The following is a complete transcript of an interview conducted at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco with David Lowery, lead singer of Camper Van Beethoven, on the last night of the Key Lime Pie Tour, on December 15, 1989. Extracts from the interview were run as an article in Mondo 2000, No. 2 (Summer 1990). This document is provided therefore for historic interest.
Marc Laidlaw: Mondo 2000 did a whole issue on “Music and Consciousness”–
David Lowery: Cool.
ML: –and it seems like you’re probably asked a lot of questions like, where did the people in your band come from and all that kind of stuff, and how many times can you answer those questions?
DL: Yeah, I don’t really feel like answering those anymore, and you know the reason why a lot of people ask us those questions anymore is because they never see it in print, because it’s really not that interesting. We were just friends and we met and we started playing in a band like everybody did. You’d be surprised if it was really anything different than that.
ML: So I guess the emphasis that I’ll take—and we start off with Wilson, it’ a great place to start—is sort of more esoteric influences on your music and on—not necessarily just the music because obviously we’re dealing with the written word here, and people who read it are going to be at least quasi-literate and want to know your background and what the influences are on your music, so that they’re gonna look for things that maybe aren’t even there…I know I read a lot of stuff into lyrics that may or may not be there, but just the fact that you’re conversant—that you recognize Wilson’s picture, these are the sort of things that readers of Mondo 2000 are probably into. So maybe I could get you just to repeat what you said about who you bumped into was it in L.A.?
DL: Yeah, well what happened was I had just moved to L.A.—or maybe it was when we were down there recording, I can’t remember, but a friend of mine spent his life making dinosaurs, he loves dinosaurs, and he ended up slowly but surely getting these weird—he would do sets for low-budget plays and stuff…well anyway, he got this job designing sets for these guys who do pretty bizarre independent television shows, I don’t even know if they’re really successful but they’ve come up with some really great and crazy pilot ideas. So this friend calls me up and says “Hey, I’m designing this set, and you want to come down for the shooting and hang out for awhile? I’m going to be really busy and that’s the only way we’re going to be able to hang out.” And I go down there and it turns out these guys are doing this Robert Anton Wilson talk show, a pilot for a potential Robert Anton Wilson talk show which is— well, I’ll explain later why that’s great for me. So I sat there and watched the whole thing and it was great, I sort of talked to Robert Anton Wilson afterwards, having read all of his books I wanted to ask him some stuff, and (uh, yes? Our dressing room’s around the corner.) So I realized that I recognized the producer and the director of the show from this place where I always eat breakfast, and they always eat breakfast there too, and the producer was like, “Hey, you’re familiar,” so I go, “Yeah, well, I’m in this band, you probably know me from this band.” But it turned out he didn’t know me from this band anyway, which was, it was good to be humbled a little bit, he didn’t even know who we were, he didn’t recognize the name or anything, and so I was just talking to him. And I kept seeing him at this breakfast place, and then one day I went there and he goes, “Hey, you know, I heard some of your music and I was wondering if you would do the theme song to the Robert Anton Wilson show, or submit some music for it,” and so I go, “Oh yeah, sure, I’d be into that.” So I wrote the opening theme, which is the “Opening Theme” of our new record, Key Lime Pie. But I guess nothing ever happened to that pilot or anything, it’s sort of never been used, but that’s where I wrote the opening theme, for the Robert Anton Wilson talk show.
ML: Do you do most of the, well, let’s talk about creativity I guess. A lot of your lyrics are really dreamlike and you seem to vary between poles of down-to-earth sort of goofiness and sort of dreamlike almost narrative quality of like what’s that song?—”All Her Favorite Fruit” is really narrative, there’s like a succession of dreamlike images, but at the same time they’re very concrete. And sort of at the other extreme you know you have something like the Reagan Song, “Sweet Hearts,” which is really beautifully textured if you just listen to it, it’s this sort of beautiful romantic song, and then you start listening to what it’s about—do you do most of the writing of the lyrics?
