Interview: ST 37
Psychedelic, subversive and chronically overlooked, the Texan collective has been farming spaced out acidic punk pastures for decades. With meticulous motorik methodology, they have dug deeper and wider than most wayward dreamers. Their catalogue of misadventures is daring, dizzying and damned delightful, so much so, it begs the question of where to begin. Self-diagnosed as “I’m Not Good” it would have been negligent not to offer a thorough psychological assessment before the state mental hospital comes a-knocking…
There appears to be a recurring pattern of paranoia. When you mumble, “Down on us” who are they? And are these delusions of deadly buses not a little drastic?
SLT – Most of the blame for “Down On Us” can be laid at Lisa’s doorstep! We named our 2002 CD of the name after this underlooked gem of a 1984 B-movie: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Down_on_Us and in our typical contrary fashion, decided to use the film as inspiration for a song, as we did not have a song called “Down On Us” on the CD entitled “Down On Us”… Lisa actually made us have a movie watching party one night and forced us all to watch this cinematic tour de force.
Jimi? Janice? Jim?
SLT – As the movie is about three illustrious members of the 27 Club, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, we decided to echo this obsession in the final moments of the tune. Occasionally when we do it live I’ll throw in the direct quote from the film “Hey, Hendrix! I hear you got a big dick!” – (Joplin) – but prudence dictated (heh) that I refrain from doing so on the recorded version.
Perhaps it was just “Baxty” going off the rails again. I bet the drunk has your missing tennis racket from five or six years back. Hardly the ideal tour driver, eh?
SLT – “Baxty” is a loving tribute to one of the guitarists in my other band My Education, Mr. Chris Hackstie, who became such an expert at backing up the U-Haul trailer-laden Ford E150 van we called home back then that he earned the sobriquet “Baxty”. It tells the true story of our exploits in Philadelphia and Washington DC in 2009.
Oh, I’m almost clean out of forks! Have you spied that silverware dealing “Doppelgänger” lately? I need a loan…
SLT – “Forks” almost invariably becomes “fucks” when we play that song live. The lyric stays equally true. After all, those fucks are just as hard to get, and definitely harder to replace…
Having been kicked out of “The Secret Society” before, it’s highly unlikely you ever fitted in with the “In Crowd” so why have you flipped this ’60s single on its head? Is it really a homage to fellow Texan, Dobie Grey, or a thinly-veiled swipe at the establishment?
SLT – It’s a cover of a cover, actually. Bobby and I were both equally enthralled with Roxy Music’s version from the bootleg “Why Do You Think I’m a Funky Chick”. ST 37 has never been particularly hip, though we do cycle in and out of fashion occasionally, so we thought it’d be weirdly ironic to do the song.
And what on earth have you done with Edwyn Collins’ “Girl…” ? Did you spike her drink? Never has she been so hypnotic, racy and utterly out of it all at the same time! I’m infatuated.
SLT – Joel started playing the riff at rehearsal one night and well, we just went with it. One of the first times we ever played it live, one Bacchanalian night at Trailer Space Records, one of the finest venues here in the ATX (Hi Spot!), it turned into a ten-minute drone, so we decided we liked it that way!! We deliberately did not go back and listen to Edwyn’s version so it would remain, ahem…”pure”
Do you often dream about film stars? Well, Jean Harlow’s “Red” should hardly be placed on a pedestal! She’s a blatant affront to marriage as the script to “Dirty Little Homewrecker” testifies…
SLT – I am so glad you enlightened us to that back story. Joel says he chose that film to use because of “the Rita tits” but found the “30s bombshell dialogue” he was looking for later on in the film, in the “Dirty Little Homewrecker” scene…
Frogs! Talk to me about frogs. Why do you like them so? Is that the princess in you?
SLT – Joel lives way out in the countryside in beautiful Cedar Creek, Texas, so he gets a pretty untainted nature soundscape at night… He recorded several versions of the frog/cricket chorus… The one we eventually chose is called “frogs better!” We decided to put it at the beginning of the record pretty quietly to lull people into a false sense of security, hoping that they would turn their stereos up real loud, so that when “Down On Us” kicks in, it would hopefully scare them… Kinda like “India” by the Psychedelic Furs!!!
JC – I also like the metaphor for playing a show with absolutely no one there… Nothing but crickets and frogs.
Not only do frogs open the record, “Magnetic Amphibian Hydrated Gills” conjures equally strange visions when set to music. Are we in danger?
SLT – That one’s an odd combo for ST 37, as Lisa wrote the music and Bobby wrote the words and ended up singing them too. Yes there does seem to be an undercurrent of menace there… Bobby?
BB- The lyrics are a combo of those old school Godzilla monsters washing the time release coating off of oxycontin tablets and destroying the world in search of the finest of pain clinics in the land.
LC- MAHG was a song that took six years to write! I wanted to write a tribute to the Butthole Surfers set in a spaghetti western landscape, hence the amazing horn work by the “Thee Three Amigos” – Jonathan Horne, Leonard Smith, and Bill Jefferies – and the ending with a shout out to Amon Duul II or Popol Vuh. Then Bobby B added in some serious hustle and flow lyrical science weirdness when we decided to put some vocals on it.
Bulgakov? Yes, have you ever read “The Fatal Eggs” before? Are you a Russian sympathiser or simply enamoured with science gone wrong?
SLT – Sadly, I have not read any, though I have at least heard of “The Master and Margarita”…
Not another new wing of “The Insect Hospital” by any chance?
SLT – Groundbreaking is now under way for the Erickson Wing.
Well, you’ve almost certainly been reading that blasted Ballard again! What’s the lure of the man’s dystopian writing?
SLT – Ballard remains a touchstone for me because of the luminous beauty of his writing. I have seldom read another writer that combines such innovative themes, brilliant ideas and dystopian worldviews with writing that is so gorgeous it could be read as poetry in many instances.
LC- One of the best examples of that in my opinion is “The Crystal World”.
And what was the impetus to put not one but two silent films of Fritz Lang to music?
SLT – Well, “Metropolis” is such a natural. That one we were approached to do at the very outset of the Alamo Drafthouse theatre group’s planned silent-films-with-live-music series. I was so pleased to be given this opportunity that I became something of a Fritz Lang devotee and did a bunch of research in preparation for the score. I read two biographies and watched every film of his I could get my hands on. I was struck by the Expressionist beauty of “Destiny: Der Mude Tod” and thought it would be ideal for us to do if we ever got another chance to score another silent film. Now that My Education has done “Sunrise: A Song of Two Human” I almost feel like a little bit of an expert in doing rock scores for silent films!
Were you triumphant?
SLT – Oh, indeed!
Some say his visions were less about science-fiction and more focused on social commentary. Do you identify with the factory workers? Are you sure you’re not a socialist at heart?
SLT – I am definitely a socialist at heart, and, yeah, I do identify with the workers to a certain degree, sure.
LC- I second that emotion! “Metropolis” was a really important film for me because it merged the two so well. And I’ve always believed in the concept of speculative fiction being a sort of vision of Things To Come.
Well, apparently it’s 2015! Where are you headed?
SLT – Right now we are headed out on tour for five weeks with Acid Mothers Temple. We’ve never toured for longer than two weeks, so this will be quite the adventure! Also, we have three shows in Canada, so these are our first international appearances. We are super excited to be heading out across North America with one of our favorite bands!!
Do you think there is scope to top the number of performances you played in the past twelve months with that potential Acid Mothers Temple tour looming?
SLT – We will definitely be playing more shows this year than in any year since our founding in 1987. 32 shows in 32 days, if you include our KFJC on air radio broadcast performance, which we just added. Look out!
Might it be time for the next step in your improvisational series? There needs to be more ST37 etched in vinyl…
SLT – You are correct, sir! Yeah, we have kinda slowed down in our old age a bit… One thing I have noticed, and we pretty much expected this to happen, is that the improvisational side has sorta merged with our song-oriented side and the edges between them are getting kinda blurry… now we have songs like MAHG (Magnetic Amphibian Hydrated Gills) that have improvisational bits throughout and improvisation-based pieces like KBDP or Grandpa’s Birthday where our improvisation has themes that we return to… A natural progression, methinks…
Before I forget, is your foot still cut off?
SLT – No, but would you get me a Band-Aid? The crows keep flying into my third eye.
Great! I’ll keep these nail clippers for myself. Give my love to Roky. I’m off to speak to the Men in White Coats…