Perfect Sound Forever

BYRON COLEY


New York City, circa 2004: Soundstage, Central Park
"with" Thurston & Monica Lewinsky. photoshopped by Bill Dwight

Interview by Jason Gross, Part 3


PSF: What kind of one-off projects were you doing with Thurston?

Ecstatic Peace Records. We did the Red Transistor one- he really wanted to and didn't have the money so I paid for it, even though it was on Ecstatic Peace. Just different kinds of things like that. I did some bootleg LP's with him. He would do his own stuff or he would do stuff with other people but he and I would just sort of do stuff together. He really started getting into jazz... We were really into the same junk, basically. Both of our wives got along really well and both of them tolerated all that kind of stuff. (laughs) We got to start this store because we'd been telling both of them (Kim and Byron's wife)... we'd been bringing home all these records and we lived in these smaller places and they'd really complain. We'd always go "Oh, this is just stuff for the store." And after a few years of that, they both simultaneously said: "Where is this STORE of which you speak?" So we actually started a store. They sort of called our bluff. (laughs) So we did that and it still continues to some degree... We were both also into this weird 60's poetry stuff. It was just sort of parallel play kind of stuff. You just meet people you get along with sometimes.

Work was the same way- there are people who have a ton of projects going and I get along with people like that really well because we understand each other. I have a harder time getting along with people who don't have a million balls up in the air at once. They really don't understand the dynamics of... "No, I really don't wanna just sit around." If I get into a hammock, I get really antsy! It's like Kim and Thurston would come down and we'd vacation together. Thurston would get really (restless).

PSF: How have things changed over the years with the way that you and Thurston work together on projects?

Well, there are different things we do together. We do writing stuff together which we've done for a while. We've talked a lot about it before we actually did it. We were thinking that we'd start a music column that we could syndicate to weeklies and right when we were trying to figure out how to do that, Arthur magazine started. Thurston had a done a column for Mean, which Jay Babcock had been with before he started Arthur. So he told Jay that he was thinking about doing a music column with me so we thought we'd do it for Arthur and it'll only last for a couple of issues and then we'll have some tear sheets which we can send out and try to figure it out. But then it (Arthur) kept going.

I hope to go back to freelancing. It's satisfying to have printed copy, at least for me.

PSF: How do you guys decide on projects that you want to work on?

One person just gets really enthusiastic about it. But he's got a lot of other stuff he does as collaborations with other people that handle this stuff. There's certain things that seem better orientated towards that stuff. There's things that we know we're both interested in. But he's got this new book publishing thing (Ecstatic Peace Library) that I think is gonna take a lot of his time. We were talking about starting a new archival vinyl label only too, for no wave things and stuff like that.

PSF: How do you decide to split up the work between the two of you?

It's really kind of organic. Generally, if there's a record-type project, usually, one person organizes it and does most of the stuff. We just decide we're gonna do it and then one person has to... You really can't have too many cooks in that, 'cause the physical work on most of that stuff is not particularly arduous or long. You just decide you're gonna do it, you put the stuff together and then you just do it. So generally, one person ends up doing more of that and it could be either of us. Generally, it's whoever comes up with the idea and it's like 'do you wanna do this as a collaboration thing?' What that actually means is that sometimes, they really are collaborations, sometimes it's like 'you can put your logo up here too.' For the writing things, he'll do some and I'll do some. Generally, I'll do the final edit on stuff. We'll just bounce stuff (around). With the Internet, it's like crazy to bounce stuff back and forth. A lot of writing stuff, maybe I'll do the bulk of the stuff and then send it to him and he'll futz around with it and change some of it and edit it and send it back to me. So those things have a tendency to have both of our hands on it. Although occasionally, I can't do something. I don't have the time or he doesn't have the time. And then one of us will do it and we'll still put both (names) on it.

You know, I used to do written interviews for Kim...

PSF: You mean that you would answer her questions for her in some interviews?

Yeah. She would send them (the questions) to me and I would answer the questions for her. I'd send the answers back to her and if she wanted to change anything, she'd change it.

PSF: How often did you do that?

Oh, I don't know... A few times. I managed Free Kitten so it was more during that era. I knew what she would say but she didn't want to take the time to do it. So I'd say "do you want me to make a lot of stuff up?" I would do these press releases for their records and I would make up all this shit. And people would be asking about it in interviews. "Oh, so this is the second part of a trilogy...!" (laughs) And she'd say "Oh no, not all all." "But it says in the bio...!" And she'd say "Oh, this guy just made that up..."

