Kelly & Whittemore The Milwaukee Interview (Milwaukee, WI, USA)
November 19, 1989
November 19, 1989
Credit: David Whittemore & Brian Kelly
It's several hours before showtime. Having finished the soundcheck, Pat Fish, The Jazz Butcher, submits himself to the same "big questions" he's been asked before.
Sometimes you see a Lou Reed interview, and he walks in and says 'You've got 20 minutes, and I won't talk about the Velvet Underground.' And some people say 'Oh, what a dirtbox he is for talking like that', but in a way I think that's quite business-like. I mean I really don't think that's offensive. I mean, God KNOWS how many times he's had to talk about the Velvet Underground to people who don't even understand it, you know? So I kind of take his point, and I sometimes think 'Oh I wish I could do that'. When people ask me a certain question, I just think 'I wish I could just walk in a room and say I won't talk about this, that and the other. But, at the end of the day, he's Lou Reed and I'm me...and I don't even know what it is that annoys me until it has, you know?
The Jazz Butcher's sound changes from album to album. For example, I can't see something off Distressed Gentlefolk going on the new album Big Planet, Scarey Planet.
That's true. I think that's really just a question of time. Everyone comes to an album at the same moment, as it were. When you're in a band like the one that made this album or Gentlefolk, you've been together for a year or two. You start having pretty much shared experiences, and your concerns tend to be the same. We've always thought of our records as pretty much what we do at that moment. We sometimes use the analogy of a postcard. You go away for two weeks and you send back a little recording of it, saying this is what we were up to. Records for us are not really a thing to be carved in stone for all eternity.
You toured rather extensively in support of the previous album, Fishcotheque. The song "Hysteria" off of the new album-a statement about the frustrations of touring?
It's pretty much a diary of one week we had going down the west coast last summer. It was completely mad. Every line in that song is true. I really did sleep through an earthquake. Heaven is true. Heaven is a place between the Canadian and American border on the road from Vancouver to Seattle. If you ever drive that road, you'll know what I'm talking about. It's hard to express, but we were there.
Do you generally enjoy life on tour?
We like to travel. Having discovered in 1985 that one could travel off the backs of albums, it's always been a common desire running through members of the band.
What about Alex (Green- Saxophone)?
Alex has got a thing. He never tours the States with us. He did a tour of the States with Dave J. once in about 1984, so it's nothing he's got against the country.
Kizzy's (O'Callaghan- Guitar) absence is due to illness, is that right?
He's pretty seriously sick, yeah. He's finished his course of therapy. He'd already had his operations before he went away, but there was no way he was strong enough. He was being given radiation therapy, so his hair's falling out. His head's in a very good state. He's got his spirits 'round it. And he can still play guitar. One worries a lot, because when people have surgery in their heads, you hear horrible stories about things going awry and people not being able to do what they did right down to being able to talk. He can still clearly play guitar as well as ever. He had two operations, the first one they didn't get quite right. The second one went a whole lot better. Yeah, he should be okay.
Of your contemporaries, who are among your favorite artists?
It's a funny old thing, I usually find that the bands who are making good records turn out to be my friends. And that makes me sit down and think, 'hang on, are you just being a bigot? Are you just out of touch, now?' But I think, no...I've actually gotten to like these guys by going to all their concerts and meeting them.
Such as the Blue Aeroplanes, Who I gather were over here for the first time recently. I like Spacemen 3, who are good friends of mine. I used to see those guys when they were playing to eight people who hated them in a bar in Coventry. Ever heard of The Perfect Disaster? There's a third album out already in Britain called Up, which is one of the great third albums. I think that bands that makes a good third album is a serious band. First album- you make a good first album, yeah you're in there, but of course you've had 20 years to write it. And then there's the second album syndrome. By the time it gets to the third, it's like the classic media syndrome, the difficult third album. It pleases me that I've stuck by them all this time. Of course, in Britain that's an embarrassment for people, because I'm not supposed to be any good.
The Jazz Butcher isn't appreciated in England?
