chickfactor interview with the excellent punk-rock photographer theresa kereakes

theresa kereakes with keith richards

anyone who has seen the go-go’s documentary has seen some of theresa’s photographs. she was out and about taking photos of the los angeles punk scene back in the day, including photos of joan jett, billy idol and the jam. this interview focuses heavily on the go-go’s! see more of her photos here.

interview by gail o’hara / photographs by theresa kereakes 

chickfactor: how are you today!? can we save the world from evil? 
theresa: hi! I am doing well, but I am concerned about saving the world from evil. we can, but there are so many variables. like the willfully ignorant. 
are you currently living in nashville or LA or both? 
nashville. I’ve been here for 12 years, but I do visit LA two or three times a year. despite its horrible traffic, its overdevelopment, loss of characteristic architecture, displacement of normal people to make room for business plazas no one now needs, and homes no one can afford, I still do miss living there. my LA of the ’50s through early ’80s is noir LA, punk rock LA, and even though it was always the second largest city in the states, it felt like a town because the metropolis is so spread out. my LA is weirdly the LA of tarantino’s once upon a time in hollywood, which I enjoyed for the nostalgia factor. for the most part, some sections of the valley and of hollywood still seem untouched by the 21st century. I miss NYC too. I lived there for 20 years, and have been back once or twice a year since I left, but damn, if it isn’t so expensive.  

belinda carlisle with pleasant gehman

how and when did you meet the go-go’s? (and billy idol, joan jett and paul weller) 
I met belinda carlisle when she was still belinda kurczecki, during her time on her high-school speech and debate team, as I was on my high school’s speech and debate team. we competed in the same events over four years’ time—original oratory, impromptu speaking and debate. an aside, I was known as the squirrel queen of debate. this means I was able to present and argue a case so ridiculous and squirrelly and yet prevail. I often tell people I’ve been pro-UBI since 1974, and that’s because in 1974, the policy debate topic was: resolved: that the federal government should guarantee a minimum annual income to each family unit. the case against it was always comprised of the same old GOP talking points you hear now about UBI and unemployment insurance—people wouldn’t work because: free money. my rebuttal to this was “mother’s milk leads to heroin addiction.” I love absurdity. I love taking a debate opponent off track with a flippant response, and then being able to control the argument philosophically.

when the participants’ names were called in the awards presentations, belinda and I were the two girls with the unpronounceable K names, and we bonded over that. we were also both fashion oriented and spent time in between the speech and debate rounds talking about the latest issue of Vogue and identifying designers we liked and styles we thought we could get away with wearing in school. my mom was a fashion designer, so I’d get her to copy all the latest styles and make them for me. I’d be wearing kenzo! we also both liked shoes and accessories and vintage style—back before it was called “vintage” and just known as thrift shopping. our bond was made over weekends through our high-school years; I graduated early—january 1976 (I applied and was accepted to start mid-term at UCLA) so I could start college a term earlier and in reality, I just wanted to move to LA proper and be on my own. 

after I had graduated, and was living in the UCLA dorms, I’d see belinda and teri ryan (lorna doom to the world) every weekend in the rainbow parking lot. that was a scene. you’d go to see and be seen. the rainbow bar & grill is next door to the roxy theatre. all the rock & roll people would drink and dine at the rainbow (great pizza; good bars; DJ upstairs), including rock stars, so even if you didn’t have money to dine, or weren’t old enough to drink, you could still be a part of the scene and catch a glimpse, a chat, a photo or an autograph with any of the local and visiting rock stars. belinda and lorna would go to shows, hit the rainbow parking lot, and then drive an hour back to their home in thousand oaks. after they graduated, they eventually found an apartment in west hollywood on holloway drive, just off the strip, in an apartment building next door to the one where sal mineo was killed in his driveway. I was very aware of the location because mineo was killed right when I moved into the dorms and started hanging out in west hollywood, and when my parents saw the news stories on television, they made me call them every night to check in. since we didn’t have cell phones back then, of course, it was to make sure I was in my dorm room (or somewhere inside, with a phone). it was walking distance to tower records (a scene and a hang! you could honestly see elton john or alice cooper shopping there) and licorice pizza record stores, the whisky, the roxy and the rainbow parking lot. that’s centrally located, because as you know, nobody walks in LA, they even drive to their mailboxes!

so by the fall of 1976, we were all living in LA proper. I was in the dorms until april of 1977 and then I got a place in hollywood, which became known as the famous lobotomy apartment (because pleasant and I would put the zine together there). the address was 7231 franklin ave., on the northwest corner of franklin & la brea. la brea was the avenue that separated classic hollywood from “real estate west hollywood.” I believe west hollywood actually has a boundary that’s further west of la brea, such as fairfax—but this is real estate speak here. we were on the OK side of the tracks, and this is important in punk living because so many people lived in old hollywood proper (which many uppity people considered the wrong side of the tracks—la brea being the dividing line) in the canterbury apartments on cherokee ave., spitting distance to the masque, where bands rehearsed and played, and where punk rock people hung out. now, 45 years later, the canterbury touts its punk past as a selling point (see “connection to history”).

at some point late in 1977 (I was living in the famous lobotomy apartment at this time), I ran into belinda and lorna out and about and they were telling me they were trying to stay out until daylight because when they were trying to go home, they heard suspicious and dangerous noises in the bushes around the alley by their apartment. knowing where they lived, and the sal mineo murder still fresh in my mind after a year, I invited them to spend the night at my apartment. they ended up staying for a few months while looking for a new apartment (or two) of their own. I had a wurlitzer electric piano and at several times over the weeks and months she was there, I’d hear belinda muse about being in a band. I think they were probably still bunking at the lobotomy apartment when everyone made the trip up to san francisco to see the sex pistols. in february, the king tut exhibit came to los angeles and every punk who wanted a job as a ticket taker or whatever, really, at LA county art museum got one. I guess all that kohl eyeliner made them instant thematic fixed-term employees. so around that time, you saw a huge surge of punks becoming first-time renters because they had jobs, most of them getting places at the canterbury, or renting houses as a group. belinda did not work at LACMA though. as far back as I remember, she always had a hard-core work ethic. she had a job at the hilton hotel in the administrative office. a real job!

charlotte caffey of the go-go’s

I met charlotte caffey in line in front of the whisky a go-go one summer as we were waiting for doors to open for a ramones gig. she soon started a band she called the eyes, who I frequently saw. they played a gig on my birthday, 1978, where they opened for the jam. that is when I met the jam, together with the rest of my lobotomy cohorts. I still remember the publicist at polygram’s name: len epand (I even have a photo of him with rick buckler!). the “daft PR stunt,” as paul weller has referred to it in post-1978 interviews, involved the label hiring two red double-decker london busses and squiring a bunch of journalists to the king’s head pub (where legit english people did hang out) in santa monica from the starwood in west hollywood. there was fish & chips & mushy peas, all the booze the bartenders could pour and darts. we made a big deal about it being my birthday, and as we (the lobotomy zine crew: me, pleasant, and co-founder randy kaye) were the same age as the band members, and actual real punk rockers, the jam took to us. that’s how we met them, and I maintained a casual correspondence with paul’s father, john weller, for decades. mr. weller would always get me on the guest list, no matter where I lived, or how tight the gig, and he was always completely accessible. the last time I saw them was in NYC in the early ’00s. paul had performed at the town hall, and we went back to their hotel and closed the bar. I spent a great deal of the night talking with mr. weller, as we were both interested in writing a memoir of the early punk days.  

joan jett was friends with pleasant and randy since high-school days when they all hung out at rodney’s english disco, which I didn’t do very much. they grew up in beverly hills and in the valley and I was in santa barbara, although I did spend many a long weekend in LA, and during the summer, convinced my parents to let me and various friends spend a week at a time in town each month. my dad and a couple other of my friends’ dads had offices in LA, and also LA pied-à-terres that we could stay at. we also took advantage of our parents’ season tickets to the hollywood bowl, universal amphitheatre (went opening night to jesus christ superstar in 1973; I snuck in a cassette recorder and taped it) and also the more grown-up downtown venues like the marc taper forum (I saw matthew broderick in one of the brighton beach plays). so my rodney’s visits were limited. joan, however, was an emancipated minor (I suppose because of being in the runaways, being a professional musician and traveling the world), and she had her own apartment before anyone else. by the time I had moved to LA and started hanging out with pleasant, dropping in on joan was just part of a regular day. she was one of us, and she was also a rock star. In our eyes, she was a huge rock star.

joan jett and billy idol along with pleasant gehman on his first visit to los angeles in may 1978.

pleasant had an obsession with billy idol, and I was friends with a guy who worked at chrysalis records, so between us always dropping in on rodney bingenheimer’s radio show, and my friendship with brendan (bourke, who would later work as billy’s manager), we kind of had a lock on him whenever he might come to town. because of the zine, we had a legitimate reason to go drop in on rodney, and he even put us on the air a few times. we would have benefits for ourselves at the whisky, and we’d promote the shows on his radio show. we always booked local bands, and rodney was the radio station champion of local bands. we had the best of all possible symbiotic relationships. I’ll interject that a few years ago, in retrospect, I branded us inadvertent teenage entrepreneurs. we were doing marketing and events and not really understanding that was an actual job—we were just trying to support our zine. pleasant and I very much planned to talk with billy idol on the phone when there was a scheduled call-in from him for rodney’s show. we did speak with billy for a long, long time after his on-air interview with rodney concluded. he told us he would be coming to the USA to do a promo tour in advance of the american release of the generation X album. we became his tour guides. that’s how my friendship with brendan turned into a mutually beneficial thing. he got to actually spend time at his office getting work done while we entertained billy, AND he also got to include pleasant and me in all of the activities he had to do with billy. all the photos that I took during the week we spent with billy show more than just an english kid visiting LA. they illustrate how the ’70s were so much different than times are now. it’s the difference between an analog life and a digital one. it’s the difference between a world where people have some sense of decorum and one where they have zero filter. we took billy to the airport when he was going back home. we accompanied him right to the gate, and I took pictures every step of the way. that would be impossible now—or even in the 90s. I don’t know if we had a false sense of general safety and trust, or if the world has gone to shit. both can be true.

