Wednesday, 18 November 2020

The Power Of Pop: Wayne Hussey Talks About The Making Of "Masque" & The Condition Of The Mission In 1992

Originally published in American Music Press (October 1992)
By Devorah Ostrov

The Mission before Simon Hinkler left the band.
(Wayne Hussey second from right)
The record company bio that came with the new Mission UK album, Masque, reads like an ersatz Bronte novel. "Standing beneath the vaulted ceiling of Beefheart Hall..." begins the romanticized prose that depicts the group's vocalist Wayne Hussey surveying his country estate — no doubt named in honor of the avant-garde musician best known for Trout Mask Replica

The text gets even more ambitious when Hussey (apparently keeping his desire to be Ted Nugent a secret all these years) "discards his huge wolf and weasel fur cape. Leaping onto a three-legged milking stool, he hangs his brand new, recently blooded crossbow on the wrought-iron weapons rack fixed high up on the thick granite walls."

Wayne Hussey
(photographer unknown)
Hussey himself is on the other end of the phone line, having a hearty chuckle. He's really a very jovial fellow. 

"That's all a fabrication!" he exclaims.

So, Beefheart Hall doesn't actually exist?  

"Not to my knowledge."

And you don't kill your own meat and custom-make clothing from the fur?

"No!" He's quite emphatic about that.

I'm guessing the bit where bassist Craig Adams and drummer Mick Brown turn up for rehearsals in an ex-Soviet military helicopter is also fiction. Which is a shame, as I quite enjoyed that mental image.

"The bio was designed to see how many people would believe it," explains Hussey. "It's been quite amusing, particularly in Japan. The Japanese journalists all believe every single word!"

★ ★ ★

Q: Masque is so different from your previous albums. It's sort of upbeat! Has it taken people by surprise?

WAYNE: It's really... [he pauses to chuckle] divided them, particularly our audience here in Britain. I think people who have seen us play live a few times understand it a little more than the people who haven't. But you know, parts of our audience really don't understand it and even... [more chuckles] don't like it. And then some of them say it's the best record we've made. But you don't make a record with that intention. You just do the best job you can at that particular point in time. And hopefully along the way, you entertain yourself as well as entertain some other people.

(Mercury Records - 1992)
Q: Is it true that the band was on the verge of breaking up just before recording Masque?

WAYNE: Yeah, well... It's a question that gets raised every now and then, particularly since Simon [Hinkler, guitarist] left. I mean, we were in the middle of that 1990 tour when he left. And suddenly, it went from something that felt solid and invincible to something questionable and vulnerable. You constantly have to reappraise what you're doing anyway, kind of validate it for yourself. I think it's part of the creative process to question what you're doing, to question its value.

Q: Has the new record convinced you that it's worthwhile to keep the band together?

WAYNE: It's brought us closer together as people. Our friendships underwent a pretty traumatic time in 1990. It was the worst time ever. We didn't like each other very much, which was probably born out of the fact that we didn't like ourselves. So, I think it's brought us closer together as friends, which was basically what the band was founded on. I've been in bands before where friendship was never an issue. It was very much, "This is just what we do together," and that was it. It was great to be in the Mission, to be four lads in it together, and be best friends. Obviously, when Simon left, it really shook it all up.

The Mission at the time of this interview.
L-R: Mick Brown, Wayne Hussey & Craig Adams
Q: Are you still friends with Simon?

WAYNE: Yeah... I mean, YEAH! I would never want Simon to come back into the group. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't want to come back. There was a period when I felt betrayed by him, pretty let down. And I'm sure he felt the same way about us. But time's a good healer. He played a couple of shows with us last year, and he came to my wedding. Ironically enough, he's now a journalist [with Rock World magazine].

Q: Has he interviewed you yet?

WAYNE: No! There was a request put in by the paper to interview us, but he knows too much dirt. Haha! He reviewed the LP — he gave it eight out of ten. There were a few little digs at me, reading between the lines, but I guess that's to be expected.

Wayne Hussey
Q: I got the impression from some of the lyrics on Masque that you used the songs to, for lack of a better phrase, purge some personal demons from your head. Some of the lyrics seem really close to home.

WAYNE: It was the kind of discipline I imposed on myself with this record. In the past, I tended to deviate a little from the subject matter; get a little prosaic, you might say. I prefer to call it poetic license. But with this record, I really wanted to try to speak in a language that I speak in every day.

Q: Instead of being consciously 'gothic.'

WAYNE: Well, I never thought of it as being gothic. I think of it as being poetry, but I was kind of into the use of words for their sound more than their meaning. But that was the only discipline I imposed. Musically, it was: let's throw enough things in the pot and see what we get!

Q: I do think that some of your lyrics, for instance, "Never Again," would make wonderful poems on their own.

WAYNE: It's weird, I really envy people who write nonsensical two-line songs, but I need to qualify it to myself. And my way of qualifying it is that it reads well, as well as sounds good.

Q: Do you read much poetry?

Wayne on the cover of No. 1 magazine
November 1, 1986
WAYNE: I have done in the past. Now I read more novels and biographies. But when I was younger, I did read a lot of poetry.

Q: Do you have a favorite poet?

WAYNE: Yeah... It's a pretty common one, but it's Baudelaire.

Q: Do you have a favorite English folktale?

WAYNE: No, but I have a favorite Iowa folktale! My wife's father is originally from the Midwest, Iowa, and he's got loads of stories. My favorite one is about this guy they used to call "Dancing John." He just couldn't sit still. So, when he died, there was a massive turnout in the local community. People came just to see him lying still in his coffin. It was the first time anybody had seen him stay still! There's going to be a song on the next LP called "The Ballad of Dancing John," I think.
   I also like a lot of Steinbeck's writing. Have you ever read Travels with Charley? It's a wonderful book. It's one of the last ones he wrote, if not the last. He bought a mobile home and traveled around America with his dog. Basically, that's what the book is about — discovering America, all these folktales from wherever he went. It's really, really good!