Well, we just don't really have a media profile. Real people appreciate us. Real people come crawling out of the woodwork and come to the shows, and shout and dance, but not in the sort of numbers that happens in Germany or the U.S. or Spain or Canada.
So where does the JBC find its most responsive audience?
(Sighs) Everywhere we play except Britain. It's a tragic truth. We do best in German-speaking Central European countries. Also in, well, this whole continent really. I've been pleased with the turnouts on this tour. Getting back, I've always listened to a lot of American music. I don't know how it is, I guess a lot of people in American towns probably look at London and think, 'Wow, what a swingin' scene, I'll bet all the bands live together, man.' I used to get that feeling when I was about 18, looking at New York and thinking about Television and the Walking Beds, Blondie and Dick Hell. I've always been a big fan of some mythical New York. I even went and married someone from there. It's embarrassing, my devotion to that city. I guess everyone looks to the grass being greener. Britain is very much enthralled to America in the media in general. If you want to have a top 20 hit in the United Kingdom, you've got to be selling records, and I mean literally, to children. I'm not talking patronizingly about 14 year-old what used to be called teeny-boppers, I'm talking about children. I'm talking about the single figure brigade. This is a problem for me because I have nothing to say to children. I don't like children. I'm 31, if I liked them I'd have some (laughs). With me, children are like dogs. They're all right on a one-to-one basis, but I wouldn't want one in the house.
This seems an appropriate segue into discussing the song "Bicycle Kid".
Ah, yes. Quite so.
Is there, in fact, an actual "Bicycle Kid"...?
Oh, yes. There are many bicycle kids, obviously. There's a tribe of them. There is a specific one who lives about half a block away from me. And one usually finds him in the street ranting and raving. He wears very few clothes and has these appallingly awful glasses and this terrible cropped haircut. I noticed to my complete and utter horror the other day- he's got like these Mike Tyson tennis ball cuts in the side of his hair now.
Do "Bicycle Kid's grow up to be "Real Men"?
Yeah, like I say, "Bicycle Kid- grow up and get an escort". I guess maybe people over here think 'what does he mean? He goes out and uses prostitutes?' Escort is just this brand of car that "Real Men" drive, this really scaggy, black, cheap car that's done up to look smart. He'll get one.
Is he aware of the song in his honor?
I fucking hope not.
Let's talk a little bit about the previous album, Fishcotheque. I was interested to note that it was a departure from John Rivers as producer.
Yes, that was deliberate.
Why the departure, and why going back to him for the current album?
Good questions. The chief reason I departed from Rivers was that I found the production on Gentlefolk to be just too shiny. I wasn't crazy about that album. When Max (Eider, JBC guitarist until 1986) was gone, he went to Woodbine (Rivers' studio) and made his album there. And I heard it and thought, 'That's good for you', but since the whole reason he'd gone was he was getting more into that shiny stuff and that sort of 'fake jazz'- I'm sure he wouldn't mind me calling it 'fake jazz'- And I was getting more into the stuff like what we do. I was kind of tired of people comparing us to Lloyd Cole. I wanted to show people, no...we're nasty. So basically, I went to as cheap a studio as possible. We turned everything up to 11 and went. It was supposed to be a sloppy album. Are you familiar with Bath of Bacon, the very first album? Well, "son of Bath of Bacon" was the idea. When it was proposed that it come out on CD, I was utterly horrified! I just thought, well...you're just going to hear people falling off of chairs and belching. It's funny, but when it came out, especially the Canadian press were saying, "Oh, he's gone all smooth," and stuff like this. "He's gone all, sort of 'middle-of-the-road'," and I was saying 'what?' You should've been there! It was a filthy racket. With this new one there was a certain element in my head of this as a second album. Rivers is good for second albums. We got in there, we knew he'd try to clean it up too much, so just turned everything up to 11, fed back, snarled about, and at the end of every song said, "Clean that up, baldy!" (Laughs) John is kind of like...every instrument is a lead instrument. Everything's got its own space with a nice little bit of reverb around it to make it clean and bright. Which I find, in a way, quite attractive. I'm not 100% on the album. It's too many lead instruments, and not enough rhythm. I mean, you've seen us live, and a lot of what we're about is this kind of double rhythm guitar helicopter hell, right? That perhaps doesn't come across quite as well as it might.
