Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Unprecedented, Un-Subsequented Music of Pere Ubu: interviews with David Thomas and Robert Wheeler

"I believe that long after rock and roll has run its course, Pere Ubu’s uncompromising and panoramic vision of it being not only capable of, but well-suited to, complex and original expression, will be recognized as one of the most vibrantly conceived and uniquely executed in the form’s history."
- from "Elitism For The People: In Praise Of Pere Ubu" by Entrippy!

Pere Ubu by bev davies, Biltmore Cabaret, 2013, not to be reused without permission

I kind of hate top ten lists. As they exist on the internet, these days, they're often lazily assembled by people who know less than you, either to confirm your tastes and suck up to you ("my favourite ___ made the list!") or to challenge you to quibble. You play the game anyhow - you click, you read, and feel either validated or scandalized; but the number of times you learn something that is useful and interesting is pretty small, and most often you go away unimpressed.

But the challenge of assembling top ten lists is another matter. So who would you call the top ten most creative/ unique/ original rock bands of the 20th century?

I am only sure about a few of them: bands whose approach is so unique, so game-changing, so without parallel or equal that they get a space without argument. Let me start with two of the bands that wouldn't make the cut, first off, so you see where I'm going with this: the Cramps and the Gun Club. When I interviewed Kid Congo Powers earlier this year, he argued for the uniqueness of both bands, because "there was not really a psychedelic rockabilly band before the Cramps, and there wasn’t really a punk blues band before the Gun Club." (He was a member of both bands, of course - incidentally, having first really gotten to know Jeffrey Lee Pierce at, yes, a Pere Ubu concert). I agree with him on both counts, but it's still not enough to make me include them on this list, because given the environment from which they emerged, eventually, there WOULD have been a psychedelic rockabilly band without the Cramps, and there WOULD have been a punk blues band without the Gun Club. Maybe they wouldn't have been as good, but the combination of elements in either band's music, great as it may be, just screams inevitability to me. You've got the fries, you've got the ketchup, you've got the rum and the Coca-cola: and sooner or later, someone is going to put them together. They might deserve credit for doing the inevitable BEFORE anyone else, or doing it better, but overall, bands that rooted in the music that had gone before them would need to do something very, very unusual with those influences to make a list like this - which points to another problem: how can you describe a band as the most creative/ unique/ original anything when you can more-or-less encapsulate what they do with two words? (And no, Ubu cognoscienti, "avant garage" doesn't really apply here, since it barely gives you any idea what Pere Ubu might sound like if you don't already know, whereas "punk blues" and "psychedelic rockabilly" give a pretty strong image).

Don't get me wrong: I love the Cramps, especially. They might appear on some OTHER list of mine - maybe even "top ten all-time favourite bands." But on a list of "the most creative/ unique/ original rock bands of the 20th century?" Hardly.

Here are some bands I know I would put on the list. The Residents, for sure. Nothing else has ever quite sounded like them or approached music in quite the same way; while there are other bands that are weirder (Nihilist Spasm Band? Smegma? The Haters?), they weren't really making rock music, which the Residents clearly are, at least for the most part. And while they did have their influences - especially if you look at some of that very early footage that crept out awhile back, where they're carrying on like theatrical, costumed, Beefheart-inspired hippie freaks - nothing that came before them would prepare you for what they became, once they actually started releasing albums; a lot of what you hear in their music comes not from some apparent outward influence but from some space INSIDE the band and its members, some interior cauldron of weirdness where precedents are either meaningless or impossible to track down. The immensity and singularity of their accomplishment is only reinforced by how prolific they are and the fact they are still around.

Pretty sure, also, that Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention would deserve to be on the list for their theatricality, independence, their fusion of jazz and classical music into rock, and Zappa's sense of satire and emphasis on virtuoso musicianship. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, too. True, Beefheart owes plenty to bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf in what he does, especially early on, except nothing about combining surrealism and free jazz with Howlin' Wolf seems like an inevitable combination of pre-existing elements. If Beefheart hadn't made the music he made, I'm not sure anyone else would have, could have, or would have even wanted to, had it occurred to them. And there's an aggressive insistence on the primacy of the artist, even a sort of quasi-cultish, you-get-it-or-you-don't authoritarianism that seems to come not from anything that had gone before in rock, but from the mind and soul of the man himself (though Zappa and he reinforced it in each other for a time, it seems).

