Perfect Sound Forever


photo by Naomi Petersen

Interview, Part 2 by Dave Lang
(April 2019)

(if you can from another link, here's Part 1 of interview)

PSF: Did your albums sell much? I assume you weren't making a living from the band - few ever do - so what were you doing outside of the band?

Tom: A lot of our records went straight to cut-out bins, we never recouped our expenses according to SST. I believe it. The only way to make money for us was to play gigs. The Minutemen were our saviours on many occasions. I think we were a really hard band to book, because we didn't fit into any type of scene, for the most part. Usually the only people who liked us were in the other bands, not the audience, with the exception of some rare though very appreciative individuals.

Once we moved to San Francisco in 1984, we all found jobs; Rob and I lived in the Mission district and my first job was telemarketing, a depressing and thankless job, but somehow I did alright with it. After moving around the city with different band members, I got a job at a bakery on Haight Street and kept that job till I left SF in '88.

Rob was a famous bike messenger, and that kept him relatively healthy. Tim worked for a coffee distributor and then at a little market near his place in Cole Valley, around the corner from where Rob and I last lived together in the upper height.

Steve had a bank job, which strangely suited him, I think. Scott had various goings on with a wife and daughter, Tilly and Emma. He was a great guitar player and an incredibly creative guy. Pretty extreme in every way.

Rob: Not exactly sure how much we did sell, to be honest. I remember getting a check for $150.00. Was also told that money went back into recording and other expenses so...? In my eight years I lived in SF, I worked as a bicycle messenger. I loved that job!

Tim: I think they never sold more than a few thousand per release, if that much. We never made a living as a band. We all had day jobs: Steve worked for Wells Fargo, I worked at a coffee warehouse, Rob was a bike messenger, etc. Work all day, practice at night, play whenever we could.

Steve: No, our records didn't sell. I usually went through temporary agencies for employment. Mind numbing and dull clerical/customer service office jobs. A few banks, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Law firms and the like.

PSF: My fave LP of yours has long been We Shoot For The Moon. It has a sound unlike the other records - in fact, unlike any other record I know - a rough and grimy sound which mixes heavy guitars with post-punk in a very unique manner. Can you tell me about the making of this album and how its sound came about?

Tom: By this point, we had toured a couple of times with fIREHOSE, and we had a pretty regular practice schedule, it was us at our most competent at playing and writing. And after doing a few records we were more comfortable in the studio. We approached WSFTM differently from the other records; we practiced the hell out of it before recording it. We were working with Vitus Matare again and it was good to be in Los Angeles to focus on it completely. For one thing, we wanted the songs to bleed into each other, no real stops between tunes and then it went into the 3rd side, "Things Fall Apart," a 20-minute (I think) collage of part-songs and noisy grooves and some arty covers. We also included a Toxic Shock song in there. Vitus was cutting and splicing the 2" tape, which is kind of nuts, but it was a fun freak out. it takes some effort to listen to.

Tim: This is my favourite record we did. Love that record. It's punchy, loose, with a lot of energy. We had come off a couple of tours and the band was playing really well together. The writing and the practices leading up to the record were kind of fragmented which was not the way we usually ramped up for making a record. I don't think we played any of the songs at shows leading up to the record, which was also unusual. We kind of finished them in the studio. I remember working the songs out in small groups and kind of roughly having things together by the time we went in the studio. It was kind of a weird time – there are a lot of dedications in the liner notes for friends who had died in the lead up to making the record. I think we were also sort of uncertain of where the band was going. We recorded at Vitus Matare's Lyceum Sound Studios in West LA. Great studio, great location and great producer.

I remember we were drinking a ton during the making of that record. Some strange asparagus-flavoured beer we got a Trader Joe's. I think we stopped at Trader Joe's every morning on our way into the studio. I think we also kind of evolved our guitar sound at that point. Tom was playing his mid '60s Telecaster through a Supro for at least some of the songs on the record. I was playing a Jazzmaster through super reverb. Scott was playing his modified 1960s Epiphone. Danelectros were also involved. Vitus encouraged us to really drive the amps and his room had a pretty live sound already as I recall. I also think Tom started to take a bigger role in production on this record. So some of the sound may be attributable to his approach. I remember listening to a final playbook and John Talley-Jones (the Urinals) was in the room and said that this was our White Album. I think that was probably the most fun we had making a record. I don't recall how this record was received. I think it was pretty much ignored because we had stopped touring at that point. I don't think we did much to support it.

