Friday, April 25, 2008

Australia Part Nine: The Finale...

Early flight from Wellington to Christchurch. After time at hotel, Ko, Pat and I end up at a small little outdoor festival in a back alley. I remember eating wallaby on a stick and some crocodile (or was it alligator?) meat, as well as a more traditional German sausage with ketchup. Catsup. What's up? Shut up. I got some of that red stuff on the bandage covering my thumb and it kinda looked like blood. I had a big ole waffle cone of sorbet too. Good times eating.

At a resale shop down the street I saw a reproduction of what I must assume is a fairly popular painting of two naked pubescent girls from behind warming themselves near the orange glow of what appears to be a fire place. This same image hung on the walls of my childhood home while I was growing up. I have no idea where that one ended up, but was suddenly hit with a pang of nostalgia. The shit was framed though and there was no way getting it back to the US. Oh well.

After soundcheck we went to the pizza place right behind the club and had a meal with some of the Datsuns and their crew. It was there when I commented that it seems so many New Zealand women have tattoos. Women that don't look like in a million years they'd ever get tattoos. I mentioned this with spite as I wholly disdain tattoos. Sonic Newth, the Datsuns sound soundguy then took it a step further by saying "Every girl in New Zealand has tattoos. Trust me. I've checked."

So when our waitress comes to take our order, I begin the proceedings by asking her if she has any tattoos. When she replies that she does not, the table erupts in jubilation as we've found the Last of the Mohicans. As she walked away, Newth made a very valid point when he said "She may not have any tattoos, but she did have her tongue pierced."

He's right. That's just as bad. What's the deal ladies of New Zealand?

The Transistors opened again. Them boys got vim.

I guess we played well. I was able to perform with the bulbous bandaging on my thumb. I don't remember much else other than the Datsuns were particularly solid.

Lobby call the next morning was freakishly early but I stayed behind. As I'd been told by NZ tour liaison John Baker, I would be able to ride to Dunedin with the Transistors and hopefully make a stop off at Peter King's in Ashburton.

So with the Dirtbombs already gone, I'm frantically trying to get ahold of Baker, being told by the front desk that I need to get out of my hotel room and the whole time wondering if maybe I should've just ridden with the band.

It doesn't help that I've got at least four different phone numbers from Baker…US cell phones of ages past mixed with his parents' home numbers and what could possibly even be shady Auckland pay phone digits. Geez.

When I finally get ahold of him, Baker informs me that I won't be able to meet with Peter King on this day. I told him that was fine but I still needed a ride to Dunedin. In a concerned voice he told me I should get ahold of the Transistors quickly as they'd probably already left.

Fucking great. All this was shit that Baker said he would hook up and take care of and now I'm sitting in Christchurch with the possibility of not getting to the night's gig. Ugh. If you want something done correctly, you always need to do it yourself and I would prove that in the next day or so. Needless to say, I had a vague fear that I might not make it to that night's show.

So I called the boys in the Transistors who were indeed already an hour outside of town and told them sheepishly that I needed a ride to the gig. They so very nicely turned around and came to pick me up.

What stand-up gentlemen.

So when they arrived it became an issue of how to fit me and my two bags of oversized luggage in the hatchback along with all their gear. I felt like a dick with my big-ass bag of clothes but they were so damn accommodating. I ended up in the front passenger's seat while one of the fellas drove and the other two cramped in the back with a bass drum in between them and a floor tom on one of their laps.

The drive to Dunedin was nice…we passed the world HQ of Cookie Time, a legendary company responsible for many a NZ high school lunch. They're a bit meal-y for me, but I'm told the secret is popping one in the microwave for ten seconds. Nonetheless, in an effort to assimilate, I would become a wholehearted Cookie Time enthusiast by the time I left NZ and urge everyone else to search them out if ever they get the opportunity.

I played DJ for the Transistors guys…pulling out my laptop/iPod and listening to shit like Death and the upcoming Mudhoney records, anything that I thought they would dig. And they seemed to genuinely appreciate it, so that was nice.