belinda carlisle

were you friends with them or just part of the scene?   
so with the go-go’s, I was closest to belinda, because I knew her from before. and I knew charlotte, but she was kind of a loner. I’d see her at shows, but her social life seemed very private. considering her solid musicianship and songwriting chops, I guess I figured she was just home creating. I saw her a tiny bit more socially when she was dating guys I knew, but then again, not that much more, because it was still just at gigs, but our conversations would last longer and be more substantive because there were more of us keeping the conversation going. pleasant and belinda became the very best of friends, so the three of us became collaborators in addition to just being friends.  I wanted to make all kinds of pictures and pleasant and belinda, together and individually, were willing to be in them. a couple years ago, jane wiedlin asked me why I had photographed belinda almost exclusively, and that’s when it hit me that we did so much work together because we already knew each other before the punk scene happened. I was always in awe of jane, who at the time called herself jane drano. she made cool punk clothes, and because my mother was also a fashion designer, it was something I respected at some level where I felt like I didn’t want to trespass. the other members of the go-go’s I knew only from being at shows, just like the dozens of other punk people I knew. we all recognized each other, because the scene was really small—maybe the same core 100 people, overall. it was like high school in that you had your bubble and stayed there, but you all knew who everyone else was 

what kind of camera were you using when you started out? 
I had a pentax spotmatic F and a nikon FM. I sold the pentax, which was a christmas gift in 1973. I had seen the faces earlier that year and didn’t have a proper camera—ie: an SLR; I shot as much as I could on a canon super 8mm motion picture camera) and bought a nikkormat. I’m still using the nikon FM. the nikkormat got splashed unmercifully when I was crossing the irish sea between wales and ireland and I couldn’t afford to get the work done on it, so I put it in an oxfam donation box.
was the go-go’s doc director around way back in those days? 
if she was around, I didn’t know her! 
if you’d directed it, what would you have done differently? what is missing from it? what is your favorite part? 
the way I see it, there are two ways to do a music documentary for the mass audience. either way, you have to figure out what story you’re going to tell, and then tell it without putting in everything and the kitchen sink. allison elwood did a great job. of course, small things—details that only friends of the band members or people who were deeply involved in the scene would know or care about—and for minutiae’s sake, really—are what’s missing; but I don’t think the film or the band’s story is the worse off for it. there was enough back-story and a lot of stark honesty about the usual rock & roll subjects— drugs, personnel changes, record and management deals, breaking up. a few people from back in the day have either contacted me directly, or posted commentary on social media about events and people who were missing. but overall, the story is told, and the people who tell that first-person story are all there—all the band members, past and present, former manager, record label, members of bands they toured with, a couple friends. the other way to tell the story is the tabloid way, and I’m not a fan of that. what do you learn from that? when you see a film about an artist, or read a book about them, what’s really much more interesting is their process. that’s the beautiful part about the go-go’s documentary—you heard both charlotte and jane’s songwriting process. that’s valuable. that might be my favorite thing about the film—hearing how charlotte wrote “we got the beat,” and how jane wrote “our lips are sealed” based on lyrical ideas from terry hall. I liked hearing how much charlotte loved kathy valentine’s “vacation” and then helped transform it into a hit.
how many of your photos are used in the film? 
I think there are 4 that made the final cut. They’d requested another one specifically, but that one isn’t in it. the one they requested that didn’t make the cut? it’s your favorite! 
how many books of your work are out there and are they still available? 
every year, I make a limited-edition punk rock day of the dead, which is a cumulative in memoriam collection, that unfortunately grows bigger every year. I only make 20 or so of them and each edition is sold out. I make a small run of catalogs that correspond with exhibits I do, and I don’t have any left. my work is featured in many other books though! punk 365 by holly george warren, barnes & noble’s in-house press did something called the encyclopedia of punk that I’m in; todd oldham’s joan jett book has a couple of my photos, as do the bomp!book and the creem book. the author dave thompson has used my work in his books about patti smith, joan jett and the iggy/bowie/lou triumvirate. there’s a book about jews in punk calledthe heebie-jeebies at CBGB’s: a secret history of jewish punk that includes a photo I took of stiv bators doing the goose-step. 

dianne chai

were there other bands from that time you think should have gotten more attention? 
the screamers are woefully unrepresented; everyone in LA loved them, and san francisco did as well. but outside the big cities, no one knew who they were, and they didn’t have a record, so word of mouth and photos will have to keep them alive. I loved the alley cats. dianne chai, the bass player, rocked this ronnie spector look. the band was tight and fierce. the last were a fantastic power-pop group that played well in any bill, from hardcore to pop. their songs were strong. they’re on one of the rhino compilations and worth seeking out.

the photographer theresa kereakes

tell us about what you’re doing now. 
I have an actual day job utilizing skills I learned in college! I work for warner music group, doing back office things. my work is not creative or conditional on any artist having a hit, which is about as much job security one can have in the music business. the role I occupy provides a service to the labels (I work in royalties; it’s a little bit business affairs, a little bit finance). if I fuck up, of course, I could lose my job. my point is, with this kind of job, it is mine to lose—my position isn’t dependent on a specific project being a hit. I do a fair bit of guest lecturing and speaking at universities about punk rock, and it turns into a lesson in inadvertent feminist entrepreneurism. I also talk about copyright and recording agreements. when I was younger and had the fortitude, I worked in entertainment law firms, and I still read recording agreements every day. my alma mater UCLA is my main university outlet, and a couple times a year, pleasant and I work with jessica schwartz, the resident punk-rock professor in the herb alpert school of music. I am currently involved (as much as one can be in a pandemic where you can’t travel) with a theatre group in LA that is mounting a production called adobe punk, a deeply fascinating and layered play that’s a coming-of-age story involving kids whose life epiphanies are often delivered through punk music. in february, I attended and spoke at one of their work-in-progress readings together with richard schave, who is an historian of LA culture and architecture. I can’t say enough about its greatness and potential. then COVID interrupted live performance work.

I feel like I have been working on putting together a photo book for decades. actually, I guess I have been. back in the ’80s, when punk was hitting its 10-year mark, I tried to do gallery shows and put together a book based on that but not a single gallerist anywhere recognized contemporary street or documentary photography as “art.” I knew a lot of self-proclaimed cutting-edge people in the art world in NYC and even they too were like, “photography is not art.” this bothered me for years, until very recently when I watched a documentary about robert mapplethorpe, who also ran into many roadblocks being considered an artist and getting shows. photography was ghettoized. so, of course, I chose the DIY/punk route of getting shows. I set up shows just like bands do in-stores, and all the interaction I had with people who were fans of my subjects, or people who appreciated photography taught me a lot. and while doing my never-ending photo exhibit tours, I realized having a theme or some kind of unity in a collected body of work is important. so now I am over-thinking unifying themes for photo books.

debbie harry

I’m also collaborating and solo organizing storytelling/spoken word events. this grew out of the guest lectures; students were always asking about the fun times and wanted stories about people they only knew about via urban legend. that’s how the war stories project got started. I want to do another project not unlike war stories, but I would like to gather groups of photographers and do a show & tell kind of event, and also gather groups of punk memoirists to read from their books (which would also give them additional opportunities to sell them). I keep thinking it would be like a live action rashomon of punk… we’d all pick a time/event/band everyone wrote about and compare/contrast. and except for working alone at home with my scanner, none of this can be done until it’s safe to be around groups of people. CF

watch the go-go’s doc here! 

https://www.sho.com/titles/3463368/the-go-gos

Fan Modine: An Oral History

As Rhino Records prepares to reissue Fan Modine’s debut album, Slow Road to Tiny Empire, we checked in with a number of musicians, label heads and others about meeting songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gordon Zacharias, how Fan Modine’s sound has shifted across decades and what the album means in 2020. Written and recorded between 1995 and ’97 and originally released on Phovsho (vinyl) in 1997 and Slow River/Rykodisc (CD) in 1998, Slow Road is a critically acclaimed cult fave that is available now on digital services, with a deluxe vinyl version coming in the future. The album, which is a travelogue tracing his transition from Boston to New York, shows glimmers of greatness: a distinct voice in a crowded indie-rock landscape that included shoegaze, jangly pop, orchestral rock and space rock. Now a quarter century on, we listen to the folks who knew Fan Modine well, played on the records and helped Zacharias perfect his orchestral bedroom pop sound. 

Compiled by Gail O’Hara

Musicians who played on Slow Road to Tiny Empire: Gordon Zacharias, who also produced; Joan Wasser; Clarke Martty; Dylan Fitzgerald; Kevin March ; Sean O’Brien
Josh Hager

Tell us about the ideas that went into making the album.

Gordon Zacharias, Fan Modine: It is a travelog of my move from Boston to New York City. I developed an allegory around that and things going on in my love life, which later became a screenplay and second album. I wrote the songs primarily in Boston but completed it in New York. I jumped into the Sleepyhead van back to NYC one night at the Middle East after a show in ’95 and planted some roots in Carroll Gardens. I returned for my things a little later in ’96.

Gordon and Jeff Buckley

What were you like back then?

Gordon: In high school I played in a band and was very influenced by the New Romantic thing and the Boston goth scene of the late ’80s. And then I had my heart devastated by an older girl who worked at a major label that I had my first real love affair with. She promised to take our band to the big time. And then had an affair with the guitar player. This coincided with me transferring from public school to an extremely progressive institution without a set curriculum. I began to read Hesse, and the Vedas and became interested in Eastern religion and ascetic living, and ultimately renounced making music as a career. ¶ I met a spiritual teacher and traveled with them for several years, hitchhiking and practicing yoga around North America. I became disillusioned with my progress and returned to Boston, got a job at Tower Records and auditioned for bands. I lived with art students, joined a techno band and encouraged them to let me sing. I befriended a security guard at the Museum School and he let me in to the building, where I attended studio classes and was taken under the wing of a few students and teachers. This propelled my interest and learning in digital audio and synthesis. ¶ Later I moved into an illegal loft downtown, where I lived with Joan Wasser and later Josh Hager. I began playing out in a band called Astroboy, which was inspired by Big Star and Spacemen 3 (in fact, people used to call us Spacemen 4). Then I decided to go solo and built a studio in my room with a Tascam 388 reel to reel and an E-Mu Darwin hard disk recorder. I took some Astroboy sessions I had recorded and erased everything but the drums and then overdubbed new parts over the slowed-down tracks. This became the basis of the first Fan Modine recordings. I didn’t start playing out as Fan Modine until I moved to New York. 

What bands were you listening to back then? You often got compared to Folk Implosion or the Magnetic Fields, but I also think of Elephant 6 and the Lilys when I hear Slow Road.

