Saturday, April 09, 2022

Vic Bondi: 11 questions on Bob Mould, Articles of Faith, and The Ghost Dance(s)

Vic Bondi on acoustic guitar, courtesy Vic Bondi

NOTE: since this was published, Vic Bondi has put his solo album, The Ghost Dances, onto bandcamp

Did anyone else have the same experience as I did with the film American Hardcore - where you suddenly discovered a half-dozen bands on the soundtrack that you had never heard (or even heard of) before, mostly because their records were ones that you just didn't come across back in your hardcore years? There were a few for me - but the two best songs that I'd had no prior frame of reference for were early west coast hardcore band Middle Class doing "Out of Vogue" and Chicago political punks Articles of Faith doing a song called "Bad Attitude." I would have loved to have stumbled across either band in the mid-1980's. I didn't. But suddenly I discover I have a chance to see Articles of Faith vocalist Vic Bondi - the man who co-wrote "Bad Attitude" back in 1982 - apropos of his upcoming appearance at the Rickshaw, opening for Bob Mould. Bondi lives in Seattle these days, and the two, Bob and Vic, have considerable history together, with Mould having produced the two Articles of Faith LPs, Give Thanks and In This Life). 

Now don't get me wrong: I greatly enjoyed Mould's last two shows at the Rickshaw, even got to talk to him about the last one, when he was touring Sunshine Rock. (I also blogged an expanded discussion with Mould, here, and a few years prior, wrote a review of his previous show, which, like the upcoming show this Thursday, was a true solo venture, just Mould and his guitar). But with apologies to Bob, I am presently much more excited to be playing catchup with Articles of Faith and Vic Bondi, and his various other projects like Dead Ending and Jones Very - the Wikipedia page on him, with a more detailed list of bands he's recorded in, is here - because this is someone I knew nothing about prior to last week, and whose 1988 solo album The Ghost Dances comes as quite a revelation.. 

I *have* sent some questions to Bob Mould, in case he has time for a brief email interview; who knows if he will get back to me. While we wait, though, take a listen to Vic Bondi's The Ghost Dances yourself and check out the email interview below. (As always, italics are me).

Allan: How did you connect with Bob as producer on the two Articles of Faith LPs? Any stories or memories about Bob's contributions, or Husker Du, or...?

Vic:  I've known Bob for forty years. I can't remember our first introduction, but I do remember the first time I saw him and  Hüsker Dü. It was probably late Nov of '81 at this punk rock dive bar in Chicago called O'Banions. They played on a bill with the Replacements opening up, and it was bitterly cold, and the bar had no heat. This was Land Speed Record era HD. I had never heard them before and they came on and it was pure sonic blur. Just a wall of volume and noise. It took me four or five songs to realize the drummer was singing. It was more performance art than rock and roll, and I was hooked. Fantastic band. I felt like I was honest witness to their evolution into a spectacular rock and roll band because, after that, we played with them many, many times, and they were constantly innovating and resetting the goal posts for what hardcore could be. When they recorded Zen Arcade in California, Chicago was a stop on their way back home, and I will never forget Bob playing that on the stereo of the AoF hardcore house, Big Blue. We all knew it was genius.

Where did the name Articles of Faith come from? (It's a Mormon concept, isn't it?). I gather that a later project of yours, Jones Very, was named for the Unitarians? Why the interest in Christian offshoots? Is it a comment on the "religious" aspects of punk, or your upbringing, or...?

I'm not Mormon and didn't get the connection to Articles of Faith as a religious idea until later. The name came from a song we had written called "Articles of Faith," which was more about how social and political indoctrination became faith. At the time, the band AoF was called "Direct Drive," which was the name of the band guitarist Joe Scruderi and I had formed in college. We had played shows under that name when we moved to Chicago, but we were developing a new sound and wanted a new name to go with it. So we picked the name of that song. In retrospect a good choice because as political as AoF was, it was also a very expressive group. Sometimes people will cite our second album In This Life as a progenitor of emo. So the name reflects that, too.

Jones Very was an actual person, a poet in Emerson's circle, touched with madness. At the time I formed that band I was reading a lot of Transcendentalism and had a completely ridiculous conceit that I could create "transcendentalist rock" - which in retrospect is one of the silliest propositions I've ever come up with. But the name is kind of a good fit for the post-punk sound of that band. There were a bunch of "Jones" bands around that time, though, so I guess I wasn't as clever as I thought.

Have to ask about "Bad Attitude," which is the first song I heard of yours, on the soundtrack to American Hardcore. You repeat the single phrase "bad attitude" so many times that it becomes delightful and kind of ridiculous. I don't recall any other songs that hammer home a two-word chorus as often as that (tho' surely there must have been Ramones songs that did that). Was there a specific inspiration for it?

Growing up, I was told I had a bad attitude enough that it became a mantra for me. Since that is easily the most popular AoF song, I guess it did for a lot of other people, too.

What did you specialize in as a history teacher? Is there an overlap between your career as a professor and your writing an album titled after the Ghost Dance...? Why did you pluralize it to The Ghost Dances...? (Wasn't it one thing, a singular ill-fated religious movement to wish away the white man? I haven't read Bury My Heart in a long time...). 

I took a doctorate in intellectual history from Boston University in 1993. I taught a lot of American history, culture and philosophy for around eight years in Boston and New Hampshire, and yes, the Ghost Dances is deliberately a play on that movement, which in a lot of ways closes an epoch of indigenous culture on the Plains that began with the introduction of horses. It's a sad moment in history, almost an elegy for a world in passing. I had written a cycle of songs on the AoF 1985 tour going through Montana and Wyoming, as the band was ending, I was breaking up with my girlfriend and moving to Boston. I had never been to the Plains before I toured in AoF, and the sky and depth of that place really affected me. So much sky that it crushes you. I recorded the album that winter, at Inner Ear studios in DC with Don Zientara. Since the songs were written and fixed in the Plains, and my personal situation was also changing radically, I borrowed the term.

The record actually came out by happenstance. In the beginning, I just made a cassette of those songs and gave it to friends. But people started copying it and circulated widely with people and eventually Pat Dubar from Uniform Choice--who I didn't know--contacted me and asked if he could put it out as a vinyl record, which he did in 1988. It was probably the first acoustic record that came out of that hardcore scene. There weren't many copies made, but for the people who have that record... a lot of them really take it to heart. It's probably the most deeply felt work I've done, and seems to resonate with people that way. I'll be playing of lot of these songs opening for Bob.

There are a lot of effects on the album- was there a specific inspiration or reason for that? Are you playing everything? The songs & your delivery remind me a bit of Bill Fay, but he's not so well known, so... 

I was trying to write something like Blood on the Tracks or Nebraska with The Ghost Dances--not that it's in that league. It was a great record to record, because Inner Ear was at that time still in Don's basement, and it was just him and me working together. There's actually almost no effects on that record other than us messing with reverb--there was a little synthesizer in the studio, so I threw some ambient stuff in there. But most of the ambient sounds you hear is just my voice or guitar with a lot of reverb.

How old were you when you wrote "Getting Nowhere?" It seems like the sentiment of a younger man, not someone who was fairly accomplished (which you seem to have been by 1988). I can only make out some of the lyrics - is it just about being frustrated with where you were, personally? (Do you actually sing "the chorus just repeats?" That's pretty great. Can you give us the full lyrics to that song?)

 I was 25 when I wrote "Getting Nowhere":

Outside looking in again
Cold northeastern wind
Getting nowhere
Hope beside the iron skin
nothing getting in
Getting nowhere

All my life is waiting by the door...

Nothing gained and nothing spent
returning what was sent
Getting nowhere
Arcs and circles
daisy chains
back to where we came
Getting nowhere

All my life is waiting by the door...

All the days in numbered line
The past that haunts the life
Getting nowhere
All the days in numbered chain
The past that haunts the dream
Getting nowhere
The chorus just repeats
The chorus repeats.

Thanks. It's an amazing song. Um, do I gather you have an unreleased acoustic album - a follow up to this, or precursor? What happened to it? Will we hear any of that...?

I actually have two unreleased acoustic records--In Hope and Fear, which I recorded in Beverly, Mass in 1991, and Across the Bridge, which I recorded in Seattle in 2010. There are also two albums that I recorded with Tom Morello in 1996-97 that have never been released and probably won't be, since Tom reused a lot of the songs he wrote for that project, which he called Weatherman, for Audioslave. 

Vic Bondi with Teenage Time Killers, courtesy Vic Bondi

What else do you play during a live set? Are there any Articles of Faith songs, or songs from your career in punk?. I see that you've recorded a couple of cover tunes - "Fortunate Son" and "Complete Control" - do you include them - or any Dead Ending covers?

 I've worked up acoustic versions of songs by all the bands I've been in: AoF, Jones Very, Alloy, Report Suspicious Activity, Dead Ending and my current band Redshift. And Ghost Dances and a couple of new ones. What I play is whatever I feel, and can fit into thirty five minutes each night.

It sounds like you've changed "Complete Control" into a protest song about COVID measures...? (Please feel free to share your point of view on COVID, whatever it may be. I myself am doubly vaxxed, but have good friends who have remained unvaccinated). How have you weathered COVID? 

I'm triple vaxxed and spent the pandemic at the house, like everyone. DE's version of "Complete Control" wasn't specifically about the politics of COVID and definitely wasn't anti-mandates. I recorded it remotely from the rest of the guys, so I thought I would update the lyrics to reflect what we were all going through. I was shooting for a more general "this sucks" and not "mandates suck." God forbid those idiot Truckers would pick it up like that. But you can't control how people interpret songs. Aof was playing a show in Germany, and during "Remain in Memory," which is a break-up song, this guy was in front of me seig-heiling every time I sang the lyrics, "Remember Me!" -- No one could have ever got the intent of a song more wrong.

Any history with Vancouver? When did you move to Seattle, and do you ever come up here? (I hadn't noticed before - sorry!).

AoF played Vancouver once, in 1983, at some bar in Gastown--I don't remember the name. We played for about three people. Ron Reyes from Black Flag had set up that show, and hung out with us at this squat where we stayed. We went out to get beer the night before the show at some bar and on the way back, we got jumped by these three geezers. They were stalking us from behind and keyed on Ron because he was a small guy and they thought he was an easy target. They were wrong--he hauled off and decked the first guy and then it was on, and we put down the beer and started chasing these guys down the street. Halfway down, we looked back, and this other geezer was taking off with the beer. Which is how I learned that Canadians love beer so much they'll take a broken nose in return for a six pack.

Maybe the story will jog Ron's memory - he's still around, though he's been quiet through COVID - I don't think I've seen him take the stage since Chip Kinman played the Rickshaw with the Three O'Clock Train in the spring of 2019. But to come back to it - will you collaborate with Bob at all at the Rickshaw - join him for a song? (Have you shared a bill before, or is this a special event for you?).

Bob asked me to open for him a few times, back in the day, and before the pandemic in Seattle. This is the first time I've been on an extended run with him, and I'm really honored that he would ask. I will say one of the best nights of my life was in 1985 when Hüsker Dü called me onstage at the Paradise in Boston for an encore of "Ticket to Ride."

Rickshaw event page here - still tickets available! 

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