Steve: My favourite. Insider information: the original title was going to be We Shoot For The Moon and Jack Off In the Closet, a quote from Charles Bukowski in a book of correspondence between Bukowski and a Canadian poet called Al Purdy. Needless to say, I got vetoed. But that was a fun record. The best collaboration between Slovenly and engineer. Vitus Matare was superb. He encouraged us to create "Things Fall Apart" (note: extended, noisy, seemingly improvised track included on the CD edition). This was our first record in the CD era, he reminded us. This allowed for 60-70 minutes per LP. And he was right there with us, gleefully cutting splicing tape, tweaking, repurposing already recorded drum tracks to be used as jumping-off points and just galvanising a joyful and creative environment. Footnote: I didn't notice at the time, but it's clear now that I was channeling my inner John Cale.

PSF: The band released the excellent Highway To Hanno's album in 1992 then split: why?

Tom: I had re-relocated back to Los Angeles, and got married, but would go up for gigs as they came... Less and less. We had done one EP on Ajax Records in Chicago called Drive It Home, Abernathy, but other than that we weren't making new music together between '88 and '91. Basically, everyone got busy with other things, but then we got a connection at a nice studio in San Francisco and SST was up for it, so we put together a strange collection of tunes and some free-form stuff and just went for it pretty much live. I'm not crazy about the mix, and in some ways, it was a little bit less than satisfying for me. I think for others too, from there things just kind of slowed to an uncertain point. We always wanted to do more, but San Francisco ran its course for me, and except for Rob and Scott coming back to LA, we couldn't get things together as a band anymore.

Tim: This is just my opinion - really don't like that record. The producer was an idiot. The band was pretty fucked up on a variety of substances. We barely practiced leading up to that record – the songs never really gelled. Tom was living in LA at that point – so we were already sort of broken up at that point. That record never should have been made. Probably why we broke up. I think we played one or two more shows after that - one of which was at the dive bar, Hanno's, down the street from the studio. Nice bar, fun show. Might have been our last show.

Steve: Yeah, that's an odd one. I don't dislike it, but it's flawed for sure. We were for all intents and purposes broken. We hadn't been rehearsing or writing new music. Tom had moved back to Los Angeles. Things were tenuous personally and not conducive to creativity. But I like maybe half of it. Probably should have scrubbed away the chaff and put out a healthy EP.

PSF: Tell us about the members' post-Slovenly activity: Overpass, Dingle, Red Krayola, etc.

Tom: Rob had returned to LA, but we weren't playing together yet. I had been in and out of a couple of different band situations, but I was getting itchy to play more.

In San Francisco, Steve and Scott, with our buddy Sam Goldman and some Tim, too, made a record under the name of Red Dog. Kind of catchy pop with a scratchy vibe. Tim did some music with a band called Mushroom, but I never heard that.

Finally, Rob and I convinced Scott to return to the South Bay to start Overpass, a power trio that was 3/5's of Slovenly. We had formed it years before in San Francisco, jamming before or after Slovenly practices. A little rockier than Slovenly, but no songs, just a bunch of odd-timed grooves, looping parts over and over. But we made our own sound out of it and did our first record for New Alliance records in '92. We did one dreadful tour in support of it, and spent more money than we made, but it was fun to be playing again. We did our second record, Manhattan (Beach) in '93 for Steve Shelley's label, Smells Like Records.

Shortly before this, I had met one of my all time heroes, Mayo Thompson of the Red Krayola- it was like meeting Mick Jagger for me. He had knowledge of Slovenly's music through some German folks in the art world there, the German music/culture mag, Spex had always been a great supporter of ours. The German artist, Albert Oehlen was also with Mayo when we met and I had been working in the art world at galleries for some time and was aware and very fond of his art, so in the buzz of that situation I boldly asked Mayo to produce our record and asked Albert if we could use some of his art for the cover. They both said yes! That was a fateful meeting that would change and charge my musical path from then on. That album was a very satisfying recording experience and Mayo's help was invaluable in every way. We also had the talents of studio wiz, Eddie Ashworth in the control room, dialing everything in like we never had before. It felt like the easiest record I'd ever made. Shortly thereafter, the Red Krayola reformed with Chicago/Drag City records players, David Grubbs on guitar, John McEntire on drums and Jim O'Rourke on synthesizer, etc. On the first record together, I added solo guitar parts to their basic tracks and Steve Albini mixed it in Chicago. We did some crazy shows and toured Japan, and I had a blast. We did more and more recording and performing from '93 on, made some really good records and I got the chance to play with some great players who I probably wouldn't have met otherwise. This continued into the mid-2000s. In the later part of the '90's, I formed a band called The Best Of All, with my good friend, writer, artist, bass player, Erik Bluhm, plus my buddy from the Red Krayola, Sandy Yang on drums and the lovely lass, Heather Cantrel on organ, synth and vocals. We did a bunch of gigs playing original songs along with tunes that I had been working on for my solo record, Country & Watson. We started a record as The Best Of All, with Brian McMahan of Slint and The For Carnation, but never finished it, unfortunately. My solo record came out in 2000 on Albert Oehlen's label Leiterwagon Records, Mayo and Jim O'Rourke helped with the mix.

