Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mac Blackout Band interview with Mark Dunihue McKenzie AKA Mac Blackout

© Chris Anderson 

For more than a decade Mark Denihue McKenzie aka Mac Blackout, has been blazing trails in the gritty soundscape of Chicago.  And while more and more people are taking note of the town and its musical scene again at this point, often referring to a sort of musical renaissance that’s going on there, Mac Blackout is one of the people responsible for that sudden boom of good music and international interest.  At least he is in my opinion.  A champion of the local scene at all times and one of the pivotal players in the modern music movement, Mac Blackout’s one hell of an interesting guy to boot.  He’s been releasing destructively amazing music for more than twelve years now, running the gambit from hardcore punk to synthy glam rock and back again, he’s always trying something new, always doing something different and it’s always good!  While a lot of people know Mac Blackout as a prolific musician, having released records with the Functional Blackouts, Daily Void, Mickey, and the Mac Blackout Band as well as having extensive back catalog of solo material, many of those people may not know how ingrained the visual arts are to him, or how involved in them he is.  Blackout did graffiti for a long time and has taken those techniques and applied them to a variety of different visual mediums, carrying the skills and aesthetic he learned during his tenure as a street artist.  He’s done a variety of cover art for several of his own, as well as a host of other bands as well, adorning them with his own unique brand of illustration.  Pushing modern Lowbrow psychedelic art to new boundaries, Blackout crafts some of the most arresting and imaginative images I’ve ever seen.  He’s published a book of collected visual works this past year, has had several art installations, offers a variety of crazy prints, and works in the 3D medium as well at this point, hand painting boomboxes and just about anything else you’ll pay him to.  Needless to say, he’s both an accomplished musician and visual artist and I was more than excited when he agreed to talk retrospectively about his career up to this point and give up some clues as to where he wants to be headed from here on in.  Light up a smoke, grab a cup of coffee, or maybe a cold brew, and make sure you brace your wallet if you’ve never heard of this guy before, ‘cause you’re gonna be picking up some art for the walls in your house and some music for them floppy skin flaps on the sides of your head you call ears, ha-ha!
Listen while you read: http://macblackout.bandcamp.com/

© Chris Anderson 

You are what I would gently call prolific to say the least.  Not only are you an extremely accomplished musician who’s released ten full-length albums in the last decade and half along with a slew of singles, many of which you designed the covers for as you’re also an accomplished visual artist as well!  Let’s start at the beginning and we’ll just kind of try and work our way to present day.  Now, I know you’re currently located in Chicago but where are you originally from and how old are you?

I was born in Bedford, Indiana in 1977.  I lived with my Mom until I was fifteen, and then went to live with my Dad in Indianapolis.  I finished High School in 1995 and went to art school at the Herron School of Art.  I graduated in 1999 and moved to Chicago.  I’ve been here ever since.

What was the local music scene like where you grew up?  Did you see a lot of shows or anything growing up?  Were you exposed to a lot of the art that surrounds rock music like flyers and posters and stuff there?  Do you feel like that scene played a large part in shaping your musical tastes, in the way that you perform at this point or in your art?

There wasn’t really a noticeable music scene in Bedford but The Gizmos, Dancing Cigarettes, MX80 and others (Gulcher bands) where active thirty minutes north in Bloomington, Indiana.  My mom was an artist and took classes at IU in Bloomington.  Some of my earliest memories are walking down Kirkwood looking at all the flyers on the poles and smelling the incense pouring out of the head shops.  I remember seeing the Gizmos logo around.  My dad would always say “I’m the Human Garbage Disposal” at the end of meals.  I figure he either partied with those dudes, or that was the party jam on campus.  I asked him once about it and he changed the subject.  I should ask him again...  Otherwise it was cool country kids blastin’ the Cars, walkin’ by the record store filled with Kiss cut outs, early MTV, Nickelodeon, Saturday morning cartoons, hair metal, and later getting into skateboarding.  80’s skateboard graphics were a big influence on my art.  I was really into Pusshead and Jim Phillips.  The music, art, and pop culture of the late 70’s and 80’s was definitely formative.  It’s had a lasting impression for sure.

What about your home when you were a kid?  Were either of your parents artists or musicians?  Was there a lot of art or music around the house when you were growing up?

My mom, Elizabeth McKenzie, is an awesome artist and life long art teacher in the Bedford area.  So yes, I grew up with a lot of art around.  My mom hung a lot of her art around the house.  A huge picture of a mouth on the wall in the living room was awesome, some pop art, and big eye kids.  My mom’s childhood room in my grandparent’s house was painted purple with eyes cut out from magazines taped all over the room.  It was super psychedelic!  She denies it, but I got all of her old magazines later and all the eyes were missing.  As far as music...  My dad taught me how to use the record player when I was three and left behind a few records.  The Beatles “Yellow Submarine”, Alice Cooper “Love It to Death”, and a Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare record were favorites.  I could not stop singing TV commercial jingles as a little kid, then later Michael Jackson...  The first record I bought with my own money was Mott the Hoople’s All The Young Dudes.

What do you consider your first real exposure to music to be?

The music I mentioned in the last question, 80’s pop radio, and Church choir.

If you were to pick a single moment, a moment that seemed to change everything and opened your eyes to the infinite possibilities that music presents what would it be?

When my dad explained to me how stereo music works in the car as a kid, also when I got my first 4-track and mic in the mid 90’s.

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music and what brought that decision about for you?

I had high school bands with friends in the early 90’s just for fun.  We never played live really.  I had a one-off show with friends at my college graduation party, and some kid came up and punched me in the face while I was screaming on the mic.  It wasn’t even a punk show.  Another time I remember screaming on the mic at a high school party and kids laughing at me.  I knew in my heart it felt good and it was something I wanted to do.  Later, when I moved to Chicago the visual art scene seemed stuffy.  I took six drawings to a gallery, dropped them off, and never came back.  I started the Functional Blackouts with my friends and began recording solo 4-track songs and experiments on my own.  That was 1999-2000, the beginning of my head-first dive into obsessively making music.

You’ve been deeply ingrained in the Chicago art and music scene for something like fifteen years at this point. You’re first band that I’m aware of was the Functional Blackouts, who were followed by Daily Void and then Mickey and The Mac Blackout Band as well as having a great solo catalog as well.  I know that currently Mickey is back in action, the Mac Blackout Band just released their debut full-length and self-titled album.  How do you keep so many balls in the air, so to speak?  Most people would find it difficult to juggle a solo career with a band, but you do that along with doing visual art and I’m curious to hear if that’s more of a situation where you’re happy when you’re working and you do that you love so it doesn’t really feel like work, or maybe just an outlet for some OCD, but how you’re able to do all of that, and do it well, is completely beyond me!  Got any tips for the rest of us lazy folk?


