You know Terry Banks from so many great bands! Tree Fort Angst played at our very first chickfactor party with live music in Sept. 1993, he played in glo-worm with chickfactor cofounder Pam Berry, Terry was featured in the zine with TheSaturday People, did time with St. Christopher, and currently plays with the poptastic D.C. band Dot Dash. We wanted to check in with him just before his band plays at D.C.’s Fort Reno on Monday, July 24. Read on, pop nerds! Interview by Gail / Images via Terry Banks
Chickfactor: When did you write your first song? What was it about? What was it called? Terry Banks: The first one I can remember was in a band in Richmond called Roy G. Biv. It was called “The Joy of Transportation.” It was just kind of jokey nonsense, a bit Housemartins-y, but that was our schtick. Were you musical as a child? I played saxophone for about two weeks as a fourth grader and that was it. A long time later, around age 19 or 20, I started playing guitar, but it was my roommate’s guitar. I didn’t get my own until summer 1986—an Ibanez Strat copy for a hundred bucks from a guy I knew.
Were you from a musical family? My dad played drums as a youth. We listened to a lot of music at home, but no one played an instrument. What were you like as a teen? I can’t really remember. I think I was kind of reserved. Around 16 I got very into, for lack of a better term, the ‘new wave’ music that was happening at the time. A friend of mine and I went to see Split Enz and we were sold. Then I got very, very into The Jam, The Buzzcocks, The Undertones, The Clash, stuff like that. The first Echo and The Bunnymen album led me back to The Byrds and The Velvet Underground. I wore a long coat to school. Where all have you lived? I grew up in suburban Baltimore; went to college in Richmond; spent a few years in England and Australia. Everything else has been D.C. I wish I’d lived a few more places. Maybe there’s still time.
Please name all the bands you have been in that aren’t active. Roy G. Biv (we later changed our name to The Kickstands), The Knievels, Tree Fort Angst, St. Christopher, glo-worm, The Saturday People, Julie Ocean. Current bands? Dot Dash. Was guitar your first instrument? What kind do you play and why? Yes. I’ve always picked guitars by how they look. These days, I play a Vox Phantom. Before that I was playing a Vox Teardrop (the real name is Mark III.) I like the 60s vibe of these guitars but, equally (maybe even more so) I feel like there’s an early 80s post-punk thing going on, too – kind of Siouxsie or Robert Smith.
How did you first meet Pam Berry? It was right after I first moved to DC. I put an ad in the City Paper’s free classifieds in the music section saying I played guitar, liked Orange Juice and The Byrds, and wanted to form, or join, a band. Pam called my number, which was listed in the ad, and said “Who are you?” From that, I met her and Dan Searing and all those people. They were cool. What was it like being in glo-worm? It was good. I could never tell what Pam’s lyrics were until we recorded and then I always liked them. I think the album that came out, Glimmer, is really good and some of those songs — ‘Tilt-a-Whirl’, ‘Holiday’, ‘Travelogue’, and ‘Change of Heart’ all come to mind — sound (to me) like lost classics or something. Our gig-related claim to fame was that we opened for Radiohead once. I commented on them having Yoo-Hoo on their rider (there was a lot of it backstage) and the lead guitarist guy was like “Oh, do you know about Yoo-Hoo? It’s brilliant. It’s like chocolate milk, but fizzy”
What was it like being in The Saturday People? It was fun: a lot of humor, in-jokes, pseudonyms, and ongoing laughter. What’s Dot Dash up to these days? We had an album, called Madman in the Rain, come out at the end of 2022. Like all its predecessors it was released by Canadian indie label The Beautiful Music. Since lockdown ended, we’ve played about 15 shows in the past year and a bit with people like Bailterspace, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Richard Lloyd and a bunch of other rocking combos. It’s fun to be playing out again. We’re playing at Fort Reno in July.
What kind of pop scene does D.C. have going on? The Quarry House has a great vibe and is booking lots of stuff. The Black Cat and DC9 are still going strong. Comet does a lot of stuff. A place called Songbyrd started up a while back. We know these guys in a garage band called Apollo 66 who do a club night once a month in an American Legion hall in Silver Spring where they’ll have three indie-ish bands of varying sorts and that’s always fun. There’s also the Runaway, Slash Run and Jammin Java and I’m probably forgetting a few others. In terms of D.C. bands, Bad Moves are excellent and have a bunch of killer pop songs.
Do your kids play music? (How old now?) Do you like any of their music (if they like music)? The oldest is 24 and plays guitar and writes songs. The younger is 21 and dabbles with guitar. One of their shared faves is Taylor Swift, who I think is pretty great. (If you’re unconvinced, check out “All Too Well” – there’s something Joy Division-y about it.) What is on your turntable these days? I think the best new thing I’ve heard in a good while is The Reds, Pinks and Purples. That guy (Glenn) is super prolific and it’s all great.
What are you reading/watching? A bunch of music-related books. Some recent ones include Starman by Paul Trynka, Record Play Pause by Stephen Morris, My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn, Small Town Talk by Barney Hoskyns, and Playing Bass with Three Left Hands by Will Carruthers. There are always more piling up. What else is going on in your life? Day job? Pets? I do media relations for a renewable energy org. We have a cat named Fergus. He spends a lot of time outside, spying on passers-by. My phone can no longer save anything because it’s filled with photos of him.
When we put The Softies on the cover of chickfactor 18 back in 2018, we had no idea they would be coming back together to MAKE A NEW ALBUM and TOUR! Just a few weeks before Rose Melberg and Jen Sbragia set out to play a short Pacific Northwest tour with Tony Molina and All Girl Summer Fun Band and Mo Troper, we asked them a few questions about how this all came to happen. The split cassette tape in the images below features the Softies covering Tony’s entire album Dissed and Dismissed and Tony covering three Softies tunes, will be available at the upcoming shows and is being co-released by Slumberland Records and Alicia Vanden Heuvel’s (Poundsign, the Aislers Set) label Speakeasy Studios. Interview by Gail
Chickfactor: Why Tony Molina? Jen Sbragia: I first heard Dissed and Dismissed when Rose played it for me in her kitchen, in 2017. At the time I wasn’t listening to any new music really and was just focused on other stuff. I was blown away because of the genre-blending and was a little jealous I hadn’t thought of it first! I just thought it was a genius blend of my two favorite kinds of music—crunchy, squealy, distorted guitars and perfect pop. Not to be too dramatic, but that record changed my life. Rose Melberg: As Northern California natives, Jen and I both feel a deep connection to the California-ness of Tony’s music. It’s difficult to put a finger on what that means, it’s just a special kind of magic for us.
How did you guys and Tony M. know each other? Rose: We had been in touch as mutual fans of each other’s work but only met in person the first time when Tony played in Vancouver in 2019. He and his band stayed at my house and he and I stayed up talking until 5am on my porch talking about life, music, songs, etc. There’s nothing like watching the sun rise together to solidify a friendship forever Jen: We met in person at the Oakland Weekender, but had been texting each other about music and guitar stuff. I got his number from Mike Schulman, because Tony isn’t on any social media and I just wanted to introduce myself as a label mate, make that connection, and to gush about how much I loved his music. It was funny and weird that we were all big fans of each other. There were loose plans for me to sing with him at the Weekender during his secret/surprise set, but it didn’t work out. I joked that we should collaborate and release a split 7″ on Slumberland so we could “play this thing next year”. And weirdly, something very similar is happening.
How did this mini tour / new tape come about? Jen: He just texted me and asked if we wanted to play some PNW shows, simple as that. I wasn’t sure which band would work but then it became both Softies and AGSFB. The cassette was Mike and Alicia’s idea.
Please explain what the record is, what format, how people can get it, etc. Jen: It will be a cassette-only release, available at the merch table. Co-released by Slumberland and Speakeasy Studios.
If you are willing to say anything, what is going on with the Softies? Rose: We’re writing new songs and will be putting out a new album in 2024.
New recording? Record deal? Shows? Etc. Rose + Jen: All of the above!
How has your songwriting (style, content, tools, etc.) changed from the olden days? Jen: Attending the Oakland Weekender after so long in quarantine was huge for me. Not only just traveling again and seeing old friends and live bands, but the prep I put in beforehand of researching all the bands and listening to new music again so that I would know the songs and be extra excited to see them played live. After I came home, I felt such renewed excitement about playing music again for the first time in years and my creativity sort of exploded. I started playing guitar every day, writing little riffs and bits of lyrics and songs, and shared the more Softies-esque ones with Rose. She is the true mastermind IMHO. She took those ideas and we made whole songs. She’s writing too, of course. So these new songs are more collaborative than ever before.
We have had several songwriting trips over the past year where we traveled here and there to work on music. Often we would meet in Seattle because it’s a pretty good halfway point between Vancouver and Portland. We have been recording our new songs in demo format so we can each work remotely using Garageband, but we have time booked at Anacortes Unknown over the summer to record our new record.