DL: Yeah, I write pretty much all of the lyrics, there’s been a few songs in the records that I haven’t written the lyrics for, Victor wrote a couple of lyrical things and Jonathan did too when he was in the band, but I don’t know, all but like five or six of them I’ve done the lyrics to I think, that’s just an estimate.
ML: How about the music?
DL: The music, I have this idea, it’s like if you want to be a solo artist you go and you just write all of the music, but I’m not really into that, so what I like to do is to get just a skeleton of a song, and the great thing about being in a band, and that’s sort of like whatever I play on guitar and then whatever I sing, and I like to just come in and bring it to the band and see what they play and if I sort of don’t like it or I think they’re missing the point of what I’m doing, or maybe I haven’t explained it fully enough, then maybe I’ll change things. And there’s times I’ve written all the parts and just told everybody what to do, but I don’t usually like to do that, I like to sort of see what everybody else does first, because I think that’s the great thing about music is like, you know, just that people will, they’ll sort of interpret an idea that you have in sort of a different way, and it’s something you that you could never think of, that you could never possibly think of. You wrote the basic part of the song and they come at it from this weird angle, that’s the great thing about being in a band as opposed to being a solo artist. So I try to do that, even if I have ideas for developing a song later, I try to just present just the absolute bare skeleton of the song to the band and…
ML: And then go on from there….
DL: Yeah, that’s the great part of being in a band.
ML: So what are like some of the stronger—what are the influences of some of the other members of the band? Aside from purely musical, what would you say that they bring to the feeling that a particular song…. It’s like, it seems to me that each of your songs has a distinct integrity, there’s a certain style, they’re similar in themselves but each song is very different from all the others, it’s sort of eclectic, so I guess that’s a reflection then of your personality as the artist of these songs, but then the band itself has so much texture…
DL: Well, you know, I don’t know, well, I hate to use like sort of rock terms but to me I always have a choice of who I present a song to first. And see, I’m not the only one who writes music, I write most of it but like sometimes Greg will write music or sometimes Victor will write music and I’ll just do the lyrics to it, but I always have a choice of who I want to begin to work on the song with, and that influences it greatly. If I feel like the song needs to have a more sort of earthy sort of rock quality, I always start with Greg, our guitarist. If it feels like it wants to have a folky quality, I used to start with Jonathan, but now I guess I’ll start with Morgan—she’s our new violinist, she does those things. And if it’s sort of a more pop sort of coherent, tight, sparser song, I like to start with Victor, our bass player, or our drummer. That’s as close as I could really say to what each of the people lend to the songs. I think everybody in the band is pretty diverse in the kind of styles they play.
ML: They do a lot of collaborative work, too, outside of Camper van Beethoven, which seems to keep us the variety.
DL: Oh yeah, that’s great, that really helps us.
ML: Do you notice, do you have any, do promoters and stuff have any trouble presenting you, because your stuff is all so different?
DL: You know, I think they did in the beginning, they did in the beginning, but now we’re sort of known for that. (Around the corner to the right.) We’re sort of known for that, and so people don’t really have a problem with that anymore. In fact, one of the criticisms I’ve heard of our new record is that it sounds too much the same, it’s like we’ve got a style now or something, and that’s not really true because you know that’s just the songs we chose for the record and that was a very deliberate decision as to have sort of more of a mood to the record, although compared to anybody else’s record it’s pretty diverse, I think.
ML: That would reflect the eclecticism of your own interests?
