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The Jazz Butcher Press Chatting up the Butch (Detroit, MI, USA) - April 12, 2000
Interview w/Conspirator: Pat Fish
Metro Times Chatting up the Butch (Detroit, MI, USA)
April 12, 2000
Credit: Chris Handyside

Chatting up the Butch

Music Editor Chris Handyside converses with the Jazz Butcher's Pat Fish about music, movies, Kid Rock, Blur, guns and more.
Metro Times: Are you laying down tracks for a new studio record?
Pat Fish: I suppose you're about the first to know, but just before Christmas a company called Vinyl Japan appeared on my computer and said "Do you want to make a record?" Max and I went down to have a chat with them and the chap said, "We'll give you a small advance. 500 pounds for recording and 2000 pounds for beer," and we went, "Yep."
Sounds perfect…
Yeah, unbelievably, here we are making a record in the year 2000. I don't know what's on their minds.
So you're recording with the Jazz Butcher Conspiracy?
Well, Max and I are the core of it and we've had some mates come in and do some congas and that.
What prompted the reunion of the JBC?
Well Max and I have been sort of quietly playing together again since 1997. But mostly at private events. We finished off, as the Butcher was splitting up in 1995 - do you really want the history?
Sure.
We split up at the end of '95, and for the last few gigs Max had been showing up and doing a bit of guitar here and there, and when we did the last it was quite a good one. We had all our mates come and it was quite a boozer. We finished it, on the second encore we did a version of that old ballad "Angels" and we made a big zero of it quite honestly, Chris. We left the bugger on sort of a half note, but, hey, we'd split up, we're not bothered. Then in August '96 a weird thing happened. Some guys down in Majorca wanted to book us, and of course they didn't know that we'd split up. So we went down to that, we thought, "Hell, it's a trip to Majorca." And when we finished that gig we thought, "Yeah, there we go. Now we've really done it. Now we can stop."

But the following year, a couple in Seattle called and said they were going to get married and that they'd fly me and a mate out to play the wedding. And I thought, "Well, I'm no fool. I'm going."

I talked to Max and, yup, he was up for it. We did that, and we had a really good time. We had some mates from Seattle playing with us. We had Joe from the Posies playing bass. And Greg, the guy that played drums for Mother Love Bone.

The couple were just big fans?
Yeah, really, they were the ones that kept us together, 'cause we thought the '96 gig was the end. The line is it's their band, we just play in it.

But they're lovely people. Then we did another wedding in '98. And then I got e-mailed up and after that, the demand meets the supply much more quickly then, doesn't it?

And last year we ended up doing about ten gigs. And there's this live record that ROIR did of a live gig we did in Germany and when that came out I thought, "Blimey, we're a bit back, aren't we?"

And then when Vinyl Japan came up at Christmas, it was just "Aaw, bloody hell, we're just going to have to admit that we exist again."

So the Jazz Butcher never really went away…
It's funny, because five years ago that brand name was such a millstone around our necks, and now it's clear that that's our brand name for life. No matter what else you do. I have to go on record - 'cause you're like, the press - as saying "All right, we're back. But we're not competing."
You're not in the market for the arena rock shows?
We're just in the market for having a good time all the time. It's really come out of a series of little holidays.
So the expectations are just to have a really long holiday.
Yeah, travel around, see our mates, drink a lot of free beer and entertain people while we're doing it. I hope that we'll be good.
So, this is a return to the nebulous conspiracy of folk?
Yeah, we actually have achieved a cross-generational lineup, 'cause we're recording the album in the home studio of Pete Crouch who played in the band around '94-'95. We're almost keen not to put a date on the record at all.
Do a lot of people tell you stories about how they discovered your music? It's like all the Jazz Butcher fans are coming out of the closet?
You do get stuff like that. One or two of them are marvelous, 'cause they insist that they saw me in years that I wasn't even in the country. "Yeah, I saw you in Minneapolis in '93." I didn't go to Minneapolis in '93. But they insist that it's me that's wrong, you know? I don't know how many drugs they think I take.
Let them have their memory, whatever they think it is…
Yeah, but you do get some quite touching ones now and again. When you're a musician you don't really expect to feel useful like a doctor or a miner or a bus driver or that. But occasionally you do, you get someone who says, "Ooh, man, I don't know what I would've done without your LP.' It's just like, "Oh, that's nice." It's very difficult to kow what to say in a situation like that, apart from "Thank you." Even if you do know what it means to them and you're pleased, you can't really say, (in a stuffy voice) "Oh, well - I'm pleased."
What's been your experience with America - both good and bad - considering that many people characterize you as a very "British artist"?
Yeah, I'm kind of curious, too. The first thing you've got to say about this music - this pop music, this rock music, this song music, whatever you want to call it - is that it's American. And really, guys from England have got no more right to make it than guys from Denmark or something.
But everyone's got a right to make it.
Yeah, they can't be stopped, can they? But it's a funny thing, because people do see us as being all English and that, and I suppose you can't help being English. But certainly for me and Max, we're very conscious of the fact that nearly all the music we like comes from America.
Like who?
Oh, god, what a list. Any list that's got Brian Eno and Chuck D. on the same one… Better put KRS-1 on there, too. I've spent the last five years barely listening to any white boy music to tell you the truth. Hip-hop, old soul, what they call here "Northern Soul." Northampton's always been a bit of a big town for that kind of thing.

