or otherwise. As far as someone like Sarah Palin being a feminist, I think that anyone who would limit a woman's power over her own body has some major issues to work out, one of which being whether or not they should be calling themselves a feminist.

D: Do you see a problem with bands like The Mr. T Experience who write all their songs about women but never put them in a role other than love interest?

L: I don't think that's a problem. That's what kind of band they choose to be. If a band is constantly demeaning of women in general, that's one thing, but I don't see anything inherently wrong with a pop punk band writing a lot of love songs about girls. I do that too!

D: One of the most discussed statements was that it makes you feel unsafe "when you take your shirt off at a show". Is this directed at men in the pit, to those on stage, to women (I assume not, but noticed you never specified the gender of the person in the article), or all of the above?

L: That one specifically is directed at men in the crowd and on stage. I think for a lot of women it can be triggering and a very visible statement of strength and power within a group. Even if it's just sorta hot in a room, and a guy doesn't think he's being threatening, some women definitely see it that way and don't want to be a part of that. It's really as simple as that and something to think about when "dudes are being dudes" or whatever. While dudes taking their shirts off isn't necessarily triggering for me personally, it makes me uncomfortable in the sense that "yep, I'm not part of your club. why am I here again? do you even care that I'm here or want me here?"

D: In regards to performers, a lot of people make the counter argument that they're moving around and sweating. I know in the early days of Black Flag, Henry Rollins started performing in just shorts because his sweat would soak through his clothes and he would immediately have to wash them in a bathroom sink.

L: I've played plenty of shows where I've completely sweated through ever piece of clothing I have on. Except I don't have the privilege of being able to take my shirt off without being ogled or getting comments about it. So I've opted to keep my shirt on. I deal with it. If you're a guy playing a show where women are present and you want to make sure they all feel welcome, I'd advise keeping your shirt on. If you don't care, that's your own issue and obviously I can't do anything to stop you. If you do care though, and want to complain about it, you can cry me a river.

Also, I've had it happen that a guy who sometimes takes his shirt off opted to keep his shirt on while playing a show at my house, knowing how I feel about the issue. As far as I can tell, it wasn't a big deal at all, which is kind of my point. If you're aware that certain things would make a space safer for people there, be a respectful human being about it. It's that easy. It's those sorts of actions that make me really proud of a lot of people I know.

D: In regards to women performing without a shirt, I know there's been some instances of punk musicians doing that, be it for shock value, the idea that it's an equality means, or saying something like "this is my sexuality, deal with it." How would you respond to these situations?

L: Someone like Kathleen Hanna taking her shirt off and having "slut" written across her chest is making people uncomfortable in having to deal with both the female body as powerful and the issue of slut shaming. That's FAR different than a guy trying to act tough, taking his shirt off, and doing something that is potentially triggering for someone like say a sexual assault or abuse survivor - of which, I can guarantee you, there will probably be one in the room when women are present at a show. If there's an example of a cis-man taking his shirt off at a show as a way to combat discrimination, sexism, etc. I'd really love to see it.

D: I guess one could try and make the argument that someone like Damien from Fucked Up combats any sort of body image taboos when he performs shirtless in the same way that a woman like Beth Ditto does. Obviously it isn't as taboo for a guy to be fat, but maybe that's because it's sort of been accepted through things like this.

L: I see what you're getting at with this, but Beth Ditto doesn't have to perform in next to nothing in order to be combating those taboos. I don't think Damien does either. I also don't think the discussion of his weight when he takes his shirt off on stage is anywhere near as big of a deal in our world as if Beth Ditto performs in revealing clothes. That's a shitty double standard, but it's there. I guess I just think you can't take male privilege out of that situation, even though I'm all for combating fat-phobia in whatever way we can.

D: Do you feel that there needs to be a balance however between not singling out and making fun of people who are overweight, but at the same time not glamorizing an unhealthy life style? I feel like glamorizing being overweight like Beth does is in some regards similar to what some bands like NOFX do in glamorizing their overuse of drugs and alcohol.

L: I know Beth Ditto is really open about promoting a healthy body image and being proud of whatever body type or size you happen to be. I think that's wonderful and I don't think that concept in any way promotes an unhealthy lifestyle. I think equating being fat with being unhealthy is pretty offensive, honestly, because that's just not correct. I'm really glad there's a lady like Beth out there kicking ass and pushing the boundaries of what the media puts out there in terms of both music and body image. I'm a big fan of her band Gossip and just her in general. I've been pretty skinny my entire life, and while I've certainly had body image issues, it's in a totally different way. I can't speak to those issues in the way that she can. I think the thing is that the notion of loving whatever body type you were born with is really important and it's none of my business if someone is medically healthy or not.

I wish my friends would all stop smoking and that some of them would take it down a notch with the drugs and alcohol (I've written songs about it!), but that's their choice, not mine. I think unless you constantly go around criticizing people for those things, commenting on someones weight as a health issue is inappropriate. Odds are Joe Strummer didn't eat enough kale but I still fucking love The Clash.

D: Also couldn't the act of a female performer writing "slut" across her chest also potentially trigger a level of uncomfortableness within women in the audience, regardless of the artistic intention?

L: I'm sure it could, but it's not coming paired with a physical threat. I think there's a much better chance of that action helping someone feel empowered than alienated or unsafe.

D: Another thing you note as creating an unsafe environment is using the word "bitch". Is there an artistic context where this could be okay lyrically? For example Patti Smith has the song Rock N Roll Nigger, in which she aligns herself as the same type of outsider persona as people who have been labeled by society as "niggers". Couldn't the same be done in regards to sexist rhetoric?

L: I think combating the use of a word through lyrics is different than someone using it in their every-day language, as part of their normal vocabulary. I think you can reclaim words, for sure (see: Bitch Magazine, The Dyke March, etc.) but that's not the same thing as using those words in a derogatory way and thinking that it's not a big deal. Words have context and history to them and I'd rather not perpetuate the use of words that are demeaning to women.

D: You alluded that having "women-only spaces" would be a productive thing. By this do you mean venues?

L: I was talking more about events or meetings. The feminist collective I'm a part of, For The Birds, is a women identified only group. One reason for this is to maintain a safe space for everyone to feel supported and able to express themselves, which wouldn't happen if there were male identified people in the room. I'm not sure if there are women-only venues but if there were, I'd certainly go!

D: Is there an online directive where people could find communities like this? Do they exist as a subculture of the punk scene, or are all sorts of woman from different communities involved?

L: Well, for starters, you can find out more about For The Birds at If you're in the New York City area, we table our distro and organize a lot of events. We're not solely "punks" but the group did grow out of that subculture, for sure. As for other female-only groups, I'm not sure of an online directory (though that would rule), but there are things like Ladyfest organized in all different cities (one is coming up in April in Amherst, Massachusetts) and C.L.I.T Fest in D.C. this summer, which to my knowledge are organized only by women. Even something like the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls that are all over the country, and I think are even in other countries, is trying to maintain a safer space by making it girls-only.

This is far from a new concept (see: Wellesley/Smith Univeristy, Riot Grrrl chapters, etc.) but I think punks and other politically radical folks can take those ideas to strengthen a female and/or overtly feminist presence in their scene. Anyone can start these sorts of groups in their community if they feel it's necessary and the right step for them. I don't see that as just being a "punk" thing. For the Birds just put out a zine called "So You Want To Start a Feminist Collective..." as an answer to a lot of the questions we were getting about organizing. It addresses a lot of issues around DIY organizing, communicating, addressing white privilege within feminism, the logistics of starting a collective, etc. Though we do choose to be female-identified only to preserve a safer space, not everyone needs that depending on the goals of their collective. There are a lot of links in the resources section of the For The Birds site, though that's by no means everything that's out there.

D: How would you respond to someone saying that woman-only spaces is discriminatory, not to just all men, but more specifically gay men or transgendered people who may be experiencing the same sort of unease as a sexual minority within the subculture.

L: I think it's all about why a certain space is trying to accomplish. I know a lot of women-only groups are trans inclusive, which I fully support. Since I was really talking about events/groups rather than venues, I think it's important to create safer spaces for everyone, such as having LGBT events. I can acknowledge that I have certain privileges that would make me unwelcome in spaces that are trying to be safer for certain people. I think when folks aren't comfortable with acknowledging their own privilege, you see them getting defensive about being excluded.

I've had men say to me that women-only spaces aren't productive or solving the problem and it's really offensive to me that they can't just back off for one second and see that sometimes women might need a space without them in it. I think while it's important to work against sexism with all genders, and to not isolate yourself, it's also important for men to just let go of the power for a moment. Learn to be a good ally.

D: Do you see a differing level of sexism within the subgroups of punk?

L: I think it really varies from place to place. I wouldn't make generalizations like that cause I think it's really different depending on where you are more than the genre itself. The level of sexism was much different between the hardcore shows I used to go to in high school and the hardcore shows I might go to now, just based on location and the people going to shows.

D: For better or for worse?

L: Definitely for the better. Even just the fact that while I was in high school I can't think of more than two girls who were in local bands that I'd seen. Now I can't even count all the women I know who are doing things like that. It's awesome. I think even just that fact has facilitated talking about sexism in a much bigger way and has made it possible for me to feel like women are a really vital part of the scene instead of just a side note.

D: Do you feel your statements about what makes women uncomfortable, speak for a majority of the females who go to shows?"

L: I wasn't trying to speak for everyone, or be some kind of representative. But I think just from the support I've seen since writing that piece, a lot of women-identified folks, and men as well, agree with me and have seen those things happen at shows. I think it speaks for a majority of the women I associate with, though obviously that's not everyone.

D: Finally, do you have any comments on the Ben Weasel incident? Since it happened I've been hearing people say that it is inherently sexist to criticize him, not for punching someone in particular, but for punching a woman, as that inherently implies a weaker status to women. What would you say to these people?

L: Not punching a woman isn't about her automatically being weaker, it's about not perpetuating the oppressive thought that you can just beat women to make them shut up. It's not that people think a woman can't defend herself, (which, unfortunately, many people still do) it's that men have traditionally had the power to just slap women into submission without having to face much in the way of repercussions from society. "Feel threatened by a woman? Violence is the answer." THAT'S what's fucked up. It's a social norm that's pandemic and his actions fall into that category. This may be a whole other discussion, but the concept of not hitting someone who is "weaker" is also problematic because even if a woman was able to fight back in such a situation, I wouldn't make the assumption that she's weaker if she chooses to NOT fight back. I think we'd all be better off if the use of violence wasn't the qualifier for being the stronger party. That's not a new concept.

Regardless of gender, hitting someone in the crowd isn't something I'd ever condone, but gender does make a difference here. I think when you hear the misogynist things he was saying to her before, and then see him taking out that anger physically, it says a lot about him. It says something that makes me personally not want to support him or a band that he's in anymore.

Part II:

D: As a kid what music inspired you to start playing guitar?

L: It's weird, it was a mix of Ani Difranco/Dar Williams/Indigo Girls and louder stuff I was listening to like Rancid and The Clash. I learned how to sing and play at the same time by learning a lot of folk stuff and it was definitely the singer-songwriter element that got me into playing guitar. Even the punk stuff I learned, the whole point was so I could play and sing along. I don't think it was till I started listening to Billy Bragg that I really wanted to play electric guitar or be in a band though. The whole protest singer notion had a big impact on me from the start, so connecting that with punk made a lot of sense to me.

D: Was The Measure [sa] the first band you were in?

L: Yup. I did the whole singer-songwriter "thing" for kind of a long time, just writing songs by myself, but I had never written anything with a band before The Measure. I was 20 when we started the band.

D: When and why was the band formed?

L: The band was formed in the summer of 2004 just for fun by myself, Mike Regrets and Fid. We just wanted to write some songs together because Mike and I had a similar punk/folk taste in music and Fid wanted to play drums in a band. We thought it would end when I went back to school in the fall, or when Mike was thinking of moving away, but that didn't happen...and here we are!

*What does the sa in The Measure [sa] stand for? Is it supposed to be in ()'s or []'s?

L: It's supposed to be [sa]. It stands for Strictly Analog as a way to distinguish ourselves from another band called The Measure that existed a while ago. It's based on something Fid used to say, based on him refusing to get a cell phone and also our love of records. We've put everything out on vinyl first and record analog, so there's that too.

D: Other than you and Fid it seems like there's been various members coming and going. Why has this been the case?

L: Since Mike Regrets left the band, it's been Fid and I writing the songs primarily. I think we have the most investment in it and any turnover has really just been that people have other commitments/priorities than being in a somewhat regularly touring band.

D: All of the artwork for the bands releases incorporate images made over newspaper articles. Who's idea was this? Is there a conscious effort to include specific news stories on specific releases?

L: It's based on drawings I was doing when we started the band, and the newspaper/dictionary pages still happen in a lot of my other drawing stuff. It was Fid's idea to use that style thematically with our records and the whole "cover stars" thing is a Smiths reference. The newspaper articles aren't significant though, unfortunately. Sorry, that's not very exciting!

D: Another thing I've noticed about your discography is the amount of splits and EPs recorded vs. full lengths. Was the attitude of the band that as soon as songs were written they should be recorded and released, that full lengths had to be of the utmost quality, or did labels just prefer these types of releases?

L: I think for a long time we just wrote a ton of songs and when a band would ask to do a split, we always had new songs to record. We recorded the Songs About People... EP as a middle ground between the 7"s and a next LP, kind of a stepping stone to a full-length. I think we just took the opportunities that came along to release the songs we were writing. Then at a certain point we knew we should put the effort into a coherent full-length. It certainly took us long enough, but we did it!

D: Who wrote the songs "Workage" and "Dullards and Dreadful Prose" that The Measure and The Ergs! both recorded versions of on the splits you did?

L: We wrote "Workage" and The Ergs wrote "Dullard and Dreadful Prose"

D: Your song "Hello Bastards" was on the "Please Don't Hang Out in Front Of The House" comp. Being from New Jersey can you talk about the basement/house scene that led to that comp? How does it compare to other regions that the band went to?

L: I think people should or have written books on this topic. In short, New Brunswick has had a lot of basements that would have shows, sometimes to the point of there being multiple similar shows on the same night. There's always been the opportunity for new bands to play house shows on a pretty regular basis, far before we ever started. So many "bigger" bands have come out of that scene but I think the best part are the bands that I got to see all the time that I LOVE but you'll never hear on the radio or see playing huge venues. It's just been a really supportive place for people to just start bands with their friends and always have shows to go to. I can't talk about right now specifically, as I haven't been going to shows there as much as I used to, but basements are a big part of the scene there. I think there are a lot of towns with really exciting scenes and all-ages spaces going on but I think New Brunswick will always feel a bit more cohesive to me. I think it's different if you're living in a town that has house shows but then also has a few bars for shows or bigger venues to go to. New Brunswick doesn't really have that anymore, aside from the Court Tavern which mostly doesn't have all-ages shows. So house shows have been sort of the life of the scene for a while, which I thinks make them feel more important/significant.

D: You announced that the band was breaking up because your heart wasn't in the project anymore. Are you tired of playing music, playing this type of music, or just feel like you need a change of scenery from the group?

L: I'm definitely not tired of playing music, or that type of music. But we've been a band for over six years now and it was a period where a lot changed in my life. I think needing a change of scenery is a nice way of putting it. I've started playing more shows with my other band Worriers, so it'll be nice to see where that goes, and I've been playing some solo shows too. Those things are where my focus is right now, musically anyway.

D: The bands last show is scheduled to be this October at The Fest in Gainesville. Will there be a final tour leading up to this?

L: Nope, unfortunately. We're playing May 7th in Brooklyn and May 8th in New Brunswick. Then the show at the Fest, and that'll be it!

D: If you get approached with opportunities to do other shows before Gainesville would you take any of them up?

L: I wouldn't rule it out, but because of our schedules and at least my having to fly to Gainesville, it's pretty unlikely.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Interview with Larry Livermore

Having uploaded a bunch of old stuff, I thought I'd kick the new material off with this interview with Lookout! Records founder Larry Livermore. A big thanks to Larry, you can check out his blog at

D: You grew up in the Detroit area and were around the same age as other locals like the people who would form The Stooges and MC5, and Klaus Flouride, who would go on to be in the Dead Kennedys. Did you know of or were you aware of any of them?

L: I never met Klaus Flouride, not even in the Dead Kennedys days, and to be honest, was only vaguely aware that he was from Detroit. However, I grew up about a mile away from the MC5 (most of them, anyway), and first saw them in 1965, when they were still a mod/garage type band and hadn’t yet joined up with the hippies and the revolution. The Stooges were from Ann Arbor, which was about 40 miles away, and didn’t form till 1968, which was when I first saw them.

I also saw a fair bit of the MC5 during the later 60s, since both they and I eventually moved to Ann Arbor. However, I didn’t socialize with most of them; I met Iggy only in passing, and while I later spent some time hanging out with Ron Asheton of The Stooges and Michael Davis of the MC5, it was in the late 70s/early 80s when they were playing in Destroy All Monsters.

D: What was your adolescence like? I read that the Screeching Weasel song “High School Psychopath” was written about a young you.

L: I don’t think I’ve ever heard that rumor before. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m familiar with that song (I know The Queers version, because I worked on it with them when they were recording Move Back Home). Anyway, whether or not Screeching Weasel were singing about me, “psychopath” might not be too harsh a description, though “sociopath” might be more accurate. I spent most of my teenage years hanging out with gangs that grew increasingly vicious and more criminally oriented as I got older. One of my last gangs got broken up when pretty much everyone except me was sent to prison. I drank a lot, got in a fair bit of trouble, and would have gotten in a lot more if I’d been caught for some of the stuff I did, like carrying a gun to school with me almost every day when I was 16 and 17. I guess you could look at me in two ways: as a nasty piece of work, or a poor, misguided kid who needed some serious help. Both would probably be true.

D: When and why did you leave Michigan?

L: My story was much like that of Lily Tomlin, who, asked when she left Detroit, responded, “As soon as I realized where I was.” More specifically, I left in early 1968 because the police were after me.

D: Was there a specific moment when you first felt aligned with the punk scene?

L: Depends which punk scene you mean. If you’re talking about the proto-punk scene of the MC5 and The Stooges, early 70s. If you mean ’77 punk, it would be the time I was bopping down Polk Street in San Francisco with a big boom box playing the Ramones and some girl with a fake English accent called me a poser. Two years later that same girl tried to steal my leather jacket at a party, and called me a poser again when I stopped her. No English accent this time, though; it had gone out of style by then.

D: What were some of the shows you saw during the first wave of punk? Were you at the Sex Pistols Winterland show?

L: Yes, I was at the last Sex Pistols show at Winterland in January of 1978. First two shows I remember seeing [in San Francisco] were the Ramones/Dictators at Winterland and the Nuns/Avengers at the Mabuhay, in August and/or September of 1977.

D: I have read a lot of accounts from the 1980s of police violence against the LA punk scene (or the Los Angeles public in general, for that matter). Was this the case in San Francisco or other cities in the Bay Area?

L: Yeah, I didn’t spend a lot of time in LA, and when I was there I never ran into any trouble with the police, but the cops at that time did have a reputation for being very harsh with people in general, not just punks. To be fair, I think the prevailing ethos of the LA punk scene was more obnoxious and confrontational, so they may have brought some of it on themselves, but once again, I wasn’t there enough to have an informed opinion on the matter.

San Francisco and the Bay Area were very different. Hell, the sheriff of San Francisco County used to come to shows at the Mabuhay. As a fan, not as a cop. Most of the time when there was violence, it was an outgrowth of some sort of political demonstration, like when the punks were protesting at the 1984 Democratic Convention and a whole lot of them got arrested and some got roughed up. The SF cops did beat up a roommate of mine pretty badly when they caught him spray painting, but I think that was mainly because they were mad at him for running away and making them chase him. I just heard from him recently, by the way: he’s a very successful psychotherapist now.

D: I think you have a point, just generalizing as an outsider, people in the San Francisco area seem to be presented as more conscious, mellow, and intellectual than those in the LA area. After that recent B.A.R.T. Cop verdict I thought for sure their would be violence and riots, and there wasn't, meanwhile I read there was a riot at a TSOL show in L.A. the other day.

Switching gears, which came first, The Lookouts, Lookout Records, or the Lookout fanzine?

L: Well, it’s a bit of a gray area. My usual answer is Lookout magazine, but if you want to get really technical about it, the first few issues of Lookout (which started in October 1984) had different names, first the Iron Peak Lookout (named after the nearby fire lookout tower atop the nearest mountain) and then Mendocino Mountain Lookout. It didn’t become simply the Lookout (and primarily a punk zine) until summer of 1985, by which time The Lookouts were already in existence, too (I think our first practice was in February of that year). Lookout Records didn’t really get started until 1987.

D: Speaking of zines, do you ever re-read your old MRR columns?

L: Not too often. I don’t even have a lot of them. Occasionally I dig some of them up and contemplate posting them on my blog, but usually end up deciding they’re too retarded or would need too much rewriting or both.

D: In the internet age, do you think the current incarnation of MRR is relevant?

L: As long as there are people who are interested in publishing it and reading it, I’m sure it is. Obviously it doesn’t play the central and crucial role it once did, when it was the single most important media outlet on the punk rock scene, but at the same time, I wonder why you refer to it as “the current incarnation,” since as far as I know it’s been publishing without interruption since 1982 and therefore would seem to have had only one incarnation. I should say that I’m very impressed that it’s managed to keep going as reliably as ever for all these years since Tim Yohannan died, because I honestly didn’t expect it to survive without him. I think it’s a real tribute to his memory and to his organizational skills that people were able to step in and carry on the tradition while barely missing a beat.

D: I guess I'm referring to it as "it's current incarnation" because it's role seems so detached from what it once was, and what it's history has made it out to be. I hadn't read an issue (other than .pdf files of ones from the late 80s/early 90s) until this summer when one of my roommates brought home a bunch of them that they were gonna throw out at the record store he worked at. I found the newer issues to be good reads, but having grown up with the internet and sites like or message boards, I didn't see the need to subscribe.

Were you in bands prior to The Lookouts?

L: Not really. It took a couple years and several different members before The Lookouts finally got off the ground, but they were my first real band.

D: Before I ask about some of the more popular bands, when people reflect on the label’s legacy, what bands do you feel get overshadowed?

L: Oh, lots, but a couple of my favorites were Brent’s TV and Nuisance. Brent’s TV were different enough (semi-acoustic, a bit folky) that you might not expect them to have great success with the punk or alternative crowd, but to me Nuisance were in the same league as Nirvana, albeit more original, so I genuinely did expect them to be more successful than they were. On the other hand, Nirvana might not have done that well on Lookout, either, because they appealed to a somewhat different audience. I mean, there was some overlap, but they weren’t really a part of our scene. Maybe Nuisance should have been on Sub Pop instead.

Also, this might sound self-serving, but I kind of feel like The Lookouts got lost in the shuffle, partly because we put out such an awful first record that many people never bothered checking us out again after we got better, and partly because we broke up just before the CD era, so our releases were only on vinyl and cassette and were long out of print by the time Lookout started getting so much attention in the wake of Green Day and Op Ivy’s success.

D: To me the three bands that best represent your time with Lookout are Operation Ivy during the early years, Green Day with the two albums they released, and finally Screeching Weasel, when they released all those classic albums in the early to mid-90s. Could you talk about each of those bands and your relationships with them, from first hearing them, to being their label boss, to them leaving or disbanding?

L: I might put The Queers in there, too, but as for the three you mention: Operation Ivy were the first, with their 7” coming out as one of Lookout’s earliest releases. I already knew Tim/Lint before Op Ivy formed, and the first time I saw them at Gilman, which was late August or early September 1987, I immediately said, “Let’s make a record.” It might have been slightly premature – they’d only been a band for three or four months – but by the time they recorded in November, they were more than ready, and it was nothing but onward and upward from there.

It was a little more than year later when I first saw Green Day, sometime in the fall of 1988, and they were an even newer band than Op Ivy had been, but the same thing happened: I instantly asked them to make a record. This “show” was meant to be a high school party that Tre (who was still in The Lookouts at that time) had set up, but because of bad weather only five kids showed up, yet Green Day (I should say Sweet Children; they didn’t change their name until March of 1989) put one of the best shows I’d ever seen. Their first 7” came out in April of 1989, and while it didn’t catch on quite as fast as Operation Ivy, probably because they were too “poppy” for some of the “punks,” again it was nothing but onward and upward from then on.

Larry backed by Tre Cool, while in The Lookouts
Screeching Weasel, I first saw when they came out to California in 1988 to play at Gilman with Operation Ivy. They were staying with Matt and Lint, which was where I first met Ben Weasel, though his reputation had preceded him thanks to his controversial (and hilarious) scene reports in MRR. Even then he had already made a lot of enemies, but most of us at MRR (I was working on the magazine and, I think, living at the MRR house at the time) were fans. I offered to put out his record, too, but he already had set up a deal with a new Chicago label that he was involved with. I guess that didn’t work out too well, and the band broke up. Then for the next year or two, Ben and I talked a lot on the phone. He wanted to start a new band and wanted me to put out the record, but I insisted that he put Screeching Weasel back together and that then I would put out the record. He finally agreed, the new version of Screeching Weasel came out to San Francisco to record My Brain Hurts, and the rest is history.

It’s funny that you refer to me as “their label boss,” because I didn’t do much bossing with any of those bands. All three of them were remarkably self-contained and pretty much did things exactly as they wanted to. That was especially true of Operation Ivy and Green Day; for example, I only dropped in very briefly during the Op Ivy recording sessions, and never even set foot in the studio when Green Day were recording. I had a bit more input with Screeching Weasel, mostly because they, especially Ben, asked for it, but when it came to deciding on songs, arrangements, artwork, all that sort of thing, it was all decided long by them long before they got near the studio. I was there for the entire recording of My Brain Hurts, and was ostensibly the “producer,” but apart from offering a few suggestions, the main one of which, to take a little longer recording, was rejected as being “too expensive,” I was mainly a cheerleader. It was very impressive watching the band work. They had every song totally figured out in advance, and just whipped through the 14 songs on the album and another three they were doing for a compilation in no time flat.

Operation Ivy broke up just as their one and only album was coming out, and who knows what might have happened with them if they’d stuck together; the album still managed to sell in the neighborhood of a million copies even though the band no longer existed. Green Day, well, everybody knows what happened to them: they got bigger and bigger and then they signed to Warner/Reprise and got super-mega-colossal, which for a while had a similar effect on Lookout.

The story of Screeching Weasel didn’t turn out so happily; while they never reached the levels of Op Ivy or Green Day in terms of fame and sales, they were doing very, very well, but the better they did, the more convinced Ben became that they should be doing even better and that somehow Lookout was standing in the way of that success. Things got worse, much worse, when he became convinced that not only were we doing a poor job of marketing his band, but also that we were somehow cheating him out of part of his money. That in turn degenerated into name-calling, accusations, and a lawsuit, and the band left the label on less than the best of terms, a process that has now been repeated with several other labels. It’s always been my contention that if Ben had devoted even half the energy to writing and performing that he did to fighting and stressing over money, he would have been far more successful, but at least it seems in recent years that he’s finally found a formula for playing shows and making money on his own terms, so perhaps all’s well that ends well?

D: In the years following Operation Ivy, Rancid put out their first EP on Lookout. Was releasing their full lengths ever discussed?

L: It was not discussed per se, which was probably my fault; in those days, it was generally assumed that if you put out a 7” on Lookout and it did reasonably well, you could expect to put out your albums there as well. We rarely dropped bands, and if we did, it was usually for obnoxious or dishonest behavior, not for blatantly commercial reasons.

However, what I wasn’t aware of was that Rancid wanted to be courted and wooed, which Brett Gurewitz had been doing, and which I hadn’t. To be fair, Brett and Tim had also struck up a friendship that wasn’t purely related to the record business, and also to be fair, I wasn’t originally as big a fan of Rancid as I would become later, so it’s understandable that going with Epitaph seemed like a logical progression to them. I was a bit upset at the time, which I didn’t have a right to be, since, as I said, I hadn’t actively pursued keeping them on the label. But again, all’s well that ends well! And I should add that Rancid have had a very long, productive and happy relationship with Epitaph.

D: You produced some of The Queers and Screeching Weasel releases that Lookout did. How would you rate yourself as a producer, and is that role something you’d ever consider doing again?

L: As I already mentioned, my role as Screeching Weasel’s “producer” was minimal, especially on My Brain Hurts. I actually had more input into Anthem For A New Tomorrow when Ben and I went into Art of Ears to remix it (I wasn’t there for the original recording sessions). And it’s also worth noting that I don’t know how to run a board (i.e., engineer); all my production work has been in the theoretical realm, where I give suggestions on how to get the best sound or what harmonies might work well on the choruses, or in some cases, restructuring the song in one way or another. In any case, I would still be dependent on having a good engineer capable of translating my ideas into tangible recordings. Luckily, I had the opportunity to work with some great ones like Kevin Army, Andy Ernst and Mass Giorgini.

I think the production job I’m proudest of would be The Queers Surf Goddess EP, which I worked on collaboratively with The Queers themselves and Mass Giorgini at Sonic Iguana. I also did the first EP by the Invalids, which was hastily done and sounds a lot like My Brain Hurts in terms of both its faults and virtues, but was what I’m pretty sure the band wanted, and an album by the band Scherzo, the latter being slightly more emo (early 90s version, not the modern one) than I was used to working with. It didn’t get heard by a lot of people, but I thought it turned out pretty well. In answer to your question about how I would rate myself as a producer, I’d say that I had and still have a lot to learn, but that I seemed to have a certain natural ability at it. Would I try it again? Yes, I think so, but only with bands that I was especially fond of and only with certain engineers. And by certain, I probably mean Mass Giorgini.

D: Were you aware of Howard Stern talking about seeing and meeting Pansy Division on his radio show? It was from when they did that first big tour with Green Day, and Stern mentioned that he wanted to have Pansy Division come on the show. Was there any attempt at the label to get them on as guests?

L: That story sounds vaguely familiar, but I was never a Stern fan or listener, so no, I wasn’t really aware of it, and I definitely didn’t make any effort to get Pansy Division onto his show. If anything like that did happen, it would have been after I left the label. Some people might say that one of my weaknesses as a label head was that I lacked the initiative or ability to help bands break through into mainstream channels of this sort, and those people might have a point. On the other hand, I always felt that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Lookout was that we were able to get bands heard and sell a lot of records without having to play the promotional games that most labels do.

D: Something that I noticed about Green Day is that they would originally have independent label punk bands go on tour with them, like Pansy Division, the Riverdales, and the Smoking Popes. Now, when it seems like they could have even more sway over who they want opening for them, it’s usually another major label rock band. Is that a reflection of their own changing tastes, something the label orchestrates, or what?

L: I actually asked one of their managers about this not too long ago, because I was curious myself, since I know that the guys in the band still like many of the same small, independent bands that I do. And the explanation I was given makes sense, though it’s not what I would have expected: it seems that in order to tour at the level that Green Day does, even as an opening act, a band has to have either the kind of label support or money of their own that most small, indie bands just don’t have. The reason is that it’s actually quite expensive to tour at that level, and even though the opening acts are paid what would seem like a lot of money to most of us, it’s still not always enough to cover all the costs, especially when the tour is moving rapidly over a great deal of ground. Or, for example, when you need to keep enough merch in stock to sell at places like Madison Square Garden night after night.

Nobody said anything to me about this, but I also couldn’t help wondering if it had something to do with the way that some indie bands just can’t handle the rigors of a big tour, like, for example, when the Riverdales suddenly dropped off the Green Day European tour and left them scrambling for another opener. Of course there was a reason the Riverdales had to do that – Ben was suffering some serious health-related issues that he’s talked about elsewhere – but that doesn’t help Green Day or their management when they need to make sure there will be an opening band for the next show. The bands that open for Green Day nowadays tend to be well-established enough that you know what you’re getting, even if it’s not always exactly what you want. And – though this is also pure speculation on my part – I imagine there’s a bit of politics involved, too, where opening acts might be represented by the same label or management team. At the same time, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if on some future tour, Green Day changes things up by bringing along some totally unknown new indie band. But I’m not part of the team that makes those decisions, so again, I’m just guessing.
From l-r: Ben Weasel, Jody Sarcastic, Larry Livermore
D: I remember reading something about how bands that are huge now, like The Offspring and AFI, were trying to get on Lookout in their early years. Is this true, and do you still have any of the demo tapes that bands sent you from back in the day?

L: I don’t remember The Offspring trying to get on Lookout, though there was some talk about it around the time Can Of Pork compilation was being put together. I think Chris Appelgren was talking to one of The Offspring guys about getting a track for that comp, and he (Chris) asked me if I thought maybe we should put out the next Offspring album. I said I’d be willing to do it if that’s what the band wanted, and there might have been a little more talk about it, but nothing came of it.

AFI, on the other hand definitely wanted to be on Lookout. Andy Ernst, who had recorded the tape that would become their first album, gave me a copy, told me he thought it was really good, and asked me to give AFI a chance. I listened to it and decided I’d be willing to put the record out, but when I talked to the other people at Lookout, nobody else wanted to do it. Being the boss and main owner, I could have insisted that we do it anyway, and I probably should have, but this was getting toward the time where I was beginning to lose interest in the way the label was going, and I just didn’t push hard enough for it. No, I didn’t save anything in the way of demo tapes. I’m not much of a collector.

D: Why did you sell your share in Lookout, and why then move to London?

