[Note: This interview was done over email from Clearfield, PA in January 2000.]
I'm always interested in finding about the 'scene' or what have you in
different cities, and you have had the somewhat unique experience of living
in quite a few different ones. What were some of the biggest differences
between the independent rock representation in the places you have lived?
Well... as a kid in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (up to age 14)... I wasn't really
active in the scene. I bought records and went to the shows I could go to, but
there wasn't much of a DIY scene or anything like that (or I was too young to
relate to the college-aged people that made up the bulk of the punk scene there
Then in 1988, I moved to a Clearfield, Pennsylvania where there were only 20 or
so skaters that were into punk and hardcore. State College, Pa. (where Penn
State is) was 42 miles east of there and within a year I had made friends over
there and I started going to shows there and in Pittsburgh and in Harrisburg.
In Pennsylvania I started playing guitar and eventually playing in bands. When
I became a more active musician, I got to know more people that were in local
bands, etc. Most of the shows were like parties and you'd recognize most of
the people in the crowd at any given show. I'm a relatively shy and quiet
person, so I can't say I knew everyone by name... but I knew some people and
people knew who I was from playing in Blowout Kit and from recording bands.
In 1994, I moved to New York to join Vineland and it really changed my entire
perspective on music (and life). In PA, most of my friends were early 20s or
younger and in NYC it seemed as though everyone I met was 25 at the youngest.
I was only 20 at the time and kinda struck dumb by my initial excitement with
NYC. I was playing in Vineland with people who played on my favorite records
(Bitch Magnet's Jon Fine, Codeine's Doug Scharin) and meeting all these people
whose work I respected -- I met Television's Fred Smith at a party. It was
strange... there was just so much history (even outside of punk). Eventually,
however, this excitement wore off and I realized that NYC could possibly be the
worst place to be in a band... because there really isn't much of a "scene".
Everyone has bands and there are so many shows that it was just overload.
Eventually I quit Vineland and ended up leaving NYC in the fall of 1997. I
don't think I would never live there again, unless I just had so much money
that it didn't matter.
New Orleans is pretty much an awful town for doing anything new with rock
music. Most of the bands there are either straight hardcore/pop-punk or garage
rock. Not that there aren't good bands, but most of them choose those routes
that aren't my favorite sub-genres. Burnversion was a great arty band from N.
O., but they packed it in shortly after I moved to town. New Orleans also has
an obsession with kitsch and shtick that I really don't understand. If you
were to have a guy tap-dancing in a rabbit suit in front of a very generic
heavy rock band there... it would seem as though you'd be huge and be applauded
for having so much artistic ability.
I moved back to Baton Rouge in January of 1999 and I can't say I've ever been
happier... Of course, I have a very sweet deal: I share a house with my
father and the rent is basically house work. I have my 24-track set up there
so I can record myself and bands whenever I please. I live in a very pleasant
neighborhood near the university and crime is virtually non-existent in the
parts of the city I frequent. The scene here is cool because it's so small
that everyone pretty much knows each other. In the summer I organize this sort
of indie-rock sunday baseball/kickball series and after each game we have
cookouts at my house afterwards. Just thinking of it now, I might have a
handle on why there isn't so much of the pettiness that I've experienced
elsewhere. Baton Rouge is generally very yuppie and "middle-american". So
basically... you could have the greatest arty punk band ever in Baton Rouge and
no one would care except for the same 30 people who go to most of the shows and
are in most of the bands. Basically, there is no one's attention to really
compete for, so there's not so much competition.
Was it ever hard to adjust to a larger or smaller scene?
The only thing I miss about New York (besides friends) is going to get pizza at
4am. I'm a homebody in certain respects -- I often stay home at night to read,
write or work on music stuff. It doesn't really matter to me where I live...
Though I "live" in Baton Rouge, I was only there for 7 months of 1999. In some
ways, I feel I'm just as much a part of the Central Pennsylvania scene because
I've got just as much support there as I've got in Baton Rouge.
Can you make any recommendations for people interested in music who might
be considering living in one of the cities you have lived in?
State College, Pa: Go for it!
NYC, NY: As a person w/ a $70,000 salary who just wants to see tons of
bands... then sure it's a great place. As far as being a band... I wouldn't
really recommend it. I just think there is too much else to distract you or
complicate matters... (job schedules, practice space rent, touring with so much
New Orleans: Not so hot for anyone who has alcoholic tendencies or is
interested in having a huge following for a fucked-up band. I lived there for
a year and a half and I figure that I was lucky to have not gotten mugged. New
Orleans seems to be all the bad things about a city with none of the good
Baton Rouge: Great place... P'haps a little slow-paced for anyone used to the
You have toured and will be touring extensively, what are some of the
best and worst places you have played?
