Perfect Sound Forever

BYRON COLEY

Left pic: Amherst, MA 1975, Hampshire College, with Josh Zaret (Byron on the left)
Right pic: Santa Monica 1982, 17th street house, with Peter Tillman of the Lipstick Killers (Byron on the right)

Interview by Jason Gross, Part 2


PSF: So what happened then with your writing?

Once I had those done, I was able to do stuff for the Rocker pretty regularly. He would turn down stuff too but... And I had a press card. I was living mostly out on the West Coast though at that point- mostly in San Francisco and L.A. also.

PSF: Did you like working for the Rocker?

Oh yeah. Andy was really encouraging. And it was really funny because Holmstrom would be like 'Oh, you write for New York Rocker!', giving me a hard time. And I said 'I've been sending you stuff and you'd never print it and now somebody's printing it!'

PSF: Did you ever write for him?

I don't think I did. I've wondered about this 'cause I used to hang around with those guys at one point, early on, around '76... when there was still three of them and the original publisher Ged Dunn was still involved.

PSF: So what were you doing on the West Coast then?

I moved there in '78 and I was just around there. I would just hang out at clubs and sometimes I'd work at record stores. I edited the Mabuhay House Organ, which was the in-house magazine there (at San Fran punk club Mabuhay Gardens). Howie Klein was West Coast editor of New York Rocker at that point, and he started to introduce me to a bunch of people out there and he'd get me an occasional writing gig, doing some kind of punk thing. So I did that but it was very inexpensive to live out there. I didn't have to do much. I would just trade records between stores. I'd just hang out. (laughs) And I'd just travel. I'd bounce back between coasts then- it was like $54 bucks then to go anywhere in the States on a bus.

PSF: How did that lead up to Forced Exposure later?

I moved back to the East Coast and then I eventually moved in with my future wife in Boston in '80. I'd been writing a lot for The Rocker at that point and some other places. I tried to get a gig with Boston Rock but they would not... It was kind of weird. So this guy was starting this new magazine called Take It so I met him after seeing an ad for the first issue and I became the managing editor of that. So I got in all those writers that I knew, like Meltzer and Greg Turner (also of Angry Samoans), Mick Farren (also of the Deviants), Ira Kaplan (later of Yo La Tengo). So all these people that I knew just started writing for it. So I did that for about a year and then I moved up to the West Coast. And I kept doing Take It, which was in Boston and it ran for about 7 or 8 issues. But I started writing for a bunch of other places once I moved out to L.A. because there was a lot of stuff going on in L.A. then...

PSF: Like what?

I wrote for a lot of fanzines, like Touch and Go, Cretin Bull. There was tons of stuff and a lot of mid-West places. I was still writing for New York Rocker and I was still editing Take It. And then I started writing for The L.A. Weekly and L.A. Reader a lot and Option, which was changing over from OP. I wrote my first liner notes when I was still in Boston, for Eight-Eyed Spy Live. So I was doing some of that stuff. Not too much but a little bit but I got a column in The L.A. Weekly called 'Tongue Wrestling In A White Hot Void.' I was also writing a lot for The Reader... and Jimmy (Johnson) had started Forced Exposure but then stopped it. But I was really involved in all the hardcore (music) stuff- I mean, I was the tour manager for the Flesheaters. I would just go out and see tons of shit. And I was working at Rhino Records. And I was dealing with a lot of stuff... I started working at SST.

PSF: What were you doing with Rhino and SST?

At Rhino, I was just working at the store as a clerk, abusing people. I wasn't at the label. SST... Greg (Ginn) had wanted to hire me to do promotion stuff but I said 'I can't do that' 'cause I wouldn't be able to write about the bands anymore. So when (Joe) Carducci came down, we did a thing where... This is when they were going through the (Unicorn) lawsuit stuff, around '82, '83... I would go down and set up their radio tracking system, just for free. I would do that as volunteer work one day a week. I'd just bring food to eat... bring a big bag of bagels every week! (laughs) And they were supposed to cover my gas money so I was supposed to get $5 put in and I never really got it. It was really sort of hard times for them anyway. So, I would just do that and just hang out. I was there (L.A.) 'til '84.

