RED WEDDING Interview with Michael Ely 2020 KAJW

Interview with Michael Ely 2020 KAJW
by Alexander Laurence
LA music scene 1977-1985 + New Wave Theater
As the early LA punk scene of the late 1970s morphed into the new era, many things took place. Many bands had broken up by 1982 and some had not succeeded in getting signed and breaking into the national scene. The Germs and X more or less crashed and burned. The least likely candidates The Go-Gos had a hit record by 1982, and were touring nationally. The punk rock scene at first was inclusive to anyone with an attitude and a counter culture sound.
Independent Music and labels went into different genres. Punk became more hardcore and anti commercial and local. Other bands who might have been punk in the past were now Goth, Rockabilly, Roots Americana, New Wave, Techno, Ska, Reggae, Disco, Metal, Cabaret, or all of the above. People like Henry Rollins, Nick Cave and Lydia Lunch read their poetry at Club Lhasa. The birth of MTV emphasized the importance of image.
The original punk scene was also hated and banned. Clubs like the Cuckoo’s Nest and the Masque had closed down. The scene documented in The Decline of Western Civilization was fading by 1980. Public Image Ltd played at the Olympic Auditorium in May 1980 to almost five thousand people. Other punk nights were staged by the Stern Brothers soon after that at the Hollywood Palladium. Shows were getting big with the introduction of Goldenvoice. Cops hated the punks. Punk rock had to soften its image, or go underground and be hardcore punk and exist on the margins.
Many new clubs were born like the Anticlub, the Fake Club, Rajis, Al’s Bar, Club Lhasa, the ON Club, Club Lingerie, Club Fetish, The Vex. and the Cathay de Grande. They existed to present a new era of bands that formed in the wake of punk. Some clubs like the Whisky a-go-go and the Roxy existed along side of Goldenvoice events that catered to the new sounds. While conventional rock bands headed over to Gazarri’s or the Troubadour. In downtown LA, there were illegal warehouse parties, at Power Tools, Scream, Dirt Box, and Brave Dog.
There was also New Wave Theater. It was hosted by Peter Ivers and appeared around 1982. Many older bands played on it like Fear, Dead Kennedys and Circle Jerks. But there was also newer bands like 45 Grave, Monitor, Killer Pussy, Suburban Lawns, Mnemonic Devices, Red Wedding, Surf Punks, The Plugs, Legal Weapon, and the Blasters. The new scene had arrived and girls actually attended these gigs. UK bands like Adam and the Ants and Psychedelic Furs were widely accepted and very influential. LA had it’s own Paisley Underground scene, which was a 60s based retro scene based on Syd Barrett and the Velvet Underground.
Red Wedding stood out among the bands. They existed for about five years 1981-1985. They released a few EPs and played many venues and supported many of the local bands. I saw them play at Club Lhasa and the Anti-Club. They also played in San Diego and San Francisco. They never played England or did a national tour, where they may have found more support. I spoke to lead singer, Michael Ely, of Red Wedding. Recently he has formed a band in Tuscon, Arizona called Elegant Rabies.

AL: Many of these bands only played in LA, and SF and NYC if they were lucky.
ME: A lot of them didn’t even leave LA.

AL: When did Red Wedding start?
ME: We played our first show at the Brave Dog in June 1981.

AL: Who were some of the bands that you played with in those years?
ME: Oh gosh. Outer Circle, Crown of Thorns, Kommunity FK. Most of the band that you included in your introduction, including X. We played at the On Club and Club Lhasa. We played in downtown clubs. Many people lived in lofts in the old produce area. We would play shows with bands we liked and there would be DJs also.

AL: There were a lot of illegal loft and warehouse parties back then. Cops would come and some guy would run out with a bag of cash.
ME: Totally. The Brave Dog lasted two years before they got busted. The Brave Dog was my favorite club in those early days.

AL: Most people I knew at the time lived in midtown LA or Hollywood, and never East of Vermont. It wasn’t until the 1990s that people lived East of Vermont. I looked at an apartment in Echo Park back in 1988. But you guys lived in Silverlake at that time?
ME: It was rough. It was in large part latino. We were these weird pale white boys living in their neighborhood. It was rough in general. Spider and I lived in a small studio apartment there. We were starving musicians back then.

AL: When did you meet Spider?
ME: We met in Huntington Beach in 1971. We started living together. He was in bands during the 1970s. He was in a band from Pasadena called The Tracers in 1978. I used to go to band rehearsals and dance. The singer liked the way I danced and she wanted me to sing backup in the band. That was how I got into bands. We formed our own Hey Taxi with George Hurley of the Minutemen. During the Hey Taxi days we lived in Long Beach. Long Beach was where we lived the longest.

AL: After talking to Don Bolles of the Germs, I realized that many of the bands from this time only played shows in California. Only later when Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and X got into the van, and toured nationally, whether it was a big show, or to ten people in Oklahoma, those later bands created an indie circuit for bands of the later 1980s.
ME: It wasn’t easy to do. I live in Tuscon Arizona now and I am friends with all these young bands. They have this circuit where they can tour all over the country. That didn’t exist in the early 1980s.

AL: I guess most bands at that time would play a lot of shows and build up a following and get some interest from a major label or booking agent?
ME: I remember playing with and called Psi Com. It was Perry Farrell’s band before Jane’s Addiction. I remember Perry sitting at a table in the club talking to some girls. I remember seeing an aura around his head. I suddenly had a feeling that he was going to be one of the ones that makes it. It sounds hippy dippy, but I haven’t seen an aura around anyone’s head before or since.

AL: Red Wedding eventually landed on Bemisbrain Records which also had Mneumonic Devices and Outer Circle. What was that label like? Was it just one guy and a garage?
ME: Practically. It was bigger than that. We were on Bemisbrain and then Important Records after that. They were definitely mom and pop operations. When our first EP came out we went down there and stuffed envelopes and sent records to publications and college radio stations. It wasn’t all done for us.

AL: Did you play in San Francisco?
ME: We did. We did a few shows up there. One small club in Berkeley and one show at the Sound of Music in 1982.

AL: I saw you play at the Anti-Club in 1985.
ME: We broke up in 1985.

AL: I saw you play once with Marco in 1984 I think. And the last show Marco wasn’t in the band, but he was there in the audience.
ME: Marco was my best friend. We remain friends after that.

AL: Why did the band break up in 1985?
ME: We had burnt the candle at both ends for years. We were playing and partying. It was wild and exhausting. We hit a wall.

AL: Let me ask you about some of the songs. I just played “Goddess No More.” Back in the punk rock days there were these simple anti-lyrics. Red Wedding was more literary and interesting. You had this interesting song “Satan in Cologne” and “Bernando” was a reference to West Side Story.
ME: I was just into lyrics and I was accused of writing flowery lyrics. That was my style. “Marsha In Pictures” was about being at a party and meeting a woman who was much older. She might be dead now. She was telling me about her life in New York City being a model and that became the lyrics for “Marsha In Pictures.”

AL: And “Goddess No More” was about?
ME: It was about someone I knew who was being put on a pedestal. I knew she was going to fall. It was more an observation.

AL: If people want to listen to Red Wedding, and this new band Elegant Rabies, where should they go?
ME: You can find songs at Bandcamp for both bands. Elegant Rabies is more a late 1960s psychedelic inspired rock band. All my band members are in their twenties, and they weren’t around in the 1960s.

Interview with Michael Ely (of Red Wedding)
Red Wedding: redweddingoriginal.bandcamp.com/releases
The Elegant Rabies: elegantrabies.bandcamp.com/releases