Gordon: Having been introduced to Mary Timony by my roommate Joan, Mary and I became fast friends and I became a huge fan of Helium. The Dirt of Luck was released while we were first getting to know each other. I was also exposed to her boyfriend Ash’s band Polvo for the first time, but Helium was more my speed. I really didn’t gravitate toward indie rock except for maybe the Pastels. But all of a sudden my friends all seemed to be in these touring indie-rock bands so I got into it—especially the live shows. I had been listening to more psychedelic bands of the era, like Mercury Rev, Spacemen 3/Spiritualized, and deeply falling in love with Bowie and T. Rex, and some later Britpop bands like Primal Scream, Blur, and then dreamier stuff—MBV, Heavenly, Lush, Catherine Wheel. But given that I worked at Tower, nothing really escaped me. I remember hearing all of the latest grunge bands releases and being ok with them too. Lou Barlow used to come into Tower quite a lot, and he would scour the indie bins and I was pretty intrigued by him. I liked a few of his songs. But it’s true, a friend of mine at the time produced that Folk Implosion record for the Kids movie and it really resonated. And I always like Lou’s voice. He must have listened to as much of Martin Gore as I did. ¶ I became aware of Lilys in the same loft that I recorded the record in because the album cover was designed by a roommate. I heard him playing the cassette of mixes and freaked—asked if I could borrow it. Listening to that album almost maybe me stop recording, as I could never imagine making anything as good, or understand how he did it. I played that cassette for Jeff Buckley around that same time. He was visiting my roommate whom he was dating and shared my astonishment. He was also very encouraging about my own work. ¶ I somehow didn’t become familiar with Magnetic Fields until I moved to NYC, where the people I knew from Ladybug Transistor and later the Essex Green were infatuated with them. Soon after I was also in love with them and eventually met Claudia and Stephin and shared some performances, including Stephin’s debut of 69 Love Songs at a Chickfactor thing at Under Acme. I was barred from speaking to Stephin for a year because I had made a pass at him at Dick’s Bar one night. Claudia would call me their biggest fan. ¶ I’m associated with Elephant 6 in that I co-wrote and played on the first Essex Green EP. Members of that band also played in the live Fan Modine band.

Joan Wasser

Tell us about the recording process of Slow Road.

Gordon: I built a studio in my room with a Tascam 388 reel-to-reel and an E-Mu Darwin hard disk recorder. I took some Astroboy sessions I had recently recorded and erased everything but the drums and then overdubbed new parts over the slowed-down tracks. This became the basis of the first Fan Modine recordings. I would improvise over the drum tracks and build themes with keyboards and synths. Once I heard the makings of a song, I would transfer mixes over to the hard disk recorder and edit the tracks into a song structure. Finally, I would add vocals, percussion and string overdubs. ¶ This was all fueled by ephedrine and weed, and some very late nights. The loft I was living in was very active, with a lot of touring musicians coming through—just so much influence. My roommates were also getting 6-figure record deals, and people like Ric Ocasek and Jeff Buckley were stopping by.

When did you first meet Gordon? In what capacity do you know him? 

Mary Timony (Ex Hex, Helium):
 I met Gordon in 1995 in Boston, and we kind of immediately hit it off. I felt like we came from the same kinda music/art planet. He lived in a giant artist loft in a former factory in downtown Boston. We hung out a lot that summer. I remember sneaking into an empty loft in the same building he lived in, crawling around on gigantic platforms, talking about Brian Eno, joking around, and just getting lost in a good way, the way I usually feel when I’ve found a fellow music time traveler. 

Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields): The Magnetic Fields probably played shows with Fan Modine multiple times, but I don’t recall the famous Dick’s Bar incident. 

George Howard (founder of Slow River Records, former president of Rykodisc, cofounder of TuneCore, Professor of Business Management, Berklee and Brown): Gordon was friends with my closest friend and bandmate, Keith Grady, while we were in college. He was also friends with my friend and ex-bandmate, Joan Wasser (Joan as Policewoman). I distinctly remember Gordon being impossibly cool…he frequently rocked a white belt. 

Kendall Jane Meade (Mascott, Juicy): I met Gordon in the late ’90s, through mutual friends, when I was living in Brooklyn. We hit it off right away, maybe because we both have midwestern roots. We also both had albums on Slow River Records, which was run by my college buddy, George Howard. (George had released two albums for my very first band, Juicy.)

Josh Hager (DEVO, formerly Elevator Drops, the Rentals after that; producer and engineer): I first met Gordon at a studio called New Alliance in Boston. That was around 1993/94. He was introduced by a friend. I was living at the studio and then became roommates with Gordon in Boston’s South End.

Joan Wasser (Joan As Police Woman, Dambuilders, Fan Modine): Did I meet Gordon through Josh Hager? Probably. This was 25+ years ago. Gordon, Josh and I ended up living together in a massive loft in the South End of Boston before it was a place anyone wanted to be. We all had bedrooms you could roller-skate in, and that’s not even including the common area! The closest life to us there were a homeless shelter and an Asian supermarket, and even that was a distance. This meant we got to be as wild and as loud as we wanted at any time of the day and night. Otherwise, totally free. 

Jeremy Chatelain (ex Jets To Brazil / Handsome / Helmet / Cub Country / Insight): I met Gordon in 2003 when I moved to Chapel Hill, NC, from Brooklyn, NY. My girlfriend (now wife) and I were invited to Melissa and Gordon’s house for a party. We didn’t know more than two people in our new hometown, so we wanted to go meet the locals. The following week we were invited back for a BBQ with a few friends and I was asked to play bass in Fan Modine. It took me by surprise as I didn’t really know any of his bandmates, and I was looking to form a band of my own. Gordon struck me as a spacey, kind of far-out, artist. I loved his vibe. Plus, he’s funny as hell. I ended up playing bass in Fan Modine for a few years while I lived in Chapel Hill.

Ash Bowie (Polvo, Helium): I met Gordon around 1995 after I’d moved to Boston. He was part of a slightly younger art-school/rocker crowd that I didn’t really hang with, but I occasionally ran into him at parties. All I really remember is that he once implied that I didn’t like poetry because I wasn’t a big fan of his buddy’s band. He eventually relocated to Chapel Hill, and then I moved back around 2002, and we became good friends after that. 

Chuck Johnson (solo artist; also plays in Saariselka): I met him when I lived in North Carolina, around 2003; soon after he moved there. We’re friends and for a brief time we were bandmates. 

Missy Thangs (producer/engineer at Fidelitorium, Birds of Avalon, ex-Fan Modine): I met Gordon through Alex Maiolo. We played a handful of shows all over: SXSW, chickfactor zine’s 20th-anniversary shows, among others. This was in support of Gratitude for the Shipper. I was also a part of the Julu Road film shoot in Chinatown in NYC. Bubble tea, steamed buns and kombucha baby. It was a special time in my life. Gordon has always been very kind to me and I’ve always appreciated his apparent ability to stay true to himself. I admire him tremendously.

Clarke Martty: Gordon and I had the same day gig, working at a video duplication firm on Newbury Street in Boston. I filled in on drums for the last utterance of Astroboy, for a few shows. At the time, we were hanging a lot at this group flat that overlooked the Boston common, a lot of mutual friends were living there and we convinced Mel Lederman to play bass with us and formed the Fan Modine. We rehearsed in Mel’s basement rehearsal space in the same building, and fastly gained a repertoire of about eight songs. My favorite of that bunch was a group effort called “Horus”—I don’t know if it ever got developed into something later on. When Gordon moved into his flat in the SoWa district of Boston, we rehearsed and recorded in that space for a while. The most memorable time was one weekend recording session where we recorded my drums in the (4th floor) stairway, putting mics on the different floor landings between the 3rd and 5th floors. Listening back later, it was a massive drum sound, but a bit undefined once overdubs happened. We did a few shows live; the most memorable was at the Gardner Art Museum, when we played the big room there for an outstanding crowd, opening for Syrup USA. Big fun! Then I left for a hired-drum tour, and was away from Boston for about two months. By the time I returned, Gordon was basically working alone.

Murray Nash (cofounder Phovsho Records; executive producer; CFO): I was working in Soho in 1995 and every Friday night I would drop into Rocks in Your Head, a small but iconic record store. I had a habit of asking the folks behind the counter what music they would recommend and buy it in good faith. If I liked it, I would go back to the same person and take further recommendations. That’s how I met Gordon: He was someone who would pull out all these albums and I would just buy them all, no questions asked. After about 4 weeks of this, he challenged me as to who I was and whether I was a talent scout for a record label. Truth was I had just moved to NYC, was a bit of a record collector with an interest in music that seemed to overlap with Gordon’s, and not much else, other than work, was in my life. The next week I turned up with a six-pack: we sat behind the counter and drank beer, played music and chatted, while he manned the cash register. ¶ One week Gordon turned up with a tape of “his music” and upon listening to that I realized I was in the company of somebody with an exceptional voice, a sensitivity and complexity of insight I hadn’t fully appreciated, and a unique way of expressing it. All this led to the establishment of Phovsho Records, the release of Slow Road to Tiny Empire and a life-shaping friendship. We both insisted this would be a vinyl-only project—which was pretty much commercial suicide in the mid-’90s.

Josh Hager and Little Joe

When/how did you become aware of Fan Modine? 

George Howard:
 I’d guess it came through either Keith or Joan [Wasser]. But who knows. In hindsight, it was a pretty cool little scene in the early ’90s in Boston. My label, Slow River, was signing artists who I thought were making interesting music around town (Willard Grant Conspiracy, Tom Leach, Juicy, Future Bible Heroes with Stephin Merritt) and around the country (SparklehorseJosh Rouse, Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, who had moved from Boston/NH to SF, etc.) It was still sort of a small community; and in addition to putting records out, I was playing in my band around town/the country too. Pretty inevitable that we’d run into each other.

Matt McMichaels (Surrender Human; The Mayflies USA, Chris Stamey’s Big Star Third project): I first really met Gordon in the summer of 2010, when my pals Lee Waters and Michael Holland suggested I might be a good fit to play guitar with the band he was putting together in advance of the release of Gratitude for the Shipper. But Gordon and I quickly realized that we had in fact met before, back when he was living in New York and my Chapel Hill–based band the Mayflies USA was playing up there every six weeks or so. My brother-in-law at the time was Rob Sacher, owner of Luna Lounge, so the Mayflies would stay at my sister and Rob’s apartment on First and A and play at Mercury Lounge, Luna, Brownie’s and a bunch of Brooklyn dives. It was the best of times. We also probably drank together at Henry’s in Chapel Hill back in the indie rock heyday, but we couldn’t credibly recall.

Jeremy Chatelain: I knew nothing about the band before being asked to join. But we shared some musical tastes and I loved his songs, like, a lot. I feel extremely lucky to have played on Gratitude for the Shipper and I think it’s one of the best pieces of music I’ve ever been involved with.

Ash Bowie: Fan Modine played with Helium in Philadelphia, and I was playing in Helium. I can’t remember who the headliner was (maybe Sonic Youth), but we played in a large theater, and they were great. I don’t think I had seen them play previously, but they played a jaw-dropping version of “Cardamon [sic] Chai” that reminded me of My Bloody Valentine.

Did you work together on music?

Joan Wasser:
 Gordon and I made a lot of music together. As far as I know, I was “in” Fan Modine. I did several shows with Gordon and various musicians in Boston and NYC. We made music in the loft all the time. I remember recording magnificent drums in the echoey stairwell of that building. 