Q: Would you like to do something like that yourself? Travel around America?

WAYNE: Yeah, I'd love to! I'd really like to have the time and the means to do it. There are so many spectacular parts of the country, particularly the Pacific Coast Highway, Monterey, Yosemite. Then you go out to Vegas — it's just very bizarre! You've got all these different things...

Poster for the band's 25th-anniversary celebration
at the Brixton Academy in London.
Q: Pop culture!

WAYNE: It is! Particularly LA. There's so much 20th-century history, and it all fascinates me. It's what I grew up with. I really can see Kelly and I living out there in a few years time.

Q: What about the rest of the band?

WAYNE: I don't know... I really don't see the band going on forever and ever. I'm sure Craig and Mick don't either. It's something we're doing right now that we're enjoying.

Q: Is there some other work you see yourself doing in the future, like maybe writing a book?

WAYNE: Yeah, that's kind of a major ambition of mine. Whenever I read a great book, it's like, "God, I would love to..." To have a finished manuscript would be like, WOW! Not even to have it published or anything. I just think it would be a great sense of achievement. But I haven't got the self-discipline to do that. I also like the lifestyle and discipline of writers. I like the idea that they get up at six 'clock in the morning and write till mid-day, so many words, and then the rest of the day they get drunk.

Q: I don't think they all do that.

WAYNE: I know they don't, but Charles Bukowski does. I'm not sure he's disciplined in his writing at all, actually. I know that's the way Steinbeck used to write.

The Mission circa 1986
Poster from Smash Hits magazine
Q: Are you disciplined as a songwriter?

WAYNE: No. I'll plunk around on the piano or a guitar. I have a studio now in the garden of my house, so I go there and mess about. If something captures my imagination, I'll pursue it. But it's very strange. I'm always coming up with new ideas, 99% of which I discard or forget. But no, I tend to write in phases, really. I haven't written a song now since we finished the album. But I'll start doing some stuff, and five or six good songs will come at once. That's the way I work.

Q: I just want to say that I'm really happy you chose "Like a Child Again" as a single from the new album. It's such a great pop song!

Wayne shares the cover of Sounds with
Miles Hunt of the Wonder Stuff - March 1990
WAYNE: It is a great pop song! I'm proud of that one. It was actually the last song I wrote for the record.

Q: There are actually quite a few great pop tunes on Masque.

WAYNE: Well, you know, I've always felt that we were more a pop group than we were a rock group. I don't think we fully realized the songs in the past. I don't think we saw ourselves too clearly.

Q: Was there pressure from within the band to change your musical direction a bit with this album?

WAYNE: As far as Craig, Mick and myself, we kind of realized even before Simon had left that we had to go somewhere else with it. But we weren't sure what to do or where to take it. Obviously, when Simon left, it forced our hand a little bit, but it actually kind of liberated us in a lot of ways. I was writing tunes, and not having to accommodate another guitar player. I'd forgotten that I could play guitar! I'd let Simon do it all. But with this record, it was like, "Okay, I'll play guitar here." On the other hand, if I didn't want any guitar in a song, then there wasn't any guitar.

Q: Replacing Simon was never a question then?

WAYNE: No! The Mission is the three of us now, although we used additional musicians on the record, and we'll use additional musicians when we play live as well.

Q: You used King Hussein's personal violin player on "Sticks and Stones." How did that come about?

"Like a Child Again"
CD single (Mercury Records - 1992)
WAYNE: I asked Jaz [Coleman, of Killing Joke], who's a friend of ours, to score the track. He said, "Yeah, but ah... I'm going to bring somebody along to play violin." Abdel [Aboud Ali] works for a living in a restaurant in Shepard's Bush. He's one of those annoying violin players that comes up and plays while you're eating! But whenever there's a royal occasion or a state wedding in Jordan, he gets the V.I.P. treatment. Quite neat!

Q: And Anthony Thistlethwaite [formerly of the Waterboys] co-wrote some of the songs.

WAYNE: Only two tunes ended up on the record ["She Conjures Me Wings" and "Even You May Shine"], but there were a few other tunes that I wrote with Anthony. He's such a lovely person. He's such a great person to play with because there's absolutely no ego involved on his part. He just purely loves music and plays for the fun of it!

Q: The song "Even You May Shine," is that about Charles Manson?

WAYNE: What makes you say that?

Q: You reference "Helter Skelter," little piggies, the family, and the names Sadie and Gypsy.

Wayne Hussey
(photo from the NME)
WAYNE: Yeah, I read the book around the time we were touring California. It's bewildering to me that people would do anything for this person. But it's quite an easy concept to grasp. Being in a band, there are times when you're put into a position of power, and it's easy to see how that can be abused. That's basically what the song is about — people need to find their place; they need to feel like they're part of something.

Q: "From One Jesus to Another," is that an answer to John Lennon's "Gimmie Some Truth"?

WAYNE: No, it's more like an answer to a song called "Lovely," which was on Carved in Sand [the band's previous album]. Actually, "From One Jesus..." was the first song that I wrote for this record. It's kind of, uhmm... It's the realization that you need to love yourself, and you really only need yourself. Once you have that, everything falls into line. But the bottom line is, firstly, you need to love yourself.

Q: It sounds like you've come to this realization fairly recently.