In reading the liner notes on your albums, one gets the sense that you have a genuine appreciation for your fans.
I never knew there was going to be any! Honestly, this sounds so fake and crap, but when I set out to make Bath of Bacon, I was just making silly tapes at home, and I sent one to Dave Barker because I knew him and I thought it might amuse him. When he phoned up and said, 'Do you want to make an album?' I was just having dinner with my parents, I had no money at the time, I was living with my parents in the middle of nowhere. And I just thought, 'What? Are you kidding? Does the Pope shit in the woods? Here we go!' Having made the album, my only hope was that we'd just make enough money for him to let me do another one the next year. It never occurred to me that people would start buying it. Sometimes people say, 'Why did the first band split up?' It was really because we were totally unprepared. We became a band because we'd made a record and a few people wanted to see us. Suddenly we were on tour for two years, and our lives got neglected...and everyone grows up a bit. We couldn't hold it together, basically. It would have been wrong.
The original band being...?
Me, Max, Dave J, and (O.P.) Jones. Dave went off to do Love and Rockets, that was understood. We just fell together, we didn't know what we were doing. At least when I put together this new band at Christmas of '87, at least we knew what we were in for. Yes, I'm deeply grateful to people. If I'd kept on at my day job I would have gone abroad for one city for two weeks each year. I'd have seen nothing but the hotel. I'd have spoken to bar men and to people selling stamps for postcards. This, I mean...what a way to see the world! What an education. I'm deeply grateful to everybody.
Now David J (Bass), he had joined up post-Bauhaus, right?
Yeah, just about the time that "Ziggy Stardust" hit the top 10, they were doing some shows at Hammersmith Pallais, which is kind of a big venue. Now, I knew Kevin (Haskins-Drummer for Bauhaus and Love & Rockets) and we had a phone call when I was at work. I got home and Alice said, 'Pat, they want us to support Bauhaus at Hammersmith Pallais." I thought, 'FREAK OUT! GET A BAND!" So we rounded up a few people, we got Rolo (McGinty, guitarist-The Woodentops) and Alice and Max and me and this sax player we used to know. We went up there and they hated us, it was brilliant. There was 2,000 people going, "FUCK OFF! FUCK OFF AND DIE!" We'd never been on a stage where there'd been guerrillas to protect us from the audience, but this time there was, so we thought, 'Great! Now we'll do 'Partytime'. Now we'll do 'Love Kittens'', and we just played all these ballads at these rabid gothics, it was great. And they hated us. After the show, I said to Kevin, 'Well, thanks for asking us to do it, mate. It was quite an experience.' And he said, 'It wasn't me.' And it turned out it was his big brother, Dave, who I'd never met at that stage. We just got on really well. We all sort of started hanging out. When he joined the band, we knew he was going to leave again. He joined officially for six months, but he ended up doing about ten.
Earlier, you had mentioned comparisons to other artists, such as Lloyd Cole. On the insert to the Spooky EP, you commented on a critic who likened you to Robyn Hitchcock...