Josh Hager: Yes, Gordon and I have worked on some collaborations that are unreleased. Though if I remember correctly, I do say a word or two on his first record. I also worked with him on the beginning stages of Homeland in my studio and played on a few tracks. I also played on a track that we did at the record plant in L.A. Can’t remember the name.

Jeremy Chatelain: Yes. I played shows with Fan Modine over the course of a few years. We went on a short tour with Andrew Bird. And, I played bass on Gratitude for the Shipper. We recorded the bass and drum tracks live in his living room in an old house right off the main drag in Carrboro. He fed Lee Waters (the drummer) and I sushi and beers while we recorded, he was a warm and gracious host. It was a great musical vibe. He was fun to work with. A quirky, melodic pianist and fantastic lyricist. He’s the only musician that I know who can pull off singing about sandwiches and make it sound emotive.

Kendall Meade: I was touring a lot during the time I met him, playing keyboards for Helium. In between tours I would record songs I was writing for my solo project, Mascott, wherever I could. Gordon invited me to record one of my songs at his place on 3rd Street in Brooklyn. We did it in one afternoon, a raw and natural recording. There’s a lot of street noise on the track—I thought that was so cool and unique. The song is called “Baby, Go Away”.

Ash Bowie: Yes, we actually worked out some Fan Modine arrangements as a piano/guitar duo and recorded them using his friend’s Nalga tape deck. I don’t know what happened to those recordings. Later, Gordon put together a new version of FM with me on bass, later switching to guitar as other friends joined. We had a few shows and played on the Gratitude for the Shipper LP.

Chuck Johnson: He asked me to play guitar in the touring band version of Fan Modine. We toured with Andrew Bird in support of Homeland. I also played guitar on Gratitude for the Shipper.

Murray Nash: Not on Slow Road. It was pretty much completed by the time I got involved. There was mixing and mastering and that was all. I would describe my contribution to the final product as perhaps influencing the production at the margins. I was more the financial enabler of the project. I have a deep interest in music and spend a good part of my life (still) unearthing and listening to music. But I learned through this enterprise—and those that followed with Gordon and others—that what I listen for, and what I hear is very different to what a musician does. Maybe my comments and feedback were useful in some sense, but mostly my role was as the enabler—with few if any strings attached—to let Gordon do what he wanted to do. At one level I just wrote some checks. Actually I became more than that, and Gordon seemed to trust my advice and comments and would involve me in pretty much every decision.        

Matt McMichaels: I played in a revolving-door era of Fan Modine from about June 2010 to April-ish 2011. I jumped at the chance to play with Lee and Michael, since they are both amazing players and good friends, and I had heard that this Gordon guy wrote great songs. The genius keyboard player Charles Cleaver was also involved, though he was replaced by the awesome Paul Finn (Kingsbury Manx) when Charles moved to Brooklyn. At some point Lee also had to bow out, but he was replaced on drums by Michael’s twin brother Mark. That was fun, since those two have a weird, psychedelic fraternal chemistry that I had admired since their days in the criminally underrated Jennyanykind. Eventually Alex Maiolo came on board to add a third guitar (and a vast array of swirly guitar effects) to the mix, since my abiding love for the Replacements means I have an aversion to pedals. I remember Seamus Kenney conducting a handful of string and horn players while we crowded together on some small stage, but that may be apocryphal. I was mostly tasked with singing harmony vocals and trying/failing to replicate the strange and beautiful guitar parts that Polvo’s Ash Bowie had played on the Gratitude record.

Gordon Zacharias

Is there a particular Fan Modine song/album/era that resonated with you? 

Kendall Meade: I will always love “Cardamon Chai” and “Homeland” and “Pageantry.” Some of my favorite songs of all time.

Josh Hager: Slow Road is the album that resonates the most. It brings me back to a carefree particularly magic time in my early twenties when Gordon and I lived in a giant loft in Boston. 

Stephin Merritt: My apartment was too small to have a turntable, so I have never heard Slow Road till today. I like it, it’s like hearing an extrapolation of what Ariel Pink would have been doing several years earlier. And the slowed-down drums sound like the record I’m making now. 

Joan Wasser: Listening to this music again is really bringing me back. This was a very special time for us all. If I’m not mistaken, the first verse of “Tinseltown” mentions the Dambuilder’s song “Shrine.” It was clear that Gordon was making something very special. Slow Road was made mostly in Gordon’s bedroom. As I’m listening, I realize I played (violin) on the first two songs… and probably more… yes, more: “Marigold,” “Cardamon Chai.” “Cardamon Chai” is effortlessly romantic. “Rhubarb Pie” has got so much swag. “Trash in Romance,” oh man. I love every track. These are the sounds of us growing up and learning to make music. 

Ash Bowie: I’m most familiar with Gratitude for the Shipper because I played and recorded those songs, and it’s arguably Gordon’s strongest batch of songs. My personal favorite album is definitely Slow Road because it’s the most intimate and homemade-sounding, which complements Gordon’s creative vibe better than a conventional production approach. I do like Homeland a lot, as well.  

Jeremy Chatelain: I really like Homeland and Gratitude. Those were the songs I performed and recorded. I particularly like “Wormwood Scrubs.” It’s very British in its concept and the music is jaunty and fun.

Chuck Johnson: Big fan of Slow Road to Tiny Empire and Homeland! Those songs are truly classics and have a timeless quality. 

Matt McMichaels: “Pageantry” and “Waiting in the Wings” from Homeland are great. They are a distillation of the un-self-conscious orchestral bedroom pop that Gordon does better than anyone on his best days.

Rhino is about to reissue Slow Road to Tiny Empire; how do you see it and Fan Modine’s legacy at this point in time, 23 years later. 

Mary Timony: When he made [Slow Road], I listened to it constantly, and was super-inspired by it. Listening 23 years later, it sounds just as inspiring to me: It’s timeless.

Jeremy Chatelain: Oh geez! I feel like I went into the Fan Modine universe quickly and exited quickly as well. Gordon deserves any accolades he receives. He’s a great songwriter. I can’t believe those records are that old. 

Stephin Merritt: Every record should sit around for 23 years before you hear it. 

Kendall Meade: What Gordon achieved with that record is mind-boggling for someone in his twenties. Such vision and talent. 

George Howard: It is impossible to deny—listening to his music now a million years later—how enduring and brilliant it is. 

Missy Thangs: I love Slow Road to Tiny Empire. It was through playing with the band that I found Slow Road, it’s a brilliant record. Its aesthetic deeply resonates with me, the textures, moodiness, arrangements. Gordon is a creative genius.  

Josh Hager: Gordon’s genius as a singer and songwriter has been tragically overlooked. I’ve always admired him and his abilities. He was a very big influence on me. Hopefully he will take his place in history as one of the greats! 

Kurt Heasley (Lilys): I loved the copy of Slow Road Gordon gave me. Listened to it a lot in Connecticut while recording The 3 Way actually.

Joan Wasser: I hear it as fresh as it was then. Gordon was way ahead of his time, in my opinion. 

Chuck Johnson: It still sounds fresh today, the way that any carefully crafted pop. I consider it part of the canon of lush, orchestrated pop.

Murray Nash: I find that at some point with an artist you move from songs and albums to seeing the body of work as a more a biography of that artist’s life—good times, tough times, smart choices, silly choices, present in my life and not. And as someone who really got to know Gordon and will always see him as being among their closest friends and most important people they met through life, then I can’t help but see his body of work in those terms. No favorites, just parts of a larger whole. That said, the pieces I was most directly involved in were the early albums from Slow Road through to a couple of subsequent releases. So I have an intimate awareness of that period. After that, I moved back to New Zealand and Gordon had already relocated to NC. The later albums feel more like letters from a friend, than direct observations or co-creations in any sense. I have a special place in my heart for the “Pageantry” single: the lines that were to become “Pageantry walks through the door” were originally, “Patti Smith walks through the door”—she used to frequent Rocks in Your Head, too. She walked in one day when Gordon was behind the counter composing that song. There was also a recording made of a radio show (WFMU?) Fan Modine performed in the mid/late 90s which was just Gordon and one other. Acoustic instruments and live. I always had a soft spot for “unplugged” Fan Modine and that recording just spoke to me. I don’t think it was ever released. I can’t find my copy.  

Gordon Zacharias: I think Slow Road is my best work. I made a lot of very deliberate albums after that, and they are mostly missing the spark that this one has.

What made you want to put out Slow Road

George Howard: I could not stop listening to the demo tape. Just over and over and over again. “Cardamon [sic] Chai was on it and rough versions of a couple of the other songs that eventually made it to to Slow Road. I thought then—and think now—that they are beautiful, perfect, fractured songs. In hindsight, I’m clearly not the best judge of what a pop song is. In my world, Gordon and Josh Rouse and Stephin Merritt and Charlie Chesterman are all superstars with Top 40 hits. 

Do you remember any details about the process? 

George Howard: It was sort of nuts, but aren’t the creation of most sui generis records? I remember getting to the office—by this time, Rykodisc had entered into a deal with my label (Slow River) so I was trying desperately to take advantage of this bigger machine that I now had access to for the benefit of my artists. There would be like 15-minute voicemails from Gordon where he’d talk, in various accents, about how “haaaaaard” he was working, and would play snippets of songs, and sort of ramble. In my infinite (lack of) wisdom, I would then play these messages to my Rykodisc overlords thinking they would be as charmed as I. I’m not sure that was the right move. ¶ There were also many “conversations”—I mostly listened and shook my head into the phone silently—where Gordon would give me the back story of the Tiny Empire and Pho and all sorts of things that I figured I just wasn’t smart enough to understand. It was like Pynchon calling or something. 

Murray Nash: To release Slow Road we needed a name for the record label. We went out to a Vietnamese restaurant to discuss. The label name was inspired by the Pho menu item. The observant Phovsho historian will note that Slow Road was released as Phovsho 003. This was actually the first release on the label, not the third. We reserved places 001 and 002 for two earlier albums Gordon told me he had recorded. (We never did release those albums. Releasing those at some point would be interesting.) We had 500 vinyl copies pressed. We still have boxes of the original vinyl. In vinyl form, Slow Road never did hit sales even close to 500 units. Slow sales of Slow Road taught me a lesson in the importance of distribution. It wasn’t enough to have a great record that everyone who heard it loved it. It gets pretty frustrating to win awards like “Best albums of the year, you will never hear” (I think Slow Road won that award in Magnet). It’s particularly unfair to the artist. It was one reason I was really happy to hear the album was being picked up “by a real label” and that it would be released on CD—the dominant format of the time.  

Seana Carmody and Gordon Zacharias

What other bands/musicians spring to mind when you listen to Fan Modine? Where do you see them fitting in? 

Joan Wasser:
 This kind of question is always hard for me because almost anyone who makes music pulls from an enormous variety of influences. I remember us listening to that first Cardinal record of Eric Matthews and Richard Davies. I hear some similarities there, but Gordon was going for a much looser, textured and dirtier sound, which I personally adore. There’s some Elliott Smith and some traditional Indian music. In other words, like anything truly great, it doesn’t really fit anywhere. 

Josh Hager: The Elevator Drops. Since that was the band I was in at the time and Gordon did a short stint as our keyboardist. Indie rock was king in the ’90s. But I always thought Gordon’s music had a depth and timeless quality to it that other bands didn’t at the time.

Stephin Merritt: I think Radio Dept would enjoy it. 

Kendall Meade: Ladybug Transistor, the Dambuilders, Helium. This era of orchestral, melodic and indie art rock coming out of the East Coast. 

George Howard: Neutral Milk, Teenage Fanclub, T. Rex, Slade, The National (at their best)

Jeremy Chatelain: Nothing in particular comes to mind. I know that Gordon and I were both serious Anglophiles at the time. Fan Modine fits between singer/songwriter music and great pop music. Gordon draws influence from fantastic places. He’s very hip. But Fan Modine has a pretty unique sound in the pop/rock universe. I remember that he would give me a little grief sometimes for being so “rock.” He said to me once that, while I was busy listening to Led Zeppelin, he was probably listening to Japan.

Murray Nash: Scott Walker. David Sylvian. The Magnetic Fields. Bobby Callender. Prince.   

Matt McMichaels: The Smiths, the Magnetic Fields, and Belle and Sebastian come to mind. Gordon can credibly use the word “’twas” in a song, and that is punk as fuck.

Gordon

Tell us any other stories about Gordon and Fan Modine. 

Kendall Meade: Once Gordon joined me for a Mascott tour of the Midwest. It was just the two of us, and I don’t think he was happy with how sparse we sounded as a duo. He proposed that we ask whoever we were opening for to basically jam with us during our set. It was a totally Gordon move that I was happy to go along with because I trusted him and looked up to him musically. Each night was a different experience depending on who played with us. It was wild and weird and exciting. I remember laughing a lot on that tour, getting a flat tire and having to get the cops to help us change it, staying with my mom in Detroit, meeting Doug Gillard for the first time in Cleveland. I miss Gordon a lot, he’s so fun to hang out with.

Josh Hager: At the time in 1994 I was literally living on a shelf in a tape closet in a recording studio. Right after he and I met, he offered me a room in his south end loft. He literally saved me from that roach and rat-infested place! We immediately set out to cause some Dadaist mischief. We wound up performing and starting a club out of a drag bar called Jacques. It was a brilliant time. We were both very broke but it didn’t matter. It was all about the music. I have so many stories it’s hard to recount in such a short space. He moved to NY and we kept in touch. I would come and visit or stay with him for periods. He was always better at connecting with new people and making friends than I was. Within a short time, he had a network of people who would support his music, etc. We worked together less during this period though I think I did sit in with him for a show or two.

Chuck Johnson: He has a remarkable skill at long, late night drives. He also has some sick dance moves. 

Stephin Merritt: If only I remembered this Dick’s Bar fracas, I’d be happy to tell it from my perspective. Maybe under hypnosis? 

Missy Thangs: I even loved the fat suit.

Murray Nash: One Saturday night in NYC, Gordon and I went to the birthday dinner for a sound engineer we were working with. That night would change our lives forever.  The dinner was at an Ethiopian restaurant in Queens. I met my future wife Birgit at that dinner; Gordon and I headed downtown and later that same night Gordon met his future wife.  

Matt McMichaels: Gordon has supreme self-confidence and a vision of what he wants out of his music, combined with an endearing vulnerability that makes you want to help him tilt at his windmills. Lee Waters called him “Gorgeous Gordon.” He once insisted on donning a ridiculous fat suit when we played in a Comic Book shop parking lot on a 100-degree day in Chapel Hill. He got all of us, a bunch of grizzled indie rockers with day jobs and kids and obligations, to agree to drive to a warehouse in Burlington, North Carolina, on a weeknight for a video shoot complete with green screens and a crew and catering and no apparent budget—because that was his vision. I only played with him briefly, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, like probably everyone who has been pulled into the Fan Modine orbit. Gordon is a unique creature who writes songs from a strange and beautiful alternate universe, and I am glad I know him.

Ash Bowie: I never knew Gordon as a goth. I’m pretty sure he was wearing a fur coat and large plastic sunglasses when I’d see him around. More of a ’70s Elton John glam look. 

Joan Wasser: Gordon was one of my best friends in Boston and when we moved to NYC. At that time, I had not begun writing songs yet. I was making tons of music, but not singing or writing my own material. Watching Gordon create such unique, gorgeous creations was like being around magic. He was magical. 

Gordon Zacharias: I have made several albums over the years, and have managed a Brazilian rock band (Boogarins) since 2013, building a label and publishing company in 2017 . I am married to a wonderful woman and we are raising our two children in North Carolina.

Gordon Zacharias in the East Village, late ’90s. Photo: Gail O’Hara

Bike Chain Rain: A Birthday Tribute to David Cloud Berman

chickfactor presents: 

Bike Chain Rain: A Birthday Tribute to David Cloud Berman

January 4, 2020 at Bunk Bar (Portland, Oregon)

Advance $18, day of show $21

Doors 7:30 pm, show 8pm

With…

Musicians:

Stephen Malkmus 

Bob Nastanovich 

Rebecca Gates 

William Tyler 

Clay Cole (featuring Rebecca Cole from Wild Flag, Minders, etc.)

Franklin Bruno 

Oed Ronne 

A Certain Smile

& Special Guests 

Writers:

Kevin Sampsell

Chelsey Johnson

Jon Raymond

Mo Daviau

Kjerstin Johnson

Daniel Elder 

Sophia Shalmiyev

& Special Guests 

Douglas Wolk (MC)

Get tickets here

Musicians, writers, poets, fans and friends will play his songs, read his work/tributes and tell stories about the great American poet and songwriter David Cloud Berman (Purple Mountains, Silver Jews) on what should have been his 53rd birthday.

cf interview: queen bee rebecca pearcy

it’s hard to leave the house in portland, oregon, without seeing an iconic queen bee bag. designer rebecca pearcy started making them (along with wallets, guitar straps and more!) in the 1990s and they were everywhere in the indie punk scene: durable, beautiful and waterproof! chickfactor’s editors are big fans. as rebecca gets ready to close the queen bee shop and move on to her textile business, we wanted to get the scoop. (she also makes music!) interview by gail

photograph: courtesy of rebecca pearcy

chickfactor: I bought my first queen bee bag at dumpster values in olympia in the late ’90s: a tarot card bag and wallet. 
rebecca pearcy: 
I love that you bought your first queen bee at dumpster values. I love kanako and that store. we started our businesses around the same time, and dumpster values sold queen bee plus lots of clothing I used to make for a long time.
cf: so what’s the deal? why are you closing down queen bee? it seems very punk rock and anti-capitalist to do such a thing. 
well, I suppose it is kind of punk rock, though I hadn’t thought about it in those terms till now. I do still plan to try and carve an income out of my creativity, but hoping to expand into realms that don’t necessarily involve making and selling stuff. workshops, and more community-building / sharing skills type of work. but to your question, why: I’ve been running queen bee for almost 24 years. longer, really, if you count the time I was doing it before I went legit and got a business license. I’ve changed, the world has changed, and I’m ready to shift toward the stuff that I find really inspiring these days. queen bee has become such its own entity, that it has taken a long time for me to get to the point where I feel truly ready to dismantle it and move on. it has been a big part of my identity, but I don’t identify with it so much anymore. I want the work I’m doing to be more representative of who I am now, and to keep evolving as a creative person. it’s funny because many people in my life, especially other business owners are telling me how brave it is to do what I’m doing and I guess it is. It is a big leap of faith to let go of something that is familiar, even if it is super challenging. but that’s how queen bee started, with a leap into the unknown, so I’m just doing that again, but at a very different place in my life than I was then.

catch of the day zine courtesy of rebecca pearcy

cf: tell us about the person you were when you started queen bee, how you have changed, and how the company has changed since then. 
I was living in olympia when I started queen bee. it’s hard to remember the timing of everything, because I was always sewing and making stuff and selling it. I was making stuff in my bedroom wherever I lived, and selling it at evergreen or at dumpster values, or at a riot grrrl convention or what have you. deciding to live in olympia after graduating from evergreen really changed my life. I thought I might like to move to san francisco but I quickly became intimidated by the challenge of finding housing there (even then, in the mid-’90s). so I decided that if I could find a job in olympia, I’d stay there. I got a barista job at batdorf & bronson and ended up living there for 11 years total. I’m so glad I got to live there, and become part of a real community, start my business, and play music there. so when I started queen bee I was really beginning to become part of life downtown: I lived at the abc house (a big land-trust communal living house on the west side, amazing experience, live shows and dance parties in the basement, fantastic housemates, affordable rent, good times). I started off by setting up my sewing station in the “rose room” at the abc house, but quickly realized I wanted to have a separate studio where I could work. my first studio was in the capitol theater building and it was like $100/month or something! a little while after being there, I got a call from stella marrs inviting me to move to a studio alongside her, nikki mcclure, amber bell, community print, khaela maricich, and k records. that was a dreamy situation. so many creative people, women in particular, working in the same building, bumping up against each other. very inspiring and special. ¶ back then, I was a scrappy, creative woman who was just living life in the hotbed of olympia awesomeness. I was young and writing songs, performing and going to movies and seeing shows and participating in olympia life. It was really great. In many ways I am still that same person. older, obviously, and I’m now married and have a 9-year old son, so my time and energy is pretty well split between work and family. I don’t have time to see all (or any) of the movies, or shows. with queen bee, I started off just by myself, and over time got too busy to do it alone. over the years, we’ve gone through so many stages, growing, contracting, adjusting, weathering the recession, etc. I’ve been through a lot and am pretty tired, honestly. ready to downsize to just me again and recalibrate to a new direction that’s better suited to where I’m at now and what I need and want as a 46-year-old woman. when queen bee started, the internet wasn’t a thing—even in that one way, so much has changed, it’s wild. I’ve learned so much, running this business—I hope I’ve become a better and better leader. things started off pretty casual and over the years so much of what has developed has been due to the folks I’ve hired to work here—it is because of their brilliance that we are so well organized and created systems to make things run smoothly. it’s great—that has been a big change! left to my own devices, things aren’t quite so orderly 🙂

