Photo by DL Anderson.
I haven’t updated anything here for ages. The number one reason is that I’ve been working on issue #2 of the Ripple Rock zine. This one will be called Ripple Rock #2 - Kings of Punk, Hockey and Beer. It will feature interviews and articles on all those subjects. It will be published in 1-2 weeks and will include the following interviews:
John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats)
Joe Keithley (D.O.A.)
Scott Hedeen (Burnt Hickory Brewery)
Boyd Devereaux (Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, etc.)
Robert Scott (The Clean, The Bats, etc.)
Jill Kossoris (The Shivvers)
The Chain Letters
Ville Törhönen (beer expert)
As a sort of a preview to the zine I have decided to post the entire Mountain Goats interview here. Enjoy!
So I wanna start by talking a little bit about Finnish music ‘cause I’m calling you from Finland. I read that you’re into Jess and the Ancient Ones, is this true?
Yeah! That’s a great, great band. I think they broke up. All those bands break up pretty quickly. But that one really ornate album that came in a box, I can never remember the names of albums anymore… But yeah, they’re tremendous.
Any other Finnish bands you’re into?
You know I was a big Amorphis fan and they’re still around. And they’re from Finland, I believe. Who else? The thing is, there is a Finnish label called Bestial Burst that is some of the best extreme metal you can get. This band called Ride for Revenge. That’s a pretty amazingly weird… It’s sort of post-metal. There’s a really loud distorted bass. So they’re really good. Who else is good from Finland? I feel like there’s a lot of punk from Finland in the 80s I’m gonna have a hard time naming. Isn’t Terveet, I can’t pronounce Finnish at all, isn’t Terveet Kädet from there?
Yeah, they’re called Terveet Kädet.
Yeah. *laughs* I won’t be able to learn pronunciation on the phone for sure. But yeah, there was a whole big skronk punk scene in Finland. But yeah, Amorphis I’m reasonably sure is Finnish. They’re sort of melodic metal and are still making records. They have a record called My Kantela about this Finnish epic, I believe called the Kantelatar, is that right?
I think Kantele is like a Finnish traditional instrument.
Yeah, my pronunciation is going to be awful no matter what. But this band called Amorphis I think is really good. There’s a lot of good Finnish music.
Yeah, but if I can move from Finnish metal to other metal albums. You wrote the Master of Reality book. I was wondering have you heard the new Sabbath album?
No. I won’t listen to it. They wouldn’t come to terms with Bill Ward and to me I’m not interested in hearing Black Sabbath without Bill Ward on the drums. So I just don’t care what it sounds like.
Well, moving on from metal music. I read that you’re writing a book. Will this be like a poetry book or a novel maybe?
It’s a novel. I’m editing it right now. The thing is, when I’m working on something, I never really talk about the content of it. So yeah, it’s a novel about a guy who does a thing.
Okay, so I guess it’s kind of different to writing lyrics?
Oh, it’s very different. Lyrics take me a day or a couple of days at most and I’ve been working on this one for years. I mean, yeah, a lot of development. You throw a lot away. It’s more like sculpting where you start with all this stuff and all these ideas and then you scrape away the ones that aren’t useful until you’re left with just the core.
Speaking a little bit about the lyric writing and I guess poetry. Have you ever tried more like automatic writing or that type of poetry at all?
A couple times in my life. You know I mean when you’re a kid and you read about the surrealist, the dadaist, you get pretty excited about that. I think my gift is more improv than tapping into that, you know, that completely primal area of automatic writing. I’ve tried but when I look at it I go: “Yeah, this isn’t really…” my own stuff doesn’t compel me that way. I’d give it a shot but I didn’t really feel like it was getting me anywhere.
You have a song called Million on the album Nothing for Juice. There’s a line on that song that goes:
when I came back from Finland
the taxi took me down the street
Is this based on a trip to Finland or is this just fictional?
No, this is one of those, you know you talked about me writing sort of automatically and improv. This was like I was playing that chord and I didn’t know what it was. I was a pretty crude guitarist at the time - I still am but not as crude - and the chord sounded really sort of interesting and icy to me so I just said the first words that came to my mind. I don’t know if I’d been looking at something from, you know, why Finland was in my mind or for whatever reason. But it was there. I think I actually had recently come back from Holland. But Finland, if you say the word in English, Finland rings harder. It’s more percussive than Holland. Holland is a hard word to work into a song. Finland kind of pops. But you don’t even call it Finland. What’s the name of the country to you?
It’s called Suomi.