Can we expect to hear new stuff at the shows? Jen: There are definitely some new ones on the set list.
What else is happening? Jen: Mostly practice! I agreed to do double duty, (which I have done before, Softies and AGSFB toured California 24-ish years ago) It never occurred to me that it might be too much for me presently—I was too excited. So now, that equals a LOT of practice. Practice is my middle name right now. But I couldn’t be happier. CF
chickfactor 18 with the Softies on the cover is still available in our shop as well as various other outlets including Quimby’s, K Recs, Jigsaw, My Vinyl Underground, Record Grouch, Main St. Beat, Grimey’s, Atomic Books, among others.
Since Portland’s All Girl Summer Fun Band originally formed just to be a band during the summer of 1998, it’s pretty incredible that they are playing live in the summer of 2023. Now playing together as a trio (bassist Ari Douangpanya left in 2005 to focus on raising her son), AGSFB is now OGs Jen Sbragia, Kathy Foster and Kim Baxter. During the pandemic, Jen and Kim started playing together for fun, while Kathy leads a band called Roseblood and plays with Hurry Up and Slang as well. Since they kind of formed thanks to a Softies show way back when, it’s so great that the two bands will be playing together in early June (see flier below) in the Pacific Northwest! We are so excited to present a brand-new interview with AGSFB, who were featured in chickfactor 15 (2002) and played at our 10th anniversary soiree at Fez the same year. Interview by Gail O’Hara / Photos courtesy of All Girl Summer Fun Band
Chickfactor: what years were All Girl Summer Fun Band in action back then? Jen Sbragia (she/her): Summer of 1998 until our most recent show – May of 2010 at the SF Popfest (thanks, SongKick… I had no idea) Kim Baxter (she/her): It’s so crazy that it’s been 13 years since we last played! When Kathy, Jen and I recently got together to practice for these upcoming shows, it felt like no time had passed at all. It was a pretty magical feeling, I didn’t realize just how much I had missed playing with them.
What is the current AGSFB lineup? Jen: Myself, Kathy, and Kim Kim: People have been asking us why Ari isn’t playing these shows. She actually left the band in 2005 to raise her son, so AGSFB has been a 3-piece band ever since then. We are all still very good friends with her!
What was the impetus for starting up again? Jen: Kim and I have been playing together over the pandemic, outside in her covered breezeway between her house and her practice space. We were just doing it for fun, to flex those old music muscles again and chat and just interact with each other in person while taking care not to give each other any possible germs. Then Tony Molina asked us to play in June. We were excited to ask Kathy to join us, she said yes and we all got back together to practice, in the actual practice space.
How long have you been secretly playing together in recent years? Jen: Not secretly! Just spending time together in person and playing some old tunes and writing some new stuff. Seeing what happens.
How did you guys originally meet? Jen: I met Kim when her band Cherry Ice Cream Smile played with the Softies at Thee O Cafe in Portland, June 1997. She gave me her band’s cassette. Rose and I listened to it a ton as we drove across the US and back. I was like, I gotta hang out with this person and start a band. Kim: I was a huge fan of the Softies so getting to play a show with them and being able to give them a tape of my band was a big deal. But then they actually called me from the road and left me a message on my answering machine saying that they loved the tape and that I should hang out with Jen when she gets back from tour. I was over the moon! I actually still have the microcassette with that message from my answering machine. Jen & I instantly became good friends. A year later, Kathy moved to Portland from California, and we hit it off right away. The two of us recorded a couple of songs on my four track which eventually became two of the first AGSFB songs, “Broken Crown” and “Will I See You.” Ari and I both grew up in Albuquerque, NM, but didn’t become friends until she moved to Portland. I asked the 3 of them if they wanted to be in a band for the summer of 1998 and described it as an all-girl-summer-fun-band. No pressure, just a goofy & fun band. I was leaving to go to school in Russia that fall and figured it would be a project just for the summer. But we all decided to continue playing when I got home, and here we are, 85 years later, still a band! Ha! Kathy Foster (she/her): Yes Kim brought us all together. She was one of the very first people I met (and stayed with) when I moved to Portland in May of 1998. I knew her then-boyfriend/now-husband from the Bay Area. We clicked right away and became friends. Soon after, we started AGSFB. As I remember it, Kim told me I was in a new band with her, Jen and Ari. Haha. And I said OK! I, too was a huge Softies fan and was stoked to play with Jen. Even though I had just met the three of them, we all had so much fun together right from the start!
What were some highlights and memories from the old days? Jen: Spending half of practice just standing around with instruments plugged in and ready to go but then we’re just catching up, chatting, laughing. Getting to tour Europe! Kim: I love chatting at practice! We talk about anything and everything and sometimes we play a little music too. I loved all of our past shows, tours, and I absolutely love spending time in the studio with AGSFB. Kathy: Same! I always thought it was so cool and special that we could talk, laugh and be ourselves so comfortably at practice. (It’s the same now, too!) There was no pressure, no agenda, no one dominating the conversation or creative process, no egos. Just a fun, creative, supportive atmosphere, which carried through everything we did together – playing shows, recording, touring. Recording and touring were always fun adventures.
I love looking at the old photos from the first AGSFB era—lots of red, pale blue, gingham, pigtails/bunches. Did you guys have rules about stagewear? Jen: We tried to come up with color themes. We did all have gingham tops or outfits, so that happened at our first show. One time I found some deadstock Women’s uniforms in sort of an orangey color at thrift store somewhere and we wore those, I think? Also, we played a Halloween show where we all wore vintage prom dresses with zombie makeup. It was fun but then we stopped doing it after a while. It was nice to just wear whatever. Kim: Kathy is so good at doing zombie makeovers! I want to play another Halloween show just so she can do zombie makeup for us! Kathy: I love doing zombie makeup! Yeah, at first we tried to come up with a dress theme for every show. We also did a monochrome theme where we each wore a different color. Jen just posted some old show footage where we’re all wearing baseball tees. Mostly, though, we all kinda had a similar style that looked good together.
Any good stories from tour in the early days? Kim: We would often go on spring break tours down to California which I always loved because we had a lot of friends living in the Bay Area. It was also fun touring in Europe and of course we loved playing the Chickfactor show in NY in 2002. So many great memories.
Tour nightmares? Kim: Well, one night Jen, Kathy and I were driving home after playing a show in Tacoma, WA and we ran out of gas. These creepy guys pulled over and were shining lights in our van to see what we had. Luckily they didn’t try to steal anything and they finally just drove away but it was so flippin’ scary! Kathy: That was so scary! I still think about that when I drive past that area of I-5, and feel so relieved that nothing bad happened. There was also the tour down to California in my VW Vanagon where we had van trouble, and found out the van had a small gas leak. We got a fire extinguisher for the van and crossed our fingers that we’d make it back to Portland in one piece. I believe it was that same tour that Ari and I got tattoos at the parlor next door to the venue in San Pedro, CA.
What bands are you in these days? Jen: As always, The Softies and AGSFB, but also—over the quarantine times I started recording little weird outbursts or jingle-type “songs” on my phone. It was just stupid stuff like me singing Go Brush Your Teeth to my kids and stuff like that. Rose and her husband Jon heard them when we were together during a Softies songwriting sesh and they encouraged me to release them as a weird solo project. So I have a Bandcamp for it called Yreka Bakery. It’s just a handful of weirdness mostly about my cat. Kim: AGSFB & I’m also recording songs for another solo album (Kim Baxter Band) plus writing new songs with Jen but we’re not sure what they will be yet. Maybe a new project, maybe a new AGSFB album, maybe both! Kathy: AGSFB (I wanna write new stuff!), Slang, Hurry Up. I’m working on releasing a solo album under the name Roseblood.
How did the pandemic change you? How did it change Portland? Jen: Like many people, I was scared at first, then scared and bored, then scared and sick of living with my family all on top of each other. Online school was abysmal for my kids. Part of me kind of liked being a hermit. I grew a little garden, we painted rocks, I made overalls. I still wear masks a lot, but I’m dipping a toe back in here and there. Portland definitely seems different now, so many businesses that have closed. So many camps. It seems like this everywhere though. Not good.
Kim: It forced me to prioritize the things that mean the most to me, like playing music. I didn’t have a lot of energy to put toward music for a couple of years though because I was so stressed and worried most of the time. But we are lucky because we have a studio in our garage, so when I did have energy to get out there and play music, it helped me feel more grounded, nostalgic, and positive about something. ¶ Portland has been growing at a very fast pace which was already causing some issues, especially around housing. But then the pandemic hit, and it really exacerbated those problems. I’m hopeful that some positive solutions are found soon. I still love it here, but we have had our car stolen 4 times now and that just gets old after a while.