At that time, there really weren't that many punk singles collectors. I had known Greg Shaw and the Bomp warehouse was closed to the public but I could go there and hang out with him. I met him through Alan Betrock. I would talk about stuff with him and I could go over with a check from Rhino and buy unlimited singles for fifty cents a piece. I would just go through and buy whatever I wanted. There'd be boxes of stuff I'd take. So I had that and the really cheap stuff from Rhino, these dollar singles. So I was already a collector kind of but then I really started focusing on punk stuff. So I was trading records constantly. I would spend like two hours doing correspondence every morning.

PSF: Was this for Rhino or yourself?

Well, I'd get stuff for Rhino and then I could buy any stuff off of Rhino just for the cost. So I'd get 1200 singles and then 50 of them would be for me and the rest of them would be for the store. To get 'em at cost was kind of like your finder's fee. At Rhino, you could buy anything at cost if you worked there. So I would just do that and Chuck Warner would come out and stay with me. We were the only guys who were really into punk singles as collectables in a big kind of way. But there were a lot of guys who ran labels, who did fanzines and all that stuff who knew about these record and were interested in getting, like the Urinals singles or stuff from Dangerhouse (Records).

So I started trading with tons of people. One of the guys I traded with was Jimmy (Johnson). At that time, there was a cartoonist named John Crawford- he did this thing called "Baboon Dooley, Rock Critic." I'd gone to high school with John. He used to try to get cartoons in New York Rocker all the time and Andy wouldn't run 'em. And then one time, I took a bus ride back to Jersey with him and I ran into him in the city. I was like a rock critic and he decided that was like the worst fucking thing. So he started to do this cartoon strip, partly to make fun of me and show how pretentious rock critics were. We were talking about Public Image or something on the bus home and it was like "... ugh, this is fucking horrible." So I knew John for a long time and I'd gone out with his sister for a while. He was in touch with everyone for a while. He did comics for every fanzine out there. He eventually started working a record distributor so he would be in touch with Jimmy all the time.

When I was getting ready to move back east, I told him (Crawford) that I was going to be living in Watertown and he said "Jimmy Johnson lives there and he hasn't put out an issue of Forced Exposure for the last year. If you're gonna be there, you should goose him." And so when I got back, that was one of the first things I did. Lili (Byron's wife) and I had bought a computer, which was in those days was like $5000 to get a dual floppy machine with a letter-quality printer. There were no WYSIWYG word processing programs at all. This was '84 and it was pretty crude. So we got that and I met Jimmy. We were interested in the same kind of stuff. He was quite a bit younger than I was. We were talking about... "maybe it would be good to get it going again and we have this computer so we could do justified layout stuff. We could print all the stuff out." He was (previously) doing all the layout stuff on boards in his bedroom at his parents' house. So we started talking... And so it was like "What would you like to put on the cover?" And he was like "The only thing I would put on the cover is this band Sonic Youth." I was like "Wow, I've heard of them. Those guys are great." I met Thurston before that and he had been sending me all the records on Neutral because he was doing Killer. I knew every fanzine guy and that's how I first knew him. So I said (to Jimmy) "Oh yeah, that would be totally great." What we decided was, what we really liked was Playboy magazine interviews. Like really long format interviews. And so, we were in agreement that it would be great to have something that would have long format interviews and just like a TON of fucking record reviews, book reviews and all that stuff. This is all part of one... there's like this big flow of underground junk that's all interesting. I mean, it's of interest to us and we (thought we) should just write about that.

And so we started it. He was the publisher and editor in chief. And I was 'jazz editor,' but that was just a listing. I actually did most of the editing. The ideas was, I would write all the jazz that Jimmy doesn't know about. But he did all the publisher stuff. I did most of the editing stuff, especially as it went along. He had more business stuff to deal with. But we met every day and we'd hash everyone out as it went along.

And we started putting those out and after we did two issues together... it seems to me that he was able to quit his job. So we put ourselves on salary, $150 a week so we could do it basically... I mean, I was doing writing for Spin at the same time. And I started writing books also. But our main thing was Forced Exposure and I tried to write like 10 reviews every day, in one format or another. And I was transcribing interviews and just doing a lot of stuff just to try to get 'em out pretty regularly. They'd do all the layout, all the ad sales, all the distribution stuff, taking it to the printer, all that shit. We just really did that until we stopped.

PSF: Did you have any kind of goals with it other than being self-sustaining?

