By Arvo Zylo
Boyd Rice is one of the most simultaneously outspoken and private artists in contemporary underground culture. As an abstract recording artist [under the name NON] on a huge, prestigious label [Mute Records], he’s defiantly trudged on several years without granting an interview, he’s neglected to mention major tours on his website, and he’s even canceled some in order to continue his writing. Until recently, he may have been one of the last people to make a creative living and no small amount of a rift in various circles, while only marginally engaging what the internet has to offer, certainly the only one I knew of with a post office box address on his website (which hasn’t been functional for over a year) rather than an email address. Somehow, Boyd Rice seems to get by comfortably without accepting grants to support his work or harassing everybody every time something lucrative happens, while also working with a relatively sparse and insular target audience, many of whom hate his guts for reasons both justifiable and largely speculative.
In the last ten years, he’s written extensively on the bloodline of the Holy Grail, as well as a now sold out paperback entitled NO, (recently repressed with additional chapters) which expounds upon just how much he doesn’t believe in the things that most people hold dear (individualism, freedom of choice, democracy, etc). 2007 marked the release of a book of collected writings from the early 80s on, called Standing In Two Circles; Soon to be reissued due to a shady publishing house, its subjects span everything from children’s bubble bath soap and Disneyland, to cruel sexuality and “nature’s eternal fascism”.
Most recently, Twilight Man, the first entirely narrative book outing for Boyd Rice, was published in late 2011. This short tome tells in lurid detail the tragic and oftentimes morbidly amusing experiences that came along with being an alarm agent during the graveyard shift in mid-to-late 80s San Francisco. Between its covers there are tales of diner riots, reluctant fire fighting, wall-climbing elphen drug addicts, rat attacks, and a friendship with a sophisticated prostitute named Trixie.
Last year also marked the heaping, if precocious and clandestine 3 disc documentary on the subject of Boyd Rice: ICONOCLAST. The film is a dizzying and playful escapade of sound and fury, detailing Rice’s modest beginnings in Lemon Grove, his progression to becoming a pioneering noise artist and counter cultural icon in 1980s San Francisco, and his inevitable move to Denver. There he would have numerous debates on national radio with televangelist Bob Larsen, and in the process of catching stride as a full time artist, turn his allegedly 9 room basement apartment into some kind of mythical shangrila filled with bygone knick knacks and occult regalia, up to and including supposed “Bullfighter” or “Partridge Family Bus” themed rooms, for instance.
At four hours, the film still seems painfully abrupt, as it flies through fun loving stories about pranks and playfully off-color interviewee commentary, but it still fell short of being able to include a great deal of career highlights, not to mention more of the “dark side”; both of which are not small tasks. Rice would go on to eventually take part in releasing obscure music on his own Hierarchy label for a time (military marches, girl groups, and namely local Denver acts Ralph Gean and Little Fyodor), as well as spinning oddities for his “The In Sound From Way Out” night at Lion’s Lair in the 90s, and helping design a now defunct Tiki bar [Tiki Boyd’s]. For publications in and outside of Colorado, he was interviewing old television stars and newly crowned rock stars, and he was making appearances not just on Good Morning Colorado but also on In Search of and Coast To Coast AM.
ICONOCLAST is no longer in print due to “bizarre legalities”, and the film’s director, Larry Wessel, publicly declared a falling out with his subject in an interview last November. The documentary is said to be awaiting an official release, alongside a heaping pile of projects from every dark corner of the unpopular, inaccessible, or largely forgotten cultural spectrum.
On a short list is the live (in France, 2011) DVD of musical accompaniment to the obscure cult movie Dementia from Rice’s noise project NON which is set to be released before long. Bordel Militaire is a music project of which Rice is involved, whose aim is to fuse the structures of Exotica, lounge, and 60s music with that of industrial and power electronics. Other notable career moves include taking part in an album with some kind of homosexual leather band Hirsute Pursuit, writings on devil iconography in the 60s, and religious architecture in the space age (of which there was a power point presentation given at the Denver Modernism show in August).
Nina Antonia, who also crystallized The New York Dolls in print before they got big, is now doing a biography on Rice, and another documentary of a more abstract nature is starting to rear its head. Assembled by Joel Haertling, and screened in Denver in last May, it is said to have taken something like ten years, and apparently there are time-lapse montages involved. Back To Mono, [seems to be inspired by Phil Spector’s box set of the same name] is Rice’s first noise release in ten years, a return to his “roots” after getting into more musical and subtle territory, is now out and recently coincided with a European tour.
Not long ago, Rice surprised everyone by breaking a long reclusive streak on the internet, and starting an official facebook fan page where he actually engaged his fans directly. Onlookers came to know that he appears to have a pet [taxidermy?] skunk, a penchant for wearing matching outfits with his girlfriend (now wife), and maybe more of an interest in prime time television than most might think.
This interview was conducted in July of 2011, with several post script questions added along the way. It was slogged off and back burned by three different publications who perpetually made excuses or dragged their heels. I have included nearly everything, even the questions I initially took out because they could easily be seen as a bit self indulgent or whimsical. It is taken from an initial radio interview that was never aired due to numerous hysterical phone calls to the station saying that Rice is a “domestic terrorist”, among other things. As a result, it was instead broadcast in nearly 20 different places around the world. Thankfully, the full interview is finally available for readers of the soon to be transformed Delirious Insomniac Freeform Radio Show’s blog.
What is your favorite spot in Denver?
Boyd Rice at Casa Bonita 2012, photo by Arvo ZyloMy apartment. It is much more glamorous and stimulating than any nightclub or anyplace else I could go. But I do love White Fence Farms and the Buckhorn Exchange. I recently took the head of my record company to the Buckhorn Exchange. And I took Marilyn Manson to Casa Bonita. When people from out of town visit, I’m the number one evangel of all of those places that are uniquely Denver. Even places like Davie’s Chuck Wagon or The Waffle House. They don’t have this stuff in London, New York or L.A.