queen bee truckette

cf: what was something you learned from attending evergreen that has stayed with you and made you successful? 
I did lots of independent study at evergreen, so I think that helped to prepare me for being a creative small business owner. you really have to just make so many decisions, all the time, when you’re running your own show, so it’s very beneficial to be an independent thinker and just problem solve the shit out of everything. and just the value of creativity at a place like evergreen—the value of looking at something from your own point of view and bringing that to the table—those are great qualities to have as an entrepreneur. 
cf: what was it that inspired you to make this particular design? how did that change over time? what was the most popular? 
well, one of the first things I designed that became part of queen bee was the wonder wallet. that came out of me just needing a new wallet and since I’m inclined to just DIY as much as possible, I made the first wallet with shiny black vinyl fabric with a vintage wonder woman comic laminated and stitched to the front. I don’t even know where the original inspiration for that came from. but I liked working with the vinyl fabric and faux-leathers and stuff. I was also making bags and stuff out of thrifted fabrics, vintage curtains, fake fur, and the like. I liked to shop for tough fabrics at auto and marine supply stores. I would drive to tacoma and seattle to hit comic books stores and buy all their vintage wonder woman comics, record stores and thrift stores for records to make my LP tote and 45 rpm bags with, and archie mcphee for packs and packs of loteria cards. after making bags with the comics, mexican loteria cards and kitschy stuff like that, I started developing my own appliqué designs. starting off with a simple star cutout and going from there. faux-leather, like real leather, is fun to work with because unlike woven fabrics, it doesn’t fray, so you can just cut and sew without having to finish the edges. that enabled me to really go crazy with the appliqué motifs and we always did fun contrasting stitching and stuff. over time I developed a whole line of waxed canvas bags, and heavier canvas in fun colors, and then printing onto fabric and creating the rebecca bearcy textiles line. ¶ the most popular designs have been the truckette messenger bag and the maximo wallet. they are the classic queen bee items that you see people carrying everywhere (that’s the truckette, the little sister to the trucker which is named that b/c the first ones I made were out of truck tarp fabric).

chickfactor editor’s queen bee maximo wallet (a present from pam)

cf: will you be moving out of the williams shop? 
yes. my lease is up at the end of the year. I’ll be moving to a studio on 15th & SE ankeny, but won’t have a retail storefront. so I’m planning to do more events, pop ups and folks can schedule to come shop at my studio when I’m ready. 
cf: what’s the last day folks can visit the shop? and order online? 
we don’t know what the closing date for the store will be—we are playing it by ear. It will come when we really don’t have much left to sell, honestly! It will probably be in december sometime. for online orders we will have to cut them off sometime in the next few weeks, possibly early december. when we announced the closure, we got a ton of orders, so the wait time is currently like 8-10 weeks. we’re very busy and will have to stop taking orders when we can’t accommodate the production of them anymore!

queen bee’s shop on north williams, portland. photo: gail o’hara

cf: will you make bags for your other brand: rebecca pearcy textiles? 
yes, but not nearly as much of a focus as it is for queen bee. I did design the lola convertible tote/backpack for the rebecca pearcy line, so that is cool. and I have ideas for other things. but I’m pretty into designing and making clothing right now, so will be developing that more, as well as continuing some home decor items and other accessories. whatever I feel like!
cf: what are your personal favorites?  
well, I kind of always love whatever is newest or what I just designed! go figure. so, the lola convertible, that’s my daily bag. I also love the snippet wallet (tiny), and the maximo wallet (big), the becca backpack, and the ramona tote. and the marlo purse. so many! those are some of my faves. 
cf: do you have any rock star fans? have queen bee bags become part of popular culture in some way? 
hmm, I don’t know if we have any rock star fans! there are notable folks over the years who have bought from us. we made some custom truckers for wilco to sell at their shows a few years back. and word has it that cheryl strayed bought a bag to give to reese witherspoon. lots of folks in the indie northwest scene have been customers. I think the biggest way we’ve become part of popular culture is that people think the portlandia ‘put a bird on it’ skit was inspired by us. and I do think queen bee is a part of portland, olympia, seattle, PNW culture. we’ve been around long enough and are recognizable enough to fill that role.

work area at the queen bee shop

cf: what do you think makes them so popular and beloved? 
I see them everywhere I go! it’s crazy. I don’t know exactly what make them so beloved, but I’m guessing: they are a nice combination of practical and stylish. they’re made for everyday use, and folks in the PNW tend to be on the practical side, as opposed to super fashiony. I mean, if it starts raining heavily, you don’t really want to have to worry about your bag. they are very identifiable and so people notice them and ask about them and their popularity spreads. the truckette, our most popular bag of all time, I think it just the right size, you know? not too big or small. and it has a satisfyingly square shape, a nice flat bottom so it can sit on a surface easily, it holds its own shape. 
cf: how many bags do you think queen bee has made? 
thousands and thousands! I wish I knew the actual number. 
cf: how many employees have you had/do you have now? 
I have 6 employees currently. at our biggest I think I had around 15 or so. I have worked with so many great people over the years. that’s one of the hardest parts about closing, is losing this little work family. they are all wonderful and I hope they all get to work somewhere where they’ll be appreciated.

JJ fantastic with her queen bee record bag, 2018. photo: gail o’hara

cf: tell us about the rebecca pearcy line and your future plans. 
in 1997 I did an apprenticeship at the fabric workshop in philadelphia, where I learned how to design & print patterns in repeat onto fabric. It was like a door opening into the realm of what really clicks with me. at the heart of what I love to do, is my love for fabric, color, and print. so getting to create the pattern that is printed onto the fabric and then getting to design what to make out of that fabric, and then MAKE it, was just taking me deeper into what I loved. so after that experience, I really wanted to start to print my own fabric and create goods from that. printing in repeat on yardage of fabric requires a big table a specific set up so it took me a few years to figure that out, but when I did I founded rebecca pearcy textiles. I’ve been running that brand for a few years now, but it has always taken a back seat to queen bee. part of this transition is my desire to turn my focus and energy onto the project that I feel most inspired and excited about, which is the rebecca pearcy line. this brand’s focus is handprinted, silkscreened natural fiber fabrics, made up into home decor, soft goods, accessories, and apparel. clothing is really my favorite thing to make (I make most of my own wardrobe) but it always seemed too complicated to make a business out of clothing design, but I’m dipping my toes into that realm—apparently I just can’t not do it. I’m excited to explore that and whatever else is inspiring to me. this is an opportunity for me to develop a new path and see where my creativity leads me! I’ll be going back to working solo for the time being, while I get settled into a new routine, working at a new studio, selling through my website and doing some in-person events, pop-ups, that type of thing. 
cf: merci, rebecca! 

jen sbragia with her queen bee bag, 2018. photo: gail o’hara
queen bee designs. photo: gail o’hara
queen bee designs. photo: gail o’hara

records rocketship cannot live without!

records dusty cannot live without:

the smiths
, the smiths

neil young, after the goldrush

my bloody valentine, loveless

red house painters, II 

augustus pablo, meets rockers uptown

stars of the lid, the tired sounds of

spacemen 3, losing touch with your mind

the wu-tang clan, the w

depeche mode, black celebration

cocteau twins with harold budd, the moon and the melodies

records ellen cannot live without:

del
, “motorbike annie/gypsy girl” (7″ single)
I’m completely besotted with “motorbike annie.” I searched for a copy of this single that wouldn’t break my bank for more than a decade before finally, joyously finding one a few years back.

bee gees, odessa
every bee gees album through the ’70s is essential for me, but this one has so many special songs.

the holliesdear eloise/king midas in reverse
I’m particularly keen on the title tracks and “would you believe?” on this album.

françoise hardyla question
it’s hard to choose between this one and ma jeunesse fout le camp, but la question is so hauntingly beautiful.

gilberto gil, self-titled (1968)
this album is a wild journey. there’s not a bad moment on it.

beach boyslove you
while not as transcendent as other beach boys releases, I adore this one. it makes me laugh, it makes me cry.

abbasuper trouper
the title track is fantastic, but even talking about “the winner takes it all” can bring me to tears. it’s such a heartbreaker.

eux autreshell is eux eutres
I love the exuberance of this record. I was working with nick when it came out and timidly asked him to ask his sister if she would join an all-female bee gees cover band with me (she fortunately agreed).

small faces, self-titled (1967)
my ultimate thrift-store fantasy is to find a sealed original mono copy of this favorite small faces record in the bins. a lady can dream…

and any and all of dusty’s records, of course.

rocketship: the chickfactor interview

it’s been 23 years since rocketship released its wonderful debut LP, a certain smile, a certain sadness, and on october 11 the band is releasing a new album, thanks to you. songwriter and band leader dusty reske heard a felt song back in those days and rocketship was born. these days he lives in portland, oregon, and collaborates with ellen osborn and adam bayer. dusty thinks a certain smile still resonates with people in their twenties, but that people get more complicated as they get older.
thanks to you is for all the fucked-up children of this world,” he says. “I’m drawn toward melancholy pop and tend to stress that innate juxtaposition in all of my own compositions and recordings. in my lyrics now I use a broader lexicon, yet the subjects reflect much of the same longing for love and connection through dysfunction and alienation as always.” head to rocketshipmusic.com, patreon.com/rocketship, darla and bandcamp to get the new record and find out more. we chatted with him over the summer at a portland bar about music, family, gentrification and climate change, among other things. interview by gail o’hara

dusty and ellen

chickfactor: how long have you lived in portland? 
dusty: I think 13 or 14 years. 
where are you from? 
dusty: I was born in san francisco, and I lived in the wine country in sonoma county for years until the end of elementary school, then I moved to texas for a decade until my senior year. I lived in dallas and then houston and then austin a little while for college, and then I moved to sacramento when I was 17.   
did your parents move there for work? 
dusty: my mother’s new husband was from texas. strangely they thought there wasn’t enough opportunity in sonoma so they went to texas and texas was about to boom. 
why/how did you end up in portland? 
dusty: my partner at the time was going to move from brooklyn, where she had been living for 15 years or something. she was going to move back to the west coast—she was from the bay area as well. I was living in arcata. 
was that cynthia nelson
dusty: yes. after sacramento I moved to arcata in my late 20s. (we talk about kendra smith, who doesn’t live in arcata, but in the region. I interviewed her for cf18.)
you and cynthia have two kids? 
dusty: yes, aurelia is 12 and leo is 8. 
are they musical? 
dusty: I wouldn’t say so. they’re both really into literature, reading a lot. leo is now getting into sports a bit. aurelia is into drawing. kendra actually has a song called “aurelia.” 
is that why you chose the name? 
dusty: it wasn’t, I came across the song later. 
are they quiet readers? 
dusty: they’re not quiet readers. they occasionally throw the books across the room. they’re not too into music yet, not rock music. aurelia has been in the portland girl choir for a while. leo will sometimes hit the drums. 
what do they think of your music? 
dusty: I don’t know if they hear it that much. I never throw on an old record but they hear cynthia and I composing our music around the house a lot, but that’s always in bits and pieces when we’re trying to figure something out. cynthia and I will play a lot of covers, again trying to figure out new material. but it’s just something that’s always in the background in the kitchen, not something they have to deal too much with. It’s just something they know their parents do.  
what do you think about portland now? 
dusty: yeah. I’m an absolute proponent of infill ecologically but it’s hard to deal with the neighborhoods changing so much. I can see why they tear down old shacks and put up duplexes. 
isn’t infill just high density? why are people against it? 
dusty: I’m not exactly sure. people do like their single-family homes and maybe only want to live on a block that has single-family homes, what they’re used to. apartment complexes are often stigmatized because they’re where poor people live or people with modest means. there’s often a lot of NIMBY-ism around that. I suspect that their disgruntled-ness is misplaced and it’s actually the new people that are more the problem. the houses are all okay, but it’s this new wave of middle-class consumers who are displacing all the artists. 
it does seem like californians are often blamed/demonized here but people are moving here from everywhere, right? gentrification is a tricky subject with a lot of different levels: one business opened on mississippi ave. and others followed and now the neighborhood is unrecognizable to many locals. can you blame the original business that was just looking for a place they could afford? change is inevitable but how does the city keep the original community from disappearing? 

