Saturday, February 10, 2007

Chris Arnett of the Furies - the Full Interview

Chris Arnett in the Shades, June 1979. Photo by Bev Davies

(Pending a few links and pictures!)

Joey “Shithead” Keithley was not yet even in the Skulls – the punk precursor to DOA – when he had the following experience (as recounted in Discorder): “I was just 18 or something like that, in June of ‘77, and they had this big ‘Punk Rock!’ poster on the wall, and it said something like, ‘You Won’t Believe It!’ or ‘We’re Out of Our Fuckin’ Minds,’ and it said, The Furies and The Dishrags. And I was goin’, wow, punk rock! I had heard about the Ramones and the Sex Pistols a little bit, and I thought, wow, this kind of stuff’s in Vancouver, is that ever weird!” Chris Arnett, the leader of the Furies, was perhaps THE man responsible for starting the Vancouver punk scene; and following a ridiculously delightful, ever-expanding wave of Vancouver punk revivals – I’m rooting for a Spores return, myself - he has regrouped the Furies and will open for DOA today at Richards on Richards, with a little help from Carola of Jem Productions (who are putting on some very cool local events, so – thanks, Jem!).

I talked to Chris a couple of weeks ago, as he was preparing for the show; he has an affable, enthusiastic phone manner and sounded really excited about the Furies’ return. Joe put us in touch, and Chris called me early one mornin’ while I saw still recovering from a hard night’s sleep. I made a coffee, ate some toast, and called him back.

Allan: Mornin’.

Chris: Sorry to wake you up!

Allan: It was happenin’ soon anyhow... So: Bill Napier Hemy says that this all resulted from a night of drunken scheming between you and Joe at the Pointed Sticks show. It that accurate?

Chris (laughs): Not really with Joe. It was John Werner, who was the second bass player in the Furies, and I just met him at the gig and he said, “Oh, you know, the woman who put on this show would really like if the Furies played here! Are you into it?” I said, “Well, sure, I guess – why not?” Y’know – 2/3rds of the band were there, so I thought, why not?

Allan: Who do you have on drums?
Chris: Taylor Little. He was the drummer in the Shades – you know Taylor, right?

Allan: He was in the Payolas.

Chris: He was in the Payolas, Poisoned, and all kinds of bands, and it the Shades. He was in the band I was in. I’ve known him for ages. He was in the – he used to hang out in the punk scene. He was just a kid, back then. He immediately kinda hired himself, he said, “I want the gig, man! I want the gig!” – ‘cos I was gonna check with Walker, Jim Walker, who was the original drummer, and he’s in London now. I emailed him and he’s kinda “Nyeeeah,” you know, I mean, he’s in London (laughs).

Allan: He went on do stuff with PiL, right?

Chris: That’s right. After our band broke up in September 1977, he went to England right away, cos the scene here just fell flat. It was just gone, there was nobody around. The Dishrags were too young, and I tried to get a band together, but nothing happened. Anyway, they took off to England and Jim, John, and his brother Simon, with another guy, formed another band called the Pack, which you might have heard of – the singer of the Pack went on to do all kinds of stuff, like Theatre of Hate, and all kinds of projects. And then Jim saw this weird ad in a newspaper over there and just had a feeling it was Johnny Rotten, and auditioned, and he got the gig! And he played four gigs with PiL before he took off – so he played twice as many gigs as the Furies.

Allan: I read that he’d gone over there with the ambition of playing with Johnny Rotten and was on the first PiL single and LP...?

Chris: Yeah, he played on the first PiL album. Awesome record.

Allan: The Furies only ever had eight gigs?

Chris: Nine! (laughs). It was hard finding gigs in those days! It was – I mean, we were a funny band. I guess we played our first gig in May, ’77, at Pumps Art Gallery, opening for – there was a show by Richard Hambleton, also known as Dick Tracy. He was an interesting kind of street artist of the day.

Allan: Hambleton? M-B-L-E?

Chris: Yeah. T-O-N. I think he’s in New York. He was an interesting artist – he’s kinda known for these white outlines of figures on the streets?

Allan: Oh yeah!