Tim: Took a break from music for a while to finish school. Picked it back up in the mid '90s. Played on a bunch of record and did a bunch of shows in an odd pick up, improvisational band called Mushroom. The band is a revolving collection of really good working musicians. I think they are currently based in LA. The other good thing about that band was that there were no rehearsals, nearly all the music was improvised at shows and on record. The bad thing about the band was that there were no rehearsals, nearly all the music was improvised at shows and on record.

Steve: Scott, Sam (friend of Slovenly who played violin on Drive it Home Abernathy and Highway), Phil Smoot (was in The Whitefronts, also a friend of Slovenly - played on DIHA and Highway), Bruce Todd (friend of Phil's and eventually friend of ours) and Steve created a record called Red Dog under the moniker Dingle, put out on New Alliance in 1994. Hard to describe. Probably in the same general sub genre as Slovenly but markedly different. Not as heavy or intense, much goofier than Slovenly. Silly but more accessible pop music. Lynn Johnston and Tim Plowman are on it. So is Greg Ginn. With Peter Sellers samples, how bad could it be?

Sam, Steve and Scott put out My Friends Became Junkies under the name Baculum on 3 Beads of Sweat in 2002. Again help from Tim, my brother Vijay, Lynn, Tom Banks (of Hz Round table fame) and others. Closer to Dingle than Slovenly, but has an identity and spirit all its own. You can probably tell by now that it's terribly difficult to describe the music I/we create.

PSF: Slovenly is a highly regarded cult band. I don't know of a LOT of people who know of them, but those who do are often very vocal fans. How do you feel about the legacy of the band? Do you feel that Slovenly could have been bigger or more widely known if some other factors had occurred?

Tom: I don't know, I think New Alliance and SST did what they could, but it is nice that some younger folks are hearing about the band now, even though the records have been out of print for decades. We could never understand why people didn't get it while we were playing, but people didn't get Big Star either. Timing has a lot to do with it. For instance, if you were to describe a band that is influenced by The Fall, Joy Division, Wire, Gang Of Four, the Velvet Underground, Television, etc. to someone today, they would probably think that sounds good, almost mainstream, But not when we were playing. We were called art-rock, and they didn't mean it in a nice way. This reminds me of something Mayo said to me once: "I'm selling out, but nobody's buying."

Rob: I'm actually quite impressed by our legacy and online interest I've seen over the years. It's hard for me to say if our band could have gotten bigger. SST was signing on a lot of bands around that time and later, so for me its hard to tell how much attention would have gotten paid to us by them. Being approached by a different, more "together" label maybe could have helped us. Its hard to say…

Tim: Not sure we have a legacy. Do we have a legacy? In terms of how big any creative act gets, I think luck plays an important role. So does hard work and commitment, but you can do that and never get lucky and never really break. I think we worked pretty hard. Could we have worked harder? Possibly, maybe more touring would have helped. Hard to say. It is nice to hear that we are highly regarded.

Steve: Pretty sure we have no legacy. We were always horrible at self-promotion. But even if we lucked into finding a brilliant manager (we had a few; one was incompetent and the other had a full-time job), we just didn't fit anywhere. We weren't punk enough, we weren't rock enough and we weren't weird enough, or we were weird in a way that wasn't viable. We never strove for anything other than doing exactly what we wanted to do. Even if we wanted to I don't think we could have made ourselves more commercially palatable. My biggest regret: just as things began to unravel, SST was trying to work out a European tour. Should we have sucked it up and just went for it? From this distance, yes. But after so many years and toiling for so long without anything like recognition or even acknowledgment the thing had run its course. Bad timing. Bad luck.

PSF: Do you ever hear from Greg Ginn? What is the story with the ownership of the catalogue? Have you tried to get it off Ginn? Have people asked to reissue it?

Tom: We've been trying to get somewhere with that for years, I've been a little worried to not upset Greg or do anything in conflict with SST. Though we have had people show interest, and ask what's up with reissues from time to time. It's frustrating, but I'm still hopeful.

Rob: We approached Ginn a few times via email then he just disappeared. I was on good terms with him since the Saccharine days. He once told me around 2011 that he was going to re-release Slovenly in 2013 on SST, but that never happened. At that time, we just wanted our rights back to our music. Yes, there has been some interest in others wanting to reissue us.

Tim: I think Ginn has gone off the deep end. He is famously tight-fisted with the catalogue. He has bigger fish to fry, my guess is he never thinks about Slovenly, but I could be wrong.

