Perfect Sound Forever

Lynda Stipe: Oh OK

Interview by Jason Gross

PSF: What music were you listening to before you were in a band?

We lived in mid-America (east of St. Louis) when I was a teenager. There was fun, new wave stuff going on there. I had a big brother and sister who would take me out. I really got into Ian Dury and a lot of the British stuff that was going on. I was also a huge Cars fan. (laughs) I was just a kid and I just loved it. Athens really drove that home because it's so musically inclined here. So I was coming out of new wave mid-America into... a bad preppy high school, really boring. But the town scene was really fun.

PSF: How so?

Everybody played something. And everybody was into everybody else's band, which seems to be happening again now. Just hanging out with the Side Effects and other people that played around town. It was really, really forward-moving and optimistic. It didn't matter if you could play or not.

PSF: So it was a self-contained, local scene?

Oh yeah. Really powerful. Lots of sharing, lots of encouragement. Anybody could play.

PSF: Why did you decided to throw yourself into the fray?

Actually, my brother needed an opening band for one of his splinter groups. Me and Hopper were friends so we were like 'We could do that!' I'd been farting around on bass and started writing. I think we opened with four songs at the original 40 Watt (Club). It was probably around '80.

PSF: Those songs were the ones on the first EP?

Yeah, it was "Lilting" and probably "Brother." Then my memory lapses...

PSF: How did you come up with those songs?

"Lilting" was my very first song, aside from some childish ramblings early on. Actually the first song I ever wrote, I remember it was about stepping on raining poodles and squishing them into little noodles. (laughs) "Lilting" was only 59 seconds- the bane of disc jockey's existence. I just threw myself in there and started doing it. Coming out naturally. It was really fun and it seemed really easy.

PSF: On that EP, the songs are brief and they have an innocent, child-like nature to them.

Well, I was about 16 so I was still pretty much a kid when I wrote those. When Oh OK started, I was a freshman at the University of Georgia. I was hanging out downtown and on campus. I was a definite loafer. People had music studios down there. I was always really into nursery rhymes and stuff like that. At the same time, I was into real visceral stuff too. I still am. I have a huge biology collection. (laughs) Lots of fossils and things floating in formaldehyde.

PSF: So that influenced you too?

Yeah, biology in general. It was one of my very favorite things. I continue to write about it.

PSF: What was it about Linda that made you want to work with her?

I think we were just both there and we were like 'Wow, we could do this.' She's really charismatic. She fell right into it too. It seemed to come really naturally to her as well. It was mainly the two of us and David Pierce (drummer) was around so he joined in after that. That very first show with the four songs was so excited. It was like 'why not?' Plus, Pylon almost immediately took us under their wing and took us up to New York right after that. We played the Peppermint Lounge.

PSF: Why didn't you sing your songs yourself?

Linda was willing and good at it. I didn't mind singing back up. I really think that the main factor was that I couldn't sing really well and play at the same time.

PSF: Could you talk about recording the first EP?

I remember that we did it in Atlanta. The soundperson was like 'WHO ARE YOU?' We were so starry-eyed. We had already hooked up with DB (Records) and he already had Pylon by then. So that must be how we did it. We probably did it all in a couple of days. For "Person," I had to roll Linda over a barrel to get her to sing the lyrics. (laughs) They were embarrassing. She hated that "I-I-I-I-I" thing. But then she ended up liking it.

PSF: In the original band you had, there was no guitar. That was pretty unique.

Hopper was going to play around with it but it was working out fine without it. Actually, even now all my bands tend to be a little bottom-heavy. Now, I'm on cello and then there's the bass. Double basses were always really cool. We really didn't care much (about not having a guitar) but we got a lot of slack from soundmen. First, we were girls and I played the bass like a girl, barely hitting the thing. (laughs) So they were like 'Where's the guitar? That's it, huh?' Oh well.

PSF: How did you hook up with Pylon?

It was the same old scene thing. I'd been dancing to them for I don't know how long. They were fantastic. They saw us and liked us and took us on up there. I remember that show up there. It was SO soon after that first show down here. The soundpeople didn't want to give us a soundcheck. I remember them (Pylon) being like 'If they can't, we don't wanna play.' That's how supportive they were. We were like 'Wow, cool!' so we got a sound check.

PSF: Playing in New York gave you good exposure then?

Yeah, it definitely did. We just kept going from there.

PSF: Around that time, your brother had settled into R.E.M.. Was that encouraging to you to see him do well with his band?

Sure. I was there for the very first show, which was down at the church. He used to take me out, like he did in mid-America, to the parties. He would pick me up at Burger King in my uniform and take me out. It was real exciting and was fun.