DL: Yeah, I think too many, I think just as in everyday life people get really pigeonholed and get straitjacketed by their occupation, I think bands do too. And there’s been this thing where—I think originally the great rock bands were very, they realized that pop was this mongrel, just this sort of meshing, just this sort of goulash of cultural influences and it wasn’t a real pure art or musical form is what I mean to say, and over the years rock has started to all sound the same and every band has sort of like one sort of subgenre of rock that they play and they choose that as their style, but in everyday life I think most people listen to a lot of different kinds of music, and maybe I strive to do that more than a lot of people, maybe we in our band we listen to a lot of different styles of music, but to me there’s been no reason to, I don’t see any reason to not play other styles of music, as long as you play them well or you come at it with the approach that, like, well we don’t really know how to play this kind of music, but we’re going to try to play it and it’s going to be something different, and it’s going to come out new, but we’re going to accept it for what it is. And that’s how new things come about, and that’s been really important to me; to me that’s been like the whole history of rock and roll, it’s something that people have forgotten. If you look back at bands that people consider the classic, great rock bands, they all did that, like the Beatles you know, they had all this weird sort of like English pub music and sort of like brass band sort of influence, and you know a little bit of country, they were trying to do American rock and all this stuff, and the Stones which you know they tried to take a lot of American blues and mix it in with rock, again, not that rock didn’t come from blues…urn, Led Zeppelin tried similar things, Little Feet; Kaleidoscope, David Lindley’s old band from the 60’s, I mean that’s what they were all about, was trying all these different styles of music and mixing it with psychedelic rock, and to me that’s like what all the great bands were about. They were really eclectic, and I think it’s only been in the last ten, fifteen years where a band sort of had one particular sound, and so to me that was—to play in a rock band is to participate in this alive, vital musical form, that’s why I don’t want to play classic musical, cause I don’t think it’s alive, I don’t think it’s vital–
ML: You don’t see people dancing in front of the stage.
DL: And we don’t have folk music in this country, really, anymore, and so that’s what rock music is, and it’s got to be this live, vital interchange, interaction between the culture and the band. And so that’s why I’ve always felt like, well yeah, we don’t know what fucking Russian music sounds like but let’s fake it and we’ll turn it into something new and it’ll change our sound, and let’s make it so that we like it, and then what ties it together is the fact that we’re all the same five, six people, depending on who’s in the band at the time, that ties it together and makes it sound coherent. I just don’t think people should be scared of that.
ML: What are some of your other influences aside from musical— that you would say influences on your writing and on your….
DL: A lot of the literature I’ve read, um, I really like to read a lot of science fiction, just because I feel that it’s experimental in another sense, usually you know people are, you know, you get this sort of staid literary sort of academic culture, and to me science fiction is experimental in ideas and sort of in ideas about our culture and of all human culture, not just our culture.
ML: “History of Utah,” for instance, has got great science fiction imagery sort of threaded through it: flying saucers….
DL: With more of the religious stuff. Yeah, so that I’ve always been fascinated by a lot of science fiction, you know. I don’t know, I read a lot of Philip K. Dick when I was younger and naturally I’ve read William Gibson, who was sort of an extension of what Philip K. Dick was trying to do, which was science fiction about culture, and I’ve read a lot of what people consider more serious literature that’s influenced me a lot. Thomas Pynchon, I really love Thomas Pynchon, actually.
ML: Well he’s a huge influence on Gibson and all the cyberpunk….
DL: Yeah, he’s great, actually he’s sort of in some ways also had something in common with a lot of the new science fiction writers who write about cultural things and he was really into writing about writing about culture in this sort of more overt way, you know, to treat it as an object rather than a milieu—that the story is set in, he made it sort of an object of what he was writing about, and that’s what science fiction does a lot. I obviously read a lot of Robert Anton Wilson, you know, I’ve read all of his stuff, the Illuminatus trilogy and the related books.
ML: Are there any clues to these things?
DL: Well yeah, our second record II & III, we thought that was our—see what we did we went out on our first tour, about six months after our first record came out we went on a big tour of the United States and I remember—well I had read like the Illuminatus trilogy long before that, but I had started reading it again because it seemed like a good thing to read in the van, you sort of read and put down, read for five minutes and put down, you could always remember what was going on, and we started getting really paranoid, we had this whole string of events that happened to us that sort of vaguely related to that sort of Illuminati conspiracy theory, and it all sort of came to a point one night when we were eating at this place called The Blind Pig. And I don’t remember what the Blind Pig’s significance was to the Illuminati thing…
ML: Where was it?