Chris: I don’t know if you remember that. But anyway, we played his show, got a great reaction... and then uh... it was funny, like: me and the bass player – the bass player was Malcom Hasman, who is now some big real estate mogul in West Van – we didn’t know much about the music business at all, whereas Jim was a professional musician, and we had sort of coerced him into joining us. Right away, he loved the sound, cos we had a unique, original hard sound, which is what we were into, what we wanted. And he kept wanting to get gigs, you know! And I’d say, “Sure, I’ll get you some gigs.” So I’d get things like the Talent Show at the Blue Horizon Pub (chuckles). And we played there twice, and that was just crazy...

Allan: And there were the two Japanese Hall gigs...

Chris: Yep. And we played a house party in East Van that was really good... And then we played in Seattle, in June!
Allan (surprised): Oh!

Chris: I think we were probably the first Canadian, y’know, punk outfit to play the US.

Allan: What was the venue?

Chris: The Oddfellows’ Hall. I’m not sure of the address, but we played with a group called the Feelings, and another one called the Lewd. And we just blew them off the fuckin’ stage! I mean – the Seattle scene hadn’t quite gelled, and punk was just starting to happen, y’know? The thing about the Furies, we didn’t think of ourselves as a punk band. My feeling about punk is that it was kind of a critical mass thing that was happening in the late 70s. Like, I was really influenced by New York Dolls and Velvet Undeground and Stooges and that kind of stuff. That’s what I listened to in high school. And we just wanted to go out and create musical mayhem. We had no ambition to record, it was the furthest thing from our minds. I mean, it was kinda crazy! We thought, fuck, we’re not gonna get into the rock establishment, we’re just gonna play anywhere and just blast people! We were always dissing popular acts ‘cos we hated them, y’know? Vancouver in those days was sort of a fat, wealthy, lazy city, it was sort of enjoying a big economic boom and there were a lot of self-satisfied 60’s fallout types, that were just kinda happy smokin’ lots of dope and stuff. There was this complacency. And then we started playing, and – I hung out with older musicians too, and they just didn’t understand what we were doing! And all it was, was just, crankin’ the volume and playing lots of bar chords and just rockin’ out! And for some reason, people were just goin’ __________, you know. (Chris makes a sound with his lips pursed. I’m actually not sure whether I should represent it as Ewwwwww or Ooooooooh; they connote different things. In context, the former makes the more sense, but the latter is more Furies-friendly. Take your pick!).

Allan: So there wasn’t even a typical reaction to punk rock on the scene at the time – they didn’t say, “Oh, he’s a punk rocker, I don’t wanna listen to that.”

Chris: Well, that sorta happened later, as the Pistols got more steam and notoriety and the Ramones played Vancouver in June of 77, which really spurred tons of interest... and yeah, it wasn’t, uh, uh, defined or anything. (Swallows a beverage). I’m sorry, what was that question again?

Allan: It’s fine, you answered it – I was askin’ about whether people reacted to you as a punk rocker, or just as this loud noisy weird wildman.

Chris: Yeah, that’s it! They just thought – well, usually we got a great reaction. People danced – you know, we played this Blue Horizon Talent Show, and we just blew them away. People were up dancin’ and stuff... there was this other band, that played Beatles covers, called the Hornets, and they got a great reaction too, so they had a face off the next week, which turned into kind of a disaster.

Allan: Um, like what kind of disaster?

Chris: Well... Jim didn’t show up at the gig, so we had to find and get him, and we were getting behind schedule, and the crowd was gettin’ antsy, and we’re drunk... And then finally we got on, and there was a big table of jocks right in front of us. I’ll never forget it. And they just said – we played a few songs, and they said, “We’re gonna fuckin’ kill you when you finish your set!” And I was goin’ “Ohhh-kay!” And then what we did, after we did our set, these guys are still not leavin’ – they’re gonna go pound us! So we did a 45-minute version of “Sister Ray,” and literally drove everybody out of the whole fuckin’ pub!

Allan: (laughs)

Chris: Cos these guys, they were hangin’ in there. And about 20 minutes into it, I had a solo, and I had the guitar on the floor and I was whackin’ it with my foot and Jim was just pounding away, and – they left, and then most of the pub left, and then, needless to say we didn’t win the contest (laughs). But it was fun! I mean, that’s kinda what we were into, just goin’ out and creating some mayhem... but like the punk scene everywhere, there was this big sort of collective happening, and so we met people who, y’know, wanted to put on gigs, and that’s how the Japanese Hall things happened. People just went ahead and organized it, which was really cool. Kinda like this gig we’re doin’! We just agreed, and all of a sudden I get this thing, you wanna play with DOA and this woman’s just gone out and done all the promotion – it’s awesome! Jem Productions.

Allan: Carola, she’s promoting it?

Chris: Yeah, she’s awesome.

Allan: I’ve met her. I like her. I get a good vibe from her. But it’s amazing – there’s only a month between the planning of the gig and the execution of it! It’s comin’ pretty fast!

Chris: Punk rock, man – fly by the seat of your pants! (Laughs). I had to re-learn all the songs, which was fun. It took me a couple of days.

Allan: Are you doin’ Shades songs as well?

Chris: Nope! It’s all Furies stuff! We had about fifteen original songs that we’re gonna do. I might do some new ones. I mean, it was 30 years ago, but, y’know, I’m continuously songwriting all the time.

Allan: You know, I’ll put in my vote for a 45 minute “Sister Ray” if I can!

Chris (laughs): Well, be careful what you wish for (“heh-heh-heh”).

Allan: I don’t think you’ll clear the place this time...

Chris: No, that’s what’s so great, y’know – cos here it’s 30 years later, and I’ve got a 19 year old kid and a 15 year old kid and they’re both into punk! I mean, my youngest son was a bass player and he’s in a punk band on Salt Spring. And he was playing when he was 12 years old – and they were rockin’ out!

Allan: What were they called?

Chris: Steel Bananas.

Allan (laughs).

Chris (laughs): But they had a killer set, like a three-hour set of Ramones, Pistols covers, Offspring, Nirvana, and some originals, and they played some amazing shows just for kids... and in the pubs. Salt Spring kinda has a loose policy about minors in the bars... So it was great to watch my son rock out while, y’know, I can have beer, and stuff...

Allan: In terms of youthfulness, I saw you at the Vancouver Complication gig, and you liked a little younger than some of the people there, which is a little odd, cos your band is a little older than most of the others... Were you, like, really young when you started...?

Chris: In the Furies? Oh, 20, 21... I’m, like, 50 now!

Allan: Oh... You’ve maintained yourself well...!

Chris: Country livin’, man. You know, none of the stress of the city.

Allan: Where do you live?

Chris: On Salt Spring Island.

Allan: Oh, you live there now.

Chris: Yeah, we’ve lived here about 20 years, moved here ages ago. We started a family in the city and we thought, “Ah, fuck, let’s get out of here!” Sort of the back-to-the-land trip, and our wife and I have made our living there since 1991 as artists. Like, I carve and paint and I’m a writer, too, and I also work with a logging outfit occasionally – you do whatever you can on Salt Spring. It’s not all, like, rarefied yuppies over there, although it’s going that way.

Allan: It’s pretty interesting that you make your living as an artist. You don’t get any royalties from anything Furies-related, do you?

Chris: Actually, I get about $100 a year for that “What Do You Want Me to Be?” song!

Allan: From the Last Call CD?

Chris: Yeah – I don’t know who the hell – it was also released on some singles, like, bootlegs. But yeah, every year - I’m a member of SOCAN, so I get my quarterly distribution, and it adds up to about $100, and it’s for that one song, played on non-commercial radio.

Allan: Do you have anything special you do with that $100?

Chris: I dunno. Pay mortgage! (laughs). Buy food.

Allan: Now, that I know of there are actually two recordings of you performing out there. Am I missing something?

Chris: No, that’s it!

Allan: “What Do You Want Me to Be” and “New Clientele.”

Chris: That one’s by the Shades, and I’ve given it over to Sudden Death to raise money for the food bank, on the Vancouver Complication thing.

Allan: But those are the only two recorded instances of you out there.

Chris: We did two songs as the Furies, and you know, I was sort of dragged in – it was all Jim’s idea. He said, “We gotta record something,” y’know, cos he wanted to show it to the record execs or something, so we went into Ocean Sound. We had fifty bucks, and we went into Ocean Sound in North Van and recorded two songs in about half an hour, mixed it in about a half an hour, and we’re out of there.

Allan: What was the other song?

Chris: It was “What Do You Want Me to Be” and – aw, fuck, what was it? I think it was called “Eleanor is a Bitch.” It was a shitty song, anyways! But... we had good songs, and you’ll hear them. We had an awesome, brutal practice yesterday at the Rock Space. If these guys can get into shape, we’re gonna rock!

Allan: Practicing in Vancouver?

Chris: Yeah, and it’s sounding really good, actually. Both Werner and Taylor, you know, they’re like pro-fes-sion-al musicians, so they pick stuff up really fast.

Allan: What’s Taylor been up to?

Chris: He’s been in Bughouse Five, and he works as a hairdresser – regular gig as a hairdresser downtown on Howe Street somewhere, and every second Saturday he hosts the jam at the Railway Club, so he’s kind of a constant feature there. They just released a new record, the Bughouse Five, and they’re playing for the Blasters this February, so they keep active. Bughouse is sort of a country –

Allan: - rockabilly, kinda -

Chris: Yeah. I like ‘em, I like Butch...

Allan: And Simon, what’s he been up to?

Chris: You mean John.

Allan: Oh. John Werner.

Chris: Yeah, there’s two brothers, actually, who were both in the punk scene. I don’t know where Simon is now, but John’s been very active – he works in the film industry, doin’ some darn thing, and plays constantly. I mean, he’s played with Linda McRae – sort of the country scene. That’s sorta his schtick. He was in England for a bunch of years and came back here in 97 with his wife Lynn, and she also works in the local TV industry... Yeah, he’s got his chops! I was in his basement, he’s got tons of gear. It’s amazing.

Allan: Have you been playing music in the interim? I mean, you were at the Complication gig. What was the last time you played live before that?

Chris: On Salt Spring Island. I play occasional gigs there. Like, when we moved there in the late 80s and started a family, I kinda lost a whole decade of contemporary music. Just when Nirvana was happening, I was sorta following it, but, y’know, you’re raising kids, you’re living on a farm, you’re just struggling to make ends meet, but... I really got into playing locally, with local musicians – I mean, there’s tons of them on Salt Spring, but mostly acoustic sorta bluegrass and country, and I really got into that – and I have a huge catalogue of songs in that vein, y’know, sorta, acoustic shit. But we also had rock bands there. You know, we had one called Stump, in the 90’s, and we played this local place called the Beaver Point Hall, which usually just hosts these sorta hippie concerts, and we were like, the loudest band to ever play there. We just shook the place, this 1920’s building, but it was a great show. Then there was a pub that closed down on the island, and I played there a few years ago with my son, a gig – sorta like impromptu things, and jam nights at local bars. Not too much, but I’ve kept most of my chops, yeah!

Allan: Cool – because, I mean, I don’t want to offend you, but I was at the Complication gig, and I was havin’ the impression that you were havin’ a great deal of difficulty keeping your instrument in control? It looked like it was – I dunno if it was feeding back or cutting out –

Chris: No, what it was, was, I’d jumped up and I’d stomped my guitar cord, so it broke! (laughs). I’m gonna have to watch that! Cos musically, when you play live, it’s like an ecstatic experience, y’know, which is what I think real rock and roll should be. You kinda get caught up in the moment. But I’ve gotta control that.

Allan: Don’t! Don’t! It was great – it was like – my reaction was like – (adopts awed tone) “this guy can barely play that instrument, but FUCK he’s goin’ for it!” (Laughs).

Chris (laughs): Wait til you hear me when I’m up and running! I mean, fuck... I’ve still got the same guitar I had, my Les Paul custom special – it’s an awesome rock weapon, that thing.

Allan: The same guitar from the Furies, back in the day?

Chris: Yeah!

Allan: Wow. Listen, there’s a little historical note I gotta take care of. What’s the deal with the first single? Who pressed it, and what was the run on it?

