Friday, September 23, 2011

Interview with Maureen Herman, July, 1993

Interview with Maureen Herman, bassist for Babes in Toyland. Interview takes place at Maureen’s apartment on July 27, 1993

(M)aureen:    From Lollapalooza I walked home with $250. That’s what I made.
Matt (Mt):     Total? For six weeks?
M:          Yea. Four weeks actually. There is that idea of people going “Oh, you’re on Lollapalooza. You’re selling out.” I just want to choke them. If they only knew how it was.
Mt:         Why is it such a small amount of money?
M:          There’s a lot of reasons. But mainly we got screwed over in a lot of ways which seems to happen to us a lot. I don’t know why. We weren’t asked to do the whole tour, we were only asked to do half of it. The guy that kind of runs Lollapalooza is the guy who manages the band that replaced us.
Mt:         Tool.
M:          Yea.
Mt:         They were on the second stage before, weren’t they?
M:          Yea. So we didn’t make very much money. Our guarantee was only, like, $2,400 a show. And then they took the money out of t-shirts. They get a lot of our t-shirt money. It’s just a rip-off. These kids are paying $35 a head, and we see very little of that.
Mt:         So you get $2,400 a show, but you only came out with $250.
M:          Right. Because we got a tour bus to pay for. It’s the first time we’ve had a tour bus and the last. Because we want to go back to vans. It’s so stupid.
Mt:         That’s a thing that a lot of bands say, “We’re never gonna get a tour bus.” Is that a sign of. .
M:           It’s not a sign. It can be really good. For us it kind of made sense because we were doing so many overnight drives. We couldn’t really afford to have hotels and stuff anyway. It kind of made sense. But at the same time it was like. . .Just the overhead of having crew, you gotta pay the crew. They get paid even if you don’t make money, you gotta pay your crew.
Mt:         Each band has their own crew?
M:          Yea. Usually you have a t-shirt guy and a sound man and a tour manager. You gotta pay them. You gotta pay for all the expenses of being on tour. It just doesn’t add up.
Mt:         You only made, like, ten or. . .How many shows did you play?
M:         We played four week’s worth of shows.
Mt:         So you made like $10 a show.
M:         Yea. Basically. When people tell me I sold-out I get really mad.
Mt:        But as far as the long term, was it a good thing for the band? As far as the publicity of being on Lollapalooza. It’s almost more of a mainstream audience.
M:          Yea it was. The good thing about it was when I’d walk out in the village and stuff people would say, “I’ve never even heard of you guys but now I’ll buy your CD.” That was cool. So maybe in the long run. . .it’s a way. . .you know, we paid our dues. .now they’ll look for us now, or something. We’ve got a wider audience or something. Which is good. I guess that’s the purpose of it. It’s just hard when you come home and you’ve got bills to pay.
Mt:         Did you guys make money off of Fontanelle?
M:          No. We still haven’t got any money from Warner Bros. from that. The last time we got money was through. .. .we sold the rights to our t-shirts ‘cause we were really poor and we didn’t have any money. So they can be sold in stores and . . .and they gave us an advance and I still have $2,000 left of that. Doing ok, but nothing great.
Mt:         Are you recording a new album or anything? I know you came out with an EP.
M:         We did that EP thing which is kind of a, you know, Warner Bros. wanted us to do it.
Mt:         There’s nothing really new on it.
M:          There, like, two new songs, three new songs on it. But our touring schedule is really harsh right now. I’ll have a month off here and then we go to Europe and Australia and New Zealand and Japan and Brazil. Pretty much we’ll be on the road until December or so.
Mt:        And who decides the schedules?
M:         See, that’s weird. It sued to be when this whole Babes in Toyland thing used to be smaller, it was the band. And now it seems like you’re told what to do. And people decide your career for you.
Mt:         Who’s telling you what to do?
M:          Our manager and our A&R guy from Warner Bros. Kind of like, “Well this is what should be done and you need to record a record by this date. You should go here.” And it’s kind of like it gets out of control. It’s hard because now me and Kat and Lori all live in different cities and I’m the only one that lives in Chicago. Kat lives in Seattle and Lori lives in Minneapolis. So it’s like we’re not a band. I mean we are but it’s hard to . . .
Mt:         So the press says you’re from Minneapolis but. . .
M:          We’re not. We all lived there at one time.
Mt:         And you recorded your album there.
M:          No. Oh yea. It was done in Minneapolis. Yea.
              It is weird when sometimes. . .I think just lately I’ve started to get more assertive about it. When I first joined it was this big thing. I was coming from this band called Cherry Rodriguez, which is still a band in Chicago. And that was, I really liked that, and I was just thrust into this whole thing and, just last week our manager said, “Well, you guys are gonna go to Japan in about two weeks for this show and blah blah. . .and you’ll be there for eight days.” And I go, “Wait a minute. I need to be writing songs. I’m not going to Japan for eight days to be on some stupid TV. show I’ve never even heard of.”
Mt:         But you are?
M:          No, we’re not. This is the first time I’ve said “no” to something. And they were like, “Oh, yea. I guess you should be writing songs.” I’m like, “Duh.” He’s always wondering why we never have any new material, but they have us on the road all the time.
               It’s kind of. . .you gotta really. . .the reason we broke up last year was because it was getting too out of our hands. We needed to. . .
Mt:         I didn’t know you broke up.
M:          Yea. It was, like, for three days or something. But it got in the press and everything. It was kind of like that. It’s hard.
Mt:         How did you end up joining? Cuz you weren’t the original bassist.
M:          No. I’ve known Kat and Lori for years. I used to live in Minneapolis and I played in a band up there. Michelle quit because, partly because her old boyfriend got show. Joe Cool. Henry Rollin’s roommate. She was bummed about that and couldn’t really deal with touring. Plus she started when she was, like, seventeen and never really got to go to college or do anything she kind of wanted to.
              So she quit and Lori called me one day. I was working at Columbia College, and she goes, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “Nothin’.”
             “So you want to join the band?”
             And I’m like, “Yea, right.” I was just like, “Ha ha ha.” Later that night I’m like, “I wonder if she was serious?” And I called her back and Kat was on the other line saying, “How about Maureen?”
              It just kind of happened. I think it was more because we were good friends.
Mt:         So they didn’t go through the whole auditioning people thing?
M:          Umm Hmm. I went up there. I was the only person who auditioned. I went up there and after we played two songs they said, “Yea. You’re in.” It was kind of like. . .it was just one of those things.
Mt:         Was it awkward joining the band? I don’t know how much anybody knew who you were at that point. Were they well known?
M:          They hadn’t had a . . .it was right before we recorded Fontanelle. It was like, yea people knew who they were. . .It was strange at my first show. Somebody asked for my autograph and I thought that was strange. I was just like, “Wow!”
             It was strange. Yea. We were opening for Lush and stuff, so we were doing a bigger tour. It was interesting.
             I’d say after a year of doing this I got pretty anti-Warner Bros. and said a few things in the press and got them all pissed-off at me.
Mt:        What did you say?
M:          I just said that major labels are evil. (laughs) A few things happened that really made me made. The whole thing with Steve and Nirvana’s record. Our A&R guy defending Geffen for that.
Mt:         The new one?
M:          Yea. Nirvana recorded a record that they liked and gave it to Geffen to put out. And Geffen said, “No, it wasn’t good enough.”
             It’s like, “This is your top selling band. They’ve made you so much money. You have no right to say that.” And our A&R guy was like, “Well, you know, blah blah blah.”
Mt:         You said this in the press?
M:          Yea. Cuz I felt really strong about it. And I know Steve and I knew the situation well enough on both sides to be able to say something about it. Just to hear that sleazy, gross, way of. . .
              I just don’t like the way major labels kind of. . .they feel like they need to control you or that they can. That they’re on your side and they’re just trying to do the best thing for you; but they’re really just trying to make as much money as they possibly can.
Mt:         Some bands will say that they do real well. . .Steve Wynn was saying that he has a lot of creativity. . .
M:          You mean as far as being able to do whatever he wants?
Mt:          Right. As far as writing songs. . He describes it as two completely different processes. The process of recording an album and the process of promoting that album.
M:          Yea. Completely different.
Mt:         And as far as the recording goes, he has never had any trouble with major labels.
M:          They’ve never told us, “That song’s good and that song’s bad,” or whatever. It hasn’t happened yet, but I see that it easily could, very easily could.
Mt:         The Meat Puppets were telling me that they, they’re on London, and they were saying they were having all sorts of trouble with. . .they’ll send in a demo and the label will say, “There’s nothing we can play on the radio.” They won’t say, “Change your songs,” they’ll say, “Write new songs.”
              But they had problems with SST too. So I guess independent labels. . .
M:          I still think the only good label is Touch and Go. (laughs) They’re just real. . .They pay their bands. They don’t take a big cut out of. . .the bands are able to live. Most of the people I know that are on Touch and Go are able to make a living off of what they do. Not huge, but. . .I worked there for awhile so I know how it works, too.
Mt:         What about the thing with Urge Overkill?
M:          Oh, that’s Urge. That’s Nate. That’s just them getting press.
Mt:         So they’re doing that for press?
M:          Well, yea. I think they were shunned in Chicago for a few reasons that had nothing to do with music. I’ve known those guys for a long time, they fucked-up big time. I mean Cory did nothing but try to help those guys and those guys were really wanting to be big stars and they got to be. But they fucked Cory over by not doing their last record on their contract. They did this EP which was supposed to be an LP. Of course Cory said you owe me another record. And they got all made about it.
Mt:          What about a label like Dischord?
M:          Yea. They’re good. I don’t know enough about. . .I know that they’re politics are cool. I don’t know how they treat their bands.
Mt:          It seems that at this point anyway, other than Touch and Go and Dischord, there’s really not much of a difference from being on an independent or a major label. Is there?
M:          No. Twin Tone is bad. AmRep is okay.
Mt:        Are they completely independent labels?
M:          Yea. I think some small labels work like major labels. Yea. I see that happening. You gotta go by each one.
Mt:         As far as the selling out, or not selling out, as having some kind of authenticity. It seems that a lot of bands. . .or especially since the Nirvana thing broke. . .to be on an independent is a sign of authenticity.
M:          Yea. Kind of. You can wear that on your sleeve too much. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.
             What was the question?
Mt:         It wasn’t really a question other than. . Why would at this point in history, why would a band, if they had the choice between a major label and an independent, why would they choose either one?
M:          It’s hard. The toss up is, the problem always is, you go through an independent and you’re probably gonna get more of your money that you earned. But you’re not gonna get the distribution capability that a major label has. So it’s gonna be harder for people to hear your music. You could probably make a living off of it, but it’s gonna be a real slow climb. Whereas if you get on a major label, maybe you’ll get a faster climb but maybe you’ll burn out faster. And maybe you won’t make money.
             It’s a hard toss-up. You really have to. . .so many people that the first label that asks them if they want to be on the label, they jump at that. And it’s really a mistake because there are plenty of bad labels.
Mt:        But at the same time they’ll often say that. . .people that are in small bands have no illusions about how long rock bands last. And they often think that, “Even if. . . whether we’re on an independent or a major we may only get to make one or two records anyway before our time is up. So we might as well get on a major that will distribute us largely.
M:           And that’s clear thinking. As long as you still have control, it’s good. It’s really a toss-up. If we were still on Twin Tone we’d be really screwed right now. It’s better that we’re on Warner Bros., but there are still a lot of things I don’t like about it.
Mt:          How would you be screwed on Twin Tone?
M:          Cuz they were more. . .because they were small they could kind of get away with it, you know, not paying us. Because, “Oh, we don’t have any money right now. Yea, those records were sold, and these are your royalties, but we don’t have the money. You guys understand, don’t you? We’re all pals.”
Mt:         That happens a lot?
M:          That did happen. They still owe Kat and Lori quite a bit of money.
              So that sort of thing you can really get screwed over with, cuz some independent labels are very shaky. For Babes in Toyland it was a matter of survival to jump to a major. It can only be better because. . .
Mt:         Were they on a major label when you joined the band? Were they already signed?
M:          Yea. They had signed but hadn’t done a record yet.
Mt:         Was there more than one label that wanted them?
M:          No. I think Warner was the first one. But they signed them a long time ago. Pre-Nirvana and all that. It just took a long time for them to get the record going.
Mt:         Is that a pain, after the Nirvana thing, all the bands. . .
M:          Oh yea. In all the interview they were like, “So did you guys just get signed because of Nirvana?” And it was just like [she makes a strangle the interviewer gesture and sound]! That got kind of old after awhile. You sort of get lumped in with that, and that’s alright. We kind of happened to be around the same time.
Mt:         At the same time it helped a lot of bands as far as getting noticed.
M:          That’s the thing. It takes. . .the weird thing about selling out is, like, you’re in a band cuz you want people to hear you. So wouldn’t you want as many people as possible to hear it? What if Nirvana was still on SubPop and we didn’t come after Nirvana? They were just kind of. . .It’s better that all these people are listening to Nirvana, like their ears are getting tuned to a different kind of sound in rock and listening to other bands like that. Which is good! Jesus Lizard just opened for Nirvana in New York. And it’s like all these people who never would have even thought about listening to Jesus Lizard saw them and they’re a good band. So it’s good.
Mt:         They’re one of the biggest selling independent bands. . .
M:          For Touch and go. I don’t know about of all time.
Mt:         I don’t know about of all time, either. But right now.
M:          Right now they’re doing pretty well, yea.
Mt:         Bands like Bad Religion and. . .
M:          It’s interesting that. . I go out with David from Jesus Lizard, and it’s really interesting to see how our career go. . .
Mt:         I interviewed Duane.
M:          Duane’s cool. So I get to see how it works. We have parallel kinds of . . .he makes a lot more money than I do.
Mt:         Because of being on Touch and Go?
M:          Yea. Specifically because. . .I think that if they were on another independent label they probably wouldn’t. . .
Mt:         They’re pretty adamant about not going. . .
M:          They will never sign because they’re doing so well. They’re doing fine. Why would they change that? David looks at me and say, “Why would I want to be in your shoes and coming home with $200 when I can come home with $2,000?”
Mt:         Are they gonna put out a new album soon?
M:          They just put, like, I think it was three singles, six songs. . .they should be putting out another record after their European tour. But it won’t be out for probably awhile, a few months.
Mt:         Do they get good crowds in Europe? Some bands do really well in Europe and. . .
M:          That’s interesting too. We do really well in Europe, and they don’t do as well. We don’t do very well in the States, and they do really well in the States. I don’t know if that’s just Touch and go or what. We’re on the same label in Europe.
Mt:         What label is that?
M:          Southern. It’s an independent label.
Mt:         So Warner doesn’t do anything with you in Europe?
M:          There’s a Warner in Europe, but. . .it’s weird. I didn’t understand it at first. I just assumed you’re on Warner.
              When you’re on an independent label, their jurisdiction only goes so far, so we had to have a label for our records to even be put out in England. We still had a contract with them when we signed with Warner. But because the people in England were doing such a great job, we didn’t want to lose them. They got us to be really big over there.
Mt:         So legally it’s a completely different ballgame. Is each country different?
M:          Southern has got us for all of Europe. They put out Jesus Lizard, they pretty much put out all the Touch and go stuff, too. Touch and go can’t put out records in Europe. They do it through Southern. It’s the same record, but the label is different.
              It’s weird. I don’t understand it.
Mt:         Does that bother you that you don’t understand that part?
M:          Yea. There’s a lot of stuff that I still don’t. . .There’s these contracts that need signing and I just go [makes a sound and gesture as if she’s not even reading the contract]. I’ve probably just signed my life away.
              Everything happens real fast. Especially me coming into it like I did. It’s just like, “Ok. Ok.” And now I’m just starting to get like, “No. Fuck you.” It’s hard, cuz I feel like I’m going against the grain. I’m just trying to protect myself. Cuz people just assume you’re just like “Oh, ho hum, I’m in a rock band. Blah blah blah.”
Mt:         Are you the only one in the band that’s like that?
M:          Lori. . .Kat gets coddled by the industry, and our A&R guy especially. Cuz she’s the singer and the star or whatever. She really doesn’t see it and they want to keep it that way. It pisses me and Lori of to no end, but. . .
Mt:         Do you tell her?
M:          Yea. I’ve talked to Kat about it. I gave her this book, Hit Men that I’ve been reading. I just said, “Read this.” Just so that she’d kind of understand what we’re talking about.
              She has a drug problem. And instead of being concerned about it, the label kind of like, “Oh, that’s okay honey. If you want to turn blue at Lollapalooza. . .you know, it was just one time.” Me and Lori are like, “Is our friend gonna die?” They don’t care. In their mind. . .
              I got in a big fight with our A&R guy over this. In their mind it’s like, “It’s her pain that’s making her creative. Blah blah blah.” I knew Kat when she was living in Minneapolis and she was clean and she was writing songs up the ass. So that’s bullshit.
Mt:         It’s an interesting. . .I guess it’s a myth, going back to jazz time, that some musicians wrote some wonderful music while on heroin.
M:          But what could they have written if they weren’t fucked-up? That’s what I always say. Our A&R guy gives her books on Billie Holiday and John Belushi and. . .I just want to throw-up! She buys it because she’s getting attention.
Mt:         So you think they’re almost consciously promoting her drug habit?
M:          In the way that record labels, just like, “Hey, I’m cool with it. You’re cool. It’s fine.” They just look the other way.
              I got yelled at by our A&R guy for writing a Kat a letter. . .Lori was just about to quit the band. They weren’t even speaking. I said, “Kat, I really care about you.” It was a really nice letter. I just said, “We need to talk about this. It’s getting real bad.” So Tim Carr caught wind of it and called me up and said, “You’re not supposed to even talk to anybody about their drug problems until they’ve bottomed out.”
              And I’m like, “Isn’t ODing bottoming out?” I mean, what did he mean? I was so mad. I didn’t talk to him for months.
Mt:         What does she say?
M:          Kat was like, glad we said something cuz at was something that nobody had talked about. It was nice to get it out in the open. She said, “You know, I’m gonna stop doing it for awhile.” She is better but she’s still doing it. And at Lollapalooza it got bad for a little while. We had another talk and stuff. It was good at Lollapalooza ‘cuz Tim Carr was around when that happened and he finally saw how devastating it is to everybody. He just thought it was. . .
Mt:         She ODed on the tour?
M:          She ODed. She turned blue. Everybody knew. It was really bad. And he. . .he. . .it hit home. “Oh, I guess she might die.”
             Which is something they don’t’ think. . .It’s just units. Push those units. He was probably thinking, “Oh, maybe this would make good press.” Who knows?
              It’s a weird business cuz I thought he cared about her and the band. That was my first impression. Then as time went on I was like, “Oh.”
Mt:         Do many of these people have much history in the music business? From reading Hitmen it seems that most of them are just businessmen.
M:          Well, Tim Carr does have a. . .He’s always been in the industry and likes music and stuff. It’s like there’s this link missing from their brain. They don’t really. . .some are after their own glory. They attach themselves to a band as an A&R person, or manager or something, and they’ll do anything to make a band famous. No matter what it does to the people in the band. Cuz it makes them look good, “Oh yea, I signed that band.” Like he signed the Beastie Boys and the B-52 and he wears that like a . .
Mt:         badge.
M:         Yea.
Mt:         I guess you could if that was your business.
M:          That’s cool, but thee something about it that’s just like. ..
Mt:          Is heroin still really prevalent in rock?
M:          Yea. In some places it’s worst than others. It’s weird, like on Lollapalooza there were only a couple of people that were into it. The one thing I love about Chicago is that it’s not a heroin city. There’s Al Jourgenson, but he’s like so separate from everybody that he doesn’t. . .
Mt:         Does he even live here anymore?
M:          I think he moved to Texas. In Minneapolis it’s quite bad.
Mt:         Among the whole population or just rock bands?
M:          Pretty much just the music scene.
Mt:         Do you think it starts at a certain level? Most of the bands I interview, they drink a lot. It seems that heroin would be something where you have to come in contact with the heroin crowd.
M:          I wonder if it has something to do with Steve. . .People kind of take after their idols in the music scene. Whoever they think is cool. In Minneapolis it was Run Westy Run, Husker Du, and they all did heroin. And it trickled down to the other bands and the smaller bands and their friends. Soon everybody that I knew was doing dope. And I was just like, “Gross.” So I moved to Chicago. Maybe it like somebody who’s famous, people admire, is completely sober. People still drink, but. .. It’s not looked at as cool because the bands that people like don’t do that.
Mt:         Almost part of the lifestyle. I imagine it’s grueling to tour. . .
M:          Yea, it is.
Mt:         To wake up every day, maybe heroin helps wake you up, I don’t know.
M:          It’s more of a downer. Well, you know what it does. . .Kat is a very high strung person, she could probably be on a prescription tranquilizer; be eligible for that. And all the craziness of touring and. . .for her it’s like a [makes a relaxing sound and motion], “Now everything is fine. Nothing matters.” Whereas I’ll just have a shot of Cuervo and I’ll be fine. Everybody has their drug I guess.
Mt:         This one band I interviewed, Paw. . .The first time I interviewed the drummer, Peter, they had just signed and they hadn’t recorded or anything. And now they’ve put out an album, they went to Europe, they toured Europe, and they come back here and they’ve just been touring back and forth. And I interviewed him just a month ago and he was just exhausted, completely. He’s a serious alcoholic, I think.
M:          I had a problem with that. I was just like. . .cuz you’re in a bar every night. Every night you’re in a bar and there’s a big case of beer just waiting for you. And it’s so easy, just like, “Oh, yea. Cool.” So on the last tour I had tequila taken off of the rider and I just, you know, I could only drink after it got dark. It was sort of a rule to keep myself. . . cuz it’s really easy to turn into any kind of addict on tour, cuz it’s like, everything is changing so much. There’s no stable thing at all. That’s why it’s so good to be home. Wake up and be in your own bed. The world is set-up for that. It’s very hard to not do that. Everybody is like, “come on! Let’s get drunk! Let’s get fucked up! Let’s do some drugs!”
Mt:         You’d think that maybe younger bands, if they had any ambitions of hanging around for awhile, they would look to some of the older bands. . . Rolling Stones, Aerosmith. . .that have been around for awhile. To be around they had to quit. The Grateful Dead, other than Jerry Garcia, they all exercise and jog.
M:           It’s just like any other job. It’s like going to work fucked-up every day. You can’t do it. You’re gonna lose your job.
Mt:         What about being a woman in rock? Not like the basic press questions about how cool it is that you’re an “all chick rock band,” but your experiences of being, I imagine ninety-percent of the people you deal with are men.
M:           Yea. You get a little bit. . .It was weird being on Lollapalooza where there was us three and our tour manager were the only women on the entire tour, of about 300 people, 200 people.
Mt:         What about Arrested Development.
M:          Oh, sorry. Those two. Those guys never hung out.
Mt:         Do you think that has something to do with their being black on an all-white tour?
M:          Well, no, Fishbone. ..
Mt:         Fishbone was there?
M:          Fishbone hung out a lot. They’re really cool. I liked them a lot. I hadn’t seen them before. I’ve heard of them and heard them, but I really started to like them. The one guy, Cris, is kind of an asshole. I don’t know why but the first few dates of the tour he would come into our dressing room, and it was just really weird. I don’t understand it. He’d just fuck with us for being white and being women. He’d just. . .I think it was that none of us wanted to fuck hum, so he was being mean. He would just come in and say stuff, “You don’t want to talk to me cuz I’m not white. Blah blah blah.”
Mt:        Was he real explicit about trying to hit on you?
M:         He was kind of trying to hit on Kat and Lori and he was trying. . .and then when they didn’t want to it was cuz he was black. If he knew, if he came to my neighborhood he’d probably be surprised. He hassled us a little bit about that. Towards the end of the tour he started to figure it out, that we weren’t assholes.
              So we got that a little bit. You get the crew patting you on the ass once in awhile. “Hey!” that’s annoying but it’s not that big of a deal.
Mt:         Do you ever tell them to “fuck off!”
M:          It’s so hard. It’s like if you’re on the street or something, except that these people are traveling with you. You don’t want to get in a fight with anybody, but at the same time it’s like, “Don’t!”
              I kind of found myself hanging out with our soundman, who is a guy, a lot because. . . just to kind of keep a barrier between me and all these guys that were like, “Hey, Maureen. . .” I feel stupid even talking about it.
Mt:         Why do you feel stupid talking about it?
M:           It just seems like I’m saying, “Oh, all these men wanted me.” It wasn’t like that. It was like they were on tour and didn’t see any women. So they focused on us. It felt kind of weird. But I always kind of had Ray by me. Maybe people thought we were going out, but we weren’t.
Mt:         Did it work?
M:          Yea. [laughs] Yea, it did. And it was good. Actually the call that I just got, there are rumors flying around that me and Ray were loves and it’s getting back to my boyfriend and I need to talk to Ray about it. Because I did that. It’s really stupid. But, you know, stuff like that. It got to the point where, to just be alone I had to be with him. And now it’s getting back to my boyfriend.
Mt:         But as far as he being in the industry, he’ll probably understand.
M:          David will understand.
               I guess mostly with the being a woman in a rock band thing, I find it manifests itself more in the press than anyplace else. The people at the record label, actually a lot of them are women. Which is cool.
Mt:         A lot of the business people are women. I interviewed Nan Warshaw, and she managed Pop Defect and she says that most of the men are comfortable with women arranging their schedules; with them being in the business. It’s the traditional role of the woman.
M:          It’s like having a personal secretary. There’s all these women, “Oh, I’ll take care of you guys.” The manager for Dinosaur Jr., Gabrielle, was a woman.
Mt:         And the manager of Urge Overkill.
M:          Beth. Beth is Ed’s girlfriend.
              It’s mostly in the press that I find it. The way articles are written, the way you’re interviewed. I’ll listen to a Jesus Lizard interview and they ask them about their music. And then when they talk to us they talk about our clothes and what our parents think of us being in a rock band with girls. I understand there’s, like, the novelty aspect of it, but then again we’ve been playing for six year and there’s other bands with women in them.
Mt:         There’s always the cycle of groups of women bands coming up at the same time. I the late-70s and now the Riot Grrrl. . .
M:          Well, the Riot Grrrl thing is our latest pet peeve. Cuz it’s something that we don’t have anything to do with.
Mt:         Yet the press has been lumping all female bands in. . .
M:          Totally. If one more person says “Riot Grrrl” to me I’m gonna fuckin’ kill them! That’s something that some girls from some college, I don’t even know where that started. . .start some fanzines or bands, or whatever. That’s fine and good, but we’re a not very political band, never really have been. We have feelings about politics, but it’s not something like, “Fuck men!” We’re just not like that.
Mt:         Fontanelle is a pretty damn angry album.
M:         Well, Kat has a lot to be angry about. She’s a pretty intense person. A lot of the songs are written about women. A lot of those are about fucked-up friendships.
              That’s another misconception. Somebody, this asshole from Melody Maker, was interviewing us and he goes, “I can’t believe you called another girl a cunt in your song. That’s so anti-feminist.” It’s like, “What!?” It just summed up that attitude that we’re supposed to be some kind of role model for women and so we have no right to call another woman a cunt even though this girl totally screwed Kat over. This is her personal song. She can say whatever she wants. She shouldn’t be thinking about any kind of thing like that. “Oh, is this gonna look right in the scheme of politics today?”
              So you get this role model shit like you’re supposed to lead the way. It’s like we don’t want it. We never asked for it and we certainly don’t act like role models. We’re not. We’re just normal people. . .not really normal, but kind of fucked-up people.
Mt:          Do you ever consciously think about being anti-role models?
M:           A little bit. Maybe more in interviews than in real life. If anybody starts to ask us about politics and feminism and all that shit, it’s just like we’ll say something like, “I think feminists are stupid,” which is not something we actually think, but it’s just a way to counter the other press. Maybe it will even out somewhere. It’s driven me to say things that I don’t think are true.
Mt:         Do you feel any kind of affinity with other girl groups that you’re lumped together with; L7 or. . .
M:          It’s funny. The affinity comes from. . .Kat and Jennifer from L7 are old friends. The affinity I feel, we all feel, is from the hatred of us being lumped together in the press. We all feel that way. And it’s really annoying to all of us. And none of us ever talk bad about. . .Kat and Courtney have had their. . .but that’s separate. I don’t say, “Oh, L7 sucks!” or anything. I always try to talk about them in a good way. They’re always trying to make us be competitors.
Mt:         And I imagine they don’t try and get you to talk about each other’s music. . . “There’s this other girl that you’re competing against.”
M:          They kind of do. I don’t know. They talk about other bands when they’re interviewing you. They don’t go up to Jesus Lizard and say, “So, Helmet has four guys in their band.” Their music is different. L7 is more like a heavy metal whatever. Which is great and fine, but it’s not something you would really compare to us: Kat screaming, Lori’s tribal drums. It’s just different music and it’s annoying that they pay so little attention to the music.
Mt:         At the same time do you feel confident that your album sells because of the music rather than somebody saying, “There’s this girl group out there”?
M:          I know we have a fan base from before that still likes us. We still get fan letters and stuff, and I get to read those. It’s good that that’s true. Some people might buy our records cuz they saw us at Lollapalooza. It’s hard to know why people buy records. We haven’t sold that many.
Mt:         How old are you?
M:          Twenty-seven two days ago.
Mt:         I’m beating this to death, but do you feel that you were treated differently because you were women on the tour? You’re talking about how they coddle her because of her drug problem, is it only because of that or do you think they coddle male drug addicts the same way?
M:          I’ve seen that in other bands. They do it with Lane from Alice in Chains. He’s got his own tour bus. He has drug problems. Instead of putting him in treatment he has a body guard that makes sure he doesn’t die. I had a talk with him, his body guard. He doesn’t even like what he’s doing. He just feels so sorry for the guy and he has to be around him all the time and watch him fuck himself up.
              One thing that’s pretty valid as far as being treated different on the tour was this whole Lollapalooza thing was being asked to only do half of it. Why us? We got pretty made about that. This was the first time it’s been an all female band on any Lollapalooza and we only got half the tour. It looked pretty bad on them.
Mt:         At the same time they take a lot of shit for not having a very diverse line-up. But they keep doing it.
M:          But they keep doing it. Why didn’t they take Front 242 off, who everybody hated? People would boo them and shit. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon and they had smoke machines and techno music. It just didn’t work. Front 242 didn’t want to do the rest of the tour. They kept asking us, “do you guys want to take our place?” And we’re like, “Yea.” But they couldn’t. Lollapalooza would not let them out of their contract.
              Dinosaur Jr. Wanted us to take their spot. They didn’t want to do the rest of the tour.
Mt:         Why didn’t they want to do it?
M:          They just don’t like touring. They’re a bunch of depressive people.
Mt:         They look just like burnouts from my high school. Smoking pot. . .
M:          They’re cool. J doesn’t drink beer or smoke pot or do anything. Mike drinks beer. And Rick doesn’t drink. J’s parents died.
Mt:         So you wanted to do the rest of the tour?
M:          Yea. But it wasn’t allowed. That was kind of fucked. It’s like, “Why us?” We were supposed to go on third and we got bumped to second.
Mt:         Who took your place?
M:           Front 242.
Mt:         And they always have their token rap band on there.
M:           I think they did a lot better as far as African-Americans this year. Cuz they didn’t just have a rap band. They had Rage Against the Machine, which is a pretty good rock band. And Fishbone and Arrested Development. That’s pretty good. So at least they’re doing better in that.
Mt:         But the headliners, Alice in Chains and Primus. . .
M:          Yea. Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr., and Primus are all white guys.
              Alice in Chains were. . .I don’t like them.
Mt:         As far as their music, or as people?
M:          Both. Lane is a good guy. He’s really fucked-up. I feel sorry for him, he’s a good person. Those other guys are real heavy metal, struttin’ around, tight pants, long hair. When they play, this one guy, he would be really flinging his hair and doing all these cliché moves like heavy metal groups. [She gets up off of the couch to show me his cliché heavy metal moves.] And I was like, “Oh God!” Some of their songs are okay, but it’s just not my cup of tea.
Mt:         In their interviews they’re always, as opposed to their music, like, “Let’s go get fucked-up!”
              I just can’t stand Primus.
M:          I saw them a couple of times. They’re funny to watch on stage cuz they’re really animated, they put on a good stage show, but their songs never quite get anywhere; no harmony or melody, just weird grooves.
Mt:         Did people like Fishbone?
M:          People did like them. Angelo is a great front man cuz he jumps out into the crowd.
Mt:         They played a midnight show here on the Saturday of Lollapalooza at the Cro-bar.
M:          Oh yea. We were supposed to go to that but I had a 4th of July party to go to. They’re good people mostly. [laughs] I think we changed Cris.
Mt:         The Reading Festival is almost just Lollapalooza in England, isn’t it?
M:          It’s weird. . .
Mt:         It’s all the same bands.
M:          One day is. It’s cool cuz. . .
Mt:         So it’s a number of days?
M:          It’s three days. The first day is, like, us, Butthole Surfers, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, and somebody else. It was funny because Tool, the guitar player in Tool, the guitar player in Rage, and me all went to high school together in Libertyville. We thought that we weird that we were all on Lollapalooza and now we’re all playing the same day at Reading.
Mt:         I like Rage Against the Machine. I think their album is great.
M:          I do to. They’re great people and good musicians.
Mt:         It’s interesting cuz Fishbone has been around for a long time. They’ve been around for longer than any band. . .at least 10 or 11 years.
I went and saw the Butthole Surfers for the first time a couple weeks ago. I thought it was horrible. All my friends told me that it was going to change my life.
M:          I used to like them when they still had Theresa. They were still on Touch and Go. That’s when they were really fun and cool. Now that they’re on a major label. . .see, I’m doing the same thing.
Mt:        What are you doing?
M:          I’m like, “Oh, they sold out!” [laughs]
Mt:         I thought their last album was really boring.
M:          I guess just going by their music their last album was not that great.
Mt:         There was nothing challenging about it. Their show was at the Aragon.
              Do you guys write songs together?
M:          We write the songs. . .the way it works now with us living in separate places; we all kind of come up with stuff and then we work on it when we get together. It’s more like separate songs from different people, but still everybody writes music. If I’d ever get my amp back from Lollapalooza I could be playing.
Mt:         Do you play your piano?
M:          Yea.
Mt:         When did you start being a musician?
M:          I took piano lessons when I was little but I wouldn’t say that’s how I started. I know how to read the notes on the piano. . .I only got to the second. . .my brother was in a rock band. He taught me how to play “Smoke on the Water” on the bass when I was 12.
              I never really thought about it much and then I moved to Minneapolis to go to school and I started going out with this guy, Shannon, who’s in the cows. It was just like I was introduced to this whole underground thing I’ve never heard. . .I mean, I knew it was around. But it was cool cuz there were bands like Babes in Toyland, I saw their first show ever. I knew Kat before she was in the band. She was like, “We’re gonna have a show, you should come.” And at one time I was gonna join the band, way early, and then I didn’t’.
              It was this whole world of. . .when I broke up with Shannon I was just. . .part of me wanted to still be a part of that scene somehow. My roommate had a guitar and he went on a trip and said, “here.” So I just started playing it. My friend showed me a couple Butthole Surfers’ songs and I started playing that. And then Grant Hart, from Husker Du, gave me this old flowered drum set that he had. He was like, “Here, you can have it. I have sixteen at home.” I put it down in the basement with my guitar. Then my brother got his fingers smashed and he gave me his bass. And so all of a sudden I had all these instruments. So I started playing drums. They were my first instrument really. I played in a band, played drums in a band and then turned to bass.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Interview with Chuck Dukowski, August, 2011

Interview with Chuck Dukowski
Chuck Dukowski Sextet
Black Flag
Co-founder of SST Records

Chuck Called Me on
August 12, 2011

Transcribed by William Jergins

Matt- So Chuck, if you could tell me a little bit about your role in the creation of SST Records.

Chuck- SST Records was an outgrowth of Black Flag and SST Electronics. When Black Flag recorded its first EP. . .We thought we would have a label to release it. We thought Bomp! Records would want to put it out, but there was some break down in that. They had money problems and they couldn’t do it. So coming out of the meeting where we were told that there wasn’t money for it, Greg and I talked about it on the way home, and decided to release it through SST Records.

M- Which wasn’t a record company yet, right?

C- No. We decided to self release it, and SST was a convenient thing because Greg was running an electronics company and had a secretary, and letter head, and bank accounts, and things like that. It provided an easy way to pile on the resources that were already there. We could use the same name even, and that way when the secretary answered the phone and said “SST” it wasn’t a problem. And so a little time when on and then Greg said, “Ok. You should be a partner in this, and let’s be formal about it.” And then we did. And then shortly thereafter we did The Minutemen record.

M- So you had already recorded the first Black Flag EP is that right?

C- That’s correct.

M- And you were just shopping it around?

C- Well, I don’t know shopping it around. We took it to one label.

M- Were guys aware of whole punk rock do it yourself? Had that term even come to be yet?

C- I don’t know if the phrase existed like that, but yeah of course. It was what was going on.

M- And so your role was what? You are often cited as a co-founder of SST. Did you have specific tasks at the time?

C- I did everything.

M- And everybody did everything?

C- Well in the early days there were two everybodies, and Greg was pretty preoccupied with running his electronics company.

M- So then Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, and Black Flag, those are the first three? Is that right?

C- And be in sequence, hmm. You can look at the numbers on the records. I think that tells the story. But definitely the first one up was Minutemen’s Paranoid Time.

M- And then fairly quickly after we get to Meat Puppets, right?

C- That’s a few years later. Might not be years, but it’s a while later. We had already moved to Hollywood before we hooked up with the Meat Puppets, or even met or knew anything about them.
M- How did you did hook up with Meat Puppets?

C- The way that the sequence worked is that we did Black Flag and the Minutemen and Saccharine Trust and then, I believe, right in the same time period the first Minutemen album and also recorded the Stains album in that same time, right before we got kicked out of our place in Torrance. Then we moved to our place in Hollywood, and uhm, because we had been run out of there, out of Torrance, and we brought Carducci, and in that same time we became aware of the Meat Puppets.

M- And how do you remember that happening?

C- I remember seeing them. Carducci was a big fan. And I remember seeing them at The Whiskey in L.A., and hearing their record; they had a single. I don’t remember exactly the sequence of events there but, saw them at The Whiskey, played a show with them in Riverside or Pomona, and hooked up with them again somewhere in that same time period out in Arizona when we were playing a show in a boxing ring. And uhm, just liked them. They were pretty radical in their way. They were very radical in their way, really. So we recorded them at Unicorn’s studio where Damaged was recorded, right after Damaged.

M- Is it possible to expand on what you mean by they were radical in their way?

C- Well they’re, they’re, I mean listen to their record. They’re extreme. They combine a balls-out energy, real extreme energy, with a looseness, a loose interpretation of structure, and the execution being spirit and energy first, form second. And so you listen to the words and don’t hear them, but you hear the emotion of what the words mean to Curt or Cris, whoever happens to be singing at the moment. But uh, on that first album, single, and the stuff on the “Hair,” on the Monitor, and on the Keats. Good luck trying to figure out what they were talking about.

M- Were other people, particularly in L.A. receptive to Meat Puppets?

C- I suppose I wasn’t super preoccupied with people being receptive to things. We had already been doing the Minutemen who, when they played with us at our first shows, were showered in spit the entire time they played. I think I enjoyed, personally, I enjoyed running a cross current.

M- Curt has said this before, and I’ve heard from other people that opened for Black Flag, that as time went on, Black Flag audiences didn’t enjoy the opening acts too much.

C- I don’t think that’s wholly true. I think a lot of people in those audiences really liked the groups and were really excited to be exposed to new and interesting things. We toured many, many, many, times with Saccharine Trust and it’s undeniable that they’re an extreme challenge to the typical hardcore sound. They’re really, really, different, yet they’re geniuses. Jack Brewer and Joe Baiza are both real geniuses, and still are. Their music was great then and it’s great now, and they did pretty well with us. They didn’t have troubles. And maybe sometimes it was challenging to people but ultimately the Black Flag audience, the large portion of it, came to appreciate what we were doing.

M- What are some things you remember of the making of the first Meat Puppets record? Were you in the studio at all?

C- Not so much. I dropped in on it but, uhm, trying to let the guys have some space, you know.

M- How did things work at SST? You paid for studio time?

C- We had a deal with Unicorn. Yes, we paid for studio time through that and recorded that first record there.

M- What can you remember about that time? Specifically about Meat Puppets?

C- Oh I don’t know. There they were. They were playing this, uhm, crazy loosey-goosey music. Screaming and yelling about it but not in a normal hardcore way. I thought it was fun. I enjoyed mimicking their vocal styles in radio interviews and stuff while I talked about them.

M- And they would stay at SST, wherever you were located at the time?

C- I guess they stayed at our place some. They also had other friends in L.A.

M- Moving on to Meat Puppets II. Many people, especially, you know, the critics, and the historians, and such, they mention quite a difference between these first two records: Meat Puppets and Meat Puppets II. Do you see that difference?

C- Well it seems like they relaxed for Meat Puppets II. If that makes any sense. It’s the same but they’ve relaxed and went ahead and let themselves be themselves, and you can hear some of the words which helps them get across. And the songs were executed a little slower most of the time. Because of that it’s less buzz and crazy rawness and more twisted soulful. The Hüskers, The Minutemen, and Meat Puppets all were transitioning around that time in kind of in the same direction. A relaxing of their sounds into letting their roots, their non-hardcore angle surface a little bit more. So in the Meat Puppets it comes out in a twisted kind of Neil Young-esque country influenced sound. And the Minutemen, they do it their way. Their record that was around at that time was the Buzz or Howl record. And then uh, the Hüskers came with Metal Circus around the same time. And then that direction manifests fully in all three groups. In Meat Puppets it’s Up On The Sun and with the Minutemen and Hüskers it’s their double albums. And, uh, you get the more accessible; well I won’t say accessible, a little bit slowed down. You can dig into what the hooks are. Also as song writers all three of them matured and became better at it too. I’d say in each case these guys were musicians before punk rock, and it stuck a screw driver in the spokes of their musical directions that was exciting to them and stirred everything up and sent them tumbling down the hill off their bikes and then they collected themselves and got going again, but took in that influence and then developed something that incorporated it all more completely.

M- It seems like the first Meat Puppets, and even Hüsker Dü, their first records they’re trying to be hardcore. They’re kind of generic Black Flag, Germs sounding hardcore.

C- I would never say that. None of those groups are generic in any way. Land Speed Record?! Is that stuff generic?

M- Well, maybe thirty years later.

C- Even then, man. I listen to that. I picked up that and I say “Whoah!” This is not, uhm, I don’t know, you know, it’s not Bad Religion. It’s something else. And you could hear, you hear what’s going to happen later, just like the Meat Puppets. It’s just the raw, buzz-saw, full-edge version of it.

M- Meat Puppets II, especially, has over time been considered a classic, not just of the time, some people say in the history of rock. Do you see it?

C- They’re all classics man. Yeah it’s a classic. I love it. Great record.

M- Do you think it deserves that place?

C- Sure.

M- Do you remember anything of the recording of Meat Puppets II?

C- No. I don’t think I was there. Where was that recorded? Was that recorded at Total Access or something?

M- I think it was Total Access, but you weren’t there?

C- Maybe I stopped by but, nawh, we were doing something else. But we were getting the tapes, “Alright! That’s great! that’s cool!” And getting all excited about what’s coming in but not sitting there minute by minute as they did it.

M- Have you ever listened to or paid much attention to Curt’s lyrics? Especially on Meat Puppets II.

C- Yeah. Oh yeah.

M- What do you think?

C- I think they’re great. He’s got a unique way and a unique insight. There is a sort of relaxed clarity to his vision.

M- You use the term relaxed a lot. That’s a good term for them I think.

C- That’s one of the things about them. Once they get going there is a clarity to what they do, an easy going nature, in their sound and their demeanor and in their insight.

M- Have you seen them recently?

C- It’s been about a year ago now. They played out here in a place called The Mint I believe it was. They were great. It was about six months before that I was playing a show or a year before that I was playing a show out in Belgium and they happened to be on right after us.

M- Oh really? Well that’s cool.

C- And that was cool. It was great to see them. I hadn’t seen them in years, and years, and years, and years.

M- It’s nice to see they’re all still alive.

C- Word. Not everybody gets to stay living.

M- I don’t think anybody gets to stay living.

C- No, you get some time you know? And some people’s is shorter than others. It’s the nature of humans, we’re temporal. I think that’s why music is such a powerful art form for us because it’s material is time. It happens in time. You don’t just get to plop it down and take it in out of time.

M- Very cool Chuck. That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. I’m focused on these first few records at the moment, and I appreciate your comments. Is there anything that I’m missing?

C- I think people will keep listening to their music. It’s an interesting take. Other artists have been influenced by it just like other artist were influenced by Hüsker Dü and it’s like, you know, Nirvana, Kurt Cobain talking about the Meat Puppets. And then there’s a next generation behind that already, and all of those sounds are important to the kids who are nineteen, twenty, that are playing now who listened to Nirvana and maybe went back and checked out the Meat Puppets. So it’s got a place and hopefully people will keep listening to it. You know it’s the uniqueness of our age that people get to listen to your actual performances many years down the line. Cuz, uhm, it was just recently learned that Mozart’s sound palette was about a half step flat from ours, so everything you hear Mozart is actually played sharp, for instance. And what about the pop music of those days? That’s just the hoity-toity rich person’s music, the classical stuff. What about the pop music? What were the guys playing lutes and stuff sitting in the tavern somewhere, what did they sound like? And the people who were deeply involved in that oral tradition of music. Because notation is relatively new, and even a standardized pitch scale. That’s twentieth century. We don’t even get to hear music really that’s older than twentieth century in any way that’s accurate.

M- We only get to hear the last hundred year’s renditions.

C- Right. And like I say, you learn that Mozart was working in a whole different range of pitches than we are. Just because he happened to have a pitch pipe and his whole orchestra was tuned to that, and his A was, you know, B Sharp or whatever. Or, you know, his A was A Flat. The point is that Mozart was working at least a half step flat from what we hear when people play it now. And that makes a big impact especially when singers perform the vocal stuff. It changes the feel. I mean think about all the heavy rock dudes and even the folk people who like to detune. It changes the tone of the instrument quite a bit as well as just pitchwise, the pitches that are involved, and it changes the feel of the music. So we get to hear what people actually did and their own enunciation. And that’s neat. And for an artist who works in sound like myself it’s great.

M- We get to hear Sonic Youth as Sonic Youth did it.

C- Or the Meat Puppets as the Meat Puppets did it, you know? And music’s like that, it depends so much on feel. You could get some sheet music of “Lake of Fire” and it wouldn’t be the same would it? After a little while people’s interpretations would stray pretty far from the original composer’s interpretation.

M- And we can even see that these days too right? On Youtube you can see a hundred people doing “Lake of Fire”.

C- I guess so. I don’t know. I haven’t done that search.

M- Right. Well you could hear a hundred different people doing “My War” I suppose.

C- I don’t think there’s a hundred people doing that one, but a couple. I do. I’ve done a couple versions of it.

M- I bet there’s some kid out there on acoustic guitar doing it.

C- Possibly, you know, and there are. And people play those songs. That’s not the best song for acoustic really.

M- They’ll try though.

C- You never know. People might try.

M- Ok Chuck, I appreciate your time this afternoon.

C- Okie-doke, bye.

M- Bye.