Music has always been an emotional/spiritual outlet for me.  Other people’s music means everything to me.  I feel like most of the times I’ve truly connected with another person was through art and music.  There’re no strings attached.  The music, or art, will always be there for you, it will never let you down.  It’s been my best friend my entire life.  I found this feeling for the first time with the Germs’ (GI) tape in high school.  I felt a spiritual connection to the music.  I’d blast it on my headphones, cry to myself and forget my troubles.  I still crank that album today when I want to escape.  It’s my safe warm place, a piece of art I feel an endless spiritual connection to.  That being said, creating seems automatic.  If I’m not doing it, I feel worthless.  Like I’m being a bad friend to all the people in the world that need that art or music to connect to.  A piece of art or music that speaks to someone is very specific.  It comes to you at the perfect moment to touch your life in a way nothing else can.  Creating is a necessity for me.  I would be very depressed without it.  I’m obsessed with working and more than happy to do it every waking minute.

Daily Void 

Your output is extremely varied, and while there’s a vein of recognizable sounds that run inside, it definitely runs the gambit of genres and styles.  I’m really curious to hear who you would cite as your major musical influences?  What about influences on particular projects as opposed to yourself as an individual?

There’s a ton of influences...  Lou Christie, Dion, Ike and Tina Turner, Prince, Cindy Lauper, Stevie Nicks, James Brown, Betty Davis, the Germs, Black Flag, Adverts, Hubble Bubble, Clone Defects, Electric Eels, Dead Boys, Gizmos, early GG, the Dictators, Scorpions, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, Alan Vega/Suicide, Iggy Pop, Billy Idol, The Boss, Kim Fowley, Bowie, Bolan, Slade, Sweet, Sparks, Roxy, Steve Harley, Alistair Riddell, Heartland Rock, Killed by Death comps, Junk Shop Glam, Late 80’s and early 90’s hip hop; Eric B. and Rakim, Gang Starr, EPMD, Nas, Jeru, Ice T., Jazzy Jay, Busy Bee.  I dig a lot of free jazz, weird soundtracks, prog stuff too, home tapers, 60’s psych and garage.  I could go on forever.  Probably would be better to list favorite albums and comps.  Anyway, it’s pretty obvious which bands leaned in which direction.  Functional Blackouts and Daily Void were more KIlled by Death/raw punk bands.  Mickey is more of a Glam/hard rock band.  Mac Blackout Band is kind of a mix of both with some metal-ish rippers.  New Rose Alliance is a post Mickey experiment in a Roxy vein at times.  We don’t really shoot for something too specific, it just kind of happens depending on the people I’m playing with.


What’s your songwriting process like?  Do you like to write riffs or work on songs outside of practice and take an idea into the rest of the people that you’re playing with when you feel like you’ve got a somewhat coherent idea to share with the rest of the people you’re playing with?  Or, is it more of a situation where you kind of bask in the present of the people that you’re playing with and harness the energy that you all create together and channel that into ideas that you all work on and refine together as a group?

It’s different for specific bands.  With Mac Blackout Band I write pretty much everything before bringing it to the band.  Some songs are solo tunes we rework as a group.  I let each musician have space to express themselves in the style they play.  With Mickey, the band writes the instrumentals and I take the practice tapes home to write lyrics and vocal arrangements.  With Daily Void and the Functional Blackouts, Ilth and I each brought our own songs to the band; usually the lead vocalist on the tune is the one who wrote it.  With the first Functional Blackouts LP it was a mix of Mac and Ilth songs with Brian Nervous on vocals.

What about recording?  I’m a musician myself and I think that most of us can obviously appreciate the end result of all the time and effort that goes into making an album when you’re holding that finished product in your hands.  Getting to that point though, getting stuff recorded and sounding the way that you want it to, especially when you’re working with other people, can be extremely difficult to say the least. What’s it like recording for you man?  Do you prefer to take a more DIY approach to recording where you handle the technical aspects of things so you don’t have to work with or compromise on the sound with anyone else?  Or, do you like to head into the studio and let someone else handle that side of things so you can simply concentrate on getting the best performance as possible out of yourself?

I love recording, I’ve been recording my own solo records for fifteen years.  The recording/creative process plays a big part in the song writing.  All of my solo material was written and performed at the same time.  Usually, I’ll start writing a song and work on it all night until it’s finished.  After I have a good group of songs I’ll release an LP or single on whatever label is interested in working with me at the time.  As for my other bands, Mark Freitas records and produces/coproduces many of the records.  His work is amazing.  He’s done all of the Mac Blackout Band and Mickey releases to date.  He also did some Functional Blackouts and Daily Void records.  His input is what makes the records truly stand out.  It’s a lot of hard work but we’ve been working together for ten years, so recording goes pretty smooth.  He’s kind of like the sixth member of Mickey and Mac Blackout Band and he plays keys in New Rose Alliance. 

Do you spend a lot of time meticulously working out every single aspect of a song before you head in to record it, or do you get a good skeletal idea of what a song’s going to sound like while allowing for some change and evolution during the recording process when necessary?

With the bands, we work things out prior to recording.  The energy of the performance is the most important thing to me, we’re not that technical.  We add vocals and overdubs after the initial recording.  With solo recordings, it’s all written while multi-tracking.

Do psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a large or integral role in your songwriting, recording or performance processes when it comes to music?  People have been harnessing the altered mind states that drugs produce for creating art almost since the beginning of recorded history and I’m always curious about its application to the processes of creation and performance.  What about with your visual art?

Psychedelic visions and intense experiences play a big part in my art, drug related or not.  Any experience that is truly beautiful, horrific, passionate, or emotional usually finds its place in my music or art.  I don’t take a lot of psychedelic drugs, but I do love the experiences I’ve had.  I tell it like I see it.

As I mentioned before, I know that the Mac Blackout Band just released their debut album and I know you have a new solo album coming out on Bat Shit Records before too long and Mickey is active again as well.  Do you have anything else going on right now as far as music goes?  Are there any bands or side projects that I missed?

Yeah, New Rose Alliance is two-parts Mickey, two-parts E.T. Habit with Mark Freitas on keys.  We have a LP pretty much finished.  We don’t know what label will be putting it out yet.


Mac Blackout Band just dropped an album not long ago and I know you have the upcoming Bat Shit solo album as well.  Do you have any other releases in the works or on the horizon at this point that you can tell us about?


Mac Blackout Band is recording a single for the song “Red” soon and Mickey’s working on some unreleased material.  The Mac Blackout solo American Loser LP should be out soon.  You can listen to it online here.


Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up copies of your enormous and ever-growing back catalog?  What about your amazing artwork?

You can order records at http://macblackout.bandcamp.com/
For art you can get in touch with me on my Facebook page or buy directly from my etsy store.  There’s Links to everything at macblackout.com.

With the absolutely insane international shipping rates I try and provide our readers with as many possible options as I can for scoring imports.  Where’s the best place for our international and overseas readers to snag your stuff?

The best place to order is from my Bandcamp page.  I’ll ship international.  If you send me a Facebook message I can put together a package with a bunch of recordings, prints, whatever you want.  I’ll write you back quick.  Otherwise, directly from the record labels or search online.

And where’s the best place for our interested readers to keep up with the latest news like upcoming shows, album releases and the newest art from you at, man?  It’s a full-time job at this point.


Are there any major plans or goals that you’re looking to accomplish in the rest of 2014 or 2015?