DL: It was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it was a club there and it’s also sort of a restaurant with a club in back, we were playing there…what was the deal with that? I remember— Jonathan remembered what the relation of the Blind Pig was to the Illuminati, but I didn’t really think about that, I just noticed that we were in this booth that had a big eye in a pyramid above it and there’s a picture of Dutch Schultz on the wall, they sort of had gangster theme in their place? And so, I don’t know, it sort of came to a head right then, we were sort of being paranoid just for the sake of it, just for fun, just for the thrill of it, just sort of to have something to do about the Illuminati sort of as a joke. We had a whole bunch of hotel rooms—we kept getting hotel room 23, cause at that time we’d all stay in one hotel room, we’d all sleep in the hotel room, and so we named our second record II & III, and that was sort of our reference to that.
ML: I notice hotel rooms figure prominently in your work, like “Eye of Fatima.”
DL: Well yeah, like try staying in like 500 hotel rooms in the last five years and they start to…
ML: You’re bound to start seeing extra things in them.
DL: That, and then there’s the “Skinheads Bowling” single we did that had all these little Thomas Pynchon symbols on that from “The Crying of Lot 49.” The references are all sort of vague and they’re just sort of here and there, I don’t know if they’re very overt. To me, what influences my lyrics most are two people, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to me, just the way he talks about reality, and then just this strange poet guy that I grew up with in Santa Cruz and Southern California, this guy named Eric Kirkendal. I was in a band with him, he was the singer in the band and he influenced me heavily in how he would blend all kinds of pop culture things…he was just completely—he had basically two things he was into, images of death and eating, but he never like, never like the cliche stupid like 80’s sort of alternative band sort of gross images of death, he was really tuned into it, he’d read all of this good folk stories and stuff like that, he just really had these great things, so all his stuff was about food and death and the fecundity of life, and in a way Gabriel Garcia Marquez is about that too.
ML: “All Her Favorite Fruit,” now that you point it out, it seems to me that has a sort of quality of colonial life.
DL: Actually that’s more related to Pynchon in a certain way, but to me that’s sort of like that dreamlike way of talking about…stuff…which I guess is what literature is, is kind of just talking about stuff, songs and stuff, that sort of for lack of a better word dreamlike way of talking about it has been a big influence on me. I think that’s really how people think in a lot of ways—I would divide it—see, I remember being a teenager and thinking, God, it’s so weird how people divide up the world into good things that happen to them and bad things that happen to them, or happy times and sort of bad times, and that’s really, really false, I mean, really you can divide up experience much better into the mundane everyday things that happen to you and the weird things that happen to you; and if you look at things as good and bad or happy and sad, you leave out all the shit that’s really great. I remember sitting around in high school smoking pot and trying to explain some bizarre incident that happened to you and that—the way the waitress acted and the way she said a certain word, and how it just sort of resonated deep inside you or just made you laugh but you can’t really explain why…. To me, a lot of what we’ve been doing in this band is taking—putting the world into a different dichotomy, our own, like all the strange things that happen to you, all the bizarre stuff….
ML: That’s sort of your muse. That’s the dreamlike quality that your music creates in a listener.
DL: But really this is the way to profoundly affect people, I mean that it’s just because of the day to day living, the culture, people don’t think about it that much, they just really don’t think about the weird things or the great things…(there’s a set list sitting on the bar in there, it’s written in pencil on a little paper, and there’s a song that I’m gonna insert in there, don’t worry about it, I’ll just figure it out later, just write it out like it is, okay? Thanks, Bobby.)
ML: So to go back to the idea of a companion piece to Key Lime Pie, to keep driving the reader back toward it and toward your earlier stuff, do you have any storeis about how particular songs came to be written?
