Transient Reality with The Urinals
Photographs and Interview by Sylvia Juncosa also known as “Sly-J”
Urinals were interviewed August 7, 2010, sitting under the grapefruit tree at Sly-J's Los Angeles home. Present were the Urinals members John Talley-Jones (bass, lead vocals), Kevin Barrett (drums), and Rob Roberge (guitar), and Kat Talley-Jones, wife of John and a contributor to the band.
(a large grapefruit falls from the tree above, narrowly missing Kathy)
Kat: This might not be a good place to sit …
Rob: C'mon, it gives it an element of … uh ...
John: … Terror!
SJ: The Urinals are all unusually clever people. It's just a 3-piece band, but your combined IQ would weigh down any tour bus. What do you guys talk about while on the road? You must have some unusual conversations.
Rob : Weird scientific theories …
Kat: Different sexual positions ...
Kevin: Usually we spend the first hour in the morning -
Kevin: - Talking about whoever we spent the night with … bitching about them ...
Rob: And then we make fun of John and all his containers of food
Kat: And his container rituals
Rob: About an hour in, he'll have a snack. And the snack is in some system that's like those Russian dolls that are all inside of each other. He has this, like, World War 1 K-Ration silver tin that opens into 37 compartments. And one has a raisin, and one has a nut … and he mixes them
SJ: But if it's like the Russian dolls, and inside each container is another yet smaller one, when do you get to the food? You'd never get to eat … you'd just keep opening cartons …
John: (very serious) If you have an organized system it's very easy to find what you want
Rob: He mixes the foods, and he eats, and Kevin and I are kind of like squirrels under the table, we get whatever drops down … So yeah, about an hour in, we make fun of John for the way he carries containers
Weird Theories and the Eternal Digression
Rob: Kevin has this theory about dust. This has been a constant discussion while on the road. It's a theory that is based in science, and we've asked an engineer friend about it, a guy who does prototype cars and stuff, he knows science …
Kevin: The basic theory is … Okay for combustion there are three elements: fuel, oxygen, and heat. It's a ratio, you need the proper ratio. If you increase one element enough, the other ones become relatively insignificant. Like when you make kindling you're increasing the surface area of the wood, so you need less heat and less oxygen to get a fire going. Or if you have a super-oxygenated thing, it's very flammable.
John: It can be an accelerant in a fire
Kevin: Right. So, if you take anything, and grind it down fine enough, into a super-fine powder, it gets to the point where the natural heat, ambient heat, could cause it to explode.
Kat: Spontaneous combustion
Rob: So Kev's theory is that if you grind anything into a fine enough powder it could ignite at room temperature
SJ: So that's what happened to Spinal Tap?
Rob: We spend many hours on the road discounting Kevin's theory. In ways that amuse us.
SJ: Sure. Thinking of things you could grind up …
Rob: Any time we'd see anything powder-like, we'd wonder if it were going to explode. If Kevin's theory were right that is. But it doesn't hold water.
Drugs and Bank Robberies
John: We usually deconstruct the experiences of the night before. We talk about the bands we played with, the experiences of the club, and so on. We all bring some different observation into it.
Rob: Talk about all the drugs I avoided.
SJ: Really? Are you on a drug-avoiding regimen?
Kevin: Except in Seattle when you asked if anyone had any Percodan
Rob: Well I'd hurt my back! And I jokingly said 'Hey if anyone has any pain medication or something' and this kid comes up to me and says 'Well I've got some morphine …'
SJ: Morphine !?
Kevin: Yes, and he was just going to give it to him.
SJ: Morphine for free ?!
Kevin: Yes, he said 'Normally I sell it, but you're in the Urinals'
Rob: Yeah, and I'm like [anguished] Go away! Like where were you 15 years ago? Grrr! Free morphine!
SJ: Yeah. Back in the day, you had to lose a leg or something to get that stuff.
Rob: I would have!
John: Or have a heart attack … They gave it to me [for the heart attack a few years back] … I hated it
Rob: That's so horrible. That's so sick. Really. That depresses me to hear.