Chris: It was never pressed! It was never released! Like I said, when we were in the Furies, the furthest thing from our mind was makin’ a record. Like, we were really openly against it – I mean, I was, just because of, like, an attitude thing about the rock industry, and how, you know, it’s all geared towards making this product and selling it. We’d go, “Fuck that, we’re not into that.” We drove the drummer insane, cos he was a pro, but we weren’t, we were just punks that wanted to do this musical mayhem and had fun doing it. Like, playin’ live was the thing, but it was hard to get gigs –

Allan: Because the scene didn’t exist.

Chris: Yeah!

Allan: Well, that takes care of my question. I’m also talking with Tim Ray, and it’s taken as a given by a bunch of people that he released the first punk/new wave/indy single in the Vancouver scene. But I’d read somewhere, and Joe agreed, that you guys were first. But it was recorded, never released. So Tim’s was first!

Chris: Yeah, it was Tim, definitely. We recorded that June of 77, never released it, you know?

Allan: So was there a Shades EP, or anything?

Chris: Nope. The Shades – we were sorta thinking about recording, but, y’know, it just all fell apart, too. It might’ve been me – I mean, it was just – playing live was the fun thing, just the whole event. And...

Allan: Were there ever live recordings made of you guys?

Chris: Oh yeah, actually, um – this is really interesting, the bass player for the Shades, Raycevik - we did a gig at Gary Taylor’s, a Battle of the Bands thing, in July 79, and they did a four track off the board, and they got our whole set, and so Raycevik - he knew they were recording, I didn’t know they were were recording – so he went in there and stole the reel, and he kept it for years! I remember hearing it once in the 80s and thinking, “Oh, this is kinda interesting!” And then we got back together to do that gig, I went – “Whatever happened to that tape?” And he looked and looked and said, “Oh fuck, I’ve lost it. Ah, well.” And then just recently, he found it, and it’s been remastered digitally, and we may release it! It’s really good!

Allan: Any plans on selling it on CDR at the gig?

Chris: Well, this isn’t a Shades gig, so I dunno. Also, the Furies, we did two – there was a live recording done at the Blue Horizon, which was really good, and there was another one recorded at a party. We sound like the bloody Stooges on it! But I gave both the tapes to John Werner, when he replaced the other bass player, and then when Walker took off to England, he absconded with the tapes! He still has them, and he’s bein’ funny about it – he won’t kinda give them up. He’s very, y’know – he’s sorta a bigwig in London. He’s doing a movie or something. He’s working on post-production on a movie that he’s been doing for years, and he’s very protective of his history. We email back and forth and he just sorta plays cat-and-mouse about it. But anyway, it’s out there. And there’s also a recording we did in a practice studio that somehow ended up in Trent University’s Culture Studies section, so eventually there’ll be some Furies stuff from the 70’s out.

Allan: I would love to hear that live. I would buy it in a minute.

Chris: I’ll email Jim and see if he bites.

Allan: I’m really excited. It was down to you and the Dishrags, for the best show of that night!

The Dishrags supporting Bill Napier Hemy in a version of the Pointed Sticks' "Marching Song" at the Vancouver Complication gig. Photo provided by Bill Napier Hemy.

Chris: Yeah! Jade, she’s my cousin. The Japanese Hall gigs with them were really quite extraordinary, when I think back – the promotion and stuff, you know, we’d spraypaint huge billboards and stuff – and we got a great crowd, and it was just a rockin’ gig.

Allan: They were really young girls, and you were like a 20 year old guy... were you attracted to them.

Chris (assumes astonished tone): It was my cousin and her friends! I taught her how to play guitar, and stuff, and got her into the punk scene.

Allan: So your cousin’s friends are off limits? You’re very moral, for a punk.

Chris: I had my own girlfriend, man! In fact, that’s the only reason I got into music was to meet chicks, and I met one right away, and I’m still married to her! That kinda affected the dynamic of the band, too, cos I had this gorgeous woman... It was a rock and roll dream, but it happened, like, so quick... Didn’t get the money, but I got the chick!


Thanks to Chris for the great interview. As I write this, note that there ARE STILL TICKETS LEFT FOR THE DOA/FURIES GIG TODAY AT RICHARDS ON RICHARDS! Waaah!

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