Tuesday, December 31, 2013


From RW#21, 2005:


Interview by Mike Dixon

Gary Panter's answering machine sounds like a dilapidated robot. The creaky mechanical monotone is a perfectly appropriate voice for notifying callers that the artist is unable to answer at the phone. Since the late '70s, Panter has spread his inimitable alternate-universe visions across the world, in the form of countless books, comics, art exhibitions and installations, performances, animated cartoons, record albums, toys, housewares, and on and on into infinity. His work across so many mediums is an inspiring and true testament to the power of imagination. He's a really nice guy, too!

Gary was born in Texas, and in his first eight years, his family bounced from one mid-western city to another before settling in Sulphur Springs, TX. After he graduated from the painting program at East Texas State in 1974, Panter says, "I got out of college and I couldn't get any work in Austin or Dallas doing illustration work, so I took what little money I had and went to Los Angeles. I met a guy who let me sleep on his couch and I became a commercial illustrator." He found plenty of work in L.A., and shortly after arriving, he designed a trio of Frank Zappa album covers. Panter the fan was later chagrined to learn the records had been released by the label against Zappa's wishes. Around this time, punk "happened" and Gary happened upon it. "I remember going into a hip record store and saying 'Gee, what are the good records now?' and the guy going 'Well, you know, Todd Rundgren, and Sparks'. So I was listening to that stuff and kind of enjoying it, but wondering 'what else is there?' Then I saw Slash magazine on the newsstand, and saying 'Oh,wow. This looks interesting'." This was 1977, and Panter became involved in the burgeoning punk scene and began contributing comics to Slash. These strips were drawn in an unprecedentedly raw and ratty style that more or less set the template for "punk" graphics that have endured to this day. They featured the adventures of Panter's everyman hero Jimbo, a kind of half-punk, half-caveman (and part-time grad student), who wanders around a not-too-distant future suburban wasteland.

Around this time, Panter became acquainted with Paul Rubens, aka Pee Wee Herman. "He noticed some of my fliers around town and he got ahold of me somehow." Soon they were collaborating on the stage production of The Pee-Wee Herman. When Pee Wee made the jump to the big time, Gary was brought along to design the sets, characters, and even the spun-off product lines for the Daytime Emmy Award winning Pee-wee's Playhouse. "We were nominated five times and won three times. It's a big deal. Everyone's in suits, and it goes on forever. Florence Henderson—the mom from The Brady Bunch—sat at our table, but I was about five years too old to really appreciate it."
In the ensuing years, Panter continued with commercial work, while making paintings and publishing a steady stream of hallucinatatory comics, notably in Art Spiegelman's Raw anthologies, in the Japanese reggae (yes, Japanese reggae) magazine Riddim, and in the deluxe, folio-sized book Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise. Panter's loosely serialized stories are set in the city of DalTokyo. "I look at it as being kind of a theater. Like, the character Henry Webb plays a lot of different bad guys. Sometimes he's the same bad guy, but sometimes he's like a bad guy who keeps dying and keeps being reincarnated with slightly different bad personalities. Sometimes he's a little bit better, sometimes he's a little bit worse. But the characters are basically playing parts. I have a hard time killing characters off, and having bad things happen to them. So a lot of the story is really about the place they're in, DalTokyo. There's a theme in my comics which is that the authoritative powers try to take care of you, and there are all these robotic denizens that are trying to enforce the rules, so it's always very oppressive."

From 1995 to 1997, Matt Groening's undergroundist Zongo Comics imprint began publishing Jimbo on a quarterly schedule. The first issue was rendered with an absurd crudeness unprecedented in "professional" comics, even considering Panter's reputation as the master of controlled chaos. With each issue, the rendering became incrementally cleaner, the three distinct storylines (one involving Jimbo's arrest for loitering and imprisonment in a luxury spa/prison, another about two hillbillies and their city slicker cousin's misadventures slaughtering chickens, and a third following an FBI investigation of a mysterious bus accident) slowly converge, and the panels become progressively more detailed and intricate. By the end of the series' seven issue run, Panter was using Dante's Inferno as a narrative template, and employing 19th-century-style crosshatching. But the series ended with stories apparently unresolved. Then, six years later, Panter continued Jimbo's adventure with the giant-sized Jimbo in Purgatory, the natural next step in adapting Dante to DalTokyo. "This Purgatory strip is actually a continuation of it. It's an extension of that idea of tightening up more and more each issue. But I'm not sure I'm going to continue to tighten up. It's funny when people look at it and talk about how scratchy and crude it is, and I think it's not." One thing that Panter does agree with readers of Purgatory, though, is the inscrutable density of the book. It's an impossibly concieved adaptation of an arcane source, with each pages references, from Virgil to Westworld to the Old Testament to "Two Virgins" footnoted. Panter says "It's hard in every way. I don't mind that it's challenging, but I'm not going to become some sort of literary critic comic artist. I don't have it in me."

Panter is unsure whether he'll bother tying up the other loose narrative ends. He says he probably could come up with a satisfactory conclusion, but he's got a lot of other work that he's interested in for the time being, and in his mind he keeps his work between mediums separate. For instance, "painting tends to be separate from comics. They're both personal, but they're different. When I was really young, I thought 'Oh, I'll do comics, and then I'll do paintings of them.' But when I started doing that, the paintings looked bad to me, so I decided just to keep them separate. Comics are hard work. The whole enterprise is very time-intensive. The weird thing about Zongo 1# was how hard it was to even do crappy work." For the past half-decade, Panter has been active developing and performing electric light shows. He explains: "A few years ago, I built a little theater in my studio. It's a solid black room, with a screen about three-by-four feet. I started doing little light shows there, but I could only do them for about eight or maybe ten people at most. I did a lot of those shows, then that whole thing ended. About a year later, this gallery in Brooklyn, Pierogi, the owner Joe Amrhein invited me to do a light show in his performance space. So I set up there and did about fifty shows in a month. Through that I met Joshua White, who did a lot of big light shows at the Fillmore East in the '60s. So we started getting more and more equipment, and involving Josh to make a bigger light show. Then last summer, we did a full-size light show . . . I don't know how big, about twelve-by-thirty or something at the Anthology Film Archives. And this year we're doing a couple of other light shows, and one of them's kind of big. Then we're thinking of trying to make what do what we do smaller. The smaller we make it, the more sensitive articulated kinds of things you can do, and the bigger it gets, the more people you need. It's a hand light show, it's not a computerized light show, so we have to be back there bending things. It's free form, but somewhat structured. There are a number of things you can do, and you make the tools you need to do them. We've done them with pre-recorded music by a friend of mine who made a tape collage for us, and we've also done them with live music. I played with Bardo Pond in Philadelphia, and we played with Yo La Tengo and Alan Licht in New York. Alan played quite a few shows with us. They look like '60s light shows. We use all these overhead projectors that are left over from Josh's shows. So that globby kind of thing like—you know the cover of "In A Gadda-Da-Vida"? That was a photo of Josh's light show. And then the stuff I was doing was using stencils and bouncing light in back of the screen—aiming light away from the screen and then bouncing it back, bouncing it through things, which is more like a beatnik light show. The thing that Josh liked about my light show was that it was just a hand-done one. There's a million people asking him about light shows, but 99.9% of them are computer light shows, which are cool, but it's a different thing.What we're doing is using really bright light sources that are really small, motorized color wheels that we hand cut and build, mobiles that are shiny—anything shiny, anything crystalline. You can make big mylar mirrors and tap the backs and control the image. So there's a lot of ways you can kind of put your hands on the light. We have it set up where if I just move my finger, the whole image jumps around. Josh has been a director for a long time, and he's super organized, so I'm happy just to see what happens."