L: First, and I always have to explain this, and most people don’t seem to get it anyway, I didn’t “sell” my share of Lookout. The only money that I took when I left Lookout was my share of the profits that the label had made up until that time. In other words, money that I had already earned, but which I left in the Lookout bank account so that the label would have operating capital. When you sell a business, what you’re selling is basically a) the rights to whatever property it owns, including intellectual property like, for instance, master recordings; and b) what’s called “good will” and/or future prospects, i.e., the reputation that the company has built up and the likelihood that it will continue to make money in the future. I didn’t get any money for either of those things, just, as I said, withdrew my share of the earnings that the label had already accumulated.

If I had actually “sold” the label, I would have walked away with 10 or 20 million dollars, but that would have meant selling it to a major label the way that Sup Pop was. Maybe I’d been reading MRR too long, but I actually believed Lookout was a community resource that needed to continue to belong to the community, and so I was willing to turn it over to people who I thought would continue to run it the same way I had been running it. This turned out to be a big mistake, not so much because I didn’t get the kind of money I could have (though that would have nice), but because the people who took over Lookout ran it into the ground. As I noted earlier, MRR successfully made the transition from its first owner into a community-run magazine, but maybe the difference between MRR and Lookout was that there weren’t millions of dollars involved.

As for why I left, well, I had been feeling burnt out for a couple years already, and I began to lose – or, more accurately – give up control of too much of the label to other people that worked there. The understandable result was that they started running things the way they thought they should be run, which turned out to be quite different from how I thought they should be. But instead of staying there and fighting to reassert my own sense of direction, I started plotting my escape. The final straw came when the whole lawsuit thing blew up with Screeching Weasel and it turned out that one of my partners wanted to take the Weasel side instead of sticking to our guns. At that point, Lookout as it then existed was coming apart no matter what; it was merely a question of which partners would be going and which would be staying. I turned out to be one of those that went.

D: What was the punk scene like in the UK during the late 90s/early 2000s?

L: There were still the faded remnants of old bands from the 70s and 80s playing revival shows and whatnot, but as far as the bands I knew and hung out with, it was very tiny and obscure. There’d be a show once every month or two, and most of the time we’d be excited if more than 20 or 30 people turned up. Not that much different from what was going on with the New York pop-punk bands that were just starting up around that time.

D: When you moved to New York, were you aware of what was going on there in terms of bands like The Ergs! or The Steinways? Were they even around when you first moved there?

L: Yes, I was very aware of what was going on there, and I think it even played a part in my decision to move to New York. I first started seeing The Steinways and The Unlovables and Dirt Bike Annie, and also a few of the out-of-town bands, like The Copyrights, before I moved there. I was very excited about the energy that was kicking up around them.

D: How would you compare the scene you’re involved with now to the one you were involved with at Lookout?

L: Well, it seems to have lost a little of its steam. When I first got to New York (I’d been visiting regularly for several years already), it looked as though everything was about to kick off, and in many ways it reminded me of the early days at Gilman, say around 1987 or so. The only difference was that we didn’t have a Gilman, but to a certain extent I felt that lack was made up for by something that the East Bay scene didn’t have: instant connectivity with like-minded people all over the world via institutions like the Pop Punk Message Board. Just as bands had been formed, shows had been set up, relationships entered into and broken up inside and on the sidewalks in front of Gilman, similar things were happening on the PPMB, culminating in the first couple of Insubordination Fests in Baltimore, which were as much like the old Gilman Street days as anything I had experienced since.

However, in the last couple years, bands have been breaking up faster than they’ve been forming, many people have grown disillusioned and/or succumbed to early-onset middle age (i.e., reached their 30s), and a whole bunch of other, more commercially-oriented fests have sprung up that, while they feature many of the same bands that play at Insub, lack much of the spirit. So I’m feeling slightly discouraged, but only slightly, because heaven knows I’ve been around long enough to be aware that things come and go, and that if we’re in a lull now, there’ll be another time when the excitement will come rushing back. And also, to be fair, even now there are probably other places in America or not even in America at all where great stuff is happening and I just haven’t found about it yet. That’s the way it’s always been, and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t continue to be.

D: I feel like here in New England a nice little niche has been made of all these kids in their teens and 20s who live in cities outside of Boston, and are in bands, punkhouses, labels, zines, etc. putting out shows and albums of quality that didn't really exist a few years ago. I was also under the impression that a similar thing was sort of in swing out in the Midwest around Illinois/Indiana/Ohio.

If you had continued running a label, what bands would you have signed between moving back to America and now?

L: Let’s amend that to “What bands would I have tried to sign?” Even in Lookout’s heyday, not every band wanted to be on our label. For example, it took me years and several albums before I was finally able to land The Mr. T Experience. But assuming they’d want to work with me, here are some of the bands that would have been on Livermore Records: The Steinways, The Unlovables, The Ergs!, The Max Levine Ensemble, Delay, The Copyrights, Dear Landlord, The Leftovers, The Dopamines, Be My Doppelganger. I’m sure I’m leaving a bunch of great bands out, but those are the first that come to mind.

D: Would you ever start up a new record label?

L: Probably not. I might be willing to work A&R with an existing label.

D: What current labels are you a fan of?

L: Probably a lot of the ones currently working with the bands I named above. Obviously labels are not quite as crucial as they once were, at least not to me, because pretty much all my music now comes in digital download form. But I have to pay my respect to, for example, Whoa Oh Records, who kept things alive back earlier in the 2000s when it seemed like almost nobody cared, and It’s Alive Records out in California seems to be doing great stuff. Also, a shout-out is in order to my friend Joe Steinhardt’s Don Giovanni Records, which seems like one of the best-run labels around these days, even though, to be perfectly honest, I’m not a huge fan of all the bands they feature.