Have you ever seen any performances at Red Rocks?
I saw the ABBA tribute group. I actually saw ABBA in the 70’s and the ABBA tribute group was better! They were called “Arrival from Sweden”.
You were commissioned to do a live soundtrack to, well I guess you said it [was supposed] to be Jean Cocteau’s movie Beauty and The Beast, but…
Yeah it was supposed to be because they knew I liked Cocteau, and they’ve written an article, an essay about Beauty and The Beast, so they thought it would be perfect for me to do that, but I guess there’s some sort of financial concerns or something. The people at the Jean Cocteau society or foundation or whatever it is are about to re-release Beauty and The Beast with a Phillip Glass soundtrack. So I think some lawyers there were concerned that if someone else showed up and did another soundtrack, it would take attention away from that. So [I did] one of my all time favorite movies. When I first saw it at the age of 15 it was called Dementia and it’s also known as Daughter of Horror. It’s that strange movie, if you remember the movie, The Blob. When the blob comes into the movie theater, what they’re watching on the screen is scenes from Daughter of Horror, so it’s been one of my favorite movies since I was 15 or something. And [I went] to Paris for this film festival that shows bizarre movies and low budget movies and all that sort of stuff, to do the soundtrack to Daughter of Horror.
When I first saw Dementia it was on a triple bill with Carnival of Souls. And I went to the triple bill, it was midnight on Halloween, and I still can’t believe my father drove me over and dropped me off at this midnight movie, but it was Salvador Dali and Louis Bunuel’s [Un Chien Andalou], and Dementia and Carnival of Souls. I just left the theater like I was walking on a cloud. These are three of the best movies I’ve ever seen. And I still love, I’m nuts about Carnival of Souls. I’m still nuts about the other two as well. They never grow old.
Adam Parfrey, in an interview I think a couple of years ago said that you two were talking about doing a ‘Lovesville’ album (companion to an album by ‘The Boyd Rice Experience’, ‘Hatesville’). It doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen, but if you did another ‘Hatesville’ album, how do you think it would differ from the last one?
I don’t know that I would do another one. I think that’s why Parfrey said “Hey, let’s do the Lovesville thing”. But the only problem with that is when you’re working with three other people or whatever, it’s really hard to get people to actually go into the studio and do something. If I started doing that, it would probably take five or six years, if even it ever came out. At the time, everybody was excited about the idea of doing ‘Lovesville’ but everybody had an idea of what the cover should look like. “Oh this should look like a Lettersmen album, and we’ll be wearing high school Lettermens t-shirts but one person will have L and the other will have O and the other V and E and so on. And so everybody was really excited about coming up with ideas of what it should look like but I don’t think anybody had a clear cut idea of what it should sound like or what the content should be. I like the concept, but I had no idea what the content would be. What would I do if I’m doing an album called ‘Lovesville’? [Laughs] I don’t think it’s been discussed in the last several years. Nobody’s saying “Hey, when are we going to get together and do that?”
Do you think that working with other bands in the studio in the future is a possibility? I know that you did it with ‘Receive The Flame’ and some other stuff. Actually, some of those had conventional instruments I think. But do you visualize yourself doing that or is it just that you can do a lot of it yourself, no sense in complicating matters?
I can’t conceive of why that would be advantageous for me at this point. Working with someone like Doug (Douglas P., Death In June), he takes everything up exponentially. Working with a lot of people is just kind of difficult. Because I can hear in my head what I want to do before I go in, so it’s effortless for me to do something. A lot of times if you have another person involved, you have to explain everything to them. It’s like those movies where somebody’s one a plane, a little Cessna, and the pilot passes out, and the guy in the tower has to talk them down and tell them how to land. For me, even just being on tour, and somebody’s driving the van, it seems like that. It’s like “No, idiot, just park right there, right there, that space right in front of you, it’s not hard, it’s not rocket science.” But I guess I’m a bit self-contained at this point in my life. Well, I probably always have been.
I know that when you and Frank Tovey got into the studio, you only used what was in the studio (without bringing any sound sources in). Do you think about things like that? Are you still working empty handed with a blank slate at certain points or is it always a very specific idea?
No, I have thumbnails sketches of what I want to do, and I have little bits and pieces of sound, and things that I can sample but a lot of times I have a very specific idea of what I want to do and go in, and it’s just the very nature of recording stuff that it comes out being sometimes exactly the opposite of what you were intending. I actually like that, I like that there’s some aspect to music that you can’t control, so essentially you end up creating these things that aren’t a by-product of your personality. That’s always been one of my goals in music. I want to sort of let the music create itself, I don’t want it to be a byproduct of my personality. A lot of people do that, they create something that’s a byproduct of their personality and it’s exactly what they intended it to be, but it can be dismal and boring. [laughs]
You’ve got a new album coming out soon [came out in October] called Back To Mono, and I get the impression that rather than listening to a lot of new noise artists, you tend to forge your own path and create your own work. It seems evident with Blood & Flame, and a lot of other noise records you’ve done. But sonically, maybe you could share what direction you’re taking with the new album. I know you’re going back to your roots but I’m sure you’re going to put a new spin on it. I’m curious what angle you’ve taken with this record.
Well, I wanted to do something that was noisy and loud and as harsh as I could make it, ’cause I haven’t really done anything like that for a long time, and of course I know the reason I haven’t done that is because the market is flooded with people trying to do that, but a lot of them are using synthesizers, real musical instruments and I always try to create my noise other ways. I just thought, I bet I can still do something that is pure noise more or less, and make it stand out from the crowd. That was my intention and everybody who’s heard it likes it, and thinks I’ve achieved that.
You’ve said in the past that you have a minimalist approach, but a lot of noise coming out now is one layer, very one-dimensional in its approach, but yet, your work has lots of different hidden textures and things like that going on so I wonder if you would still call yourself a minimalist…
I do. I still think that I’ve always done that, but I think I’ve always had a different approach to it. I think that if you go back and listen to some of the earlier stuff, it might be one layer of something but it’s a layer that has a complexity… Patterns, and patterns that change, so… I think there was an analogy that Brian Eno made at one time where he said that there’s a difference between things that are natural and organic, and things that are man-made. And it’s like the difference between looking at a piece of wood and looking at a piece of linoleum. Linoleum is sort of one-dimensional, whereas if you’re looking at a forest out of a plane, it appears all to be green, but if you went down into the forest, you’d see a million different shades of green. And if you looked at every leaf on a tree, they’d be complex, and there would be patterns and diversity. I think that’s a good simile.
Is it actually going to be in mono?
[Laughs] I wish! If I was a purist, it would have been in mono, but the very process I use creates these patterns that you need to hear in stereo. Of course, a certain amount of it is going to be in mono, just because it’s live recording from the 70s or from 1980 or something. They were recorded in mono.
I know that you’ve got a lot of reissues happening, do you think any of the stuff on Mute [Records] will be reissued at any point?
Yeah, when I was just in London to do the festival at the Roundhouse, they were saying that they think in the next year they want to put out a box set where they re-release everything I’ve done for Mute.
Are you going to make it a fetishized box set? Some leather bound…
We haven’t gotten that far, they just pitched the idea to me and I said yeah, I’d love to do that, so…
I’m sure, further down the road, if they’re going to release everything, they want it to be special, so, you know, so you can have some private ownership in it, something that’s the exact opposite of downloading for free off the internet.
How do you feel about that? Do you think it’s something that should be outlawed? Obviously it’s probably not an ideal way to experience an artist’s work…
[Excuses himself to do snuff] I grew up in the late 50s, early 60s, when I was a teenager, and I started going out and buying music. For me, part of the whole experience was sitting there with the album and looking at it, and sometimes it had the lyrics printed inside. It was a more personal experience of the music. There were albums with gatefolds, there were albums with huge posters. That to me, the music experience, even when it went to CDs, it seemed like there was less substance to them. ’Cause they were smaller and they didn’t quite sound as good, and with the CD booklet you could have more things to look at, more pictures and stuff, but when you just download a single song off the internet from a band, I think that whole experience of getting into a band, and following them, it’s been diminished because of the stuff on the internet. Obviously, it’s reached the point of critical mass, it’s beyond the tipping point. That stuff is going to happen whether you want it to or not, you just have to re-envision how you can market what you’re doing and how you’re going to make a buck off of it and survive, and still be able to eat, drink chardonnay, and do snuff.
I find that it’s an interesting climate right now, because with the context of creative outlets or with art, nothing can really be very surprising, or ironic, and I wonder how you feel, because you’re a very cultured person, I wonder how you feel about new artists coming and… They believe in what they do, but how much of it is about promotion and how much of it is about the merits of their work… In the context of art history or what have you. I wonder how you feel about what’s coming out now…
I think it’s really tough. Last August , me and my girlfriend spent a month in New York and we went out to some art galleries, and we went to some openings and things. And these are a bunch of people who went to an art institute of some sort, and they were taught art history. A lot of them just seemed to be trying to remake the wheel. They were trying to replicate what they’d learned at the university. I think a person has to sort of, what’s the term I’m looking for, it’s like they have to be a ‘worker in the wilderness’ to create something. They’re exposed to all of those influences, and they’re influences rather than inspirations. We saw a bunch of things where it was just people doing Andy Warhol knock off stuff, where it’s just a portrait of some cheesy celebrity, and this is forty-fifty years on. [laughs] That stuff may have had an impact when Andy Warhol was doing it, but it’s just people trying to reinvent the wheel. I think art can serve a magical function, but I’m not sure the extent to which it can still manifest that possibility.
Rice in New York
It seems like you were definitely inspired by Andy Warhol for sure. Do you think that you applied that to your work? I’m personally inspired by his video portraits and some of the more repetitive stuff.
I don’t think he did, but his attitude did. I think there are a lot of artists, they might even be uninteresting artists and you don’t even really like their work, but if you read a biography about what their life was like, the way they lived their life and embraced life, and their attitude toward it all… You can get something from it, and I think it was Warhol’s attitude more than anything else that I liked. And I liked that he surrounded himself with all of these interesting degenerate characters. As a kid, being exposed to that was really…. impactful [laughs].
Yeah, I’ve been watching some of his documentaries, and speaking of documentaries…
Your documentary is going to be reissued right?
I’ve been distracted talking with people at Mute about upcoming show dates so I haven’t inquired about their re-release of Iconoclast. But hopefully that’s happening, it’s just a long process. There are a lot of weird, bizarre legalities involved.
Larry Wessel recently made it public that you two had a falling out, but it doesn’t seem like you to do it for the reasons he claimed. Is there any truth to what he said?
I wish I knew what happened to Larry. He suddenly became very very angry toward me and refused to explain why. I know that at a certain point he was mis-medicated on Topamax, but was acting erratically months after going off the drug. At first his close friends were very concerned about his unstable behavior, but after a number of months they just got sick to death of it. I wasn’t the first to have his phone calls blocked and I certainly wasn’t the last. But this was the first time I’ve ever had to resort to that.
I’m still not sure why any of this happened. It’s perplexing and sad. This was supposed to be the beginning of a long term collaboration between Larry and I and instead it’s the end.
He said that you refused to allow him to interview Michael Moynihan, Lisa Carver, or your mother for the documentary. Is there any truth to that? If so, what would you have to hide?
That’s bullshit. Larry never wanted to question Lisa Carver because he considered her a “piece of shit” for writing that book about me. His own words. What I told Larry was that certain people would be bad interviews because they lacked personality and charisma. I stand by that. Moynihan would have been great, he was a witness to the whole period with Douglas Pearce (of Death In June, pioneering the “neo folk” genre). Interviewing my mom is preposterous. She’s never had any idea of what I do. She’s a little old lady who is very private and would be very uncomfortable doing something like this.
How could I “not allow” Larry to put in anything he chose to put in? It’s his film, and there’s a lot of things in there I don’t agree with. If there’s anything not in this film that he wanted in, it’s his own fault, not mine! After all, he had six long years to decide what did or didn’t go into this thing.
I know that there are two hundred hours of documentary footage, and I wonder if you’re interested in sharing anything about what wasn’t included. I know that I heard a story about when you were visiting a friend in the hospital that I thought was great.
[Laughs] In the original edit we saw, that was still in there, where the story, to bottom line it, I went to visit a friend of mine in the hospital and he’d just had his spleen removed. His father was the first person in the history of the United States to have his spleen removed. So I went in, and this guy’s all stitched up, he just had the operation and he said “Please don’t say anything funny because I can’t laugh, it causes me great pain”. I don’t even think of this stuff, I was saying things that were making him laugh and he was in severe pain. It happened to be on the same day of the crash of Flight 182 in San Diego. From his hospital, we had a bird’s eye view of this crashed plane and this pillar of flame and smoke. The whole sky was getting filled with smoke. Two planes, like a Cessna or something, crashed into a 747, and it wiped out a couple of square blocks of an area of San Diego.
I was under the impression that he blamed you for it, and it was making him laugh…
[Laughs] I don’t remember that but I get blamed for a ton of stuff I don’t do, so if somebody blames me for the airline carrier, it’s probably not unexpected. But of course, if there’s two or three hundred hours of film, I have no idea what’s been left out, I just know that I saw 4 different edits of this film, and every time one of my favorite things was left out. There was this great piece with Shaun Partridge’s father, and he just said something like “What the hell’s going on with this snuff crap, Boyd? You’re not in jolly old England in the 1800s, this is the year 2000”. And it was just several seconds, but it was funny because you got to see Shaun’s father, and he’s a total character! Every time we see it, we go “Oh wow, whatever happened to so and so? They had a really funny good scene in here!” But you know, who knows? Who cares? It’s still largely entertaining, and everybody who’s seen it has liked it. I think there’re a few sourpusses who said [in a shrieky old lady voice] “I don’t like this movie, this isn’t a good guy”. Everybody says, “I saw this and I laughed for four hours straight”.
I did enjoy it. I did ask Larry [Wessel, director of the documentary] if there was going to be a director’s cut of the movie and he said no. So I guess that’s all dust in the wind, those 200 hours or whatever they were. But is your opinion about the end of the world still the same?
Yeah. If you’re talking about the text I wrote for the Current 93 record in 1987 or 88. Is that what you’re talking about?
It’s also in Apocalypse Culture.
The end of the world is an ongoing process, it doesn’t happen suddenly and without warning, it’s just this slow process, and it’s so slow that nobody recognizes it and they’re just dragged into the grave along with it?
Yeah, more or less, [laughs] I probably believe that more now than I did when I wrote that, when I was 20 years younger or something. But at the same time I believe life goes on, and we’re sort of living in the best of all possible worlds. You can look at everything and go “Oh things are getting worse and worse and worse” or you can look at it with the attitude of “You know what, enjoy this while it’s here, because five years from now, you’ll look back upon this very day and say, ‘Oh my god, I was living in a paradise of perfection, and I didn’t even realize it!’”
I find that’s one of the most impressive things about you, that you don’t complain. There’re a lot of things going on that people could complain about but it seems like you just steamroll through it.
Water off a duck’s back.
What’s your opinion of Whitehouse? Do you like them, or is it something that you don’t find amusing?
No, it’s kind of like, I was there when all of this stuff started, I was there when noise music and all of this stuff, I was there way before it started. So when me and Throbbing Gristle were doing noise music and having our early shows, William Bennett was playing guitar or saxophone for Laura Logic. So, to people like me, it seemed like he was a day late and a dollar short. To me, the white noise stuff was, maybe if you saw it live and it was loud enough, there would be some visceral aspect to it, but I have a machine that has a setting for white noise, that you turn on just before you go to sleep and it puts you to sleep. I haven’t really met any of those guys, well I met Sotos. He was like a big hideous panda bear or something. An unpleasant panda bear. He’d gone around saying certain things about me, and I met him in Chicago, and I confronted him. He was just a coward, he was just like “I never said that, I never said that!” People who [are] doing things where it’s like shooting fish in a barrel or torturing cats or torturing children or something, maybe some people get off on it, but to me it’s just sort of weak and cowardly.
If I’m not mistaken, I think that you’re on the same publishing company, and I thought that in Pearls Before Swine (a movie that Boyd starred in, whose part seems to have been written for him), you were reading a book called “Pure”,(a magazine that Peter Sotos ran for a time, of the same name, which supposedly led him to a child pornography charge) I thought you were reading an issue of his magazine, but maybe I was wrong….
[Laughs] No, that was a fake book that my character had purportedly written. It was a book called “Pure”. And again, I had nothing to do with that movie. I just showed up and I read the lines that were written. People look at that movie and they go, “Oh wow, you feel exactly the same way I do about bondage and weird sex” and blah blah blah, and that’s not me! I just sort of showed up and read the lines out of a script, but people look at that movie and think this is what Boyd’s really like. And it’s not! I’m not!
I haven’t picked up the Bordelle Militaire CD yet, I’m not sure if it’s even out yet, but…
Yeah, I’m not sure, ’cause I haven’t gotten it. But I’m sure once it’s out they’ll send me a copy. The stuff I’ve heard from them in the past is really good. It’s sort of a cross between industrial music and exotica music. Very unusual mix.
But it works for you? I would imagine that you might not like that sort of hybridism.
The way they did it was really good. There’s a guy, he’s from Chicago, and he was in one of those early Chicago industrial bands, and I forget the name of his project but he’s a guy, he wrote a book called Tiki Road Trip where he went around the United States and went to every tiki bar in the United States. The second edition actually included Tiki Boyd’s. But he put out a CD that was a cross between Martin Denny and noise music. And it was really quite good, I just felt it was maybe a bit too good for its own sake because I got it, but I just thought nobody else in the United States is gonna get this hybrid! I like it, I think it’s great but who knows if anybody else is gonna pick up on this. He probably shot himself in the foot with doing that, I don’t know.
Well, I’m gonna check it out if you think it’s evocative.
Well, I thought it was good when I heard it, but that was probably 6 years ago or something. Good luck with tracking that down.
People say that you are racist, but my question is, after reading your book, how would you prevent yourself from becoming racist? And what did that guy have against the Irish?
Racist is an easy appellation to toss around. As I said in the book, before I left San Francisco I hated everybody. Denver calmed me down a lot because not everyone has a huge chip on their shoulder. In San Francisco they did.
As someone who watched it happen, what do you think happened between the 70s and late 80s to make things get so bad? Surely it’s not all Reagan’s fault.
It’s no one’s fault. It was a fucked up time and place. I was just a witness to it all.
I think it’s stimulating that during this Occupy Wall Street movement so many people are now aware of the Federal Reserve, and the control that corporations have, I have been aware of it for a while, but I don’t think many people knew about it as a whole compared to now. Do you think this kind of mutation of public opinion is a change for the worst?
I’d suggest you reread my chapter from NO on “Rebellion”. Until then, I love to see [these] schmucks showered with pepper spray. It’s the only scenario short of a new Kent State that could truly warm my heart.
I’m not trying to ride you about being apolitical, I’m somewhat apolitical, politics are not my thing, so I think it’s fascinating that while even the most apathetic people I know are getting into this Occupy Wall Street “movement”, you are completely indifferent to it.
How do things like Monsanto’s genetically modified foods, or the fact that aspartame is in everything and pure sugar is replaced by high fructose corn syrup in almost everything, or even the fact that they’re making your snuff illegal, how do these things not bother you to a degree that you would sympathize with someone trying to change things? I am not much of an idealist, but if people are trying to make it so that I don’t have to worry about eating animals that are pumped with hormones or so that I don’t have to pay $1,000 to get my teeth fixed, I can’t exactly knock it, but are they all screwed up masochists?
They’re misguided. I can’t sympathize with people who think vague slogans are going to change anything, because they aren’t. Today’s protesters are totally anti-government yet think that government is so all powerful it can fix anything. That’s obviously not the case. These people see the government as Mom & Dad, as something that should take care of them & fix their “boo-boos”. But it’s not the government’s job to fix your teeth & never has been.
Even if they had a cogent agenda (and they don’t), they’re part of the system’s little dog & pony show. All this is like a bad mix of the worst aspects of the hippie movement & punk, & I never cared for either. As for weird foods, eat them ’til you puke. They’ve been around for quite some time & no one has died from them. Sadly, people are living longer lives, not shorter.
I’m curious about what the 70s were like for you musically. I know that you didn’t like a lot of the macho posturing of the rock that was coming out, I know that you listened to some glam, and I know that you were probably listening to a lot of girl groups and stuff. I wonder what else you were into, and how it was correlating with your development of noise music and things like that.
You would’ve had to have been there to really appreciate what an execrable period of time the 70s was like for music. It was endless guitar solos and endless drum solos, and this sounds weird, but it’s true: There were different groups of people who listened to things depending on what kind of drug they were on at the time. So a lot of my friends were pot smokers or on Quaaludes and red wine. They would listen to this stuff like Hocus Pocus by Focus that just went on forever. I wanted something that was fast and uptempo and loud and brutal. Most of this stuff, I’d hear Black Sabbath on the radio, and I’d think this sounds good, and I’d get the Sabbath album, and it’s like even the stuff that was called ‘Metal’ or ‘Heavy Metal’, it wasn’t harsh enough, it wasn’t brutal enough, it wasn’t loud enough, and it definitely wasn’t fast enough. So in the early 70s, I got into The Stooges, who were in every Woolworth’s cut out bin. You could get ‘Fun House’ and you could get ‘The Stooges’ for 97 cents. You could get the MC5’s first album ‘Kick Out The Jams’, and that’s what I was listening to. I was just thinking “God, why can’t music be like this anymore?”.
When David Bowie broke, his first order of business was to get Iggy Pop signed to his management company, and he did, and they put out that Raw Power album, which was fantastic. So it was like the best of times and it was like the worst of times. The strange thing is, is that Bowie also got Lou Reed signed to his record label, and both Iggy and Lou Reed did these kind of classic noise things. I think it was on The Stooges album or it might have been on ‘Fun House’, they did a thing called L.A. Blues, and it was just like 4 or 6 minutes of pure noise and feedback. Then Lou Reed of course put out Metal Machine Music. Strangely enough, those things didn’t influence me or inspire me, but after I started doing my own noise music, I looked back and said “Oh my god, I’ve been into Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, and they both kind of went off in this direction, and maybe they only did it for 8 minutes or for whatever, but they at least did it, and those are the guys that I identified with.
A lot of people do that stuff in the middle of a typical rock ’n’ roll song, where it’s just songs chugging along, and they do that, and they freak out for a while, and they go back to the bass and the drums, and the normal beat, and I find that boring. This I remember being right in the middle of the album or something, it was like “What the hell am I listening to?”.
Rice with David Johansen of the New York Dolls know that you liked The Stooges, The New York Dolls, and T. Rex and stuff like that, and I’m wondering at what point rock ’n’ roll crashed for you. It seems that punk rock didn’t really satiate your appetite, so to speak.
By the time punk rock happened, I was already recording music. So, when it happened everybody’s like “Oh my god, there’s this big rebellious thing from England”, and I listened, and the Sex Pistols sounded to me like The Monkees, and I thought they were The Monkees. They were from England, they were put together by a guy [that] owned a clothing store, they’re singing about anarchy and they’re singing about destroying everything. I’ve used this analogy over and over and over again, but they’re using the same 3 or 4 chords that go back to Chuck Berry or to ‘Louie Louie’. I wanted to love it, and it was really an extension of glam rock. These guys were obviously just influenced, everybody in the English punk scene saw the New York Dolls on the Old Grey Whistle Test, and they got excited as hell, and it took ’em a couple of years to get around to putting together bands but when they put together bands, they were trying to replicate The Dolls. To some extent they replicated the energy, the speed and all that stuff, but they didn’t have the fun.
I know that you were friends with Jello Biafra, but I take it you didn’t like The Dead Kennedys per se?
Nope! None of his contemporaries liked The Dead Kennedys! The Dead Kennedys were like, if Mad Magazine created a band to represent what punk rock was like, it would have been The Dead Kennedys. I knew Jello for 6–8 months before I saw The Dead Kennedys, and I really liked him. He was a smart guy, he was funny, but I saw the band and I thought, “Oh my god, this is god awful.” “This is like [groans]”. “California Uber Alles” and “Holidays In Cambodia”, afterwards Jello came up to me and he was smiling and he said “So Boyd, what did you think of my band?”. I said “You know, this kind of stuff really isn’t my cup of tea”. And he just sort of went [in a funny impression of Jello Biafra] “Damn! Why don’t any of my friends like my band? Why don’t they like my music?” [Boyd kindly asks his girlfriend to get him another glass of wine, “the sweet stuff that he loves so much”]
Your girlfriend told me that you have a story about The Dickies. I wonder if you care to share it.
It’s not really a story, it’s just that the guy who was the lead singer was a member of The Church of Satan. So I was at Anton LaVey’s house one evening, and his daughter Karla came in and said “Dad, guess who’s here?”. He said “I don’t know Karla, who would that be?” She opens the door, and it’s the lead singer of The Dickies, he’d just done a show at the I-Beam or something, and he came in, and spent the rest of the evening with us. He was a nice guy, I forget his name, but [his girlfriend informs him] “Leonard Graves Phillips?” He was an okay guy, he was good, you know, and he was a member of CoS so… I loved the fact that there was a band in LA covering ‘Gigantaur the Space Aged Robot’ and stuff like that.
You were telling me about a wig room. That was an idea that never quite happened but you had an art installation where nothing but wigs were glued to the walls or something like that?
What I wanted to do was have a tourist trap in Hela, Arizona, which is like most days, it’s the hottest city in the United States. When you’re driving in the middle of the desert, you can drive for miles without seeing anything. So I wanted to create a tourist trap that was just full of bizarre stuff. People would have to stop and see, because there’s nothing else to see out there, and for miles before you got there, you would just see “What is The Wig Room?”, and the word “wig” would be in horror/sci-fi font. So you’re thinking “What is The Wig Room?”, and then you stop and go into this place, and there would be an entire room, it was like a typical American living room, but everything would be covered in wig hair. So it would be something that children would see when they were very young, and when they were adults, they would go “Did I really see that?” “Could that possibly be true?” There’s a thing in New Mexico or Arizona or something called “The Thing” and you drive for hundreds of miles through the desert, you just see this “What Is The Thing”, and it looks really creepy, and you’re just going “What could it possibly be?” I wanted to do something along those lines. It would have a ton more stuff in it, and my friend Allison Anders is a movie director, and she’s always believed in my tourist trap project, she said “Boyd, one of these days I’ll do a film and written into the plot line will be your tourist trap, and we can spend thousands of dollars creating this thing.” Usually when you do a film, you spend thousands of dollars creating something, then you spend an equal amount just tearing it down and hauling it away. She said “This would be great because we wouldn’t have to have it demolished, it could be out in the middle of the desert, and you can be making money off of it”. So that’s one of my fantasies that has never quite come true.
Grux [a long time experimental artist from the west coast] told me that I should ask you about Arizona, your time in Arizona with Monitor, or a tour around that time…
That is so strange you asked that because [recently], me and my girlfriend went, and the Meat Puppets were in town. I haven’t seen these guys in 30 years or something! So we come in just as they’re ending their sound check, and we go back stage and hang out with them. They had all these great stories of stuff that I don’t even remember doing. They said “Oh yeah, I remember one time we were in a coffee shop, and a woman was talking really loud, and just as we were leaving Boyd went right up to her ear and said [screams] SHUT UP!” I was like “Wow, that’s fun, I don’t remember that”. It was really fun and great to see those guys again because we spent a lot of time there.
There was this strange punk rock club in Phoenix, that we played at with The Meat Puppets, and it was a wrestling club six days a week, and one day it was just open, and you could rent it. So it became a punk rock club, and you actually played on this wrestling stage that had blood all over it. There were pictures on the wall of female wrestlers from the 50s and stuff, it was a very very bizarre place. For whatever reason, we just went back there over and over. People in Phoenix really loved us, they really loved me, and I just got invited back over and over and over again, so I spent a ton of time in Phoenix. Oh and the other thing about the Meat Puppets is that they used to, their pot dealer was Moe Tucker? Is that the girl’s name from The Velvet Underground? The Velvet Underground had a female drummer, and she eventually ended up in Phoenix, so when I would go with the Meat Puppets to buy their pot, she was their pot dealer, she just lived in a normal house in the suburbs, seemed like a normal mom and stuff.
But you were living in an abandoned house right?
Well, eventually I was, initially I was just living in this strange place in Phoenix, and then I visited San Francisco or some place and came back. The place was no longer available so I spent a great deal of time sort of sleeping in graveyards and on the top of tombs and in abandoned houses, and just making a living off of selling my blood.
In one of the hottest places in the country, but you still make it sound fun.
It was fun! It would have been more fun if I hadn’t had a girlfriend who wanted to take every suitcase after suitcase after suitcase or make up case. Wandering around being homeless is probably much more delightful when you aren’t carrying a bunch of luggage, and we didn’t have a shopping cart. It was fun! It was one of the best periods of my life! It’s one of those things that lets you know: What’s the worst that can happen to you? You’re gonna lose your job? Then what happens? You get kicked out of your apartment? Then what happens? What can anybody do to oppress you? They put you in jail or prison? So what? They’re going to kill you? So what? Living as a homeless person for a number of months, I just thought “Wow, I can do anything!”. This isn’t that bad, this is supposed to be the worst it can get, but it’s really not that bad. Especially, I was a scammer. So I had like a thousand and one ways to get free stuff! [laughs] This sounds really bad, this sounds really low brow and disgusting, but it was actually really quite good, it was something that I feel strengthened me.
Scamming, I don’t have any problem with that. I used to order pizzas and say that I was a vegetarian, and I’d say that there was a piece of sausage on every pizza that I got, so I’d get like 7 pizzas in one day. I’d just keep calling and saying “Listen! There’s still a piece of sausage on my pizza!”
Yeah, well, the story that the Meat Puppets were telling my girlfriend is that they remembered that we used to go out to the bars in San Fernando Valley, and I also did this a lot a place called Schaefer’s there but in my wallet, I had a number of strands of every imaginable kind of human hair. I would get the mac and cheese, and if the guy behind the counter had red kinky hair, I would eat almost all the mac and cheese and put in the red kinky hair. Or if he had black greasy hair, I’d put in the black greasy hair. I’d call over to the waitress, and she’d go “Oh my god, I’m so sorry! I don’t know how this could have happened! We’ll comp you your meal, we’ll get you anything else you want.” and I’d say “No, I’m sick at this point”. “Well, we’ll give you a coupon so you can come back the next time for free.” And she’d call over the manager, and he’d just say “Oh we’re so sorry”. I did this over and over again, and everybody was always apologetic, and then the first time I shaved my head, the manager looked at me and said “Listen mister, I’m going to remember your face, if you ever come in here and try to pull this crap, I’ll remember you”. How could I possibly put one of my own hairs in my food when I didn’t have any?
As an artist, you’ve shown work in galleries in the last few years or so, how is that shaping up? Are you still working at visual art?
Visual art or writing or music, it’s all the same, I only do it when the inspiration hits me. Then I can be like a house on fire and just go at it. I’m not a guy who gets up every day and does something just to do it. Or I’m not the kind of musician who puts out a new album just because it’s time to put out a new album. I can’t do it until I get the bug about it.
In another interview, you said that you’d like to be an artist in the future, or you’d like to be an architect in the future, different interviews. You said that you’ve still got a lot of stuff that you want to do. Maybe you don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but I’m curious what else you might be working on.
There are all sorts of things on the back burner. I think the question was “Is there something you’d like to do that you haven’t done”. And I said architecture. I actually got letters from people telling me how I could have access to architectural facilities and architectural universities. I don’t want to ramble on and on about it but I love architecture, because it conveys a spirit that’s intangible, and it’s something you live with every day. Whereas, music, art, a book — you’ve read it, it’s on the shelf, music — where does it go to when you’re not listening to it? But buildings are there, you experience them every day.
I read that before, “They speak to the soul”, I liked the way that you put that before.
They certainly speak to mine. Don’t even get me started! [laughs]
It seems like you’re not studying in the occult too much anymore, and it seems like you’ve been successful at it, much more than many other people, so I was wondering if there is, you know obviously you’ve had experiences with misguided would-be occultniks, but I wonder if it ceased to serve you to read about these things or to practice this stuff, or if it’s almost something that is automatic.
I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s just something that’s so much a part of my consciousness that I don’t have to think about it. I think the problem with a lot of these occultniks is that they’re always talking about it, they’re writing things about having a “power philosophy” or something. And you just go “Listen, dummycake, if you had any power whatsoever, you wouldn’t even be talking about it.” You see people like Donald Trump or something, he’s just doing it. He’s not going around saying [in a kind of uptight, dippy voice impersonation] “I have a power philosophy and I believe that blah blah blah of the strong and…” I just think that, if you know it, you don’t have to talk about it incessantly. I still think it’s a fundamental thing in my life, it’s simple. If you know what you want, you know how to get it. Most people don’t know what they want or how to get it. Nos do must act (?) a famous person once said that, I won’t tell you who it is.
I read it in an interview so I can look it up!
I was thinking about your attire and I was saying “This is a person that values and upholds the concepts of discipline and order, but also not someone who is so conservative that he wouldn’t simply be inspired by something like, a lot of things that were on 60s television like Hogan’s Heroes….
I remember when I was going to summer camp the year it was coming on, and they showed all these advertisements for it, everybody was talking about Hogan’s Heroes, they couldn’t wait to see it. Strangely enough, I saw a lecture by Rod Serling, and he hated Hogan’s Heroes! He was saying “This is the most immoral show in the history of television! A sitcom set in a concentration camp!” Of course, it wasn’t a concentration camp, it was a prisoner of war camp. But it was just sort emblematic of the different attitude in that happy-go-lucky decade of the 60s where people could… Germans were still comedy relief. Something about America’s psyche, where they want to make their villains either the most evil people on earth, or comic relief. They still use Charlie Manson for comic relief. He makes a bunch of weird faces and they click one where he’s sticking his tongue out and looking goofy, and underneath it says “kooky Charlie Manson!” Do you really want to deflate your villains by making them into comedians? Or do you want them to be the most evil people on the earth? You’ve got to make up your mind, you’ve got to have one or the other. That was my attitude towards Hogan’s Heroes.
I know that Marilyn Manson was big into Dungeons and Dragons and stuff like that, and that’s something where you can’t knock it because he was successful. Not maybe directly as a result of it, but role playing does have a benefit to people, that’s definitely also in the realm Star Trek or things like that. Do you think that there are values to Dungeons and Dragons?
I’m not really hip to it, but at some point somebody pointed me to something on the internet where they said “my entire philosophy came from Dungeons & Dragons” that there was a group of people in Dungeons & Dragons that were into Social Darwinism. I’ve never, when that stuff came out, if I was exposed to it when I was a 13 year old, I might have gotten into it, but by the time that came out I wasn’t at the point of my life where I’d be playing role playing games. I know Karin [his girlfriend] was really into it, and got something out it. I think you can get something out of anything. I make fun of the Star Trek people but people take something away from that. We just saw this unbelievable documentary called “Trekkies” and it’s like both sides of the blade, where on one hand they’re just making fun of these people, and showing how ridiculous they are, and how extreme they can be, but on the other hand, you see that Catholicism, or Islam or Judaism — It brings something to these peoples’ lives. So you can’t really be entirely dismissive of it, even though it might not be your own cup of tea. And I’m not comparing Islam or Judaism or Catholicism to Star Trek, but I’m just saying that everybody needs some mystical thing that’s beyond their understanding to bring something to their lives. Whatever you find it in, good on ya!
You’ve got a fascination with The Partridge Family, and there’s that temple so, there’re merits to it at least…
If you’ve studied the major world religions, there’s really no difference between their basic beliefs and a TV show like the Partridge Family. There’s all the different deities. You have a god, and you have some goddesses, and you have a little trickster god. So, it makes sense. To me, The Partridge Family Temple is no different than Hinduism. It’s just more immediate because it happened in a period that most of us grew up in, and the clothes were better.
I know now that you are coming out with a book about the various characters you have known throughout life, and one thing at the top of my mind is, did you ever get to headbutt Wesley Willis?
Thank goodness, no. I gave him a ride to a music venue we were both playing in Chicago and it struck me that he was a sort of botched human being who was being exploited as a novelty by one person after another.
Marc Almond is another enigmatic figure to me. . Are you still in touch with him? Is there maybe a teaser anecdote about him you can share to punctuate excitement about your upcoming book?
Believe it or not, Marc is a kindred spirit. Very much so. I showed some of his music videos to Anton La Vey and he loved them, thought the guy was both a genius and a true satanist. I first met Marc in the 80’s when he lived off the Portobello Road and in 1993 I inducted him into the Church of Satan. He describes the incident in his autobiography, Tainted Life.
I’m saving my best stories about Marc Almond for my book, but must say he is one of the must under-appreciated artists of the latter half of the 20th century. His body of work is better than Sinatra and Elvis put together; which is all the more impressive in that he wrote his own material. And he is as good a performer as either.
Rice and Z’ev
What else have you got on the boil?
The author Nina Antonia is working on doing a biography of me. She did the first biography of The New York Dolls, and her authorized biography of Johnny Thunders is being made into a movie by Hollywood. It looks like my book NO is going to be translated into German, and my collected writings will be re-released later this year to coincide with the release of [a new noise album under the name NON] Back to Mono. I co-edited a coffee table art book of thrift store paintings which should be out later this year and right now I am putting together a book of my own art and photography for a British publisher. And I’ve contributed a number of articles to Outre Journal which is a very high-end publication out of Australia. One is a brief history of space age religious architecture and another is about satanic iconography in mid-century advertising. So I’ve been busy.
Will your upcoming art book coincide with any gallery exhibitions?
Yes. It’s supposed to tie in with a major exhibition of my paintings in London. The book itself will be paintings, photographs and sculptures. I have the materials for it nearly ready to send off, but it’s a lot of work and the book isn’t something that’s going to happen right away.
So far as I can tell, you haven’t performed in Denver since Z’ev was in town in 2008. Do you plan to play in Denver or anywhere else in the USA in support of your upcoming album?
No. I have a European tour which kicks off in Moscow, and then hits a lot of other major cities. Dates are still being added as we speak. I get a lot of offers to do shows in Denver but none of them seem serious. I’ve been a touring musician for three decades and I’m used to dealing with professionals, so anything else doesn’t cut it for me. There may be a U.S. tour next year with Death in June, as it’s the 15th anniversary of the tour we did in the 90’s, but that remains to be seen. I hated our last tour here, so it hardly seems like something to commemorate! [Boyd later declared a civil falling out with Death In June on Facebook, and ended up touring the U.S. with Cold Cave].
Most photos courtesy of Karin Buchbinder.