We got into town and found the club and I found the Dbombs and we drove to Baldwin Street, supposedly the steepest street in the world. Shit was pretty crazy, we were literally screaming as we inched our way to the top and waving our arms in the air alluding to the roller coaster action proving your balls on our descent. Urban legend has it that some crazy kids had attempted to ride all the way down in garbage cans with wheels and actually died while doing so. All I could do was feel sorry for whoever the letter carrier for that street is. My words do this street no justice, it truly just needs to be experienced.

From there we checked into our day room. Again, I feel the concept of day rooms is unneeded for a band of our ilk, but this particular room (across the street from a row of university houses, one of which, inexplicably, was labeled, I shit you not, the Pink Pussy) felt like the kind of places you stay on a summer vacation. Kind of cottage-y, fake wood paneling, old furniture that surprisingly not appropriately worn for it's age, a small television with rabbit ears…it's so very quaint and we enjoyed watching the episode of The Simpsons featuring recent inadvertent Dirtbombs collaborator Alan Moore. Good times.

Back at the club was a weird scene. The attic-style dressing room was crammed with random shit and for awhile there seemed to be a lack of someone in charge.

The Aesthetics were awesomely terrible in the best of ways. I believe the guitar player showed up around the second or third song, the lead singer seemed like he may be slightly retarded and it was all so shambling that I could not help but love it. Why didn't I think to talk to them? Dumb dumb dumb on my part.

The Transistors played quickly, hitting them hard and fast and off the stage before the crowd knew what happened. I'm a big supporter of that approach.

What we anticipated to be a grudge gig actually ended going pretty great. Paid attendance was 98 people and for a Sunday night in a sleepy college town with (as I'm told) no promotion, that's success. And the crowd dug it. Afterwards I gave away a couple of t-shirts to kids who were pooling money together in hopes of sharing one shirt in that Bart Simpson, Milhouse Van Houten and Martin Prince "Radioactive Man #1" sort of way.

Across the street from the club was the world's most depressing supermarket. No more description available, shit was just depressing. I bought a peanut slab and some microwavable noodles. I've recently become addicted to noodles that cook in the micro and there's a wide selection available in the Southern Hemisphere locales.

Ko bought paper party crowns from the supermarket and we all put them on in the van in celebration of a show well-done. Sometimes you just need to revel in stupidity, to just embrace some total geekdom. Our driver was hard-headed and would not budge in his refusal to put one on. We gave him immense shit for it and when someone fails to swallow their pride on petty little stuff like that, they just don't seem to be part of the team.

We stayed an hour or two outside of town at a huge cottage-like place where everyone got their own room, complete with pre-arranged stuffed animal on the bed. We woke up mega-early mainly for the flight we had to catch, but also for the remote possibility of a rendezvous with the legendary Peter King.

I'd already tried to get ahold of him by phone numerous times, so I wasn't expecting much from my last-ditch call as we were passing through Ashburton. As if the gods were watching o'er me, he answered and was primed for us to come visit.

I suppose now is the time I explain that Peter King is the premier lathe-cut vinyl technician in the world. For the uninitiated, a lathe-cut record is one that is created in real time (ie, however long the song is will be how long it takes to make the record) whereas 99.9% of the records in the world are created using a compression mold in a matter of seconds.

So lathe-cuts are particularly labor-intensive and lend themselves to limited runs. Also, they need to be on a material conducive to accepting grooves being cut into them. Because of that, lathe-cut records have only a fraction of the lifespan (ie, plays) that a regular "pressed" record will have. Nowadays lathe-cuts are mainly utilized by noise bands looking to do a small, collectable run of records, because really, who listens to a noise record more than once?

Getting to King's residence/studio was tricky to say the least. When I tried to get directions from him over the phone he wisely told me that I'd need to buy a map before we went any further. I did and from there he was still about 20-30 miles from where we were. That's 20-30 miles along the most desolate, vacant, literal middle-of-fucking-nowhere farmland in the world.

And even from there, he told me to get to the Mt. Somers general store and ask for directions from there. First off, I don't know if I've ever been to an actual general store in my life, let alone one that can tell you the directions to the residence of one of its customers.

Strangely enough, King was literally right around the corner from the general store, living in space-age plastic-looking domicile. He greeted us kindly then took us to the laboratory where my mind would be blown.

Inside he had four separate lathes piggybacked to the same stereo rack so as to be able to cut 4 records at the same time. Genius. He showed us how, using a grinder and microscope, he would bevel an old phonograph needle to to a 45 degree point so as to optimize his cutting process. I handed him a CD of something special and he ran a test cut at differing volume levels.

The mastering job on the CD was solid so he was able to cut the disc pretty loud without fear of distortion. Before actually cutting though he applies a thin layer of polish to the 1mm thick clear polycarbonate 7" blank made from a material that is intended for roofing purposes.

Did I mention Peter King is (or was at this point in time) blind in one eye?

The unfortunate circumstance was that we really were trying to catch a plane and we had just around a half-hour to take in the whole process. So we still missed out on some cool shit, like how he makes picture discs, prints labels, or does shaped records (triangle, square, hexagon).

I was happy with the two copies of the special lathe-cut 7" but felt like I'd taken the rest of the band on this unfruitful wild goose chase. So once we were back in the van I apologized to everyone, for the fact that we had to get up early, that the whole trip to King's was basically just on my vanity and just for the whole inconvenience of it all.

"Are you kidding?" they seemed to echo in unison, "that was probably the coolest thing we've ever done on tour!" That truly warmed my heart as did everyone plotting what THEY were gonna get done for their own lathe-cut records.

We got to the airport just in time and appreciated the fact that those manning the check-in counter have an unwritten policy of not charging us for a single overweight bag, rather they calculate the average weight of ALL our bags and if it's under the limit we're in the clear. Cool or what?

We would play that day, St. Patrick's Day, in Auckland. The show was alright, but nowhere near our other headlining show in town four years earlier. Apparently garage rock was all the rage then and we saw the benefits of that. Nowadays the Kiwis go for beard rock (Iron and Wine) or disco dance (Glass Candy) and we're on the outs.

Spent time before the show chilling at the then-closed-but-open-by-now Department of Conversation. It's a comfy bar in the tradition of your neighborhood watering hole, complete with built-in record collection and room for dancing. Good friends Amber and Henry (the geniuses behind "The Art of the Band T-shirt" book) are the proprietors and they even helped me re-dress the bandage on my thumb. That's true friendship, so hold on to it tight when you find it.

The Situations started the night with their affable UK Sixties thing and then later backed up the legendary Ray Columbus for his set. The Dirtbombs did two Columbus covers which were intended for a New Zealand tour single, but for some reason unexplained to us said 7" never materialized. Oh well, maybe it'll be there for our next New Zealand tour. Either way, Ray was a consummate performer, told a story behind every song and brought the house down with his classic "Kick Me."

The stage at the Whammy Bar had an odd pillar right in the middle of it. Kinda threw me off not being able to see Troy at times.

We went out for kebabs afterwards. We had most of the next day free, our flight not leaving til late. I walked around Karangahape Road, bought a t-shirt with an AK-47 on it from an Army surplus store and generally enjoyed a sunny day walking around by myself.

The band as a whole had a fantastic meal before making our way to the airport. Once we'd checked in and paid the pesky departure tax, Baker took us to the grocery store where I bought an entire case of Peanut Slabs. While I failed to find Peanut Slab ice cream or meet Flight of the Conchords, I did get to meet Wayne Anderson, watch Peter King cut a record just for me, tour with the Datsuns and fall in love with Cookie Time. I had the quintessential New Zealand experience.

For more info about Peter King, check out this link...
And for more about Cookie Time...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Brief Respite From the Tour Diary Slog...

Here's an interview done with me after the Detroit Film Theater premier of It Came From Detroit in October 2006. The questioning is done by the always-lovely Tom Hendrickson and I actually like my answers for once. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Australia Part Eight: There Will Be Blood...

Day off in Auckland was wisely spent away from the rest of the band. I've got no problem with the rest of them; it's just that any chance you've got to do your own thing needs to be taken.

So they all went to a black sand beach with the Bellrays. I'd already been there two years ago, so I was alright. Instead, I spent the day driving around Auckland, checking out the different neighborhoods, driving on volcanic islands with supposed buried WWII fighter planes and enjoying all the small-scale cricket matches taking place.

For some reason, Australia and New Zealand both offer a dazzling array of potato chip flavors that are absolutely unfathomable in the States. On this day I would devour an entire bag of roast chicken chips trying to figure a reason why Americans are limited to "cheese", "spicy" or if they're really lucky "spicy cheese" for their chip flavors. Any help?

The main goal of the day would also be to track down some Peanut Slab ice cream. A Peanut Slab is a deceptively simply candy bar…it's merely chocolate and peanuts. Only available in New Zealand, it's a delicious bastard who's slowly made the transition to almond slabs, dark chocolate slabs, coconut slabs and the one-and-a-half times larger super slab. None of which hold a flame to the succulent heaven of the original.

Shortly before my trip I was alerted to the existence of the Peanut Slab in ice cream form and I'd been salivating ever since. The evening was spent hitting a handful of different grocery stores in hopes of turning up some of the savory delight. No one had it and most were certain it wasn't even in production anymore. The whole thing felt like a long-lost night from high school…hanging out at supermarkets, looking for ice cream, nothing more exciting to do, killing time…it was time well-spent then and was reminiscence enjoyed now.

The next morning the band ate together at a highly-recommended brekky place called Benediction on St. Benedict's road. After first hearing the name of the restaurant, I quickly offered up, "I've met some girl's before with a Ben addiction" quickly followed by a half-dozen elbow nudges and "Get it?" repeated incessantly. I would say the joke at least ten more times that day. I know no shame.

From Ben Addix to Real Groovy where I contemplated many a single in the $2 bin. I ultimately passed on stuff by Jale, Tsunami, Soul Asylum (1st single), Jonathan Fire-Eater, the Volcanos and a couple of unknown peculiarities. I did grab an Autolux 7" I'd never seen before (live on KXLU?), some Jap noise 7", a handful of oddball mid-Nineties rock and roll that seemed obscure and probably one or two more 7"s I now forget. I topped the whole thing off with a $40 NZ Sonic Youth "SONIC DEATH" CD from Venlo, Holland in 1983. You never see that shit around, so I was psyched.

After RG we slowly made our way to Hamilton, first stopping at One Tree Hill to check out the expansive view of most all of Auckland. Now the name One Tree Hill is a misnomer as the One Tree on top of the Hill had been chainsaw'd down by angry protesters some 15 years ago. What exists now is barely a stump, but clearly "One Stump Hill" doesn't have the same ring to it. We chilled up there for a bit and tried to get Ko to pet some cattle. She almost fell for it.

On the road to Hamilton, our driver made a quick detour to the residence of one Mr. Wayne Anderson. While mere words will do little justice to this character de resistance, let your mind swallow his performance and let it be known that HBO has supposedly bought the rights to the reality show.

In short, this man lives for the big-voiced bombastic male singers from days of yore. As we waited in his driveway the obscenely loud sound of Tom Jones sprung forth from his opened windows like a tortured pet trying to escape its master. The decoration of his abode is nothing but album covers, cardboard cut-outs, press clippings and anything else related to the likes of Sinatra, Humperdink and their ilk.

Baker had him put on the DVD of the reality show Wayne Anderson: Singer of Songs and to watch it in front of the man was a little surreal itself. But he was quite the gentleman and we were all grateful for having met him and being so generously allowed to walk through his home.

For some unexplained reason the promoter got us day rooms in Hamilton. So we spent maybe an hour or so there before going to the club. It would be family day for the Datsuns as they're from Cambridge, about 20 minutes away from Hammy. Someone's mother would specifically ask for Dirtbombs pins and I was more than happy to oblige.

First band was the New Telepathics and they had a nice no wavey, rhythm-heavy vibe. We played alright. Datsuns jammed too. After the show we were shuttled off to a hotel near the Auckland airport in preparation for our early morning flight. This would mean three different hotels in less than 24 hours. That was kind of cool and kind of depressing.

We were on the same flight at the Dat-O's (downunder slang for the Datsuns) and that's always fun. I walked past the CD/DVD shop and they were playing Kelley Stoltz's Circular Sounds inside so I walked in and feigned interest at their pathetic stock if only to get a dose of that San Franciscan sound. Woo-eee that Stoltz sure knows how to write 'em and it's great to see the usually clueless people of downunder to be hip to the fact so early in the game.

Once in Wellington we checked into the hotel which pushed our numbers to 4 different ones in just over 24 hours. Waltzed over to Slowboat Records and found nothing. Up the street to Real Groovy and contemplated a few releases (The Sonic Youth's Sister on Flying Nun with original uncensored artwork and possibly non-US gatefold) and ended up becoming preoccupied with a strange swelling sensation in my right knee.

So here's where I tell you that I'm a fiend for cracking my joints…knuckles, toes, my back, neck…if there's anything that will make that self-satisfying pop I will vow to find out how to do it. One of the weirder ones is definitely my knees. While it usually works best while laying in bed and rocking them akimbo while keeping my ankles close together, I've developed a method that works while I'm standing up. I set my foot down and with a careful but focused effort, I make a movement that in all likelihood is doing nothing but ruining my life at an accelerated pace.

On this day my knee would begin to unexplainably feel swollen. Of course, my solution to the problem is to keep on popping the thing which really only exacerbates the situation. To top it off, I strike on some weird knee-popping vortex where I'm magically able to pop and re-pop, and re-pop again with no recuperation time necessary, so I must've been popping and locking almost once a minute before I had to make a concerted effort to stop the madness, go back to the hotel and examine the situation.

The knee was visibly swollen. It would continue to be so for a couple of days and my lazy man's hypochondria once again failed to get the better of me.

Soundcheck was vaguely pointless and I kinda skipped out early anyway to go and do two last minute phone interviews with radio stations in (I think) Christchurch and Dunedin. Interviews have become more and more problematic…as one in the band who does NOT write the songs or front the group, I plainly don't have as much to say about it all as Mick would. And also, when's the last time you read/heard an interview with a musician that was interesting? Really think about it as it has probably been awhile.

For the Dirtbombs and the press we get set up with lately, a lot of our interviewers haven't previously heard us. So, that leaves us with introductory Dirtbombs 101 questions like why do we have two drummers, what's Detroit like, why so many different line-ups, etc, etc. And I in no way fault the interviewers who have never heard of us before.

The inherent problem is that in having been asked these questions no less than a billion times, whether in interviews, by my grandparents, by long-forgotten parents of kids I went to grade school with, by the boss of my first job at the mom-and-pop grocery store across the street, is that the questions lose any semblance of spontaneity. Instead, I've got stock, boring answers that are burped out without any effort or thought put into them. And it all wraps itself back into the fact that having interesting answers for an interview while being in a rock band is a lot harder than you'd ever imagine.

After interview I walked around town a bit, hoping to run into either of the Flight of the Conchords guys. I didn't. I did see a big throng of Hare Krishna followers weaving through the streets, with their tambourines and drums and generally seeming to enjoy themselves. That was cool. I stopped in for an Italian BMT at Subway and was caught off-guard by the table of three girls all speaking rapid-fire German.

Apparently there was a fire alarm set off somewhere near the hotel and Mick and Troy actually had to evacuate. It seemed like it was maybe the next building over or so, as I was able to get back to our room with no problem.

First band the Transistors were alright. Young kids from Christchurch they had that ever-sparking energy that is the hardest thing to produce. From there, the tunes will come. They look good behind their instruments too…so they've already got the two hardest things covered.

We played and it all felt right. We locked in together and were cooking like an Italian aunt who always says "EAT…you too skinny!" At the end of our set, I did a headstand on my bass drum. There was a little notch in the ceiling that I was actually able to slide my feet into and thus hang upside down from. With my hands free, I proceeded to play my drums while still upside down over them. After a few seconds of that, I removed my feet from the notch, went back into headstand form, stuck the landing and quickly walked off the stage.

I was immediately met by one of the Transistors who stuck out his paw to congratulate me on a show well played. As I put my right hand toward him I was immediately struck by the bold streak of crimson bubbling from my thumb and quickly offered him my left hand instead.

I wrapped it up in a towel and held it tight while we discussed the encore. I'd hoped to keep it covered up for the subsequent songs, but that clearly wasn't going to work. So for "Shake Shivaree" and "Can't Stop Thinking About It" I soldiered on and bled into my palm and all over my drumstick all for the sake of rock and roll.

From there, I sat sorta speechless backstage, curious as to how I'd cut the outside of my thumb so deep without feeling a stitch of pain. The more I looked at the wound the worse it seemed. The cut went deep, certainly deeper than anything I'd had before. I somehow avoided pouring tequila over it to disinfect and instead patiently waited for the club owner to call a medic and get their expert opinion.

The medic was there shortly and seemed to think it'd be my best bet to go to the hospital just to be safe. I went in the ambulance by myself and in mere minutes I was at the emergency room. All I was told in preparation was that my wait would be a couple of hours.

After filling out some simple paperwork, I found a chair, sat down and then noticed Harrison Ford's The Fugitive playing at approximately the 40 minute mark on the television up above. Oh yes…this wait would be momentary. You see, there was a span during my freshman year of high school where my brother (who was at the time a senior) would, without any particular reason, come straight home from class and immediately put The Fugitive into the VCR. And when I say without reason, I obviously mean other than the obvious fact that the film fucking rules.

So I sat there for the next hour and fifteen minutes totally oblivious to the open wound in my hand, trying to pick up any subtle nuances of the film that my high school brain may have been to dense to absorb. You've got to love movies that you've seen countless times that still find ways to reveal plot lines and approaches years after the fact. It offers up the idea that one is never completely done watching a film, just as a piece of recorded music is never done being listened to or a written work is entirely read. There's always more to be gleaned.

There was a guy there, slightly obnoxious, who'd apparently come to at the bottom of some stairs. He didn't remember how he ended up there, but he'd figured he'd somehow fallen. There was blood on his rugby shirt. He was shoeless. He left before they called his name. He figured he'd be alright. I wondered to myself how many emergency room visits on a Friday night are a result of mind altering substances.

At the movie's commencement I pick up the local daily paper and find that I'd done an interview with them the week prior. It was your standard fare, at this point the only memorable part other than the 1/4 page they dedicated to me and the Dirtbombs was the letdown that the headline made some mention of "help from Uncle Jack." Oh well, can't win 'em all.

From there my name was called to go to the back room, my wound was surveyed and quickly cleaned up, glued shut and wrapped in gauze and bandages. My whole treatment time was no more than 7 minutes. My waiting time (which was repeatedly predicted to be a couple of hours) was just short of 90 minutes. No one asked me word one about payment as New Zealand has free emergency health care. I would take a cab back to the hotel, walk down the street to an all-night chipshop that had a print out titled "Dance Like No One Is Watching You" that struck me particularly hard and then watched the "are they serious?" TV performance by metal band Immortal. It was a great night

So even though it reads kinda like something your 4th grade religion teacher would hand out in class, I searched for a good 20 minutes trying to find this tract, so enjoy it here. It connected with this fool after he'd tore his finger open...

We convince ourselves that life will be better after we get married, have a baby, then another. Then we are frustrated that the kids aren't old enough and we'll be more content when they are. After that we're frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with. We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage. We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our spouse gets his or her act together, when we get a nicer car, are able to go on a nice vacation, when we retire.

The truth is, there's no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, when?

Your life will always be filled with challenges. It's best to admit this to yourself and decide to be happy anyway. Alfred D Souza said, "For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life."

This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So, treasure every moment that you have. And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time...and remember that time waits for no one...

So stop waiting until you finish school, until you go back to school, until you lose ten pounds, until you gain ten pounds, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, until you start work, until you retire, until you get married, until you get divorced, until Friday night, until Sunday morning, until you get a new car or home, until your car or home is paid off, until spring, until summer, until fall, until winter, until you are off welfare, until the first or fifteenth, until your song comes on, until you've had a drink, until you've sobered up, until you die, until you are born again to decide that there is no better time than right now to be happy...

Happiness is a journey, not a destination.

Thought for the day:

Work like you don't need money,
Love like you've never been hurt,
And dance like no one's watching.

Author unknown