This Mickey reunion is real exciting!  Record new records with Mac Blackout Band and Mickey, I’m working on new art daily.  Do some murals with my graffiti crew, Made U Look.  Get back and do some street art, it’s been awhile, and I’ve got some new tricks stuff up my sleeve.  Finish a new Mac Blackout solo LP.  I have plans for a big solo art show, probably next Fall.

Do you spend a lot of time out on the road touring or anything?  I know you have a lot of stuff going on and didn’t know how much your schedule allowed for that sort of thing.  Do you enjoy being out on the road?  What’s life like on tour for you?

I enjoy tour, but it takes its toll.  We play hard and party hard.  I like to keep tours short, get back and work on art.  There’s too much down time on the road, too many hours wasted in bars before the show.  I love to see old friends and meet/see new bands though.  That is truly the best thing about tour...  Really, it’s the reason why we do it.

What, if anything, do you have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year?

We just finished our LP release/summer tour.  We may do some Midwest out of town dates.  Mac Blackout Band is playing UFO Dictator fest in Kalamazoo this October.

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to play with so far?

Recently, the Manateees and Nots from Memphis, all the Pelican Pow Wow bands are really my favorites right now.  UFUX is Ilth’s new band from Functional Blackouts and Daily Void.  Mama from Chicago is great!  Some all time favorites I’ve played with are the Clone Defects, Mentally Ill, Weirdos, Spits, Nobunny, Wizzard Sleeve, and Puffy Areolas.

In your dreams, who are you on tour with?

Mickey, Mac Blackout Band, and a two-piece with just me and my wife, Alison.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?

There are way too many wild and weird stories for one question...  With the Functional Blackouts, we used to get in fights on stage out of frustration...  One time in Seattle I punched Brian Nervous during the show.  The Spits got on stage after us and fought with each other the whole time.  I figure they were trying to show us up.  I love the Spits.  The Functional Blackouts last show was a fight between Ilth and Cos at the Mutiny.  Ilth used to puke at every set.  He puked on a reporter from the Chicago Reader once.  We’ve been banned from The Fireside, The Mutiny, Cole’s, Cal’s, The Empty Bottle, Club Foot...  too many Chicago bars over the years.  We used to play eviction parties where the kids would tear the place to shreds.  I had to take Brian to the hospital after one.  With Mickey, I would get my ass beat.  I’d come out with broken fingers, cuts all over, huge hematomas, clawed faces, knots all over my head, I think I cracked my skull on the stage once, I couldn’t bend down on my knees for two years.  It was like being a pro wrestler, a lot of fun.

© Rob Karlic 

With all of the various methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the mediums that the do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music?  What about when you’re listening to or purchasing music?  If you do have a preference, can you tell us what it is and a little bit about why?

Records are my favorite, they sound the best and the artwork is nice and big.  Tapes are my second favorite.  They’re small and you can put them in your pocket easily, they sound real warm, they’re cheap to make, they force you to listen to an entire side for the most part.  I like to listen to tapes in the shower.  Just pop one in and listen to a whole side while getting ready in the morning.  You can get lost in a tape much easier because you don’t want to fast forward or rewind, just listen to the whole thing.  CDRs are cheap and you can hand them out to friends with full album art and they convert to MP3s easily.  Digital is my least favorite, no real album art, digital/streaming is okay for quick listens, but if you really love the music you’ll want to get the record to enjoy it more.

Do you have a music collection at all?  If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yeah, I have a ton of records and tapes.  It’s a real scratchy collection with all my favorites.  I don’t have that much fun at record stores anymore, ‘cause I have most of my favorite albums.  It’s a big ratty party collection.  Slade records with crusty beer spills all over them.

I grew up around my dad’s fairly large collection of vintage psychedelic music and I was really encouraged to dig in and listen to anything that I wanted from a young age.  More importantly than that I think though, he would pick up random stuff for me from the local shops that I was interested in and I quickly developed this ritual of coming home with an album, kicking back with a set of headphones, reading the liner notes, staring at the cover art and just letting the whole experience take me on this crazy trip away from wherever I was or whatever I was doing.  Having something physical to hold and experience along with the musical always made for a more complete and much more intimate listening experience for me.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music at all?

Definitely!  Having the physical tape or record in hand with art is essential to me.  It’s all about connecting with the art.  Having it in your hand makes the experience so much better.  Finding out about music online is great, but if you dig the music you have to get a copy of it to truly enjoy the full experience.

Like it or not, digital music is here in a big way.  That’s just the tip of iceberg though, when you combine digital music with the internet, that’s when things get really crazy.  Together they’ve exposed people to the literal world of music that they’re surrounded by and allowed for an unparalleled level of communication between bands and their fans, eliminating geographic boundaries that would have crippled bands even just a few years ago.  It’s not all peaches and cream though, while people are being exposed to more and more music it’s beginning to seem like they feel entitled to it for free on a lot of levels and they’re not necessarily interested in paying for it.  People’s interaction and relationship with music is constantly changing and evolving, but I think that digital music may have presented a monumental step backwards in people’s experience and appreciation of music.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

I’m fine with it.  Like I said, if you really like an album you’ll end up buying it in a physical form.  I like sites like Bandcamp where you can download and buy records directly from the artist.  That probably ends up being better for an underground artist in the long run, because chasing royalties isn’t an artist’s thing really.  I think fans are choosing to buy directly from the artist more and more because they know the money is going straight to the source.  The internet gives the artist as much power as streaming takes away.  Fans, and the public in general, just need to understand that buying directly from the artist is the best way to do it.

I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can, but I swear there’s just not enough time in the day to keep up with half of the amazing stuff that’s going on out there.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard of before?  What about nationally and internationally?

Chicago has a ton of great bands, too many to mention...  my favorite current bands are UFUX and Mama from Chicago, and the Manateees from Memphis.

We’ve talked a lot about your music, but I wanna take a bit to talk about your artwork as well as it’s some of the coolest psychedelic art I’ve had the pleasure to come across in a good while!  When did you start drawing seriously?  I know you attended school in Indianapolis where you received a BFA in 1999.  Did you attend school to learn how to do psychedelic illustrative art like you’re making now or was that more of an education in fine art, per say?

I started drawing really young.  I would draw for fun throughout my childhood, later drawing hair metal logos and pictures of Axl Rose and stuff when I was ten...  In high school I drew for the school newspaper and went to classes at Herron for figure drawing.  I was doing a lot of graffiti at the time and would draw out pieces during class and go to the freight yard later that night and paint them.  I wrote graffiti heavily from 1993 to 2001 then gave it up to focus on music.  Graffiti made me a man, gave me self confidence, and it made me a better artist in general.

Was there a certain moment, an experience maybe, or a point where you saw a certain piece of art where you thought yourself, “Yeah I can do that. In fact, I will do that” or anything?