Right! Yeah, it’s I mean I love that. But yeah. I mean it was just a sort of a vision that came while I was talking. I hadn’t, I still haven’t been to Finland. We had a show booked there once that didn’t come through.
Okay, yeah. I guess some Finnish fans are slightly bitter about the fact that you’ve written an album called Sweden but not Finland.
Right. Well I didn’t do a Norway either, or Denmark. *laughs*
Yeah, I know. *laughs*
The thing is. *laughs* I should, I should promise. But I can’t promise. The thing is. I mean for me and for a lot of people, and I think America is similar to this. For people who aren’t from America, when I say America, whether you’ve been here or not, you have a certain vision of this monolithic thing. Whereas it’s actually a whole bunch of different places. To a lot of people from America Sweden, Finland, Norway, those are countries way up at the top. Those are countries very, very far away. Which is mostly what Sweden meant in that album. If you were going there you couldn’t go much further north. You’re kind of running out of room when you go up there. But yeah, I’m sorry for those fans that I didn’t write a Finland record. But you never know.
It’s alright. I guess Finland is obsessed with, if someone outside of Finland mentions Finland, it’s a really big thing. So if there’s a band that writes songs about Sweden everyone’s like: “Why did they not write about Finland?”
But the thing is. Finland’s metal scene is like very… Everybody is into Norwegian Metal. Fewer people know that Swedish metal is also its own thing with a lot of acclaim. Finnish metal is for the purist for the connoisseur. Impaled Nazarene was just busting it way back when. Yeah, Finland has a lot to be proud about. I feel like it’s more like cult, you know.
I’m also half-Canadian so I wanted to ask a question about the song New Star Song in which you mention Canada:
I thought of you up in Canada
as the lighting storm lit up
Was that a specific area in Canada you were talking about in that song.
It would’ve been Vancouver in my mind, but I hadn’t been at that point. A lot of those songs from back in ‘93 and ‘94 when I was imagining places they’re like Narnia. It’s like I’ve heard of them. I know people have been there but all I know of them is what I’ve seen on maps and read about in books. So Canada is again this big wild expanse north. Just close enough that I know it’s real. But yeah, that whole song there’s made up characters in that song. Remembering people who don’t exist.
I was actually born in Vancouver so that’s now my new favorite song!
Speaking a little bit about the North Carolina music scene. Do you follow the current music scene there at all?
I mean I follow it here in Durham. I’m locked in here. There’s band called Mount Moriah whose my friend Heather who’s like the best. The thing is. It’s funny, when I’m talking about bands, I’m talking about my friends. So it’s sort of got that sort of family feel. But yeah, Mount Moriah is an amazing band with one of the best front people, Heather McEntire. She used to change her bands like every, seemed like every six weeks. She was in a band called Bellafea, then she was in a band called Un Deux Trois. I just couldn’t keep track of them. But Mount Moriah has been around for a year or two and they’re completely amazing. Obviously Superchunk’s great. There’s a band called the Organos that’s really good. There’s so much music here. Midtown Dickens just broke up but they formed a new band called Loamlands who I totally recommend. I don’t go out much, I listen to more at home than I do in clubs ‘cause I’m a dad now. By eight o’clock. if I’m not on tour by eight o’clock I’m out of gas.
I guess what I was wondering is I recently read, this wasn’t just Durham, but North Carolina in general. I was reading punk rock history in that area and they mentioned that compared to other places in the States The Beatles were more of an influence there and all the punk rock bands would have on their 7” single, they’d have a b-side that would be a Beatles cover. Can you still kind of see that sort of thing in North Carolina?
That is an interesting observation. I hadn’t heard that. I haven’t heard of that myself. But I think the punk in North Carolina had a strong I want to say, you know the Nuggets compilations?
Right. I think those had a big impact. Like the melodic sixties punk stuff. Not so much the Back From the Grave stuff, but the stuff that’s kind of jangly post-Byrds that still got a distortion pedal. I think that stuff had a giant impact on bands like the dBs and the dBs are Beatles freaks, right? And they are a big North Carolina band. And so I think that’s sort of the path, Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple are people filtering Beatles and other more obscure sixties influences, Quick Silver Messenger Service through them. And then North Carolina punk bands are picking up on that punk spirit and that melodic feel also. It’s true ‘cause if you go down to South Carolina or up to Virginia you get a much more aggro much more crusty punk than you tended to get here.
Yeah, yeah. I also read somewhere that you at least earlier in your music listening history weren’t really into the jangle pop type of bands. Which makes me wonder, do you enjoy the dBs?
Oh, I do like the dBs. The thing is the dBs are great songwriters. If I hear a great song, I don’t really love techno either but if I hear a good techno song then I can get into it. The song Amplifier is an astounding song. But yeah, as far as sounds, I prefer crunch to jangle. I prefer distortion to chorus. And so, I mean I like heavy metal. *laughs* My main thing is I want propulsion, I want a little more aggression than introspection and I think a lot of those post-Byrds bands, Byrds are fine, but that’s my second tier stuff. I prefer stuff like Iggy and the Stooges, stuff that punches me a little harder.
Speaking of a band that doesn’t punch you very hard, you’ve toured with Christine Fellows and I know you’re into her music. She’s John K Samson’s wife, which you obviously know as well. Did you ever listen to the Weakerthans?
Oh yeah! John’s amazing. I mean he’s a personal friend. I’ve toured with Christine and we hang out. But I mean John is a great lyricist and songwriter and he was in Propagandhi - one of the best punk bands of all time! - although when we’re talking about it, he’s always pointing out to me, he’s like: “Yeah, that was when I was a teenager. That was like a different lifetime.” But to me, and to a lot of people, Propagandhi, the records he was on are hugely important, you know. I mean the Weakerthans are great. We played on a cruise ship together once. But also John came up, I did a benefit for a place called Farm Sanctuary that takes animals who have been rescued from slaughterhouses, and let them live out their natural lives. And I brought John down to play this benefit for them that was on the grounds of Farm Sanctuary, which was really fun. He’s great.
Yeah, it’s interesting you mentioned Propagandhi. I actually played Propagandhi last night on the radio and I…
Oh, which record?
Well, I played pretty much all their records. Like a song from each one. But I also played the John K Samson era Propagandhi albums and what I like about that is that it’s like you’re listening to the lyricist from The Weakerthans sing punk rock and it’s just really weird…
Yeah, it’s cool ‘cause I think he was finding where his voice was. He had grown up in a punk scene. So he naturally made punk music. But then I think when he as he continued to write songs he had an album, I think it was a split album with somebody that was just him, had no stops between the songs and I think he was figuring out as he’d gotten to his twenties what kind of music speaks to me more. And it turned out to be more singer-songwriter-y stuff. But at the same time Propagandhi… people don’t talk enough about the last couple of albums. They have had an amazing later life. They keep making these great records. They’re sort of out of the loop as far as press and promotion. They don’t tour a lot so… But I mean those last couple Propagandhi records, they’re as good as Less Talk. They’re just amazing records.
Yeah, I actually think Supporting Caste is probably my favorite.
Yeah, it’s stunning! It’s so clear that Todd, the new guy, he’s not new anymore but I still call him the new guy, has listened to a lot of that Voivod style thrash. That type of thrash that was sort of messing with prog metal. You know, getting interesting textures and stuff. Yeah, I think they’re one of the best bands ever.
Well, you spoke a little bit about Propagandhi lyrics, John K Samson lyrics. I want to talk a little bit about your lyrics as well. I actually showed some Mountain Goats lyrics to some people, some of my friends who hadn’t heard of the band before, and they looked at them and they said they looked more like stories than songs. They meant that in a really good way. What do you think about that?
Yeah, I mean I think I have a very, very strong narrative urge. You know, it’s like I don’t really know how to do a lyric that doesn’t have a story inside of it. Joan Didion one of my favorite living writers has this famous line: "we tell each other stories in order to live" and I read that one when I was really young and it sort of seared itself into me. I think the way I understand the world is true narrative. Is true, you know, through stories that may or may not have morals but they do have the movement of a story. Almost a cinematic movement but more compressed. ‘Cause I prefer fiction. I prefer page to the imagine. But yeah, I think they’re closer to like maybe lyric poetry, this type of poetry where a poem tells a story. Because I think short stories may be, I don’t know. One they’re long! *laughs* And one thing I like about songs is that a song gets in, tells you the story, and gets the hell out! Right? That’s what I like. You can sort of get the whole thing done still within three or four minutes and I like that.
Some of the lyrics I showed them was from The Sunset Tree which features some stuff about video games and you also have Thank You Mario but the Princess is in Another Castle. That song. I was wondering do these video game things come from your childhood or are you still into video gaming?
