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Saturday, February 9, 2013

I BUY RECORDS INTERVIEW



John & Liz working on a new recording.

I have been working pretty hard on the new podcast: Jughead's Basement.  I have not had as much time to write a new story for this blog.  I don't want to pressure myself to create these entries on this site.  I want to feel the need to write about something before I just write about anything only because of the need to stay productive.  I still owe the site a Part II for The Lillingtons, and I am starting work on one about first meeting Operation Ivy, which in a smaller form is on the new podcast about Operation Ivy's ENERGY.  In the mean time here is an interview I just did for I BUY RECORDS.  If you want to read it in Italian, you can find it at that link.  I just heard they also have it in English.  I have left the Italian translated into english way in which the questions were asked, because I think it is very interesting how languages mutate and create different ways of saying things through random translation.


[A] - Hi John, it is a great honor for us of I Buy Records! to talk with you. First of all, how are you?

[JOHN] How I am all depends on when someone is reading this.  If it is the morning, I’m probably angry that I have to be up.  If it’s the afternoon, I’ve probably gotten used to being up and am now ready for whatever the day presents, if it’s early evening I’m probably hungry, and chances are I’m slicing and sautéing onions and tomatoes, and hopefully Mushrooms.  I love mushrooms.  If it’s late evening, I’m probably typing something similar to what you are reading, because that’s when I do my best writing.  If it’s the weekend I’m probably drinking Rum and Cokes and spending time with my girlfriend Paige in a city I’d like to get out of.  I’m in Cincinnati till Mid May 2013 performing a puppet show for kids, then back to Chicago.  I bet that’s a longer answer than you expected.

[A] - I feel you can be considered an artist at 360 °: Writer, Actor, and Musician: My desire is to touch a bit on all these points. So let's start by talking about your literary activities. You've written two books that have had great feedback and that I just bought from Amazon (Weasels In A Box and The Last Temptation of Clarence Odbody). Could you make me a brief presentation of both books for further encouragement to read them?

[JOHN] I have been lucky to have had the chance to indulge myself in such a productive creative life that you have so lovingly referred to as “Artist at 360 °” One of the only careers I dreamed of since childhood was to be a novelist.  This has been one of my only career goals since before I can remember.  All the rest of my profitable pursuits have been mostly unexpected.  The two books you mentioned are the products of all my experiences trying to manifest themselves into what I have always demanded of my scatterbrained destiny.  

With that said, I have much improvement ahead of me, but I am very proud of how my first two endeavors into writing a novel have turned out.  Weasels in A Box was my attempt to write about Screeching Weasel without it taking the form of a tour diary.  The main goal was to not only talk about the history of the band but to be able to express how it felt TO ME to experience it.  It is a very abstract and surreal exploration of being on the road and beginning to understand the concept of Semi-Fame.  A few seasoned musicians have told me that the story captures the feeling of touring very accurately.  

The Last Temptation of Clarence Odbody is a retelling of the movie It’s A Wonderful Life.  It explores a series of different choices taken by not only George Bailey and Clarence Odbody, but also even more so all the secondary characters.  The most pervasive question asked is “What would have happened if Clarence decided not to save George that night on the icy bridge?”  Like many of my writing pursuits, at the core I am investigating personal identity and what happens to your life choices when everything you know to be true about yourself and the people around you, is no longer valid or at least seriously in question.  This book is doing very well.  This is partly due to my creative editor who helped me push my confused eccentric writing closer towards a product a larger audience could appreciate.  (And we did this mostly without compromising my style.  Which was a very difficult task.)


Weasels In a Box - The Last Temptation of Clarence Odbody
[A] - Who are your favorite writers? Somehow have they influenced your style? What are you reading at the moment?

[JOHN] – My favorite writer and most influential is Milan Kundera, more specifically his book Immortality.  He set out to write a book that could ONLY be a book, not a movie, or a play, but a book.  I love the idea of mixing medias but I also strongly feel that each creative endeavor should have its own goals unable to be expressed in any other format.  His writing is highly philosophical but also personal and surprisingly simple in its portrayal of the plight of being human.  I would love to write like that!  

Right now I am reading Dracula.  I can’t believe I never read it before, it’s the only “monster classic” that I hadn’t read.  I’m having trouble getting through it.  It’s just been around so long and reinterpreted so many different times that I can’t read it without knowing what is going to happen next.