Not really. The thing was, we didn't really care. We thought if we did it just the way that we wanted to... The idea was really like Creem magazine making fun of people kind of stuff. It had that kind of attitude. In retrospect, there was a lot of stuff we did that was very crude and whatever but... We came from this personal position where the people who knew us knew that we weren't sexist or homophobic or any of that stuff so we would just do it for our friends. But it would get into all these circumstances where people would really misread the stuff and take it maybe not in the way that it was intended. (laughs)

PSF: Like what?

We got a lot of guff for our infantile stances on certain things. And rightly so but a lot of people thought that we were really negative about stuff and things like that, which if you look at the issue, the bulk of our reviews are extremely positive. And we tried to review everything that came through and really be sort of encyclopedic about it to whatever degree we could, even if they were really short format reviews. The fact that it was mostly just two of us reviewing it, made us feel like if we did that, people would be able to understand our biases enough that the reviews would be useful to them, even if they didn't agree with them. It would be like 'oh, he doesn't like this kind of stuff anyway but it sounds good (in the review) so I like that kind of stuff!' We tried to do that. We were casting around to write about the best local band and they were all defunct. It was like the Girls were the best local band, but who would be next? 'Oh, Mission of Burma!' So we got Mission of Burma together for this interview even though they'd been broken up for a while.

It was just stuff like that, things we wanted to do, pretty much. And we weren't beholden to anybody because with the magazine, people seemed to like it and it sold really well at the time. So, we had more ads- we actually turned down ads all the time. It's hard to imagine now! They were just people who hated us because we didn't like their band.

PSF: What were some of the best and worst interviews you remember from that time?

The one we were dreading the most was the Diamanda Galas one. The problem with doing a print magazine is that sometimes, records come out and it's like... you really don't have enough time to deal with (them), but you want to deal with it 'cause it's on a label like Mute. So a Diamanda Galas record came in right when the issue was due and I think Jimmie reviewed it. His whole review was something like... she was supposedly going out with Blixa (Bargeld) right then, so Jimmie wrote something like "Blixa's dick must be as big as everybody says it is because she's really fucking screaming on this one." (laughs) And she kind of hit the roof because at that time, a lot of people were reading the magazine and a review like that... People would just really laugh. The label put across the word that she was furious about it. And I absolutely understand. So we said "OK, we'll interview her. We'll put her on the cover of the next issue." It seemed like a good idea anyway.

But getting ready to go down for that interview... We interviewed her at a restaurant in Hell's Kitchen. We were just like "Oh my God, she's going to fucking castrate us." So we went in and her rep was really vicious and we had done tons of research, so we went in prepared to be disembowel. And we apologized and explained the situation, but she was really hostile. But then as it went along and she hummed a Coltrane tune and Jimmie knew what it was (it was something theme from Meditations) and she was like "Oh!" And the questions we had were obviously well-researched- we asked her about a lot of stuff that people hadn't really talked to her about. So it ended up being OK but that was a rough one.

There were other really bad ones. The worst interview probably was underground cartoonist S. Clay Wilson. We were working on a big series. We'd done a Robert Williams cover and he really liked it. It worked out really great. People seemed to get really interested in it so we were going out to San Francisco, doing a bunch of stuff. I had done a lot of research, talking to people who knew him. I knew all these people who knew him from Kansas. So we went with a couple of six packs of beer, which in retrospect was a bad idea 'cause he started getting LOUD in the afternoon. I would ask him "What did you do to get out of the draft?" because I knew that he had some kind of funny story about it. He said "How do you know about that? I can't talk about that. They could get me!" And it just sort of went downhill. We just could not get him started. We did a lot of interviews that never ran but there were always some that were just like... (shrugs)

PSF: What about some really good ones that you did for the magazine?

I was pretty happy with most of them. The Butthole Surfers one was really rough. There were some people who were rough but generally, we would do tons of research and people were really happy to do them. And we had a tendency to talk to people before they'd really been interviewed out by a lot of people.

(pauses, thinking) The really good ones... There were ones that were really just fun to to. Like Mission of Burma. At that point, they were just thought of as being a pre-Volcano Suns band. They were not on anybody's radar really. Stuff like that was fun to do- we just had them over for dinner. I had Dan Ireton (Dredd Foole) too because I knew that he'd seen all those shows, he and Pat. They had a lot of info that they'd be able to prod out of stuff. But I knew those guys- when I lived in L.A., they came over and stayed at our house. I would see them a lot, Lili and I, and Jimmy had seen them a lot too. So we were pretty conversant with all this stuff.

PSF: What happened to FE that it had to stop?