PSF: Was there a feeling then that the local music scene was getting recognition in other places?

I'm sure we all felt the focus. It seemed really easy. You did anything and someone would pay attention to you. It was WAY too easy. We didn't have to do much of anything. It was only later that we had to work at it.

PSF: Did you feel there was some kind of common thread or aesthetic between the bands?

They do all sound so different... But they all seem to be pretty simplistic. I would say pretty optimistic at the same time too.

PSF: What was happening with the band between the release of the first and second EP?

We played out some and caught up with Let's Active (Mitch Easter's band) and started playing with them. I actually know where his board is from his old Drive-In Studio. It's here in town and it's hilarious to see it now- it's just a couple of buttons. There was something before Matthew (Sweet) playing guitar for us- a guy named David Thompson. At that point, we also picked up David McNair (drummer). Brian Cook was in there playing keyboards for a while. After that, Matthew joined. He just breezed into town- he liked the scene and moved here. We started doing recordings at his apartment 'cause he was one of the only people with a 4-track in town. That was pretty exciting- field recording at home.

PSF: With the second EP, how did the recording go?

We definitely were a little more savvy at that point. It was fun. It was up at Mitch Easter's studio. His mom would have donuts for everybody- it was really sweet. Real, real homey. He was way open. We didn't get the kind of slack that we did from other people. He is such a great musician and he is so into everything. Anything we could come up with as far as sound, we could try out there.

PSF: The songs on that EP seemed a little more mature.

It was interesting working with Matthew because he opened up some ideas as far as writing hooks and stuff. I was definitely wanting to get into some more intricate writing, which could be a bane I suppose. But you can write so simple for so long. If I really had my druthers, what I'm always trying to go after is something really simplistic but pretty complex. We had grown up by then too. I was 19 at that point. I'd been around town and gotten into my share of trouble. (laughs) I'd grown up a lot by that time.

PSF: Any favorites from that EP?

I love "Such N' Such." It was just about parties and there was a lot of drag going on all the time. "Elaine's Song" was written when my sister was staying with me. She's got a really good head for melodies and I woke up with that song and recorded it into her 'cause I didn't have a hand recorder. That's one that wrote itself.

PSF: "Choucoutian" is really pretty too.

Yeah, my last band used to cover that. That was with David Thompson and that comes straight out of a dream that really, really terrifying. It was had Nazis and shit in it!

PSF: What kind of reception did that record get?

Pretty good. Most people agreed with what you said. Some people might have missed the simplicity of the first record. We seemed to do pretty good with college music stations, getting picked up. We sold alright. Of course, we've never seen anything from what we've sold.

PSF: Did you tour a lot?

We did East coast type of stuff. Florida to New York. But we never went out West. We were definitely grown up, not quite as WHEE! anymore. But it was still fun. We did the circuit from North to South and we had friends in every town. They were all really into the scene so you had a kind of built in audience.

PSF: Was the band tighter?

Yeah, for sure. We could play our instruments somewhat at that point.

PSF: Why did the band break up?

We were down in Florida and Lynn Blakely had been playing with us too. She was on guitar at that point- Matthew was way gone. Things were kind of bummer. I remember that Linda and Lynn were playing together and they decided that they wanted to do a band. That's the way it went. Maybe things weren't going that hot then.

PSF: Were you sad about that?

Yeah, I was pretty upset about it. Maybe it was the best thing in the end 'cause it wasn't like we were just getting started. It was the first band break-up I've ever had. I've had a million since (then). (laughs) It's like the first love thing.

PSF: What did you do after Oh OK?

At that point, me and my boyfriend started playing some stuff that was tending a lot towards the harder. I ended up in a band called the Babbling and I played with the Shirleys for a while around the mid-80's. There might be a few demos floating around but nothing to really sink your teeth into. I was trying out some different instruments. I was playing keyboards for a while. Just playing around with stuff.

PSF: How did Hetch Hetchy come about?

Sometimes here in town, they called us Retch Retchy. (laughs) I may as well be honest! I think it was another boyfriend thing- Jay Totty. He played guitar and I started messing around with some stuff though I was still on bass. I became the main singer there, still writing melodies and lyrics. That was pretty great, to be able to concentrate. I could play and sing better at that point.

PSF: It seemed a lot different from Oh OK.

I think I was starting to get interested in strings. I really wanted to compose. I was happy with the way that my lyrics and melodies were going but I wanted to write real songs, like actually compose songs that weren't so elementary.

PSF: Did you think that the first album (Swollen) more developed than the EP?

Yeah, for sure. It's completely different people. The first one was a little harder maybe. I'm pretty proud of Swollen being at the time what I wanted to write. Getting into bunches of different sounds and arrangements and really writing things that would keep my interest for a long time.

PSF: Did Tim Summer (Hugo Largo, producer) played a big part in that?

He had been supportive from day one. He knew me back in Oh OK. I remember there being tensions up there with that but I remember him being a good producer overall. We partied the whole time up in that studio in Boston actually.

PSF: What happened with Hetch Hetchy then?

We started doing a record in Athens and then we broke up in '91. It's never been released. Me and my boyfriend broke up. That's happened a lot of times! (laughs) It's my history. We were going to try to keep it going but it didn't really work out. I ended up playing with a bunch of people that had been playing with Hetch Hetchy. I did Sumac, which was an all-girl acappella band, around the early '90's. It was a kind of side thing to Hetch Hetchy 'cause I wanted to work on some more vocal stuff. These women were really, really talented. One of them, Anne, was in a band the Causeyway. So there was four of us and it was really fun- there was stuff like bird calls going on. We played quite a few dates in Florida. One of the girls took our songs and released them for us. We didn't have any say-so but it was a pretty good record. That kind of went into another band that I had up here called Organ Grinder. It was another all-girl group. It was lots of female vocals, chamber voices with violin, drums, bass, keyboards. That was from '93 to about '94. We did play out a bit and we recorded here in town but we didn't release anything. We broke up before we did that. Another pattern! (laughs)

PSF: What were you doing after that?

I started doing computer stuff. I hermitted for a while. I was a little burned out because of all the break-ups and stuff. I thought 'the main thing is that I want to compose.' So I had to find that excellent person to compose with. Until then, I just got software and recorded myself. I got a good keyboard and recording machine. I held up in a room for a while and learned all that stuff. I wanted to write string parts and print them out and give them to people to play them once I was ready to come out of the room.

PSF: You did, I hope.

I did. I played with the guys from Macha for a while about '94, '95. We did record. I might have played with them before. Tim Hankins on violas and the two brothers from Macha and my friend Angie Grass, who we continue playing with after that. That was kind of like Hetch Hetchy with the Organ Grinder type of intense vocals. Those guys have some really intense rhythms going on. When we went to New Orleans, we all recorded our own songs so it was kind of slipshod with a lot of composers, a lot of cooks in the kitchen.

PSF: Did you have another band right after that?

No, I did another hermitage with Angie Grass then. We hung out and we kept writing stuff, a ton of songs. Then I got with the guys from Empire State, which is a band here in town. They also have a lot of homemade instruments and strings and stuff. Then that one broke up so I went back to the room.

PSF: Back to the drawing board.

Yeah. (laughs) Now, I have about fifty songs that I'm trying to get played. That's where I'm at now.

PSF: But I heard you have a new band that you're working with now.

Yeah, it's Flash to Bang Time. We're constantly writing and I'll reach back and beg them to play one of my favorite songs that I've already written. They'll do it for me most of the time. This band's changed quite a bit already, with personnel. We've had a new bass and viola player but we're pretty settled now. For this band, I wanted to get the string going more in a percussion type of way. So they're being played melodically and percussively. That's what I'm doing on the cello. I think it's a pretty new thing that we've latched on to here. It's almost this weird classic kind of rock. It's not classical rock though.

PSF: What plans do you have with the band?

We've been doing home recordings. All that time I've been learning that computer stuff came in handy. I'm not a great engineer but the machine I got makes me way better than I am. We've recorded six songs here. They're going to be coming out this month, self-released, hoping we'll be picked up. The production name is Sinus Records. Get it?

PSF: Yeah, that's cute.

I like it. (laughs) The Team Clermont is a promotion group down here and they're going to send it to the radio stations. People seem to be listening to them.

PSF: What have you learned through being in all those bands?

(pauses) I think the main thing I've figured out is that no matter if I'm a hermit or whatever, once I started playing that bass back in '80, it was something that I couldn't stop doing once I started doing it. So I can't go without doing music. I think I'm just continuing to learn. Like now, I'm (on) cello. I'm not on bass anymore. With anything I've ever played, I can't say I've been very good as far as a player goes. But it's the spirit that counts. I'm still writing things and they're real exciting to me and they're very diverse. That's the main thing- to keep myself interested.

PSF: Do you think your perspective's changed in your songwriting?

I can't say it's all that different, except for wanting to write more complex stuff just to keep myself interested. I'm still really into songs writing themselves. Still really into the real simplistic writing as long as it stays interesting. And making things as different as possible from one to the next. I don't want any of my songs to sound like the next one. I'm think I'm doing alright in that department.

ALSO SEE some of Lynda's favorite music
and our Linda Hopper interview

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER