And You Will Know Us By The Trail of The Dead

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
by Alexander Laurence

I heard about this band in summer 2001. I was looking forward to seeing them at CMJ in September. But that plan was changed by 9/11. It was cancelled. Six months later they released their first album on Interscope. I missed them perform during most of that year although I had most of their records by this time. I found out that finally they were playing All Tomorrow's Parties in June 2003. A few weeks before that festival, that show was cancelled too. A week later I found out they were going to play the show with Mogwai anyway.

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead was formed in late 1994 by long-time friends Jason Reece and Conrad Keely (pictured). Together they found themselves in Austin, TX, where the duo played their first shows, recruiting guitarist Kevin Allen and bassist/sampler Neil Busch. The group was already legendary in indie circles for their anarchic concert sets. Jason showed me a gash on his arm from the previous night's performance. His parents were there for this night's show, so he has only a few minutes to talk with me.
They released their self-titled full-length debut on Trance Syndicate in early 1998. Following the label's collapse, the band moved on to Merge records to issue Madonna in the fall of 1999. After years of playing, they built up quite a following. That led to major label interest. Source Tags & Codes came out in 2002. In 2003, they released an EP called The Secret of Elena's Tomb. They played a few short tours in 2003, but spent most of the year writing new material. Conrad had published an article in the new Filter Magazine that month that received much attention.
I interviewed Jason Reece and Conrad Keely right before their gig in Hollywood.
AL: Your album, Source Tags & Codes, came out in April 2002. How many shows have you played since then?
Jason: Probably close to three hundred shows.
AL: Have things changed since the early days?
Jason: Yeah it has changed. We have noticed that younger people come out to the shows. It's not so much a college crowd but high school kids who are into us now. That's a good thing. Having an older crowd is cool to a degree, but I would rather have a bunch of kids who have never heard of Sonic Youth or Fugazi. Those are the bands were our roots lie.
AL: Do you think that younger people are interested in the band because they saw your video on MTV? They see you and think there's this weird band and there's something else besides pop music.
Jason: Yeah. The goal for us is to reach those kids more than people know a bunch of cool bands already. In New York or Los Angeles it's so readily available and cool music is easily found. In the Midwest and these smaller cities they get their Walmarts and very few choices. For us to be on MTV is a good thing because they would have to play the same old new metal bands. I would like our video go up against Staind and abolish them. It's futile. Those bands with always exist.
AL: What bands did you like when you were that younger age?
Jason: Bands like Fugazi and Bikini Kill. Um. I would watch bands like Jesus Lizard and Butthole Surfers. I liked a band called Crust. They were a really scary Butthole Surfer influenced band that would bang on all these metal objects. I used to like Crash Worship. They covered everyone with animal blood at one show. It was wild. When you are exposed to music like that is in your face, or controversial, or thought provoking, it is great. It's not like a normal punk band like Green Day. It's like taking the rock medium and ruining it and redefining rock music. With that as our diet, we became this.
AL: You have songs like "Homage" that are like hardcore punk. That reminds me of Black Flag.
Jason: Black Flag is something we would want to pay tribute to. At the same time we love anything that is beautiful and pretty and grandiose. We also like things that are visceral. It's almost like broken bones, and the bones are sticking out of the skin, and blood is everywhere. It's like watching a corpse rotting. At the same you want to watch a beautiful rose growing out of the soil.
AL: You have certain songs that have quiet parts. You are not sure what is coming next, because most of the songs are standard songs.
Jason: I guess it is that freedom that we have allowed ourselves to do things. We haven't worried about trivial things like genres. We fit in the rock and roll genre, but at the same time why not try to manipulate the rock music? Sometimes we fail at it. It's never contrived.
AL: What is the process of writing songs like in the band?
Jason: The process who be like sitting at home and write the basic structure of a song and then present it to the other three members of the band. They are obviously going to interpret it in a different way. That morphs into something different than what it was. When we get together with the producer Michael McCarthy, he would challenge us to make it just a little bit more unique. We add a lot of layers to the sound. I like the idea of when you hear something, there are always little sounds that you pick out and you don't know exactly what those sounds are. It keeps you interested in the music.
AL: You have one song that has a political rant going on in the background. I didn't hear it really till I listen to the song a few times.
Jason: Milan Kundera inspired that song. It was the idea of some form of protest. It was like being catch up in a world where you could express your freedoms. These kids were living in France in the 1960s. They would spray paint the words "Life is elsewhere." It was sort of a nihilistic book.
AL: You switch instruments often on the record?
Jason: Yeah. Some of us aren't musically trained on all these instruments. But when it comes down to playing music, it's one of those things when as long as you pick it up and as long as you feel you can make it sound good. You don't have to go to school for twenty years to play a violin. If it doesn't hurt your ears and actually compliments the music, then you put it in. I barely know how to play piano, but I have done piano and keyboard overdubs. Neil and Kevin have taken samplers and played around with sound.
AL: We are here at this gig with Mogwai now because the original All Tomorrow's Parties festival was canceled. You have played this festival before. I read that you blew Mogwai and Sonic Youth off the stage. Can you talk about that?
Jason: It was a lucky break we had. Maybe it was the right moment? That was at a special festival. It was properly planned. It was in an area where all the music was in one place. People had their own cabins. People had their own apartments. Four or five people could be in each apartment. It was like a beautiful party. It was a complete drug orgy with music to keep everyone fueled. This Los Angeles one is more problematic because it's a big city. It's seems like Coachella is a more successful idea.
(Jason has to leave. A few minutes later I am introduced to Conrad)
AL: Have you had some time off?
Conrad: We haven't really been off. We recorded and toured with the Elena's Tomb EP. We have been writing material for the next record. The bulk of it has yet to be written and done. After we finish these few dates with Mogwai we will get back and finish it. We are doing more co-writing and sharing ideas this time. That should be interesting.
AL: Will that make it different?
Conrad: I don't how that will change things. I don't know how the songs will take shape. I am using a lot more elements now.
AL: Do you write all the lyrics?
Conrad: No. Usually whoever is singing the song is the one who wrote the lyrics. I would find it hard to sing someone else's lyrics with any conviction.
AL: Some songs like "Baudelaire" and "Monsoon" sound very heroic, like they take places in the throes of battle. They are like marching songs.
Conrad: well, Led Zeppelin influences us. I just love that new DVD that they came out with. That gave me a lot of perspective on how shitty we are.
AL: Led Zeppelin was really influenced by Blues. Your bands seems like you are more into punk and avant-garde noise?
Conrad: It's true. I think that we have a lot influences from classical rock. For me, I would say that I am more into classical rock than punk rock. Punk rock was just something that happened when I was a teenager. It changed how I looked at music and things. But it certainly didn't change my life for that long. I look at the whole history of music as being influential.
AL: If people heard "Homage" or "Days of Being Wild" they would think that you were this hardcore punk band.
Conrad: Those are Jason's songs. Jason grew up with punk rock being a big influence. When we met, I was the one who turned him on for the first time to things like Rush and Pink Floyd. Music back then was more album-oriented. It wasn't so self-conscious either. It wasn't like they thought, "We have to seem tough." They could write whatever the hell they wanted to. I liked it too because it seemed smart and brainy. Some people think rock music has to be stupid and I don't agree.
AL: Do you like garage rock?
Conrad: I like the stuff that was played in the 1950s and 1960s. I don't know why people are still playing it now thirty years later. Time is going forward. Why is music going backwards?
AL: I think people go back to their record collections and try to sound like those records. They have given up on trying to sound like an original band.
Conrad: I appreciate that. I glad that people are trying to keep rock music current because it is being threatened in many ways. But at least I think, with whatever I imagine, I see music going forward, and I see things progressing. I see things that haven't been done before in rock music. I think that Mogwai are an impressive rock band. People call them "post-rock" but they are still rock.
AL: Who does all the artwork for the band?
Conrad: I do a lot of it. I did all the art on the Elena's Tomb EP.
AL: Did you study art in school?
Conrad: I did but I didn't learn anything in college. I was drawing since I was age two. Art is something that I have always done. I had an agent when I was seventeen. I was showing art at science fiction conventions. But I quit to do music. I only quit art symbolically because you can never quit a part of yourself like that. That will always be a part of who I am. A band should be an outlet for every creative expression.
AL: Have you all been writing a book?
Conrad: I have been writing a science fiction novel for a long time. If it does come out, I don't think it will come out under my name. Actually Filter Magazine just published one of my articles. It's called "Abstract Art is Shit." It is art criticism.
AL: What period of art are you talking about?
Conrad: It's about why Abstract Expressionism and Cubism replaced 19th Century Realism and Romanticism. It's about why it happened. There was a reason. It wasn't an accident. I couldn't go into it in depth. I could write a thesis about it. It had a lot to do with the wars. But I like Surrealism. Salvador Dali is amazing. I was talking more about Abstract Expressionism. Don't get me wrong. I like all art and thank god that we have it. Painting has a history of a thousand years. Abstract art is just this new movement.
AL: Have you read any good books lately?
Conrad: I like Graham Hancock's excursions into archeology. He is trying to figure out where we came from and where civilization started.
AL: Do you have any spiritual beliefs?
Conrad: I think that there is a good chance that civilization has been around for tens of thousands of years, not only six thousand years, like they say in Christianity. Many things were built and invented by people who were a lot older than the Incas and the Egyptians. Those were later civilizations. For the "Separate Ways" video, we filmed a lot of that down in Mexico at some Mayan ruins. We went to University of Texas and they the biggest Mayan department in America. There is a good book by Balthazar Gracian called The Art of Worldly Wisdom. He was a 17th century Spanish Jesuit. It's a very good book.
AL: Any other authors you like?
Conrad: I like Umberto Eco and Tolstoy.
AL: What is Austin like?
Conrad: I am getting bored of Austin. I feel the urge for going overseas. We have spent much of the past two years there and I am getting used to it. America becomes so tiring for me. I need the stimulus of something foreign. I just got back from Thailand. That was a month ago. I feel like I have to go out again.
AL: Does anyone in the band have any non-musical or non-literary hobbies?
Conrad: None of us are race car drivers or carpenters. I am collecting string instruments and I am learning to play the viola. I have started using acrylic paint. I am making a new series of paintings. I just wrote a string quartet.
AL: The string section of the song "Source Tags & Codes" is lifted from the middle of the song "How Near How Far." That is a more orchestral tendency where you lift out motifs from different sections.
Conrad: Pink Floyd and even Public Enemy influence that. I like working with motifs. Andrew Lloyd Webber did a great job of that in Jesus Christ Superstar.
AL: What do Jason and Kevin do in their spare time?
Conrad: Jason is starting a new DJ night. I bought a crossbow recently. Music and art are my life.
AL: How is this next record going to be different?
Conrad: We will work with the same producer. The main difference is that we are going to build a new studio in Austin, so most of our ideas will happen there. We are going to work on our music on our own time. We won't be looking at the clock like we have in the past. I am pretty excited about that.
AL: The record company lets you do what you want?
Conrad: Pretty much. It's not that they don't care. They just know that were are that kind of band that doesn't take suggestions. I have respect for Jimmy Iovine. I'll take his suggestions. But even he made a suggestion on the last record and we didn't do it and it still got released. He said turn up the vocals on one of the songs.
AL: What is the Secret of Elena's Tomb?
Conrad: It is the story of a wacky eccentric guy who lived in Florida. He called himself a doctor but he wasn't a real doctor. He was a radiologist. He slept with a corpse for a number of years. It was discovered that it was the corpse of Elena, who was a young woman who died of tuberculosis. He had her body and exhumed it. By the time he was done with it, or when the authorities found out, there was nothing left of the body. It was falling apart and he was sewing parts on. They didn't charge him with anything. They just took the corpse away. He just wrote his memoirs which are called "The Secret of Elena's Tomb."
AL: What is the hardest thing about being in a band?
Conrad: Writing is the hardest thing. Writing is painful. It requires that you really get in touch with something about yourself within yourself. It's very scary place to go and it can be very terrifying. It's like the closest thing you can do to knowing God. It's like staring him in the face and saying "Here is my creation." Maybe I should maybe my writing a little less personal?
AL: What about these online diaries of people who use your picture and pretend to be you? That's not you on Friendster or whatever?
Conrad: What? You're kidding? Where did you see these?
AL: I can send you the information.
Conrad: Really? It sure is not me. Oh please! That's fucked up. Not that I care. I guess that I am flattered. I have barely enough time to write my own diaries and books.
AL: Do you have any advice for people who want to be in a band?
Conrad: Be prepared for a lot of pain. If you are not suffering for your art, then it's probably not good art. Sorry guys. We never sent out any demos. Our lives show was our solicitation. That's us.
AL: Do you like any other bands?
Conrad: I like Interpol's last record. I like what The Rapture is doing. We have played with both of those bands. I have always liked Mogwai, although I haven't heard their new album. I like a lot of Classical music. I like the soundtrack to The Red Violin. I like Gypsy music. I download a lot of music.

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Blast From The Past: Bosshog 2000

Cristina Martinez, singer and leader

The NYC blues-punk combo Boss Hog features the husband-and-wife team of singer Cristina Martinez and singer/guitarist Jon Spencer who previously teamed up in the obscure band Pussy Galore. The duo formed Boss Hog to fill a last-minute cancellation at the famed CBGB's, earning instant notoriety when Martinez performed their debut show nude.

In the wake of 1990's Cold Hands, Spencer formed the Blues Explosion, forcing Boss Hog on the backburner; by the time the group returned in 1993 with Girl +, only Martinez and Spencer remained from the original lineup, with ex-Swan Jens J├╝rgensen assuming bass duties and Hollis Queens joining on drums. The record's success in indie circles resulted in a deal with Geffen which yielded a self-titled 1995 LP; little was heard from them throughout the remainder of the decade (although Spencer and Martinez had a baby), but in early 2000 the group finally resurfaced with Whiteout. I met up with the leader, Cristina Martinez, in LA in front of The Troubadour. Their show was much better than the band I remember from three years ago.
AL: How has the tour been going? Have you had much time to explore the world?
CM: We had two days off in the past two weeks. When we drove from Minneapolis to Vancouver. Our bus driver drives at night while we sleep. We’d stop in these remote and crazy places in Montana. We would go hiking there. We ate a bunch of bad fried food. Americans in the Midwest and those regions up there; I don’t think they know how to eat healthy. One day was graduation day and nothing was open. So they opened the bowling alley for us. The tour started in New York City and DC, then we went to Europe for a week, now it’s been two weeks in the rest of the United States.
AL: Did you play in London? How are the singles doing in Europe?
CM: We played at LA2 in London, which above The Astoria. The Boss Hog fans in Europe are great. All the shows were packed. The record is doing quite well in Europe. They press in London is nasty sometimes. They like to build you up and tear you down. Last tour they were very pro-Blues Explosion, and this time all the reviews were dissing Jon Spencer.
AL: That must have made you feel good: that you weren’t the object of their venom? How long has Boss Hog been together?
CM: Eleven years. We formed in 1989. Back then I was learning to play bass. I met Jon and then we were in Pussy Galore. It happened very quickly for me. I didn’t give much thought to starting a band or wanting to be in a band.
AL: Is the new album Whiteout doing well? Is it racing up the chart?
CM: It’s doing twice as good as the last one. That’s all we can ever hope for. Andy Gill is an amazing producer and a fine gentleman. He was a treat to work with. In Germany, Italy and France the single “Get It While You Wait” has charted in the top 100.
AL: It’s the English reserve. His minds in one place and….
CM: He let you know what he was thinking. Tore Johansson was more reserved actually. He reminded me of Steve Albini. Tore was both arrogant but very talented. So it was okay. It was only supposed to be those two producers, but Andy had to mix too quickly. We didn’t have that much time, so he was racing through stuff. I didn’t feel that things were finished and I had run out of money. So I called some friends from New York.
AL: What about Elian Gonzalas and those crazy people from Miami? You are Cuban. How do you feel about the situation?
CM: I’m probably related to him. My father was one of ten children. Most of them live in Miami. I have hundreds of cousins. My father was anti-Batista and pro-Castro. When Castro it was like Animal Farm: in theory, Communism is a beautiful thing but it doesn’t really work.
AL: Are you anti-Castro?
CM: I am. But I feel the little boy should be with his father.
AL: What about Andy Gill? When he was in Gang of Four, he wasn’t so much a Communist as much as he was a “Media Marxist.” He was really against pleasure and love songs.
CM: It’s more about what is compelling in a song. Don’t you think so? Gang of Four was about pleasure in life.
AL: What I really want to know is will you dedicate a song to Elian on this tour?
CM: No.
AL: Do people think you’re a white person or Latina?
CM: People think I’m Jewish.
AL: Do you read a lot of books and wear glasses?
CM: No, it’s because I have a lot of money. I’m just playing into your stereotype.
AL: How about some songs in Spanish, para la gente?
CM: That’s what I’m working on next. I’m going to do this whole record over in Spanish.
AL: What are some of these songs about anyways?
CM: I’m not talking about the lyrics.
AL: Yeah you are! Well, I am. When I’m driving over here to West Hollywood, I have the new record on, and the only thing that I can figure that the lyrics are about is sex. They weren’t love songs. But there was a Marvin Gaye groove on a few tunes.
CM: Vaguely. Does that cover the whole album? I like the Marvin Gaye connection. Thank you. They’re all about love.
AL: “Trouble” is about sex. “Get it While You Wait” is self-explanatory: sex again. What are you trying to convey? Are words just musical sounds and you create the words to be heard in an abstract way?
CM: I’m trying to get a message across. Lyrically, it’s more about defining a moment or a feeling. Someone who is listening to it can go “Oh, I felt that way once.” But obviously you didn’t feel that way?
AL: There are songs by Marc Almond or George Michael that I have loved, but didn’t relate to the gay content.
CM: Well, you can apply that to your preferred sex?
AL: At this moment I’m not sure what my preferred sex is. I’m like the English. I’m very undecided. I grew up listening to Morrissey. I’m a late developer. What’s happening in New York City? Many of us in LA and Hollywood in particular are dying to know.
CM: Nothing. Falling James called Jon and I “The John Doe & Exene of NYC.” I’m not sure about that. You know that Jon Spencer is in my band.
AL: Oh, I thought it was like Oasis: Jon shows up whenever. I saw you play at Irvine Plaza and he was standing almost behind the drummer, so I didn’t know if he was in the band or not.
CM: We haven’t done a show without him. He’s a founding member.
AL: What is your advice to young girls who may want to form a band?
CM: Just do it.
AL: They may not be as rich and famous as you are.
CM: I wasn’t rich and famous. I think that you pick up an instrument and figure out how to play something on it. Even it’s one song or a favorite record of yours.
AL: I think that if you learn one chord that may be enough. That “D-chord” speaks to me.
CM: Well, that may not be enough. You have to find other people who want to do the same thing, at clubs or whatever way you meet people nowadays. How do you meet people?
AL: On the Internet?
CM: Oh no. There were flyers at records stores and See Hear.
AL: Do you attack the audience during the show?
CM: I did a stage dive once in my life at a show in Montana. It was really the best show we played. The people were insane and appreciative. Montana is an amazing place. They weren’t jaded.
AL: In the future will you ever ditch the band and do some folk music or write some poetry?
CM: I’d probably write some prose before I’d write poetry. I’d put out a book. I have stories. Maybe it will be a book about erotica because the only thing I write about is SEX!
AL: Didn’t Jon Spencer do a bunch of experimental films?
CM: Yeah. They are very good films. They are about bodily functions.

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Blast from the past 2000: Black Box Recorder

I did this interview back during the first album in 1999. I ended up seeing them play a few times in New York City. They went on to do three albums. Now they are more focused on their solo albums. It's good to look back on one of my early interviews....

Black Box Recorder Black Box Recorder is Luke Haines, John Moore, and Sarah Nixey. They were formed in the year of Cool Britannia, the death of Diana, and the continuing old boredom. Luke Haines comes from the band The Auteurs which has done a few great albums in the past five years.
Black Box Recorder is like a cross of The Velvet Underground with Nico and Joy Division. But they have a sense of dark humor as is evident on their single "Child Psychology" where a young girl decides to give up on life because it's not worth the trouble. England Made Me is a full album about biting the hands that feeds. Only England, with its bland suburban lawns, dull repetitive newspapers, repressed teenage sexuality, obsession with interior decoration, mastery of the bile-ridden understatement, unique perspective and translation abilities with American pop culture, could have fueled this record. Only they could write a song like "It's A Wonderful Life" and make it sound like something is desperately wrong. They have been playing shows and recording a new album that should be released in 2000. Their album also features a version of Terry Jacks� "Seasons In The Sun." Discography England Made Me, 1999
AL: How do you feel about the idea of bohemianism?
John: I don't know if you know this but I import absinthe into the United Kingdom. That's played a large part in my life. That's the extent of my experiences with bohemianism.
Luke: I have nothing to do with that. Get a proper job.
AL: Many people in bands in England on are welfare for a few years, till the band takes off or they sign a record contact. What do you think about that?
John: Signing on the dole in England is like the real art council grant. You can sign on without difficulty if you know how to deal with bureaucracy. If you tell a few white lies, you can stay unemployed for quite a long time and
develop your useful interests.
Sarah: They're making it harder. It's not glamorous in any way.
AL: How did you meet?
Sarah: This is my first proper band. I did backing vocals for another band.
John: You were the lead singer. The other lead singer was the backing vocals really. That was quite apparent. We were helping this band that Sarah was in. Then Luke and I had this idea for a band called Black Box Recorder.
Luke and I were going to make an avant-garde noise record. But then we thought that wouldn't be avant-garde, that would be predictable. People would think we were having a mid-life crisis. We knew immediately we had to get Sarah in the band. We sent her a fax offering her fame and fortune....
AL: What did you think of that?
Sarah: I just laughed.
Luke: See you in court!
AL: Luke, you are in this band as well as The Auteurs. How do you balance the two?
Luke: I don't really. The Auteurs hardly play at all. We're lazy. I don't like anyone in The Auteurs anyway. It's just me, and a bunch of blokes, and we're fairly indifferent to one another. It's good. They're never much impetus to play together because we never want to hang out. Both bands played at Reading this summer.
AL: Black Box Recorder did a stint at The Garage in London?
Sarah: It was once a month for three months.
Luke: It was kind of like The Velvets at Max's Kansas City, except it was upstairs at The Garage.
AL: Who writes the songs?
Luke: We write them together. We just bash it out.
John: We're like builders. Writing a song is like building a wall.
AL: I noticed that this record England Made Me is an aphrodisiac. You used to have Barry White and Marvin Gaye....
Luke: Now you have Black Box Recorder. It's a record where children will be conceived. It's known as a make out record. That's great!
John: It should be promoted as a make out record because that is a popular pastime.
AL: Are you promoting safe sex?
Luke: We don't care. The more dangerous the better.
AL: So, Sarah, what is your advice to young girls about using condoms?
Sarah: Um. I never really thought about condoms. They're not very much good.
Luke: They're pretty funny when you blow them up and put them on your head.
John: You shouldn't have any need for condoms until you're married.
AL: What do you think of the idea as music using literary devices? Most of your songs have narratives and characters....
Luke: You shouldn't get too bogged down in that. The thing about Black Box Recorder is that we're fairly succinct. You only have three and half minutes to say something in a song so there's no point in wasting it, having filler lyrics. So we hone it all down. We're not idiots....
John: (sarcastic voice) We're not trying to make a short story into a song.
AL: The character that is the subject in the song "Child Psychology" and a few other songs, I don't see as being just Sarah. People like Jewel or Beth Orton just write about themselves....
Luke: It's psychobabble. That's right, it's just a characterization. We would never spill our guts, when someone else is singing. We're too old for that.
Sarah: People think I have a problem. They ask me about my bad childhood.
AL: The British version which came out late last year has a different cover: it's a black and white photo of a glam guy and a factory worker. What's that all about?
Luke: It was actually a wrestler. They were miners. One of them was the father. He's starting there displaying his wrestling championship belt in a mineshaft with his father, who looks on disapproving, thinking "What the hell has my son become?" He's dressed as a girl. We both remembered
wrestling on TV as kids because that was the big thing on Saturday afternoon. It got axed because it became too pantomime.
John: Too low quality. This guy's gimmick was being a cross-dresser. In the early 1970's in England, any hint at being gay was completely unexceptable. He was hated by the audience. He was a bad influence because he was pretending he was gay. He supposedly had this feminine side in him
while he was wrestling all these guys who were like "Brickies." He was a nasty piece of work though. Wrestling was never that serious because he would really try to hurt people. It still hurts people's careers that they can't be openly gay.
AL: One of the ideas of the movie Velvet Goldmine was it was okay to be gay as a performer as long as you are entertaining.
Luke: That was a really bizarre movie. It was made by Todd Haynes, an American, who seemed to have this idea that provincial England in the 1970s was full of marauding glam rock gangs, which is odd. Except for David Bowie, glam rock wasn't that threatening or that androgynous. It was like
bricklayers, or ugly blokes wearing cheesecloth dresses. It was something that was on Top of The Pops. Never saw a glam rock gang in my life. So sue me.
AL: What bands do you like and would like to play with?
Luke: Really none. We're really autonomous. We won't play with other bands. Other bands are not a consideration. I'm indifferent. We do our stuff. That's why I do it, because I want something to listen to. If you can do it, you can construct the perfect soundtrack to your house, instead of letting someone
else do it for you.
John: If someone good came along, we would be foolish to turn them down. I like Air.
Sarah: I like The Cardigans.
AL: So you live in Central London. In Clerkenwell?
John: No. But we are part of the Clerkenwell Cabal. We are the center of the Clerkenwell literary scene. We get drunk and they think we're funny.
Luke: Apparently. It's only us. We show up to the openings of anything.

AL: Is it a rule in the band that you have to wear a suit?
Luke: You can be cynical about suits, but they are a good thing, if you're well dressed.
John: A well-cut suit can hide a multitude of sins.

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Richard Kern: photographer

Richard Kern's photography and films have been both influential and controversial. Coming out of the film underground, Kern and Nick Zedd gained notrity for "The Cinema of Transgression." Kern collaborated with both Zedd and Lydia Lunch. But the entire time, Kern had pursued his first love, photography, and now has come out with his first book of photographs, New York Girls. Later in the year, many of Kern's films will be shown at The Whitney Musem, as part of the series called "No Wave Cinema 1978-87." Kern lives in New York City.
Alexander Laurence: What have you been doing with yourself lately? You did films for a while in the eighties, photography the whole time, but in the last two years you have been lying low, there has been some inactivity, then this book.
Richard Kern: It doesn't mean that I wasn't doing anything. I was just wrapping up all that stuff that went along with the book New York Girls. I did a bunch of photography shows, in New York, Paris, London, Tokyo, and Denmark. That took up the last six months. Those shows ended in March, and then I just started shooting again. I have been trying to find perverse people to shoot. I am excited because tomorrow an eight-month pregnant Asian woman is coming over who wants to shoot. That will be interesting. Anything that's different. Yesterday I shot some photographs of Type O Negative's lead singer Peter Steele with two porn stars. The shots will be used on the cover of a porn mag and as the cover for their new single. It's the same thing that I've always have been doing. Nothing has changed!

AL: What did you start with: films, photography, or performance art?

RK: I started with photography when I was sixteen. I was an art major in college. I was a sculptor. I made all kinds of stuff. Photography has been the constant thing, and filmmaking, which I still like to do, but photography is much more immediate. I have a film in the drawer, but I haven't edited it, though I have been talking about it forever. I'll be like Russ Meyer when he talks about The Bra of God. I'll talk about it for twenty years but never finish it. It's all from the photo sessions that were in the book, and some that weren't. Things like a guy sucking his own dick and coming in his own face. Girls shooting water out of their butts. Fun stuff. Anything weird.

AL: It's important for you to be hard and push the envelope with your work?

RK: Yeah though it's important for me to be real! No more fake blood. I didn't shoot anybody cutting themselves and all that trendy shit because that's all over the place now, and everybody's doing it. Danielle Willis. And there's a woman who lives here in New York named Otter. Those people are way out there.

AL: Otter lives in Amsterdam now. Her thing now is her fire-breathing pussy.

RK: That was pretty good. I think that I saw it on TV, on some cable show. I don't know how she does it! She just shoots flames out of her pussy. That was pretty intense. I saw her do that and I saw her drawing blood and then drinking it. That was revolting.

AL: How much is photography observation and how much is it participation during a photo-shoot? I ask that because there are photographers like Witkin and Gatewood who often become more involved with there subjects.

RK: I try to get people to do interesting things. Sometimes I get lucky, and somebody wants to do something strange and really hard, like this pregnant woman. I like to encourage people. When I shoot now, I shooting specifically for a magazine, so it has to be soft.

AL: But your own personal interest and your point of view on your subject is always voyeuristic and removed?

RK: Yeah, vouyeuristic. I just shot a guy who was hanging from the ceiling and his head lands right in the toilet. He's naked. I guess that's hard.

AL: When I think of your photography I don't perceive too much self-involvement or self-portraits. Sometimes Joel-Peter Witkin or Charles Gatewood will be involved in their subjects. They do some self-portraits as well.

RK: I'm not in my photos. But I made a movie where I'm in the whole movie, "My Nightmare." I usually stay out of the picture.

AL: What do you think of the idea that you are exploiting these young women by photographing them?

RK: The person who says that the most is my ex-girlfriend (laughter). She says it all the time. She used to be really into modeling. She's all over the pages of New York Girls. Now she says "I don't want to do it anymore. The women get nothing. Then men get all the money and the glory. Then, the women get their naked pictures all over the place." Nobody else has said anything. I don't think that I'm exploiting them because I pay them and give them photographs. They always want to do it. It's not like I'm holding a gun to their heads.

AL: Maybe people think that these women are in some cases drug users and you give them money when they are in a vulnerable position. They are desperate. They'll do anything in that condition but regret it afterwards.

RK: Yeah, right!

AL: Maybe you are taking advantage of them behind closed doors? Who knows?

RK: I wish. But there are not many drug users in the book. Maybe a few. I can't think of one instance where the person bought drugs with the money that I gave them. You'll have better luck having someone model for you right after they have split up with their boyfriend.

AL: Why the title New York Girls?

RK: I was trying to think of a focus for the book. The photos were either shot in this apartment in the East Village or my old apartment, all in New York City. A few elsewhere, but for the most part these photos were site specific. I read a review which said how "California girls are blonde and have tans, well according to this Richard Kern book all the girls in New York are scary and pale, and tattooed and pierced, and scary looking." They kept on saying "scary looking." Well, that's the look that I looking for on their face.

AL: When you have a photo session you take a lot of photos. A photo is basically a split second surrounded by the rest of time. How do you know when to shoot the picture?

RK: Bruce Weber 101: "Shoot as much as you can afford to shoot." I shoot a roll for each set-up but the other night I shot five rolls for the same stupid set-up so I knew that I would get it right, and that they (the magazine) would get the shot that they wanted. For me, photography is editing. That's going to be my new motto. Some photographers take one or two shots so it's like a painting.

AL: Do you still associate with some of those film people like Nick Zedd and Lydia Lunch?

RK: I still talk to Lydia pretty often. I still see Nick. He shows his films at Squeezebox, on Friday nights in New York. Lydia tours all the time all over the place. I see Jim Foetus all over the place. I guess that he is still doing music. I haven't had a conversation with him in years. Most of the people I worked with don't live here in New York anymore. Lung Leg moved back to Minneapolis, back home. She's scary.

AL: You took most of the photographs over the past ten years. Where are the New York Girls now?

RK: (Flipping through the pages of New York Girls) #1: She's a sociologist. She got her masters in social anthropology and is probably working with Eric Kroll a lot. #2: She's an actress in these ultra grade Z movies. Films made around Memphis. She also works at a liquor store. #3: She owns a skateboard store upstate. #4: She works in a restaurant in Soho, that her boyfriend owns. #5: She's an artist who lives in Brooklyn. #6: She's a nurse now who lives out in Long Island, working with handicapped kids. She was a booking agent for a modeling agency when we did these photos. #7: She's a publicist. #8: There's that girl that you saw in Boulder. I don't know what she does. #9: She's a stripper. #10: She's a dominatrix now. She was a graphic designer. #11: Who knows where she is. She lives in Chicago. I don't know what she's doing. #12: She works at an on-line service as one of the programmers. #13: She's getting married to some rock and roll guy. #14: She's got about two weeks clean.....

AL: For some reason I thought that most of these girls were strippers. It's interesting that there quite a cast of characters here from all sorts of backgrounds....

RK: Not many of them are strippers. Hardly any of them are.

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IMA Robot

IMA Robot was one of the bands that made it cool to be in LA again. I remember going to some of their shows three years ago and it was amazing. I got a hold of one of their EPs and the energy was exciting, after hearing so many drab Joy Division wannabes. I heard that song "Black Jettas" and I was transformed. I saw them play at the Henry Fonda and their fans were the most intense. Tim Anderson and Alex Ebert started the Band. There have been a few band members coming and going. But the core is there. They released their first album in 2003. They toured all over. Now they have their second album Monument To The Masses (2006). It is a welcome sound to have them back. I spoke to Tim Anderson for a little bit. They are playing at Safari Sam's on September 12th. There should be an American tour to come.

Alex: vocals
Tim: guitar
Filip Nikolic: bass
Scott Devours: drums
Andy Marlow: keyboards/guitars

AL: Are all of you from Los Angeles?
Tim: Most of us live in LA. Most of us are originally from the West Coast. We live and work here. People have come and gone in the band. We have the best line up right now. We have had a few drummers and bass players leave the band because it is not easy being a band with a punk ethos. It's hard to stick around for years and years and not make any money. Some people have to make a decision to stick with it or take off.

AL: Sometimes if a band doesn't a lot of success in the first years, it is hard to go on.
Tim: Totally. The guys in the band have other things going on to make this all survive.

AL: There are songs where you have the names of Justin and Joey in the intro. Do you change that to include the new guys?
Tim: You mean "Black Jettas?" That is just going to stay the way it is, and it will be a walk down memory lane when we do it.

AL: You have known Alex for a long time. How did you end up forming this band?
Tim: We both dropped out of college after one year. I knew a kid who had known Alex. He grew up with Alex. When I moved to LA we all hooked up again. He asked me about producing a demo for this friend of his. That was Alex. He came into the studio with the band. After a few days of working together he left the rest of the band behind. We clicked and started our own thing. We were young and crazy and shared some commonality and were into music. Something made sense when we formed a partnership. We were off to the races. We started playing shows and writing songs. We had little help in doing this. That was eight years ago.

AL: Did you call yourself something else?
Tim: Yeah. In the beginning there were a bunch of wacky names. We have been Ima Robot for about six years. I don't really remember those names.

AL: Did many of the songs from the early days survive? Or is most of the stuff on the records just from the past three years?
Tim: There are bits and pieces that ended up on the early recordings. We wro te tons of songs over the years. In the beginning we just played a lot of parties and had a good time. We didn't know anything about the music business. We didn't have a manager. Alex's childhood friend was the manager. We were more into building the lore of the band, instead of doing anything solid. It's been great because we created personality. We built up style and a songwriting relationship between me and Alex. And we have with us forever.

AL: You were slightly mentioning the relative success of the band after the first album. I felt like there was a lot of success in a way. Many bands don't even get to do a second album with the same label because they are dropped.
Tim: We are lucky to do that. We have fans that are really loyal. It is like bands my friend's older sisters were into when I was a kid. Bands like The Pixies and The Cure have a loyal following. It doesn't come along very often anymore. The record company was behind us all the way even though the first record didn't sell a million copies. That pushes us to have more success. We are lucky now because we could have been denied a second chance but everyone stuck with it. Over the past year our fan base has stayed together and maybe even grew larger after we toured again. We played a bunch of shows with She Wants Revenge. We are happy to be doing it. We love to be on tour.

AL: The Cure wasn't really that popular until the sixth or seventh record. They had been around for eight years.
Tim: If they came along today, they might have been dropped after their first record. There are a million guys out there who can play better than me. There are these great songwriters locked in their basement, but they will never see the light of day. There are a bunch of great songs and performers that are lost. When I see kids I tell them to just try to do a band and stick with it as long as you can. Many bands that I liked were not successful bands. There has been a resurgence of punk and new wave. Many of those bands are being rediscovered and credited by the younger generation.

AL: I have a bunch of photos of Alex hanging out with the fans at the show at the Henry Fonda. He was there signing posters and CDs for a bunch of teenagers.
Tim: We love that. That is what we live for. I don't know what it is like to be some stadium band or a Duran Duran. That is not our reality. We like to play punk shows. The smaller the venue, the better. We like to hang out with people afterwards. We like to see what is going on with them. The whole thing is about interaction with the live show. We like to meet the fans.

AL: Do you think that Myspace has helped bring the gap with bands and fans?
Tim: I am a huge fan of where the Internet is going with You Tube and Myspace. I am discovering things that are mind-blowing every day. I can surf around on the web. People post things on our site. There are five things a day that are really wild. We have bands from St Louis who want to tour with us. They are a band of 15-year old kids. I'll get a message on Myspace and I will be blown away. A few years ago, you really couldn't do that. Those kids would have sent a CD to some A&R guy and the CD would not have seen the light of day.

AL: Do you think that some record labels have had to change since the success of more Internet based bands?
Tim: Yeah. There have to adjust or they will become extinct. That is why they use the term Dinosaurs for some of these businesses. How they can survive is that some people in record companies have the foresight to hire young people who are active and can stay relevant. Now being active is having people who can find cutting edge real music. The more people become used to the Internet, the less they are going to accept what is being force-fed to them. Before Myspace, all kids had was modern rock radio. Their favorite bands were whoever was being played on that station. Kids really want to hunt things down and be the only one who know about it. They want to tell their friends and write the bands' name on their backpack. That is what I was like. Music is becoming more available. You can be into Black Metal bands.

AL: How did you record this new album? Was it the same process as the first one?
Tim: It was a little bit quicker. We knew that there was a lot riding on this record. We went in the opposite direction of what you would think. We figured out what our best songs were. We had to figure out what songs went the best together. We had to leave some good ones behind. We didn't want to be over-precious and neurotic about it. When we did the first record we were young and inexperienced. We allowed ourselves to dive into every little sound. We tried to create something timeless for us and really heavy. A lot of message in the vocals gets lost when you are too concerned with making it sound cool. We were obsessed with the sonic aspects and being advanced. Many people thought we were not advanced at all and obsessed with the 1980s. It's funny to me. When people reference the 1980s, to them it may be an insult. To me, all the stuff from the early 1980s was cool because no one had heard anything like that before. I hope that when people compare us to that time they really mean that we don't really sound like everything else.

AL: You didn't really do the retro thing on this record either?
Tim: No. It's more like our traditional songwriting record. Alex and I pulled all our songs together and picked up a few from the past and found a group of songs that meshed. It came out the way it did. We did some live takes but it was a professionally made record. The band is a little bit more gelled. The band before had a bunch of misconceptions. It was wasn't a side project. It was some famous musicians who wanted to be in a punk band. They heard our music and wanted to be in this band. That is how they joined the band. But we were a small band and they were used to being in a big touring band. Our band now is younger and more hungry. It's more how we wanted it in the first place.

AL: The name "Monument To The Masses" reminds me of Depeche Mode. What is that title about?
Tim: It wasn't really a reference to all that. We had a bunch of titles for the record. We would go home and listen to the album and think: "None of these titles really work." We had to ask ourselves: "What is this record?" It is like our gift to the masses. We are trying to put our best foot forward and put out our best songs. This album is like our statue that we would like to put out in the desert and have people look at.

AL: This song "Creeps Me Out" is supposed to be about some girl stalker. Isn't that what every guy in a band want at the end of the day?
Tim: Totally. I think that Alex is writing about something that all guys can relate to. When I hear the song on the radio, I chuckle to myself. But what it is about is admitting that all that unconditional love you get from a live-in girlfriend, it's beautiful and icky, but can also give you the creeps. Most guys agree about that. It seems like you are morally responsible all of a sudden. It wont go away. It is a funny take on romance.

AL: There are also some shocking imagery in some of the songs. There is one that mentions "house nigger" and another about crawling back up in the womb. What is going on in Alex's head?
Tim: Someone asked him recently about the lyrics being very politically on this record. He was shocked that this was true. I think that he did a good job of not hiding any ideas behind innuendoes and metaphors. Everything is very up front. I think that people are now over-educated with what is going on in the world. There is a lot of horror in the politics and every day reality, that it takes humor to deal with daily life. We have humor in our songs and all the screwed up statements. Much about life is painful. Alex is a sensitive person.

AL: You think that this is a more political album then?
Tim: I think everything has less of a covering. There is more edge, musically and lyrically. It's raw. We are telling a story, not making up fables. It's not mythology.

AL: The first album was the party album?
Tim: We talked about similar things in the first one. It was just more shtick. We were hiding our best moments. It was like in code.

AL: You guys still DJ a lot?
Tim: Me and Filip have been DJs since we were teenagers. I have been burned out by it. But it has always been a big part of our lives. We love electronic music. We produce music for other electronic acts. We love dance culture.

AL: When are the tours going to start?
Tim: Everything starts in September. We are going to do three big tours in the Fall.

AL: What other records do you like?
Tim: I am really into The Knife. Filip introduced me to them. He is from Copenhagen. Hot Chip is the record of the year. I can't deny Gnarls Barkley. I was a Goodie Mob fan since the beginning. You can't deny those songs. Dangermouse is my hero right now. He is covering all the bases and producing the hottest shit. I would like to branch out like that. Hot Chip, The Knife, and Gnarls Barkley is a big deal for music right now. WE would like to tour with one of those groups.

An interview with Tim of IMA Robot
By Alexander Laurence
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GLISS Interview

Photo: Angel Ceballos

Interview with Victoria
By alexander laurence

Gliss is a new band from Los Angeles. They have spent a lot of time touring in Europe with BRMC, Billy Corgan, and Editors. Their following has become quiet large in Europe, while they are still a new underground band here in their hometown. David Reiss and Martin Klingman have known each other for years. They played in bands over the years. Some members had left, and their friend, Victoria Cecelia, filled the spot. She had come to LA from Denmark. The band started playing shows at Spaceland and Silverlake Lounge. While they were releasing some singles and EPs, they were already being asked to tour in Europe. They spent a year over there touring all over. I watched some footage on You Tube of a show in Italy. Anyway, they came back and recorded their first full-length album Love The Virgins (2006). It will be released this fall. Otherwise they will be back in the UK for some shows, and at Club Moscow in November 2006. I spoke to Victoria right after a show at Safari Sam’s.

Martin Klingman: vocals/guitars/drums
Victoria Cecilia: bass/drums
David Reiss: bass/guitar/drums

AL: What have Gliss been doing this month?

Victoria: We are getting ready for our next tour. Our album comes out in October 2006. We are getting ready for all of that. We are rehearsing a lot. It’s getting tight. We are playing in Denmark and Hamburg first. Then we are doing a UK tour for three weeks. I don’t know how long we are going to stay out there. We might come back to New York.

AL: Most of us here in Los Angeles are able to see you at some of these indie rock clubs like Spaceland and Safari Sam’s. But it is a different story in Europe where you have playing a lot. What is going on over there?

Victoria: It just happened that way. We got a real good booking agent in London. We were on a label there first. That is the way things happened. I am happy about it. I like being over there all the time.

AL: You have played more shows in Europe and the UK than here?

Victoria: Yeah, for sure. We lived in Europe most of the year. We have been playing a lot in Los Angeles this past month. The way I look at it is: It’s better to play at a club than a rehearsal space. We like playing out.

AL: What other American cities have you played?

Victoria: We have been in New York and played there, which was awesome. I loved it. It was an amazing show. We have been to Texas. We did the SXSW festival. We have played in Arizona. That is pretty much it. I like living and playing in LA though.

AL: Have you been playing for two years now?

Victoria: Yeah, maybe a little longer. Martin and David knew each other before that. They had been in different bands together. I met them and they needed a bass player. I joined Gliss right then. When we started playing as a trio, we were looking for a fourth person. But we never found another person who was able to fit in. The three of us got along immediately and we were able to write a lot of songs. It happened quickly. We decided that we didn’t need another person.

AL: I saw you play at Safari Sam’s last week. You like to switch instruments on each song. You start out playing drums, and then switch to bass guitar. Martin and David play drums too. How did that happen?

Victoria: When we were looking for a fourth person to be the drummer, it never worked out. We gave up on that. We just started all playing drums to make it work. We didn’t want to play with a drum machine on every song. That is what we did in the beginning because we didn’t have a drummer. I was programming a lot of beats.

AL: How do you write the songs in the band?

Victoria: Sometimes we write songs together, and sometimes someone will write down some ideas at home and bring it in to the rehearsal space. We start playing it and try a little bit of everything.

AL: There were a few EPs before?

Victoria: We put together an EP when we started. There was one called Velvet Stars with five songs. Later there was another EP with seven songs. So we have two EPs.

AL: What is Rugby Road?

Victoria: That was a single we did in the UK. That song is not on the album.

AL: Since you have done so many songs, how did you choose which songs went on the album?

Victoria: It came from playing out a lot. We just picked the songs that went over well in a live setting. We usually come up with a setlist right before the show. We will agree on what we play. Sometimes David will write a setlist really fast.

AL: How did the tour with Editors happen?

Victoria: It was amazing. We got to know them a little bit before that because we did a show with them at Spaceland. They needed a band to go on tour with them. They asked us if we wanted to do it. That show at Spaceland was really packed and it was crazy. There was a line of people waiting to get in. They are cool guys. We have been very lucky with our tours over there. We have played with BRMC, Billy Corgan, and We Are Scientists.

AL: When will the record come out?

Victoria: It will be out in America in October. It is already out in Europe. We are going to tour there first. We are playing at Club Moscow soon.

AL: Are there any other bands that you would like to play with?

Victoria: I am not sure if we could all agree on the bands we would all like to play with. I myself would like us to play with Babyshambles. That would be sweet. I would like to play with The Raveonettes. Depeche Mode would be nice. Those are the three bands I would like to tour with.

AL: Do you know the Raveonettes?

Victoria: I don’t know them really well. I met them at a festival we did in Belgium last year. We got to hang out with them. Then we ran into them in London. We were there at the same time. Plus they are Danish. I am Danish. There’s that connection.

AL: Did you play in bands in Denmark?

Victoria: Yeah. I was in a bunch of bands. I went to music school. I came to LA to go to school here. I played in bands here and I ended up staying.

AL: Are there any books of films that you like?

Victoria: I really love Doestoevsky and Kafka. Those are my two favorite writers. I like some American writers. I like JD Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In movies, I like Roman Polanski. I like The Tenant a lot. It’s so creepy. I love it. I like the films of Woody Allen. I also like the British version of The Office.

AL: Do you read the English of Danish translations?

Victoria: I read those books in English. It would be interesting to read Kafka in German. There are probably some things that don’t translate from the German. I know that is true from reading Danish and English. The first book of Kafka I had was a German/English version of The Metamorphosis. I saw the Bukowski documentary. It was amazing. That was great.

AL: Do you think that living in Los Angeles has affected the band?

Victoria: Yes. David and Martin have grown up here in LA. David lives in Long Beach. Everything you do and where you live affects what you write and how you play.

AL: Martin writes the lyrics? I like this song “Moped.” What is that about?

Victoria: Yeah he writes the lyrics. I am sure it is about his life. I don’t know what “Moped” is about because I didn’t write the lyrics.

AL: Maybe you could interpret this song for me, since you have played this song hundreds of times?

Victoria: Sadly enough I am not thinking much what it is about. When it comes to the songs I am listening more to the melodies. I am trying to create a mood. We never discuss the lyrics.

AL: Is there going to be a release party here?

Victoria: When we get back in November we will have a big party.

AL: Are you going to play in San Francisco soon?

Victoria: Hopefully we will in the Fall. We haven’t done any shows there yet.

AL: Do you know about The Brain Bulletin?


Victoria: Some girl gave us one of those in London. We met her at The Barfly. She brought one of her little magazines. It was cute. It was all handwritten. There was a picture of a receipt from Amoeba where she had bought our EP. You meet a lot of cool people.

AL: What is that picture you have on the Gliss stickers.

Victoria: It’s an artist we found online. He turned out to be Danish. I didn’t know him. Martin found him online. He liked his artwork. Martin emailed him and asked him to do some stuff for our records. The artist drew that guy who is on the stickers, and our EP, and our kick drum. That guy looks exactly like Martin. It’s funny. They have never met.

AL: Who does your website?

Victoria: That is my sister.

AL: Is there anywhere else you would like to play?

Victoria: Portugal is really nice. The buildings are so old. People are really into music.

WEBSITE: www.gliss.tv

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