Kathy: Like Kim, I didn’t have much energy to put toward music or writing, which was disappointing. I saw a post on Instagram that stuck with me that said: the pandemic is not a residency. Even though I wasn’t working, and I was fortunately getting unemployment, it wasn’t a relaxing or productive time. It was stressful not knowing what was happening or how long it would go on. I put energy toward working on a vegetable garden which I hadn’t done much of in the past, and just dealing. I also learned a few bike maintenance skills and fixed up a few things on my bike. I’m pretty introverted, which may sound weird since I’ve played tons of shows. The pandemic made me a bit more socially anxious but I’m starting to come out of that. Portland’s problems got really magnified during the pandemic—homelessness, drugs, mental health problems all got way worse and we’re still dealing with it today and trying to figure out solutions.
What does Portland’s music scene feel like these days? Top acts? Kathy: I guess I’m the one who’s gone to shows the most in the last several years, but I still feel like I’m out of it. I don’t go to as many shows as I used to, that’s for sure, so I wouldn’t say I have my finger on the pulse. It still feels pretty much as vibrant as ever. We definitely need more all ages venues. Portland seems to have always struggled with that. There seem to be more country influenced bands these days, and not in any cheesy way. Bands I like are The Barbaras, Roselit Bone, Silver Triplets of the Rio Hondo, Fronjentress, Jenny Don’t and the Spurs, and the legend Toody Cole still plays. There are still tons of great pop and folk bands like Sunbathe, Arch Cape, Black Belt Eagle Scout, Terre Haunt; and great punk bands like The Ghost Ease, HELP, Dials, Divers, Dommengang, Love in Hell, Yuvees. A few of my top fave punk bands that are now broken up were Lithics, Mr. Wrong, and Ex-Kids. There are synth, noise, jazz and hip hop scenes too! Too many great acts to list.
What else are you guys up to in 2023? Kids, pets, jobs, etc? Jen: My other job is freelance graphic design. My kids are tweens and doing good. We have the same ancient cat (long may she reign!) and a newly adopted bearded dragon we call Tobias Jordan. Kim: My husband and I own a small film production company. We have a teenage son who is so awesome, and I love spending time with him! I’ve been trying to spend more time sewing and making art. I also play a lot of futsal and I’ve been getting into bouldering. Kathy: I’m a part-time bookkeeper. I’m the only AGSFB member without human children, but I have a dog daughter named Ronette (Ronnie) who I adore. She’s two. I’m currently in the mastering phase of my solo album (Roseblood). Slang will probably be playing more later this year. Janet Weiss, who is in Slang, has been touring a lot the last few months with Quasi but they’ll be home soon. I’m starting to DJ a little more (DJ KM Fizzy). I DJed regularly and had a radio show (Strange Babes on XRAY FM) before the pandemic but have only DJed a couple times since. I also like to sew, make beaded jewelry, and I’ve been reading more this year.
If you do have kids, what kind of music are they into? Do they know about your music past/present? What do they think? Jen: My kids’ music preferences are a mystery; they listen to and view stuff on YouTube mostly. They know how vinyl records work and how to hold ’em by the edges, so my work is done. (ha) My daughter wants me to pay for Spotify, but I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger on that. They got to see me play a secret Softies set in Seattle (with the Umbrellas, who they loved) a few months back and they were so sweet. After each song I glanced over and they were waving and cheering, so sweet. Kim: My son loves EDM and records his own music. He’s supportive of my music but I know it’s not his favorite style. When he was 3, we brought him with us on a European tour for my solo album. Since my husband and I both play music, it’s always just been a part of his life. Kathy: Ronnie gets really relaxed when I sing to her or play music. 🙂
Got any crushes? Jen: I fall in love with people who make music I love. Always have. Matthew Rhys as Perry Mason could get it. Kim: I have crushes on everyone finding time to make music and art after being so mentally exhausted by the pandemic and the craziness of the world. I see you and I’m cheering for you all! Oh, and I also totally have a crush on Diego Luna. Kathy: Pedro Pascal like everyone else.
What are you watching? Jen: Just finished reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell to my kids and now we are watching the 2015 miniseries. Also burning through Succession and Perry Mason. Kim: I’m re-watching My So Called Life and Freaks and Geeks. Kathy: The last show I was excited about was The Last of Us (hence the crush). I’m excited for the second season.
What are you reading? Jen: Just started the His Dark Materials series with the kids. Kim: I’ve been on a big Steinbeck kick lately. I read 8 Steinbeck novels back to back. I recently switched gears though and now I’m reading the Mötley Crüe book, The Dirt. Kathy: I recently read two books by Kristin Hannah – The Four Winds and The Great Alone. Both were incredible. She was recommended to me by a friend. She has a long bibliography so I’m excited to read more by her. I’m currently reading Good Neighbors by Sarah Lanagan. I like it so far.
What are you eating? Fave food carts? Jen: Just started going out for food again, so EVERYTHING is exciting. Our fave sushi is Kashiwagi PDX. I didn’t get the appeal of La Croix for the longest time but now I’m fully in the cult. Also I love diet coke. Kim: There’s a food cart by my house that makes delicious food from Guam. It’s so good but they’re rarely open. Kathy: I get overwhelmed by the amount of food carts in Portland. There are so many that it’s hard to choose so I just freeze. Plus, I don’t eat out a ton. There’s a good Mexican & Yucatecan cart near me called Loncheria Los Mayas. I also go to the taqueria down the street from there called Santo Domingo. I’ve been on a protein smoothie kick lately. I make one most mornings. Other than, it’s kind of all over the place. I love all kinds of food.
What are you most excited about doing on the upcoming tour? Jen: I hope I smile so much my face hurts. I miss playing shows so much! Kim: Spending time with Jen & Kathy, seeing old friends, making new friends, putting smiles on other people’s faces. Kathy: Yeah, same. Just playing again, hanging out together, having fun, seeing friends, lots of smiles all around, and seeing The Softies! Omg.
Any special gear you are using these days to record? Learning new tricks? Jen: I got an EVO 4 interface so that I can record straight into an iPad using Garage Band. It’s been really helpful writing music remotely. I also got a BOSS loop pedal for experimenting with, and a Blues Driver pedal that seems perfect for beefing up those old clean-guitar songs a bit. Kim: I recently got the Data Corruptor pedal from Earthquaker for bass. I’m still learning to use it, it’s a beast. I currently just step on it at random moments during practice to make Jen & Kathy laugh. I also have been recording songs using a Poly D Analog Synth which I love! Kathy: I been recording with Logic for the past few years. I recorded the Roseblood demos and album in Logic. When I made the demos, I was new to Logic and I found it to be a cool tool for songwriting. It helped me write songs in new ways by being able to mess around with all the different sounds it comes with – amps, instruments, effects and beats.
What can we expect at the upcoming shows? Jen: Maybe matching WILDFANG coveralls? And some new pedals. A mix of old songs. Not sure we have the time to get anything new together in time. Kim: Giggles, nerves & pure happiness! Kathy: What Kim said!
Please tell us about what music you are recording / making / practicing / selling for this tour. Jen: Kim and I were writing some new songs when it was just the two of us. Now that Kathy is practicing with us, those songs might become new AGSFB songs. Mostly we are just trying to practice a set list of established songs, but who knows? Mike Schulman from Slumberland and Alicia Vanden Heuvel from Speakeasy Studios were talking about co-releasing a cassette of Tony and the Softies covering a few of each other’s songs just for this tour. A fun little limited edition gem. Well, Rose loves doing covers (if you haven’t heard her September cassette it’s incredible). So she learned ALL the songs on Tony’s Dissed and Dismissed. She laid down the guitar tracks and her vocals on her own, we recorded my vocals together during one of our many practice sessions, and then I did my guitar parts in my little office with my iPad. Tony did three Softies songs. We put so much of our hearts into covering his songs because we love him so much. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. Kim: I think we are close to finalizing our set for the upcoming shows. The bulk of it consists of songs from our album, 2. Plus some from the s/t album, some from “Looking Into It”, and maybe one from our first 7-inch. Kathy: Not music, but we’ll have new t-shirts and buttons!
What’s on the turntable, er, bandcamp right now? Jen: The Lost Days – In The Store Chime School – s/t Lisa Prank – Perfect Love Song Black Belt Eagle Scout – The Land, The Water, The Sky OVENS – s/t Weedrat – The Rat Cometh Julia Jacklin – Crushing
Kathy: Ribbon Stage – Hit With The Most Various artists – Strange World (compilation of “cosmic and earthly Doo Wop and R and B from America and Jamaica released by Mississippi Records) Quasi – Breaking The Balls Of History Dateline podcast Tig & Cheryl: True Story podcast
Like this zine’s founders, Richard Houghton knows a thing or two about being a fan of the Wedding Present. Published last Friday, The Wedding Present: All the Songs Sound the Same collects more than 300 stories from fans, friends and current/former members of TWP, all of whom discuss favorite recordings, along with loads of previously unseen images from bandleader David Gedge’s archive. Gedge even coedited the 336-page hardcover book along with Houghton.