DL: Well, “Jack Ruby,” I was sitting around, and I’d been fascinated over the last year with the American folk ballad form—the ballads about bad men and bank robbers and bad guys and how they’re so amoral in a certain way, but they’re really great how they’re just a story and it engages the listener to interpret it and think about what, to think about life. I think about all those bank robber ballads, and there’s all kind of ’em in American folk music, where they’re not really heroes but there’s something about their freedom and their release and the way they get away or they get away with what they’re doing, or maybe they get punished but how their lives are poetic; that sort of appealed to people years ago, this way they didn’t understand or maybe I don’t understand people years ago cause I never saw them cause I never was around them, I wasn’t born then…but to me that form is fascinating, how they sit there and have this—tell a story this amoral way, their morality was a greater one, one of the listener instead of the story teller, and so I was trying to do—and also I was thinking wow, these folk ballads are great, how they go on for twenty verses and there’s no chorus, or sometimes there’s a chorus and there’s just these stories, that’s really like, story telling is also comes from the same roots as music, and I was thinking how great that was, so I came up with this sort of folky chord progression, I was thinking God this should have twenty verses to it and it should be about like a bank robber or about some kid who goes around and robs 7-11’s, which I never really got to and I’m sure I’m going to get to one of these days, the idea of the kid who robs 7-11’s and make up a great folk ballad about it, but I was writing this and I came up with all this vague cliche folk ballad imagery, and then I was sitting in my little studio where I was living in Santa Cruz and I had this little photo sitting on my desk of Jack Ruby just before he shoots Lee Harvey Oswald, and I thought wow, this is something to sing about. So I tried to do it in that old folk ballad form. So that’s how that song got started; I decided to portray him how you might one of those anti-heroes in one of those old folk ballads. A lot of the other songs, though, are really not very—I can’t really sit down too often and decide I’m going to write a song about this, it just never seems to work that way, I feel it’s really stilted. What I like to do is just sit there and play with the guitar part that I’ve come up with for a long time and come up with one lyric, one line, one sentence, maybe a couple, and just go, okay, just find something that for some reason I like a lot, and then just build the whole song around it. Sometimes it’s very obviously… like “When I Win the Lottery,” I forget what the first line of that was, but it’s very obvious it was this character, so I treat it like how you would if you write a short story, you just sort of let the characters—you get into the characters and then you just let them say what—I don’t know, I’m just a very amateur story writer, but you sort of let the characters say what they want to say and you forget yourself, and you let them say what you want to say, and that’s what I did with “Lottery,” I came up with this one line and I decided it was this character, so I just wrote like shitloads and then I’d just edit it down, all these things that this character would say, and a lot of it was like—my character was actually more racist and I decided that I had a little bit of a responsibility even though I felt like in some ways I was editing part of my artistic integrity, but you also have a responsibility at the same time and I thought well a lot of people aren’t going to understand this, just music, the way a lot of people listen to music is really stupid, they don’t understand that I’m like playing a character right now; so I left out all the racist stuff because I got to kind of a fucked character, but he also has some insight on the world in a scary sort of way. So that’s what I did, is just let the guy talk and then I edited it down to just verses, just made a song out of it. And like “All Her Favorite Fruit” came from a line, “And does he ever whisper in her ear, all her favorite fruit?” This just popped into my head and okay, what is this about? And you sort of invent the character from there and invent the story from there. That’s pretty much how I write all the songs; there’s not really—and there’s not too much form…there’s not too much—I just don’t really think about it too much before hand, there’s a great word for that, there’s not premeditation; occasionally there is, I like to just get a line, just figure out what this character is, what this song is about….
ML: Do you have any interest in, ever studied or read the Surrealists? Would you say that influence is more psychedelic?
DL: My ex-girlfriend studied, she’s really into slightly modern French history, and was into the Surrealists, the Dadaists, and she knew a lot about them, so I was exposed to a lot of their things, but no, to me where our absurd—elements of the absurd that come into our music came from just when I was a teenager and I was playing in punk bands. I was into bands before this where the lyrical style was a lot like this also, in fact I’ve robbed a few songs of ideas I wrote before, like ten years ago, for our music. To me it was just that everything is so fucking heavy, and that’s not like you were ever coming any closer to the truth about life or anything by being heavy; in a way by being funny, absurd, insane, you’re also approaching the truth as easily as you do—maybe even better than you do if you’re serious.
ML: I notice your more topical songs tend to be humorous, and the songs that you take more seriously are in a way more abstract.
