What's the first music that made an impression on you?
Brian Ritchie: It was probably something from Mary Poppins. I was really into Mary Poppins when I was a little kid. I wanted to marry Julie Andrews. I forced my parents to buy me the soundtrack album. But the first record I can remember buying on my own was "She's a Woman" and "I Feel Fine," a single by the Beatles, but that was after they'd already split up. I found it at a rummage sale. I said, "The Beatles -- I heard about those guys. Maybe I'll check 'em out. Ten cents -- what the hell, I'll listen to it." Then I decided I wanted to play guitar.
My parents wouldn't let me learn a musical instrument when I was a kid because the teacher advised them that I didn't have any musical talent whatsoever. I wanted to play trumpet. I said, "Get me a trumpet. I want to play trumpet!" And they said, "Brian, we can't. The teacher said you don't have any musical talent." So finally I harassed them enough so that they bought me a guitar. I was about 13.
Why did you switch to bass?
Ritchie: I was forced to because, as everyone knows, there are tons and tons of guitar players and hardly any bass players. Most guitar players try to play bass, but they're completely baffled by it. You'd think that there was no relationship between the two instruments by the way that guitar players try to play bass. But I had a natural talent for it, so I was stuck. Eventually I grew to like it.
Gordon -- first musical impressions?
Gordon Gano: I'm not sure exactly, but real early I remember hymns in church, and also my father would listen to country & western music -- Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams. And my father and mother would both listen to show music musicals. I remember getting into a few of those. I liked them; I still do. All that music -- the hymns, country music and the show music. I think it's all great.
When did you start playing?
Gano: I started just playing some simple chords on guitar -- which is not much different from what I do now -- maybe in the 6th grade, and in the 7th grade I started writing my own songs and just kept going since then.
Victor DeLorenzo: What was that song?
Gano: I'm not gonna tell ya.
DeLorenzo: Wasn't it "The Oatmeal Song"?
Gano: No, no, that's not it.
Ritchie: He wrote a song about oatmeal when he was a little kid. His sister told us about it.
Gano: That's not it. It was "Oats."
Ritchie: I'm sure you worked oatmeal into it.
Gano: Maybe -- you know, a little avant-garde twist...
Ritchie: I'll sing it for you -- his sister taught it to me -- "I love oats, I love oats..."
Gano: I consider this an insult. He is completely perverting the original "Oats" song.
Then you'd better set the record straight.
Gano: All right. This is a prestigious paper, right? I should give you the scoop? All right ... it's more of a chant. It was like, "Oats, oats/Cows like oats/Horses like oats/People like oats....," and you could go on for a long time.
Ritchie: Now, if this comes out as a bootleg, we'll know... The Gordon Gano fans are desperate.
Gano: And I was of course at that time heavily influenced by Jonathan Richman to play those kinds of children's songs.
We'll get around to that one later.
Gano: Lou Reed was my babysitter.
2. Jazz in the Woodpile
We listen to a lot of jazz, Victor and I. It's been a big influence on
both of us and on our rhythm section sound. Victor using the brushes is
pretty much strictly a jazz technique. And I'm just interested in
improvisation, and in this culture, jazz is its major exponent. We
improvise a lot. Not for a whole song, usually, but during sections of
the song or at the end. And we do major improvisations that are totally
free -- you know, anything can happen. Then there are times when you
might improvise for just a split second, but still it affects the
listener and the band emotionally.
It's a natural part of our vocabulary. It's not like we set out and said, "Yeah, let's play rock music, but let's jazz it up." It's just that we like jazz, we know it, and can draw upon it when necessary.
DeLorenzo: Particular sections of any given song that are open to improvisation might have a jazz feel one night. maybe a drone type feel to it one night, and other nights it might be handled sort of like a shuffle. So it's hard to say that jazz is really that influential, because it's a very hybrid form.
Ritchie: It's the attitude. Something else we take from the jazz tradition is having people sit in with us, bring musicians up onstage to play with us.
DeLorenzo: Most bands would be too frightened to have anyone come up and upset their set list. But we don't work with one, so we don't have to worry about that.
3. Small Is Rad
Is your instrumental set-up - the small drum kit, the acoustic bass guitar, the low volume - premeditated?
Gano: The volume is definitely premeditated in that we thought, you know, it's absurd the way you have to play at a certain volume or else it's not rock & roll..
Ritchie: It's gotten to be such a ridiculous, sick thing in rock music -- it's completely unnecessary and totally appalling. There's no reason for it, and I cannot understand why virtually every rock band I've ever heard conformed to this in credible volume level.
So you don't foresee a time when Victor will use a full kit and you'll play through Marshall amps?
Gano: Well, we've played with Victor having a full kit, and I like that, too. And I don't feel in any way that that's like not "selling out," that's not quite the right words --.
Ritchie: Marshall amps probably won't ever happen.
Gano: Awhile back, when we played out on the street, and some people were picking up on the idea of this "acoustic rock band" -- we got billed as that once or twice, "acoustic rock band" -- we still didn't hesitate to go do a gig and play nothing but electric guitars. And people would go, "What, what? We thought you were an acoustic rock band." We don't have to stick to a certain format just so that everybody can be happy and identify with us.
Did you play on the streets out of necessity or... perversity?
Gano & DeLorenzo: Both.
Ritchie:Partly just because we wanted to, and partly because we thought we could make some spare change.
Gano: But also because we weren't getting any gigs, there was no place to play. And we weren't really in it for the money, 'cause there was no money to be made.
Ritchie: We thought maybe there would be...
Gordon: Yeah, but after one tune out we knew -- I mean, we played really hard for about an hour or more and we'd maybe have $1.30.
Ritchie: Oh no, we made $l5 sometimes.
Gano: Whenever Victor wasn't with us.
Rltchie: Yeah, that's right.
Gano: That's the absolute truth. Brian and I could be wealthy men right now if we'd just stayed playing on the streets and left Victor behind.
DeLorenzo: That bad jazz influence.
Ritchie: Every time that Victor played with us, he fueled it up for us. People looked at him and said, "This guy doesn't need money. Look at him. He's got a leisure suit." I guess that Gordon and I just looked so decrepit that they felt sorry enough to give us money.
4. MilwaukeeRitchie: The thing is that the music scene is so small that the punk rockers all will be talking to the R&B people and the blues people -- it's like there really isn't too much separation between musicians.
I read that Gordon was homecoming king.
Gano: Well, it's very clear--
Ritchie: It was rigged.
Gano: When I was nominated in my home room--
Ritchie: He blew the whole freshman class, and that's how he got it.
Gano: No, actually, l just gave them all Brian's number and he did it. 'Cause he was older and into punk rock, so they knew he had no morals. Anyway, for a while that year -- but mostly the year before -- every Monday I'd wear a bathrobe to school. Over my clothes, but still a bathrobe. And it got a real, reaction. All of a sudden everybody knew that kid with the bathrobe and wanted to ask me why did I wear a bathrobe.
Ritchie: It shows you the intellect of high school students when you get to be the most popular guy in school by wearing a bathrobe to school.
Ritchie: They didn't make me homecoming king when I wore my Sex Pistols t-shirts to school.
DeLorenzo: You weren't new wave enough.
Ritchie: I was too new wave.
Gano: Anyway, a lot of people who are seniors don't want to talk to underclassmen, and I always didn't care at all I'd hang out with freshmen when I was a senior.
Ritchie: 'Cause they were the same size.
Gano: No, actually, it was the middle schoolers -- I used to hang out with them and beat them up and extort them, you know, I had a racket going.
Ritchie: Is it true you used to have little eighth grade cheerleaders as part of a prostitution ring?
Gano: Well I was never, uh, convicted of it.
Ritchie: Gordon used to grind up the chalk from the blackboard, you know, and sell it to the other kids and say that it was coke. They'd buy it, and then they'd think that they were high and they'd come to him and say that they wanted some poontang, so he'd sell them some little cheerleaders for 35 cents, or whatever lunch money was at that time.
Gano: That's how I financed the band.
Delorenzo: That's why he's the leader.
Gano: Picked these two stooges off the street.
Ritchie: We were a couple of his pimps. He was the grand player -- that's pimp talk for a big shot.
DeLorenzo: We were duped into this.
Ritchie: We didn't know what he was up to! He just used to say, "Brian, Victor, we want you to get these cheerleaders to chauffeur these guys around." We'd say, "But they don't have cars." He'd say, "Just get 'em to chauffeur them... Make sure you get their lunch money."
DeLorenzo: And that's why we formed a band.
Gano: Anyway, so I had a lot of friends in the freshman and sophomore and junior classes, and when they saw the ballot and all the names of people that they'd never heard of, all these seniors, in every class they'd say, "Gordon Gano -- oh, that's the dude with the bathrobe! Let's all vote for him!" So it was an avalanche.
DeLorenzo: So you were just the laughing-stock, and you were made a big fool in front of the whole student body, and you stand in shame to this day.
Ritchie: Just goes to show how wrong you can be.
Sincerest Form of Flattery
Gano: Someone was talking to me earlier and asked, "Are you getting sick of people always comparing you to ..." And there was this pause, and I just knew, "Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman" -- and I realized that, yes, I am sick of it. And I haven't been before. But today I am sick of it. Which is a breakthrough of sorts. So I guess now I'll start getting hostile. I don't know; I always take it as a compliment.
Ritchie: I'll tell you one thing. We're starting to hate those bands. We don't even know who those bands are. If some- one wants to give us some copies of their albums for free, we'll listen to them. Until then, we don't want to comment. We haven't heard them. It's nothing to be proud of. We just don't want to talk about something we never heard.
Gano: I try to sound like Steve Wynn. I got early tapes of him a few years back and I've been trying--
Ritchie: He dreamed he was born a thousand years ago he was Lou Reed, sailing on a ship.
Gano: I dreamed it, I didn't wish it.
Ritchie: He dreamed it, he dreamed he was Lou Reed and--
Gano: And I figured if I can't be Steve Wynn...
DeLorenzo: See, actually Brian is leav- ing the band, and Kendra is going to start playing with us now, because we wanted a more feminine type sound.
Gano: Brian's too macho.
DeLorenzo: We need a wimpy femme in the band.
Gano: And Victor's not quite wimpy enough.
Ritchie: I wanna join the Blasters and play Jew's harp and nose flute. I'm sick of bass. I wanna play other instruments for awhile. Besides, it's a lot cheaper. My bass is worth maybe $500, but nose flutes only cost 35 cents. The only thing is that pawn shops won't take them in on loan. e
copyright Robert Lloyd © 2009