Perfect Sound Forever

Would You Let Your Daughter Date A Mooney Suzuki?

Sammy James Junior
Photo courtesy of Mike Fornatale

By Will Shade (February 2001)

Not many bands can brag about bettering the Chocolate Watch Band on stage. The Mooney Suzuki might have done just that at the legendary garage festival, Cavestomp, in 1999 when they opened for the mythic Aguilar & Co. To be absolutely fair, the CWB did something that borders on heresy in the garage world. They played new material at said show. Garage fans are a notoriously conservative lot. If songs donít smack of outright Yardbirds and/or Pretty Things Xeroxes, they donít wanna hear it. Nonetheless, the Mooney Suzuki reminded a jaded Big Apple crowd just what rock íní roll is really about, i.e. violent exuberance and an ass-shaking groove.

Donít let the fact that Canís two lead singers, Malcolm Mooney and Damo Suzuki, somehow figure into the bandís name scare you off. The Mooney Suzukiís music is instantly accessible and danceable. Further, they have a sterling pedigree, using ancient British Invaders as springboards into a new millennium. Their first album, People Get Ready, is the best debut from an American band since the Flat Duo Jetsí eponymous disc a decade ago. And itís almost as primitive. Thank the garage gods for that.

The Mooney Suzukiís debut is a fine first album, but it doesnít quite capture the sound and fury of the band on stage. These guys, who are just now entering their twenties, are the most exciting act on this side of the Atlantic. The only young band that matches their ferocity in a live context is Swedenís the Strollers.

Recently, Perfect Sound Forever, caught up with the Mooney Suzukiís singer/guitarist, Sammy James Junior, mid-way through a gruelling American tour. Sam shared his thoughts on a wide range of subjects, displaying a thorough knowledge of pop history and a keen wit.


PSF: Whatís the Mooney Suzuki all about?

 SJJ: The Mooney Suzuki plays the music of the future. The Mooney Suzuki plays the music for the people to get up and dance to. And sway. And clap their hands. In an age where the current musical climate is about sweating from frustration and/or constipation, the Mooney Suzuki music is about sweat from celebration and rhythmic elation . . .

PSF: Was the British Invasion an influence? Or does your sound spring up directly from American garage rock? Are you comfortable with the garage tag or does it feel limiting?

SJJ: We are fascinated by many chapters of the rock'n'roll saga . . . begining with folk blues and Delta blues, then the young British guitar hotshots madly inspired by U.S. blues artists, then the American teenagers' inept attempts to mimic the Brits in their folks' garages, and on into the í70's with the U.S. and U.K. punk movements. We dig listening to the Heartbreakers as much as Muddy Waters, and I think we're influenced by the entire spectrum in spirit.

Musically however, yes, we are definately attempting to ape the British Invasion bands. "Let's try a Yardbird's thing here," or "You know how Pete Townshend does that thing?" or "That part is too much a Kinks rip-off, let's change just a few more notes to avoid legal action . . ."

In that sense I feel "garage" isn't innacurate. We're an American group emulating the great British bands. I guess our degree of ineptitude is yet to be determined . . . of course we get the "MC5/Stooges" comparison thing, and we love those records and again are influenced in spirit, but we conciously try not to sound "Detroit" or "í70's."

PSF: Any noticeable difference between your live performance and studio recordings?

Well there was a lot less blood loss and injury during the recording process than on stage. Over the past two years we've built a reputation on the strength of our live show, so there's the challenge - how does a "live band" get the appeal of the show on to a record? Well I was prepared not to try, to go into the studio and just see what happens. But (producer) Tim Kerr, being the wizard of sound, told us we were gonna put that live show onto a record, and he kicked us in the ass with his boot and made us sweat blood in the studio. Does it compare? I couldn't tell you ícause Iíve never seen us live! I look forward to the day when we have the resources to spend time in a studio and discover what makes the Mooney Suzuki the Mooney Suzuki in the studio the same way we discovered what makes us us on stage, but with folks like Tim around to slap us around the head, neck and chest, and kick our ass all over the studio, I feel we're in good hands.

PSF: Are you guys totally into vintage equipment and recording technology? What brand do you you play? What year?

I'd like to think we're not gear snobs. I play a $200 dollar Univox Mosrite copy and a $300 Mexican Telecaster. On the other hand, I think you owe it to your audience to be conscious of tone and timbre. We are obviously going for a certain sound. To not put forth the extra effort to evoke that sound would be selling the listeners short. To me, playing the kind of music we play through "modern" rock gear would be like shooting High Plains Drifter with Clint Eastwood in sweatpants and a windbreaker.

PSF: Who are the bandís influences?

Well as I said, the original American blues/r&b artists. The British Invasion groups. The proto-punk groups (MC5/Stooges), the N.Y.C. groups (V.U./Heartbreakers/Ramones) - I mean, that's the body of music I guess you could say "informs" the Mooney Suzuki's sound. We listen to so much other music as well, and I think it all influences you in some way.

PSF: Who are your personal influences?

A list way too long to flaunt the hubris to even try to accurately complete - I'll try for three: 1) David Lee Roth (a.k.a. - Diamond Dave) his creedo "make sure that every moment is a perfect photograph" has been taken to heart quite passionately by the Mooney Suzuki. 2) James Brown - the hardest working man in showbusiness. James is the blueprint for a vast majority of the Mooney Suzuki's principles and motivations. Open up the door, I'll get it myself.  3) Crispin Glover - um, have you seen Back To The Future?

PSF: Whatís your favorite recreational drug/drink?

In each town play an instore, then play a show, then leave immediately after the show to drive all night to make it to the next city's instore, then repeat, without a day off, from May to November - does echinacia count as a recreational drug?

PSF: Who do you guys feel competitive with?

James Brown, Otis Redding, Sly Stone.

PSF: Do you like analog or digital better? Mono or stereo?

We're really into the perfect signal of digital mono.

PSF: Did you record the album as an album, or did you have a singles-oriented approach when entering the studio?

As an album.

PSF: What do you think about the garage band revival? Why do you think thereís still an appeal among younger audiences?

I don't think there's a revival or a younger audience. The garage audience are passionate and musically literate, and are great to talk music with and can really let it all hangdown at a show - but believe me, it is a small, finite gang. We've had the privilege of meeting almost all of them! So while we owe I'd say everything to this audience, we want to eventually reach as many people as possible, we want to turn on a younger audience to this amazing world of music that gets little attention these days aside from being sampled in a car commercial.

PSF: What live shows stand out in retrospect

We just played the 3B in Bellingham with the Gimmicks and Monkeywrench, and it was the greatest experience ever. The 3B Tavern actually began to levitate a few inches at around midnight. People were speaking in tongues and salivating and foaming at the mouth and spontaneous healing and snake-handlings were reported.

PSF: Now for the ubiquitious and annoying desert island question. You can bring seven albums, one movie, one book and one luxury item. What are they?

1) Digital Underground  Sex Packets, 2) Cypress Hill Cypress Hill, 3) De La Soul  3 Feet High And Rising, 4) Tribe Called Quest  Low End Theory, 5) Sir Mix-A-Lot Mack Daddy, 6) NWA  Straight Outta Compton, 7) Public Enemy  It Takes A Nation of Millions . . .  One movie: UHF. One book:  How To Get Off Of A Desert Island For Dummies.  One luxury item: Pearl Cream.

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