I had a kid and moved out to the Western part of the state (Massachusetts). Jimmy and I and Lili had looked at houses together. We couldn't find anything though. I was 100 miles away so we weren't having meetings all the time. The situation was just changing and he had done an insert, a record catalog, in the final issue. He'd sold a lot of stuff so he was starting to think maybe that... He was actually making money at that. So maybe it was a better (proposition). We put together another issue that never came out and we didn't really decide to knock it on the head for a while. For the final issue we did, I'd gone down to New Zealand and done a bunch of interviews down there. It's just one of those things. Without being in each other's face every day, it was just hard to stay on top of, 'cause there were so many little decisions to be made all the time about stuff that just required you hang on the phone (moans and mumbles). That was not something either of us wanted to do. And he moved to another place and he had a place where he could fit a lot more records in. He was starting to get specialty stuff so he was the only person at that point that was carrying Japanese stuff and that kind of thing. He really started putting out catalogs then. So it was just a change. We had done it for a few years and we did it all the time. It was just like total immersion as a project. When we'd travel, we'd be traveling to do interviews. You can keep that stuff going for a certain period of time and then it loses some of its luster. And just me, I had a kid and that was a different scene. It took a lot of energy away from it- I couldn't be as dedicated to the cause.

PSF: Have you ever thought about doing an anthology for Forced Exposure?

Yeah, we've talked about it extensively but... What we'd really like to do is The Complete with a lot of additional interviews and articles. So it gets into a real size quandary 'cause it's like 1,000,000 words.

PSF: You could do it in volumes.

I know. We'll get something worked out. You know, people have a process about different things. At some point, it would probably happen. There's some people who really don't want their stuff reprinted for a variety of reasons. For some of it, their juvenilia is embarrassing to them for whatever reason. But yeah, we'd be entertained to do it. I did a thing where I got all of the reviews in alphabetical, chronological order. I could reformat that stuff 'cause we used to have embedded, HTML-type code formatting for everything. You know- 'turn on bold, turn on italics.' This was early word processing stuff.

PSF: Did you ever think about doing a zine after that?

(pauses) The idea has occasionally arisen. Thurston and I were talking about doing something at one point but the reality of it has never really come to being. We doing the Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal for a while. But in terms of music stuff, we were talking about doing a music thing but there's only so many hours in a day. That's the thing.

PSF: How did you first meet up with Thurston?

I corresponded with him before I met him when he was doing Killer (zine). Then he would send me the records. I met him on his first trip to the West Coast and he came out with Kim to maybe meet her parents. He came into Rhino Records with Jack Rabid so that's when I met him, around '82 or '83. It was one of those things. They lived on Eldridge Street for a long time and so I'd just sort of keep in touch with him. And then I moved back east in '84 and that's when Jimmy and I really got the Forced Exposure thing started so we went down to interview them. And we sort of hung out and that started to be the place when Jimmy and I would come down to New York- they'd say 'oh, you could stay here any time.' It was a real small place so one guy would be on the couch and one guy would be on the floor. It was a walk up in a Chinatown. And you'd stand outside and Kim would throw down a sock with the key in it.

We just got along really well. We were into a lot of the same stuff. Those guys were really into science fiction revival that was going on then. It was just one of those things where we were all on the same wavelength. So we just started hanging out. Then we saw them play a lot and different things like that. The record (Bad Moon Rising) came out on Homestead then and we were pretty tight with Gerard (Cosloy) and all that scene. The first thing Gerard had written for was Take It. And Jimmy had known them since they were both coming up about the same time. When Paul Smith came along from the Blast First thing, he was going to put out a Forced Exposure book at one point. He'd give us gigs and I'd do an interview album and different stuff like that. So it was one of those things. And Thurston wanted to do this label stuff so Jimmy did it with him for a while- he just helped him with the nuts and bolts of doing different stuff. It just went along and it was always where we stayed when were in New York. So we just ended up spending a lot of time together and going to different stuff. And then when I moved out to the Western part of Massachusetts in '90, they would stay with us when they were in Boston and Kim and Thurston would come up for weekends. Then when they had a kid, their daughter and our daughter were born two weeks apart so they'd come up all the time and we'd have baby fights. (laughs) Not really though. They ended up renting a house up there and then they ended up moving out there. And Thurston and I would have different projects going together and a lot of them were sort of one-off different things...

See Part III of our Byron Coley interview


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