John: I thought it was hideous. Very unhappy with it. I couldn't sleep.
SJ: That's why I think all drugs should be legal. I don't think you'd have more heroin addicts.
Rob: Right. I don't think you'd have more. I agree.
SJ: Because you have all the people who don't find it a pleasant experience, normal people, who say why would I pay money to fall asleep … or to throw up …
Rob: And it would be safer, you'd know what you were buying
SJ: Right, all the benefits of lower crime, maybe bring in some tax money …
Rob: Prohibition on drugs hasn't reduced drug addicts, and it's surely fueled crime.
SJ: And then we're spending all this money on prisons. We're the worst in that regard.
Rob: And now they're privatizing prisons. It's a terrible idea to incentivize incarcerating people. They make more money the more people they put in prison. A society shouldn't have an incentive to lock people up.
Kevin: There shouldn't be a profit in that. That's crazy.
Rob: It's just a mindset that has nothing to do with rehabilitation, and everything to do with greed and the warehousing of humanity. It's nuts.
Kat: And the Texans were the innovators of it.
SJ: Plus they would have no incentive to give good care
Kat: Or to let them out
Rob: Even in the public system, here in California, most of our prisons don't have 12-step programs -
SJ: Which cost nothing!
Rob: - and over 70% of those in prison are there for drug or alcohol-related offenses. And they don't have this (free) rehabilitation, or access to it. It's insane.
Kevin: Although there was some guy in San Diego, he was in his late 60s, early 70s, he'd been in prison most of his life, and he was now out, and couldn't get any kind of public assistance, get on Medi-Care or anything, so he robbed a bank to go back to jail. It was like “Well, I know what I'm getting in there.It's not great, but I can't get anything at all out here.”
SJ: Wow … how long had he been in prison?
Kevin: I think on and off most of his adult life
John: Was this the same bank robber that you stopped the other day?
Kevin: (laughs) no …
SJ: Wait – you stopped a bank robber?
Rob: He thinks he witnessed a getaway
Kevin: Yes. I saw some one driving, they drove on the sidewalk … he came right through the intersection, side-swiped another car, hubcaps were rolling everywhere, I heard it drive off … I thought maybe it was the end of a car chase ..
SJ: There were no cops in pursuit?
Kevin: No! That was the thing, I was thinking if it's a car chase shouldn't there be more than one car?
SJ: Otherwise why not just drive normal
Kevin: Or stop and park.
Kat: John and I were in a bank when it got robbed. John opened the door for the bank robber
John: We were in Santa Monica, entering the bank. I held the door for Kathy, and I held the door for this guy as well, and I was pissed off because he didn't thank me.
Kevin: I mean, are we a society or what?
Kat: And then he pushed past the line
John: Yeah! Line-cutter too! I had my eye on him, because I was still pissed off at him, and he goes straight to the front, with a bag, puts the bag on the counter, and the teller is putting money in the bag. And then he ran out the door. And he didn't thank me that time either!
Kat: And the dye pack on the money exploded, pink smoke came out, he dropped the bag, he's covered with pink dye, but he picked up the bag again and ran and got away
SJ: I have to get it straight on the Urinals history and personnel changes. And that band in the 80s with so very, very many drummers ...
John: The Urinals history: in the beginning there was Kevin, drummer, who was and still is a drummer. And I'm the bass player and the singer. In regard to the guitarists, the very first one we had was Steve Willard -
SJ: Really? There was a guitarist before Kjehl?
John: Kjehl was playing keyboards. And we were a 5-piece with another singer …
SJ: All this time I never knew that! Did everyone know this except me?
John: Don't know. It wasn't very interesting
SJ: Well, it will be interesting, for our readers, once I add in costumes and ...
John: Actually we did have costumes! The singer wore a trash bag, I had an X on my crotch, out of electrical tape …
Kevin: It was only one show … and we did promo photos
John: And we did some songs that were later Urinals. “She's a Drone”, “In the City” …
SJ: Did you know you were the first band, 20 years ahead of the current trend, of having an all-female tribute band devoted to you?