You're from Detroit. I'll tell you what I've been really discovering a lot after we did that deal with ROIR and I went through their offices and looted it - what a cool label! I'm on the same label as Lee Perry! One of the things I picked up was an MC5 album, a collection of their shit. I actually suggested to the team that we try an MC5 number when we're in Detroit, but I supposed we'd all be stoned to death for that.

I think that'd be endearing. Enough bands from Detroit do it…
I'll tell you. I've got this friend Ian, and he was the singer in my other band Sumosonic in the middle of the `90s, and he's been coming around every Tuesday or Wednesday for the last couple months as I cranked up to do the record with a little bag of something: some ROCK CDs. He don't want me to pussy out when I'm recording. You know we've done that so often. We've never reflected what ugly bastards we all are.
You seem so nice and gentle…
Well, he's been coming around specifically to be my "Rock Doctor" and the last two things he brought me were Eminem and Kid Rock, who I strongly suspect was quite an influence on Eminem. He's got a penchant for the self-pitying ballad amongst the bad motherfucker songs, though. It's a bit Bob Seger every once and again.

But you were asking me who my musical heroes were… Soul music's been really important. When we started out, what we'd say to people about what we were trying to achieve as English white pussies, what we were trying to prove or investigate, was what would've happened if you kind of particle-accelerated the sound of the Velvets with the sound of '60s soul, but with low budgets; and not really knowing how to record, we didn't get there for a really long, long time.

Do you think you reached that?
I don't know. But there's a grotesquely Motown number on this new record. You know that big old beat on the one - it's got that and all the squeaky vocals, and I'm doing a Smokey on it. I don't know. It's not that accomplished a Smokey, I've got to tell you. But me and Max are just up to our necks in soul music. It's really those twin towers of soul music and punk…

But like, with Cult of the Basement, what we were into in those days, was what Richard Fornby called "those records," like Big Star's third or the Velvets' third. And when we were making Basement, a fellow from Creation phoned up and they were just starting to scrape the charts with a few things, and the guy says to me, "Ahh well, Pat, you got any hits on your album, then?"

I said, "There aren't hits, Dick. You'll be lucky if this fucker sells eight copies! We're committing commercial suicide in here!" And he hung the phone up on me. And when they got it, when they got the record, they were hopping from foot to foot going, "Ooh, this is the best you've done in years!" So you can't predict what we're doing.

So, are there some songs that you just can't not play?
Yeah, yeah, that's the case. Well, I'll tell you one thing that's been fun, actually, is that since Max left the group in '86 and we carried on making records, it's been ever so much fun going out and playing tunes that we recorded after he left. Things like "She's on Drugs" - just seeing what he's going to do with it.
Has he been pretty adaptable?
Bloody hell! I've got a CD of a show we did in Seattle - and you know how people insist on taking tapes off the board even though all you ever get is kick drum and vocal? Well this one, there's a twist to it - it's kick drum, vocal and Max. It's a collector's item. You listen to "She's on Drugs" on that and it's just like being beaten up or something. It's brutal. That's a lot of good fun, that is.
Are you a hopeless lyrical romantic? I catch, if anything, sort of a bemused jadedness.
Yeah, I'm a much more jaded and nasty bloke that it often comes across. I sort of like when I get in the studio and I've got a pair of headphones on - it's like those sounds flying around in me head. I sort of like that wide-eyed thing. I like pop that's all so wide-eyed like (in wide-eyed voice), "Aaw, it's all so impossible."

I wish I could sing better to put some oomph into it, but you work with what you got.

