interviews


This interview will appear in an upcoming issue of the German Ox-fanzine

Tommy, after STRAWMAN you started SONGS FOR EMMA. Are you the only remaining founding member? Who else was/is in the band, what is he/she doing, what was he/she doing before bandwise?

     Raum the bass player was in first version. I disagreed with that singer and a week after my dog died, I got in a big fight with her and Adam about how much I thought Fleetwood Mac sucked, how she was just as unhinged as me but wouldn't admit it etc, etc... They were tired of my bad attitude and I broke up the band. After paying $800 for that demo tape mind you. For some reason Raum said he still wanted to play with me. I think I have cooled out since then... And singing gives me more of that ego control. That version, I thought was to be a mix of PJ Harvey and Rickie Lee Jones. This Songs for Emma is somewhat back to old Strawman type stuff but with more melancholy and protest stuff. Also with Mike Millet (also does Broken Rekids label) on additional guitar, every song is more smooth and I guess less barky and choppy. Check out his riff on the sad Golden Gate and on Ludlow — I do only chords on the whole album.

     Strawman started out to be more like the Jam but turned into more Stiff Little Fingers. Songs for Emma will continue on more of a course of commercial suicide by mixing upbeat angry rocknroll Who/Jam/punk/folk style with slow plodding despair ridden songs about the human condition. I like also to take a traditional 3/4 folk riff, speed it up and spit politics over it ("Justice"). People besides the band don't really like those songs This mix would not have been strange 12 years ago... As all good bands then refused to repeat tired ideas, but nowadays, any hit 'alternative' album has to be completely linear for it to fit anywhere. Our second album may sell less than this one...

     Oh the question!

     Diane plays batteria (the Spanish word for drums). Diane has been in bands almost as long as me. We actually played together in the 1983 in Ohio in the Ragged Bags. And she played on the last Strawman album "Lottery" and toured with us in Europe. She was also in the all female Betty's in Kent, Ohio 1982. I think she has been in at least 20 bands and now also plays in a great Smiths cover band the Nyguens (no kidding!)

     Mike use to play in a New York band called A.P.P.L.E. in the late '80's and a few S.F. bands the one before Songs for Emma was Buttafuoco.

     Raum has been involved in the east bay punk construction workers scene and in bands such as "Re-Bar", 'Conduit Up Yer Ass', and 'AC 220 with the 2 by 4's' also he was in Harvest Theory. Really, he is a great songwriter singer in the Bob Mould vein and hopefully he will start his own band soon. We aren't doing any of his songs yet, ( I keep massacring them) just mine, so we can nickname the band Strange Co. or Keeping Strange Company.

This CD — it's actually your first release?

     Yes. And I Hope there is a second after our tour of Europe in September.

Emma Goldman - not that many people are aware of who she was, so please give us a short introduction and explain why you chose her name for the band, actually you dedicated the band to her.

     I am writing songs in her spirit I hope. Politically in the belief that only a social revolution is the answer, through international democratic anti-capitalist unions, and socially in the belief that every worker has a voice and story and a life deeply affected and mutated by economics. Also, she was a very loving human being that would rather talk to a worker than a spouting party hack and so many of my songs reflect that; the beauty strength and humanity of ordinary workers. Courtney Love has nothing to do with our lives. Your neighbor laid off by Daimler/Chrysler or the Iraqi killed by US sanctions/bombs does.

     She is really the most well known Anarchist and most respected. Returning from Russia after the Bolshevik takeover, and seeing how Lenin was building a totalitarian state, she was ridiculed and ignored by socialists... But by no one else. To this day, she is the one radical that most workers here respect and honor if they have a chance to learn about her life and work. Much more important here than Eugene Debs but the state history books don't reflect that.

     The US government threw her in jail 100's of times for her speeches and activities and eventually deported her along with thousands of other radicals and Wobblies (IWW — a syndicalist union)... After the Palmer Raids in the 19 teens... She was in Spain in the 1930s and tirelessly promoted the CNT and the social revolution there over the Stalin influenced communist party trying to arrest control. As the German communists and Socialists were being destroyed by a police state... Seeing Hitler come to power... She remarked, this is capitalist democracies' end result. The Democratic west would choose fascism OVER libertarian socialism/Socialism as she predicted.

What happened on 11.12.98?

     Let your readers choose:

  1. The day I was able to sell my Princess Di beenie baby at an 800% profit and then paid for the recording.
  2. Clinton released the new budget, with pentagon budget increase of 20 billion dollars.
  3. The day we mixed the album
  4. The day the 2 millionth person was put in a USA prison
  5. The day I appeared on David Letterman for 'stupid pet tricks'. The dog Flipper did a two-paw handstand!

You recorded with Kevin Army — a friend?

     Yes, still after the recording. Which doesn't always happen with him. It was fun, especially his derogatory comments about the song writing ("Oh, is this one about the rain forest or massacres in East Timor? Or is it the pop song about Dolphins dying in tuna nets?)... And when he TRIED to keep me from drinking before 7 PM.

     Seriously, with these bands members and him, it was perfect... I only became 'Mr. Tension' once or twice and we mostly laughed and giggled...

Hey political bands have to sound and look like crust punk or they're not real... — what's your point on that?

     Actually I hear His Hero/Deaththreat are fans. I'm too old to dress in a costume — I feel it is elitist — saying to other workers you are better and more radical then them. I already did that in the 80's and see value in it if you are really young... To break free from shit for awhile... But I would rather fit in than stand out and be alone... As most humans really wish... I have tried to write straight up rocknroll and love songs and really wish I could. I think the lyrics get way too top heavy and become a burden, keeping me from playing those simple rock riffs... But I tried and failed so now back again (listen to Democracy on the album — with a pop riff it would work great but instead it kind of drags... That song trapped me into that downbeat...)

     A worker should reflect the world around him/her... Not necessarily in such an overt way, but I believe in responsibility of the artist... Anyway, I don't know how not to be in a 'political' band... I don't know how not to be a political artist. I wish I could. I would not have gum problems from grinding my teeth so much. I wish there was some way, that we could be shown as just being a modern protest band with the usual themes of rocknroll in there too... That's another thing we have to do... Reconstruct communal working class culture with our histories being learned, our music and art spread through friendly channels... And organizational work being done in a lively vibrant atmosphere... But the corporations have affected a top to bottom false reality and channeled everything so effectively that even a young punk can't see the commonality between his band and Guthrie's voice... And economics in this country force people to move thousands of miles for jobs every generation and to live in atomized tract homes walled off from the heartbeat of their neighbors — we are so far from each other and taught so well to disbelieve and mistrust our own will and desires.

     So that said, do I get the prize for the most long winded response EVER in OX? And it better not be that weak German beer...

Musically you are, if I remember correctly, a big Elvis Costello fan.

     Well, it seems that nowadays the world has forgotten about him, or at least young(er) punks don't see what he has to do with punk rock? He now is just our generations Tom Jones or Paul Simon — very embarrassing really... And still very huge in the states. It is hard for kids growing up on Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails to realize how cool, streetwise and angry Elvis sounded on the first two albums. And no one could write a better pop love song really. I don't want to go to Chelsea and Night Rally are still two of the best rocknroll songs ever written... But punk???

Does punk rock still have a meaning to you?

     As D Boon said, it saved my life. It let me know, along with many writers, that my ideas about injustice and our human thirst for creativity were not wrong. What it is today is just a genre of rocknroll with very conformist fashion and elitist rules — some would say anti-worker also... Really Green Day sound more like the Knack or the Yachts then the Clash... especially if you compare lyrics and time frame. It was a political act in 77 to 81 to be in a punk band... Now it is just a formula. I was beat up more then by white kids in Ohio than I have been here in the San Fran 'ghetto" for 15 years. Most of the shows I go to are 'punk' shows still... But we and the bands know it is mostly just funÖ no surprises there... Still, the most educated young people I meet go to these shows... I cannot deny that. Too bad as usual, the audiences are always ten steps ahead of their bands.

Were you ever beaten up for yelling at bands you didn't like, Mr. Angry Old Man? What's the relation between alcohol and the intellectual content of your statements on other people's music?

     Never been beaten up in S.F. Remember this is the richest city in the country so the music crowd is usually pretty up-scale (that wouldn't be true if Latinos and blacks came to the shows but it is segregated here like everywhere — another problem I have with today's punk rock — it hasn't gotten any farther 20 years later)... And upper middle class kids don't know how to/never learned how to fight... they just call the cops. I doubt I could heckle like that in Cleveland or St Louis. And I don't do it anymore... Too many people found out where I work and actually thought I could influence their CD sales somehow... Small town you know...

     As long as I don't get past 8 pints of beer, the alcohol actually increases the wit level of the hecklingÖ After that I use to just de-generate into... "Oh shit... NOT THAT chord again!" or "Practice much?" But remember I never heckled people that were really trying to be passionate... Only those trendy bands that try out the new sound every three years...

     Michael Millett plays guitar and is the guy who does your label and the CD is distributed by Mordam where your work — DIY or what??? Mordam is a big capitalist company. It is just progressive in that we have values over what we sell, the boss pays well, there is some democracy here... And the people are honest and amazingly sincere. It's good Mike has a label. I don't know if anyone else would have put it out since it is not part of any 'scene' at all. You know Allied is gone. The whole DIY thing is kinda overblown anyway. I never met an indie label boss/owner that didn't want to play the game and sell tons through all the corporate channels. We get that here... Most bands are very worried about chain store sales no matter how DIY their fans think they are or what costume they wear or what they put on the album cover... Part of my job is trying to explain low sales to 'punk' bands. It's just a small version of the majors with more intelligent and smarter people running things. Not an alternative to capitalism.

Mordam: tell us a bit about what you do there, what's the idea(ls) behind Mordam, how it was started, how they (still?) work up to the idea(ls), etc.

     I do the European sales here. For the first 7 or so years I did mostly warehouse work then slowly moved into full-time sales. There are 18 employees that get a fair amount of input into all decisions especially what labels we pick up. That is a straight vote with much discussion. I think Ruth the owner lives up to her fair business ideals and the idea of running a company that does not do damage to the outside world. And her big concern way back in 83, was that labels were NOT getting paid by distributors... We pay no matter who owes us what. Also of course, we do not want to carry anything sexist, racist or nationalistic though sometimes some of us feel some is coming in anyway... I've been here 14 years, get paid a high wage and am very happy. Who else can say that about their job? It was pure luck for me, that after having stuck around for 7 years, things started to explode and Ruth could reward me.

     As an operation, we only carry and sell what 30 plus labels put out. We focus on them and are responsible for worldwide sales up to a point... when they enter other distros channels... getting them direct to stores... Also, as you know, everyone that works here is helpful, and compassionate to anyone that calls or visits, or buys from us... I wonder what my next job will be and how I will handle it after being so spoiled with the Mordam workers??? It sure won't be professional musician!!! There is an age limit on 'the next big thing' you know...

     We will be in Vienna, Prague, Italy, Spain, France and then a few shows in southern Germany on the way back... Sept to Oct...


back to extras index