D: Do you know anything about Lookout’s current state? Will they ever release another album or are they strictly a back catalog?

L: I know they owe a lot of money to a lot of people and don’t seem to be making any progress – or maybe even any attempt – to pay it back. Until they do, it’s hard to imagine them starting to release new records again. It seems like if they did, all their creditors would immediately go after them for a share of the proceeds.

D: You recently did some shows with your old band, the Potatomen. Do you still write songs, and would you record new material with them or other projects?

L: Just the one show so far, though I’d like to do a few more. I really enjoyed it, and it seemed like the crowd did, too. As for writing new songs, well, believe it or not, I’ve been working on the same handful of songs that are almost but not quite finished since the Potatomen stopped playing regularly at the end of the 90s. Seriously; some of them are only missing a few lines out of the lyrics, and I’ve been kicking them around in my head for 10 years or more. However, on the plus side, I’ve lately been playing a lot more guitar and I’ve filled in a few of the blanks. I actually think most of the incomplete songs will be finished this spring and I can finally start on some new ones. Also, we played one song (“Toytown”) at our New York show that had never been released before, and we’ve got a couple others that have not only never been released but have never been played live, though we did demos of them. As soon as someone offers us a show, preferably on the West Coast, especially at Gilman, we’ll be there.

D: As one of the seemingly few people in the their 60s still going to shows, how many people within the punk scene who are now in their teens, 20s, or 30s do you think will stay involved as they reach middle age and beyond?

L: That does seem a little weird when you put it that way, “in their 60s,” but yeah, it’s true. You know, I don’t think it’s fair to measure people’s involvement by a single standard. For example, one reason I’m free to go to a lot of shows, even when it involves traveling some distance, is that I never married or had a family. Obviously things would be different if I had a wife and/or kids waiting at home for me, or if I had some sort of job where I had to be there every day for 50 weeks out of the year. The fact that for the majority of people, that’s what reality looks like doesn’t mean they’ve necessarily lost interest in punk rock music or the punk rock scene, it just means that new priorities have developed in their lives. I don’t think anyone would seriously suggest that a man or woman of any age should neglect their family responsibilities or their personal lives in order to maintain a presence on some nebulous sort of “scene.”

At the same time, I definitely miss seeing many of the people who are no longer able to come out to shows on weeknights or have to visit the in-laws or take the kids to their school play on weekends, but hey, life goes on. Maybe they’ll be back when the kids are grown up, maybe I won’t be around anymore by the time they do. Being part of “the scene” is not like joining the army or a religious cult; it’s something you do because it brings satisfaction and excitement into your life. Most people, given the normal course of events, will eventually find other, non-music-related things that will bring similar or even greater satisfaction and excitement into their lives. But if and when the music is outstanding enough, I expect they’ll still be around. It’s important to remember that they don’t owe their lives to music or “the scene” any more than music or the scene owes any responsibility to them.

D: Something that I’ve noticed about you is that you champion having a sober lifestyle. In some of your writings you describe your earlier lifestyle as seemingly one of heavy psychedelic use, like the piece about going to the original Woodstock Festival. And in Ben Weasel's book, to me he made you out to be a pothead. If it’s not too personal, I was wondering if you could talk about your sobriety and what brought it on.

L: A couple of corrections: first off, I don’t “champion” any sort of lifestyle. Second, I’d like to think of myself as having a life, not a style.

It’s true that I do talk about my experiences with drugs and alcohol, and about the fact that I no longer use either, but not because I’m promoting some kind of program of abstinence for others. My only reasons for talking about this are a) people often ask me questions about my life and seem genuinely curious about it; and b) there’s always the possibility that some of my experiences will be useful to someone who is going through some of the same problems I did.

That being said, I did use a lot of drugs when I was younger, and not just psychedelics or pot, either. It’s worth noting, though, that by the time Ben Weasel met me, I had long since given up psychedelics and all but given up pot. If indeed he was making me out to be a pothead in his book, I’d have to guess it was because he didn’t have that much firsthand experience with real potheads and just assumed that marijuana was the explanation for my seeming a little unusual to him (trust me, there are a lot of reasons why that would be, and one of them was simply that even normal Californians seemed a little weird to people who grew up in the Midwest, and I was definitely not a normal Californian).

In my own case – and this is just speaking for me, not for anyone else – the drugs kind of wore out their welcome on their own, and eventually they were messing up my life more than they were enhancing it, so I gradually quit them – though not without doing a lot of damage first. But with booze it was different: I started out drinking heavily when I was a teenager, tapered off a bit when I discovered drugs, then returned to drinking, and even though by the time I was in my 20s I realized there was nothing particularly cool or desirable about alcohol, I kept on drinking, long after I could see that it was doing serious damage to me.

So I didn’t quit drinking because of some moral crusade or because I thought it was what people “should” do, but because I had to. It was literally killing me. I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t stopped drinking when I did (2001). Now the thing is that among my friends, there are almost certainly people who are having the kinds of problems with alcohol that I was having. But at the same time, there are many people who drink, maybe even get drunk once in a while, but don’t have those problems. Drinking is just something they do now and then, that they can take or leave whenever they want.

The trouble is that I have no way of knowing for sure which is which, which friend desperately needs to stop drinking or else will die, and which friend can go on drinking the rest of his or her life without anything especially bad ever happening.

So I’m in no position to preach or to tell people what they should do. If they want my advice, they can ask for it. Otherwise, I’m just talking about my own experience, strength and hope, and they’re welcome to take from it anything they find useful and to ignore the rest. As I’ve said elsewhere, my life is great now and I’m happy to be a non-drinking, non-drugging writer, musician and occasional punk rocker. I don’t advocate any of that as a life or a lifestyle for anyone else, but it works for me.