Two years ago, Panter started his website (found, straightforwardly enough, at www.garypanter.com) and began offering custom-made drawings for $100 apiece to the first one hundred customers. After the first hundred were spoken for, the price increased to $125, and so for each hundred sales, there is to be a $25 price hike. Presently priced at $175 a pop for a 6"x8" black ink and wash drawing, the drawings are a product of Panter's free-associating upon one to three words chosen by the customer. Gary says, "I do drawings that are two and three times bigger than this that I show in galleries that I sell for two or three thousand dollars. People have said to me 'oh I like your work, but I can't really afford it . . . maybe someday'. And I just thought, well I can make something that's cheap . . . But I didn't want to be doing drawings for a hundred dollars a piece for the rest of my life, so if the price slowly goes up. . . Maybe that's the cheesy part of it, I don't know. I like reaching another hundred drawings and saying 'Ah, another twenty-five dollars'. Then the people who bought them the first time around say 'now I've gotten a deal'. I don't know how long I can do it. Maybe I can do it forever, maybe another couple of years. But in the meantime, a couple hundred people will get my drawings. It's really hard with pricing. It's hard to explain to my twenty year old fans who like my work how expensive the life of an adult is. But really, it's been great. I've always supported myself doing commercial art, and when you're a freelance, the phone rings sometimes, and sometimes it doesn't. And this has been oddly consistent. I sell a drawing about every three days. I'm always working on a few, and I haven't gotten tired of it. If I felt like I was doing bad drawings I would stop, or if I got tired of it, but so far it's been fun." "I work a lot. Seven days a week, all day long, all night long, with a million interruptions. I go to teach on Mondays, family stuff, food-buying, cat-boxing, lawn raking. There's something about my brain that loves painting and drawing."


From RW#21, 2005:

The Icebacks Cometh

Interview by JOEY T. GERM

Back in the day, before cell phones and the Internet and DVDs and iPods and all that shit, back when VCRs were top-loaders that ejected tapes with enough force to launch a hamster ten feet across your living room (not that I ever witnessed such a stunt myself) punk bands like DOA were blazing the trail for today's mopey emo kids. Like their American counterparts and brothers-in-arms, Black Flag, DOA rampaged across the North American continent, as well as Europe, living their vagabond lifestyles in smelly breaking-down vans. When DOA showed up, they plugged in and leveled the joint. If you want the full-on version of the events briefly described above, do yourself a favor and read Joe Keithley's autobiographical, I Shithead (perhaps the funniest book title ever) The book is chuck (biscuits?) full of anecdotes that will make you yearn for the days you weren't around for to begin with. And do check out any DOA record of the last 25 years. Bloodied But Unbowed is a must, however, just so you know.

RW: What's the biggest difference between a day in the life of Joe Keithley in 2005 and a day in the life of Joey Shithead in 1985?  
JS: Back then I was a part-time cab driver when we weren't on tour. So the schedule during the day would be: waking up at noon and going out to drive night shift or hang out, or be driving to a show. Now I am usually up at 7am. I get my kids off to school and start doing label stuff in the morning, usually a workout around noon, unless we are on tour, then again the daytime is driving to the next town is still the order of the day.
RW: Do you think punk is doing its job today?
JS: Well, sort of. There are a lot of people in the underground that are working hard politically. However, a lot of the "bigger" new bands really just pay lip service to the activist side of punk rock. It's when they get up on stage and yell "Anarchy is cool!" then they might be backstage bitching that the hotel is only three stars.
RW: This is a quote from the Trouser Press Record Guide, from the section on DOA; "punk-rock is, by definition, a marginal occupation, and those who make millions from it aren't doing it right." Do you agree with that?
JS: Did we say that? Or was that the writer in Trouser Press?
RW: That was written by the Trouser Press writers.
JS: Let's take activist music in general, say folk and punk. Despite what some might think, you can "do the right thing" and be very successful. Look at Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg, even The Clash, The Pistols and The DKs, (despite their inner contradictions) they were all successful in their day at their main occupations which seemed to be stirring things up and inspiring people.
RW: People tend to give Black Flag the lion's share of the credit for blazing the trail as far as punk and independent bands touring, but DOA was known to do some pretty insane tours and to travel insane distances to play shows.What is the longest distance you traveled to play a show or the most fucked up tour route you?ve taken?
JS: Yes, we did as many shows and tours as Black Flag. In the long run actually, a lot more. We used to trade contact numbers with them. Then we would meet each other on the road somewhere and laugh about all the places that had never seen punk rock before and how crazy their reaction was in that 'new' town. The longest trip via vehicle was Vancouver to NYC (3,000 miles), started December 26th for a New Year's Eve show in NYC which was cancelled when we got there and they stiffed us for the dough,1985. We also did a crazy thing that had us in; Thursday, San Francisco; Friday, NYC; Saturday, L.A., 1982. Another was, Thursday, Toronto; Friday, Berlin; Saturday, London; Sunday, Montreal, 1992.
RW: Your first Gibson SG was stolen how many times?
JS: It has been stolen three times. In Vancouver, Portland and Spain, and I got it back all three times. It's one of my good luck charms. You know how B.B. King and Willie Nelson have had the same guitars forever? Same thing.
RW: You sold the infamous DOA tour banner in San Jose, but were able to buy it back. Was that a condition of the sale, being able to buy it back someday?
JS: Yes, that was funny. We sold it for three hundred dollars on the condition that we could buy it back for the same price. The club guy had it decorating the club's ceiling. When we played there about five years later, the club guy said to me after I told him I wanted it back, "Yeah, I gave you $750 for that didn't I?" I said, "Yeah right," and gave his three hundred. The worse part was that I got Craig Bougie (No Means No soundman) to take it down so it had five years of dust and nicotine, probably rat turds as well, falling on top of him as he took it down.
RW: Jack Rabid, of the mega-zine The Big Takeover, wrote the intro to your autobiography, I, Shithead, and he closed the intro by saying that if youwant to hear a funny story, ask Joe about the time his son came home and told him that the kids at school said he used to have a different last name. So, I'm doing as Jack Rabid suggested in your book and asking, what is the funny story?
JS: Yes, my eldest son Jake was in grade six at the time and he came home and said one of his teachers said I had a really funny nickname. I said, "Yeah, it' s Razor 'cause I'm so sharp on guitar!" He said, "no it's not." Just shows you how many times they had bothered looking at DOA albums.
RW: You also mention that the stories contained in your book are only about five percent of the stories you have. Are the best stories in the book and are there any plans for documenting the other ninety-five percent?
JS: Some of the best stories are in there, the majority are not. I am working on a new book
RW: What kind of music do your kids listen to?
JS: It ranges from jazz to new punk, to big band. We all like to listen to everything.
RW: Do they appreciate your contribution to punk rock on this continent?
JS: Yes, and around the world as well. Have they read I, Shithead? I am not sure. I guess I will know for sure when some funny questions are being asked! In reality, I bet not. The two older ones hate reading. They are just into the computer lifestyle.
RW: What's the biggest difference between Americans and Canadians? There are lots, the most important of course is that we almost always wax you guys at hockey! Canadians are generally more polite, the cities are cleaner (just like it's portrayed in Canadian Bacon!) There is more compassion for those who are down and out. We have socialized medicine. Yep, I'm proud to be an Iceback!
RW: What is the best American import?
JS: Gibson and Fender guitars! Martin too!
RW: What is the best Canadian export?
JS: Well, not Celine Dion. Maybe Neil Young.


From RW#21, 2005:


An Interview by Mike Dixon

Craig Finn of the Hold Steady (hereafter, CF): Hey it's Craig.
Mike Dixon of the Reglar Wiglar (RW): Craig, this is Mike.
CF: How are you, Mike?
RW: I'm alright. How are you?
CF: Good. What are you up to?
RW: Uh, just...
CF: Got out of work early?
RW: Got out of work early and I'm at home now. Yeah. Let's just kind of start at... you guys started out as a cover band?
CF: Uh, well yeah. These friends of mine had a comedy thing, and it was kind of like, in between sets as they changed skits, they had us playing. No singing. Just sort of famous hard rock riffs like 'Back In Black' or 'The Boys Are Back In Town'. Kind of like bumper music. Just fun stuff that was helping them out. That's how we got together. We got together playing all this hard rock stuff, and it was so far from what we'd been hearing in the years leading up to that, and it just sounded so good, and it ended up being the genesis of the band.
RW: And then you said "Let's see what happens if we write original material?"
CF: Yeah, I had some songs lying around, and I started showing them, and all of a sudden we had a show. It's funny, bands, you always end up telling the story of how you started but it always ends up being that you aren't thinking beyond playing the first show. Often you play the first show, then you've got a band.
RW: How do you guys go about writing songs?
CF: Well, I write a lot. I just write. I have notebooks worth of stuff. Tad comes in with a riff. Usually Tad--I'd say 70% of the time. He's the guitar player. He was the bass player in Lifter Puller. He was like a replacement bass player for the last two years. He was a better guitar player than anyone, but he just joined when we needed a bass player. So he comes up with a riff, or else I will every once in a while. Then we'll just jam it out, and then I'll go home and try to figure out what words are going to go over it. Start changing it around, make it fit, et cetera.
RW: I wondered about that, because your lyrics sound almost like raps or something.
CF: Yeah. Hip hop's a big influence of mine in a lot of ways. It's also just something I do. It's half through rap and half spoken singers like Lou Reed.
RW: Do you do other writing, like short stories?
CF: No, not really. No. I have a novel. I have this outline for this book that I haven't written much of and it just stares at me in my face every morning. Every day I go home and I look at it, but I really haven't done that much with it. But like I said, I write tons in notebooks, and out of that comes lyrics. I'd like to do more co-writing with other artists, but I haven't. Writing lyrics for a different artist, you know?
RW: I had read about Lifter Puller--probably in Your Flesh or something--and thought I should check it out, but I kind of forgot about it. It slipped into my subconcience until someone said "Have you heard this Hold Steady album?" and I said "No. What's that?" and I picked it up on that recommendation not knowing what it was going to be like. And when I heard it, I thought I hadn't really heard anything like it. So I looked you up, and drew the connection back to Lifter Puller. Since then, I've only heard a little bit of the old band, but it's kind of a similar thing, right?
CF: Yeah, it's sort of similar. It was way more indie, where this is a little more hard rock.
RW: So, is there any concept behind it?
CF: It's just the way it ended up being. I think a lot of what we're doing is maybe not a conscious reaction, but certainly some reaction to--Lifter Puller was based in Minneapolis and I moved to New York in the fall of 2000, and a lot of the stuff that was big at the time or immediately following, you know, dance punk, new wave-style revival. I would say what we do is somewhat in reaction to that. I was sitting in my house and growing up in Minneapolis, I used to see the Replacements in their glory years, and I was thinking that none of these bands have anything on them. Just the power and energy that they had with two guitars, bass and drums. And that was kind of the genesis of it.
RW: I had a friend I used to work with who moved up there. He got a job working for Summit Brewery.
CF: Really.
RW: Yeah, and I stayed in Minneapolis or maybe St. Paul for a few days, and every place we went, we heard the Replacements, either in a bar or on a jukebox. It was still--this was 1997 probably.
CF: Yeah, even the squarest jocks are really into it.
RW: I grew up in Chicago and Naked Raygun was kind of our big punk band.
CF: Sure, I used to go see Naked Raygun all the time.
RW: There were like five people in my high school who knew who they were, but the last few months before we all went to college, some of the jock-type guys from our school were showing up at the shows.
CF: That's what you want. You know what I mean? You need those guys. You can only get so far with the total hipsters.
RW: How do feel about New York vs. the Midwest?
CF: Well, it's totally different, obviously. Minneapolis in particular. I went to school in Boston and I wanted to start a band, which ended up being Lifter Puller, and I ended up moving to Minneapolis. I was from there, but I also knew that it was a vibrant music scene. It was kind of easy to build a following, pay rent, and all of that. When you do those things in New York it's a lot harder to do practices, and people tend to have more going on. But, when you do well, it's way easier to make a national impact. Which you eventually want to.
RW: Because the local press in New York is also the national press, right?
CF: Yeah.
RW: What is going on in Ybor City?
CF: I don't know, because I've never been there, but it's really fun to say. I do know it's a place that used to be a really cracked-out--but since then, it was redone as sort of a South Beach type place, so it's really got the worst of both worlds. It's right by Tampa.
RW: The new album has a heavy--it's not even a subtext--Catholic thread running through it.
CF: My idea is that the record is both Catholic and suburban. Those are two things I'm really familiar with in my upbringing. A lot of my stuff is based on characters. And the characters are extreme people who go back and forth between really extreme things.
RW: You do a lot of stuff that takes place around bars or party scenes, and one thing I love about it is that most people who write songs about drugs or booze or whatever it's either "Oh man, I put my whole life through the needle" or "Woo let's drink whiskey all day"--and you seem pretty matter of fact. You don't pass any judgement.
CF: Well there are positives and negatives. It's a little detached, I guess. I think that plays into the Catholic thing. You know, you go to confession, and you're forgiven.
RW: When you write stuff do you have a bunch of one-liners and build out from there?
CF: It's usually like a page. And then I cross things out when I revisit it and shape it into verses.
RW: On the first record, you had a lot of those lines where you say "My name is-- but the call me--" and there's one song where you use the members of The Band, like Robbie Robertson and Rick Danko.
CF: That's just sort of tricks I come up with to kind of move the stuff along. The second song on the new album kind of goes through a lot of the books of the Bible. It's a technique I come up with for something to hang the song on. A framework.
RW: So I guess you don't mind too much if people have to try to figure things out for themselves because they don't totally get everything you're talking about right away--the references like Ybor City or Andre Cymone
CF: I hope that's part of the fun. When we played in Minneapolis last time there was a write-up in the local weekly paper and it said that the new album's really confusing. I don't know if that should be such a bad thing.
RW: I like it. I listen to it and there's a reference to like Rocco Sifredi, and I don't get it, but I think it's funny. Even though I don't know who he is.
CF: He's a porn star. It's littered with inside jokes and inferences so that maybe the seventy-fifth time you listen to it, you get something you didn't on the first.
RW: What else are you interested in besides music?
CF: Baseball. The Minnesota Twins.
RW: That's funny. This other writer's interviewing Steve Albini--
CF: Oh really?
RW: --and he wants to come up with something that's not a rehash of the major labels and digital recording are evil thing. So I said "Do you follow baseball at all? Because I know he's a huge baseball fan." And he doesn't, which is kind of unfortunate, because it would be an interesting--or at least an unusual interview.
CF: There are a lot of metaphors between baseball and rock and a lot of prominent rock dudes are big baseball fans. You know, you go out on a tour with a band. Some shows are good, some shows are bad. But you keep at it, and you start to come up with a two-thirds good to bad. You keep at it for a long time, and you can't let the bad ones get you down, and that's kind of what a baseball season is. There are 162 games, and the important thing is that they play well most of the time. There's this mental thing about doing it day after day after day. There's a persistence there. Then there's the whole different thing of the geeky stats stuff, which plays right into record collecting. Record collectors and baseball facticians are the same dudes, basically. There are all these obscure names, like the guy who pitched for the Twins in 1979.
RW: Yeah, it's not so much fun if you just know the all-stars.
CF: Right. There are unlikely heroes. In 1991 the Twins won the World Series, and Gene Larkin, a guy off the bench, pinch hit and won the World Series. And damned if I knew who Gene Larkin was, but it's not the players who were all-stars who won. Most of our band likes baseball and hates the Yankees.
RW: Okay, I was going to ask if you were a Yankees fan or a Mets fan.
CF: I hate 'em. I don't really care about the Mets so much. I'm actually from Boston originally, so I was raised a Red Sox fan. My parents moved to Minneapolis when I was a kid. I grew up in Minneapolis, so I got into the Twins by myself. My dad's still more of a Red Sox fan. Either way, I did not like the Yankees. To give you an idea, the Yankees payroll's about two hundred million dollars, and there are teams in baseball that 28 million dollar payroll. The next down from the Yankees' is the Red Sox', which is about 120 mil. So they're just basically paying for it. It's hatred. I don't like 'em.
RW: So, talking about record collecting, are you into that at all?
CF: No. I love records, and I buy records, but I don't collect them. Every once in a while I'll go to a record convention, and I'll be like "I can't believe it." Everything I've bought, I've never spent collector's prices.
RW: Yeah, I've probably paid $25.00 once or twice on some old punk album you can't get on CD. Do you know who Greg Cartwright is?
CF: Yeah.
RW: I think his wife does well with whatever she does, but he just lives off of finding and selling records. Like 60s soul and doo wop 45s. He's just incredibly knowledgeable about the obscurities.
CF: What's his band doing now?
RW: I interviewed him a while ago, and he had just moved to North Carolina.
CF: Really? Was that because of his wife or something?
RW: I don't know. He met his wife through record collecting.
CF: There aren't many of those out there. Ha ha.
RW: So now it's him and two other guys. New guys now. They couldn't keep it together with the other guys living in Memphis. But they're keeping the name as the Reigning Sound. So, I know they've got a new odds and sods collection coming out, and then they're backing up some guy--some old blues/R&B guy--on his new album. I can't think of his name. Eddie Rogers or something like that (note: the name of the guy is Eddie Kirkland).
CF: I love that band.
RW: Yeah, the new Jack Oblivian record is really good.
CF: Is it just called Jack Oblivian?
RW: Jack O and the Tearjerkers.
CF: Is it on In the Red?
RW: I think Sympathy.
CF: I'll have to check it out. I'm an eMusic member, so they might have it.
RW: What have you heard lately that's good?
CF: They do have it, awesome. Ummmmmmm, I really like the new Spoon record. I've also been listening to this Jens Lekman record. Do you know that guy?
RW: Is he the guy. . .
CF: He kind of does a Stephin Merrit type of thing.
RW: Yeah. "I Don't Want To Be Your Dog" or something... kind of funny songs?
CF: Yeah. "When I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog". He's got a real dry sense of humor.
RW: That's the kind of thing that I don't think it's the kind of music I like, but I end up liking a lot more of it than I will admit to.
CF: Right. Is it "Don't Throw Your Love Away"? The Jack Oblivian?
RW: Yeah.
CF: I like a lot of indie hip hop stuff.
RW: Like MF Doom?
CF: Yeah. There's this guy P.O.S. from Minneapolis. He's a friend of mine, but I didn't know him that well until he became an artist that I really enjoyed. I did a cameo on his record. But his last record is really incredible.
RW: P.L.F.?
CF: P.O.S. Like Piece of Shit. It's pretty cool.
RW: Hmmm.
CF: There's this band that we just played a bunch of shows with called The Oranges Band that're on Lookout Records. Their new record is fantastic. It's miles ahead of their last one. They did it all themselves and I'm just blown away by the album. Especially the vocal production on it.
RW: The new Stephen Malkmus album, though.
CF: Yeah, you have it?
RW: It's not very good.
CF: It really isn't. You know why? I'm not really down with indie rock right now, and his last two records.
RW: I've been following the guy for twelve years or so, and I'm kind of a loyalist, and I listened to it and thought "oh, this sucks". Then I listened a few more times and decided he could have made a three or four song ep and come out looking really great. But, it just doesn't sound like he worked very hard.
CF: You know, what bummed me out about it is that I thought he was going somewhere with that other stuff, with the long guitar solos. And I thought, that's what I want him to do.
RW: There's one song on there like that and it's the best one.
CF: I love the 'climing the mountain' solos. I wanted it to be more like the Allman Brothers, you know? And it kind of went back to indie rock.
RW: Well, the lyrics aren't any good either. The unreleased songs on the new Pavement rereleases have better lyrics.
CF: Have you heard this new Ponys record?
RW: No.
CF: I liked their last record.
RW: I've heard it's cleaner sounding. You know, they're from here.
CF: I think Brian from the 90 Day Men is with them now.
RW: Yeah. They're pretty good. They're surprising because they came from this scene here that's centered around this magazine, Horizontal Action. And they used to play at this bar--
CF: What was it called?
RW: The bar is called the Beat Kitchen. And it was mostly like 23 year old kids who'd get wasted. Rip roaring drunk and doing cocaine in the bathroom. It was kind of like some scenes out of your songs. My roommate worked at this place, and he was into the music, but he'd say "Man, we had to put the urinals back on the wall again last night". They'd make a ton of money selling cheap beer, but the audience would just destroy the place every weekend. Anyway, they were in this scene -- this garage rock scene -- and what they were doing was so much -- actually, it was only slightly different, but every other band was doing, like, the Oblivians style. And they kind of separated themselves from that.
CF: See, I'm not that huge of a garage rock fan.
RW: Some bands just have better songs than others.
CF: The Reigning Sound being the prime example. The songs are just head and shoulders above everything else.
RW: He's got a great voice, too. Good singer. It's funny, I got an Ipod for Christmas, as did most of America, or at least a lot of people in New York. You see where it might destroy the album. I listen to stuff on shuffle all the time.
RW: I do that at work. I copy cds, and I've got soulseek, so I say, "Hmm, I wonder what Moby Grape sounds like". So I search it and a half hour later, I've got all their albums. And I just put it on random play all day, usually. Go on blogs, and get all kinds of stuff.
CF: My friend has this idea where he does 'album Sundays' where he only listens to albums all the way through on Sunday. He doesn't listen on shuffle.
RW: They're doing that with radio stations. They're expanding their playlists from like 50 songs and moving up to around 2000 songs, and they use an Ipod or something to shuffle the songs. I wonder if you call up and request a song on the radio now, and they don't have it in their library, will they just go and steal it off the internet?
CF: Maybe college radio. But nowadays, I think radio stations have such intense playlists that I think they literally wait until someone calls and requests something they're going to play anyway and then just shout it out to them.
RW: My friend is friends with Spot--you know Spot?
CF: From SST?
RW: Yeah. He says that they would sit at SST day after day calling every radio station in the country requesting Black Flag and Meat Puppets songs.
CF: That's crazy. That would be their promotion?
RW: Yeah. I don't know if they just had enormous phone bills or.
CF: I know something about that. You know, Greg Ginn's a real geek. He's like an electronics wiz, and he figured something out where I don't think phone bills were a problem.
RW: That reminds me of something. I met Raymond Pettibon at an art exhibition he had here at the University of Chicago, and he signed my book "From your pal, Raymond Pettibon" because that's the way Jimmy Piersall signed his autograph. Cuz he's a big baseball fan too.
CF: That's cool. It's funny how baseball and music ends up together. I also think that baseball is bigger in bigger cities like Chicago and New York because so many people depend on public transportation. I think that's the ultimate way to follow baseball is just to look at the box score in the morning. Every morning I get on the train, I buy the Post, and I flip over to that.
RW: Rather than watching every game on tv.
CF: Yeah. Another great thing is Baseball Tonight, which is an hour long at ten pm, and you can see the three exciting plays of every game.
RW: You've been to Wrigley Field?
CF: Yeah.
RW: You know that it is where it is because they wanted it where it would be accessible to the train.
CF: That makes sense.
RW: And I think the original team was the Chicago Whales.
CF: Oh, really?
RW: Yeah, I don't know if it was a minor league team, or what.
CF: The Twins are playing the White Sox tonight. I'm really fascinated by how things end up. The way I understand it is that the south side is Sox fans and the north side is Cubs fans.
RW: Yeah, but the city is,
CF: There are more Cubs fans, aren't there?
RW: The Cubs are more popular.
CF: They've got a better park.
RW: That's one thing. The White Sox stadium is no good, but the Cubs are also in a real yuppified area. There are a lot of bars and all that. My friend worked with these women who went to see the Cubs almost every night a few years ago when they were in the pennant race, and the women didn't know they were in first place. They were just getting drunk and trying to pick up guys. But, yeah, it's probably the best place to see baseball anywhere.
CF: I personally prefer Fenway, but I would say it's neck and neck. And that may be just because I like the Red Sox better. I would say one thing that Fenway offers is it's a little less yuppified in the neighborhood around it. It's still got bars, but it's a little rougher around the edges. The other thing that's interesting to me is when we tour I always talk about baseball from the stage, and people start yelling stuff out. It's a good way to get people involved. I can usually joke with people. I can just pull stuff out. I really love going to, like, Iowa.
RW: Where they have no professional sports whatsoever.
CF: Yeah. But regionally it breaks down. There are a lot of Cubs fans there. In the northern part of the state there are a lot of Twins fans. Then closer in the southwest, it's St. Louis. So it kind of spreads out. Even through the south, like Mississippi and Alabama, a lot of Braves fans. Then people just kind of make up their own. They're like "Fuck it, I'm a Red Sox fan". I always found that interesting. Also, people tend to do like I did. You know, your dad tells you who to root for.
RW: We watched the White Sox when I was a kid. My grandpa -- my dad's dad was a pretty good baseball player. Actually both of my grandfathers were pretty good, but my dad's dad actually tried out for the White Sox.
CF: Ow, cool.
RW: My mom's dad is from Buffalo, and he was on some kind of locally organized team with Warren Spahn, which is pretty neat, and he's got some team pictures.
CF: Oh, wow.
RW: Well, you know about the Disco Demolition?
CF: Yeah. That was at Comiskey, right?
RW: Yes. They've been playing a 25th anniversary special on PBS here.
CF: Oh, cool. The photos I've seen of that are amazing.
RW: Well, look up Steve Dahl. I think it's D-A-H-L dot com, and you can buy it. It's got all the footage, and they talk about why they were blowing up disco records. It's pretty good. So we watched the games all the time anyway, but we were watching that game live. And it's funny that that's become a major footnote in rock history. And baseball history.
CF: It's so cool. They cancelled the game, right?
RW: It was a double header and they did it in the middle. They had to cancel the second game, because people ran out on the field and tore it up. It attracted, I don't know a hundred thousand people? Forty thousand people (Note: 90,000 total) waiting outside drinking all day long.
CF: You know that band the Dillinger Four? They're from Minneapolis, but two of the guys are originally from Evanston. They have this song that's some other Chicago reference, I think it's called "No. 51, Dick Butkus". One of the lines is "Harry Caray making sick on Clark St." Patrick, the guy who wrote it lived somewhere over there, and he saw Harry Caray, after announcing the game, staggering drunk, and then he just goes into an alley and throws up.
RW: He and Jimmy Piersall used to be a team. They were the announcers for the Sox during that Disco Demolition, and Bill Veeck was the owner.
CF: Bill Veeck's son ended up buying a minor league team -- the St. Paul Saints, which I actually talk about on the record. Well, I make a reference to them. Him and Bill Murray. Bill Murray's a part owner.
RW: Okay, I heard a rumor that Bill Murray's going to play Bill Veeck in the Bill Veeck movie, when they make it. If they ever make it. But, Harry and Jimmy Piersall, you used to be able to hear the popping beers open on mic when they were calling the games.
CF: That's amazing.
RW: So, are you guys going on tour any time soon?
CF: Yeah. Let's see here. I just got something. An update.
RW: Are you at work now?
CF: Yeah.
RW: What do you do?
CF: I work for a company called The Orchard, which is a digital distribution company. Basically what a physical record distributor would do, but we find labels, take the stuff in, and distribute it to iTunes, Napster, etcetera.
RW: So, mp3s and stuff?
CF: Yeah. Then we help market it and stuff. We help hundreds of labels. It's a cool job. They're really good to me. Um, what do I got here? I've got Thursday, June 2nd at the Empty Bottle. Should be fun.
RW: Are you touring with another ban?.
CF: Not up until then. On the west coast we're playing with a band called United State of Electronica. U.S.E., which sounds like something I would hate. But I saw them at South By Southwest, and that's why we're playing with them, because they were fucking awesome. The electronica part is sort of like Daft Punk but they play guitar, bass, drums. They have like nine people onstage. There's something about them that when I explain it, I have to mention Andrew W.K. It's really crazy. People were throwing drinks, tackling each other. It was wild.
RW: Cool music, too?
CF: It's good music. We're united by--we consider ourselves a party band, and I'd say they definitely are one. Between the two of us, it should be sweet.
RW: Have you heard the Robert Pollard comedy album?
CF: No. I've heard of it, but I haven't heard it. Is it good?
RW: It's pretty good. It's just between song banter. It's funny, my wife doesn't actively dislike Guided By Voices, but she's heard them, and we saw them open for Cheap Trick, which is probably her favorite band.
CF: They're one of mine, too.
RW: Someone gave her at tape of Guided By Voices and she didn't like it, and after seeing them live, she said "I don't get it. The whole vibe, the stage presence, yuck". I'm intrigued by them, but I don't have any of their records. So I tried to explain the whole story, the guy's 45 years old, and he's insanely prolific, and he had this band in his garage, and they got lucky and now he's living his dream, blah, blah, and she just said "But I don't like the music". Anyway, there's some really funny stuff on there like "Rolling Stone magazine's got this list of the One Hundred Greatest Living Guitar Players, and they've got Joan Jett on there. My brother's a better guitar player than Joan Jett!"
CF: My wife is totally pissed. She doesn't like Joan Jett. When she was like ten, and her older brother was fourteen, he went to a Joan Jett concert and got totally wasted to the point where he was throwing up and they had to get the paramedics and the police got involved and called his mom. So she wasn't allowed to go to concerts alone until she was seventeen.
RW: And she blamed it on Joan Jett?
CF: Yeah! She totally refuses to hold her brother accountable.
RW: What is the funniest of the bigtime rock concerts you've been to?
CF: Kiss.
RW: Original makeup?
CF: Yeah. Well, the reunion show. Speaking of a comedy album, the between song banter at that was IN-credible. He was saying stuff like "Kiss loves Minneapolis so much, we're thinkin' of movin' here!" And the fans eat it up, you know?
RW: I grew up in this town called Hoffman Estates, which is a suburb of Chicago, and we had Poplar Creek, which was one of the first outdoor venues with the pavilion and the lawn, so we saw all kinds of crazy stuff. My mom worked for this company that owned seats that they'd give away to clients, but one time, they couldn't find anyone to take the tickets, so my friend and I went to see the Power Station. The seats were in the fifth row, and this was right past the peak of Duran Duran mania. Except for the guys on the stage, there wasn't another male for a hundred feet back.
CF: Dude.
RW: I had never seen anything like it. Girls screaming and crying and throwing stuff on stage. And it wasn't even Duran Duran. Really, it wasn't even really the Power Station, because they had a different singer. Robert Palmer didn't want to do it, so they got Michael DesBarres instead.
CF: Yeah, yeah, yeah. A couple times I've gone to really big shows -- like really big ones -- and seen the performer noticeably drunk. I saw Joe Walsh one time. I can understand how a band might get too drunk if they're playing in front of 300 people, but if you're playing in front of thousands and thousands, you think you could wait? Especially when it's not like you're just in the band and you're the bass player. You're Joe Walsh. You're the guy. Pull it together. I also saw the Cult open for Metallica and they were drunk as hell.
RW: I remember that one. At that point, Metallica was still kind of underground, and the fans didn't want to see anything other than Metallica. And it was like at first they tried to win people over, then they were just defiant by staying on stage. But, it's like, I don't know, ten thousand people that hate you, you're British, and you're kind of doing hard rock, but it's not really.
CF: Yeah, it's not really hard rock. I have a feeling--I'd have to review the dates, but I have a feeling that that tour may have been the end for them. As far as that's where their ascension stopped. That must have been demoralizing. They seemed like they were getting big, right?
RW: But to Metallica fans, they might has well have been the Cure.
CF: Yeah, they were the same thing to the fans. I should run.
RW: Great. I've got to eat dinner.
CF: Awesome. Good to talk to you.
RW: Yeah, I'll try to make it out when you're in Chicago.
CF: Great. Take care.
RW: Bye.


From RW#20, 2004:


Two Sides to Every Band;
Greg Cartwright and the Reigning Sound

By Mike Dixon

The Reigning Sound is the sound that reigns. It's the sound of good lovin' gone bad and bad lovin' gone good. The sound that reins leaves a stain on your brain. And that's no reason to complain. Now that rock and roll is a half-century old, It's good to know that someone's out there making sure it still gets done right once in a while. The old fire still burns bright at the command of Greg Cartwright and his band, the Reigning Sound.

The Reigning Sound presents an unusual proposition to today's music world. they're an actual, honest-to-gosh rock and roll band. They deliver the music straight from the gut, without a trace of irony, smarm, or gimmick. While much of the garage rock, um, scene wallows in a macho fashion show of ludicrous Rawk posturing and an unresolvable sweating contest, Cartwright, drummer Greg Roberson, and bassist Jeremy Scott are content to deliver their music unadorned by flaming dice tattoos, white trash fetishism, or ironic "Kick out the jams, brothers and sisters" schtick. Greg's low-key, aw-shucks personability and penchant for button-down sweaters may seem at odds with his on-stage demeanor, where he spits and snarls and howls his lyrics and looks like he's having a seizure or being electrocuted by his own guitar. Or possessed by (get ready, this is gonna be a bit corny, but It's the best I can do) the spirit of rock and roll. It's rock and roll as religious revival, spiritual awakening, etc. BUT it's not some goofy preacher man put-on. These guys are true believers. The thing is, right now, Greg Cartwright and the Reigning Sound are rock and roll.

Up 'til now, Greg's been best known for his years of collaboration with Jack Yarber[1]. In the Compulsive Gamblers, Greg and Jack dealt a fine, uniquely rich and soulful spookhouse Americana that recalled everything from Dylan to Danzig. The Gamblers put out a pair of EPs and a single[2] that went virtually unheard outside their hometown of Memphis, before cashing in their chips in 1993. 

The Compulsive Gamblers kaput, Greg and Jack recruited local hoodlum Eric Freidl and started a new band, which they called the Oblivians. Rock and roll, Oblivian-style, was stripped to its foulest essentials. It was all forward-propelled chaos, dirty and distorted to the point of absurdity. They adopted the tried and true blues-punk[3] guitar-drums-no bass template set by Hound Dog Taylor, and followed by the Cramps, Gories, and many, many others. The fact that all three Oblivians wrote and sang their own songs led to a novel approach: they took turns on drums. Live, they worked without a set list, and the split second between song necessitated a lightning fast quick-change stunt that was almost as exciting as the raucous music. The band lasted four very prolific years, and just got better and better with each record. Each dude brought his own personal style of songwriting to the table. According to Eric, Greg wrote the songs that makes the whole world sing (ex.: "Bad Man, "Part of Your Plan), and Jack wrote the songs that make the whole world dance ("Do the Milkshake, "Strong Come On), while he himself wrote the songs that make the whole world hate ("Guitar Shop Asshole, "And Then I Fucked Her). Their final album was called The Oblivians Play 9 Songs With Mr. Quintron. It paired four traditional numbers with five Cartwright originals reflecting his recent infatuation with gospel music. The final product, rehearsed and recorded in one day with the genius Quintron sitting in on organ, felt closer in spirit to the Gamblers, but was essentially a Greg Oblivain solo album. The Oblivians, whose style by this time was being aped by lesser bands all over the world, had reached a creative dead-end[4].

So . . .
The Compulsive Gamblers resurfaced in 1999 with an album called Bluff City. Expectations being what they are, and in the hangover of the Oblivians crazed primitivism, two standout cuts, both written and sung by Greg Cartwright "I Don't Want To Laugh At You and "New Romance" were shocking for the way they tugged the heartstrings. Crystal Gazing, Luck Amazing soon followed, and is a no-two-ways-about-it masterpiece. 

Greg: "After the Oblivians, Jack and I did the Gamblers for two more records. We started out on a tour, and our van broke down about six times and we called the tour a washout and we went home and that was the end of the Compulsive Gamblers. So, after that, I kind of waited a while and tried to figure out what I wanted to do next. I wanted to veer away from what I normally do, explore different things, try to figure out what I was going to do with the next few years of my musical life . . ."