WAYNE: Towards the end of 1990, I was a mess. My personal life was a mess; the band was a mess. I was drinking far too much and taking far too many drugs. During the last world tour, I was supposed to go out and play to two thousand people a night and be a certain type of persona. And it ended up that I'd play that persona just to please them. I was really very unhappy, and I was taking it out on all the people around me, and I didn't know why. I'm the kind of person who doesn't confront things very easily. I tend to ball it up and try to put it on one side. It's interesting what you said before, with this record trying to lay some ghosts to rest because that's definitely how it worked for me. And it's probably the best way for me to exorcise those ghosts, through writing songs. The whole time I was making the record was very much a healing time. Obviously, Kelly, who became my wife while we were making the record, was very instrumental in that as well. She helped me regain my self-confidence. It's a gradual process, but with this record, I was very much getting it out of my system.

Advert for Wayne's 2015 tour in support of his
solo LP Songs of Candlelight and Razorblades.
Q: Are you content with the Mission's status in the music world?

WAYNE: I'm fairly happy with where we are right now. There was a time when we really saw ourselves being bigger than U2, or whoever, and when Simon left, it dawned on us that maybe that wasn't going to happen. I would like to sell more records, but in terms of my personal life, being able to do the things I want to do, go where I want to go without being bothered — it's great!

Q: Yeah, Bono probably can't go to the grocery store without being mobbed.

WAYNE: But the guys from Pink Floyd can. I much prefer that kind of fame.

Q: Will you be touring America in support of Masque?

WAYNE: I think we'll probably come over. It won't be a tour in the normal sense of the word. It won't be a concert tour, or anything. I don't know what it'll be yet.

Q: It'll be a surprise!

WAYNE: Well, you know, the record surprised a few people. Hopefully we'll surprise them live too!

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Enrique Serves Up '70s Kitsch & Sartorial Splendor To Delirious San Francisco (And Detroit) Fans!

Originally published in BAM (November 1, 1991)
By Devorah Ostrov

Enrique (publicity photo circa 1991)
In an icy-cold basement just off Haight Street, the five members of Enrique — vocalists Jason and D'Arcy, guitarist Sugar, bassist Mervine, and drummer Ron ("no last names, please") — are running through the Debbie Boone hit "You Light Up My Life." 

Jason begins, "So many nights..." and D'Arcy follows, "...I sit by my window..." But when they reach the second verse, continuing to alternate lines, a problem arises — the one who starts the song gets to sing "To say, hey, I love you!" 

Enrique performing at the Haight Street Fair
Photo: Ron Quintana
"But that's the best line!" cries D'Arcy. I'm singing it."
"Uh-uh," counters Jason. "It's mine."

Tempers flare, but just as quickly everyone's giggling. They can, after all, sing the line together.

Jason and D'Arcy have always been best friends. The newest version of their childhoods has them kidnapped by a Spaniard named Enrique. He, supposedly, took them to live in a trailer park in Lodi, where he taught them to disco dance. "We grew to love him as a father," says Jason.

"Are people really going to believe we were abducted?" asks D'Arcy. He's worried about the details. "Have we been reunited with our parents yet?"

No matter. Eventually they (somehow) made their way to San Francisco, and about two years ago mysterious flyers depicting their faces (sometimes pasted over those of the original Charlie's Angels) with the name "Enrique" began appearing around town.

"We had danced for some friends' bands a couple of times," explains D'Arcy, "and had been well received. We wanted to take it further, so we made up the flyers. We just weren't sure what we wanted to do."

Flyer for an Enrique show (with Wig Torture & Camel Toe) at Morty's.
Enter Mervine. Figuring they were advertising a group, he asked the pair if they might need a bassist. "We thought, OK, we'll be a band," laughs Jason. Sugar, who used to scoop ice cream for a living alongside Jason, was added on guitar, and the first of two drummers signed up.

Before the first rehearsal, Enrique was booked to open for the Average White Band at the Kennel Club. "It really helped us get in gear," says D'Arcy. "We could've taken six months to sit around and practice, but only having a month to get the show together pushed us to do it."

Jason, Kate Jackson & D'Arcy featured in the
Enrique billboard located at Castro & Market Streets.
He adds that their first set featured all cover songs, including Hot Chocolate's "Everyone's a Winner," the Partridge Family's "I Can Feel Your Heartbeat," and Nick Gilder's "Hot Child in the City." 

From early on, the band has shown a knack for generating publicity. Consistently amusing flyers constantly appeared, a billboard went up on the corner of Castro and Market, and Jason and D'Arcy were seen on TV 20's Dance Party

In their biggest coup, the two vocalists — feet clad in platforms, heads topped with Afro wigs — paid a visit to the chat show People Are Talking and asked a startled John Waters (promoting Cry Baby) how to get into one of his films. "See my casting agent," they were tersely told.

"I'd rather be on Twin Peaks anyway," huffs Jason. 

D'Arcy & Jason show off their Hostess Cupcake collection
as well as their spectacular handmade costumes!
In July, Enrique travelled to New York to participate in the New Music Seminar. Envisioning an instant recording contract, the band came away disappointed. Still, the journey enabled them to play a memorable show in Detroit.

"Detroit flipped over us," enthuses Mervine, explaining how after their set, the band had to be led through the 1000-seat hall by a bouncer. "Everyone was shaking our hands and asking for autographs!"

"They actually offered to buy clothing off us," adds Sugar. 

Determined to keep going once the current '70s revival inevitably fizzles out, Enrique is concentrating on writing new material and a four-song tape featuring all original songs is available through the Enrique fan club. "We want to make a name for ourselves as a real, solid band," says D'Arcy. "We want to be able to stand on our own feet."

★ ★ ★

Jason with Julie & Michelle -
two of Enrique's biggest fans.
Photo: Ron Quintana
Enrique at the Paradise Lounge - 2/23/1990
Originally published in BAM
Live review by Devorah Ostrov

"The ultimate Enrique experience," promised the flyers for this double-set extravaganza. With 'fro wigs, platforms, flying bread and outrageously handmade '70s attire, the show easily lived up to the confident proclamation.