brand-new album out october 11!

dusty: I agree. it used to feel more grassroots: somebody who was kind of scrappy put together the money and got some couches and started a coffee shop. that’s a little romantic. it seemed more down-home. and now it just feels like massive capital infusions from above that come in and change a street like division so that it’s just a new city there. it used to be open fields and they built a new city. 
cf: that block on fremont between vancouver and williams used to be a field and now it’s that spaceship-looking office for instrument across from a new seasons. people who work there probably bought up a lot of the homes around there. 
dusty: they could afford it. when we bought our house, it seemed like it was the least expensive house in NE and we fixed it up a little bit over time but our mortgage is still really low from so long ago. now we have people who come in with really serious middle-class jobs working 40 hours and they can’t afford to buy a house in our neighborhood and so they’re renting. 
enough about gentrification! has rocketship been going this whole time? 
dusty: I’ve always been doing music but I’ve taken long periods off. when I moved to arcata, I got really into social activism so I was going to meetings all the time: food not bombs, the free bike program, all kinds of things that people were doing, zines. I didn’t have time for music.
do you still do that stuff now? 
dusty: the activism? I’m embarrassed to say no. I’m not social enough, I’m a little too shy and awkward. I’d like to be involved more. I keep up with politics but now it’s just donations. 
portland is great because everyone shows up for everyone else’s rallies, but there’s also a fair bit of bickering and infighting within the left that takes everything off course. 
dusty: activism used to be a thing I could just hop on my bike and go do but now it involves other people’s schedules. when I first moved to town, I worked at the alberta co-op for almost a decade. we had a big action there where we turned it into a worker-run collective. we got rid of the management structure. but it was hard too: there was a lot of fallout and infighting among the folks who had been allies. 
what do you do to stay sane? 
dusty: ooh, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve figured that thing out. I don’t know if it keeps me sane but I have a lot of time to think while I’m working. I have a company that does ecological lawn care. I do lawn care and yard care by bike using all hand tools, just in NE portland. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life and I’m outdoors all the time. I wanted to do something where I wasn’t on the computer all the time. it’s called eco-lawn care.  
did you do this before or just decide to start a company? 
dusty: pretty much the latter. I had a garden in the back, I had grown vegetables, and I’d been a bicyclist for many years, which is really important cause I’m hauling a lot of tools around. I’ve been riding my bike as my main transportation for 20 years. I was thinking about going back to school and I only have so many years left when I can even work so should I take on that much debt?  
it’s not rocket science, right? you just avoid using carcinogenic pesticides. there are so many stupid things humans have brought into our lives that we don’t really need: weed-wackers, gasoline mowers or those teeth flossers on a plastic stick. people love them, they’re so easy to use but if everyone uses those, we’re doomed. 
dusty: it’s funny you mentioned those. ellen has an instagram account [where she posts photos of those on the ground] and people respond to it: for whatever reason, people leave those things all over the city. but yeah, people don’t like the noise from leaf blowers and gas mowers. I was reading a statistic that the amount of gas that is spilled every year by people putting gas into their mowers is equal to an exxon valdez spill. that’s not even the pollution that comes out of the thing, and that’s just the US. 
what do you tell your kids about climate change? 
dusty: it comes up all the time. climate change is just one part of a complete ecological apocalypse that we’re approaching, not to overstate it: deforestation, loss of top soil, extinction, the list goes on and on. these subjects come up a lot when we’re explaining why we won’t buy a certain thing.  
portland used to be a green city, a green leader, but it doesn’t feel as much like that now. but at the same time there are people doing something on a small level and making a difference. 
dusty: we do have a lot of advantages here. the scale is of such a scope that I don’t think there is any hope. it’s just going to be really awful; the next century is going to be awful for young people. 
[heavy sigh] let’s get back to pop. what was your first concert? 
dusty: my mom took me to a bunch of stuff in the 1970s, I don’t know what it was. the first one I went to that I’m conscious of was ELO. I thought I was going to see the alan parsons project but I hadn’t realized how much I liked ELO, especially Xanadu. I think van halen was the second one. by myself it might have been the cure at an amusement park like six flags or something. 

dusty in portland, summer 2019. photograph by gail o’hara

were you musical as a child?
dusty: not really. my parents bought me a drum kit and a guitar when I was 13 or 14, thinking I was a little too shiftless. so I kind of fumbled my way around those for a long time. finally when I was 18 or 19, when I was in someone’s dorm and they were playing a song, I thought, I know all those chords. I can play a song. 
what was your first song about? 
dusty: when I lived in texas, in my junior year a bunch of fellows said let’s start a band. they had two-track cassettes. so we would just record some music and dub that onto the next track and add some tracks. that really meant a lot to me because I could suddenly see how you could make a recording. It had never occurred to me to do that. we made a cassette—I mean, it’s pretty funky, not-good music but it kind of caught on with people’s friends so people were playing it on the weekends. we kind of just wrote those songs together and a lot of it was first takes. when I moved to sacramento, I fell in with a fellow named josh berkley, who befriended me. we were in show choir together with purple sequins. he invited me out to his house and he had a four-track. we kept it in this comical vein, we couldn’t take it too seriously, laughable songs about people at school. that was our first exposure to songwriting. we did a cover version of “leave me alone” the very last song on power corruption and lies. for college I wanted to go back and visit with all my friends in texas. I moved back to austin for a bit. I came back for xmas in sacramento and josh had started a band, a synth-pop band with his buddy aaron. that was real compositions, serious attempts at making music and I was instantly sucked in. when I went back to texas, that’s all I could think about. I was listening to it on my walkman, on the bus, thinking, why am I going to this class so early in the morning? so my second semester I dropped out and moved back to california.  
you were like, I need to join this band! 
dusty: yes. 
when rocketship started, what were you listening to and what were you thinking you wanted it to be like? 
dusty: josh and I had been in a band for a while and we kinda had made our name around sacramento; we were called the rosebuds. we probably wrote 20 songs or something. we were listening to english shoegaze music and we were playing that a lot. after that fell apart, I wanted to shift gears. it was before slowcore really happened, but a lot of people were thinking the same thing. I wanted to do this really slow kind of music and bought this really old organ and brought it up to the second floor of this duplex and did a 4-track demo. I guess I wanted to sound like galaxie 500 or something. shoegaze music had become passé, so I sold all my pedals, got that money back and stripped everything back. I was also taking a recording class at sacramento city college. for some reason at the time they had a state grant that funded their studio—they had like a million dollars and they built a world-class studio. I came up with this band name—not original—“silver rocket”, based on the sonic youth song. I liked the contrast, I was doing this mellow organ music. this guy ed artegas, who was there with me suggested, why not call it rocketship? I knew this guy who’d been a fan of the rosebuds, robert cartwright, he played drums. so we started playing together and his girlfriend heidi (barney) had played piano in her youth. for me rocketship begins properly because they played me this felt album, let the snakes crinkle their heads to death. the very first track on that (“song for william s. harvey”), it was mind-blowing, this super-organ-driven pop song. by that time stereolab had come out so I think we were reassessing guitar rock, but for a long time before that you couldn’t have keyboards in your band. so I wrote “hey hey girl” when I was inspired by this upbeat pop sound that I heard on that felt record. 

rocketship in portland, 2017; the band that played live at chickfactor 25, bunk bar. photo by gail o’hara

did you know rose melberg (who is from sacramento) and mike slumberland (who put out rocketship) in those days? 
dusty: no. so heidi worked at a coffee roasting house of all places that rose worked at. so she gave rose our tape and rose kinda liked it so we met her through heidi. tiger trap was really important in sacramento. 
when did ellen (osborn) join rocketship? she’s the other primary band member?  
dusty: yes, and I would include adam bayer. ellen and I are best friends too. I wanted to put together a live band for your show [chickfactor 25 party at bunk bar, portland, december 2017], and I met ellen through adam. she was just the kind of singer that I had always wanted to work with. 
and she was in an all-girl bee-gees cover band! 
dusty: right, the she-bee-gees. 
are there any platforms you like to use for making or listening to music? 
dusty: I still download stuff for free and put it on my music player at home. for recording I use a program called ableton live. I have a bunch of shared software. 
do you have any pets? 
dusty: a cat named crystal. 
do you have any idols? anyone you admire for their style or stagewear? 
dusty: I’m thinking early morrissey with the open shirt and gladioli. [we discuss the fall of moz]
are you playing much these days? 
dusty: it takes a lot of effort—or it has in the past—to put together the kind of band that I want or that can play the material. It requires a certain amount of musicianship, certainly on the organ. heidi used to do these incredible things, doing arpeggios on electric piano while she’s playing chords and then taping down a moog note. it’s hard to find people who can do that. it requires rehearsal and we’re not at a level where we can count on getting paid so it really has to be for the love of it and people’s lives are so busy. 

a show flier from a chickfactor party in 1995

is that why you gravitate to more stripped-down live shows? 
dusty: I’m flirting with that more and more: a lot less gear that’s easier to play for people that can also replicate a lot of the more modern sounds. I’m not in love with a loud drum kit where everything then has to get loud. it’s environmental noise pollution and it damages people’s bodies.   
it’s hard to know how big your audience out there in the world is because people haven’t seen you play much in a long time. 
dusty: we did popfest a few years ago in new york, san francisco and sacramento. I don’t like playing live that much partially because—at least in the kind of music that I play—it’s so repetitive. it’s not necessarily very creative. for me all the pleasure is in writing and recording the songs. by the time I’m done recording it, I’ve heard it thousands of times, and adjusted it and the minutiae and all the different ways that are meaningful to me, it’s hard for me to just hear it back in a way. I get particular about trying to re-create the recordings and how all the details are supposed to go live. So that presents its own challenge. it’s hard for me to just get together with a bunch of people and bash it out. 
what’s coming up for you and rocketship? 
dusty: our new record! I’m making 10 videos for it and that’s all planned out. before I met you today, I was working on the next record. so in the next 10 years, I’m going to be putting out lots and lots of material. that’s the plan. 
thank you, dusty! 

rock the boat: the boaty weekender remembered!

Photo by @WillByington

our intrepid webstress janice headley (also of KEXP & copacetic zine fame) flew across the atlantic to brave scorching august heat, put on a life jacket and hit the high seas with the boaty weekender gang (kinda like the bowlie weekender but on a fancy cruise ship, 20 years later, and twee AF). for those of us too skint to go, here’s a peek into what went down. 

words by janice headley • 
photographs courtesy janice headley and the boaty weekender

for me, the boaty weekender began with a guitar case crashing onto my foot. we were still at the hotel in barcelona, wheeling our luggage down to the shuttle bus that was going to take us to the cruise ship. I greedily refused to let go of my kas, a delicious orange soda drink that’s only available in spain, mexico and france, and was available in portugal, brazil, and argentina during the 1990s. (thanks, wikipedia!)  at some point in the elevator, my boyfriend joe accidentally let a guitar case roll forward, right where my sandaled foot happened to be. I yelped, tried to push it off of me using my elbow (since my hand was still gripped around the tasty, tasty beverage), joe grabbed my drink to try and help, and then *DING* the elevator doors opened, and standing there was the gallant norman blake of teenage fanclub, who graciously took my beverage from joe while I stumbled out, hopping on one un-squished foot. embarrassing. what a gentleman. and that was how my boaty weekender began. (thank you, norman. no thanks to you, kas soda.) (no, I take it back, you’re too delicious to be mad at.)

we all boarded the bus that took us to the norwegian pearl cruise ship, which was huge. I’d never taken a cruise before in my life, so I was awestruck by the size of this thing. passes acquired, forms filled out, we boarded the boat, and headed to our lodging. music by the bands playing the event was piped into the hallways, and on the televisions in our rooms, concert footage of belle & sebastian played all day and night. 

the boaty weekender, for anyone who doesn’t already know, was a four-day “floating festival and luxury cruise around the mediterranean” starting in barcelona, landing in sardinia, Italy, for a day, and then returning to barcelona. the event was organized by belle & sebastian and featured special guests yo la tengo, camera obscura, teenage fanclub, mogwai, the vaselines, django django, alvvays, the buzzcocks, japanese breakfast, kelly lee owens, nilüfer yanya, and, if you can believe it, more. in fact, despite it being a four-day event, I didn’t get to see every band play, not by a longshot. there were five different stages across the ship, and the sets often overlapped. but, here are a couple of notes on just a few of the bands I did manage to see. (I tried to write about all of them and even bored myself, so here’s an abbreviated take.) 

THURSDAY

Photo by @WillByington

the vaselines
“who here has heard of the love boat?… creepy, wasn’t it?”so chirped the effervescent frances mckee during the vaselines’ first set, which just happened to be booked at the same time as an artist meet-and-greet on a different floor of the boat. (“we don’t need their party, we’re having our own party,” she insisted brightly.) she looked adorable in a hawaiian print dress while her bandmate eugene kelly wore a simple black tee.

the stage was on the floor where the check-in counters lined the back of the room, so there was a funny juxtaposition of employees helping customers while the vaselines tore through “sex with an ex” and “molly’s lips.” there was also a large jewelry retail area to the side of the room where no one was shopping. “I get really seasick, but I think gin and tonics should help,” she declared. “diamonds really help, too,” she quickly added.

the vibe reminded me a lot of matador 21 (which happened in a vegas casino in 2010), if you went to that. I had a lot of people tell me it reminded them of all tomorrow’s parties, too. waiters in yellow polo shirts walked the room, offering to get people drinks. you could actually buy drink packages ensured to keep the alcohol flowing all boaty weekend long. (hi, julie!) 

photograph by Janice Headley

belle & sebastian
seagulls swarmed as the band played on the top deck of the boat. stuart murdoch was wearing naval white pants, a striped tank top, and a captain’s hat, while guitarist bobby kildea wore a full-on sailor’s suit. 

the band played “dog on wheels,” “I’m a cuckoo,” “she’s losing it,” “another sunny day,” “stars of track and field,” the new single “sister buddha,” and the song “sweet julie” which made stuart remark, “doesn’t that sound like the love boat theme?” stevie jackson nodded, “it does, doesn’t it?” 

they continued to play as the sun descended and darkness rolled in. by the end of their set, the moon was shining vibrantly from above.

band name bingo
this was not as exciting as I had hoped it would be. (sorry, boaty-ers.) I liked the concept of band names instead of letter/number combos, but the execution was a little weak.  

the first round, the band names were just shouted out, but the following rounds, only trivia on the bands were revealed and it was up to you to know if the band was on your card or not. for example: “this band’s frontman was freddie mercury.” (that’s a real example, I’m sad to say.) 

the evening was co-hosted by stina of honeyblood, who was wearing an adorable two-piece with fantastic strappy platform sandals. the crowd booed whenever a bad band came up (sorry mumford & sons) and it was quick to correct the hosts when they mispronounced a scottish city.

teenage fanclub
the fellas were in fine form and their harmonies were pitch perfect all performance. I somehow missed the news that euros childs had joined the band following gerard love’s departure, so I was delighted to see him on stage adding his gorgeous vocals.

they closed with “everything flows”—a perfect song for the cruise, except I want the captain to set a course he doesknow, thank you very much. 

band t-shirts spotted
R.E.M.
new pornographers
teenage fanclub (also in tote bag form)
belle & sebastian

FRIDAY

wind down meditation
I’m embarrassed to admit I slept in this day and missed the buzzcocks, kelly lee owens, django django, and/or alvvays, as well as the collage club gathering. there was a lot of stuff scheduled for earlier in the day!

ironically, for a girl who overslept, I first headed over to the “wind down meditation” session with gen kelsang machig, a representative from the kadampa meditation centre glasgow with 15 years of experience. she led us in a quiet meditation session that was just lovely. after it was over, she told the audience, “If you have any questions, just find me on the boat, I’m the only one dressed like this,” referring to her traditional garb. (and I did find her later in an elevator!)

belle & sebastian Q&A
I made it up to the pool deck for most of the belle & sebastian Q&A, which was moderated by comedian alex edelman, who joked that scottish people keep all their emotions bottled up and communicate instead through belle & sebastian songs. the questions were all very thoughtful and serious, even leading stuart to say, “c’mon, don’t you want to ask us about your futures? we are all clairvoyants, you know.”

wine tasting with neil and ira
ira (of yo la tengo, natch)’s brother neil “has 25 years of sales and support experience in the wine and spirits industry as well as advanced wine certification.” (thank you, google!) so, the siblings teamed up for an evening of wine tasting. I don’t like red wine, so I didn’t go, but joe tells me toward the end of the tasting, they did, indeed, break out a riesling. (sigh.) 

Photo by @WillByington

camera obscura
it’s been so long since I’ve seen camera obscura in concert, I had forgotten how good they are live. they did “let’s get out of this country,” “the sweetest thing,” “desire lines,” and, of course, “lloyd, I’m ready to be heartbroken.” hearing their harmonies was absolutely awe-inspiring and made me miss my karaoke bestie, laura. (hi, laura!)

japanese breakfast
I bounced back to the atrium to see japanese breakfast next. she was looking super smart in an ’80s-inspired power suit with a crop top underneath. she smiled a lot during their set. their drummer is serious about his mullet. she would step aside when the guitarist had a gnarly solo. 

yo la tengo
they started off their pool deck performance joined by euros childs for a rendition of “sea cruise.” (you know, that vintage song that’s all “oooh-eee, oooh-eee baby.”) and then norman and raymond from teenage fanclub joined them for a few songs, including fan favorite “stockholm syndrome.” I can’t remember what else they performed; I took lousy notes. 

band t-shirts spotted:
camera obscura
belle & sebastian
paul mccartney (???) 

SATURDAY

cagliari, sardinia
not a band, but the city that we ported in for the day. joe and I took a taxi to the beach and soaked up the sun and the crystal-clear blue, blue water for most of the morning before returning to the city and having the most amazing lunch, thanks to neil kaplan’s recommendation. 

band t-shirts spotted:
japanese breakfast
the breeders
ween (ween?)
austin city limits with paul mccartney (him again?)
daniel johnston (thanks, james!) 
radiohead 

SUNDAY

yoga with frances mckee
I was scared to take this class, but knew I couldn’t let the opportunity to take yoga with the woman from the vaselines pass me by.  she’s a really good teacher.  I didn’t realize it, but apparently she runs a yoga studio, so that explains it.*  she’s kinda hardcore though; imagine her sharp scottish accent barking, “straighten yer legs! don’t look at what yer neighbor is doin’! don’t forget to breathe!” (*editor: read all about it in CF18)

belle & sebastian perform fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant
after repeat viewings of both the vaselines and japanese breakfast, I ran over to the stardust theatre to watch belle & sebastian perform their 2000 album fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant in its entirety. I feel bad, because when it first came out, I didn’t like this album very much. but I loved hearing it live. once the album was played, they began taking audience requests, which was a little clumsy with lots of awkward moments as they tried to remember how to play forgotten songs. and there was a cute moment where they got a bunch of kids from the boat, dressed up in their nautical finest, to shake percussion during “legal man.” 

Photo by @WillByington

yo la tengo
on sunday night, yo la tengo took the pool side stage for the second time for another awesome set. about midway through the set, a very handsome man took the stage and began to recite the opening prose to donovan’s 1969 surprise hit single “atlantis,” a song that went to #7 on the billboard charts upon its release. (thank you, wikipedia!) this wonderful performance was the paramount of a spectacular weekend, and I called it a night thereafter ’cause I knew everything else would pale in comparison.   

band t-shirts spotted:
eugenius
teenage fanclub
beat happening
spiritualized
british sea power

(P.S. final word from james yo la tengo, who we asked to comment on the boaty cuisine: “the food on the boat was good and readily available. the soft-serve was a nice touch. there were a few restaurants on the boat, where you could sit and someone would take your order. there was also a wildly popular buffet-style full contact scrum which was pretty fun. I didn’t locate any scottish-themed food, but maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough.”)

the decline of mall civilization by michael galinsky

Photograph by Michael Galinsky

Our friend Michael Galinsky (also of the band Sleepyhead) is a fearless and prolific photographer (and filmmaker) who has been out there everywhere snapping away for the past 30 years. His body of work features street photography from Iraq, stunning portraits of tiny baby Chan Marshall and teenage Mary Timony and so so so much more. His latest book, the Decline of Mall Civilization, is currently being kickstarted and it shows what North Carolina malls looked like 30 years ago. Order your copy now or just pitch in a few bucks!