Yeah, I would see images of graffiti on Subway trains in the 80’s and love it.  When I moved to Indianapolis in 1993 I had just broken both arms skateboarding and gave that up to start writing graffiti.  Indianapolis had no graffiti.  I stumbled across a copy of “Subway Art” and started destroying the city.  It was exploration of a totally new urban land.  I could be alone at night and take my frustrations out on the wall.  Complete freedom in a virgin land.  I’d drive around the city in the day and see my graffiti everywhere.  It’s probably the best feeling a human can have.  You’re in complete control of your success.  You don’t have to rely on any two-faced asshole that wants to leech on you.  Do it yourself.  Create your own destiny.

I know you did the cover the self-titled Mac Blackout Band album, along with a ton of other covers for bands that you’ve been in.  Do you do a lot of commission art or pieces for other bands?  If you do commission work, what’s the best way for interested parties to get in touch with you?

Yeah, I’ve done recent work for Flesh Panthers, Modern Convenience, and Golden Pelicans.  I’m working on an LP cover for a great Chicago band, Le Tour.  I’m open to commissions/illustrations of all kinds, LPs, shirt designs, I’ll paint your boombox, your car, your house.  Just get in touch with me on Facebook or Instagram direct, @macblackout.

What are some of your favorite visual arts projects you’ve been involved with over the years?

I love making all types of art on my own.  I paint a lot of boomboxes right now.  I’d love to paint more cars and start doing whole buildings.  As far a projects involving other people...  Growing up doing graffiti with my crew, Made U Look, was tops...  Also, working on the first Functional Blackouts cover with Ilth.

I know you do prints of a lot of your art which you can find on your etsy page and when I was looking around on your site I saw that you had published a book which collects some of your artwork from January to March of this year (2014) from a series entitled, Nightmares And Pretty Things. Is that out of print at this point?  I know that several of the pieces from that are offered up as prints on the etsy page but I didn’t come across the book.  Is that out of print that this point?  Are there any plans to do a follow-up to that at this point?

Yeah, the first edition sold out.  I’m going to print a second signed edition of it.  I also plan to do another series of drawings for Nightmares And Pretty Things Vol. 2 this winter.

The pieces from the Nightmares And Pretty Things series were all done with pen and ink, so pencil, no sketching, which blows my mind when looking at the art.  Do you approach a lot of your stuff with that kind of stream of consciousness approach or does that depend and vary on what you’re working on?

The series started as just doodles.  Then, I wanted to add something referential, so I added it as I went.  It’s a balance of automatic drawing doodles and rendering images...  Whatever comes out.  A lot of the time I don’t know what’s happening until it’s done, so it’s kind of a psychological portrait.  I don’t like to over think it or preplan it too much... Add one thing, then the next.  When you get done it’s like, “What the fuck did I just make?  That’s a weird one”.

What’s your preferred medium when you’re doing art?  Are you a pen and ink all the way guy, or do you like to bring in some paints or mixed media stuff?  I’ve meddled in that stuff and I think it’s all a blast, but my heart definitely lies in black and white pen and ink illustration.  Do you have any one style or media that you’re particularly fond of?

It changes from time to time.  I’m starting to really dig painting with sign enamels on all kinds of found objects.  I like acrylics too.  Pen and ink is great, collage is super fun.  I really like mixed media as long as it’s constructed to last.  I love doing mixed media handmade tape and 45 covers.  I just put out a handmade tape with my last two solo LPs and five bonus tracks.  You can get them on my Bandcamp or message me on Facebook.

A lot of people who work inside the graphic designs and illustration fields that surround the music scene, rock and psychedelic music in particular, are lumped into a category that’s often referred to as Lowbrow.  While I understand where they’re coming from, I don’t necessarily agree with all of the connotations that arise from the usage of that term as I don’t think a lot of people understand what it means or refers to.  How do you feel about the Lowbrow art term and how would you describe what you do?

I just make art.  There is no low or high art to me.  People connect with all kinds of different art and artists.  “Lowbrow” and “high art” are just labels...  The world has changed a lot since the 90’s.  What used to be considered “Lowbrow” art is now “high art” in many cases....  Raymond Pettibon, Shepard Fairey, graffiti Art in general.  “Lowbrow art” is in all the modern museums in major cities worldwide.  We live in a much more open minded society.  Just like what you like, don’t let anyone tell you what’s cool or not cool, or “high” or “low”.

© Michael Siciliano 

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, you’re a seriously talented and interesting guy and it was awesome learning so much about you and the vast body of work that you’ve created.  I look forward to invariably hearing a lot more from you in the future, and I swear I’m done – no more questions!  Before we call it a day though, I’d like to open the floor up to you for a second.  Is there anything I could have possibly missed or that you’d just maybe like to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about?

Thanks for the interview Roman.  Be expecting more Mac Blackout Band, Mickey, and New Rose Alliance recordings soon.  I’m always down to do commissions, artwork for record covers, illustrations, murals, etcetera.  Just message me through my Facebook page or direct message on Instagram @macblackout.  See macblackout.com for art and links to music.

© John Mourlas 

DISCOGRAPHY
Mac Blackout Band (2012 – present)
(2012) Mac Blackout Band – Black Knight – 7” – Diversey Records (Limited to 300 Glow In The Dark Vinyl singles)
(2013) Mac Blackout Band – Heartbreaker – 7” – Pelican Pow Wow Records (Limited to 400 hand-numbered copies)
(2014) Mac Blackout Band – Mac Blackout Band – 12” – Pelican Pow Wow Records (Limited to 300 copies)

Mac Blackout (2008 – present)
(2008) Mac Blackout – Mac Blackout – 12” – Dead Beat Records
(2008) Mac Blackout – The Rabid Babies – CD – Dead Beat Records
(2009) Mac Blackout – The Western Blue – 12” – FDH Records
(2010) Mac Blackout – Don’t Let Your Love Die – 7” – Sacred Bones Records
(2011) Various Artists – Tarantisimo Summit Volume 2 – 12” – Bat Shit Records
(2011) Mac Blackout – America Stole My Baby – 12” – Burka for everybody Records
(2013) Mac Blackout – American Loser – 7” – JukeBox Records Music Company
(2014) Mac Blackout – American Loser – 12” – Bat Shit Records

Mickey (2009 – 2012, 2014 – present)
(2010) Mickey – She’s So Crazy – 7” – Hozac Records (Limited to ? copies)
(2010) Mickey – Highway Bound – 7” – Florida’s Dying Records
(2011) Mickey – Rock n Roll Dreamer – 12” – Hozac Records Daily Void (2006 – 2010)

               Daily Void (2007 – 2010)
(2007) Daily Void – Surprise – 7” – Hozac Records (Limited to ? copies)
(2007) Daily Void – Mass Communication Culture – 7” – Boom Chick Records
(2007) Daily Void – ID Code – 12” – Dead Beat Records
(2008) Daily Void – Man Machine – 7” – Florida’s Dying Records
(2008) Daily Void/Ovoids – Split – 7” – Don’t Hit Records
(2010) Daily Void – Civilization Dust – 7” – Ken Rock Records (Limited to ? copies)
(2010) Daily Void – Eclipse EP – 12” – Sacred Bones Records Functional Blackouts (2001 – 2006)