While the early set featured treatments of such classics as "Kung Fu Fighting" and "Boogie Man" (vocalists Jason and D'Arcy imbuing the latter with the passion it deserves), it was the late show that reigned supreme.

Dressed in a patriotic display of star-covered blue flares and vests complete with starred cape-like appendages, the two frontmen took the stage with the rousing "Electric Company Theme Song." Hilariously synchronizing their go-go dancing, the two tore through "Everyone's a Winner" and "I'm a little Bit Country/I'm a Little Bit Rock 'n' Roll" — D'Arcy playing Donny to Jason's Marie. And they wound up the whole affair with Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak" — so trashed that Phil Lynott must still be rolling in his grave.

Although it's hard to take your eyes off the singers, the musicians in Enrique should not be overlooked, especially when they transform the Partridge Family hit "I Can Feel Your Heartbeat" with a beat so funkified you won't remember how silly a song it actually is.

Despite the trappings to the contrary, Enrique is not just a '70s revivalist act. Both sets featured several self-penned tunes (such as the enticing "1-800-ENRIQUE"), which elicited just as many cheers from the happy crowd, one of whom offered up a two-volume 8-track recording of Thank God It's Friday as a token of affection.

Enrique (with Michelle) at the Hemp Festival — "in the mistaken idea they were onstage,"
adds photographer Ron Quintana.

* You can follow Enrique on Facebook! Here's a link to their page: 

Monday, 19 October 2020

Mojo Nixon Spreads Yuletide Cheer During His '92 Horny Holidays Tour. But Where's Skid Roper?

Originally published in American Music Press (1992)
Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Mojo Nixon
(Photo from "The Mojo Manifesto: The Life & Times of Mojo Nixon")
During his onstage banter at a local club, Mojo Nixon described himself as a cross between Bigfoot and Roddy McDowell in Planet of the Apes. It's a pretty accurate image. He's a mountain of  a man, with a booming hillbilly accent and a razor-sharp wit.

As well as getting him in some hot water with Benson & Hedges, Nixon's wicked sense of humor is responsible for the irreverent pop culture classics "Elvis is Everywhere" and "Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child" (both of which he recorded in the '80s with onetime collaborator Skid Roper), as well as the wildly irreverent "Don Henley Must Die" which sneers: "Pumped up with hot air/He's serious, pretentious/And I just don't care..." (Rumor has it that the former Eagle recently joined Nixon onstage in Austin to sing the song's rousing chorus: "Don Henley must die, don't let him get back together with Glen Frey!")

Horny Holidays LP (Triple X Records - 1992)
Since September, Nixon and his band the Toadliquors — bassist Sean "New Guy" McCarthy, drummer Mid "Wid" Middleton, and Pete "Wet Dawg" Gordon on piano — have been touring the US in support of their new Christmas album Horny Holidays (Triple X Records).

The offbeat LP includes some unconventional takes on Xmas standards like "Good King Wenceslas" and "Jingle Bells," while other treats like James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto," and the perennial family fave, "Mr. Grinch," are given that special Mojo twist.

I caught up with the affable Mr. Nixon in time to give him a cheap plastic Cat in the Hat for Christmas and ask a few questions about his latest project...

Q: What possessed you to record a Christmas album?

MOJO: I've been wanting to do a Christmas album for a while. I thought that the bad eggs, the mutants, the weirdos, the doomed and the damned of the world needed one.

Q: I love that you included your version of "Mr. Grinch." Covering a song from How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a stroke of genius!

Mojo wearing a WEBN t-shirt
MOJO: It's an unheralded Christmas classic. And you know, we sing the actual, real words: "Your head is full of snot..." That's right up my alley!

Q: Where did you find all the other bizarre Christmas songs that you cover on the album? Like the lecherous "Trim Yo' Tree."

MOJO: I have a huge collection of weirdo Christmas albums. I've been collecting 'em for 10 years, and I have about 100 or so. Most of 'em are by people you wouldn't think would do a Christmas album, like "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" by James Brown or Huey "Piano" Smith's "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus." And I wanna carry on that tradition.

Q: So, it wasn't Elvis Presley's Christmas collection that inspired you?

MOJO: No... Well, that was part of it. In fact, I think on my next Christmas album, Naked New Year — the first one is always so successful you have to do a second one — we'll do Elvis' version of "Merry Christmas Baby."

Q: You also wrote a couple of new Christmas tunes for the album...

MOJO: I wrote a couple; I rewrote a couple of things... I wrote the "Little Man Song," which had been floating around in the Mojo archives for a while but had never made it onto an album, and the soul-groove song, "It's Christmas Time."

Mojo Nixon (Rock Musician) on CNN
Q: What about the "Head Crushing Yuletide Sing-A-Long"? To me, it sounds kinda like the Christmas classic "Winter Wonderland," although it's less than a minute long.

MOJO: Uh... that's actually just one of our miscues.

Q: I also want to mention your brilliant rendering of "Good King Wenceslas." You barely start the song, admit you don't know the lyrics, and just keep going "la, la, la." Did you truly not know the words or was it planned that way?

Custom Condoms
promo merch for Horny Holidays
MOJO: It's a combination of both. I truly don't know the lyrics and I thought it would be funny to do a song which typifies Christmas, where people sing the first two lines and that's all they know.

Q: Was the project really as spontaneous as it sounds?

MOJO: It was pretty spontaneous. We did it all in four days. We didn't know the words to any of those songs before we started. We didn't know how to play 'em. We didn't know what key they were in. We didn't know the arrangements. So, we had to learn 'em, record 'em, overdub, and mix everything in four days.

Q: Is that the way you've recorded all your albums?

MOJO: Nah! The first one [Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper released in 1985] took eight hours — four hours to record and four hours to mix! We didn't even know we were making an album. We thought we were just making demos.

Q: That's amazing! Kind of makes you wonder what took Guns N' Roses so long.

"Elvis is Everywhere" - Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper
Picture sleeve 45 released in 1987 on Australia's
Liberation label.
MOJO: Right! 'Cause they're under enormous pressure from Geffen to have shit. So, they end up making shitty albums with boring songs. Who told them to do "Live and Let Die"? Who told Axl to play the piano with Elton John? Axl Rose is all pose. He looks and acts like he wants to be a rock god, but he doesn't have any rock 'n' roll songs. Where's the "Satisfaction"? Where's the "Jumpin' Jack Flash"? Their big hit, "Sweet Child O' Mine," is a power ballad. It's not a rock song; it's a slow-skater!

Q: When you were recording the song "Elvis is Everywhere" [from Bo-Day-Shus!!! released in 1987], did you think it was going to become a hit and your signature tune?

MOJO: No! After we recorded it, I realized it was gonna come out right when the 10th-anniversary [of Elvis' death] was happening. I didn't know that when we recorded it. There was just a whole bunch of Elvis stuff happening at that time, and I just kind of picked up on it and wrote a song about it. When it came out, the 10th-anniversary thing was huge! It was on the cover of Newsweek!

Q: But your timing was just a fluke?

Mojo Nixon circa 1990
Enigma Records publicity photo
MOJO: Yeah, well... I pick up on the vibrations in the universe before most normal humans.

Q: Do you ever want to be taken more seriously? Or write less humorous songs?

MOJO: Nah! There's a real trap there. Unfortunately, you're either perceived as being serious like Don Henley and you wanna save the rain forest and critics love you. Or you're perceived as being a buffoon. There's no in-between. Even if I did an alleged serious album, in the middle of it I'd let a fart! I couldn't stop myself.

Q: I read that your sense of humor recently got you into trouble with the Benson & Hedges people. Apparently, a quote of yours caused them to drop you from their Blues & Rhythm concert series.

(The quote in question was: "I'm running for the Presidency on the Mushroom Party. The basic overriding platform is that having sex is better than killing. The people who take mushrooms and get laid a lot aren't going to be pushing the button.")

Recent pic of Mojo Nixon and Little Steven
promoting Nixon's SiriusXM show "The Loon in the Afternoon."
MOJO: This friend of mine [Chris Morris] writes for Billboard and he was just quoting all the crazy shit I normally say, and Benson & Hedges freaked. I don't remember exactly what it was, but I was spewing forth my normal, y'know, anarchy rhetoric and some guy goes, "Oh, no! We can't have him!" I also got dropped by TNN. Same deal.

Q: What's TNN?

MOJO: The Nashville Network. That's the reason why I haven't been on [David] Letterman and stuff.

Fabulous poster for a series of Mojo Nixon
shows in Texas.
Q: That's awful!

MOJO: Hell, it's their loss. When I'm King of the Universe they'll be sucking my boots!

Q: I've been wondering, whatever happened to your old pal and collaborator Skid Roper?

MOJO: Oh, god! He's in prison in Arkansas. He was cross-dressing at this Liberace tribute, and they don't like that in Arkansas. So, they took him to the women's prison! But Governor Bubba, soon to be President Bubba — the first draft dodger, wife-swapper, dope smoker, saxophone player to be in the White House — is gonna release him before he goes to D.C.

Q: Is this true?

MOJO: Sure! Need you ask?

(Actually, Skid Roper has two albums of his own on Triple X Records: Trails Plowed Under released in 1989 and Lydias Cafe released in '91. A spokesman for the label would neither confirm nor deny Mojo's story, only saying that last he heard, Roper was running a used drum shop "just before the legal problems...")

Q: In addition to the usual Triple X label on your latest release, I noticed the name Triple NiXXXon Records. Is this a subsidiary deal you have?

Mojo Nixon
(promo photo)
MOJO: I do have a little subsidiary label. It has Fish Karma, One Foot in the Grave... Who's the next one we're gonna put out? Eugene Chadmore... crazy, nutty people who would probably never get a record deal anywhere else. Enigma's out of business and IRS has been absorbed by Capitol [Mojo's former labels], so we put Horny Holidays out ourselves. Even if I had a major-label deal, they wouldn't let me make the drunken Christmas record I wanted to make. Record company people — you can't imagine how small their brains are. If you rammed their brains up a gnat's ass it'd look like a BB in a boxcar. You get the picture? Brains up a gnat's ass... BB... boxcar.

Q: You live in San Diego and your band [the Toadliquors] is based in Austin. But you recorded Horny Holidays as well as two other albums [Root Hog or Die and Otis] in Memphis. Is there a particular reason you like to record there?

MOJO: The guy who produces my albums, Jim Dickinson, lives in Memphis. Although he didn't do this one, me and the engineer did it. But Memphis is just a great place. It's, you know, where Elvis is from. That's where we're going! If it's good enough for Elvis and Howlin' Wolf, it's good enough for us.

Q: Do you hang around at Graceland?

MOJO: Nah! It's kinda weird down there. There's other places to go. Secret Elvis hide-outs!

Poster for the Jello Biafra/Mojo Nixon
1994 Prairie Home Invasion LP
(Alternative Tentacles)
Q: Did you ever see Elvis in concert?

Mojo: No, I never did. When I was in high school it was supremely unhip. I didn't quite realize it was so unhip that it was hip. I hadn't passed that hurdle yet.

Q: I've been told that you're a big collector of odd junk.

MOJO: My house is a monument to weird junk!

Q: What's the strangest thing you own?

MOJO: A shingle from the house John Wayne was born in. It's kind of a religious artifact. And I have a painting of a rooster by Evil Knievel. If I could just get Hitler and Johnny Cougar, I'd have all the big painters!

Q: Just out of curiosity, what does the Nixon household look like at Christmas? Do you put the lights on the house and reindeer on the roof?

MOJO: Uh-huh! Really hideous! The neighbors really hate it. I just saw something in a J.C. Penny catalog... My mom was making me look at it when I was back in Virginia during the early part of the tour. She's saying, "You have to pick out something I can get you for Christmas." I see this four-foot-high plastic Santa Claus, and the ad says: "New this year — Afro American Santa Claus!" I said, "That's what I want!" But she wouldn't get it for me.
Mojo's story is told by Jay Allen Sanford in this "Famous Former Neighbors" cartoon strip.

Monday, 28 September 2020

Material Issue: Jim Ellison Claims To Know What Girls Want. Who Better To Help Me Build The Perfect Human Being?

Originally published in American Music Press (1992)
Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Material Issue - "What Girls Want" CD single
(Mercury Records - 1992)
Right now, my favorite teenage-girl magazine is running its annual "Sassiest Girl in America" contest. To win, one simply has to construct the perfect human being.

"Think of more than four but less than fifteen folks — living or dead — who you admire the heck out of," state the rules. "Now create a totally ideal being employing different attributes from said individuals."

And who better to help me with this Frankensteinian project than Material Issue vocalist Jim Ellison. After all, he already has a head start with the hit song "What Girls Want":

I want a man with lips just like Mick Jagger
Rod Stewart's hair, and Keith Richards' stagger...

I wasted no time in getting Jim — who had just returned home to Chicago after a two-month US tour in support of the group's latest album Destination Universe — on the phone.

Material Issue (Mercury Records publicity photo)
AMP: So, who do we pick for a sense of humor?

JIM: Rodney Dangerfield.

AMP: Good. What about singing voice?

JIM: Robin Gibb.

AMP: The Bee Gees? Interesting. Okay, how about intelligence?

JIM: Gene Simmons.

AMP: Really? Is he smart?

JIM: Highly.

AMP: Eyebrows?

JIM: I've always thought that Paul McCartney has good eyebrows.

AMP: That's a great choice! Whose ambition do we admire?

JIM: That's a toughie. No one has ever struck me as being ambitious.

AMP: What about yourself?

JIM: Yeah... I guess...

Jim's unassuming reply was sweet, but it wasn't going to win me Sassy's contest. It seemed like a good time to switch gears and ask a few proper interview questions.

Material Issue
(Mercury Records publicity photo)
AMP: Did you guys suspect that "What Girls Want" would be a big hit when you recorded it?

JIM: Well... we think all the songs on the album are hits [suddenly he's all ambitious], but we liked "What Girls Want" the best. We had two top-five hits last year with "Valerie Loves Me," and "Diane" [both from the International Pop Overthrow LP), so we'd pretty much established ourselves as far as modern rock goes. Now "What Girls Want" is getting played on AOR, which we never thought would happen. But the record is #38, and it's still climbing!

AMP: Are you personally a big fan of pop music?

JIM: I'm a fan of everything. I listen to music from the '50s to now. I'm always listening to old music for reference points, but I listen to new music too, because a lot of it's great.

AMP: What current bands do you like?

Back cover pic from the "Valerie Loves Me" 12-inch EP
Photo: Michael Lavine
JIM: The Cave Dogs were our opening band on this tour, and I thought they were excellent. I like Cracker quite a bit; they did some shows with us. There's some local Chicago bands that I like a lot.

AMP: Historically, the Midwest has always had a reputation as a breeding ground for great pop bands — Cheap Trick, Shoes, the Replacements...

JIM: Historically it has, but it's been a while since Cheap Trick. Unfortunately, we don't have much more than Material Issue in the pop vein currently.

AMP: Why do you think that is?

JIM: A lot of musicians get frustrated with the format, seeing as there's so many bands that have played that kind of music. But our music still has a modern edge to it, even though it's straight-ahead pop. I think a lot of bands get too sucked up in the retro aspect of pop music.

AMP: But there's so much you can do with pop!

JIM: Yeah, but I don't think too many people know how to do it. If they did, we'd have a lot more successful pop bands.

* Postscript — I did not win the "Sassiest Girl in America" contest.
* RIP — Jim Ellison committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in June 1996. 

Thursday, 27 August 2020

The Unclaimed: Shelley Ganz Talks About The "Primordial Ooze Flavored" EP, Fizzies & His Devotion To Garage Rock

Originally published in Rave-Up #8 (1984)
By Devorah Ostrov

"Primordial Ooze Flavored"
(Hysteria Records - 1983)
Ask Shelley Ganz, lead singer for the Unclaimed, what he wants to be when he grows up and he'll state: "Wanna be a farmer all year round!"

This is relevant. Because for Shelley, the '60s never ended. The bands he favors are the Seeds (the above quote came from their song, "The Farmer"), Count Five, the Syndicate of Sound, the Standells, and numerous other even more obscure '60s garage-rock groups. And with his band's recently released six-song EP, "Primordial Ooze Flavored" (Hysteria Records), Shelley says he hopes to bring back the feeling and the fun of that era!

Formed in April 1979 when guitarist Sid Griffin (late of punk band Death Wish) responded to Shelley's "musicians wanted" ad in The Recycler, the LA-based Unclaimed were at the forefront of the current garage rock revival. Shortly after the release of their 1980 four-song EP (Moxie Records), Griffin left the group (along with bassist Barry Shank) and eventually formed the Long Ryders. But by then, the Unclaimed were playing to packed local clubs and they'd progressed from covering little-known mid-'60s gems to being one of the few bands on the scene writing their own material — all of which could easily be mistaken for the genuine article.

We began the interview by gathering some background information on our fave rave.

The Unclaimed - early publicity photo with
Shelley Ganz and Sid Griffin.
Q: Were you born in Southern California?

Shelley: I was born in Hollywood, at the southern edge of Hollywood.

Q: As a kid, were you a big fan of '60s garage rock when it was happening?

Shelley: No, I was too young at the time it was happening. I only became aware of pop music a couple of years later, during the bubblegum era. Garage hit me when I was in boarding school in New York — which is too horrid an episode to get into. Luckily, I had a transistor radio so I could tune in to WCBS-FM, an "oldies" radio station. They played everything from Doo-Wop through surf and British Invasion to garage and bubblegum. It was literally the only thing that kept me from jumping out of a window.

Q: What it was that appealed to you so strongly about garage rock?

Shelley: It just hit me on an internal level. You get it or you don't. It talks to you or it doesn't. You hear something and it instantly grabs you. I remember very clearly hearing the intro to "Liar Liar" by the legendary Castaways on WCBS. I just froze. It was just... fantastic is not a strong enough word. I thought, "Oh my god, this is just the greatest!"

Poster for a 2015 show with the Outta Sites, the
Unclaimed & the Ogres at the Elbo Room in SF.
Q: Growing up, were you a Beatles fan or a Stones fan?

Shelley: I'm very tempted to laugh uproariously! You know the Stones covered "I Wanna Be Your Man," and you know the Beatles wrote it. Now, the Beatles' version is a very likable pop tune. But the Stones' version is this wicked cool, kick-ass, demonic death ray! And that's the difference between the two bands. A writer friend of mine put it this way: "The Beatles were more romantic; the Stones were more sexual." It's a profound statement. I don't profess to being that clever, I would just say that the Stones are more visceral.

Q: So, you're listening to oldies on WCBS-FM... Were you already thinking about forming your own band?

Shelley: No, not at that point. I loved the music, and I was very heavily into the Stones, but I was still quite young. So, when that school uhmm... thought I should be elsewhere, to put it mildly, I came back to LA and finished high school and started college. And that's when I became super garaged-out! One day, I was listening to KRTH, they were almost identical to WCBS; they played everything that WCBS played. So, I was listening to "Time Won't Let Me" by the Outsiders on KRTH... and BANG! I wanted to be the Outsiders. My thought was, I'm never gonna see the Outsiders, so I felt I had to become them. That's how passionate I was about garage rock. That's when I thought, I'm gonna have to put a band together that's devoted to garage. And that's when I started putting ads in The Recycler looking for like-minded people. And it slowly came together, but it was very slow.

The Unclaimed at the time of this interview
(publicity photo)
Q: How hard was it for you to find like-minded musicians to join the band?

Shelley: Well, it did take a few years to find the right group.

Q: Was it because no one understood what you were trying to do?

Shelley: That's one way to put it. It was tough because it's really a pigeonhole. The original garage scene only lasted for a couple of years.

Q: What kind of people responded to your advert?

Shelley onstage in 2013 at the Ugly Things 
30th-anniversary party. 
Shelley: A lot of hippies and ex-hippies... And y'know, God love 'em! But they were too far down the road, so to speak. They were beyond '65/'66. They were already up to '69. Somebody who'd played in Blue Cheer came down for a rehearsal...

Q: Which guy from Blue Cheer?

Shelley: Oh, I don't know. He played drums and he was a hippie. We played "Bad Girl" [by Zakary Thaks] but he couldn't quite get it. And we played "Dinah Wants Religion" [by the Fabs] but he couldn't quite get that, either. He wanted to go into a drum solo for five minutes. Haha!

Q: Were you called the Unclaimed from the beginning?

Shelley: No, there were a lot of names. I think we were called the Popes at one point. And we were the Uninvited for a little while. And from the Uninvited, we became the Unclaimed. There was a fantastic garage band called the Uncalled For. Oh, my god, they were so great! They had a song called "Do Like Me," and I was in love with that song. We used to cover it. And I kind of went, "The Uncalled For... The Unclaimed. That's it!"

Q: Where did the band make its debut?

Shelley: It was at the Nugget at Long Beach State. We opened for the Plimsouls.

Flyer for "another savage performance" by the Unclaimed
at the Troubadour in Los Angeles - January 30, 1980.
Q: That would've been a good show!

Shelley: Yeah, it was good! We played two sets. I remember the first song we played; it was "Little Girl" by the Syndicate of Sound — the greatest band of them all.

Q: What else did you play that night?

Shelley: Well, you see... I'd met Dave Gibson, who eventually produced our Moxie record, and he sold me a stack of singles for basically nothing. These were very rare and very obscure singles. So, our first set included a plethora of extremely obscure garage covers combined with some well-known '60s tunes by groups like the Chocolate Watchband.

Q: Did Peter Case give you some encouragement that night? He's very into garage rock.

Shelley: We were friends for a good two or three years prior to that. We would hang out and go to record stores. He's a very good cat, and he was very complimentary about our first set. He was very generous and kind with what he said when he saw us.

Q: This would have pre-dated the garage rock revival by quite a while.

Shelley: It pre-dated everything!

Q: What did the audience think?

The Unclaimed four-song EP (Moxie Records 1980)
Features two songs written by Sid Griffin and two written
by Shelley Ganz, including "Run from Home."
Shelley: I only have a recollection of our performance, and I just remember Peter beaming. That's all I can recall. I can't even see the audience. Presumably, they enjoyed it, but I just don't remember.

Q: In 1981, the Unclaimed track "Run from Home" was included on the Voxx Battle of the Garages LP. How did that come about?