So, I still play, although you know it’s as recently as the last tour I still play. But I don’t keep up. Like you know when a new game comes out. It’s Halo 3 or whatever and everyone’s buying it the day it comes out. I don’t do that. The only ones that I will do that is if it’s a new Zelda game. I can’t help myself. I will have that right away. But I don’t keep up like I used to. I don’t know what games are coming out and I don’t have the sense of what’s what. But I’ll play any new Zelda game that comes out. I play a game, Eternal Sonata right now. Which is an interesting game because it takes place in a dream that Chopin has while he’s dying. It’s a Japanese game, right. But Chopin doesn’t really resemble Chopin except he’s supposed to be Chopin *laughs*. So it’s an interesting game. The thing is, like once you have a kid, unless you really want to be neglecting a child to play video games, video games are the first things to fall off. TV is not on very often because I don’t want my son to have to look at too much TV until he decides that he wants to. So yeah, I still play. But I wouldn’t say, I’m sort of I’m a second tier player. I’m busy with music and books, but I still play.
Oh, okay. So not just childhood memories then?
No, no, no! And the thing is, it’s funny, I was thinking today that I want to dig up Soul Calibur 2 and play as Nightmare a while because I’m kind of into that character right now. Although, the video games in that album, I’m talking about going to an arcade in 1983 or ‘4 so I’m playing old console machines at that point.
One more thing about lyrics. In Transcendental Youth there’s the line:
Cold through broken baseboards
I despise this town
Is that about a specific town?
No, no. It’s just that feeling I think a lot of what Transcendental Youth is about mental illness, severe sort of severe depression when you don’t leave your house. And I think pretty often when you enter into that sort of mindset, you know when you really are so genuinely depressed that you sort of can’t see past your door, I think it’s pretty common to go: “God, I hate this place, I hate this place!” I don’t think a lot of people who are very depressed have a lot of love for their surroundings and, for me anyway, in my most depressed times I always just hate the town I’m in. I blame it. I mean when I lived in Portland for nine months, I was profoundly depressed and boy did I hate Portland. I just blamed Portland for everything. The weather, you know. So that’s what that’s about. That feeling of when you are struggling. How you tend to hate where you are.
Yeah, okay. ‘Cause I was listening to that here in Joensuu, and I hate this town, (I don’t really!) so it sounded perfect to me and I’ve been to Portland, it’s like my favorite city in the world! *laughs*
It is a hard place to be depressed though, man! Because the sun… However far north you are you may have experience of like lack of sunlight, but I grew up in Southern California, and I moved to Portland and the sun went away in December and I didn’t really see it again until March. It was just grey days, grey days, I was just not used to that. And I was young and addicted to drugs and all kinds of other stuff, so yeah. Portland’s a great town but boy when I was 18 and 19 and lived there even though there were people there who were saving my life all the time, I had a bad attitude about Portland at that time. It was also a very different town. It was not the Portland you know now.
Yeah, like the Wipers singing about Doomtown, it’s completely different now.
The thing is, it was cool, but I was 19 so a lot of the shows I would have wanted to go to like Celtic Frost came through, right? Before Into the Pandemonium. This would have been when Morbid Tales was their newest thing. Boy, did I want to go see Celtic Frost, but I was 19 and it was 21 and over. A lot of the stuff that I knew was interesting was, you know, hidden from me.
I was also there in the summer so it’s obviously completely different then.
Yeah, I was there September through June and as soon as I could I got the hell out.
Well, two more questions. Some very random one’s. I know you’re into hockey. I wanted to know which one’s your favorite NHL team?
I live half an hour from the Hurricanes, so I am a ‘Canes man. They’re a newish team. They used to be the Hartford Whalers. Teams in the south are always fairly young teams. But I’m a ‘Canes fan. Eric Staal is our team captain. We haven’t been very good for several years. I say “we”, you can tell this is my team, right? But they got the Cup a few years ago. So yeah. And also, you know Ruutu, who’s Finnish, plays for the ‘Canes.
Well, also I’m not sure if you’re still following the series but Breaking Bad is continuing on Sunday, are you going to watch the new…
Right man! I just watched the last two episodes of last season last night to remind myself. It’s pretty… yeah, dude! *laughs*
Well, anything else you want to add?
I do hope we get to play in Finland at some point. Twenty years of doing this and still never played a Finnish show. We had one booked one time and it fell off the routing as the routing got… it would’ve I think it would’ve been a 14 hour drive to get to this show. But I hope to see it at some point.
I saw you in Vancouver but I hope to see you in Finland as well.
Ripple Rock #2 available in 1-2 weeks. Contact: ripplerockradio[at]gmail[dot]com. You can also check out The Mountain Goats here: http://www.mountain-goats.com/