Ah, that was one particularly nasty review. A really stupid review. He basically accused me of peddling the English 'eccentric' angle, and said, 'I'm so tired of this Robyn Hitchcock business. Let me tell you, there is no one more tired of this English eccentric Robyn Hitchcock business than I am. I like Robyn's records, and I get on with him all right as a bloke, but I get kind of tired of living in his shadow, because I don't think we're doing the same thing. I just think we're a group that writes halfway decent lyrics and has a few tunes. I mean, I've been following Robyn since 1978 when he was in the Soft Boys. I used to like them, and I'd see them now and again, and nowadays, we play with him. I've had a lot of trouble being compared with people, I don't think I'm comparable with him. Okay, we both play telecasters, and we both write tunes, which might be kind of rare, and indeed in the context of rock these days might be tagged 'eccentric,' but only in a rock way. He's into messin' with words much more than I am. He writes in code, I write in plain English. It's very rare that you'll not find me writing in...Suddenly, and very coincidentally, "Heaven" by Robyn Hitchcock comes on the stereo
(Incensed, screaming) GO AWAY! LEAVE ME ALONE! LEAVE ME ALONE! I'LL DO ANYTHING JUST LEAVE ME ALONE! Great song though, isn't it? He's imaginative. He uses codes. I'm much more down to Earth. One thing I keep meaning to explain, it comes too early in the set for me to start gabbing at the audience, in case I don't stop. But I've noticed in the song 'Chickentown,' there's a line about 'smoking forty grotty fags a day'. Now to me that's just basic colloquial English. Smoking fags, I mean...it sounds like NWA, doesn't it? I mean, it's like, 'I see a fag, I SMOKE him!' Sometimes I think I should just stop and explain to the audience what's going on here. Because if anybody hears that going by, they're going to think, 'What is this, Axl Rose in a suit?'
What songs do you enjoy playing live?
'Angels' I really like playing, when it goes well.
That's one of my favorites, although there's an obtuseness to the lyric, I've never really been able to piece it together.
I'm glad you like it, it means a lot to me. I was very pleased, the other day I was reading 'Melody Maker,' and Phil Parfitt, who is the songwriter for the Perfect Disaster had been asked to write down his top ten songs. And there it was; Angels. And Phil's words were something like, "It's about having an international telephone line to angels, it's about dying...I don't know what it's about (laughs). I don't always know what the lyrics mean myself until I've been listening to them six months after it's done. You're right, that lyric is kind of obscure in a way. When I wrote that song, I'd already recorded the music, and I had a lyric which was kind of a nasty lyric...basically I'm trying to write songs about death, sometimes, and whenever I get too involved in it, I sing the lyric, check out the tape and think, 'No, Patrick...forget it.' So I did that. I checked it out, and I went down to the studio kitchen, and I just got a piece of paper out and 'Angels' appeared on the page. I think I had to cross two lines out to make it fit the music. It just happened. I'm kind of a morbid chap. For someone who's got a reputation for being a jolly drinking song player, I'm actually quite a morbid sort of fellow.
I don't know how evident that is in the music, for the most part.
Basically, I don't want to send people home in a bad temper. I think if people are going to pay money to see me, I want to give them a bit of a lift, you know? Hence this slightly demeaning spectacle of us doing 'The Devil is My Friend' at the end of the night, which was only really devised as a joke. But there's a bunch of people out there who, you know, they won't really go home happy unless you give it to them. Well, I don't want to make people unhappy.
You do have more than a couple drinking anthems, I mean besides 'Partytime,' there's 'Drink' and 'Soul Happy Hour'.
I wrote that song at, like 10:30 in the morning at my typewriter at work. I had a hangover, and my boss was giving me trouble and I just hated the world. I thought, 'I just want to get really, horribly, vengefully drunk.' So I wrote this totally irresponsible song, and it actually says that Special Brew is good for you. Special Brew is not good for you, Special Brew will turn you into your parents. I'd sooner encourage people to take amphetamine on a daily basis than to become Special Brew addicts. It's just wicked. I kind of get worried when people identify us with drinking tunes too much. Me and Max, when we were working together, would wind each other up to do a lot of crazy things. He really can...you wake up on his floor, and it's like 10:00 in the morning, he really will have you in the bars first thing.
Is there a lot of partying on tour? What happens after the show?
It's a very simple life, touring. Basically it's singing, sitting, and talking is what it's about. There's not a lot of sex and drugs or anything. There's a fair amount of Rock and Roll. It's a cross between a fact-finding mission, a bombing raid, and one's hobby.
This interview was conducted at Shank Hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
by Brian Kelly and David Whittemore .
by Brian Kelly and David Whittemore .
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