Steve: About 5 or so years ago, I looked into getting our music back, but I was unable to get in touch with Greg. I believe there's a law that says that after a certain period of time, if the record label doesn't do anything with it, the artist/musician has a legal right to get their stuff back. I'm pretty sure that now enough time has expired. Have to look into that.

PSF: Is there current musical activity with the members? Do you keep up with contemporary music at all?

Tom: I've been playing with Mike Watt pretty regularly since 1999, lately as Mike Watt and the Missingmen. We've done many recordings and many tours. I did a couple tours and a record with Lou Barlow and Raul from the Missingmen, as Lou Barlow and the Missingmen (Sentridoh 3). I pick up gigs with different people here and there, and record as much as possible. It all comes in waves. Rob's been doing gigs off and on for years, with Landfill, One Square Mile, a return of the Pagan Icons version of Saccharine Trust, and lately with Dez Cadena and local players called Dondo! Quite a bit, considering he's had some health battles, he's fucking resilient. We've been talking about doing a mini version of Slovenly, and we probably will, just glad he's been up for playing again. As for current music, I pretty much only listen to my friends' bands, with the exception of occasionally catching something live that I hadn't heard of before.

Rob: I just did a one off gig with Dez Cadena. Our gig was last night as a matter of fact. Dez and other local friends from Hermosa Beach got together to learn his songs he's been playing on the East Coast where he lives. This is the first time I've played with people in over a year, as I've been on dialysis. Actually, the second. I jammed with Spot and Steve Reed a few months ago and we did Nig Heist songs! Ha ha.

Tim: Not playing in a band. Listen to as much contemporary music as possible, but there is just so much out there and so many ways it gets distributed, that is really hard to keep up. Play guitar every day. I think I still have about 25 guitars.

Steve: I listen to music all the time, but I don't keep up with current music. It's interesting how there's all these labels reissuing stuff and issuing stuff that wasn't released at the time. The Numero Group, for example, is amazing. I've been seeking out things that I missed the first time around. Honeybus, The Idle Race, O.V. Wright, Henry Cow, Joe Meek, Kevin Coyne and so on. Analog Africa is another great label putting out beautiful (mostly rock) music from various African countries from the '70's. I'm all ears if you have good suggestions for 21st century music. As far as personal involvement my friend, Sam Goldman and I get together all the time and mess around in his basement studio. His poor kids will get hours of half baked ditties and drunken jams in their will.

PSF: Parting comments or info?

Tom: I think we owe the most credit for the opportunity to play, record and make our music to the Minutemen, New Alliance records, and mostly to D. Boon for choosing us for those first releases of Slovenly's music. And of course to our families for putting up with it.

Rob: Tom, Steve and I have talked about reissuing some Slov and also playing a gig. We have a bassist in mind, Bill Bowman, who was in the aforementioned Dez band and has also played with Tom in Red Krayola.

PSF: A bit of a Perfect Sound Forever tradition. Your top 10 albums of all time, please…

Tom Watson:
The Red Krayola God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It
Velvet Underground White Light / White Heat
Eno Here Come The Warm Jets
Television Marquee Moon
Phil Manzanera Diamond Head
Capt. Beefheart Clear Spot
Wire Pink Flag
John Fahey Blind Joe Death
Roedelius Wenn der Südwind Weht
Steve Reich Music For 18 Musicians

Rob Holzman:
David Bowie Station to Station
Public Enemy Fear of a Black Planet
Descendents ALL and Milo Goes to College
Black Flag The First 4 years
Devo Q: Are We Not Men?
Ice Cube:Death Certificate
Meat Puppets II
Minutemen Double Nickels on the Dime
Public Image Ltd. Public Image
Ween The Pod

Tim Plowman:
John Fahey Days Have Gone By
The Fall Hex Enduction Hour
James Blood Ulmer Odyssey
Albert Ayler Live in Berlin 1966
Captain Beefheart Trout Mask Replica
Janos Starker Bach: Complete Suites for Solo Cello and Sonatas
Le Grande Kalle and L'African Jazz Merveilles du Passe Vol. 1
Neil Young On the Beach
Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus Rastafari
Gabby Pahinui Pure Gabby

Steve Anderson:
John Cale Fear
Roxy Music Roxy Music
Albert Ayler Lorrach/Paris 1966
The Congos The Heart Of The Congos
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Paris Concert Volume 1
Fred Lane From the One That Cut You / Car Radio Jerome (Shimmy Disc put out these two in the 1980s)
Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings And Food
Morton Feldman Rothko Chapel/Why Patterns
The Fall Grotesque (After the Gramme)...or Dragnet depending on the day
Neil Young On the Beach
The Modern Lovers The Modern Lovers
Dmitri Shostakovich Quartet 15 ( legend has it that Shostakovich told the quartet to play the first movement "so that flies drop dead in mid air, and the audience start leaving the hall from sheer boredom")

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER