an interview with Eric Oblivian
by Shane Jesse Christmass (August 2000)
The OBLIVIANS were a Memphis legend. In 1993 having killed off their band the COMPULSIVE GAMBLERS, Greg Cartwright and Jack Yarber, hooked up with an out of work musician named Eric Friedhl. After absconding from a series of band names ( PP AND THE NAILDRIVERS, GENTLEMEN OF LEISURE) they transformed into the OBLIVIANS as Eric Friedhl became Eric Oblivian. In a less crueler world, these guys would have been bigger than Judas. Separating in 1997, these fellows left a catalogue of hard work that epitomizes what stinking great, fuck-off rock 'n' roll is all about. Whereever I'm going, it makes me feel alright that the OBLIVIANS have been there before. It's righteous feedback, fuzzed up stonking rock 'n' roll. So come to your senses and listen, relax and fire up again. Get yourself this happy blues. Rise and read on! - NOW - I demand it!
PSF: What was it like growing up in Hawaii? What music were you bought up on? In other words, why did the Oblivians have such good taste?
I moved to Hawaii from San Diego when I was 12, and it was fucking great to run around in the sun and go surfing, etc. Since I hadn't grown up there I didn't have a whole lotta friends and the friends I did have weren't the "cool" kids. I fell in with a buncha outcasts that were into music, wide variety of stuff. I got to "sing" for a band that eventually (6 years later?) turned into a major label band The Dambuilders.
Back in High School, they were called The Exactones, mixed an inept appreciation of punk/new wave with love of easy rock like Steely Dan & Fleetwood Mac but also James White & The Blacks/Contortions and stuff like that. The Sex Pistols still sounded like music, but when they heard The Contortions, they said, "Damn, anybody could make noise like that!" Hawaii was also good 'cause lotsa hippie-types moved there in the '60's, had good record collections that they dumped when they turned into yuppies or diehard Santana/reggae fans and so there was a lot of bizarre records around in the thrift stores/used record places. I remember buying Moondog, Funkadelic, Friar Tuck, and a ton of new wave records for 33 cents apiece. So that got me interested in strange stuff.
Since there weren't really touring bands coming through there besides the classic rock acts on their way to Japan- Aerosmith, Starship, Fleetwood Mac, all of whom I never saw 'cause at the time I hated the '70's shit, there was a pretty good Do It Yourself attitude in the islands. As for why the Oblvians had good taste, it was a good mix of influences and staying within the capabilities of the band- I could (still can) barely play, and Greg and Jack were turning from the more complicated songs/instrumentation of the Compulsive Gamblers and towards a simpler, more basic and raw sound for the Oblivians. Everything came together in a good way.
PSF: What were you like as a kid?
Quiet, curious about stuff... soccer crazy... and soggy with salt water. Wasn't cool enough to be in with the cool surfers, so we'd go to great lengths to find spots that no one knew about or other people didn't think could be ridden. I've always admired folks who went a different way and made it work. I think that's a basis for my aesthetic, if you can call it that. Plus I've always been confused as to why people stick to one way to do things... punk and weirdness seemed like a way out.
PSF: Why music? Why did the Oblivians have to be formed?
Fuck, at the time everybody wanted to be the Gories... we couldn't even do that. We didn't know what we were doing. It was a joke! We broke up because the joke had become like work... and none of us like to work.
PSF: The only thing I know about Shangri-La records is that The Memphis Goons are on that label. What was that like to work for?
Well, I was there mostly to order stuff for the store- the label was/is the product Sherman Wilmott's brains. It was great to be in a place where a bunch of people looking for relief from the malls/chain stores would come... There'd be folks coming into the store that you'd peg as Allman Brothers fans but they've been in the middle of Mississippi mail-ordering strange music for 20 years... that kinda stuff's always inspiring. There's really few good record stores across the United States... when you get to tour, you see how sad it is. Hopefully the good ones can stick in there somehow.
PSF: How old is Goner? What are some of the bands on it? Its history? Its intentions if any?
Goner started in what, 1993? or 1994 with the first Guitar Wolf LP... I'd been to the 2nd Garageshock festival and was blown away by their set. I then set up some Memphis shows for 'em and they'd given me a tape of songs. I started listening to it over and over and decided, fuck it, I'll release it. I'd contacted them in Japan and asked them permission, but they weren't really sure of what I was doing. It wasn't until they got their copies of the LP that they knew I was doing a full-length LP- they thought it would be a 7" record! On such misunderstandings Goner was born. Second release was the Oblvians "Call The Shots", with 2 different mixes of songs that would later be on the Soul Food LP. Then King Louie the 69th & Harahan Crack Combo 7", Royal Pendletons 1st 7", Magnitude 3 from Japan doing '60's covers, Gasoline from Japan did a killer 7" EP, I issued Johnny Vomit & The Dry Heaves 7" (wild Mississippi high school "punk" band from the mid-'80's featuring Jack Oblvian and future Squirrel Nut Zippers' Jimbo Mathus- this is one fucked-up and fun record!), a Reatards 7" EP and then the first Reatards LP, Teenage Hate. Then-15 year-old Jay Reatard had been a fan of the Oblivians and had sent a tap of his home-made punk, with him playing all instruments. I loved the racket so we did the record, and I've been a fan of everything he's done since. He's a pretty amazing kid.
PSF: Was there any morons in the Oblvians history that had petty problems with lyrics, album covers, the band in general?
You know, we never did. If anyone ever had a problem, they never gave us a hard time or even told us about it. We expected some grief over "Nigger Rich" and never got it (the lyrics aren't racist, by the way, but some folks just get excited about the use/connotations of that word, you know), never got any grief over using nudity on record sleeves, either. I think you have to have a lot of publicity to get negative reactions these days. Marilyn Manson had the PR to generate shock.
PSF: What's Memphis really like?
Memphis is Memphis. It's fucked up and great, and fucked up and terrible. It's dirty water and soul. High crime and great gangsta rap. Fried chicken and the best barbecue ribs & sandwiches (pork, not beef) in the world. Sometimes I gotta get out, sometimes I can't believe I'm lucky to be here. The river, the music, the food. The heat.
PSF: Have you ever been arrested, psychotic, near death, bored?
I did time in the federal penitentiary for a drunk driving accident, am a convicted felon, still getting sued for that 6 years after the fact. Been arrested a couple other times for stupid things, I'm restless but not bored, psychotic until I've had a couple of whiskeys, and constantly feel like I'd be better off with a bullet in my brain.
PSF: Could you tell me a bit about The Sympathy Sessions & the Play Nine Songs With Mr Quintron albums?
Sympathy Sessions CD compiles a couple of times we ventured into Doug Easley's studio and let them twist knobs while we play the songs we had as best we could.... depending on the day, it went well or it went like shit. We trashed a couple of sessions completely, just came back and re-did everything. The guys at Easley are basically invisible, at least for us. They anticipated the kinds of sounds we'd want without us having to ask. The sound is raw but controllable in the mix.
The Quintron recordings are a pretty good story. We'd met up with Mr Quintron when he came to Memphis opening up for The Demolition Doll Rods. That tour he was a one-man band, playing a contraption that had drums, tuned water bottles, a homemade synthesiser, a guitar laid on its back that he played with a drumstick, a trumpet, and a distorted microphone, among other things. He sounded like insane circus music. I played some Korla Pandit videos and he loved 'em, and he seemed to like Memphis.
Anyway, we stayed in touch and he came back a few times with his organ act and Miss Pussycat's Puppetshow and theatre, always to a great response. Okay, after we'd been touring a while after Popular Favourites had been out we hadn't really written any new songs. Greg had been really into black gospel music, and wanted to try some gospels songs in Oblivians fashion, but only if they were kinda screwed up. we didn't want to try to come off as religious, but we didn't want to make a joke out of the whole thing, either. It was a tribute to the spirit of the music, more the holy ghost than the saviour. Anyway, Greg said he'd like to do the record if we could get Quintron on keyboards. We called Quintron and he said sure he'd do it, but he needed a Hammond B-3 to play on. We thought, "Damn, he really knows his stuff. A Hammond B-3 is top of the line." Luckily the guy who wanted to record us, Steve Moller, worked in a studio with a great B-3 in it. So we were set.
Quintron took a bus up to Memphis from New Orleans for 8 hours, and we took him to my house to play him some songs that we were thinking of covering. (We had sent him a tape of the songs but it never got delivered to him- so he came up not knowing what songs we wanted to do!) The first song we played him was "Live The Life" and he said, "I always wanted to cover this song!" So we knew we were on the right track, We take him to the studio and Quintron sits down at the B-3 and says, "All right! I always wanted to play one of these things!" We though it was great. So we recorded for 8 hours, then put him back on a bus that night for another 8 hour ride. Incredible! We mixed the next day or a couple of days later and that was that. We had intended to go and record a "real" Oblivians record but never had the songs ready... so that was the final release.
PSF: What was the Oblivians' way, attitude to recording?
Fuck it. If it works, use it. Basically one take, but if we screwed up, we'd do it again. Vocals live, for the most part. We liked the live feel of the band all playing at once in the same room.
PSF: Likewise, what was the attitude to playing live?
Let it rip. We never had a set list, instead we'd call out song-to-song what we were gonna do. We got to where we'd be able to play an hour and a half of solid material and not get in a rut of always playing the same stuff. We would have our favorites. Of course, it was intense. I think we burned ourselves out in the end putting so much into the live show. It wasn't fun putting yourself through that every night.
PSF: Do you want to have a rant, a free plug, whatever, solo stuff, free forum?
I'm trying to provide entertainment/information on Goner and Memphis and my zine Wipeout online at http://www.goner-records.com check it out if you can. My rants and stuff should be there.
Some of Eric Oblivian's favorite music
Count Five "Teeny Bopper Teeny Bopper"
Grunge is a great word, too bad it was associated with coffee-drinkin', flannel wearing lumberjack AOR rock. Teeny Bopper is a great word (s?) too. God bless 'em. Those folks bummed that kids don't like rock anymore don't realise that girls rule pop culture- if there's girls there, guys will go. And girls will go to see sexy guys onstage. Now girls like to take ecstasy and dance around with green lightsticks wearing very little clothing. Used to be, girls with no bras would go to hippie shows, or girls in leather would go to heavy metal shows. Times change.
The Troggs "Hip Hip Hooray"
The Troggs are the greatest pop band of all time.
Darlene Love "Stumble & Fall"
Girl Groups echoes extend forward and backwards in time... the density of "Be My Baby" contains spaceships and cavemen rock clashings... Darlene Love's voice is so perfect sometimes it's hard to hear as a person- it just sounds like a song.
The Neckbones "Hit Me"
Drinking will set your imagination free sometimes, then you realize your stuck in your fucking life. Rock provides a momentary release. Here's some guys that know great beauty, and they try to fuck it.
Love "You Set The Scene"
Love, hate, energy, more crystalline beauty, and for what? What did Arthur Lee get outta it? Fuck it.
Small Faces "All Or Nothing"
The mod clothing thing used to throw me but The Small Faces re the deal- US R&B plus brit aggression/feedback/pop tricks. Great. British people are strange, though. Not as strange as the French, but I realized last night, they've produced some pretty great weirdos- Duchamp, Cocteau, Jarry, Lautreamont...
Jerry Lee Lewis "I'm On Fire"
Pure steamroller left hand rock and roll that hits like a 2x4.
The Rolling Stones "Cocksucker Blues"
Overrated, you know, but another great example of Mick's genius. Tossed-off (ha) lyrics... did they really release this? I remember hearing "Star Star" on the radio when I was like 12 and thinking, what the fuck? Can they get away with this?
Spacemen Three "Losing Touch With My Mind"
The inevitable. Maybe welcomed onset of insanity. I don't think it happens this casually with out heavy sedation. Sounds great, though. Bring it on.
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