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Interview — Doug Martsch

So who taught you how to rock and roll?

Mostly the radio when I was young - listening to top 40 music. My brother and sister were kind of into music - so, there were a few records around the house - like a Queen record that I listened to a lot. Then when I got into junior high school, I started buying my own tapes, got into heavy metal. It's very important at the time, to discover music on your own, listen to whole records of bands.

Were you the guy who taught the other kids about the cool bands?

Yeah, there were people turning me onto things, and there were things that I'd turn other people on to. There were certain things that I discovered on my own that meant something special to me. Actually, I've just started listening to Cheap Trick again. They were one of my favorite bands for a while and I hadn't really listened to them since junior high.

Are you schooling your son in the way of rock and roll?

Totally. He likes the Backstreet Boys, but that doesn't bother me a bit. It's good pop music. I don't really understand music and musical tastes enough to criticize. I play things I like for him, and he's pretty open-minded. He's fun to listen to music with. He'll get excited a band for a while - we were listening to the Bad Brains a bunch for a while, and now we listen to Cheap Trick and Black Sabbath all the time. He'll be all like "Put on Black Sabbath! I love this song!"

Wow! You're such a cool dad! My Dad and I make mix tapes for each other.

Does he like the stuff you turn him on to?

Well, he already loved Tom Waits, and I think he dug Calvin Johnston. And speaking of Calvin, did Real Stories of the Highway Patrol really pull your van over when you guys were on tour as the Halo Benders?

Oh...it did happen. Yeah. But I don't really want to talk about it. But...someone got in trouble. It wasn't me. It wasn't Calvin. Well, Calvin got in sort of trouble for smarting off. I never saw the episode. To me it was just a dramatic, bad situation. To some people it's funny, but to us, it was a bummer.

Have you ever partied like a rock star?

What, you mean done cocaine?

No, just had a rock star moment - like, trashing a hotel room.

Not quite like that. There have been moments. The most I ever felt like a rock star was when Built to Spill was playing a show in Portland. It was right after we'd done the Halo Benders record, and we said we'd have Calvin come up and do a few Halo Benders songs. And when he got up on stage, I was like "Whoa!!! This feels pretty amazing." He's got an insane amount of awesome energy. It was fun just to play guitar and let him sing, and everyone's eyes just lit up the whole time.

Do you guys really perform all of your own roadie work?

Well, it's just carrying in a couple of guitars and amplifiers - takes five minutes.

That's not very rock star!

No, not at all, but if we were rock stars, we might have bigger lights and big PAs.

There are really no breaks in your tour, but you get out there and put on really energetic, passionate shows every night. Hell, you made me cry last time with "Twin Falls, Idaho". But you carry all your gear and drive around to all these different cities. How do you keep that up?

Oh, that's not too bad. It's not that hard. You play for an hour and a half. It's a lot easier than working. It's mostly just boring, but it's not even that boring for me, because I enjoy the company of the group of people I'm out with. We have a lot of fun.

What do you think you're going to be moving on to next?

After this tour, and the November tour, I'm just going to stop, and I don't really know what that means. But I'd kind of like to do some stuff with Calvin again, mess around by myself, and I'm going to take a little break from Built to Spill.

Are there going to be any more Halo Benders records or tours?

I hope so, but I'm not sure right now. We'll see...

(originally published at FHMus)

Interview — Calvin Johnson

There's at least one moment in everyone's life when the whole world is balanced on the edge of a brand-new song, and it never spins for them quite the same way again. The day I went off to college, filling closets and tacking up posters, my new roommate put Beat Happening's "Black Candy" on the stereo. Hearing Calvin Johnson's impossibly deep, sternly sexy off-key howls and croons about candy, sex, playhouses and beehives knocked me off the axis of everything I'd ever thought about how music was supposed to sound. Beat Happening's childlike, feral songs embodied the life force of youth in rebellion, and that moment set the tone for the rest of my college years. Future projects of Calvin's, bands like the Halo Benders and Dub Narcotic Sound System, as well as collaborations with artists like Beck, Heavenly and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, have never failed to thrill me with their energy, innovation and endless faith in the power of the simple pleasures of life.

At the heart of all this is Calvin's label, K Records. Since 1982, K has been putting out music in the key of DIY, and a recent message on the K website explains the label's driving force as "exploding the teenage underground into passionate revolt." K has put out records and collaborated with artists working in genres ranging from twee and punk to dub and reggae, all the while never straying from the central idea of the K collective—the power of the kids.

KK: What is happening to the kids? So much of the focus of your music and K Records is corralling the spirit and energy of the kids, but it seems as if they've gone bad. There seem to be a lot of angry teenagers out there.

CJ: It's OK if they're angry. Angry is fine. Anger can be positive, but not when it leads to destruction like the gang rapes at Woodstock or the tragedy at Columbine.

It seems pretty all-American to me. Like modus operandi for this culture. It's the way we're raised—it's not really a surprise. People tap into that sort of energy and they exploit it. They take advantage of it to their own ends, and that's what was happening there. In that case it didn't seem to be discouraged. An environment was created where that could grow, rather than one where that sort of behavior is questioned. Questioning that type of thinking and that behavior is the first step. People feel like it's OK and they go for it.

KK: Is the music that K puts out your answer to that?

CJ: I think that most of the people we're working with are looking for an alternative to that perspective on humanity. They're either working within their own world which is created because they didn't like the world that existed or they're trying to change the world that exists. I think that's a common thread no matter what kind of music comes out. One of those two perspectives is shared by all the artists we work with.

KK: I was just listening to the new album you did with the Blues Explosion, "Sideways Soul: In a Dancehall Style." What do collaborations like that add to your own music?

CJ: I just feel a lot of freedom. Working with them was really concentrated and there was a good dialogue about what we were doing. We worked really well together, and it was a good feeling to be able to go into a situation, brainstorm and trust that the other person is going to do something good. And they do. This inspires you all the more to come up with a good idea yourself.

KK: How much of it is pre-ordained, and how much of it comes about from the spirit of the moment? Do things just happen that you don't expect at all?

CJ: Yeah, all the time. That's what's great about it. I don't think they had any specific preconceived idea of what was going to happen when they came to Dub Narcotic. In fact, they often were asking me: "What do we do? What should we do? Tell us what to do." That was great because it was a nice way to do a session as opposed to: "Hey everybody, we have these eight songs we have to record right away," and somebody has to go to work, etc. We were just kind of free, and they were very open to suggestions. Once I gave them a suggestion, they acted on it. They interpreted it their own way and came up with something really original.

KK: A lot of bands have covered your songs. Which versions have you really liked?

CJ: I haven't really heard a lot of them. For some reason, it's really hard for me to listen to other people's versions of my songs. Not because I think they're going to be bad, but it just seems like they are probably so much better than I can do it. It's kind of embarrassing, so I haven't really listened to a lot of them. I have heard some of them and they seem pretty good. I like the idea that people can do that. I also think there's certain songs that are just really good songs, but they should just never be covered—like "These Boots Are Made for Walking." No matter who does that song, they sound silly compared to Nancy Sinatra, and a lot of Beatles songs are that way as well. A lot of them are half-and-half. A lot of them it's just, why bother? Some people do have an interesting take on it, but I think that with the songs that people have covered that I've written, people have really made them their own. It's a good feeling when the song has a life outside of what I do with it.

KK: I've always liked that when you cover a song, it's not just a remake but more of a deconstruction. On the new album, lyrics from "Love Shack" are threaded all the way through "Fudgy the Whale."

CJ: That happened a lot with Beat Happening: "Oh this song's great!" But instead of covering it, we'd take inspiration from it and put something similar or something different, but it just had that root.

KK: Our music editor wanted to ask me what your favorite karaoke song is.

CJ: I've never done a karaoke song. I've just never really been in the situation. I've been to a couple of bars with people, but I just didn't want to get up there. Well, actually, Lois asked this for a different interview, and I was thinking "Diamonds Are Forever," which is a great song, or that Elvis song, "Trying to Get to You," from the Sun Sessions. There's also a song by Roy Orbison—"It's Over."

KK: You're working solo this time around, and I read on the K website that this move was inspired by Jason Traeger. What kind of music will you be performing?

CJ: I'm doing some Halo Benders songs because we never play live and I like the songs. I've got some other songs that I haven't already done anything with. Actually some of them are pretty old. Some of them are from about 10 years ago and were never recorded and some of them are new, from the last year or so. I did a show in Portland a few months ago and it was really fun and I did a few songs at Yo-Yo and it just seemed like it was working. The Microphones asked if I wanted to do any shows with them and it just worked out. Since I've got you on the spot, there's one thing I've always wanted to ask you. My best friend and

KK: I wrote you a fan letter in college—the only one either of us have ever sent. We drew little pictures and everything, and you didn't answer. We were crushed. What happened?

CJ: I didn't answer? When was that?

KK: The early '90s. My friend was especially upset since she'd stuck a dingo sticker on the envelope. She was very proud of it and she thought you deserved it.

CJ: I know that in the early '90s, we got mail for Beat Happening and for some reason I never answered any of it. I put it in this drawer to answer it and I never did and I think it's all still there.

KK: Let me know if you find it. Do you have any final positive thoughts you want to share with the kids? I think they could use it.

CJ: Well, it's hard when you're a kid. I don't know if as a teenager I knew that everything was going to be OK. I don't know if you can tell someone that, but I wish I could.

(originally published at CitySearch)

Interview — Kid Cary DeGrosa

A Champ for All Seasonings

He may not be the biggest or fastest glutton in the bunch, but the "Las Vegas Lothario" Kid Cary DeGrosa can always be counted on to bring a bit of his hometown's glitz to Coney Island, New York's famed 4th of July Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. Kid Cary took a few moments from his rigorous training schedule to share a few tips on how to eat a meaner weiner.

KK: What made you realize that competitive hot dog eating was your true calling?

KC: I'd heard about the regional Nathan's contest at the New York New York Casino and thought I'd go check it out. Man, it's such a wild time that I just keep coming back. Besides, I've been in training my whole life. My mother was Jewish and father Italian. It was just "Eat, eat, eat!" all the time-matzoh balls, pasta, sausage. "What, you did badly in school today? Eat this lasagna as your punishment!"

When I was a kid, we moved to Las Vegas-the city of buffets. You can eat at buffets three meals a day and just keep going back for more. My dear friend Ernie and I used to get 6 29-cent breakfasts and eat them all at once. Ernie passed away a while ago, and I always joke that he was done in by too much salsa one afternoon.

KK: For all of the food you put away, you're actually not a very big guy. What's your secret?

KC: I swear I must have battery acid in my stomach. Anything that goes down there must start to dissolve instantaneously. I guess that's how I can get the dogs down so quickly. Besides, have you seen the 100lb Japanese guys who win? (The current top three titleholders are all Japanese.) They've definitely got some kind of weird body chemistry going on.

KK: If the competition is so stiff, what keeps you coming back?

KC: You just meet the greatest people! I try to do what I can for the competitive eating community. If you check out my site at www.kidcary.com, you can see the trading cards I've made for some of the regular competitors. Before me, the guys didn't really have nicknames, but now we've got Steve "The Hot Dog Terminator" Keiner and Larry "Bad Little Doggie" Butler. I'm just trying to give the whole thing a little bit more glamour and personality-make people see it for the extreme sport that it is. Kinda like the XFL.

KK: You may not be the biggest eater, but you always look good doing it. Does that just come naturally?

KC: If I were from Utah, I'd show up with a couple of sheep. I'm from Vegas, so naturally I've got to have my bevy of beautiful women, the Bunnettes. I'm on the lookout for a couple of extra showgirls so they can sing the Kid Cary Theme Song when I'm announced. I've also got my specially made Hot Dog Champ robe. The girls love being with a champion, so I've always got to look good and have fun.

Kid Cary's championship tips

1. The Soak-a-Dope - Take a tip from the Japanese champs and dunk the hot dog and bun in water. It'll all go down much easier.
2. The Fast Fill - Start fast and get down as much as you can in the first 7 minutes before the "I'm full" signal from your stomach to your brain starts to slow you down.
3. The Last Feast - Don't eat the day of and night before the event. We've seen what happens, and trust us-it's not pretty.
4. The Brain Pain - Make up a mantra, meditate, concentrate, whatever it takes. Mind over matter distracts your brain from your increasingly queasy tummy.
5. The Hurling Halt - Push down on your stomach muscles to keep from hurling. Being covered in your own puke is NOT going to win you a Bunnette.

(originally published in FHM)

Interview — Momus

"Nicholas, don't be ridiculous," Nicholas Currie, a.k.a Momus, admonishes in "The Animal That Desires" from his 1997 album, "Ping Pong." No doubt, though, the canny Scot realizes that it is precisely this brand of extravagant farce which distinguishes him amidst the current spate of aesthete popsters. His low and intimate techno-intellectual tinged croons have garnered him a legion of rapt fans and vehement critics since the early '80s. While The Divine Comedy wryly dissect, and Belle and Sebastian coolly sentimentalize the motions of desire, Momus stands out as the sole chronicler of the sensual absurdity of popping a boner on the subway. On his new album, "The Little Red Songbook," he croons about a love gone wrong—"Not even Vaseline and a lot of mutual pain/could put Humpty Dumpty together again/Like a square peg forced into a round hole/This into that just wouldn't go"—and offers a droll (and thinly-disguised) account of the self-pleasuring proclivities of "Harry K-Tel, the method actor."

The frank accounting of sexual outlandishness is by no means new territory for the 38-year-old performer. From his early days in the Edinburgh band, the Happy Family; to the years at seminal Brit-pop labels él, Creation, 4AD, and Cherry Red; to the songs he's penned for breathy Japanese chanteuse Kahimi Karie, Momus has never shied away from mapping the physiology of lust. Now with an ever-burgeoning base of European and Japanese fans behind him, he is setting out once more to woo the American people into his circle of tender perversion. The Shopping in AmeriKKa Tour, also featuring Karie and French neo-cabaret dandy Gilles Weinzaepflen, hits Fez for four nights this week.

On his last tour of the States, Momus was summoned to Chicago for a session with legendary sculptor/rock-and-roll curator Cynthia Plaster Caster. Kat Kinsman sat down with him to get the long and short of it.

KK: Of course I'm going to ask you a few music-related questions, but what the kids really want to know is, what about Cynthia Plaster Caster?

Momus: Oh my God...Well, actually I was, I think, disappointing to Cynthia, because I think there was potential for her collection, which obviously includes people like Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones and all those people. Essentially it wasn't a very erotic experience for me, so I wasn't at my best. In fact, she sent me a little photo strip with herself in a photo booth with my cast on her head and on her nose, and it wasn't actually much bigger than her nose. Sort of an elephant's trunk kind of effect.

KK: Ouch! That can't be good for the ego. But how did she get wind of the fact that maybe you would be someone she'd want to work with, and that she might need to be stocking up on extra plaster?

M: I really don't know. I think someone told her I would be a good person to do. So far as I know, it's still the only cast she's done this year and she doesn't do them that often, so that is rather flattering. Actually, I have a suspicion that it's because I was on Creation Records, and it has an offshoot called Creation Press which is a racy, sadistic kind of imprint, and does books by Gilles de Rais and his followers. The people at Creation were always really obsessed by this legend of, well, my legendary penis, and when you're on a record label for eight years like I was, and you date people who are friends of (Alan) McGee—who runs the label—rumors get back. McGee was more interested in that than he was in my music. So I think Cynthia has been negotiating with Creation Press since she's writing her autobiography, so they probably said, "we know this guy...." She was actually kind of nervous about it.

KK: So what was it about for you? What was your role in the process?

M: I kind of felt that rock and roll has now become the new academic painting. All those gestures of rebellion are actually totally conformist now, and in a way, Cynthia Plaster Caster represents that. She's gone from the really wild, innovative time of rock and roll into the time where it's basically the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Everything in rock and roll now is like plaster. It's like a museum. In a way I felt that the solidification, the lack of spontaneity, my lack of enthusiasm summed up the lack of real sexual energy there is in rock music.

KK: So then what do you think is truly exciting these days? What do you find out there that's shocking?

M: Well, hey, the web is the new rock and roll!

KK: How are you trying to push the web to be more like rock and roll?

M: As far as rock and roll being about primal expression and spontaneity, which it used to be, to me the web is totally about that because I just get an idea and within seconds I can put it on my website.

KK: Well, you have to have the technological background. The medium is fairly organic, but it's built upon a solid framework.

M: The framework, for me is now totally transparent. I got my first Mac relatively late, in '93, and spent about two or three years just learning how it thought and how it worked and now I don't even have to think about it. I just have to think about what I want to say. It's become like a pen and the ink goes straight out into the world and it's totally international, and it's self-publishing—vanity publishing. Ultimately, it's about the written word for me.

(originally published at CitySearch)

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