Gedge says: ‘When I’m asked to choose my favourite of the songs I’ve written, I never know what to say. It’s like asking who your favourite child is! How could I pick just one? However, I did think it would be interesting to see which songs fans would select, and why. There’s quite a few from which to choose … When an audience member requests one of the 280-plus songs that we haven’t rehearsed for that particular evening’s set I usually sympathise with them by saying, “I know, I know… there are just too many classics, aren’t there?!”’
The songs are discussed, explicated and championed by all the superfans in the book, including Sir Keir Starmer, Peter Solowka, and Mark Beaumont, along with CF editor me (Gail), who discusses the origins of the Pavement Boy comic (it’s Wedding Present related) and road trips to NYC with Pam Berry, Mike Slumberland and Dan Searing where we were listening to Seamonsters. We asked Richard a few questions about the new book.
How did this book come about? David Gedge and I worked together on a book called Sometimes These Words Just Don’t Have To Be Said which was published in 2017. That was fans talking about seeing The Wedding Present in concert. But lots of people mentioned songs that were favourites of theirs, and I thought a book of people writing about their favourite Wedding Present songs would be a fun idea. I pitched it to David and he agreed to give it a go.
How long has it taken to get made? I started compiling the book in 2018, so it’s been five years. It took a while to gather together all the material. I also had access to David’s personal archive and scanning in images and getting clearance to use some of those (including David deciding which ones he was happy to see in print) also took a while. And then we had to find a slot in David’s busy schedule, as he’s been publishing his autobiography in comic strip form, and we needed to avoid launching the book when it might clash with the release of one of those volumes.
Where can people get it? In the US? Europe/rest of world? The book is available in hardback via Amazon and also via Spenwood Books (who ship worldwide). The hardback is also available in the UK and Ireland via your local bookshop, although you may have to ask them to order it in for you. But the book is also available in paperback via Barnes & Noble in the US, meaning fans only have to pay domestic shipping.
Will there be any book events? David and his bass player, Melanie Howard, are doing a semi-acoustic gig at Resident Music in Brighton on Friday May 5 at 6.30pm BST. More details are available here:
All The Songs Sound The Same is published on 28 April 2023 and available to order now from Spenwood Books.
David Lewis Gedge lives in Brighton and is the founding member, lead singer and guitarist for the semi-legendary indie band The Wedding Present, who were founded in 1985, and his ‘other’ band, Cinerama. He is also the author of several books, including two volumes (so far) of his illustrated autobiography, Tales from the Wedding Present.
Richard Houghton lives in Manchester and is the author of 20 music books, including authorised titles on The Wedding Present, The Stranglers, Simple Minds, OMD, Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention. His People’s History series of music books is published by Spenwood Books.
Certain artists take up too much space in the world, and some don’t take up enough. Baltimore’s Linda Smith falls into the latter camp. Keeping a low profile for decades, she started experimenting with a 4-track and putting down gentle home recordings in the early 1980s. Despite being on Slumberland, Shrimper, Feel Good All Over and Harriet, she didn’t capture (enough of) the public’s attention until releasing a comp called Till Another Time (1988-1996) on Captured Tracks in 2021. She’s also played in Silly Pillows and the Woods and was closely associated with the Magnetic Fields 30 years ago.
Folks who document discographies suggest she occupies similar territory to the Cannanes, Dump, Sentridoh, and the Marine Girls, so yeah, her music is right up (y)our alley. Now she has a great new record out with her old friend Nancy Andrews titled A Passing Cloud (2023). We caught up with her recently to see what’s happening in Charm City these days. (Listen to her music here.) Interview by Gail O / Images courtesy of Linda
chickfactor: How did your life change during the pandemic/lockdown? Linda Smith: I had a year off of work. During this time, Captured Tracks released “Till Another Time”, a compilation of my old songs. I also started recording again after many years. How did Baltimore change? Like most cities, it became very quiet and deserted, with very little traffic on the streets. What kind of impact did The Wire have on the city? Good or bad? I never watched The Wire but it seems that people outside the city were influenced by it and took it as a realistic portrayal of the city. It reminds me of how people used to think of Baltimore as being like a John Waters movie. Certainly, there are aspects of truth in both but neither gives a complete picture. How long have you lived there? Where else have you lived? I was born here but I did live in NY City for 3 ½ years in the 1980s. When I moved to NY, it seemed to provide more action and excitement than Baltimore did. When I moved back, though, I was glad for the relative lack of excitement. Were you musical as a child? No, but after seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I wanted to be.
Were you from a musical family? No, but we heard records frequently and I was given a transistor radio at the height of the 60’s pop music era. What were you like as a teen? I spent most of that phase listening to classical music and watching old movies, waiting for high school to end. While I loved AM radio in the 60’s, most of the music of the early 70’s seemed lackluster in comparison. It wasn’t until the late 70’s punk and New Wave period that I wanted to listen to rock and pop again. I think I first heard your music on a cassette comp in about 1993 made by Keith Darcy. When did you first start making music? Probably around 1979-80. I was buying a lot of records and became inspired by the Raincoats and Young Marble Giants, among others. I decided I wanted to be in a band like that and put an ad in the local free paper seeking other unschooled players. Many of those I met came from the art school (MICA), of course!
What have you learned about recording over the years? How has your process changed? There are lots of technical aspects of recording that I have no idea about, but I learned enough to get individual tracks down on tape. For me, it was about keeping things simple. The recording process changed most recently when I started recording on my laptop. I thought it would be more difficult but it’s actually easier! In this case, I use the simplest program, Audacity. What was the Baltimore music scene like when you were making music in the ’90s? And what’s it like now? The music scene back then was more live performance and rock based, not so much about releasing recordings. These days, the scene is far more diverse. Musicians still play live but recorded music is very important to what they do. Bandcamp has allowed that to happen. A couple of years ago I put together a selection of current Baltimore music for The Lot radio in Brooklyn. There is so much going on that I wanted to include but couldn’t get everything in. It can be heard here: Listen to Baltimore to Brooklyn: Captured Tracks with Linda Smith @ The Lot Radio 06 – 17 – 2021 by The Lot Radio on #SoundCloud You were working in the art world, yes? What is the art world like in Baltimore? I worked in the security dept at the Baltimore Museum of Art for 15 years. The art world of the museum is a bit different from the art world on the outside of it. I was more involved with the former than the latter. In the security dept. one is somewhat invisible on a certain level but also privy to many things others never see. I could write a book.
Can you tell us some good stories about events that happened at the 14 Carat Cabaret? Back in the 90’s, the 14K Cabaret was THE art scene in Baltimore. I did sound there for a year and saw many of the early shows. Laure Drogoul ran the Cabaret and always scheduled a mix of performance, music, and film. She booked many local artists as well as groups like Beat Happening, Scrawl, and the Magnetic Fields. The one night that really sticks out in my memory is the Annie Sprinkle performance. Packed house.
If I came to Baltimore for the day, what should I absolutely do? Visit the art museums! Also, don’t miss Normals Books and Records for your music and literature needs. For small locally run shops and restaurants, I suggest Hampden. Do you see John Waters around town much? Not in general, but the museum where I worked had a show of his work a few years ago. We got to see him quite a bit then. How does your songwriting process happen? Where do you write? What tools do you use? My process is very tied to the recording process. Songs are often created while laying down tracks rather than fully written out beforehand. I’ve gotten more into making instrumental music, too. Writing lyrics has been of less interest to me recently but that could be old age. Do you perform live much these days? I’ve never performed all that often over the years but recently have received more requests to do so. With the release of my new album with Nancy Andrews, “A Passing Cloud” (Grapefruit/Gertude co-release), I’m thinking of becoming more involved in that aspect of music. We did a show last week at Normals Red Room, which was actually fun and not too nerve wracking!
Please tell us about the LD tribute record you have been working on. One of the recording projects I started during the pandemic was prompted by LD Beghtol not long before he died suddenly. Though I did not know LD as well as those at Chickfactor (and elsewhere), we had communicated off and on since the 90’s, always with the idea of working on this or that project. In 2018, he created the cover for the Lost Sound Tapes Linda Smith tribute cassette, and also recorded a wonderful version of my song “Brightside”. When the shutdown happened in 2020, we were again in touch, this time about having me record one of his songs. He chose “Lack of Better”. I did my recording, which he was to add a vocal and acoustic guitar to but did not get the chance to do. Since then, the idea of an LD Beghtol tribute album has been germinating. He made so many connections with other musicians and wrote so many great songs, that it seems the best way to honor him. Many of the artists with whom he worked will be contributing tracks and Charles Newman at Motherwest is helping to organize it. (Thanks to Gail for the inside connections!) What’s in your fridge? Can you cook? What is your specialty? I like food that can be easily microwaved. 365 Plant based nuggets are a favorite. Other than that, I prefer to eat in restaurants but that gets expensive. Do you have pets? Hobbies? Day job? No pets, no day job (retired). Painting might be considered my hobby at this point; it has taken a back seat to music these days. I can only do one thing at a time, it seems.
What are you reading? Watching? Too many books lying around here that need to be read but I just finished Celia Paul’s “Letters to Gwen John”, a collection of messages from a living painter to a long dead one. As for watching, I really like a good disaster movie, among other things. ☺ What’s on the turntable these days? Since restarting my long dormant vinyl habit, there are brand new records along with interesting reissues of old music. *Dottie Holmberg: Sometimes Happy Times (Sundazed) *Wheatie Mattiasich: Old Glow (Open Mouth Records) *Doug McKechnie: San Francisco Moog 1968-1972 (VG+ Records) *The Smashing Times: Bloom (Meritorio Records) *Tetsu Mineta: Early Scenes (Ditch Lily/Unread/Union Pole/Almost Halloween Time) *Andre Previn: Dead Ringer Soundtrack (Warner Bros) *Twink, The Best of: You Reached for the Stars (Sundazed) *Josephine Foster: Godmother (Fire Records) *Sarah La Puerta: Strange Paradise (Perpetual Doom)
Anything else you’d like to tell us about? Besides the LD Beghtol tribute, I hope to do a vinyl re-release of the 1998 album I did with Paul Baroody, “Domesticated” (great pop songs with memorable melodies!), and a new album of poems by Baltimore writers set to music. Coming in 2023, there will be a full length album of old recordings by The Woods, my NY band in the 80’s, on Dot Matrix (a subsidiary of Sundazed/Modern Harmonic). In addition, Shrimper will be re-releasing my old Woods bandmate Brian Bendlin’s 1987 album, “13 Groves”, with artwork by me. Along the way, there are other various collaborations possible.
Records Linda Smith cannot live without *The Dionne Warwick Collection (Rhino) *Lesley Gore: It’s My Party, The Mercury Anthology *Sam Phillips: Martinis and Bikinis *Brenda Holloway: The Motown Anthology *The Shangri-Las: Shangri-Las 65 *Game Theory: Lolita Nation *Young Marble Giants: Colossal Youth *Four Tops Anthology *Dolly Mixture Demo Tapes *Sandy Denny: Who Knows Where the Time Goes? Collection
Our final chickfactor 30 party in London was an afternoon Hangover Lounge affair at the Betsey Trotwood and had kind of a chill vibe that was welcome after two nights at the packed Lexington! Marlody is a new signing on Rob and Amelia’s Skep Wax label and her moody, intimate songs were quiet and poignant at a time when finally coming together after so long was so needed. Her music was a reminder that we all need to share our stories. The Catenary Wires are of course pop legends: Amelia Fletcher, Rob Pursey, Ian Button and Andy Lewis. They played stellar songs from their latest, Birling Gap, which you should snap up if you haven’t got it, and even thrilled the audience with a Heavenly song, “Cool Guitar Boy,” in advance of their couple of Bush Hall shows next spring, which was so so fun.
London is a place I was lucky to call home for half a decade and I miss it like crazy. chickfactor’s cofounder Pam Berry has lived there since the late ’90s and I love being able to go back and see people at these events in these places that miraculously are still open. I wish we could do it every year! Thanks again to the musicians, bands, venues, Paul Kelly for backline wrangling, the sound people, Hangover Lounge, Tae Won Yu, the folks who put me and others up, the documenters, readers, fans, friends, strangers, and pop lovers who make up this incredible community.
Tonight from the stage, Morgan from the Umbrellas said that her face was hurting from smiling so much and we could all relate! The London CF30 shows were like a big lovefest full of fantastic pop music! The show kicked off tonight with the Bay Area pop group Seablite, making their London debut in the most stylish and melodious way!
Birdie played next and our hearts melted because they are so damn charming and just effortlessly generate classic-sounding pop music that could have come from the 1960s. Their set list is below, but we know how lucky we are to have heard a few Dolly Mixture songs on Friday during Rachel’s set and some on Saturday with Birdie! Unbelievable joy.
The final act tonight was the Bay Area Slumberland band The Umbrellas, who are so young and yet so good at making classic but fresh indie pop in the best possible way. Such energy! Such positivity! If there were any justice in the world, we would take these shows on the road and fill the world with joy and melody! I’m sure these US bands will be back soon, but for now London + California = love.
Just a note: In case you wondered why the shows started so early and they had no real breaks between bands, it’s because the Lexington has another dance party event that starts roughly an hour after our thing ended. We left a time cushion between our show and theirs because our experience at CF25 was a bit difficult to deal with, the Pastels could hardly load out or relax and have a post-show beer before the late-night dance party people rushed the room.
(Personally, I was perched on a bench in the back because I had recently rolled my ankle and couldn’t manage the pain being on my feet all night or I would have been dancing like a dervish right up front as per usual! I was on so much paracetamol that I felt I couldn’t drink much cider, and I was a bit limited in my movements as host! But it was pretty crazy to see three of my former coworkers from SPIN magazine in the house! Daisy and Sarah, shoutouts to you for being so fun. )
Thanks again to all the bands who played and all the fans who came from afar and the Lexington. Special thanks to Gaylord Fields and Rachel Love (to whom I apologize for my grumpiness) for helping me wrangle the right lager and snacks from the local Tesco. The overall vibe this weekend was very much a lovefest, a total all-hands-on-deck, walking around the neighborhood and running into each other funfest with some of the greatest people. MC Gaylord did an amazing job of waxing loudly and lovingly about the bands to get everyone’s attention back to the stage. Many thanks to Paul Kelly and the Betsey Trotwood for wrangling the backline for the whole weekend. Thanks to the Hangover Lounge gents—Tim, John, Ben and Steve—for handling merch and being the generally wonderful humans that they are.
chickfactor anniversary parties are sometimes characterized as events where we bring bands back from retirement or as total nostagia-fests. While it is true that they are basically the best kind of friend reunion, this year’s London shows had little to do with nostalgia (though there was a wee Dolly Mixture vibe and a Heavenly song!). Our three-day festival featured five bands that were just interviewed in our latest issue, chickfactor 19 (Sacred Paws, Rachel Love and three Bay Area pop bands mentioned below), and two bands whose members (Paul Kelly and Debsey Wykes and the Catenary Wires) have been interviewed on our site in mostly recent times. The Lexington shows also featured three bands making their London debut: Seablite, Artsick and The Umbrellas flew across the world to play in London!
Tonight I was dead excited to see Sacred Paws for the first time, and they did not disappoint! (They toured the U.S. a while back but only the East Coast and I was West Coast then.) Rachel Aggs’ dance moves are a joy to watch and the whole band generates goodness. Their sound is rooted in the ESG-influenced past, but completely fresh and modern. We are so grateful they came down from Glasgow to play!
It was also amazing to see Rachel Love solo for the first time! She brought her kids and their friends to play many of the wonderful songs from her 2021 solo album that deserved more attention. We heard a few Dolly Mixture songs during Rachel’s set (“Down The Line,” “Miss Candy Twist,” “How Come You’re Such a Hit With the Boys, Jane?”), some with Debsey Wykes as a guest! Unbelievable joy. Plus, tonight was the first time Artsick has ever played in London and they were killing it with fizzy pop punk energy!
Thanks to the bands who played and traveled from afar, MC Gaylord Fields, the fans who came out, the Lexington, the soundpeople and especially the Betsey Trotwood and Paul Kelly for sorting out the backline for the whole weekend. Tonight was epic!
In honor of the forthcoming Heavenly reissues (Skep Wax will rerelease all the Heavenly LPs on vinyl soon: Heavenly vs Satan is available on pre-order now; Le Jardin de Heavenly will follow next April and the other two will come along at six month intervals)—in addition to the John Peel Sessions on Precious Recordings and the announcement of the band’s forthcoming gigs at Bush Hall in London in May 2023—we asked the band to think back to 30 years ago and tell us about their impressions of the U.S. in the olden days! The very first issue of chickfactor was handed out at a Heavenly / Lois gig in Sept. 1992; I reviewed their second album in SPIN around the same time, and we interviewed them in chickfactor zine (Amelia is on the cover of issue 2).
ROB PURSEY Going to America was overwhelming, partly because we were going to meet loads of people for the first time—people whose records we’d heard, but from a distance of 3500 miles. Two of the encounters I remember most vividly from that first Heavenly trip are Phoebe Summersquash (Small Factory) and Jeffrey Underhill (Honeybunch). Phoebe is one of the select band of people known as ‘girl drummers’. She was the most diminutive person in the band, she wore glasses and she smiled all the time, even while she beating the hell out of a drumkit. I loved that combination of effortless glee and thunderous noise. She was the living antidote to those theatrical drummers (and guitarists) who pretend to be working out in the gym, or summoning Satan, as if that was crucial to making a great sound.
Jeffrey Underhill, we met, I think, in Rhode Island. I don’t really remember the gig very well, but I was a big fan of Honeybunch. Their song ‘Mine Your Own Business’ was in my head all the time, and it still provides the soundtrack for my memories of our first trip to the US. Anyway, what I remember about Jeffrey was the fact that he showed up in a back alley in a really great old blue/green semi-beater of a car. I am a bit of a nut about old cars, and liked this one a lot. Me and Jeffrey didn’t talk much, I imagine we were both somewhat shy, but I do remember sitting on the bonnet thinking ‘this is the best car, and it belongs to the person who played the best song’.
The encounters with all these new people came to a head at the Chickfactor Party, where there was a whole community was assembling. I didn’t really know anyone there, of course, but I somehow felt like I could get to know and like all of them. We were a long way from the UK, but we felt at home. Part of the reason for this was that women were running the Chickfactor show, and these were wry, witty women. There was a lot of intellect behind Chickfactor, and a definite attitude, but there was a lot of humour too. The humour was a sign of confidence—there was nothing apologetic about it. That’s what being in Heavenly felt like. The women in our band were obviously in charge, but they wore it lightly. So New York, or at least this little indie corner of New York, felt more amenable to our band than a lot of places back in the UK. It was a good feeling.
CATHY ROGERS I’m not sure any of my memories are really separable. The synapses which connect Heavenly to America all sit in a viscous bath of coffee and the new kind of cool of the straight edge punks and the smell of wet trees driving through Oregon and Massachusetts and the swooning delight of being in the same venn diagram overlap as the really rioting riot grrrls and gigs not being gigs any more but shows and the sheer heat of new experiences and new loves. America just felt so great. It was like finding a version of us that was just so sure of itself. So certain. Walk around the town like you own it…everyone, all the time.
Compared with that overpowering sense of it all, specific memories feel a bit humble. The drive down from Olympia to play a show with a band who turned out to be Tiger Trap, Calvin saying, classic understatement, ‘I guess you might kinda like this band.’ Meeting them to play a show together in this kind of basement garage, them all wearing roller skates, us being powerless to resist charms on that level. For some reason, having a conversation with a bunch of people about our favourite foods and everyone out-doing each other for eccentricity, then Molly from Bratmobile saying ‘I just want to eat rice’ and that becoming one of those weird things that I think of literally every time I cook rice. The novelty, playing at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, of being fed really well before a show. Laughing over-hearing an old guy in the audience, saying – after a whole raft of indie bands – about Lois, ‘Finally someone who can actually sing’. Meeting Ted and Jodi for the first time and being so jealous that Pete was somehow already friends with them, then seeing Jodi’s band (with another girl with a rad American name like Brooklyn or Maddison, I’m pretty sure the band was called The Runways) and thinking these were the most sensational people I’d ever met. Being interviewed for this magazine called Chickfactor and hearing of another wait what cool girls are somehow allowed to be mainstream now magazine called Sassy and realising that culture was an actual thing and the world changes and feeling that we lived in some small backwater but we were so lucky because we were here, for now.
AMELIA FLETCHER – On our first US tour, Pete and I being dropped off by Small Factory in Hartford, Connecticut, in the middle of the night. We were near the place we were all staying with my parents, and figured we’d call a taxi to get us home. But it turned out that the place we stopped at had been robbed the week before, and we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by police cars. We were freaked out. It felt like an episode of Starsky and Hutch. Then, when asked where we were heading, we realised we couldn’t remember the address. Not at all suspicious! In the end, though, the police believed the daft English people and gave us a lift home in the police car.
– Meeting Claudia Gonson from Magnetic Fields at Chet’s Last Call in Boston. She asked if I had time to come and record a song for her and Stephin Merritt’s side project, the 6ths, the next day. I said why not. I had heard ‘100,000 Fireflies’ on the ‘One Last Kiss’ compilation and liked it a lot. I remember I sang ‘Hall of Mirrors’ in an especially breathy way, and Stephin commented that I came complete with my own reverb!
– Playing at the Fantagraphics Comics Warehouse in Seattle with Beat Happening and another band who I just remember as being very smelly! It was a great space, and I was excited because I was a big fan of ‘Love and Rockets’. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl both came, which seemed pretty thrilling too. We were easily thrilled!
– Arriving in Olympia at the start of a West Coast tour, meeting Bratmobile and Bikini Kill and discovering Riot Grrrl. There was a visceral buzz around the whole place, and we quickly got very excited about it too. We had always been a feminist band, but in a quiet sort of way. We didn’t really feel part of the UK feminist movement at the time. It was fighting for stuff that was no doubt important but didn’t seem relevant to our concerns. So it was thrilling and empowering to find people discussing the issues that really had affected us. And to discover a whole set of new bands who had found a way of being outspoken and angry but also huge fun. It had a big impact on us, musically and personally.
PETER MOMTCHILOFF I have opened the drawer in which I left my old memories of Heavenly in the USA. There is a lot there, but I can’t fit it together into any kind of story. My colleagues’ reminiscences do what I seem not to be able to. As a kind of coda, I do remember that we were brought down to earth by our first gig back in England after a West Coast tour, feeling rather pleased with ourselves. It was in a pub in Gillingham, to about five men and a dog. I don’t think they even turned the pub TV off while we played.
Coming from the land of Hal Hartley (uh, Long Island), My Favorite was/is a stylish, mod-ish punky pop band that formed in 1993, connected with us via zines and postcards, and played at some of our early shows in NYC. The band has existed in two time periods: 1993-2005, when (according to their Bandcamp) “teenage misfits gather around black mass of water called Lake Ronkonkama, release 7″s, release 2 LPs, go to Sweden, die.” Legend has it Michael Grace Jr. and Darren Amadio formed MF at SUNY Stony Brook, then added Andrea Vaughn, Gil Abad, and Todbot. The ’80s had just ended so it was an influence! They released their first cassette and a few seven-inches between 1993-1995, the latter on Harriet Records. They were quite active between that time and 2003, then called it quits and reemerged in 2014. (Grace was also in the Secret History as well.) We spoke with Michael on the eve of the first release in a series of three EPs via HHBTM and WIAIWYA. Interview by Gail / Images courtesy My Favorite
How are you holding up in the pandemic era? I’m OK! Honestly the pandemic has been instructivein a sense. I was, and still am, worried for myself and my parents and my friends—COVID is serious stuff. But on a different level, the pandemic helped me realize just how isolated I had let myself become in the years priorto COVID. How comfortable I had gotten with my depression, and with being apart from so many things that used to bring me joy. Seeing people on social media freaking out about all the stuff they weren’t doing, all the stuff they were missing, it just shook me out of a certain complacency. Because things hadn’t really changed that much for me. So it encouraged me to take a hard look at my life and recommit to letting people in, to taking chances, to making my art. So seeing this first EP finally released, it means a lot to me. I’m still a bit battered and dazed, but I feel a little like Mad Max (Sad Max?!) emerging from a smoldering wasteland. Onwards! What were you like as a child/teen? Was your family musical? Gail! That’s a novella at least! I was a very awkward and introverted child, prone to daydreaming and getting lost in movies and books and drawing. I was sick a lot, and I didn’t really have many friends. My mother was insanely overprotective and her anxiety both affected and infected me. And those were the best years of my childhood! Becoming a teenager was much, much worse and that period was pitted with incidents of violence and abuse. All of that only pushed me further into my own inventions and fantasies. They became a kind of sanctuary to me. A haunted castle of self (Abandoned Castle of My Soul?!) You come to have a very complicated relationship with trauma when you start to believe that all your gifts have sprung from it. There is no My Favorite without all that darkness. But there was nearly no me, because of it. That takes a long time to sort out. ¶ Eventually music joined books and painting to really save me as a teen—and to help me find people whom I could feel seen by, and safe around. Perhaps that’s why I kept some of the spirit of that era with me in the music I made over the decades that followed. ¶ My grandfather on my mother’s side supposedly played violin, though I never saw or heard him play. He had a violin case, but I used to imagine that it was full of cash or secret ledgers. We were a Sicilian-American family in Queens, and the mythology of the mafia still remained during my early childhood. However, his son—my Uncle Joe—replaced Felix Pappalardi as the bassist in Mountain with Leslie West, and was a really great rock ‘n’ roll musician. He gave me my first guitar, but I couldn’t play it because I was left-handed. On my dad’s side were mainly cops.
Tell us about the Long Island scene from your early days (zines, shows, etc.) As a young teen, there was heavy metal and hardcore—so given those choices I opted for hardcore, but I wasn’t especially suited to it. I was the worst skateboarder in Lake Ronkonkoma. I did find our first drummer in a hardcore group and convinced him to join our 11th grade new wave band, which also included Darren Amadio, who went on to be my guitarist/musical partner for the next 20 years in My Favorite and The Secret History. Long Island was ahead of the curve in terms of radio stations and clubs though. WLIR was one of America’s first commercial stations dedicated to new wave (a decent documentary on it dropped a few years ago). Duran Duran used to fly into JFK, take a limousine out to Long Island to do an interview, and then straight back to play Madison Square Garden. WUSB—the college radio station in Stony Brook—was also great, especially Lister-Hewan Lowe’s reggae show called “Saturday’s A Party.” There were also dance clubs like Malibu and Spyze that were nearly on the level of places like Danceteria and Limelight. This was during my high school years, roughly 1987–1991. ¶ Once college started in the ’90s, it was really a mishmash of scenes and styles as indie and grunge came into prominence. But in the clubs—synthpop, industrial, and the new romantic stuff never really went away. We went to these little strip-mall goth clubs in the suburbs. It was laughable, but also sort of amazing. I listened to my fair share of Britpop—especially Suede, Blur, and Pulp. I was intrigued by techno and house but did not have the stamina necessary for raves. Still, I listened to stuff like 808 State, Future Sound of London, A Guy Called Gerald, and Mr. Fingers. I read the NME every week, but also started to send away for indie pop zines and follow labels like Teenbeat and K, and Kill Rock Stars. I wasn’t entirely sure about the music, but I loved the spirit. I found Riot Grrrl really inspiring. When I got Huggy Bear’s “Weaponry Listens To Love” LP, it really shook me, like an indie pop “Unknown Pleasures.” ¶ So there was really no organized indie pop scene on Long Island then. If we were on punk bills, we skewed our set a little heavy; if we were playing with synthpop or shoegaze bands we went that way. It worked for us. I wasn’t very committed to any sound or scene. I felt like we were doing something that created its own world. I know that sounds arrogant, but in a way—it proved true for many. ¶ There were a lot of zines on Long Island, mostly personal zines, and I did a big one-off with Andrea from MF called “Absolute Beginners,” which connected us to a myriad of people via the P.O. box. It was an innocent time, with the internet in its infancy, and the years peeled away slowly in the ’90s like a sunburn. Few cared about a weirdo pop band from Long Island, and we had no musical careerist aspirations at that time. So we went to school, worked some really menial jobs, and played whatever shows we could. At that time, it felt great to put out a 7” a year on these interesting little labels. What was the indie pop scene like when you started out with MF and how did it change through the decades? Our first single was “Go Kid Go” / “Absolute Beginners Again” in 1994, and then “The Informers” / “Detectives Of Suburbia” in 1995 on Harriet Records— which I was really excited to be on in no small part because of the Magnetic Fields single they had done. It also didn’t hurt that the label was named after my most beloved YA book, Harriet The Spy.In 1996 we did two split singles (“Working Class Jacket” and “Modulate”) and then spent nearly two years trying to make a record that wasn’t very indie pop at all. To be honest, I had been drawn to indie pop due to the leftist politics and “up with kids” energy of scenes and labels in the Pacific Northwest and D.C. Yet having our label run by a Harvard professor, we ended up in this little Northeast cabal of bands and small college shows. And it was, frankly, culture shock. We were legitimate working class and middle-class kids with Long Island accents. We all went to community colleges and state universities. Playing in Cambridge, at MIT, at Bryn Mawr, at Brown. It was wild. No amount of thrift store cardigans and barrettes could conceal a rich kid from us, and vice versa. We were treated as somewhat of a curiosity, playing decade-old synths and wearing the preppy clothes they had themselves self-consciously forgone. It was clear we were up to something with this soul boy/Benetton kid look. But what? It was some Fabulous Mr. Ripley shit and Brideshead wasn’t entirely having it. ¶ That said, I have some amazing memories of those years, especially mini-tours with Go Sailor and the Softies and Holiday and the Push Kings. But there were other nights we were playing with bands whose parents were famous right-wing Texan senators. I’m not saying this was that kid’s fault, but it was just a whole new world from the punk and goth scenes where we had started out on Long Island. A lot of wealth, and a lot of privilege. Occasionally it felt like we were in a kitschy bubble, and I really wanted to pop it. ¶ I also found the shambolic, half-trying aesthetic of some indie pop to reflect how little it all actually matteredto them.Like, was this just some sort of rumspringa before jobs in finance and summer houses in Cape Cod? By this point I really wanted to change pop the way my heroes did. But my depression and anxiety got deeper the more I failed to figure out where we belonged in all of this. We spent half a year doing demos for Minty Fresh, and when that didn’t amount to anything, we made the poor decision to max out our credit cards trying to make a slick, retro-sounding record that would be defiantly anti-grunge and anti-lofi. ¶ The biggest change in the indie scene for us came around the year 2000. The Love at Absolute Zero LP came out in 1999, and while it might have been polarizing, it was also quite acclaimed in certain circles, and solidified our fan base. Then when electroclash started, we had a second scene to not really fit into, but one in which we had some simpatico and overlap. Then with the emergence of the Strokes and the explosion of interest in NYC bands, we were able to hold our own in that scene, as we were a group with both post-punk and art rock influences. We actually headlined a CMJ show at Brownies in the early aughts that featured both the Walkmen and Interpol in probably their first years of existence. Though I continued to live a mainly monk-like existence, I did find the glamour and sleaze of these years exciting on a Warholian level. So between indie pop, electroclash, and the next wave NYC scene we had fashioned a kind of praxis, a Venn diagram for being My Favorite. Those were the best years, and I think it’s reflected in the songs we wrote during them.
You played at a number of chickfactor things back in the day. Any memories or connections made at those? My main memory of chickfactor was how it helped me learn about and get deeper into bands like Belle & Sebastian and the Magnetic Fields (that and being slagged off by Sleater-Kinney in the Jukebox Jury thing). So then to end up being able to eventually play with both those bands and have friendships with certain members (we actually talked Claudia Gonson into managing us for like three months), it was really special. I also remember being exposed to Momus and Nick Drake through chickfactor. I had a real appreciation for the lens through which your crew saw indie. There was just a really high curatorial quality, and whenever we were able to play a CF party or show it was a real thrill.
Do you see it as having a political side to it? Your band always seemed to. It, as in indie pop? I think it could have and should have had an even more political side to it. Considering how important Riot Grrrl was to the formative years of the scene, I think it is disappointing that it didn’t. But I’ve touched upon some of the reasons it may not have. I remember a popular indie pop zine writer who was vocally pro–George W. Bush, and some of the uncomfortable silences that would follow when I challenged him. The vibe was that it was rude of me to take shots at this “nice, harmless bookish guy.” It drove me crazy. And now look where we are! I’m not saying that artists need to write political songs—they are very hard to do well. I had a few like “Working Class Jacket,” “Detectives of Suburbia,” and “The Informers,” but overall, that wasn’t my focus in any didactic way. I tried to write about life, and by doing that I think this dystopia of late capitalism emerged in our songs. However, I always thought that a band should, in their art and interviews and personas make it very clear where they stood. I really admired artists like Billy Bragg and Heaven 17 and the Style Council for doing that. If I couldn’t be in a band that talked about kicking fascists in the balls, I didn’t want to be in one at all.
How do we save this country from evil (and idiocy)? I’m really not sure, but it is clear we have to! I think for now, we support and protect all the people the Right wants to erase or harm, and we stay vocal and vigilant about how much peril we are in. Voting is part of it, but it’s also about solidarity. It’s about pushing back at the insane narratives that are poisoning our country. It’s also about expecting more from Democrats in an intelligent and strategic way. We are getting outschemed by Nazis. We just have to keep fighting and not get demoralized, no matter how bad it gets. We need as much Socialism as we can get this Nation to swallow.
You guys seemed to have a very ’80s and very mod style back then. What were some of the things you were into then? Yeah, like I mentioned before, Long Island was really the center of New Wave radio and culture on the East Coast via WLIR, Malibu, My Father’s Place, etc. I was just a kid in the ’80s but I do think some of that culture rubbed off on me. Seeing the punks, mods, and new wavers on the bus, and in the park. They seemed like Star Wars characters to me. These fantastical others that I wanted to know, and eventually—be. At around the age of 14 I experienced certain trauma, and after that I had less desire than ever to “be normal.” So these “freaks” became like saints to me. By the time the ’90s arrived, I was really intent on reclaiming that feeling and (hopefully) reimagining it into something new. As grunge emerged, I gravitated toward the mod/skinhead thing mostly to be contrary. The irony was that I was too poor and too ethnic to be accepted by the preps in the ’80s, but in the ’90s, in the context of a band, I could appropriate that look and try to make it my own. It was my way of saying “I am my own gatekeeper now.” Or actually, my own gatecrasher. I related to the original mods—working class kids who subverted Savile Row, subverted the “respectability” of the middle class, and became an unsettling mirror of it. Like a double agent. That’s what I was trying to do. So I blended ’80s prep/Ivy League (a lot of which you could get cheap in thrift stores as it was no longer trendy during grunge) with skinhead style and a sort of Italian mod thing, like how Marcello Mastroianni or Pasolini dressed. And honestly—I still dress the same way to this day.
Who are your style icons? Aside from the folks I just mentioned—Paul Weller in the Style Council, just fantastic looks one after another. Andy Warhol in the ’70s, with all the tweed and corduroy blazers and school ties and paint-splattered jeans. Jean-Michel Basquiat in the ’80s, making Ivy League look worn and weary in this slyly confrontational way. Lou Reed for just being so immutably “New York.” Bryan Ferry in his rich and bored phase. And of course David Bowie—especially during the period after Ziggy. The apocalyptic soul boy of “Young Americans” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” I’m also a fan of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, though I tend to blend in their influence subtly. Let’s see, who else—James Dean. Marvin Gaye. Peter Murphy and Mick Karn in Dali’s Car. Agent Cooper.
How would you describe your own personal style? I’ve touched on a lot of it already. I’ve always been interested in taking style cues from scenes and circles I never had access to—like Ivy League and European couture and juxtaposing it with suburban and urban street styles. I like to mix in odd things like aristocratic British bog-wear lol—Barbour field coats, plaid caps and black rubber rain loafers. I like to make playful nods at my Sicilian heritage by wearing gold chains and saint medallions. I also love skinhead style and the ’80s/’90s “casuals” look—Burberry macs, Fila and Lacoste, khakis and soccer jerseys. I like to have fun and be ironic and give people a sense that something is just—off. It’s all a kind of performance art to me. Like “Who let this person into our club?” The answer is I let myself in, hit the buffet, scrawled “My Favorite Forever” on the bathroom mirror, and got the fuck out. ¶ I usually dress like an ’80s burnout or beach bum when I’m just hanging out. Especially in the summer. Weird t-shirts and cutoff jeans and sunglasses. Sneakers with holes in them.
As someone who seems as big a Smiths fan as I was, how does it feel listening to their music now that we know what kind of person Morrissey is? He’s definitely a complicated character. It is absolutely one of the strangest and most disenchanting experiences of my life to watch someone who was so important to me in my late teens/early twenties start to fall from grace and just keep falling. There isn’t a thing he says or creates now that contains anything of value. It’s just grievance and narcissism. And it’s gross. He is a deeply reactionary figure, and all he does for me now is serve as a reminder to be vigilant as you get older. Of your biases. Of your blind spots. I don’t even want to give him any more oxygen than that. But at least we still have Johnny.
I feel like “miserablism” was a sort of goth, sort of nerdcore movement that never got explored as a thing. I think you are probably right, but maybe that’s a good thing? Even as someone who has suffered from serious depression for most of his life, I wouldn’t want to be known as an artist who glamorized or commodified that sort of darkness. The world is still imbued with beauty, and each being has value, and none of us was created to suffer. I know my songs deal a lot with shadowy thoughts and feelings, but that’s not all they deal with. I believe in love and I believe we can heal—and help others to.
Why do you think My Favorite were big in Sweden? Well, the boring answer is that one particular magazine and one particular national radio show in Sweden were very influential, and both of them championed us ruthlessly. But why did they? I think that’s the more interesting part of the answer. I’m not really sure. I think I have a certain respect for melody and rhythm, two classical attributes of pop that I think Swedes have a taste for. I also think that despite us using so many European reference points in our music, there was also something brash and reckless about us that owed more to America. Judging by the quasi-riotous crowds we’d draw in places like Gothenburg, I think the Swedish fans tapped into that. Understood that we were some really fucked-up kids, that it wasn’t a put on. I think that quiet storm of feeling in our music felt liberating to them. They tore off the plastic wrap, where other people couldn’t see past their own reflections in it. What was the first record you bought? I think it may have been Judas Priest’s Defenders of The Faith. Satanic Panic was a big thing on Long Island in the early ’80s and I was a textbook case of a 12-year-old really into the devil. At least in a Dungeons & Dragons way. What was your first gig? Hmmm, I think it was INXS! Tour horror stories? Gratefully, we haven’t been robbed or left stranded somewhere. But one time in Norway I remember our rental van getting grazed by a trolley car as we were hurtling the wrong way down a cobblestone street, and we were really close to colliding with it head on and being killed in a ball of fire. What are some of the weirdest events you ever played? In 1994 we played a DIY event called Vulvapalooza at the old Gas Station—the illegal East Village venue where GG Allin died. We sounded like OMD, and the punks and Riot Grrrls were just shaking their heads. We were four boys and Andrea. After we played, a young woman with like 11 safety pins through her face came up to me and simply said, “One vulva was not enough vulvas to play Vulvapoolaza.” Who is your favorite lyricist ever and why? Oh, that’s really hard. There are so many good ones. It’s pretentious to say that I was more influenced by certain writers and poets like Sylvia Plath or—God help me—Bret Easton Ellis, but in my earliest years that was probably true. So instead of discussing the pantheon let me give credit to a couple underrated people. Brett Anderson from Suede had a very distinctive lyrical style. He’s like a pop art vending machine full of apocalyptic pulp sci-fi novels. I remember being really into that. And Bernard Sumner is one of the best “bad lyricists” ever. There is something so awkward and artless about his lyrics, but like—they work, and his imagery feels uniquely idiosyncratic. When is “Blue Monday”? Who are the “Thieves Like Us”? What is “The Perfect Kiss”? I mean, no one wants me to wax on about Donald Fagen or Lou Reed in Chickfactor. (sure we do.—editor)
Do you have pets, kids, hobbies, a day job? Tell us more. I do not have any pets or kids, though I love being an uncle to my amazing five-year-old niece Franny. She is literally my best friend. I think I’m too intense and crazy to have any “hobbies.” Everything I do I get really into, even if it is hitting golf balls at the local dilapidated driving range. I guess watching YouTube videos about every nerdy thing on earth would be my main hobby. Like “Who Was More Powerful: Gandalf or Darth Vader?” I’m not proud of it. I watch a decent amount of baseball and soccer. I have a couple day jobs but being a part-time art professor at the local community college is the one I enjoy the most. I’m working on a trilogy of YA novels set in the My Favorite Extended Cinematic Universe, but I don’t consider that a hobby—more a burden. What are you reading, watching, listening to, cooking? Fiction-wise I’ve been reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and re-reading On Rockaway by Jill Eisenstadt. Nonfiction, I’ve been crawling through Sweet Dreams, a long oral history of the New Romantics. I watch way too much TV. I mean, I’m still watching Westworld long after most replicants jumped ship. I’m most excited for the upcoming final season of Atlanta. I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff—old and new—but Miserable Chillers, Swan Lingo, Holy Wire, and Scam Avenue have all released amazing music over the last few years. Cooking? I’m always trying to re-create my grandmother’s pasta dishes from my youth. Sicilian stuff with fried zucchini and red pepper flakes, Parmigiano Reggiano, fennel and sardines and the like. What are some of your favorite records in 2022? Kristeen Young’s The Beauty Shop. Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind. What song is currently stuck in your head? “To Turn You On,” by Roxy Music, but that’s because I just saw them at Madison Square Garden last night. The first arena show I’ve been to in maybe ten years. Bryan Ferry’s voice isn’t what it once was, but I had chills the entire show nonetheless. Beautiful.
Tell us about the EP. Tender Is the Nightshift: Part 1 is the first in a 3-EP series, and it is a return to My Favorite 17 years later with a skeleton crew of bandmates and a lot of machines and wires. It’s like returning to the city of your youth and finding it a rainy, neon-lit ghetto of ghosts. Which I am aware is pretty much the plot of Blade Runner. It’s a much more dancey/layered and synthetic soul record than anything we’ve done before. A luxury depression product. Or perhaps—a cheap knockoff of a luxury depression product. In all seriousness, doing this now feels like being in the after-hours of your youth. Some sleek steel and glass limbo with a hefty check that is soon to come due. I’m not sure what else to say about it except that we are still doing things in indie pop that others can’t or won’t. We have new stories to tell, and new vantage points from which to tell them, otherwise we wouldn’t bother at all. I have little interest in nostalgia, except as black magic. Anyway Kurt Brondo, Gil Abad and I are very excited and gratified to remake/remodel My Favorite this way. Give a listen! What are your future plans? Well, we have to finish these last two EPs, and there are songs on there that I can’t wait for people to hear. I’m going to try to get my YA published. I’d really like to travel again for the first time in a good while. And I’d love to play live, and we are working toward that. To be honest, I’ve been in survival mode for so long that the future is a really intangible concept to me. Yet—I always seem to find myself there. 10 records Michael cannot live without You have to give me 15 otherwise I’ll have a panic attack. Also I’m not including The Smiths on principle right now—but they belong here. Lists are really difficult for me, but these have really been on my mind and turntable during the making of this EP series. OK! Not (necessarily) in order: David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars Cocteau Twins, Heaven or Las Vegas Lou Reed, Take No Prisoners Marvin Gaye, In Our Lifetime? New Order, Substance Roxy Music, Stranded Sade, Diamond Life The Style Council, Confessions of a Pop Group Donald Fagen, The Nightfly Patti Smith, Horses Prefab Sprout, Protest Songs Destroyer, Kaputt Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Don’t Stand Me Down Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Welcome To The Pleasuredome Macintosh Plus, Floral Shoppe