It was the same with (J.) Mascis. I would write all of Dinosaur Jr.'s press material. And I would just absolutely totally fabricate everything.

PSF: But it probably worked 'cause it got them recognition.

Yeah. I mean, with Thurston, if my name is gonna be on something that he actually did, I'm not really worried about it. He knows me. He's got a pretty good idea of what I'd do anyway. I've got a pretty good idea of what he would do. Even if one of us did something (different), it would be like, "who cares really?" It's not gonna sully our reputations very much. You're just on to the next thing already anyway!

PSF: How did the Yod record label come about?

The first thing I put out on that was a Spacemen 3. It was originally going to be on Forced Exposure Records. But right when we were getting ready to put it out, they signed an American deal with a label. So it was gonna be conflict if we were gonna sell it as a Forced Exposure thing. And we didn't wanna get a licensing thing from the label. So I thought 'fuck, I'll just put another name on it.' I'd been doing a radio show under the name Father Yod so I just decided to do it as 'Father Yod Presents.' So I put that one out and for a long time, that was the only one. But then, at a certain point... Some of the stuff I'd put out, I put out on different labels. There's some Twisted Village Records that I put out and for Forced Exposure Records, Ecstatic Peace Records...

But at some point then, it was like, "Oh well, I should really have a label for other stuff that I can put out." So that label (Yod) already existed and I already had a logo for it so I just did that. At the time, people didn't know much about the Father Yod stuff so at the time, it wasn't really problematic. Later on, it became a little bit more confusing for people I think if they (the actual Father Yod band) did stuff. But it was just a label. A lot of stuff initially were collaborative things and so it was something from Ecstatic Peace and Father Yod. And then once we opened the store, we decided 'oh maybe we'll start doing some stuff as Ecstatic Yod.' I know that it's actually pronounced "YOWD" but I will never take that route! (laughs)

PSF: Did you ever consider an aesthetic for the Yod label?

(pauses) My feeling for the label has been that if anybody else ever wanted to put it out, they should put it out. I really only put out stuff that nobody else wanted to put out.

PSF: Right, but even in that framework, you still chose certain things that you thought were right for you. What was it about the material you chose to release that made you want to work on it?

Well... I don't know if there's really a kind of integrated aesthetic. Some of the releases are related in terms of stylistic stuff. But other ones are not. The only thing that they have in common is a kind of marginal relationship to popular music! (laughs)

The thing is that I have a really strong belief in the idea that there's an aesthetic that developed in the post-war period that's really this kind of this underground concept that touches a lot of different things in different media and in different countries and in a lot of different ways. And that's the stuff that interests me. And in a way, it's all connected. I've been trying to come up with sort of a unified field theory for this stuff but there's this single, I'm spacing on the title now, with a line like "I have to live my life in the world of the underground" is the chorus to it. I sort of feel that way- my underground, right or wrong! (laughs) It's just stuff that really appeals to me in a way that if it's not appealing to someone else in the same way, that they feel compelled to put it out, that sort of makes it more interesting to me. And then historical stuff also. But it's much more about fitting into a wide conceptual background than anything specifically more stylistic. So whether it's even an aesthetic is questionable.

PSF: How did your war with Robert Christgau start out?

Well... I think what must have really came first was that he would write really negative stuff about Sonic Youth in the Voice. In fact, it was just stupid. And so when we (Forced Exposure) did a single with them (Sonic Youth) in '85, it was "Kill Your Idols." And so, without them know it, I retitled the song: "I Killed Christgau With My Big Fucking Dick." And he was really not amused. And I guess I can understand why, although you know, why anybody would really care... It was just sort of funny, I thought. And it was a "OK, you killed me, I'll kill you" sort of thing. And then I actually recorded an anti-Christgau spoken word thing also that came out on a 7 inch.

The whole 'Dean' thing rubbed me the wrong way. And the fact that he thought... His Consumer Guide was extremely useful for a lot of stuff. But I always thought "Who cares about this mainstream shit?" I don't give a fuck about most of that stuff, at all. And at that, I was writing a lot more reviews than he was. We weren't reviewing any of the same records, at all. I just thought that the (Guide's) format was interesting and the short review thing was good and he obviously knew... But who CARES about an Ashford & Simpson record or something like that? It just didn't resonate with me at all. So you do a couple of things like that and you get on somebody's bad side... So he wouldn't let me write for the Voice when he was music editor. Although when Doug Simmons became music editor, I wrote for them pretty regularly for a while. But then when Chuck Eddy came in, I was out again. And he sort of encouraged Eddy to sort of go after the Forced Exposure aesthetic- that big 'pig fucker' story. That kind of stuff is fine...

It's like that Ernest Borgnine-Lee Marvin movie Emperor of the North Pole. Who's gonna be the king of the fanzines or the king of the rock critics or something like that? And it's NOTHING. You're king of nothing! Dean of Rock Critics? It's like being Dean of Shitville. Being a rock critic is like the lowest fucking peg on anybody's poll. So I've never understood... although it's fun to get in fanzine wars and all that stuff but I don't really get why... There's no turf. What's the pay off of being master of this particular universe? I don't believe that there is one. Maybe unless you really get a lot of free records but you don't even get that anymore- you get downloads. So there's not even that inducement. It's not like chicks dig rock critics. What ELSE is it? Band you don't like will be friendly to you? You do it because you have to and it's really a liability more than anything else, more than a vocation.

PSF: So did this battle come down to a truce or a draw?

He and I don't really run in the same (circles). We may run into each other maybe at a Holy Modal Rounders gig or something. That would be about the only time our worlds would rub. I think it was really stupid of the Voice to get rid of him. I mean, why would they? I mean I felt bad about that, although I think his NPR gig as hideous as anybody's. Well, maybe not (as bad as) Milo Miles, who is like the worst. I mean, Milo Miles wrote the worst record review I've ever read, of the first Gun Club album for the New York Rocker. I tried to KILL that review but they wouldn't let kill it. You know, for Christgau, I'm sure he's fine.

The only times I made any money doing this was when I was really writing a lot for Spin and when I was on the staff as an editor (late '80's). I was there until Bob (Guiccione Jr., publisher) decided that there was no underground.

PSF: I remember that you told me that Spin wanted to do a Beefheart special and they were leery about it unless you had a big name from that time to hitch onto it. So they suggested "why don't you talk to Beck, and get a quote?" (Note: after first hearing that story, I suggested to Byron that we start a zine called "Talk To Beck," where we would just get his opinion about everything)

Yeah... That was crazy. That was when Craig Marks was the editor, who I'd known for a really long time. He used to be Gerard's (Cosloy) assistance at Homestead. So it was the 25th anniversary of Trout Mask. I talked to literally everybody who played on the record, engineered, did the art, all that stuff. And all they could say after I turned it in was "Oh yeah... could you get some quotes from Beck about this record?" It was like...! (awe-struck look) And I had even gotten a quote from Matt Groening, which I thought, "Oh, it's OK 'cause it's him" and I had known him since the L.A. Reader days. And it was "Oh well, what about Beck? What do you think? He must like this record..." I was like "OH CHRIST!!!"

PSF: How did you like working for Spin otherwise at that time?

It was kind of weird. I started writing for them... I wrote a Sonic Youth piece for them that was actually supposed to be in the first issue but it got held for a few issues. And I wrote for them regularly up til... I wrote features for them and reviews. They kept on churning through editors though so I never really knew who the editors were. And these were the fax days so I'd fax in copy and I wouldn't even know whose attention to put it to necessarily. And Richard Gehr was there for a while. It was a bunch of people who I knew who went through.

When Andrea Enthal left, I took over the 'Underground' column and then they expanded it. There was an 'Underground' section. So I was doing that and the people who were the editors did whatever they did. But I think that at a certain point... I never talked to Bob at all. I never had to go to the office. I would occasionally go in and drop stuff off. I never saw him except from a distance. And he would occasionally... I would be talking to an editor and he would like burst onto the phone. "Oh man, it was really capital!" At one point, he killed one of my columns. I used to write a thing where what I'd do is an overview of somebody's career. And I one time I did Meltzer's, and they were like "No, you can't do this."

PSF: Because...?

I don't know! They could never really figure it out. So I had to redo it. But I think that then it sort of got on his radar. And so then, what they must have looked at is whether there was any ad revenue coming in from anybody that I mentioned. (laughs) And I don't think there was, even though tons of people would write me about it. "Oh, it's really cool to read this stuff. I live in Iowa and it's nice that I can read about this stuff from the 7-11 where I pick it up." And that was always my goal with that- just to write about a bunch of different stuff. Put all the info in there so that people would at least know that there was something else going on. I thought it worked pretty well but then he just said "The underground does not exist." That was his quote. This was about '91.

PSF: Right around when Nirvana blew up.

