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The Jazz Butcher Press Non*Stop Banter (USA) -
FAILURE 0, 1986
Interview
Non*Stop Banter (USA)

FAILURE 0, 1986

FRUITCAKE SOCIOLOGY 101

Life According to the Jazz Butcher

The Jazz Butcher. Is that a guy or a group? Whoever/whatever it is, it apparently "emerged from the English countryside" in 1982 with its sidekick, guitarist Max Eider , and proceeded to put out some impressive vinyl. Bath Of Bacon came first, which the Butcher himself described as " the sound of young(ish) people finding out how songs go." Next came various live groupings with Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus) and Rolo McGinty (The Woodentops), or sometimes just Max and Butch by themselves. Eventually they were joined by David J. (bass) and Owen Jones (drums) to form the Sikkorskis From Hell, from which came A Scandal In Bohemia in '84, Sex And Travel in '85, and eventually a new bassist Felix. Bloody Nonsense is their first U.S. release (Big Time Records). But the man I'd come to assume was the Jazz Butcher politely introduced himself as both Pat Fish and Melonhead. Hmmm. You know what they say about assuming.

Such things don't really matter. In fact, it's this type of unpredictability that makes the Jazz Butcher what they/he are/is. You'll never be really certain what you're dealing with. They like to keep their audiences thinking; the melodies may be snappy little sing-a-longs, soulful ballads or jazzy lounge tunes, but their lyrics are about anything from Red Russians or the Devil to the skins of dead Jim Morrisons or heads of state. You won't get away with just dancing with this stuff. You may be smiling and your feet may be moving but your brain will be wondering, "what the hell is happening here!?"

Non*Stop Banter: Are you happy with the fact that your first U.S. release, Bloody Nonsense was a sort of "greatest hits?"

Jazz Butcher/Pat Fish/Melonhead: (Rather indignantly) We've never had a hit in our lives! It's just an introduction. Dave (from Glass records) and I put it together, and its just sort of an introduction so people don't waste their money on expensive imports. I think its a fair enough introduction. Obviously, one can't really sort of condense the contents of three LP's and half a dozen singles onto one record, but it gives people an idea of what to expect.

So you're going to get them with Bloody Nonsense and keep them with the new record?

Well, we're not interested in sort of getting them and keeping them. We don't look to make fans, we look to make friends with as best we can. It does seem that people that buy our records do stick with us. Its very flattering. The new LP has a couple of Max Eider 's songs on it. My mother heard it and said, "You know, that bloke, its like rock n' roll never happened for him, isn't it?" And then she said, "Come to think of it, it's like jazz never happened either."

What's the view of British bands that get American record deals? Is there resentment in the U.K. at all?

Well, that all depends if you like the band, doesn't it? I mean if some horrid, heavy metal band gets an American deal we just think, "Oh yeah, right, stadium rock, punching the air, eating hamburgers, and going whoop."

All at the same time.

All at the same time. I mean, God gave talents to everyone. No, I think... I can't speak for everyone, but most of the younger British groups are all in it for the right reasons. And if they're in it for the right reasons, then they like seeing someone they like being successful. Theres no sort of professional jealousy.

The right reasons being...

Ok, that's a good question. Obviously we enjoy doing it, right? And in the beginning we went to where anyone would listen--so we were doing it for ourselves, as well. I thing once you found that people were listening, the main thing is to bear in mind, not insult their intelligence. Bear in mind also, that, like it or not, you're in show business; you're in entertainment. People pay money, they cross town. We've been finding people in the states that've been driving two hours to see us. Apart from recommending a good analyst, all we can do is do our best--try to give these people a good time and send them away feeling positive, and not to waste their time. So many people are in this business basically to impress people.

To prove a point?

Well possibly. Everyone has points they want to prove.

Do you consider it important to play what you want to? How much of a show is a job, a duty to please your audience, and a duty to please yourself?

I think once you're at a concert..we think of it as a duty to please the audience. But the point is, if we're not pleasing ourselves, we'll get bored. And if we're bored, the audience is going to be bored..which is one reason why I'm never able to tell people what we'll be playing that night because we write the set list a half an hour before we go on. We try to change it every night. Its like a chess game; you have certain opening gambits--all these different choices.

But I would imagine that your fans trust your judgement.

NO! They complain like mad! Like the night we decide to leave Caroline Wheeler out of the set, suddenly everyone wants to hear Caroline Wheeler."

Are you afraid of being misconstrued, because of the lyrics, as being a "silly" band?

We've had a lot of trouble in England with the press because we don't quite fit in,we won't be squeezed into a little box and wear the same clothes, and one song doesn't sound the same as the next one. Until recently, a lot of the ones who didn't get the point just dismissed us as a comedy group, which I find irritating because I don't see what's funny about a lot of our songs.

Someone like Robyn Hitchcock, who writes bizarre lyrics with great songs; he's misunderstood as being some neo-psychadelic nut case or something.

Robyn Hitchcock claims he's never taken acid. That's all I'm gonna say about Robyn Hitchcock. We like him. I thing we do get compared.

That bugs you?

No, I don't mind getting put in the old English eccentrics bracket, that's fair enough I suppose. Robyn Hitchcock, Kevin Ayers, Noel Coward - there's a tradition of those guys that drink too much and well, it's a bit of an honor. I don't like being dismissed as some druggie casualty or a comedy group because we're not that.

I really loved your cover of Jonathan Richman's Affection -- it's on a compilation. I wanted to ask you about the Richman influence; he's a favorite of mine.

He's a favorite of mine too. Though dare I say, he's not really an influence so much as a kindred spirit. I mean Roadrunner I've been playing in garage bands for years 'cause it's easy. But I think what really happened was that when I started writing what was to become Jazz Butcher material, I was listening almost exclusively to the Velvet Underground, and to an old soul compilation with Wilson Pickett, King Curtis.. Memphis soul. I think Wilson Pickett is god-like. Those are the main influences. Then after awhile I noticed some of the songs I was writing were decidedly silly. And it made me think 'cause Lou Reed said that Richman was at more Velvets shows than Lou was. And I just thought, you know, silly white middle class college boys who listen to too much Velvet Underground and write stupid songs. I just felt an affinity. Obviously, I listen to Jonathan Richman and admire him immensely.

You can't read a review of the Jazz Butcher without a Lou Reed/Velvet Underground reference in it. What would you say to Lou Reed if you ever met him?

I'm a right hero worshipper, honestly. If I ever met any of the Velvet Underground, I think I'd just have a heart attack and die. I don't know, I don't know what i'd say. We got to go to New York after all these years of waiting to go there--to see the streets where Tom Verlaine and Lou Reed walked. Wow! I was in heaven in New York. But we were there two nights playing in Hoboken, and who was playing at the Ritz? Lou was playing at the Ritz. Can you imagine! Twenty eight years I've waited to come to New York and that happens.

He's coming to Chicago soon.

Yeah, I think he's keeping an eye on us. Someone had better.
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