You're doing some art, too, when you come here?
Ah, yes, the C-Pop thing. Well, it's an odd one. We were completely baffled. When the show got booked, the fella said, "We got this art gallery next door; would you like to show some artwork?" And we didn't know what he meant. And I'll always remember reading this biography of Burroughs, and he said he never made any money off his writing to speak of, that it was only when he, like, started shooting cans of paint that he suddenly made lots of dough. And I guess it's the same with Don Van Vliet, as well. But we were just laughing our heads off.

But I've got this really bad habit. Some people play Sim City. Not me, 'cause I only got a computer recently. I used to sit there with my little notebooks and draw towns, draw maps of imaginary towns with felt tips. What an idiot, right?

When this idea first came up, I thought, "Ah, well, I'll just send 'em me maps and it'll be seen as like outsider art." And I thought,"'ello, here we go." But, as it goes, and here's a nice local angle for the paper, do you know Dave Coverly? He does a cartoon called Speed Bump. He lives down in Ann Arbor and he's a good old mate, a lovely chap. And a year or so ago he got on me and said, "Pat, I want to do a kids' book. Do it with me." And I said, "What?!" As far as I'm concerned, when you buy a box of matches and it says "Keep away from children," that's really good advice. Especially in the current climate over here - being a single, middle-aged man, it's like, "What? Pervert. Hang him up." You got to be a bit careful. Anyway, Dave comes up with this and we have a little chat, and what has come out is that we've collaborated. He's taken the lyrics to "Buffalo Shame" of Distressed Gentlefolk - which was always doomed to failure, because how was a little white pussy bloke going to sing like a fucking buffalo?! It's not happening is it? I can't listen to that tune without cringing. But on the other hand, Dave's a great artist and once he starts drawing buffalos in a slightly cartoony style, but quite accurate - once he starts drawing the buggers and writing the words, then it turns into something else. So we did this thing, and he said "Pat, when you come through Detroit, it's going to be ready for you to check out."

So then I thought, "Hold on! Art exhibition, Dave Coverly, Detroit." So there it is. We're going to take the book and present it as a work in progress.

And my work was finished in 1986.

I get such a sense of place in your songs. Even a touch of the cinematic. Is that something you concentrate on?
I'm really into the sense of place. I'm famous among my pals for having the memory of two elephants. I'm the sort of bastard who'll tell you what hotel I stayed in in Munich in 1986. They're like, "Pat, get something useful in your head!"

But I can't help it. I'm an accumulator of information, but place and that sense of travel - that's something that's really important to me. There's a line on one of the songs on this new record that says, 'They're just missing persons who reappeared," and that's directly lifted from a Wim Wenders movie I saw the other night. But I never go to the cinema. The last time I went was (laughing) Doctor fucking Doolitle with Eddie Murphy! A guinea pig movie!

It's just that you go to the movies in England and it's incredibly expensive. It's really a lowest common denominator experience, and you get mugged for the money. And the place is just full of video generation people who don't know they have to shut up while the film is on. It's just a fucking nuisance. I just tend to watch things on video in my living room where I can just keep quiet.

Though I did notice when I went to the pictures in America, I was thrilled, because everyone does just shut up and pay attention. Who says you lot have got short attention spans? The fucking rubbish they talk about America over here sometimes… like the New Musical Express, they're always going on about (affects buffoon voice) "What do stupid Americans know about pop music?" Excuse me! Where did Chuck Berry come from? Where did James Brown come from? Fuck! But it happens all the time, like "Oh, Americans don't like Blur. Stupid Americans." It's like, "No." I think "Stupid Blur" is what you're trying to say, isn't it boys and girls?

Back in '92 we were touring, and Blur was just kicking off. They were already quite popular here, and they'd gone off to do some tour of America. And in Baltimore, we were playing in this little shed, and they were playing in this little shed a couple days before, and I'll bet they were really annoyed when they opened the local paper and found that we were "Gig of the Week." That made me laugh a lot. But not as much as when I was talking to the promoter after the show, having a beer, and he said, "Oh, those guys from Blur - what a gang of fuckin' idiots."

And I said, "Well, what happened?" He said, "Oh, they thought the place was beneath them and they started breaking shit up." And I said, "Oh, what did you do?" He said "Oh, I got my shooter out." He pulled his fucking revolver out.

Read Chris Handyside's story covering more of the Jazz Butcher's twisted history and its upcoming performance at the Magic Stick
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