That's three artists/ bands I'm pretty confident belong. But it gets murky after that. For the all the Velvet Underground's importance - even to Pere Ubu, who have acknowledged them as an influence and would probably have opinions on my not immediately mentioing them - there are pretty discernible forebears, including avant garde minimalism, a pinch of Bob Dylan (on that first album, anyhow) and more than a pinch of NY beatnik performance poetry: just listen to "Venus in Furs" and imagine Lou Reed in a beret and turtleneck (items of clothing I am  not sure he ever wore, but boy it is an easy thing to visualize). And it's not easy to separate them out from everything else that was bubbling up in the cauldron of New York City at that time, in the same way that the richness of swingin' London makes me pause before asserting Pink Floyd. They might belong on the list, I don't know - I am not arguing that they don't, and, like I say, the list is unfinished - but for one reason or another, I feel reluctant to include them at the outset.

Ditto the Ramones: influential, sure, but - sorry! - it's hard for me to tap any band as the most creative of anything when their songs all sound so similar to each other. And even if those songs don't sound much like anything ELSE that had existed previously, the fact that there are so many bands that SUBSEQUENTLY came to sound like them - and that COULD sound like them, if they wanted - makes it very hard to want to include them here.

Call me a heretic if you must, but in fact, there is only one other band I would confidently, definitely include on this list (without a lot more thought or discussion, that is): that being Pere Ubu.

Pere Ubu 2016, by Kathy Thompson, not to be reused without permission. Left to right: Steve Mehlman, Robert Wheeler, Gary Siperko, David Thomas and Michele Temple.

There's nothing inevitable going on with Pere Ubu's music at all. Whatever else was happening in Cleveland in 1975 - and it does sound like there was quite a bit! - and whatever non-musical influences they've described, like the strange beauty of the industrial landscape around them or the avant-garde theatrical provocations of Alfred Jarry - there is an immense creativity to this band's music that really has no equal. Listen to 1975's "Heart of Darkness," the B-side of the single, "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" that started it all, Compare it to anything else that had gone before. Sure, there are recognizable elements: youthful angst and introspective alienation, a garage-band directness, a propulsive beat...  but what about Thomas' downplayed, half-muttered, doubled vocal, the stripped-down emphasis on the bass, the strange skronkiness of the guitar? You can see the influence in bands that came after (Mission of Burma, who have covered the song, and Sonic Youth, especially); and the noisiness of it obviously owes something to the Velvet Underground. But there was still nothing much like it in 1975. And the band would evolve quite a bit further, over the next few years, into something even more unique. By 1978, with Dub Housing - which I believe was voted Pere Ubu's greatest album, by fans - they're making music that sounds like nothing anyone has ever done or would do, that stands totally alone in contemporary pop.
Take "On the Surface" as an example (it's actually my ringtone, so I can't listen to it without compulsively wanting to answer the phone). The catchy little keyboard signature that starts it off seems like a harmless and friendly pop gesture, almost like something you could find on Pet Sounds. The bassline bubbling up under it is a bit weirder, but definitely hooky and unthreatening (and about as "dub" as Dub Housing gets). But fifteen seconds in, once David Thomas' fluttery vocals kick in - two voices, blissfully muttering and humming at each other like preoccupied co-workers in a Fleischer brothers cartoon, melancholic but not totally unhappy in their labours - you're in completely uncharted territory; pop music had never sounded quite like this before, and - this is essential - it has never sounded like this from any other band, ever, since. Not only is it without precedent, it is without subsequent. There's nothing quite else like this anywhere, and once Pere Ubu stops, there's probably never going to be anything quite like it again.

This early material - spanning a handful of singles, and including their first five LPs (The Modern Dance, Dub Housing, New Picnic Time, The Art of Walking and Song of the Bailing Man) are all relevant to the Coed Jail! tour the band is presently on, entering the West Coast end of it. I have no arguments further for catching them when they play the Cobalt on December 2nd (or, for those reading this outside Vancouver, on one of their other West Coast dates, listed at the bottom of the page): the main one is that this is one of the most creative and original bands in rock history, which surely must mean something to you. Even if you don't get it YET - and I know people who became huge Ubu fans who were completely non-plussed at first blush, who were made flat-out uncomfortable the first time they were exposed - you should seize the opportunity, because you may never have a chance to see them again. You CAN'T see Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart (or the Velvets or the Ramones or Syd-era Pink Floyd). And if you're a music geek on the West Coast you probably ALREADY have seen the Residents, who have been pretty active touring lately. But Pere Ubu doesn't tour North America that often, and when they do, they don't always get out west. They're not getting younger - this is a band that has been playing for over 40 years, with frontman Thomas now 63. (His retirement seems unlikely, but who knows?). Don't let your future self regret the chance you had, that you didn't act on: this is an opportunity not to be missed.

People who have yet to be convinced are further directed to Entrippy!'s article, quoted at the top of this piece, and endorsed on the Ubu homepage ("if you really want to understand what Pere Ubu does, read this," the band writes; how proud Entrippy! must be). That article places them in the light of the work of another great original artist, Bob Dylan (who I would definitely have included on my list, except I don't really think of Dylan as making rock music). You might also want to look at my Big Takeover interview with David Thomas, from 2013, or the Pere Ubu website, which has a wealth of information.

Two interviews follow: first, a brief email interview with Pere Ubu's sole original member, David Thomas, who was quite candid in saying that he doesn't really care for interviews ("I think about what I do. I don't have to talk about it also.") I decided to let him off the hook for the remainder, and shifted instead to talking with Pere Ubu's current sythesizer/ Theremin man, Robert Wheeler, who has only been in Pere Ubu since 1994, but who has been on the Cleveland scene from the outset, and a witness to some of their earliest performances.  Both of these interviews took place a few years ago, in fact - and have been sitting waiting for the moment to use them; but they are still relevant now, and in the case of Mr. Wheeler's section, it was updated by him last week...

Robert Wheeler (foreground) and David Thomas (background) at the BBC, photo by Kiersty Boon, not to be reused without permission

David Thomas interview 

Allan: Do you dislike discussing the meanings of songs? I remember you writing somewhere that lyrics should not be printed, is that part of the same thing or different?

David: Yes, if the 'meaning' of a song can be condensed into a few sentences then what is the point of making a song? As for printing lyrics, it's a different issue (though possibly related), rock music is not poetry bolted onto naive folk art. I covered this a little in 'Book of Hieroglyphs.' Rock words and music are not separable. Printing lyrics, though sometimes desirable, serves to validate the schism. I went through a long process trying to make it work. It is very clear from my solo work of the 80s that every unintelligible utterance vocally is intentional and functional. When I am comping vocals in the studio I go thru and add or delete ruthlessly. Nothing is there by neglect (mostly). If you actually work to understand every syllable coming out of my mouth on many of those recordings you can see that I am introducing a running commentary of doubt or an Intrusive POV into the 'meaning' of the words/music partnership. If you sat down with me and listened to one of those songs I could explain to you exactly what that third "unh" in the 4th line was doing. Over the course of one line of vocal delivery there can be an entire journey that swings wildly from one POV to the other. If I could actually write out all the 'lyrics' so that you could follow then this might be clearer to the listener. Unfortunately, what you would get is a long sheet of partial words, untranslatable utterances and syllables. I tried it. It didn't work. And eventually I revised my vocal approach to get this under control and move off in another direction. I have gone thru a number of vocal reinventions over the course of my career because I get comfortable and I don't like the feeling of 'getting comfortable.' I like what I was doing with this method but in the end the idea is communication and I wanted to look at other methods that might work better or differently.

I would love to hear some stories about how certain songs were written, where they came from, how you assembled them...specifically, would like to know how you wrote "Sonic Reducer" with Cheetah Chrome, to start with?

I don't do anecdotes and often the process is so convoluted, or so straight-forward, that I forget. For example, there is an entire series of songs inspired by nothing more than looking out the window as I was driving along the Yellow River out in Montana or somewhere and saw the sun flashing thru the leaves of trees along the river bank. Not a single one of those songs mentions or alludes to that scenario. As for 'Sonic Reducer' I don't remember much. I came up with the lyrics probably because 'sonic reduction' was so evocative that I figured I should do more with it. I came up with the words first, as I remember, which is a very rare way for me to work. Cheetah had some music and we put them together or something. Ask him.

How did the RFTT and Ubu versions of "Final Solution" materialize? It seems the most "reworked" song in the transition from band to band... Do you have a preference between them? Was it odd dusting off the RFTT version?

That's the way different musicians interpreted it.

David Thomas with Pere Ubu, onstage in Vancouver, 1980, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

You joked onstage about how people take you for a "grumpy weirdo," but in fact you seem to have gotten a lot chattier with the audience over the years. I don't remember a whole lot of banter when I saw you in Vancouver in 1988, except for joking that people who cover "Final Solution" often sing it so the words can be understood, which you regarded as a mistake. But you were very warm and talkative during the recent Vancouver show... has your approach to performance changed over the years? What's driving it?

I evolve what I do. I've got places to be, things to do. Members of the audience see me in snapshots spread over decades. I see myself in a continuum, in a stream. The water is flowing, the current eddies and swirls. Sometimes I swim, sometimes I drift.

Is your stage patter worked out in advance, or totally spontaneous, or does it evolve from show to show? In Vancouver you started with a rap about ghost towns, then moved largely to joking about performing for "the ladies" in the audience... if I had seen the Ubu shows before and after the Vancouver gig, would I have seen a progression in these themes?

It evolves from show to show. This year I have had 3 basic stage 'stories'. There are certain routines I like and will repeat. Others I do a few times and drop. Depends on what the focus of the particular show/tour is. The stories are there for a reason. Often the same story can be applied to different purposes. I don't joke. Humor is a tool. I use it in a Skinnerian way. I manipulate an audience. I toy with them and exploit them to achieve an end. Very rarely do I say something without purpose. Even when it seems I'm babbling or getting off-track or stumbling, I very rarely am. 95% of it is ruthlessly designed either in the moment or in context. Some times I simply figure I should appear to be rambling so that's what I manufacture. There's no point to asking me why. Often right before a show I will come up with a plan or at least a starting point for that evening. Sometimes this involves telling the band I/we will be doing something in a particular way. Sometimes I head off in a direction knowing the band will pick it up. They tend to be sensitive to nuances.

Robert Wheeler by Alex Horn, not to be reused without permission

Robert Wheeler interview

Allan: You're just a few years younger than David, right? So did you get to experience a "before punk came to Cleveland and after," or was there already a fertile scene happening there when you started going to gigs and listening to music? Any insights into the genesis of that scene?

Robert: There was a strict 18 yr old+ bar policy. I was not old enough to get into clubs, tho' I did go see lots of rock shows, like Hawkwind, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople. Cleveland was where David Bowie and Roxy Music broke (and bands like Rush also, tho' I was more into English bands). Interesting note: my mom said, I’ve been hearing this guy David Bowie on the radio, are you going? Me: no.

It was his first North American show. I have no insights.

What are your memories of early gigs? What bands did you see? Was there a feeling of something new and exciting happening, or…?

The first shows I saw were at Pirates Cove in the flats. Pere Ubu, Peter Laughner’s Friction, Chi -Pig [no relation to SNFU], Styrene Money Jazz Band were the first local bands I saw. For me it was new and exciting.

When did you first meet David, and what did you make of him? Any stories to share…?

I remember David from when I was in first grade; he was probably in 6th grade.  I was in school with his little brother Allen from kindergarden to high school. I could almost see their house from our apartment, just across Cedar Road and up a few houses on the right. David was a big guy (to a first grader). That made him imposing. I went to Allen's house a few times, I don’t remember David there.

David has written about - I can't quote - the unusual, vibrant, and not at all negative experience of growing up in the industrial landscape of Cleveland, suggesting it was an inspiration... did you feel that way, too? What was your relation to the landscape, and did it shape your reaction to the music...?

When I was 2 to 5 years old, my mom would take me driving down through the flats, I remember the winding, twisting roads that run along the Cuyahoga, the big trucks, the smelting plants, the steel factories, the huge bridges that would lift to let the ore boats through. We would go exploring - abandoned factories and desolation of places below the view of the city at the top of the hill. Smells and clouds of smoke, banging of the heavy machinery plants. My parents both worked in Cleveland, and on weekends we would go to the family farm in Milan. Ohio. I was blessed to have grown up in the city and the country. My heart was in the country.  

Hideo's Discodrome is a helluva cool name for a record shop. Were there Japanese involved in the running of it? What was the history of the store, how vital was it to local musicians, and how unusual was it in Cleveland?

Hideo’s Discodrome was John Thompson’s record store, the 1st incarnation was around the corner from where I lived. It would move 2 times. Eventually the name just became DROME! No Japanese involved. For me, it was vital. My old record store was Record Revolution on Coventry, great for its time, but seemed too ‘hippy’ Drome had a different buzz about it. David worked there. Peter Laughner worked there. For me, it felt like a record store for those who didn’t fit.

If it wasn't by Ubu, what was, by the way, the first single or record that you think of now as punk that you acquired? The first gig you think of now as punk that you saw? Was the word part of the discourse in the early scene in Cleveland? When the world finally started talking about punk - did it feel like old news to those of you in that scene?

My memory may be shot, but I think "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" was the first ‘punk’ record. By punk, I mean someone who put out their own record. Other than that Ubu has nothing to do with punk. Malcom McLaren created punk we know to sell clothes, it was a marketing tool. "30 Seconds" was by people who wanted to make their own music - very little in common with each other, except they happen about the same time and neither sounds anything like Boston...   this is before Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, Ramones, Damned, and way before Sex Pistols.

It says you saw the band play "their first night at Pirates Cove" in your bio. Probably my fault - I haven't researched deeply - but I'm not entirely clear: does that mean their first gig, or their first gig at that club? What do you remember of it? Tell me everything you can recall, all impressions, reactions, observations (if your memory is like mine these will be few and strange - it's odd what the brain files, eh?).

Not their first gig, but the first of 2+ years at Pirates Cove on a weekly basis. Pirates Cove (the flats in general) was kind of a scary place at first for me - dark abandoned streets. not many street lights. Seemed to be about 30 of us (though I’m sure there were more) at first. and it always seemed cold in the winter, like "wear gloves" cold. I remember Cheetah Chrome dropping his pants and mooning people... the cute girl who I later found out was Chrissy Hynde (once she moved away and became famous)...  Chris Yarmock (later of Easter Monkeys) became my first friend of that music scene.

Were you listening to/ aware of electronic music before you saw Ubu? What?

I don’t know if Hawkwind and early Roxy Music count, but I had most Hawkwind and all Roxy. All Kraftwerk. Heldon from France. Cage and Terry Riley. Nonesuch sampler. I don’t count Switched on Bach.

How would *you* describe (original Pere Ubu synth player) Allen Ravenstine's innovations with electronica? What was hearing him like?

Great seeing someone play live electronics, and play it in a way that very few did. Most synth players are keyboard players that play a machine that plays notes and sounds like strings or woodwinds or try to emulate other sounds. Allen and early Eno play electronics like they have their own voice. Much more exciting.

It sounds from your bio that you bought your first synth in emulation of  Allen. Did you ever interact with him? How did you learn your instrument? What's this about "electronic school?”

As I used to see them every week it was a natural to ask him what type of synth to buy. I had it down to Buchla or EML. He said EML. How do you learn an instrument when you don’t have a manual? You sit down and play. and experiment. and patch and explore. and try everything.

When I turned 21, I had no skills, nothing marketable. When I went to Pi Corp to try synths and buy the EML, I was fascinated by the smell of warm resistors and solder and feel his shop had. I asked how he (David Yost) learned how to do this, he said he took electronics. A friend of my father's said you should always know a skill to do with your hands. Being good in math and science, and [because] it looked like we were on the cusp of an electronic revolution, I chose electronics. I have an Associates Degree.

If I recall, there's early Home and Garden stuff out there to be heard, on the bonus disc from the old Ubu box, but what about your other early projects? (Savage Tractors - are there recorded examples of that? Are any still in print? What did you sound like? Ditto Dr. Bloodmoney...?)

I have cassette tapes of Savage Tractors. We never thought we were ‘good enough’ to go into a studio, though a number of people said we should. We did 2 covers off of "Spiral Scratch" (1st Buzzcocks 45),  a Joy Division cover off a Factory Records sampler - but we played it at the wrong speed. it was a 33, we though it was better at 45, that’s the version we learned: fast.

(Ubu / RFTT drummer Steve Mehlman by bev davies, not to be reused without permission)

Was science fiction a big influence on any of you back then? There's something very SF about some of that early Cleveland music, and obviously, Dr. Bloodmoney is named after one of Philip K. Dick's novels.... Incidentally, that was my introductory comment to David Thomas when I met him briefly after the RFTT gig in Vancouver awhile back - that he looks like Philip K. Dick when he has a beard. (Just a little). He didn't really react.

I read tons of science fiction. so I assume it must be an influence, as Ray Harryhausen movies would be.

Why/ how did you keep joining bands that Tony Maimone left? Just a coincidence, or…?

I was asked. Tony was a great supporter of people and projects. Tony introduced me to Linda who would become my wife.

Robert Wheeler onstage at the Biltmore, 2013 by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Did you grow up aware that you were related to Edison? Did this shape your interest in electronic music, or in invention, or... in any relevant way?

Was I aware? Yes, as a 2nd grader. Did I know what that meant? No. What impact he had on me: not a clue. I don’t think it shaped me in that way.

How does one make a homemade Theremin? It sounds like you knew how to make one long before you knew how to play it. Incidentally, can you play "America the Beautiful" on it now? Will you be playing it - the Theremin, not "America the Beautiful" - onstage with Ubu?

You start with a schematic and a sheet of copper. Use black tape and mask off, on clear plastic, what you want the circuit to look like. Spray the copper board with a photo-resist, shine a bright light on the plastic that is now taped to the copper board. Acid bath to remove unwanted copper. Get a small drill and drill holes; insert parts; solder, tweak, adjust, tweak, adjust. I had not seen anyone play a Theremin, I didn’t know how the antennas were to be tuned. I assumed you would not want it making noise all of the time, only when you got close (not the way it was designed).  So mine originally got louder as you got closer to the antenna. I have never attempted to play "America the Beautiful" since. I will have a Theremin with me.

Where do you turn for inspiration re: the Theremin?

Jack Daniels. (Not really, I just like to tell people the more you drink, the easier it is to play) I don’t follow any Theremin player. I get inspired by beautiful music, art or nature.

 (By the way: a very, very cool Theremin player is on the Vancouver scene, namely George McDonald, of the Melodic Energy Commission, a band whose early claim to fame is that they included an early member of Hawkwind. I would be happy to pick up some CDs of their music for you and swap them for yours at the gig.)

Ok. (We eventually swapped).

How did you end up in Ubu, and how did that feel? 

This was the 3rd time I had been approached by Scott Krauss. I didn’t have the confidence in myself and I had full time work and a small baby at home. My wife Linda said, this is the 3rd time they’ve asked, it’s your favorite band and they won’t keep asking. You better accept.

They had just come off their "digression" into making pop music for Fontana and such, right?  I confess that I kind of tuned out during that period. Had you been following them throughout? What was the mood of the band like at that time? Ray Gun Suitcase seems like a bit of a back to roots kind of album...

Of course I followed what they were doing. my bandmates from Home and Garden were in the band (Scott Krauss and Jim Jones and Michele Temple). And it had been my favorite band. Right when I joined, Scott quit Ubu. I thought the mood was good, at least mine was. With Jim and Michele in the studio, we were ‘jamming’ and it was just like playing with Home and Garden - David started the recorder and we got the song ‘Horse’. Played it once, and never again. I assume it’s back to roots, because Ubu had an analog synth again...  back to the beeps…

Michele Temple by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

What are your favourite recordings with Ubu - the ones where you're particularly proud of your contribution? Can you pick one and walk us through what you're doing? (I, by the way, am NOT a gear geek and have no real clue how you make the sounds you do).

I really like "Vacuum Cleaner" (AKA "Vacuum in My Head") from Ray Gun Suitcase: the little squggles. the Indian finger cymbal samples.

Robert Wheeler and Allen Ravenstine, photo provided by Robert Wheeler

Do you have favourite songs to play from BEFORE your time in the band? Why? Did you go back and try to learn what Allen was doing so you could duplicate it, or did you just come up with your own solutions/ approaches?

I used to say I loved being in Ubu because I got to hear Tom Herman's "My Dark Ages" guitar every night, and I had the best seat in the house, 5 feet from him. Honestly, that guitar makes my heart soar like an angel on gossamer wings and then that angel cries tears of blood. Tony’s bass line. it’s all too much. I go for the feel Allen had, I don’t try to duplicate it. On that song it’s the constant relentless THUMP like Chinese water torture and the uneasy wobble on the chorus. On virtually every song he played on, I don’t try to mimic. I can’t. I’m not that good.

When did you first meet Allen? What was that like? What are your recordings with him like? I haven't seen I Dream of Wires yet [electronic music documentary that united Robert and Allen and lead to two solo albums worth of electronica].

I first met Allen at the early Ubu shows. I remember the band standing at the door as we left, saying ‘thank you for coming, and drive safely’ (probably more Tony, Scott and Tom than Allen and David… but that’s fuzzy.

What are our recordings like? No rhythm,  no notes, no melody - does that help?

Any favourite tour stories with Ubu? Do *you* have pastimes on the the road? What is the mood like in the (music-free, comfort-free van?).

The tour van is pretty quiet, usually silent. People have headphones or books, or look wistfully out the window, wishing they were home. Or that they lived in the little town in Italy we just passed through. Driving through snowstorms in Wyoming when they are about to close I-80 and you can not see the highway was memorable. not in a good way.

Funny, I think of the things that were miserable. Unable to fly home in time for Christmas because we can not fly out of the Paris airport for 3 days. (I did make it home about 8PM on Christmas Eve). No favorite happy stories coming to mind...

What's working with David like? Any insights into his personality as "bandleader?" What is the concept of leadership like in Ubu? (How collectively are decisions made?).

David is a hard driving, super sharp leader. During recording or on tour. It’s a real treat to work with the other members, we are a machine. No one needs to be told what to do, we all know our jobs when we arrive at a venue. All venues and audiences are different, but we are the same, we give 100%.

Pere Ubu West Coast tour dates 2016:

12/10/16 Casbah, San Diego, CA

For Pere Ubu touring information go here.


Unknown said...

The irony is that the people making this music feel that what they are doing IS the inevitable and it IS the mainstream. It is interesting to think about it in the manner in which they consider their approach to art. It was the obvious thing to do. Thanks for the article.

Allan MacInnis said...

Oh, I am sure they felt everything they did was a logical next step from what had been done... I don't think it's less remarkable. Maybe if i were more versed in all that other cool Cleveland stuff going on...

Meantime, i think i have to do it, though it took me a few days to make sure it wasnt just my biases, but i gotta add Eugene Chadbourne to my list. Now it is at the Residents, Zappa, Beefheart, Ubu and Doc Chad. And maybe the Velvets and early Floyd... It still isnt finished tho...