Cartwright had been producing records for like-minded raw & raucous rock bands like the Horrors, the Detroit Cobras and the Porch Ghouls for a while, and often pitched in some guitar and background vocals to the recordings. He recorded the first album by Toronto's Deadly Snakes, and joined the band officially for the second one[5]. He toured with them for a few months, but it made little sense for a Tennessee boy to be a member of a Canadian band. Greg soon bid the Snakes adieu to order to follow his own muse.

Back in Memphis, Greg started to think about where to go next. He knew he wanted to do something different than people may've been expecting of him. "I met this guy Greg Roberson. He had just moved back to town he had moved out to L.A[6]. for a few years. He said Man, I'd love to get together and play sometime, I play drums'. He had met this guy Jeremy Scott, probably in a bar or something. Jeremy was from New Jersey, and he played guitar. Greg said Why don't you come and play with Greg Cartwright and I sometime?, He did and I said Well here's the thing, I need a bass player. I don't really need another guitar player ', and he said, Oh, well, I'd be willing to give it a shot'. So, both the drummer and the bass player had just recently moved to town. And that was kind of refreshing to me because, you know, rock and roll scenes in any given town can be a bit incestuous after a while.

The new blood was essential to Greg's plan to do upend expectations. "You wind up treading the same ground over and over and over and over again, and that's something I definitely don't want to do. Both Greg and Jeremy are really into a lot of indie rock and power pop and I thought, This is good. This is what I'm kind of looking to do., I want to get with some people who have no musical expectations for what I do. People who aren't even really familiar with the Oblivians records, or the Gamblers. And that way, whatever I throw at them, they'll react to it in a first state sense. Like they're hearing what I do for the first time, and they'll expand on that with their own part instead of just mimicking something that Jack might do.

The band worked up a bunch of songs, but still didn't have a name. And a rock band has to have a name. It's important, serious business[7]. "The name I wanted was The Reign. And then that same year that I came up with that name, Norton Records released a record by Johnny Thunders first teenage band. They cut one single in like 1968. The name of the band was The Reign. So I think, well, okay, if it was somebody else I could just take it and not feel bad about it, because so many names have been used a million times, but here this is Johnny Thunders' band. I've gotta find something else. So, I toyed with a couple of things and nothing ever really felt right. Actually, one of the first names of the band was The Time Bomb High School. I waffled on it, tried a couple of different things, and I kept going back to The Reign. I thought, maybe if I just alter it, then I can keep it.

The Reigning Sound debuted in 2001. With the addition of Alex Greene on organ, the band's sound was even further-flung from the Oblivians turf than the Compulsive Gamblers had been. While fans may have been expecting a certain down and dirty, bluesy grit, the sound on their first album, Break Up, Break Down is big and deep and far-reaching as an AM radio signal. The tempos are much slower than before. The songs have time to breathe, and you can hear the space between the players, their instruments, and each other. While the Compulsive Gamblers (and very very rarely, the Oblivians) dabbled in tenderness, those moments were the exceptions rather than the rules. Those outfits were best known as merchants of burning hellfire. Here now was a band with a collection of songs whose hardest-rocking moment was a semi-rollicking take on a lesser-known cut from Pet Sounds[8] called "Waiting For the Day.

Greg's vision was for the album to be a detailed song-cycle about a dissolving romance. It ambles into existence with the love-her-so-much-it-hurts, declaration "So Thankful. From there, it plays like ticks off a grief counselor's checklist. The songs illuminate the phases and stages of the rebound. Anger, accusation, pity, remorse, and acceptance each get a turn before our narrator decides to leave town in the haunting album closer "Goodbye."

But a funny thing happened on the way to the pressing plant.

The songs were mistakenly listed in the wrong order on the original artwork for the back cover of the record. The vinyl version was pressed with the songs in the intended order, but when Sympathy Records honcho Long Gone John noticed the discrepancy he corrected it incorrectly. "He did the LP first, and he thought, oh, I got the sequence backwards when I mastered the record, so when he did the CD, he changed it. I don't know why it happened that way. 

So the CD was released with the songs out of order[9], but Cartwright the vinyl junkie is more disappointed at the fate of the Break Up Break Down record, "The LP mastering was weird, because there were certain songs that sound like It's dragging slightly, or like maybe the hole is off-center on the record even though It's not. I actually recalled the entire pressing of the LP So if you've got one, you're kind of lucky. I mean, you're not lucky in a sense, because It's fucked up. But there's not many floating around. In fact, I John shipped me the rest of them, which is over a thousand LP's, and they're in a closet in my house. I was like; You can't keep selling these. The mastering's fucked up and I don't want people to hear that., He just never got around to repressing it on vinyl."

A year later, the peerless In the Red label released Time Bomb High School. It wasn't as adventurous in concept as Break Up, but in a year the Reigning Sound had extended their reach tremendously. The ballads were there again, but they had some good old rock and roll to get out of their system too. Once again, the songs were reorganized for the CD and vinyl editions, but this time, it was on purpose. "They're two completely different formats CD and LP An LP, you listen to one side at a time, but with a CD, it's as a whole. So, with Time Bomb High School, the idea was, on the LP we,ll put all the rockers on one side and put the more kind of pop songs on the flip. So on the CD, it works better to have the different types of songs mixed together in one long continuity and not break it up, because people don't listen to CDs a side at a time. Or they listen to them randomly, or a track at a time, and the order isn't important. We still wanted to have a good sequence for that odd person who will play the whole thing all the way through, though."

Steady touring and the wall-to-wall great songs on the new album raised the band's public profile quite a bit. One pair of ears that pricked up belonged to E Street Band guitarist and part-time Soprano Little Steven Van Zant, who dubbed Time Bomb High School's "Straight Shooter" the "coolest song in the world" and played it every week on his nationally syndicated "Underground Garage" radio show. The honor is accepted with a healthy grain of salt. "It's been very nice that he played the record and I want people to hear it, and that's about the most I can really say."

"I think he's trying to redefine the parameter of what garage is," says Greg of Miami Steve. "Major record labels right now really need somebody to do that. In the last three years or so, some really big record labels have spent a lllllllot of money, and put a lot of money on the bet that garage rock was going to be the next grunge as far as a new commodity to push and sell to teenagers[10]. And it didn't really happen. Right out of the gate, they bought up all the big bands, but their records aren't selling any better than anybody else's. In fact, they were selling about the same as they would on a smaller label. They've been trying to do it for a long time, and it just doesn't work. The closest the youth culture ever got to having it's way was in the 60s, when young hipsters were working with older, established guys to get some closer approximation of what the kids really wanted onto records. It was crazy in the 60s. It's absurd when you think that the MC5 was on a major label. Two major labels! That's unheard of today. These labels spend so much money on this being the next big thing. What they need, since word of mouth didn't do it for them, is some one like Steven who will go out there and say okay, you thirteen year olds, I know you don't know what garage is, but now I'm gonna tell you. It's this, this, this, and this, and this, and It's kind of loosely connected to the Beatles and the Stones., And that's what's strange. Garage bands that I've played in forever, there was never any real parameter as to what garage was. Garage could be anything from Elvis Costello to something totally abrasive like the Oblivians. Or it could be something completely retro. But nobody had ever said, okay, It's this, this and this. He's kind of defining it so it can be an easily consumed product[11]."

One band that did sell a lot of records is the Hives, who are part of a mutual admiration society[12] with the Reigning Sound. The two bands have toured together, and when the Oblivians played a one-off reunion earlier this year in Memphis, the Hives flew in from Sweden just to watch. "They're a grrreat live band. I've never toured with a band that was on a major label that treated us so well just as an opener," says Greg. "Every time we ever played with them, they were front and center out in front of us with everybody else just diggin' it, and vice versa when they would play. They put on an incredible show. It warms my heart to think that somebody like that can make records and sell a lot of them. It's good rock and roll music. There's nothing wrong with it."

The brand-new Reigning Sound album is called Too Much Guitar, and once again, It's chock full of that "good rock and roll music." The songs on the record are Greg's best yet, and the sonic pendulum makes the unexpected swing back into Oblivians territory. The sound is crude, abrasive, and a reminder of the unhinged primitivism that makes the best rock and roll so dang essential. It's a sound too much music, in these days of corporate-sponsored garage rock, glaring lacks.

A while back, rumors were going around that the Reigning Sound had broken up after recording what was to be their final album. The rumors were quashed after the band, now a three-piece played a handful of shows, and told folks that they planned re-record the thing in an unusual place a record store. A few years earlier, Greg had opened the Legba Records as the business extension of his incurable vinyl habit. Greg explains: "What happened was, Alex Greene, who was our keyboard player, and on some songs he would play guitar, had a baby on the way, and we were all excited about it, but we knew it might be something that would come to play with the band long term. But he seemed to think that he could pull it off, swing everything, do his job, be at home enough Anyway, so we started recording the new record, and we did the whole thing, and I went in and mixed it. The night that I was through mixing, I called the other guys and said Come over to the store, and we'll listen to the new record., We listened to it, everybody agreed that it sounded good, and then Al said, Well, I've got kind of a bombshell, I can't do this anymore., And, you know, it was sad to see him go, but I totally understood his reasoning. But it left me with the dilemma: here I had just finished a record, spent money on it, and I couldn't reproduce it live. We had dates coming up that we were going to have to play as a three piece, and when you took the organ and/or guitar out of certain songs, it changed the whole dynamic of what's going on with the music[13]. When the organ's not there, it changes the way we play. Because we play off each other differently when that other element is missing. It makes me overcompensate, it makes the bass player overcompensate, and the drummer overcompensate for that loss of mid-range that the organ gives. Plus we tend to attack them a lot more like a rock and roll band as a three piece than as a four piece so So the more we played, we went out and played some shows, and I thought, "Fuck it, we're going to have to record this again. We've been out and played shows, and sounded completely different, and I'm not going to make a record that we're not going to sound anything like it. So let's just cut it again, and we did. I'm actually really happy. And in a way, I'm even happy that Alex leaving the band forced me to re-think what was on the tape and how it should be recorded. I thought, "We need to have something that sounds more like what we sound like live now. A little more aggressive, because that's just what we sound like. The whole dynamics changed so much, but in the end, it worked out for the best."

Sometime after Too Much Guitar was recorded, Greg sold Legba Records to Eric Friedl[14], and the Cartwright family[15] packed up and moved to Asheville, South Carolina. "At some point it looked like the band would just fall apart or have to break up, says Greg. "Not in the sense that anybody didn't like anybody else, but that's it's so hard to keep a long distance relationship."

For now, at least, the relationship is healthy. Too Much Guitar was released to unanimous acclaim, and a sold-out tour in support of the Hives is underway as we print this issue.

But what's the most important part of the whole RNR deal, anyway? It's records, man, records! Greg's made dozens upon dozens of them, so of course, he likes to listen to them too. I asked him to name a few of his favorites: "I think that anybody who hasn't heard the Wreckless Eric stuff there's an album on Sympathy that he did in like 91 or so that's absolutely genius that nobody's ever heard it's called Wreckless Eric, the Donovan of Trash. He did a lot of power pop/punk type stuff in the late 70s, which I like, but I think he suffers from someone overproducing him, and the stuff that he cut much later is actually better material and the production style I like better. He actually became a better songwriter as he went along, even though people, as you get older, take less and less notice of what the hell you're doing. People fade into obscurity and then make their best records sometimes. And this is definitely that kind of a case."

"Also, anybody who's never heard the Five Royales' Dedicated to the One I Love album is also, hands down, one of the best records ever recorded."

The guy just can't get enough of them records. "I'm a big record geek. that's all I do. For me, touring and going from town to town to do production work is really all just an excuse to look for records Jazz, country, rock, blues, folk, funk, you name it. I think for every genre, somebody transcends the genre and does something amazing. And no matter what genre of music you're looking at, somebody is gonna nail it an make you say Wow! Maybe I do like ska! Or whatever it is that you thought you didn't like."

Break Up Break Down (Sympathy for the Record Industry) 2001
Time Bomb High School
(In The Red) 2002
Too Much Guitar (In The Red) 2004

[1] According to the ever-informative internet, the Australian label Illustrious Artists may or may not be soon releasing Twins of Evil: The Songs of Greg and Jack Oblivian, which will collect tunes from both guys, various musical manifestations.
[2] This era has been documented on the excellent Gamblin, Days Are Over CD
[3] The three members also adopted, in true punk fashion, a common surname, and to this day are individually best known as Greg Oblivian, Jack Oblivian, and Eric Oblivian.
[4] Since they were only around for 4 years, and given the decidedly primitive aesthetic, there's not a whole lot of artistic development, across the Oblivians catalog, but trust me It's all fantastic. My favorite is Popular Favorites, but the posthumous odds & ends collection Best of the Worst may be easier to find, and is great as well.
[5] 2001's I'm Not Your Soldier Anymore. It was released, like so many good records these days, by In the Red.
[6] Greg Roberson's L.A. days have been preserved on celluloid in his portrayal of the d.j. in the strip club in The People vs. Larry Flynt, and on the soundtrack of the Ben Affleck vehicle Going All the Way. Greg put together an excellent selection of early rock and roll to play behind, judging from the box at the video store, looks like a mediocre movie.
[7] I've always wondered why the Oblivians name was spelled as it is (the dictionary would tell you It's supposed to be spelt with two o,s and no a,). I forgot to ask Greg when I interviewed him. If anyone knows, write me c/o this magazine.
[8] A good, but monumentally over-rated Beach Boys album.
[9] To hear the Break Up, Break Down CD the right, way, program the tracks in this order: 11, 2, 6, 7, 1, 9, 3, 10, 5, 8, 4.
[10] Greg wants no part of it: "They've all sniffed around, but I'm glad no major label has ever offered me anything worth looking at.
[11] Little Steven and a few corporate sponsors mounted a nationwide search for the next great garage rock band this past summer. The radio ads actually promised "Dunkin, Donuts is going to save rock and roll!
[12] The Hives often cover the Compulsive Gamblers "Stop and Think It Over live.
[13] The Reinging Sound played a live set on Mike Lupica,s WFMU radio show on October 3, 2002. You can hear the four-piece lineup's take on a few numbers that eventually made it to Too Much Guitar here (insert link). More recently, the current line-up appeared on the awesome Cherry Blossom Clinic with Terre T. Go here (insert link).
[14] The store is now called Goner Records, and their website (goner-records.com) is a great place to go for all manner of exotic trash music.
[15] I asked Greg, how he juggles the responsibilities of fatherhood (he's got three kids) with his rock and roll duties. "Very difficultly. Kids require a lot of attention and a lot of love. They need you to be around as much as you possibly can, and they need guidance. The main thing is I can't tour nearly as much as I would like to or as much as other people would like me to. And that's the biggest ball of wax.