Shelley: That was Greg Shaw's vision of what contemporary garage music was like, but half the group had left by then; that was the pivotal point. Sid was really into a more country sound, and I was into the grungier, punk sound of that period. So, we couldn't really come together on songwriting. We sort of did his songs and then we did my songs, and there was a constant battle. So, he split. But we're still pals.

Q: Wasn't "Run from Home" one of the two songs you wrote for the Unclaimed's 1980 Moxie EP?

Shelley: Yes, it was. But I thought the original version was recorded much too quickly, and in general, it's rather poor quality. We reworked it a bit for the Voxx LP. We enhanced the vocals and some of the guitars.

Q: Battle of the Garages was supposed to be a real Battle of the Bands, with write-in votes. Was an actual winner chosen from the entries?

Still rockin'! The Unclaimed in action at the Redwood - April 2019.
Photo: Boni Wolf Florian
Shelley: I don't know, it was probably the Chesterfield Kings. They did a cover of the Chocolate Watchband's tune "Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)."

Q: Speaking of your East Coast rivals... The Chesterfield Kings offered 14 covers of obscure mid-'60s nuggets on their debut album. Meanwhile, you wrote five out of the six songs on "Primordial Ooze Flavored." What's your take on this difference between the two bands?

Shelley: I think the Chesterfield Kings are a great band! I think they chose superlative songs to cover and they did it brilliantly. Both our bands are very evocative of that stock mid-'60s sound. I'm pretty sure if you found their album and "Primordial Ooze Flavored" in a stack of records from 1966, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between them and the originals. Not from a production end, anyway.

Flyer for an Unclaimed gig at Club 88, with support
from the Salvation Army & the Bangs (soon to become
the Three O'Clock & the Bangles respectively).
Q: But I also think it's amazing that you're writing new songs which could easily be mistaken for the genuine article.

Shelley: Thank you! The Unclaimed's songs are strong. They may not be as great as the '60s punk hits that we all admire, but I don't think there's any loss of texture or quality in our original material. We just didn't think there was any point in recording covers because those songs are masterpieces. So, we were never really into that.

Q: How did you go about recording the "Primordial Ooze Flavored" EP? Did you try to get an "old" feeling?

Shelley: No, you see, we aren't trying to do it. We just do it. We know what we want, and we do it.

Q: So, you were able to use a regular, modern-day recording studio?

Shelley: Well, most of the studios are solid-state as opposed to tubes. But I think it's more like, if you know what you're doing and you sound how you want to, it's not really that important. A lot of the stuff was piecemeal recording, y'know, various bits and pieces here and there. We got bits of time for nothing or very, very cheaply. So, we just went up there and did as much as possible in the shortest period of time.

Q: You produced the EP yourselves?

Battle of the Garages - featuring the Unclaimed track
"Run from Home" (Voxx Records - 1981).
Shelley: Yeah! We had an engineer, but we essentially knew how to get the sounds. The problem with some bands is that they try too hard to capture "a sound." When the Seeds went to record, they didn't think: "Who are we going to emulate?" They just did it. Beatle boots and bowl haircuts are cool, but anyone can wear them. And that's not the criteria for cool anyway. A bunch of the mid-'60s garage groups look like physics students; like they'd be late for chemistry!

Q: Are you happy with how "Primordial Ooze Flavored" turned out?

Shelley: Uhmm... three-quarters happy. We learn more every time we go into the studio. We're not complete experts, and we were on a limited budget.

Q: Have you seen any reviews of "Primordial Ooze Flavored"?

Shelley: A local writer in a local paper said that it was easily the most stock sounding thing he'd heard, and why we weren't stars was beyond his imagination. Stuff like that. He liked it a lot! He was really nice. I thought about sending him some fruit.

Lost Trails #7 - Italian fanzine featuring an
Unclaimed/Vipers split single (1988).
Q: Have you had the opportunity to hear your songs on the radio?

Shelley: Yes! They played "Walk on the Water" on Rodney's [Bingenheimer] show, and they played "No Apology" a lot 'cause that's a very hot track. Rodney is always good to us.

Q: Are you hoping to get picked up by a major label?

Shelley: Y'know, that's like every kid's dream! That and a free trip to Hawaii! But yeah, it would be nice if we could make a living on what we like to do.

Q: The EP cover artwork is really interesting. How did that design come about?

Shelley: The cover is kind of hard to define. I got the idea from Fizzies. I dug some up and thought, "This wouldn't be bad." So, that's where I got it. But I dig it! The whole kinda cruddy, amusement park meets Halloween, meets B-horror movies, meets cotton candy that sticks to your shoe!

Q: Do you ever feel like you've held yourself back by locking yourself into such a specific musical timeframe?

Shelley: No! Because I love that timeframe. I worship it. I adore it. I can honestly say it's my religion. This is all I listen to. Other than bubblegum and a few notable exceptions, like the New York Dolls, the Ramones, and the Damned, I don't buy records that came out after Brian Jones died. I kinda feel like he took all the coolness with him. After '69, rock 'n' roll became big business and it became really serious. But if you just dig around there's stuff out there that is such a gas to listen to. The greatest things are songs like "Little Girl." It's utterly simple, and it really floors you!

Vintage Fizzies packages
★ ★ ★
The new Unclaimed EP
(Groovie Records)

But wait! The Unclaimed story isn't over. They've got a new self-titled, four-song EP on Groovie Records. You can listen to one of the fab tracks ("You Never Come") and find out how to order your copy here:

"I like to refer to our new songs as bubble-garage," says Shelley. "I've always adored bubblegum music. It followed garage chronologically, and these new songs have both qualities — garage and bubblegum forged together. And I think they're delightful!"

* Follow the Unclaimed on their Facebook page:
* Join the Friends Who Like The Unclaimed Facebook group: 
* Watch the video for "You Never Come" on YouTube: