Friday, October 29, 2010

An Interview with Jim Teacher, Part 3

By Jim Teacher

JT: Speaking of playing live, which shows were your favorites?

JT: Well, apart from some classics at Maxwells and the now-defunct Uncle Joe's, we got our best reception and had our best times in the Philly area, specifically Bucks County, more specifically Bensalem (though we did play the ultimate show in Philly, a basement show--great time). New Jersey was hard, because if you didn't sound like you were derived from Lifetime (and hey, I like Hello Bastards as much as the next guy), the kids didn't give a shit. And New York was no fun, as New York sucks balls in many ways. But for some reason, Philly-area kids were down, they didn't seem to have any preconceptions or prejudices, and they loved to dance. Maybe they were just crazy, but that's all right. We were crazy, too.

Like I said before, I think our sound benefitted in small spaces. We played outside in Jersey City one time, and although it was wild and weird (I think some old guy bit Stephen), I don't think it sounded so hot. But man, when you get like a shitload of people packed into a tiny basement just dancing, it is magical. The music sounds tight, everything comes together. The mps sound was made for that environment, I think, and smallish clubs.

JT: I'd have to agree. So what's it all about then, the music? What drives it?

JT: Women, of course. Women are the only reason men make music. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An Interview with Jim Teacher, Part 2

By Jim Teacher

JT: I was just relistening to some old mps (something I really rarely do), to "Rivers of Water, Rivers of Mud," and damn, my vocal chords tense up just listening to that shit. Like they're afraid they're gonna have to try and make those sounds again!

JT: Mine too! Speaking of recording, can you talk a little bit about the early trepidation you had in recording any music for the band whatsoever?

JT: Ah, you had to ask that one...the fact is that my early insistence on this might have somewhat sabotaged the band early on. But I was crazy, crazy, at the time, so, you know. We actually played a pretty large (for us) gig with this emo band the Juliana Theory and kids were all like "Where's your record" and we had to be like, "Surprise! WE DON'T HAVE ONE!" Which is sort of a career stopping idea.

Look, we live in an era of recorded music. Apart from some nursery rhymes and maybe some folk songs, we have no common, remembered music, at least not in American culture. Much as writing is sort of an external memory drive for deep thoughts, so recording is that for no longer has to reside in your heart and brain. And for the idealistic Jim Teacher of 1999, that was disturbing.

Inevitably, the artifacts--the records, the paintings, the writings--become fetishized and no longer track with or represent the original ideas or emotions that inspired them, which is, you would think, utterly against the artist's intentions. It's the museumification process. So I wanted to somehow resist that, by fighting the impulse to record altogether. I wanted a return to memory. Life ain't nothing but remembering.

Obviously, this didn't really gibe with the times, and was not great for the band's popularity (such as it was). And of course I eventually broke down and we recorded some pretty awesome shit, first with King Django, then with the awesome Mike Olear. Still, I remain fascinated by improvisation and forgetfulness, and was always amazed at how bands like the Stooges in the '70s, you'd get these live recordings with songs that they just made up on the spot, never to was kind of mind-bending. And I wanted the recordings to retain that element of live-ness...I still think we often sounded better live (in certain venues) that we ever did on record.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Interview with Jim Teacher

By Jim Teacher

JT: So what type of things contributed to your musical stylings?

JT: Well, first of all, church music. Fuzzy and I were brought up in a hyperreligious environment, so that's where Fuzzy gets his aficion for those type of baroque guitar riffs. Lots of old hymns and such. Growing up like that we really didn't get exposed to a lot of pop music, and although you'd catch snippets of it from TV and movies, we still tend to have gaping holes in our musical knowledge.

So then when I finally started listening to music it was your basic shit on the radio, Peter Cetera type of shit, until my friends got into rap and metal. So there was this time where basically all I listened to was Metallica and some Megadeth and G'N'R and old Aerosmith, and I tried to be metal and hung around with that crowd. But I still relished pop-like things. So that was when my friend Richie B. told me I ought to check out this band the Ramones, so I did and that was the end.

I could get away with this idea in my mind that the Ramones were somehow metal 'cause of how they dressed and shit, but the music itself was a throwback to '60s bubblegum pop, which, in retrospect, was the shit I really liked. By the end of high school that's pretty much all I listened to, the Ramones and shit like Iggy Pop and old Alice Cooper (the latter two on the recommendation of my friend Black Metal Mike, who I worked with at a bookstore and who I guess took pity on me and introduced me to the writings of Lester Bangs.)

Then I sort of segued into the whole pop punk and ska scene of the late '90s, although in general I was not into the music, more the idea of playing shows, do-it-yourself, on the fly. The mps was never fully accepted in those scenes, later on, I guess 'cause we didn't conform with the three-chord shit. At the same time, I just never got into hardcore, 'cause it was so musically uninteresting. Again, looking back, the main shit I liked at the time was I guess what you would call post-hardcore: Fugazi, Dismemberment Plan, etc. And I got into ska by way of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones [Stephen winces and shudders], which, at first, I basically assumed was metal with a horn section, but that introduced us to ska and superior products like the Slackers and the Stubborn All-Stars, which hearken back again to '60s pop and especially soul. Besides borrowing the vocal stylings of Dicky Barrett (who does the Cookie Monster but in a way that suggests the blues and soul, which is something I wanted to exploit), I also took from them and the ska scene in general this idea of dressing up. I guess I just liked the idea that, you know, you were stepping out, getting dressed up to go out and dance, and so on, which is a throwback to an older era of American music. And at the time I liked the irony, of this ferocious sounding band that is lead by a guy who is suspiciously overdressed and maybe even ritzy looking--but yet there was still this solid dance aspect to it all, like big bands and jazz.

Then in the early days of the mps we started really listening to shit like the Stones and Bruce and AC/DC and Tom Waits and UO and the Smiths (I told you there were huge gaps in my music knowledge) and especially soul, which I had unwittingly always loved, but had no idea that it existed as a separate genre altogether. When I was a kid on the playground I used to run around and sing in my mind that "Na na na na" from Wilson Pickett's "Night of a Thousand Dances." Although I didn't know the name of the song, I would say that was one of my favorite songs on earth at the time, it played in my head incessantly, along with shit like "Stand by Me" (for the obvious reason, the time period). So later, finding shit like Otis Redding and Bill Withers and James Brown and Stevie Wonder, was like unearthing this treasure you had been looking for your whole life. And that obviously influenced the mps a lot.

So when you look back, you really find all these elements flowing into the mps: the metal riffs, the complex chordage a la classical music-cum-post-hardcore "angular" guitars (Stephen brought the whole Sonic Youth thing in there), the '60s bubblegum pop and punk and a little '70s glam-like shit, and of course the dance aspect and the beats of soul and the blues. All rolled into one.