Rob: You mean, like AC/D-she? … There's a female KISS now ...
SJ: It was called the Urinettes
John: I heard about it, I wasn't there
SJ: I was in it. We did all the Urinals tunes but female. “Male Masturbation” became “Female Masturbation” and so on. It was me, my former bandmate Sue, and on drums was Kevin here, dressed in drag
Rob: Did he make all the same mistakes dressed as a woman?
Kevin: Of course I did! I was playing in heels!
SJ: And as for other Urinals tributes … this might sound mean but … Mika Miko. They sounded very heavily Urinals-influenced.
Kat: A lot of Smell bands are
SJ: And what do you think of that?
John: We've been playing at the Smell periodically with some of those bands and it's pretty amazing because a lot of this current generation of punk bands coming up, they're familiar with our stuff, they know the lyrics -
SJ: That's crazy
John: I know. It's very gratifying. It's really cool. They're very enthusiastic and energetic and approachable and fun to talk to … it's really cool. No Age has covered us, for instance.
Kevin: “Male Masturbation”
Rob: A really good version
SJ: So how did it happen that this trend started? I mean, were you just sitting there discussing your sex positions and weird theories and whatever you talk about, and one day you open the LA Weekly and it says No Age is covering your tunes? Or were people contacting you or what?
John: It's the Web. Word gets out there. And people are looking for … an authentic punk experience
Kevin: I talked to the drummer from No Age and he said they're really into the music, they study it, they're scholars. He said they were somewhere in Chicago, at some label, and a guy played it for them and they loved it, so they searched it out. It does hold up as something really weird …
Rob: I have no ego attachment to it, I wasn't on the early recordings because I wasn't in the band, but just as a fan of it, I love the stuff, it seems sort of out of time, a cinderblock garage-y sound that's really fun. When we played SXSW and the 20-year-olds were into it, I did the math in my head and they weren't born at the time this came out. It's really cool. People who are younger than the songs are liking it.
SJ: Maybe you hit on why that is, though, John. Searching for the authentic punk rock experience. These are kids that grew up in the age of Green Day. When a punk rock band could play arenas. For our generation that was incongruous to say the least. It was almost if a punk band were asked they should refuse.
Kat: It's not punk rock then.
John: I think also there's been a resurgence in interest in specifically Los Angeles punk rock of the late 70s, early 80s. We're part of that too.
Rob: We've seen that in publishing. Prior to 10 years ago there were almost no books about the LA punk scene, only New York. The last 10 years there have been a lot about LA
SJ: I might be self-centered but I kind of think LA had the best punk scene – ok maybe not “best” - At least, there are so many bands, there is a lot of stimulation
Rob: After the late 70s LA was much more interesting than New York
John: LA is so vast, it had a lot of micro-scenes, as opposed to New York which is relatively compact
Rob: New York has the Bowery
John: Right, and that's it, or at least as far as we know. Historically there was probably a lot more going on than we knew. But in LA you had these micro-scenes … in these liner notes [shows us the “Keats Rides a Harley” compilation CD] it tells about a scene around the Westside, Pacific Palisades, UCLA, that didn't really get a lot of attention at that point. The Hollywood bands were getting a lot of attention when we first started to play. And of course soon after that the hardcore bands from the beach cities …
SJ: The OC thing
John: That sort of usurped everything
Rob: Who was Hollywood then?
Kevin: Like the Weirdos, the Screamers
SJ: X, Alleycats …
Rob: Then the Huntington beach scene was like TSOL, Social Distortion
SJ: And there was the South Bay and SST scene
Kat: Right - the Church, Hermosa Beach, the Last … [in these scenes] one band would get kind of successful and then invite everyone else to open and it would spread out from there
SJ: So what do you think about the LA scene now?
John: Scenes, plural. There's stuff happening now that's kind of positive and good. A lot of nascent bands that are playing the Smell, for instance, and then coming up and getting more successful, like No Age and Mika Miko. That's the scene we're most familiar with because we've been playing there. I saw a reference to the Smell as a “punk rock incubator”. That made a lot of sense to me.
SJ: So you don't think the Smell is too grown up now. I mean, it was totally awesome when it first came up and was so natural and organic …
John: I think it still is
Kevin: It still feels like a clubhouse. A real community. We played Olympia, in a similar kind of place, and the woman who put on the show had never put on a show before but she was in a band from Washington. Her band tried to get booked at the Smell but it didn't work out. Even still, they went there anyway and spent the night. Even if they weren't going to play, they were excited about just being there. Kids think it's a Mecca to travel to … and it's not like the Whisky or something where people are making money off it. They still have kids selling the brownies for a buck. It seems like it's stayed true to itself.
SJ: I'm mostly in the scene around the Redwood, that's cool, it's like Raji's used to be … but there's a lot of LA clubs that put tons of bands on a bill and still can't draw …
John: The venue has a lot to do with that. The Smell has got its own scene because it's a venue that's got a philosophy, essentially. And a lot of clubs just don't.
SJ: Right, exactly!
John: Or else you need to bring your own culture to it by assembling the best bill possible, that makes the most amount of sense
SJ: Yeah, that's what bookers have to learn. The Redwood does that pretty well mostly … and there's La Cita, and the 5 Star, more stuff downtown …
John: Yes, downtown is very happening right now
SJ: Hollywood, though, Hollywood is impossible. I can hardly even go there anymore.
Kat: It's gotten trendy and glamorous
Kevin: It's all pay-to-play now
SJ: The Strip is pay-to-play, yes
Rob: Safari Sam's was the only one, they tried to bring it back, but went belly-up
SJ: What I'm hoping for is something around here, this neighborhood. The Silver Factory, right over there on Jefferson …
Kat: There used to be a lot of one-off shows in spaces up and down Crenshaw … Polish Hall … Blackie's on La Brea …
Kevin vs Reality
The discussion has led to someone named Vorhees ...
Rob: Vorhees knows everything about everything. Kind of the anti-Kevin.
SJ: What?! Did you just say “anti-Kevin” ?
SJ: So you are saying Kevin knows nothing about anything ?!
Kat: He knows a lot, it's just not right
John: Just don't ask him about a historical event
Kevin: They don't concern me. I have a general disregard for that.
Rob: But he knows a lot about a lot
SJ: [to Kevin] So, you like the present better? Or … ?
Kat: He likes fiction better
Kevin: I can only be sure … I have a rule that anything I say, it either happened to me, or someone told me, or I dreamed it. But I'm not always clear which one. That's just a given. So when I say something to someone, I don't have to say “Oh by the way, that may not have actually happened, I might have dreamt it.” People who know me know that already.
John: It's sort of an approximation of reality
Rob: He's sort of Buddhist about his knowledge. It's not as defined by specifics as Western people expect
John: He's not restricted by that
Rob: A running joke in the band is … I'll ask Kevin “Before I joined, did you play at such-and-such club?” The Palladium, the Fillmore, whatever. And he'd say “Oh yeah. We did, it was great”. Like the 12 Galaxies in San Francisco, he said the band had played there. So I email John and tell him I'm talking to the booker of 12 Galaxies, can I mention the earlier show? And John says “We never played there!”
Kevin: That's equally likely
SJ: [to the rest of the band] You aren't annoyed by this? It must be frustrating sometimes, like when you're trying to book shows.
Rob: We're amused by it
Kevin: That's why I'm not in charge of certain things. I can't do the merch table for instance.
SJ: Ha! I can imagine. “People did or did not buy stuff. We do or do not have money.”
Rob: If Kev sells 3 T-shirts, somehow we're down 7 dollars
SJ: I had someone working for me like that once
Kevin: John created this really complicated system. If they buy a CD it's $12, but if they buy a CD and a T-shirt it's $21, but if they get a button and not a T-shirt …
Rob: Then we owe them $30
Kevin: Something like that! So these kids come up and want a CD …
Rob: And you pull out a slide-rule … an abacus ...
Kevin: They'll say they want a CD but only have $9 … so ok then if you get a T-shirt too, then I think it works out. And then I'd end up having to pull out my wallet … here's $20 … I don't know, John has a checklist, we sold x y and z …
Kat: John balances it to the penny
Rob: We're pretty good at having people handle only the jobs they are good at in this band. John does the organizational things. And Kevin and I show up.
Kat: And you're good at that. Pretty much on time too.
John: We're known as the most punctual band in rock. We're always there when they tell us to be there.
Bringing New Angles to an Angular Band
SJ: I've been a fan since the earliest days, the early 80s at least … I always thought of [former guitarist] Kjehl as an integral part; the Urinals was an entity with a distinctive sound and Kjehl was very much a part of that. Now it's a totally different sound. I'm just wondering what the band was thinking when looking to replace Kjehl. Was it planned that you'd get someone with a more distorted, sustained sound and rock style? Or did you just find Rob and accept the sound he has?
John: I think the band doesn't need to be a slavish imitator of it's past. It needs to move forward and change, and we need to incorporate different stylistic inputs
Kevin: And the only way that's going to happen is if somebody else does them
John: Yeah, because Kevin and I, we do what we do, we're sort of the unchanging element of the band, the rhythm section sounds like the rhythm section. But each guitarist brings a slightly different color to the material. Kjehl had his own very specific sound, Rod had his own specific sound, and of course Rob brings his own interests and interpretation to the mix. I think that's how you keep the songs alive, is to allow them to be re-interpreted.
SJ: And you, Rob: how do you feel about filling Kjehl's shoes? His rhythmic, clean, staccato shoes? For old fans like me, Kjehl was very much a part of the sound. Maybe sometimes some of the new fans too, who studied the old material, surely some of them are purists ? Sometimes fans can be very intense …
Rob: Well sometimes … like in Wisconsin, there was a very drunk woman who asked us to sign “What is Real and What is Not” and there was the picture of Rod … if she hadn't been so drunk I wouldn't have done it . But she was so hammered, it didn't make much sense to try and explain I'm the new guy, that's not me … so I just signed it, Rod Barker, and made a smiley face, and let her go on her way
SJ: So is that forgery? You just admitted to a crime!
Rob: Well there was no money, I didn't buy a house with his signature ..
SJ: But if that signature is worth money …
Kevin: No. It is not
Rob: I actually do feel a responsibility. I really love a lot of the early stuff. And I don't play much like Kjehl or Rod. And I come from a different background, mostly two-guitar bands, bands that played blues-based, country punk stuff. I've been in art bands that were more like Television. I haven't been in a lot of three-pieces where I'm the only guitar player and have to fill that space. I love the guitar sound on the early Urinals stuff, that surfy garage sound. I love the guitar sound on those first few singles. But I tried playing with that sound live and it just doesn't fill much space. And on the newer material it doesn't sound right. So it's finding a marriage, between the responsibility of not fucking up the old stuff, doing right by it, and doing right by Kevin, John and the other guitar players. Some of the old ones didn't sound good enough to me for us to do them live. There were some John and Kev wanted to do that I wasn't comfortable doing. It's not a better or worse thing.
There's always some pressure when you're the new person in a band that's been around for a long time. The next record is the first one with me on it. If people say it sucks, I'm going to be thinking “well I'm the variable, I'm the one who brought the suck to the band”.
Kat: There's the element of time too though. There's other variables.
Rob: Not in my self-centered, self-loathing take on things
Kevin: There was a strain of reviews for the “What is Real” record which were like “Oh well they used to be great but now it's just lame”
Rob: That's the downside, the flipside to the nostalgia that John was talking about earlier, for the “authentic” first wave of punk. Is then there's, you know, the definition of the “hipster”, like someone who says “I like their early stuff better” and someone replies “Well this is their first single” and they go “Well I have something before their first single! … I taped them at their first rehearsal! And it's even better! “ … “No me! I taped them before their first rehearsal, and it's even better than that!”
People want to own the authenticity of being the first to be hip to that thing, and whatever's new can't match it. Nostalgia is a lie by it's nature. It's remembering a past that didn't exist.
John: And our responsibility, as musicians [puts in quotes] is to continue to develop and move forward while honoring the past as well. We're not a nostalgia act. We do play a lot of the older songs in our set, but we also play songs that we wrote just last week.
Kevin: And we love the old songs too. I'd feel bad to not play them just because they're old.
John: They're still fun to play, too
SJ: And people like 'em
John: This is the problem. When we try to play an old song, teach it to Rob, he asks what key is it in? What is the root chord? And I don't know!
Rob: John's like: “Oh it's … uh … fattest string, second dot.” And I'm like : “You played for 32 fucking years and you don't know what note that is ?! An open string note?!”
John: What's an open string?
Rob: An E, for example!
John: I know what E is. The fat one on the top.
SJ: But with bass, they're all fat
Rob: And that's actually the bottom not the top
John: You see, this is the problem
Rob: And so, with some of the older tunes – or some of the new ones – when any of us bring a new idea in to work up together, I'll show up and say “Oh it just goes D F C A, and then a minor in the bridge ...” And John will be like “What dot?”
Or when he brings an idea to me – actually one of the cool things about the Urinals stuff is that John is a really unconventional bass player and Kevin is a really unconventional drummer. It's been really cool to learn how to play with them. But one of the hard things is when we do old material, and John doesn't know the names of notes, and he frequently doesn't play the root note, as a bass player.
Kat: He has no idea what that even means
Rob: Most bass players, if the guitar is playing a G chord, the bass will play a G. John might play something entirely different, a third or a fifth or a seventh of it, and it's a cool bass part, but it doesn't give me any sort of bearing on what the song might be doing guitar-wise. So I have to listen to it, and he gives me tips. It's sort of like people who speak two different languages, forming a third language. A musical Spanglish.
SJ: I've been a Urinals fan since the early 80s. My personal favorite was “Horizontal” -
Rob: That has one of the coolest solos ever … what did you play on that John?
John: It's a Muzon. From Mattel. A toy synthesizer. I still have it. It's really cool.
SJ: That song “Horizontal” is so ingenious. A one-note song (actually two but basically the one) -
John: It's about the rhythm
SJ: Yes, and it's a Horizontal song, which is very clever. The song is so good that I can merely describe it to people who've never heard it and they say “Wow. That is really good.” That's pretty ingenious to have a song people can like without even hearing.
Kat: A meta-song
SJ: In the beginning you were very simple. Because … well … because you didn't know how to play ...
SJ: And you Kevin even had a toy drumset ...
Kevin: Yes. For the first two years
SJ: But now the Urinals are all grown up. With real instruments, and real amplifiers, and you know how to play now, so where do you go? And still stay true to the roots.
John: When we first started, and realized we didn't know how to play, the idea was to turn that into an advantage. How do you do that? By thinking about what you're doing and not trying to play beyond your capability, but being clever about the limited resources at hand. The songs were constructed with that in mind. “Horizontal” is a perfect example of that. But I think you'll find that is a recurring theme throughout the songwriting in the last three years. The last song on this record, the title song, is sort of like “Horizontal” but 25 years later, a riff on that basic concept. I always like returning to that. I always look at the way a song is constructed, as opposed to “composed”. To me it's a geometrical puzzle that has to be worked out in my head. It's a visual thing. I see what the songs look like, what they feel like. Geometrical shapes associated with the songs. I approach it with a different perspective. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I'm sort of incapable of learning chords and notes and stuff like that.
Rob: You know the notes, you play them. You just don't know the names of them.
SJ: There is definitely something there, an aspect that is different from other musicians ...
Rob: An angularity
SJ: … and it's in the whole band … [to Kevin] It's in your drumming too …
Rob: It was hard to learn to adjust to that
SJ: And Kjehl kind of had it too. But now Rob you're a different new thing. That's what I was trying to get figured out here.
John: And now do you have a satisfactory response?
SJ: I have no idea how to make it make sense for our readers, but I do think we're getting closer to the mystery that is the Urinals
John: You don't want to solve all the mysteries
Rob: It was fun to learn how to play with these guys. They're unlike any rhythm section I've played with. There's very little “roll” to the rock n' roll of the Urinals. It's a very angular band. At times melodic, at times very catchy, but it doesn't “swing”. There's no backbeat. It was really hard to learn how to play with that. I'm not a punk player, I don't come from the all-downstrokes-16th-note-32nd-note school, I'm not a folk strummer either. It was really interesting to learn where the spaces fit. I had to rethink how a guitar fits in with bass and drums.
Kevin: I've had the experience where people said they tried to cover our songs, good musicians, yet they have said they don't understand, they don't know why John and I do things the way we do. Yet I can't do it any other way, this is what I do, I don't have a pre-conceived notion of what it should be. John and I like to do melody parts. With Kjehl that worked out, because he was a rhythm machine.
Rob: Kevin and John were always very creative about working within their limitations.
A lot of people go out of their way to force limitation on their work. Like the film group in New York, Dogma, things like that. Or that guy, I forget the name, who did a novel without the letter “e”, which is the most common letter. Think about it. If you can't have E, right away there are all these things you can't do. You don't have pronouns, you don't have “the”, you can't have it be past tense.
So, you put in one format limitation and you're forced to think in a different way. I never would have thought of “Ack Ack Ack Ack”. I would have thought a song needs at least three chords! But I love that song. Two notes. That's brilliant.
John: Originally I wanted just one note for that song. But Kjehl insisted on having two. And then Kathy wrote the lyrics. So that song had three co-writers. I wrote one note, Kjehl wrote the other, and Kathy wrote the words.
SJ: One more subject I'd like to discuss. The state of the music business today. First: It's much more DIY now. You've always been very DIY, maybe this is fine for you.
John: There's less money out there than there used to be. We've stayed true to the DIY asthetic in that we own our masters, we own the songwriting, copyrighting and all that. But collecting money that's owed is tricky. It always helps to have a larger entity that will go out and collect royalties for you. We just don't have the person-power for that, necessarily. But at least it's our material. We own it, we can liscense it as we see fit. But moneywise, there's not that much out there. Especially in this age of piracy and free downloading and such.
Kevin: What's that label in Seattle … they're going to give downloads free but sell T-shirts.
SJ: Believe it or not I lived off my music for 10 years. I kept expenses low, toured all the time, kept my publishing, and sold T-shirts. But now -
John: Now that's all that's left
SJ: Exactly. I don't see a way to survive now. What's worse, no one else does either. All our most creative people – musicians, songwriters, novelists, journalists, actors, directors – all those careers have been decimated, and none of us can figure out a way to save our livelihood and the love of our lives.
So I'm asking every musician, and I'm asking you: any ideas?
Rob: Music is in the worst shape of all those careers you mentioned. I'm in publishing, and it's in really bad shape too. But publishing never had a golden era the way music did. It's always been difficult, never been a blockbuster business.
But the music industry has totally collapsed. It's taken the biggest hit of all the art forms.
John: I think you have to ignore the realities, the situation out there, and decide that if you're going to be a musician, you're not going to be successful financially, and you just have to do it because it's what you want to do.
Kevin and I discovered that with Radwaste. That band had a shot at possibly being a major-label act. We took a meeting at Capitol Records, things were happening, but it all collapsed. I realized at that point, I'm not doing this with an eye toward being monetarily successful. I'm doing it because I enjoy it, because I feel like I need to express myself in those terms. There was no looking back after that. Once you decide you're not going to make money, you're home free.