               Functional Blackouts (2002-2008)
(2002) Functional Blackouts – Razorblade Blues – 7” – Electroshock Records
(2003) Functional Blackouts – 1-900-GET-INSIDE – 7” – Goodbye Boozy Records (Limited to ? copies)
(2003) Functional Blackouts – Functional Blackouts – 12” – Criminal IQ Records
(2005) Functional Blackouts/Fashion Fashion – Split – 7” – Florida’s Dying Records
(2005) Functional Blackouts – Raw Dawg – 7” – Wrench Records
(2006) Functional Blackouts – Severed Tongue – 12” – Criminal IQ Records
(2007) Functional Blackouts – The Very Best Of The Monkees – CD – Dead Beat Records
(2007) Functional Blackouts/KK Rampage – Split – 7” – Big Neck Records

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Re-Stoned interview


Re-Stoned are coming from Moscow. They formed back in 2008 and during the past few years they managed to release six albums. Their latest has been recently issued on Headspin Records from Holland. Totems as they named the newest one is quite different from their previous albums.
Ilya Lipkin, who is the main man behind the band played in various of bands. From hardcore stuff to dark folk, but in 2008 decided to invest more time into a project called Re-Stoned. Return to the Reptiles was their first recording and soon they managed to release Revealed Gravitation and Analog, which remains highly regarded among the fans of this genre. In 2012 two parts of Re-session came out (the second one after their next album Plasma, but it was recorded before that) and after Plasma they started working on their brand new above mentioned release Totems, which is kind of a different and unlike their previous offering, it includes only instrumental compositions ranging stylistically from the classic '70s heavy-acid-rock to psychedelic repetition.


What can you tell us about recording Totems?

This album of The Re-Stoned is probably the first one, on which I’ve done everything like it was intended to be from the beginning. It has been recorded for many years and I had time to think every detail over by easy stages. This album consists of different compositions, some of them are quite old (Fire Bear for example – it was planned to be on the Analog album, but we were late to prepare it for the recording). "Hypnosis" is an even older track, but we had no time to make it earlier. Every track has its own story. So I’ve composed "Barbarian Hymn" during our tour in Wales. More details had been added later and a good friend of ours, Nikolay Fedorov, recorded a didgeridoo for it. The track "Chakras" was based on the drum groove and the whole melodic part was composed during the jam.


How does the process look like and what kind of equipment are you using?

In the first place several drum tracks along with the cover version of The Hollies for Fruit De Mer label have been recorded and after a year – drums in other compositions and all the rest of it. We did the recording in two studios – Moscow Sound and in my home studio. 90% of the parts I’ve recorded playing my favorite guitar - Gibson SG Custom 72, I also used 12-strings guitar Seagull, Gibson The Paul and a mandola (it’s a baritone mandolin) in some tracks. With every new album the quantity and quality of the equipment is raising. I hope the sound will be even better on the next album. As long as I produce our albums by myself it’s very interesting for me to develop and to try new equipment and work methods. It takes tons of time, but I know exactly how our music should sound so I can micromanage the process.


You had some guest musicians including Kent Stump of Wo Fat (interview here). What can you say about that?

Oh yes, it was very interesting! I like WO FAT very much and it was a great pleasure for me that Kent took part in the recording of our new album. I simply asked him if he would like to record a guest solo for us and he agreed. I like the result a lot! I have a second version of this track ("Old Times") with my own solo. Probably we’ll release it as a bonus or on a compilation. By the way I’ve recorded a guest solo for WO FAT too, but unfortunately this track hasn’t appeared on a split yet. And I was asked not to reveal what it would be.

Russia is slowly opening as far as rock music goes and you have quite some bands there, however I guess it's still very hard as far as concert goes?

Now we have a situation that it’s difficult to say if Russia is opening or closing regarding rock music. General decrease in music industry has begun long before, very few people come to concerts. As far as I know the situation in Europe with the concerts in the clubs is quite the same. People attend either the concerts of well-known musicians or big festivals.


What are some other bands from your country you would like to mention?

We have lots of great musicians here. But not all of them have enough strength to make music continuously. There are bands that we have appeared and will appear on stage with: Vespero, Without God, Human Factor, Grand Astoria, Reserve de Marche, Brand Band.
Not long ago I’ve discovered a very interesting band from Tver’ (a town not far from Moscow) – Snakecharm. In my opinion it is Miles Davis jamming with Casua Sui.

Are you planning to go on a tour?

Oh, this is a sore point. I’m often asked on Facebook: when you’ll come here or there. I’m dreaming about a tour of The Re-Stoned. I eagerly want to play music, which I love for everybody who really likes it. But it’s not so simple. All of us have families and we don’t work in offices… We can’t travel at own expenses, we need an agency or people who could organize it. We had lots of conversations about it but nobody grasped the nettle. I hope it will happen one day.

Future plans?

We are already thinking about the new recording. I’ve always had lots of material in demos. There can be draft compositions or simply separate riffs. Now I have enough music for two albums or probably even more. By established tradition The Re-Stoned’s new album won’t be like the previous one. So it will be more psychedelic, acoustic and airy, not like Totems. But it doesn’t mean that I have given up heavy riffs. This will not do! I think there will be some new exotic instruments, interesting guests. I have an artwork already (usually we had recorded music and the artwork came later). It is a painting of a fabulous artist, Alexander Zhelonkin aka "Arzamas", who made the cover art for our latest album Totems.























Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

White Manna - Live Frequencies (2014) review


White Manna “Live Frequencies” (Cardinal Fuzz/Captcha, 2014)

Imagine the speed freak intensity of Hawkwind merged with the narcoleptic, druggy drawl of Brian Jonestown Massacre or The Warlocks and you’ve entered the not-so-safe haven of manic, California-based headfuckers, White Manna. About a year ago they were one of the unanimous choices for the highlight of the Liverpool Psych Festival weekend and selections from two other gigs on the tour (Le Kalif in Rouen, France and Copenhagen’s Spillestedet Stengade) were recorded by wise soundboard engineers, who started the tapes running and got the hell out of the way. The resulting maelstrom is here in all its acid-washed glory. [Also note that the download version includes four bonus tracks, so you can experience alternate versions of some of the tracks as performed at one of the other venues mentioned above.]
                Slowly sauntering into the room like a ballistic missile heading straight for the center of your cerebellum, ‘E Shra’ bootstomps around your cranium, kicking asses and taking names. The quintet continue to kick out the muthafuckin’ jams with the punky snarl of the suitably-entitled ‘Evil’, which also evinces a rather dirty, sloppy vintage ‘70s Stonesy swagger. I can’t imagine what the typically sedate French citizens thought of all this mayhem – Rouen hasn’t witnessed such a fire-breathing conflagration since the English burned Joan of Arc in the town centre!
                ‘I’m Coming Home’ is not the old Alvin Lee/Ten Years After chestnut, but it’s still as ferociously intense as Lee’s career-making performance at Woodstock 45 years ago. I thought I heard bombs bursting in air somewhere amongst all the Metallic K.O., but that may have been a few brain cells kicking the bucket.
                And just when you thought it was safe to return your brain to its upright position, the band storm through ‘Sweet Jesus’, a battering ram of sonic sludge that marries the Velvets to the Stooges, with frontman David Johnson’s Jaggery snarl spitting venomous epithets across those who pogoed a little too close to the stage.
                An exhausting, cathartic experience you won’t soon forget.

Review made by Jeff Penczak/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band interview with drummer, John French


John French is one of the most unique drummers, with his very own style, which reflects the music of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. John and I spoke about his start as a musician, joining Magic Band, living, recording and touring with Don Van Vliet and much more. In 2010 French released Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic, which is an incredible insight into a world of mad genius.


It really is a great pleasure to talk to you, John. How are you these days? 

Really well! Just got back from a very successful tour of Germany, Holland, and the UK. They are never big money-makers, but the band were really on fire and I enjoyed it – a dream come true.

You’re still very active. What currently occupies your life? The Magic Band is very active and you are playing all around the world. Where all did you already play this year and what will follow?

Our earlier March tour was in the UK only. We went to Australia in April and back to the UK in May. Also, there was Zappanale in July, the only one we’ve ever done.  

Let's take a trip back to the '60s and your first musical endorsements. You were living in California, where at the time everything was happening. One of the very first bands you were part of were
"Merrell and The Exiles". In April 1964, "Please Be Mine" reached no. 9 in the local Palmdale station KUTY charts! As Exiles you released two singles in 1964, one in 1965 and another one later in 1967 titled "Tomorrow's Girl" / "When I Get Home". In 1966 more Merrell and The Exiles sessions took place in Hollywood at the Gary Paxton Studio and in 1967 at the Gold Star Studio with a changing line-up. Merrell once told me, that Don Van Vliet sent a spy to your rehearsal place, because he was interested in members of the band to form what would later become Captain Beefheart. What do you remember about being in The Exiles?

This is a longer story, and one which requires clarification. I was first in a band with the Maltesemen with a guy named Michael Melchione, who now works with Buckwheat Zydeco. I then worked with ex-members of Merrel’s band, Jeff Cotton, Don Giesen, and Jim Fergueson, in a group called "The Intruders" and then later, with some of the same members, a group called "The Allusions". We were typical of that era – teenage garage-band playing cover-tunes, but were very good, I thought. We wore matching outfits in all these bands, from preacher coats (Nehru jackets they were called sometimes) to velour shirts with dickies. The girls used to joke and say they "really liked our dickies…" After all this, I then joined the re-formed "Merrel and the Exiles" – who had already recorded "Please Be Mine" and "Can’t We Get Along". 
I did some recordings in 1966 with Merrel, but we soon clashed and I was out of the group quickly – after about four months. At that point, I joined up with my old buddies and his ex-Exiles: Jeff Cotton, Don Giesen, and Larry Willy. Larry was not really committed, so we replaced him with Mark Boston, added Jeff Parker on guitar, and Don Giesen went to drums. I was the singer/harmonica guy at that point, so we had the same format as the Beefheart group. We covered some of the same material, but were more into contemporary R&B and also Stones and Yardbirds material.

You joined Captain Beefheart in late 1966 and replaced Paul Blakeley on drums. What was going on with Paul, that Don decided to replace him?

Paul was better known as PG at the time. I think he just decided to leave the band, as they were in dire straights financially. 



What do you recall from getting together with a new band? They’d just released two singles and it was time to record "Safe As Milk" album on which your drumming was really unique and way ahead of its time and we can safely say, you slowly began pushing boundaries in music, even more on "Trout Mask Replica".

I recall that the band almost seemed like a group of has-beens at the time. Don was always stoned, and it seemed like most of the rehearsals were pot-parties. Don never wanted to actually rehearse, he was constantly creating/jamming and out of that came a few things, but most of the stuff was disjointed and needed organizing and arrangements. It was very chaotic. Don seemed very lazy and unrealistic in his role of band leadership.



Where did rehearsal took place for debut?

At Don’s mother’s house – Sue Vliet. He was living with/off her and his grandmother Ann Warfield – better known to us as “Grannie Annie.” We rehearsed in the living room. Both mother and grandmother worked at a local woman’s clothiers called “Scotts.” Don was very disrespectful of them and sometimes when they would get home, they’d grab some food from the kitchen and just go straight into their bedrooms. I don’t know how they put up with it. Don’s father had passed away shortly before, and as I recall, there were three houses owned by the mother and grandmother. As soon as we moved to Hollywood, they sold off the houses and moved into a small apartment – thus avoiding the possibility of their domicile again becoming a rehearsal studio. 


The short-lived version of the band in 1968: Jerry Handley, Jerry McGee, Don van Vliet, Alex Snouffer, John French.

Buddah Records released "Safe As Milk" in September, 1967. What do you remember from recording sessions?

The number one thing I found strange is that they rented drums for the session. I had my own kit just up the road, and it would have saved a ton of money to just use my drums, and I had an extra kit they had loaned me to practice upon. It was RCA Studios on Sunset Boulevard and was only a Four-Track studio, because supposedly Richard Perry, the first-time producer, was “confused” by the eight track at Sunset Sound (where “Sure ‘Nuf ‘n Yes I do’ was recorded). So, the whole project was moved to RCA.  Gary Marker, who was promised by Don Van Vliet to be the producer, told me this story. It’s in my book; "Beefheart: Through The Eyes of Magic".

World of Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band was very strange. Can you take us back and tell us about the lyrics and concept of the band? For instance what was Don referring to with a title like "safe as milk"?

The story from Doug Moon is that they were discussing the demonization of pot-smoking by the US Government. Doug Moon said, “It’s ridiculous! Why, smoking pot is as ‘safe as milk!’ Don immediately latched on to this idea and at one of the meetings we had discussing album titles, suggested this as the title to the band with Bob Krasnow (Buddah promotion man and our “unofficial” manager at the time) and Bob’s reaction was joyous laughter and a constant repeating of the phrase. He loved it.

Were you acquaintances with Don already before The Exiles? He was playing around with The Omens and The Blackouts. How was the scene back in the mid-60s there? With whom all did you hang out?

I had gone to a Beefheart rehearsal and also had spoken to Don at a couple of shows. This was pre-Exiles. I was much younger than Don – about 7 ½ years – so his group of friends were more from the fifties – the "Greaser" era as we younger ones referred to it. The era of the greasy Elvis-style hairdos, leather jackets, button-fly Levis, and white Tee-Shirts. 
After that was the surf-era – with clean-cut kids posing with surf boards and playing stuff like "Miserlou" and "Pipeline". The music was more instrumental, but then you also had the Beach Boys, who were phenomenal in their vocal harmony.
I did a long of hanging-out with my high-school musician chum; Don Giesen, Jeff Cotton, Michael Melchione, Harold Fields, Mark Thompson (now a lawyer) – guys who were more my age.   

What do you think is the main difference between your debut and your second one – "Strictly Personal" or "Mirror Man", which was recorded already in 1968, but came out three years later in 1971.

Ry Cooder had a lot more to do with the arrangement of Safe as Milk, which was more of a collaborative effort. Strictly Personal was probably the most involved I ever saw Don become with a project. He was very "hands-on" and worked very hard to put together the material. His major flaw in this process was not really rehearsing with the band, but the material was very strong and unique. 


Things became complicated for The Magic Band, while recording "Trout Mask Replica". You were living for a long period of time in a house and rehearsed over and over again. What memories do you have from this period and do you personally like the album?


Most of the album I like, yes, but most of the memories are very painful. This is carefully described in my above-mentioned book. There was a lot of what I sometimes call "brainwashing sessions" which were, as I think of them now, more like nightmare encounter groups with a lunatic in charge of the meeting. 



You personally had some "fights" with Don at the time…

Everyone did. He had, by this time replaced everyone in the band with younger players – all my friends – but for fear of losing control, he had several "talks" (as he referred to them) where one or the other of us was run through the mill. Don told me later that I fought back the hardest. Maybe he told everyone that. It wasn’t a pleasant time for me. But the music kept drawing me to stay.

I know this can be impossible to answer, but still what was the "Trout Mask Replica" about? Did all the albums you recorded have any original concept or?

I can only tell you what he told me. Don said that the "old fart" was me, and that was because I was the most-removed socially from the band and was always hiding behind a "mask". I had built a defense mechanism cope with the intense situation, and he used poetic means to describe it. I have no idea what he told anyone else, but that’s what he told me.

How did you choose the cover artwork for albums?

Don usually handled it or at least influenced it. The use of the black and yellow "Abba Zabba" checks on the back cover of Safe As Milk; the Strictly Personal album looking like a "Package" with postage stamps which included our photos, the whole "Twenty-Fifth Century Quaker" idea.  The inner sleeve of TMR with the reverse-negative psychedelics had been used already by Frank on the cover of Freak-Out so Don was very upset he used that effect with us. "Mirror Man" was basically released post-Trout Mask, and doesn’t even have a photo of the correct lineup and was just a rush job with poor production from Kama Sutra to recoup their investment on the sessions, which were performed at TTG studios in Hollywood. Later, Don started using the covers as advertisements for his planned post-band art career. He became less-interested in the musical process and more interested in pushing his art - which included sitting around a lot at rehearsals just drawing in his art book with felt-pens. 

Next stop was recording "Lick My Decals Off, Baby" and "The Spotlight Kid" on which you were sharing percussion duties with Art Tripp aka Ed Marimba. Did you find drumming with another drummer interesting or did you have a hard time getting musically along? Also why did Don choose to use two drummers for recording?

Art refused to learn my style as it was MINE and not HIS. Don persuaded me to re-join and put Art basically on Marimba playing the other guitar parts. I enjoyed drumming with Art, who was a superior technician, but enjoyed my style. We spent a little time together where he showed me several techniques which I started employing a bit in my playing, but basically, I hung on to my style. 



Later you had to go on a tour, but instead decided to move out of the band. When Don was done with the "Bongo Fury" tour he called you back to join the band, this time in a bit different position; as a director of "Bat Chain Puller" and at the same time also as part time guitarist for the album. How was making of "Bat Chain Puler"?



I had been Musical Director for Trout Mask Replica, and as Don had basically burned bridges with just about everyone else who knew anything about his music, he relied heavily upon me for BCP. I transcribed piano pieces into music and worked from there on several of the pieces – "Odd Jobs", "Seam-Crooked Sam", "Totem Pole", and "Odd Jobs". The pieces weren’t difficult, but I’d had a jump-start on learning them and could play 2 of them blind-folded (literally). So, as the rehearsals drug on, I wound up playing guitar on "Odd Jobs" to save time. They stuck me on a different guitar (Denny Walley’s) for some lame technical reason and plugged the guitar directly into the board, which gave it a very sterile sound, and I never have liked the finished product because of this – I’m referring to only the pieces I played on. Several of the pieces on Bat Chain Puller are favorites of mine.  


Your last collaboration with Don was in the late '70s, when you recorded "Doc at the Radar Station", which was released in 1980 on Virgin Records. Would you like to talk about that?



The last thing I wanted to do was work with Don again, but I had a very strong "spiritual epiphany" that I was supposed to do this project. When I walked into his house, the guitarist (Richard Redus) was just telling Don he was quitting over the phone as we spoke. When he hung up, I told Don that God had sent me there to replace the guitarist. It was quite strange, as the last time I worked with Don, I was there for a totally different reason and playing a different instrument on most stuff. 



"French, Frith, Kaiser & Thompson" was your new project. How did you all get together to record a project? This was an amazing line up and it must have been highly interesting to record together?


I never took either project very seriously, as there was obviously no effort at all made to tour. All I can say is that Henry is a great businessman, Fred is a genius, and Richard Thompson is a phenomenal artist. Both albums took a couple of weeks, we did a couple of live shows for the first one, and one for the second (at the Ashkenaz). I have fond memories of much of this work, but I wasn’t prepared musically to write. 



A bit earlier you were also recording "Crazy Backwards Alphabet", right?

Right, but at the time, they were also going into a "Beefheart Cover Band" kind of thing, and I wanted nothing to do with it. As it turned out, it was a hodge-podge of stuff, and was very disconnected. 


You released two solo albums and of course the reincarnation of The Magic Band recorded two more albums in the early '00s. What was the reason to start re-formed band

From a discussion with Elaine Shepherd (BBC producer of "The Artist Formerly Known as Captain Beefheart"). I mentioned that I thought it would be therapeutic to get together and do instrumental version of some of the Trout Mask Replica material with the guys who originally recorded it. She mentioned this to someone and ignited the fire. It grew into the monster it now is from that.

What would you say is your favourite moment on stage from the '60s/'70s?

When I completely destroyed a Premier drumkit onstage with a microphone stand. Firstly, however, when John Peel introduced us at the Middle-Earth in London in January, 1968. He choked up a bit, and it was quite touching. But, back to the destruction of the drum kit: They were sponsoring me but the kit they loaned me was hideously bad. I plugged away at the shows, but never really could get into it. One night, Don decided to blow his Simran horn directly into my ear. I had my eyes closed and it startled me. My reflex action cause me to strike the cymbal so hard that I broke it – all the way around the bell. When I went to hit it again, I lost my balance and fell backwards – knocking the entire drum kit down. So, I took a mike stand and pounded it to smithereens. They brought me a much better kit the next evening. 



I bet you have a lot of crazy stories to share with us, but can you pick one?

Our first promotional tour in Europe included the UK. A fellow by the name of Peter Meedham (sp) had something to do with the UK part. We were supposed to play at the Middle Earth in London and also at the Speakeasy. Neither of these were paying gigs. However, somehow we needed work permits in spite of no payment being made to us, or money changing hands. We were detained in Immigration for a time, with Peter and our then-Manager, Bob Krasnow, telling us from the other side of the Immigration officers that we should tell them we “weren’t working” in the country. Our guitarist, Alex Snouffer, had a large amount of marijuana stuffed in a plastic bag in his shoe. So, he got out of line and went to the men’s room, flushing it, as it looked like there may be trouble. I was at the end of the line, and some man who apparently didn’t approve of long hair came up behind me and kicked me really hard in the bum. I wanted to turn him into a bloody heap, but thought that would probably be the worst thing I could do, so I swallowed my pride and ignored this indignity. Don decided to make the situation worse by making up some ridiculous story and "coaching" us all in what we should say. Each person in the group was told something slightly-different by Don, so our stories made us out to be far more guilty than if we had just told the truth and said we weren’t aware of any work permits needed, we were here on a promotional tour, etc. 
I was taken in a private room by two guards who humiliated me by having me drop my pants and undies in an attempt, I suppose, to see if perhaps I had just forgotten and put me work permit up my backend.  Back then, I had a habit of writing down my dreams, and I had written down quite a strange one on a piece of stationary from the German hotel at our last stop. It was tucked in my passport case. They grilled me on whether this particular writing was inspired by "the use of hallucinogens". I said “no, it’s a dream, may I pull up my trousers now, sir?” We were eventually put into a detention facility with cots, a lavatory, and a locked metal door. The next morning, we were fed powdered eggs and toast and deported to Frankfurt, Germany. The next day, we were flown back, DJ John Peel had straightened out the mess and made a public appeal on radio from what I heard. He met us at our hotel and introduced us on stage the next night at the Middle Earth. Afterwards, we were trapped in the dressing room for what seemed like hours as British Fans queued up to meet us. It was very surreal. I was just nineteen. 


Don and the band on tour in the UK in 1968: John French, Jerry Handley, Don van Vliet, John Peel, Alex Snouffer, Jeff Cotton

May I ask you if the band or Don ever used some hallucinogens for inspiration or perhaps even during concerts?

He had a passive-aggressive approach to such things. When I first joined the band, I had just turned 18. He was very persuasive that "grass" was a great helper in creativity. We had entire rehearsals donated to the idea of just "jammin’ with weed". Victor (his cousin) would walk around with a pipe letting us have hits while we just kept playing. Most of it was a waste of time. The real music (the stuff we recorded) was mostly done while we were sober/straight and concentrating. He created his best music straight. However, he could write (or I should say, dictate to whomever happened to be the paper monitor) reams of nonsense poetry – some of which was quite entertaining.
During one period (the Mirror Man Sessions) he had his girlfriend spike my tea with LSD. It was a mild dose, but enough to throw me completely off and think that everything I did was genius. Basically, when listen back to some of that stuff, I wonder if I was dosed more than once. 
For me, LSD was completely confusing, as the hallucinations were SO real that I found myself thinking, after I came down, that these were things that were always there and I just couldn’t see them when not high. The knotty pine walls in the house looked as though they were alive – as the though the sap was still flowing – there were giant tetrahedrons of Jello (mostly red or cherry colored) floating around – giant 3 x 3 x 6 foot things just floating right through the walls and into the room. I had to walk funny to avoid them. There were thousands of children’s playing-blocks scattered around in the garden, and fish swimming through the trees. 
I had my first (and last) DMT (I think that’s what it was called) which was a powerful LSD-like substance that was smoked and produced a very short "trip" similar to LSD with Victor Hayden and one of his friends. We sat in the driveway, cross-legged, and the first hit of this substance produced a kind of Bankok-Temple kind of jeweled/sculpted effect on everything. It was so beautiful. We all were wearing fancy robes and Victor had a gold-leaf crown on his head. The next hit produced a translucence to everything. I could see through solid objects. The guys didn’t believe me until I covered my eyes completely and had them test me. I could tell how many fingers they were holding up because I could see right through my hands like looking through flesh-colored goggles. It was like Technicolor x-rays. The next hit produced complete “white noise” in my vision. It was like an old TV on a station with no signal – complete with white noise sound. Victor was trying to get me to take more. I could hear his voice saying, "come on, John, we’re not done yet!"  I was panicked a bit at that point, as I had no control and felt like I would drift off into insanity and be blind forever. 
These "trips" were things that Don touched on in his creativity. He watched a girl’s face turn into a fish once – which obviously spawned the cover for Trout Mask Replica.

Being a musician for whole lifetime is something very special. How do you feel when you go on stage?

It’s like a dream sequence – a bit unreal. I have always been a firm believer in really rehearsing well – so that you can “forget” about the music and concentrate on spontaneity and reaction to the folks without being hindered by “what’s the next line…?” Performing with The Magic Band at times has been quite rewarding. The one problem is that it doesn’t give me the chance to grow as an artist. I miss that. I would love to be playing newer and newer things – one reason why I have introduced the soprano sax into the group. It gives me something new to do, and I don’t really play completely free like Don did, but I compose solos and study scales so as to hopefully add to the music rather than being a soloist with the band as background. 



What influenced you back then and did influences changed during the years? Also what kind of music did The Magic Band like in general? It probably very differs from member to member, but I have to ask you this, because you were such a unique group of musicians.

Back in the days of "Safe As Milk" to "Decals", we listened to whatever Don listened to because I (and eventually "we")  lived with Don. A lot of John Coltrane was played. I loved the extended live versions of things with Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, and Jimmy Garrison. Once that group left, it became too "religious" in the sense of ‘let’s go into the studio, get high, and record some really far-out shit.’ Although, I must say that hearing Eric Dolphy play with Coltrane was amazing. Eric had a completely different sense of phrasing than Coltrane, so it was just SO different in their individual solo sections. Africa Brass was a great piece, also, My Favorite Things, and Afro Blue.

Ornette Coleman was another one that was probably more his favorite than Coltrane (I preferred Coltrane). There was an album he did in Scandinavia (At the Golden Circle, Stockholm) that basically to me sounded like nonsense about eighty percent of the time – which is the same way Don’s playing affected me. The trio was Ornette, Charles Moffet (drums), and David Izenzon (Bass).

There were other lesser-played artists: John Handy (with a quintet including violin, guitar, bass, drums – the only standout track to me being "Scheme Number One"), Charles Lloyd, Archie Shepp, Joe Henderson (Carribbean Fire Dance), Horace Silver (Song for my Father), Wes Montgomery (A Day in the Life).

Of course, there was always the blues. The biggies being: Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Son House, Bukka White, One-String Sam, Fred McDowell. That was going a lot and it was mostly the idea of guitar tonalities and finger-picking techniques along with the idea of the instruments playing individual "sections" like a big band that influenced Don, who then caused it to influence the musicians. 


He would occasionally listen to Tina Turner ("that woman’s got BALLS, man!"), the Rolling Stones (Jagger’s such a faggot), and Led Zeppelin. I liked Zeppelin right off – they were kind of my dream group and I would have joined them had they asked. He picked up a James Taylor album, listened to it once, and said, "this guy’s just a FAD, man -- a year from now, no one will even remember him".

Written by the man who spent more time than anyone else with Don Van Vliet and The Magic Band this serves as the definitive book about the group.

In 2010 you released a book about The Magic Band, where all our readers can find many more interesting stories, thoughts and general information about one of the most unique bands of our time. John, do you have anything else to add? Perhaps a message to your fans and to readers of It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine?

Yes, I’m still broke. Please buy more books! Buy LOTS more books!

http://magicband.org/




















Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2014
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