From RW#19, 2003:
|Cover by Damon Belanger|
Interview by Chris Auman
I had heard of Masters of the Obvious (M.0.T.0.). I had seen the name around for years: just one of those bands that, when you live in city as big and as hopelessly spread out as Chicago, you just manage to miss perpetually. I recently read they had put out something like seventeen albums. That piqued my interest, so I tracked down their latest release Kill M.O.T.O. (Criminal IQ). Upon hearing the infectious and often humorous guitar pop contained on the record, I tracked down the culprit, Paul "Jet" Caporino. It's amazing what's right under your nose in this town. In fact, I recognized Paul as working at the Record Emporium on Paulina at Roscoe and Lincoln where I've spent a few hours sorting through their dusty collection of used vinyl. I was also happy to discover that not only has M.O.T.O. made a half dozen LPs, they've also managed to produce dozens upon dozens of seven inches, EPs, and cassettes AND the band has existed, in some form or another, for over twenty years! That's enough to make even Hawkwind blush! Well, maybe not Hawkwind, but you know what I mean, that's impressive. Anyway, I met with the M.O.T.O. mastermind in October at the Lakeview Restaurant on Ashland Avenue.
Paul: You want coffee?
RW: No, no, it's too late.
Paul: I'm just getting up.
Paul: No, I'm just kidding. Well actually, in a way, yeah.
RW: You work at Record Emporium?
Paul: I work at Record Emporium. I didn't work today though. I just work part-time, three or four days a week. Let me see what do I like... a cheese sandwich of some sort.
RW: That sounded good when you mentioned that on the phone.
Paul: What, cheese sandwich? Yeah, it's pretty much the bare minimum.
RW: Good old fashioned grilled cheese.
Paul: Grilled cheese, yeah.
RW: You're from New Orleans?
Paul: I was born in New Orleans, yeah.
RW: How long have you lived in Chicago?
Paul: I've lived here since '89. I lived in Boston a couple years before that.
RW: Is that when M.O.T.O. formed?
Paul: Actually we were together in New Orleans in '81, I think is when the band first came around.
RW: Oh really? Shit.
Paul: Yeah, me and three other friends formed the band and eventually settled on the name Masters of the Obvious. We couldn't really get that many gigs. I'd been in bands before that. I'm forty-three. I'm going to be forty-three in November (Happy Birthday-ed.). I'd been in bands before then. My first band–I was thirteen or twelve, '73 or '74–I remember having to learn "Rocky Mountain Way" 'cause this older guy wanted to play it. . . and not liking it.
RW: So M.O.T.O. has been together sort of officially since 1981?
RW: How many records you guys put out?
Paul: Well record records?
RW: Or tapes.
Paul: Cassettes, I think we got about eighteen or nineteen. Roughly about one a year.
RW: Are they home dubbed?
Paul: A lot of them are home dubbed. Very few, if any, have the entire band because our band kept breaking up–guys leaving and guys getting sent to the mental home– this is the New Orleans band. One guy kept going to the loony bin, kept getting, you know, put away for awhile and we had another guy who had to take over his dad's business, another guy decided to go to college. Sometimes all the stuff would be recorded by me, sometimes it would be me and the other guys with a drum machine, that sort of thing. It was piecemeal, that was the first four or five tapes. A lot of drum machine, our drummer had been carted off to the loony bin a few too many times.
RW: Are you still putting out tapes?
Paul: I haven't done a cassette in awhile, I'm thinking about it, but we got a band now, so I want to record with the band . . . we did the Kill M.O.T.O. CD, you got that right?
RW: I have the album.
Paul: The CD has an extra track. We decided to throw it on at the last minute. Actually a lot of people like that track a lot, "I Hate My Fucking Job," that one.
RW: So this is the CD version of the record that was already out.
Paul: Yeah, except he (Darius, at Criminal IQ Records) added the track and we changed the color of the album, it's white with a black face now, and this friend wrote some of the titles of the songs wrong too. "Gagging on the Edge of Love" is called "Choking on the Edge of Love" for some reason. We have two songs that begin with choking now.
Waitress: What can I get for you gentlemen?
Paul: I'll have the spinach pie.
Waitress: We are out of that.
Paul: Oh man. Heresy. Oh let me see, I'll have a cheese sandwich.
Waitress: American cheese?
Paul: American cheese, yeah.
Waitress: On what kind of bread dear, or toast?
Paul: On wheat toast.
Waitress: Anything else?
Paul: That'll be it, I guess.
Waitress: Will you need separate checks?
Paul & RW: No.
RW: Can I get the tuna melt? What's the soup today?
Waitress: Cabbage rice or chicken alphabet.
RW: It comes with soup? Can I get the cabbage?
Paul: Can I scratch my cheese sandwich?
Paul: Could I get, uh . . . I know what I'm gonna get, I'm gonna get a mushroom burger. Do I get soup?
Waitress: For a dollar more, yes.
Paul: I'll have a cup of soup. I'll have the chicken alphabet soup.
RW: Can I get a Coke?
Waitress: Uh-huh. Thank you.
RW: So is all your stuff still available?
Paul: The cassettes, yeah, I just dub them. We did an album on Residence (Records) in Holland in 1990, that was back when we were a two piece, and we did a whole bunch of singles and we complied them, the first seven or eight, onto a CD called Single File that came out on Mind of a Child in '96, so Kill M.O.T.O. is our first album CD release since then. We're trying to do more cassettes. The best way to show songs to the guys in the band is to put them on tape and play them for them and go over them. We've be trying to make up songs lately. It's a bit slow going, plus we have new guys in the band and they have to learn the songs and it's taking a long time.
RW: You can still get cassettes made.
RW: But you just dub them.
Paul: I just dub them from the stuff I get at Walgreen's or I might order bulk from Polyline and do it that way.
RW: Keep the format alive.
Paul: Well, no one's bought one in awhile. Definitely not at shows. Some people say, 'Oh, I don't even have a cassette player.' I got a bunch at home I could sell you.
RW: People don't have record players anymore either but I still buy vinyl.
Paul: Yeah me too. In the late '80s a lot of people were just going to get rid of their records flat out and replace them with CDs. I got more albums from that.
RW: How did you hook up with the European label, Teddy Bear?
Paul: Little Teddy? I think he heard one of our singles a long time ago, one of our early singles, and he wanted to do one and I think he did two singles and two albums. That's (Kill M.O.T.O.) the third album, every once in awhile he gets in a financial skid but definitely will put something else out in the future, but we'll wait and see. We got a European tour out of it.
RW: You guys play out a lot outside of Chicago?
Paul: We try to play out of town as much as possible. Lately it's pretty much the nearer cities of the Midwest like Indianapolis, Madison, Milwaukee. We're trying to get out of town. I want to play a lot but even in Chicago you can't play that often without exhausting the audience. I really just like to play to play right now. It's not like you can make a living doing this.
RW: You like the music scene in Chicago?
Paul: Somewhat. It's never been easy for us. Part of it is my fault, I don't really hustle. I hustle more now than I use to but the whole "get a gig, get a gig, get a gig," it's hard to do. Until the Internet, now you can book gigs on-line. It's a bit easier. Before I had to call people and I'm not good on the phone. Anything less than glowing is a put-down.
RW: You gotta harass people?
Paul: Sometimes I don't feel like harassing people. I'll just be like Steely Dan and make tapes for ever.
RW: Do you have a cult following out there?
Paul: There's some people out there. A bunch of people in the same area would be good. There's people that like us out and about, that's nice. After all this time it'd be nice if people liked us.
RW: It'd be nice.
RW: Where's the strangest place M.O.T.O. has played.
Paul: We opened for an Elvis impersonator once.
RW: Where was that?
Paul: It was at a church fair in St. Bernard's Parish, Louisiana, 1980-something. He looked a little bit like Englebert Humperdink to me but he did the Elvis thing pretty well.
Paul: I once had people at the Empty Bottle throw three bottles of O'Doule's nonalcoholic beer at me. One of them broke on the mike stand. They didn't get me though.
RW: We're they angry at you?
Paul: We wouldn't do a cover. It was years ago, back when we used to do wacky covers. It was really a wacky cover, we did "Working for the Weekend" by Loverboy. I went up to the microphone and these bottles came flying up. I was thinking, why nonalcoholic beer? I guess somebody was trying to kick it and they weren't in the mood for Loverboy.
RW: If they would have been drinking regular beer . . .
Paul: We played it again at the end of the set too.
RW: They were mad 'cause you were playing that song?
Paul: I don't know. I have no idea.
RW: How long have you worked at the record shop?
Paul: I've been there about three and a half years. It's a nice record shop. I'd been bugging Mike (Record Emporium owner) for a job there since I started shopping there in '92. Eight years of persistence. I used to have jobs downtown, like clerk jobs and mail clerk jobs and things like that. Always hated that kind of stuff. The last job I had down there I quit flat out. I just didn't want to go back. It was sort of like dying slowly, you know, my soul is dying, I've got to leave. If I'm not happy, I don't belong.
RW: What's the strangest job you've ever had . . . or the worst?
Paul: The worst. I worked in the Sears catalog department in New Orleans once, during Christmas, that was probably the most tense job. My first package I had to retrieve wasn't in the little bin it was supposed to be in. People got really upset. It was just a crappy job. Life's too short for crappy jobs.
RW: Life is a series of crappy jobs.
Paul: Yes, for a lot of people it is. I think I've stopped the crappy job thing. Of course, I married well. My wife is a library archivist at the Newberry Library, and she's very good at what she does. She's very respected in her field. She's a very good person too. She very generous to me.
RW: She allows you to live the life of the artist.
Paul: Part-time record store clerk. I'm in debt to her too. I have to pay her back. She loaned me some money to go to Europe on.
RW: To tour?
RW: How long ago was that?
Paul: December 2002. It went pretty well. We did have some problems actually. We were received pretty well but our guitarist Lawrence–we had just gotten him because he was like a bassist/guitarist and since Dennis, our regular bassist couldn't make the whole tour, only five dates out of seventeen, we got Lawrence to play rhythm guitar with Dennis playing bass and to play bass when Dennis wasn't, sort of like a swing man. Even though Lawrence had been in the navy he was still a Philippine citizen, and we didn't know this, but when we went to the airport to go they wouldn't let him on the plane. People with Philippine passports have to have special visas, so we flew over there, just myself and Tim. It turned out Lawrence's visa would have taken two weeks for him to get so he ended up not going at all, so we did a lot of the tour as a two piece which I can do, we've done it before. Years before the White Stripes it was just me and Rebecca Dudley all the time and it was sort of fun, but now we have more of a three dimensional sound.
RW: Anyone in the current lineup been in the band awhile?
Paul: Dennis has been playing with me since 1994.
(The waitress arrives with our food) which is the last we see of her for quite a long while).
Paul: Thank you, can I get some more coffee, please?
Waitress: What do you want in condiments?
Waitress: What about you sir?
Paul: I'm fine actually, this looks great. Yeah, Dennis Spaag has been there since 1994. His wife just had a baby and it's pretty much taken a super big chunk out of his life. Certainly out of band life. He's not going to be able to play out of town much. We've been kind of thinking of having Jake from Lynard's Innards play with us. We'll probably be using Jake for touring or out of town shows.
We can always somehow keep going one way or another. Right now we got four people in the band. One of our previous drummers is in Kill Hannah right now. As a matter of fact, he called me last night, they were playing at Otto's in DeKalb and they had just played on a couple of TV shows and stuff–I think they played on Jimmy Kimmel–and he was telling me, I can't wait to get home so I can make some money. Almost all the money the band makes goes back into that band. Kill Hannah, in spite of all their publicity and their deal, still haven't really succeeded in terms of money.
RW: The most pressure is probably on them.
Paul: Yeah, they're totally busting their asses right now and the only solution is to keep working, keep working.
RW: I hope they sell enough so they don't get dropped.
Paul: I hate to think of that. Gary's good, he recorded our album. He such a good drummer. Tom Ford is a really good drummer too but Tim Ford is more rock and roll. He's definitely a more homegrown rock and roll drummer. Gary, he can rock when he wants to, but also has a more sensitive feel. I think he's being wasted in Kill Hannah, 'cause they make him use a click track. It's like putting a condom on the statue of David. How can you do that? He played drums on a lot of Kill M.O.T.O. I hope Kill Hannah succeeds for his sake. I think he's really good. We're trying to play up the ex Member on M.O.T.O. in Kill Hannah. That's why the record is called Kill M.O.T.O. by the way. We were going to call it Destroy All M.O.T.O. We were going to call it Kill M.O.T.O., we were going to call it a bunch of other things. He was playing with them on the side and then he said they asked him to play in the band proper. I said, that's good but how he can't play with us, so Kill M.O.T.O., that's gonna be the title of the record.
RW: How many songs do you think you've recorded?
Paul: Lots. About a few hundred, I guess. Some have little bits that we're obviously taken from songs we've done before, like failed experiments, took it out and used it for something that was more aerodynamic or change the key and change the title. You can only make up so many songs before the next thing you now... the thing we operate in is a pretty tight ship. It's pretty much the old standard rock and roll take on the folk slash blues slash, you know.
RW: What do you listen to? Everything?
Paul: I listen to everything. When I'm at the store I listen to whatever's new in the CD changer. I listen to the new Buzzcocks which I like a lot.
RW: They're still putting out a lot of records.
Paul: They're still very, very good, This one's the best one they've put out in years, since they got back together. What happened to more coffee?
RW: Are you a night owl?
Paul: Lately, yeah. I don't have to work until eleven o'clock tomorrow. It's something I've wanted all my life.
RW: Sleep in and go to the record store?
Paul: Yeah, it's only two blocks from where I live. It's something I've always wanted. That's why I'm fighting to work there as much as I can and keep it going as long as I can.
RW: You know what the next release is gonna be?
Paul: Oh yeah, we got about eighteen songs that we recorded already. We got a seven inch that's coming out real soon called Spiral Slouch. It's on Shit Sandwich.
RW: Anything else you want the world to know? Any mission statement?
Paul: We're winging it. Winging our way through life. I'll come up with a mission statement any second now . . . I suppose we could be like The Clash and say we want to change the world, but I think the world changes by itself. It certainly has changed over the past few years.
RW: For the worse?
Paul: Yeah, it depends on how you look at it, but yeah, I would say just about for everyone it's for the worse even the ones who think they're getting it best are getting it worse. Even the people who are really powerful, they still have to protect themselves, they still have to bunker themselves, they'll never be safe from paranoia. I think people care too much about security and not enough about what freedom has to offer, and I think they give away a lot of freedoms that they're not really thinking about right now. I used to be kind of a homebody but in recent years I decided I'm not going to be a homebody. I'm going to get out and about and do the band thing which I've always wanted to do, and instead of trying to conserve my energy I'm going to expend my energy and if I need more energy, money, or get-up-and-go, I can get it somehow. I think it's better to be that way. That's how I feel now.
RW: I think that's the opposite a lot of people.
Paul: I know people my age and younger, they just seem like they're digging in.
RW: Time to settle down, get real and get a real job?
Paul: Well, John Cougar Mellencamp said, growing up leads to growing old and then to dying. Let John Mellencamp guide you.
RW: Those are words to live by.
Paul: Life goes on long after the thrill of living has gone. So I figure, if you have to live you might as well have some kind of thrill.
RW: It served him well, that motto.
Paul: Can I get another cup of coffee and could we get the check?
RW: We might have to dine and dash. I wish we could make a run for the door with the tape recorder on but--