[A] - Are you thinking about a third book?

[JOHN] – Yes I just started writing a book called The Plight Of The Lampoons.  It is the story of a cartoon family that inexplicably appears in a real life suburban neighborhood, house and all.  The Lampoon children are trying to figure out where they came from, why they appear to be indestructible, and how come they all feel so incredibly alone.


Too Much Light play called: Inanimate

[A] - "The Neo-Futurists" is the theater group that you work with. Is there any link with the movement that was born in Italy in the early 20th century? What kind of act do you perform and what issues does it concern?

[JOHN] – That’s a very complicated question.

First: Yes, the creator of the Neo-Futurists, Greg Allen, studied the Italian Futurists, and combined many of their anarchistic, visceral, and dangerous artistic beliefs with later art movements including The Dadaists, The Surrealists, and The Happenings.  The Neo-Futurist style is often considered more performance based than theater based.  I guess the difference is not focusing on character work but every day life in itself.

Second: The theatrical style in which we write and perform in is immediate, non-illusory, political, and very personal.  Our main show is called Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, which has run in Chicago to sold out audiences every weekend for over 22 years!  I have been a part of the company for 16 of those years.  In many places I am much more known as a Neo-Futurist than as a punk musician.  I have written over 400 short plays and about 15 Full length plays with this company and also with my own company Hope And Nonthings.

Third: Find out for yourself.  It’s a very great unique thing.  It is an ensemble of insanely productive individuals. – www.neofuturists.org

[A] - Although it is probably not famous in the U.S., the Italian theater has an old school that has made many actors famous, at least in Europe. Looking only at the most recent Italian tradition, I think about Carmelo Bene and Dario Fo. Have you ever heard of them? If yes, what do you think?

[JOHN] – Sadly I have not.  I know more about Italian Art than theater, although my favorite playwright is Luigi Pirandello.  I have been trying to find a way to teach in Italy.  I would love to study Italian theater and bring a little bit of my own style to it.

[A] - Direct question: do you feel you are more an actor or a musician?

[JOHN] – That question is slightly misleading, because I couldn’t conceive of being one without the other.  I love the deep concentration that goes into creating, and performing, a theater piece, but I’m never happier than when I am playing guitar on a stage in front of an audience bopping and singing along.  The former makes me concentrate, the latter let’s me escape.  Ultimately I imagine being a part of something original is the element that holds it all together for me.  No matter what form it takes, exploring a unique path, where you are constantly inspired by others and inspired by oneself, is the ultimate goal for me.

[A] - I am following your blog with great interest and I especially enjoyed the story of your trip to discover Sicily and Southern Italy, as being born and raised close by there. Why you were so touched by the way of life we have there? Would you recommend a friend to visit Southern Italy?

[JOHN] – I would recommend that everyone on the entire planet go to Italy and Sicily at least once in their life.  But everybody shouldn’t go all at once.  That would be ridiculous, very physically unpleasant, and probably impossible.  I imagine the day-to-day experience is much different living in Italy as a citizen.  For me there was a freedom, a passion, and a collective awareness of one another’s feelings and intentions, that I haven’t experienced anywhere else in the world.  Plus I think the scenery and the people are beautiful, in spirit, and also to look at.

[A] - Every time I read the booklet in the reprint of My Brain Hurts (Asian Man Records) I was moved to read your stories about the beginnings of Screeching Weasel. As you explained, also you have come from a long apprenticeship, with many miles touring around the United States and playing in front of two people before achieving success and great satisfaction. How was the first gig ever? 

[JOHN] I really don’t remember what our first gig was.  It may have been the one in my friend Matt’s basement.  There is actually a video of that show floating around somewhere.  It includes an interview with the band.  Vapid recently told me that he is pretty sure that he was at that show.  I find that odd. I don't remember knowing him then, or how I even met him, perhaps it was then.  He didn’t join the band till about two years later.  The early shows I remember the most took place at a 21 and over bar called Batteries Not Included.  It was a run down dive bar on the Northside of Chicago that used to have punk shows after 10pm.  This is where we saw and met the members of Bhopal Stiffs, one of my favorite Chicago punk bands.  
What I remember most about these early shows is I was so tense strumming the guitar.  Playing in front of an audience made me incredibly nervous.  Because I have never felt that I am a very good guitar player, I just learned how to sell it well.  During the early days I was so tense that I would break at least 3 to 5 strings a show.  Sometimes it was so frustrating, and stalled the show so often, that I wouldn’t even bother to put replacement strings back on.  I think Ben began to nurture his audience diatribes during this period of our career, because he had to cover for all the time it would take me to change strings.  

The other memory was when our friend who worked at a psychiatric hospital brought some patients to our show at Batteries Not Included.  One of his patients, a very tall slender well built crew-cut-wearing fellow, stood directly in front of the two-foot short stage during our set, partially blocking the audiences view of us playing.  He stripped himself naked and started saluting the audience.  It happened so fast.  We couldn’t have planned it better.

[A] - As you also stated on the blog, you and Dan Vapid are back on good terms and this can only make us the fans very happy. Do you think that in the future there may be a possibility of a collaboration and why not, maybe a reunion of THE MOPES?

[JOHN]  I would never rule it out, but I don’t think it is really a thought in Dan’s head or mine.  We have headed in varying directions musically since we worked together last, so I don’t know if it would be beneficial or possible for us to do work together musically.  But Vapid will be joining me on the Jughead’s Basement Podcast.  We are co-hosting an episode about one of our mutually favored Chicago bands called Naked Raygun.  We will conduct interviews with the band members, and compile a list of writers to write pieces based on the Naked Raygun record Throb Throb.  When he told me that he enjoyed my podcast, I immediately asked him to help out in anyway that he would like.  He has a more deeply engrained appreciation for, and knowledge of, punk music than myself, and he can definitely add an important perspective to what I think is already a steadily improving podcast.
Even In Blackouts in Ireland

[A] - Do not you miss the thrill of going on stage as a musician? I read your interview for Punk Rock Pravda and it seems that EVEN IN BLACKOUTS run again, but as EIB. Is there anything new developing with EIB that you can tell us about?

[JOHN] We have decided not to call it Even In Blackouts or EIB in respect to our irreplaceable bandmates, Nathan Bice and Phillip Hill.  We have not decided on a name yet.  We will have a three part song called I WILL NOT featured on the Vindictive’s Tribute album to be put out by Sexy Baby Records.  
Also I am living in Cincinnati till mid May touring in a Puppet theater company called Madcap.  So the band, however it manifests itself, can’t be too active until I get back.  We plan on having a few living room shows in June and July of 2013.  The band members include: Liz Eldredge, Gub Conway, John Bliss, and John Szymanski.  This will be the first time Liz and I will have a band in which ALL members are located in Chicago. (Well… This will be true when I return in May.)

[A] - What are you listening to at the moment? Are there any bands/records you've heard recently that you'd like to recommend?

[JOHN]  I don’t get a chance to listen to much music these days.  But I have recently discovered a band called The Mixtapes, and Vapid’s new band is the best he’s done in awhile.  Both those bands cannot only play well but they consistently write catchy and smart pop songs.  Also I love anything that Cody Templeman does.  I want desperately to work with him again.

[A] - Excluding members of the Ramones, (otherwise it would be too easy) could you tell us who the punk-rock band of your dreams would consist of? I'll give you a maximum of two guitarists!

[JOHN] – I’m sorry to say that The Ramones wouldn’t even be on the top ten of my list.  I love their music, and they changed the world mostly for the better, but they have never been a top ten favorite of mine.  

If we stay within punk rock I’d have to say:
Mike Watt on Bass
Greg Hetson on Guitar
Jesse Michaels on Vocals
Grant Hart on Drums (and vocals)
Jeff Ott on second Guitar (backing vocals)
Although I think they would probably sound horrible together, and someone would end up dead.  But… For a hot moment it would be Amazing!

[A] - With the last question I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the time you kindly gave us. What are the targets for 2013 of Jughead? Maybe there will be an opportunity to see you again in Italy, in the upcoming future?

[JOHN] There are no plans yet to be in Italy, but if the new Yet-to-be-named band decides to tour, Italy will always be our number one place to go.  For now I will stay in Cincinnati and tour through the Midwest performing a very large extravagant puppet show for thousands of elementary school children.  Then when I get back to Chicago I will be teaching my own theater classes and returning to the stage with the Neo-Futurists’ show Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind for June and July.  I will also be continuing my work on Jughead’s Basement.  I would like to say that I will finish my novel in 2013 but they usually end up taking me at least 5 years to complete.  We will see!


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