Yeah, right before Nirvana broke. I mean, it's... (exasperated) pretty weird. He was convinced that there was no (underground). So, whatever...

PSF: After that, what were some of the best places that you enjoyed writing for?

The fanzine guys were always nice 'cause they never changed anything! They were just happy to get copy. So they were all good.

The hardest was working for the Voice. They would do these line edits where I'd spent two hours on the phone with Doug Simmons, going over every comma.

PSF: Would about Pulse (Tower Records' magazine)? What did you think of working for them?

Most of those places would just call me up and I'd just send it in. A lot of times I gotta say that I don't really read the stuff after it comes out. Whatever they do to it is generally fine with me as long as I don't talk to them too much about it. It is weird that people change stuff sometimes without letting you know but generally, it's fine. I mean, when I lived in L.A., Richard Gehr was the editor at the (L.A.) Reader and Matt Groening was the associate music editor. Those guys were always great to do stuff with.

PSF: What about writing the UK magazines? It seems like you've had a pretty good relationship with The Wire for instance.

Yeah, I've done that column for about ten years now. Well, I hadn't written anything for a while after the Spin gig stopped and Forced Exposure stopped.

PSF: Why?

Well, I had a kid and all this other stuff to do. And without regular outlets, it's like... freelance writing is just like sales gigs. And then at some point, I decided that I wanted to start writing again so I was like "Oh, who would I write for?" And I thought "The Wire and MOJO." So I got in touch with both of them and at that time, they were like "Oh yeah, sure." So I just started doing stuff for both of them. And then MOJO changed a lot of their policy stuff as time went along. The reviews would keep getting shorter and shorter and shorter! And then they made a purge of most non-English writers so that was just the way it went.

For The Wire, I just always make my deadlines. They try to get me to write more stuff than I generally write.

PSF: They're pretty nice people to work for.

Yeah, they are. I mean the pay isn't very good although the pound is high enough now that it feels better.

PSF: But I found that they don't muck around with copy a lot.

No, although... on the features, I've run into stuff. I did a Victoriaville piece once where I started off with this fantasy-like sequence where (laughs) the people rioted while Wolf Eyes were playing and they went out and were burning cars in the parking lot. And then Anthony Braxton came out and tore off his shirt and he had a Wolf Eyes t-shirt on. And they all stopped. And they were just like "We can't run this!" And I said "Oh, but that's my favorite part..."

It seems that mostly when I do features for them, they're like "this is too long." They'll have it where they have six pages for it and then it'll be like "we only have four." You'll be like "EHHHH!" (angry) And they put in those English spellings. But they're generally nice to work for. I went over there once and met them all so that was good.

PSF: Why did you chose Northampton to live in?

My wife grew up around there and I went to college around there. I always liked the area. Because she grew up around there, she never wanted to move out that way 'cause it was just too much. There was a lot of family stuff. But we were living in the Boston area and we were going to have a kid so we wanted to get out of the city. That was within shouting distance. Originally, Jimmy was going to come out with us too- we were going to keep Forced Exposure going from a remote location. It was just a nice area and it was cheaper to live there. You're out of the country but there's enough stuff going on because the college doesn't make it feel totally isolated. And it's a quick shot to New York, not bad to Boston. And it was an area that we both knew pretty well. We were able to find a place out there that was reasonably priced to rent. We were really jammed into our place in Boston. It's an area that I like pretty much. I don't know where else we would have gone. We wanted to stay in the Northeast and we just wanted to get out of the city. So if you're going to get out of the city, there are different places you can go but by that time also, her family stuff was different- her grandmother was sick so maybe that figured in. It's a nice enough area.

PSF: So Kim and Thurston had the same idea when they moved out to that area too?

Yeah, well they had just resigned with Geffen so they had a bonus or something like that. And their thought was "We can find a bigger place in New York now." So they looked all around and it was going to cost a lot to find another place in New York, especially one that was bigger. They were up visiting us one time. They saw the place in one of those real estate books but they couldn't see it. So Lili and I went over and looked at it for them. We said "it's nice." It was relatively cheap enough that they could keep their place in New York, buy that, fix it up and it would still be less than getting a new, bigger place in Manhattan. And they happened to buy it right at the moment that the market was most down. So it turned out good. And their apartment was so jammed in those days. Their manager had boxers of Thurston's records over there. It was like everywhere so they really wanted a place where they could spread out a little bit. And then for Koko (their daughter) to go to school out of the city and all that kind of stuff. But I think when she's through school and they'll probably downsize.

See Part IV of our Byron Coley interview


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