Well, speaking strictly of my solo touring... basically how good or bad I play
drastically effects how I view that town.
Austin is really one of my favorite cities... I think that if I decided to pay
rent somewhere, then I'd probably go there. My Chicago show in November was a
4-song broken-strings-galore disaster... So much so that I bailed (w/o getting
paid) to go hang out with friends. Though I love Chicago, I wasn't thrilled
with that experience.
In Iowa City, I opened for Veruca Salt and the Cupcakes (two major label
bands). It was a strange show because there were something like 300 total MTV
kids. I walked out of the audience and up on stage and it was funny how quiet
they got. After each song, they applauded a lot and part of me was thinking
that they were all racking their brains, trying to remember whether they'd seen
my video or not. Some kid in the back was enthusiastically yelling, "Yeah,
Fred! Fuck yeah, Fred!" When I finished, I packed up my guitars and walked
back to the table I'd been sitting at. I would catch kids glancing at me from
time to time, kinda puzzled by the fact that I was just sitting at a table
while Veruca Salt and the Cupcakes hung out backstage and didn't mingle with
the crowd at all. I was happy that perhaps for some of those kids I'd broken
down some sort of performer/audience barrier or at least changed their
perception of band people being any different than they are.
Where are you looking forward to going for the first time in the future?
I was just thinking the other day that I'd like to tour Europe and possibly do
it all traveling on the train with one guitar. I don't know... I've already
been to 47 of the 48 contiguous states (all except Nevada) so there's nothing
really new in the US. I'm eager to play the West Coast in May, though, and in
general I just love playing for whoever wants to watch and I love traveling. I
would love to be on the road for 10 months of the year, but I can't really do
that until I get someone else to handle the booking end of things.
Any entertaining tour stories?
Well, I'm laughing at this one b/c I do have a really disastrously funny story
about my toolbox and Birmingham, Alabama, but perhaps you should have people
email me if they want that one. Other than that... hmm... there's so many. A
fairly G-rated one would be during the first Vineland tour I went on, we stayed
with this old friend of Jon Fine's in Cleveland... this guy Steve Wainstead
that's been in the Cleveland scene forever. Anyway... we go to stay at his
house and he's showing us all these old records he's selling and then everyone
starts watching Simpsons videos. I ask if it'd be cool if I took a bath and
Steve says sure and he totally hooks me up with a towel and shows me where the
bathroom is. So I take a bath and everything's cool. I step out of the tub
into an inch of water... I'm looking around like "What the fuck?" There is
water everywhere. So I'm totally panicking... knowing I didn't do anything
wrong, but I had totally fucked up this guy's bathroom. Anyway... so I'm
freaking out and I figure that between all the towels I have in there and my
sweatshirt I can at least straighten things out a little bit before I have to
go up all embarrassed and tell the guy that there is water all over in his
bathroom. I start mopping it up and it really didn't look that bad after
soaking up most of the water. The rugs and stuff were wet, but at least it
didn't look like a total disaster. So I put my clean clothes on and I take a
deep breath -- feeling pretty good that I've contained the situation. I open
the door and my fucking god there is a huge pool of water all over his kitchen
floor. I couldn't believe it... I was completely frustrated. There was
nothing to do but go tell the guy that I had completely fucked up the place.
Of course, Steve was super nice about it. I remember him standing there
mopping and I said, "Man, Steve, I'll do that." And he's all, "Oh don't worry
about it... just go to bed... it's no big deal." I apologized profusely and we
stayed with him on the next tour and he still hadn't figured out what I had
done to the place. I have no idea, but p'haps people should be warned to be
careful letting me take showers at their places.
You mention in a few places strange stories about various places you have
lived, any good ones you could share with us?
Oh... In Pennsylvania there just seems to be a huge black cloud over the area
around Clearfield, which is where my mom lives. There's been a ridiculous
amount of tragedy for such a small population. Lots of suicides, murders,
drunk driving accidents... all of which I find somewhat fascinating.
New York, well, it was actually pretty "normal".
New Orleans, however, is a freak show... I guess any cheap city is going to
attract people without the ability to function normally enough to hold the
"real" jobs it takes to stay afloat in NYC. Lots of characters there... Also,
I worked at the New Orleans Convention Center where there were always sort of
weird things happening... from something as innocuous as FenceTech (a
convention of fence designers/manufacturers) to the heavier medical
conventions... a roomful of cadaverous heads, lots of horrifying slide shows,
etc. etc... I also helped assemble tape silos with robotic arms at NASA for a
week. I've had a couple of strange jobs.
Since I still live in Baton Rouge, I won't go spouting off about the people
there. It's an interesting place and there are a lot of smart people there.
Typical of college towns, it's very comfortable and that seems help seep the
ambition out of people. But that's fine... I'm kinda the oddball, whatwith my
caffeine fueled hyperactivity and dedication to work.
You were previously in several multi-member bands, why did you decide to
play solo instead?
Mainly the fact that I couldn't find a drummer in New Orleans that was good
enough. I know it sounds snobby, but I've played with so many incredible
drummers and no one with the chops I was looking for was interested in doing
what I wanted to do.
What are some of the biggest differences or problems involved with playing
solo? In particular, how is touring different?
Well... so far with the solo touring I haven't taken a roadie, driver or
companion. Advantages: No one to get mad at or sick of (except for
yourself). If anyone wants to talk to a member of the band, they have to talk
to me. Disadvantages: A little lonely maybe (no one to share the common
experience of traveling with)... doing all the driving (I've had problems with
hand cramps before) I guess there's a lot to deal with, too. Like I'll be done
playing and someone will want to buy a record and I'll have to tell them to
wait until I'm done getting off stage. At the end of the night, I've got to go
get the van, move my stuff (happy to have no big amps, tho) and then deal with
getting paid. I mean... I'm completely comfortable with the operation now --
having done it so many times -- that it comes as a completely pleasant surprise
when a friend is at the show and offers to help. Sometimes I think that being
by myself means I sell less stuff because people are somewhat intimidated by
being forced to talk to the performer instead of the merch guy.
As far as actual performances go, well, it's kinda rough because I have a
tendency to get real down on myself for not playing so hot and I realize that
when I'm up there by myself there's no wall of sound to cover up my mistakes.
In a way... I think a band has the law of averages work in their favor...
because various members can have good or bad nights, the average show is
probably pretty good. Whereas with solo performances, how good you play on
that particular night is how good the show is. I think audiences kinda
understand that, though, and are more forgiving of mistakes in a solo
performer. The most common comment I receive is something like, "Man, you've
got a lot of balls to get up there by yourself!" It makes me happy to hear
that. Besides, it's kinda exciting being up there by myself because if things
start going badly or I break strings, I have complete freedom to take the songs
wherever I want them to go. Performances can widely vary without having to
consult the rest of the band or make eye contact or whatever.
You have played each of the three primary "rock" insturments
(guitar-bass-drums), have you considered recording an solo album
incorporating all of these?
I play bass well enough to play on my own recordings, but I don't play the
drums really well. I actually did play all the instruments on my contribution
to Recursive Delete's "Home Recording" compilation, however.
Do you favor the guitar over the other insturments or is it a matter of
Yeah, I definitely favor the guitar. I learned to play the guitar first and I
write most of my songs on guitar... so it only makes sense to play it. As far
as acoustic guitars go... I mostly play 12-strings because you get this huge
wash of harmonics -- which is essentially a natural equivalent to what a
distortion pedal creates for an electric guitar. I really like the way they
sound so noisy, yet it is a completely "natural" sound requiring no
electricity. I do play a little bit of 6-string acoustic, but it really sounds
"small" in comparison and is used only on songs where it suits.
Do you think you might ever play in a "standard" band (3+ members) again?
Oh, definitely. Jerry Fuchs (ex-Vineland drummer... now in Jade Tree's Turing
Machine) and I recorded 4 noisy rock songs in December and we're going to do
more over the summer. I still write songs on electric guitar and would love to
have a band. One thing basically keeps me from having a band... I've been so
spoiled by playing with Jerry that I can't find a drummer good enough to fill
his shoes. He's in school full time now, so he can't tour much and when he
does it's with the Turing Machine. There's been talk about the possibility of
me touring with Turing Machine where I'd play half a set of acoustic songs,
half a set of electric songs with Jerry and Justin, and then the Turing Machine
would play. That'd be awesome, but until that can happen or another incredible
drummer surfaces in my region... I'll stick to the acoustic deal.