DL: We really don’t have that many topical songs anymore because I just felt like we could only do that for so long; I mean how long do you want to listen to me commenting on pop culture in a very specific sort of narrow part of white boy pop culture, I mean it’s going to get tiring after awhile. And to me there were so many other aspects of our music, it was really easy to leave that behind. But yeah, a lot of the stuff was very topical, and that’s the problem with topical stuff, as you say you can’t get that really abstract about it, it’s very on the surface, it’s like political cartooning is great but you wouldn’t want to run the world by wisdom taken from political cartoons. But then again, I hate to get to heavy about what we’re doing, too; because to me it’s just like we’re getting together and playing music, and my interests just naturally lie more in this abstract…the weird, as opposed to the mundane, if I can talk about my dichotomy of the world again. They just lie in that direction, that’s what interests me, and I just let it come out.
ML: Who’s your audience that you think of—are you writing for yourself, for your friends, or people with particular point of view of the world? What sort of people do you think would understand you or be most open to being changed by your music, being influenced and getting hooked into it?
DL: I don’t really know. I thought about this for a long time and I decided pretty early on that it was just as bad to write songs to be commercial, or for the record company or for the radio or whatever, it was just as bad to do that as it was to write songs for your audience, too. Ultimately you’re going up there and you’re playing 100 shows a year, you’re playing a lot of the same songs 100 times in a year. And ultimately you have to be interested in them, and so they have to be—you have to at least personally think of the songs as being deeper.
ML: Which are the ones that stand out to you the most, that you still like playing every time you play it?
DL: Okay, well like “Skinheads Bowling,” we’ve played it almost nonstop for five years because—and like things like “Where the Hell is Bill,” which was really topical sort of wore out really fast, we just said let’s never play that again, that was fine for 1985 but let’s never play that again.
ML: I heard a lot of calls for that at the GE thing.
DL: Right, we don’t play that anymore. But whereas “Skinheads Bowling” was to me slightly topical, but it was so fucking absurd, I mean, that was my anti-pop song, that’s why I wrote that, the anti-pop song, nobody could read any fucking thing into this song, it was just like whatever I thought of saying, I just said it. For awhile there it didn’t really have set lyrics but I came up with my favorite things of what I had originally said and kept those. That one just sort of lasts because it’s absurd, the absurdness.
ML: Do you see yourself—what do you see for the future? I mean, what are your plans to keep growing…. Well, Mondo 2000, where do you see you guys in the year 2000, for instance? Do you look that far down the road?
DL: Yeah, I do, actually. I don’t really know too specifically…the whole idea that I’ve thought about this band is that we should be…if we played exactly what we want to play, we may never be commercially successful, but we would, because we’d be so altruistic or true to ourselves, that’s a better phrase, eventually we’d develop what they would call in the rock music business as a cult following, which we pretty much have, and to me that’s the kind of band that doesn’t really have anything to do with the big media culture. I mean it’s great that we’ve gotten on the radio, people are finding out about us and everything, but to me music is much better when everything is just word of mouth. I just wanted to develop this following that didn’t have anything to do with the record business and it didn’t have anything to do with radio, didn’t have anything to do with college radio, didn’t have anything to do with the current youth subcultures like punk and post-punk.
ML: It seems that cult status is the ultimate artistic status, really.
DL: Right, and that’s sort of what I’ve been trying to do, and I thought if we just play what the fuck we want, and sort of be also like acknowledge our own history, which is the kind of set we’re playing these days, that’s eventually what we’ll come to. And that’s really what I want to do. I don’t care if we’re playing the Warfield in the year 2000, I don’t care if we get any bigger, this is great, this is a great place to play, you can make a living playing for 500 people every night.
ML: I went to see you with 10,000 Maniacs and you were opening so everyone was talking all through, you were lost of there, and in comparison with a place like this where the audience is right there and you can see the faces of everybody there, it must be kind of a nice feeling.
DL: Yeah. I mean, I have nothing against the bigger places, and if that’s where we’re going to play, if that’s the number of people that want to come and see us, that’s probably what we’ll have to do, but to me I just felt like we should be this cult band. That’s why we did a record like we did this time. The logical thing, if we’d been like many alternative bands we would have made a slightly more rock record, and we made this folk, dark, dreary record cause that’s what we felt like making at the time. It’s not dreary, maybe I shouldn’t use that word, it’s a little scary; but compared to a lot of our stuff I’ve heard people use that—to me it was more bittersweet, and that was the idea.
ML: It was more melancholy, to use the poetic term. It’s the Saturnian personality, that’s the basic poet’s personality if you look at the Romantic poets; it’s that dark bittersweet morbidity, and it’s very real, it’s a celebration of life too.
DL: Yeah, that’s exactly…. To me it was, we’d had songs like that on all of our records and to me I just wanted to delve into it a little bit more, I don’t know if we’ll keep getting that or what, but that’s just what we wanted to do right then, and I felt like if we’re going to be a real band that’s what we have to do right now, because when we’re on tour we’ve got to be happy playing our songs, we have to do what we’re into right now.
ML: And if it starts to look like it’s getting too formulaic, you can always sidestep; if it turns out to be the thing that they’re trying to hype, you can always keep going…
DL: Well we’ll just do exactly what we want to do, I can’t really predict that.
ML: Okay…. That’s great.
DL: Okay, the urban intellectual semi-educated culture is often more closed-minded than your average teenager who doesn’t know fucking shit. They’re normally considered to not know anything; to me it’s like, we can get away with so much more when there’s a big teenager faction in our audience, we can be way more experimental than the average 20-something crowd that lives in the big city and there’s all the cool bands, Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Camper Van Beethoven—we can get away with so much more because there’s no preconceptions about what we are. The teenage culture is actually—I mean some of them don’t get it, they just don’t get it, but when teenagers get it they understand it deeper than the critics who are writing about it. The critics who are writing about it have to look at the teenagers to understand it; they’re the validation of rock and roll. To me, I’ve always known from the beginning that that’s really—like Rolling Stone declared you, like, this is one of the best bands of the 80’s, but if in 1999 nobody was ever influenced by you, if the teenagers who were 17, 16 at this time are not in the bands that are popular and really sort of adding to the—or participating in the vital life of rock music in 1999, then you didn’t mean anything. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of about that; that sort of sounds like whorish or something—oh you mean you have to appeal to teenagers and get them to like you, in order to be a valid rock band? Well, yeah, in a certain way, yes, because it’s a vital, live musical culture—it’s not dead like classical music. It’s not dead like really highbrow fiction, it’s a real live part of our culture. And you’re going to play rock music you should participate in it, and that’s why I’ve always felt like—it doesn’t need to appeal to every teenager, because a lot of times that becomes the lowest common denominator too, but you can appeal to a certain faction that are later going to be making the rock music, and that’s what so great about rock, that’s what everybody loves about rock that they don’t understand—that you’re participating in this thing.
ML: I had a college professor once who was totally into the—he said the place where you see our culture happening is right at the stage between the audience and the musicians in live music, and that that’s really where it happens, and listening to a record is not doing it, and creating some static artform is not doing it.
DL: Well that’s what I’ve always said to people who always ask me, what do you like more, recording or playing live? And I’m like, recording is making like this artifact, it has nothing to do with playing live, the record is sort of this artifact that you get that might inspire you to come and see the band but that’s where it all happens is connecting with the audience.
ML: I think the best shows are the ones where you go home and you can never listen to the album again, because the ultimate version of it you heard that night. Like the Costello concert…(ML goes blah blah here)…he changes your interpretation of his music by the way he presents it. You can do so much more live. Do you guys have any plans to make your shows more involving?
DL: We’re trying to do that for this tour. You saw us do the acoustic set at the GE Boycott, that’s sort of been a new variation that we’ve brought in.
ML: I seem to remember from the I-Beam though, a couple of years back–
DL: We probably did that once or twice before, but we sort of incorporated that now and, yeah, after I get back from the Carolinas or wherever I’m going over Christmas, we’re going to come back and rehearse for two weeks — Are we ready to go on?