“We’re NOFX, screwing up since 1983
But these days we’ve got mortgages and families
So we’re going on a sketchy tour
No country is too obscure
We’re gonna drink and cough and fight and snort
We’re NOFX, this is Backstage Passport”
“Touring the US is just not what it used to be. It’s not dangerous anymore. It’s predictable. And yeah, it gets a little boring. It’s corporate rock. And it, er, sucks. So we came up with the idea lets play crazy cities all over the world, and it’s gonna be like playing shows a long time ago. ‘Cos when you play crazy cities, crazy shit’s gonna happen” – Fat Mike.
When NOFX toured South Africa last year I watched them three times. They were awesome. But by the time they left, I was feeling pretty anti. If you weren’t part of the immediate crew, they just didn’t have time for you. And Fat Mike eats meat! Outside The Bassline in Jo’burg, fans were screaming “Fuck you! I bought all your records, I’m worth a minute of your time” at them and calling them rockstars.
Me and a couple of friends had road-tripped up to Jo’burg for the shows, listening to NOFX records the whole way. They didn’t get played once the whole trip back. The jury was out. Looking back now, I don’t know what else I could have expected. But, after watching just six episodes of their new TV show Backstage Passport, documenting their whole “shittiest places in the world tour” adventure, I’m back onboard S&M Airlines, enjoying the in-flight entertainment.
I guess I was just expecting more humility from them. More of an approachable, down to earth ensemble. ‘Cos anti-rockstar and champion-of-the-independents is kind of their byline. When Lagwagon toured the country the year before, we smoked with Chris Flippin in the car-park and drank beers with Leon at the bar. But then again, NOFX aren’t Lagwagon.
Basically, what started out as a standard band DVD eventually spilled over into a nine episode TV show aired on Fuse TV in America – “The plan is to start in South America. We’re gonna go to Brazil, Argentina, Chili, Peru, Ecuador, and the source, Columbia. Then, Moscow, Singapore, Beijing, South Africa…”
And the tour really is historic television – From being the first American punk band to tour Mainland China, to mad shows in Peru, chasing the “green dragon” in Singapore, S&M clubs in Japan, riots in Jerusalem, and getting ripped off wherever they went. “I’d like to make some money. Because when we get back, I’ve got to pay off my house” – guitarist El Hefe.
Every country they go to NOFX stumble over cultures with a childlike naivety. In Singapore El Hefe picks up a scarf thrown on stage, puts it on, and stars impersonating Yassir Arafat. An angry fan jumps on stage. “Please don’t wear that. Because this is wearing by the good people in the religion of Islam.” But frontman Fat Mike still saw the funny side of it, “We’ve done a lot of shows, but we’ve never had any shout-outs to Allah. Two Jews and a Mexican taunting the Muslim crowd. Probably not the best idea.”
El Hefe’s like a 40-something 12-year-old. “I’d call him an idiot savant, but he wouldn’t know what savant meant” – Fat Mike. In Jerusalem, just before they go onstage, Hefe quotes his mom’s suicide bomber advice, “Yeah, I’m pretty nervous. My mom told me stay away from large crowds, like the audience.”
But, amongst all the drug-taking and partying, there’s a softer side too. When the band climbs the Great Wall of China, everyone calls home, crying, going “baby I love you”. And when they write NOFX on the bricks, it’s a goose-bump moment.
Fat Mike’s own Dawson Creek moments come in the form of his three year old daughter Darla – It’s her birthday. He’s not home. She doesn’t understand why. She won’t talk to him, “I don’t have to be doing this. I keep playing music around the world because I like to. It’s fun. So I had a kid, and it hurts her feelings and it hurts my feelings.”
When they get to Bali NOFX don’t even have a show booked. So, they find a venue, book a show for the next day, and walk the streets promoting it. “It’s been so long since I’ve flyerd my own show” – guitarist Eric Melvin. When Melvin finds a CD shop, he grabs a NOFX CD excitedly. “See this guy? It’s me. Same shorts”.
One of the best moments of the tour, that confirms NOFX’s legacy, came in Jakarta, Indonesia. The band’s still waiting around for the sound guy to get pay $12,000 so he’ll turn the power on. And there isn’t a fan in sight. NOFX are convinced that it’s going to be yet another disaster. “We still didn’t know if there was an audience” said manager Kent. “There’s at least 15,000 imaginary kids coming” added soundman-on-tour Jay Walker.
Kent, as usual, confronts the promoter.
– “There’s no audience, is there?”
– “They’re outside”
– “They are. Where?”
– “You wanna see”
Then promoter Torkis takes Kent on a “a mile and a half” golf cart ride. And sure enough, there are eight to ten thousand kids standing around, waiting. And they’re all wearing NOFX t-shirts and Fat Wreck merchandise. It always amazes me how people – no matter what country in the world they’re in – make a plan to get what they want. Kent has to take a photo of the crowd and show it to the band back at the venue, to convince them that their actually is an audience. The show was a rocker, but NOFX didn’t get paid… again.
Click here to watch the Backstage Passport trailer.
Click here to watch NOFX messing around in SA.
Click here to watch the music video for “Seeing Double at the Triple Rock”
July 31, 2008
“You’re a robot. Your’e a sheep. Maa! Maa! Maa!” – Cedric Bixler-Zavala.
Photo by “Roel” – ATDI’s last show, at Vera Groningen, Netherlands, 2001.
This morning I stumbled across the fact that At the Drive In’s “One Armed Scissor” was the first song announced for Guitar Hero IV (due out in October). Co-incidentally, last night, driving through the city, I heard the band’s magnum opus, Relationship of Command again.
What an amazing fucking album! As urgent now as the day it was written. But, apparently, that was all just “kiddy shit,” according to guitarist Omar Rodríguez-Lopez at least – “it’s like seeing an old high school picture, where you have a mullet. And you’re like, what was I thinking?” They can criticise it all they like. But to me, listening to it again now, Jim Ward’s post At the Drive In band Sparta, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-Lopez’s medicated looney tunes, The Mars Volta, don’t even come close. They sound like two incomplete parts of a greater whole, crying out to be re-united. Ward and Cedric’s voices were meant for each other – Ward the anchor, Cedric the entertainer, the madman, the raving lunatic.
It all started in El Paso, Texas, in 1993, with teenagers Jim Ward and Cedric Bixler-Zavala (then both members of punk band El Paso Pussycats). At the Drive In played their first show on October 15, 1994. Guitarist Omar Rodríguez-Lopez joined in 1996, and in 1997, the band settled on the core lineup of Omar (guitar), Cedric (vocals), Jim Ward (vocals, keyboard and guitar), Paul Hinojos (bass), and Tony Hajjar (drums). And, on the back of a reputation for mad, intense, and aggressively-energetic live shows, hard work, and a rabid-tooth for touring, they soon built up a loyal following of supporters. The band’s first nationally-televised performance was minor radio hit, “One Armed Scissor”, on the short-lived American music show FarmClub, in 2000.
Click here to watch the montage music video for “One Armed Scissor”
And here to watch ATDI’s first nationally-televised performance – “One Armed Scissor”, on FarmClub, in 2000.
But already, an in-group out-group dynamic was developing within the band. At the Drive In were becoming well-known as the band with the crazy afros. But Jim Ward didn’t have an afro. He wasn’t involved in the early incarnation of The Mars Volta, Cedric and Omar’s experimental dub/reggae project De Facto with Jim’s cousin Jeremy (who would later play a major role in The Mars Volta, with both his music and his fatal overdose). It almost seems like Ward, and At the Drive In, just weren’t “weird” enough for the drug-taking, increasingly-eccentric pair of afros.
Click here to watch a funny home video featuring Omar and Cedric
In January 2001, At the Drive In traveled to Australia, to play the Big Day Out festival. 15 minutes into their Sydney show, Cedric started asking the crowd to calm down and observe the safety rules, “I think it’s a very, very sad day when the only way you can express yourself is through slam dancing”. The crowd refused. “You learnt that from your TV. You didn’t learn that from your best friend. You’re a robot. You’re a sheep. Maa! Maa! Maa! I have a microphone and you don’t. You watch TV way too much,” shouted Cedric, and the band walked off stage. Later that day, 16-year old Jessica Michalik was taken to hospital, after she was crushed during Limp Bizkit’s set (she died five days later).
Click here to watch Cedric’s full sheep rant
Soon afterwards, after completing a successful world tour, and at the height of At the Drive In’s fame and popularity, the band broke up. They played their last show at Vera, in Groningen, Netherlands. The split was initially called an “indefinite hiatus.” But Cedric soon went public, taking the blame for the breakup, and explaining that he felt At the Drive In was holding him back, that the post hardcore, hardcore, and punk labels thrown at the band were restricting his creativity and limiting the music. He wanted to make more experimental, more against the grain, more progressive music. Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez said, in interviews, that they wanted their next album to sound more like Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Click here to watch an interview with Cedric about selling out, radio, and “letting your freak flag fly”.
Jim Ward has stated in interviews that he was happy with the breakup. That he started the band when he was 17, and, in ATDI, always felt 17. Back in 1994, Ward used the money from his college savings to fund Western Breed Records, just to release At the Drive In’s Hell Paso EP. After the breakup, At the Drive In drummer Tony Hajjar and bassist Paul Hinojos formed the band Sparta. Hinojos got in contact with ex-ATDI bandmate Ward, and convinced him to become the band’s frontman. In 2005, Ward walked out on the band mid tour, stating, “I needed to get away from everything and everyone. I wasn’t enjoying myself at all, and I didn’t feel my life or the band was where I wanted it to be… I needed to step back and reassess everything.” During the hiatus Hinojos switched sides, and joined The Mars Volta. In 2006, Sparta reformed, and released the album Threes. Ward has also released several solo albums, most recently, 2007’s Quiet EP. He also has a new album out called West Texas, with his new project, Sleepercar.
Click here to watch the amazing music video for At the Drive In’s “Invalid Letter Dept.”
I’ll never understand it. Maybe we’re just not supposed to. But just watch the video above. It’s amazing. Breathtaking. One of those great songs to be remembered forever. With no evidence of the “limitations” that drove the band apart. The Mars Volta’s De-loused in the Comatorium (2003) is a great album. Parts of it almost sound like the natural progression of Relationship of Command. But (because I’ve heard Relationship of Command) I just can’t shake the feeling that without Omar and Cedric, Jim Ward’s just too dry and sane. And without Ward, Omar and Cedric are just plain nuts.
Click here to watch The Mars Volta debuting their 2008 album The Bedlam in Goliath on The Tonight Show.
Click here to watch the video for “A Broken Promise” by Jim Ward’s Sleepercar
Click here to watch Sparta’s “Erase It Again”. Listen to Ward’s shouting 1:05s in, and imagine Cedric was backing him up. Oh well…
At the Drive In’s Discography:
July 31, 2008
“Distressed materials translate the punk ethos” – Nike (advertising bullshit)
With love from Alkaline Trio…
Hang on a second, that’s new. Vampiric pop punk legends Alkaline Trio are about to release their major label debut Agony & Irony. And, as usual with rock bands and a new release, they’re on the road, working their way through a tour itinerary as long as my arm. More unusually, and following in the *ahem* footsteps, of fellow mass-marketed horror punks the Misfits, Alkaline Trio kicked off their summer tour by unveiling the new limited edition Nike 6.0, Alkaline Trio, “Heart & Sole”, Air Zoom Cush sneakers, as well as an extremely limited run of “messenger bags”. Both are being released exclusively on June 27, at Jacks Retail Shop, in Huntington Beach, California. A nationwide launch is planned for July 11. Predictably, Nike are spouting the usual kind of PR bullshit you’d expect, “the collaboration between Nike 6.0 and Alkaline Trio was a natural fit. Punk rock’s independent spirit is a common thread with action sports, and the band members live the lifestyle we support” – Tim Reede, Nike 6.0 Product Line Manager.
I don’t know about you. But it all just seems a little weird to me. Almost overnight, Nike went from a jock-dependent sports shoe, to the coolest thing in street, skate, and “alternative” culture since the invention of concrete. A lesson in marketing if there ever was one. And a sobering example of how easy it is to re-invent peoples’ perceptions, if you can afford it. And, by partnering with champions of the underworld, like Alkaline Trio, Nike Inc. get one more notch on their cool-belt. And they know we’re suckers. Fuck, if I lived in Huntington Beach, I’d buy a pair. Here’s Matt Skiba’s official statement, “We chose red and black as the main colours to reflect our Chicago roots and pay homage to the Bulls. We are huge fans. I’m also into sneakers. So seeing the swoosh and our logo on one product is unbelievable. The shoe looks amazing, and provides some insight into who we are.” Can anyone say, cue card?
The limited edition Alkaline Trio “messenger bag”
As far as the “insight into who we are” bit goes, isn’t that what the music’s for? Apparently, custom design elements include; “reflective details and bike-tread-inspired graphics, correlating to the band’s formative years in Chicago, where the members met while working as bike messengers. Distressed materials translate the punk ethos, and the Alkaline Trio logo is featured on the heel cup. The Heart and Sole Cush is constructed of all synthetics, supporting select band members who are vegetarian.” What a load of bollocks! “Distressed materials translate the punk ethos.” What the fuck are they talking about. It’s a sneaker. A limited edition fashion accessory, for one of the richest companies in the world. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather Nike didn’t attempt any translations of the punk ethos. I guess I just understood it already, because it wasn’t in a foreign language to begin with, i.e. it needs no translation. But it’s a co-branded world out there. Everyone’s looking for a leg, or a foot, up – their own Fig Newton sticker on their windshield. Movie releases come with video games, limited edition sneakers, signature chocolates, clothing, and more…
Check out these Hellboy sneaks by Adidas
And these Hulk Nike Air Force 1s.
I guess it’s just a case of getting old, insuring your future, and going from this:
How about this nifty Alkaline Trio watch
Here’s a few other band/sneaker team ups:
Bad Brains and Vans
Millencolin and Vans
Rise Against and Vans
Misfits (Iron Maiden’s band merchandising nemesis) and Draven
July 31, 2008
When Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is finally freed from the torture of his Afghani desert prison cell, in the recent Iron Man film, he turns around and, in his most patriotic voice, says, “Get me an American cheese burger!” In the next scene, on his way into a press conference, Stark is handed a Burger King bag, the logo carefully turned to face outwards, and friend-turned-villain Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) says, “You had to stop at Burger King” – just to make sure he drives the point home, and gets paid. Watching, I nearly puked up my trailer-eaten popcorn and the handful of (unnamed chocolate brand) I was busy shoveling.
Another recent, otherwise-quality film tainted by the sins of the greedy is J.J Abrams’ epic new horror adventure Cloverfield. The handheld first person camera technique really sucks you in. You trust its immediacy. The film becomes a high budget, thrill-a-minute, emotional roller-coaster. That’s why the scenes in the subway, with the Nokia poster backdrop, and the shots of one of the protagonists, post-invasion, propped up against a subway wall, Mountain Dew logo clearly visible to the top right, seem even more offensive than your usual Will Smith product endorsement affair. Later on, the main character, Hud, drops the camera on the floor just long enough for a pair of swooshes to be clearly visible. “Those are cool shoes,” a friend of mine said.
Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be this skeptical, integrity-questioning cynic that these movies have made me become. I just want to be able to watch a movie, switch off, and trust in the magic of entertainment. Why can’t they just tell a story without selling every square inch of space to the highest bidder?
Imagine your mum or dad’s reading you a bedtime story; “The prince, wearing his Nike Air Force 1s, climbed the Black & Decker ladder up the Dulux-painted, Coca Cola castle wall. He was on his way to save Princess Revlon from the Iron Fist of The McDonalds dragon. Tired, he paused and sipped the Red Bull Merlin had given him earlier. Then, he reached into his pocket, grabbed his Nokia N73, and checked his messages. Nothing. Time, according to his Tag Heuer Grand Carrera, to go…” It just wouldn’t work, would it? ‘Cos, how the hell are you supposed to escape reality during a commercial break? What’s next, paid-for advertising in our dreams?
But product placement is nothing new. It’s just becoming more blatant and common practice, as advertisers search for new and more inventive portholes into our brains. But for some reason, in the old Back to the Future, ET days, product placement just didn’t carry the same kind of soul-crushing stigma. I guess back then, our brains were just wired differently, the world hadn’t gone consumer mad, nobody had sales rabies. We could tolerate the fact that ET’s favourite chocolate was Reese’s Pieces, or that Marty McFly wore Nikes, got called Calvin Klein, and drove a De Lorean. Shit, De Lorean even went broke after the movie. Maybe we just hadn’t been subjected to it enough to build up an immunity.
In the 1992 comedy Wayne’s World, Wayne (Mike Meyers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) go all out making fun of product placement and sponsor obligations; “Contract or no, I will not bow to any sponsor,” says Wayne, holding up a slice of pizza and lifting the lid of a Pizza Hut box. “I’m sorry you feel that way, but basically, it’s the nature of the beast,” replies TV executive Benjamin Kane (Rob Lowe). “Maybe I’m wrong on this one, but for me, the beast doesn’t involve selling out,” says Wayne, this time holding up a bag of Doritos. “It’s, like, people only do things because they get paid. And that’s just really sad,” adds Garth, dressed head to toe in Reebok. Funny then, but depressing now, when you consider the product placement crimes committed by Mike Meyers’ more modern comedy persona, Austin “Mini Cooper/AOL” Powers.
One of the most successful product placements of all time is the Z3 Roadster deal BMW struck with Golden Eye and James Bond, in 1995. Golden Eye was the first of a lucrative “three picture deal” BMW signed with the film franchise. Needless to say, a world of mid-life crisis Bond fans went out and bought Z3s. Even more sickeningly, Golden Eye was also the first Bond film where Bond wasn’t wearing a Rolex – Omega had a better deal this time.
These days, if you see a logo in a movie, the company paid for it to be there. And as far as movies laced-with-advertising movies go, 2004’s I, Robot is the pinnacle of excess. Nothing detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) does comes without a contract and a paycheck; he listens to music on a JVC CD player, drives an Audi, and gets his mail from FedEx. Remember that scene when he goes on and on about his pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars? Disgustingly, Smith even holds them up and says, “Converse, vintage 2004,” like it’s an actual Converse advert. Why the hell is this guy trying to sell me sneakers when he should be out there trying to catch bad robots? And, surprise surprise, you can order I, Robot edition, Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars online – what a sinister world we live in.
In the 2004 Wesley Snipes horror Blade: Trinity, there’s a ridiculous scene near the beginning, where Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel), basically, gives us an iPod/iTunes/iStore presentation. Abigail talks about the thrills of killing vampires to a soundtrack, downloads music from the iStore, and puts together a killer playlist for her next sharp-toothed encounter. In 1993, Demolition Man was pretty much sponsored by Taco Bell (Pizza Hut if you live outside the US). In 2000, Tom Hanks hung out with nothing but FedEx bags and a Wilson volleyball when he was cast away on that island. And then there’s Spider Man, shooting webs at Dr. Pepper cans and landing on logo-perfectly-visible Carlsberg trucks.
For me, thinly-veiled attempts like these to sell me something, while I’m trying to mellow out, unplug from reality, and enjoy a bit of light entertainment, ruin a movie and taint its authenticity. Actors like Will Smith and Tom Hanks become brand ambassadors first, and entertainers second. It’s what we in the trade call advertorial. It’s not advertising. It’s not editorial. Instead, it’s a satanic mismatch of both, fueled by innovative, 21st Century door-to-door salesmen, looking for new and more direct ways into your brain. And I haven’t even mentioned product placement in video games. But gamers know it’s a market that has been bitten, and it’s just a matter of time before the rabies start showing symptoms. Trust no-one out there.
Last week I had the distinct pleasure of being hung up on by notoriously shcizo rockstar Bobby Gillespie, frontman of legendary Scottish band Primal Scream – a music journalist right of passage if there ever was one. It’s the equivalent of having your ear bitten off by Mike Tyson if you’re a boxer, or a pair of panties (or lack there of) flashed at you by Britney Spears if you’re a paparazzo. Here’s how the interview (or lack there of) went.
Hello. How’s it going?
– Ah-ray-ht. Ray-ht. Fay-hn.
Okay, do you like doing interviews?
– Yeah. Duh-yu? Ah would-knee fahkin be he-ur uf ah dhudn’t.
What’s the one question you always get asked that really irritates you?
– I can-knee remhaym-bur, ahm ah werk-her, ah just kah-rea ohn.
“You-siff, I’m sorry, but you’re gonna have to keep the interview music-related,” a pretty-sounding English accent interjected…
– Yeah. In-tah-vew terrum-inehted… *click*
And that was that… Welcome to the weird world of Bobby Gillespie.
“If we got horrendously rich and fucked up and died then I suppose that might have stopped us, but we’ve still got a hunger in us.” – Bobby Gillespie.
Along with the likes of The Stone Roses, New Order, and Happy Mondays, Primal Scream are British rock royalty – the kind of “drug rock” band that features on soundtracks like Trainspotting and Human Traffic. And this month, the aging rock band released their ninth studio album, Beautiful Future, and Gillespie is up to his usual short-fuse, explosive-personality, sales-increasing antics.
Click here to watch the official video for Primal
In 1986, forced to choose by his The Jesus and Mary Chain bandmates, Gillespie quit playing the most minimal drum-kit in the world and chose frontman of Primal Scream, the band he’d started in 1982. Over the years, the experimental Scottish rockers fused dance, punk, indie, and good ‘ol fashion sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, and have become true icons of British rock.
Primal Scream started out playing punk-inspired indie rock, but soon developed a taste for acid house music, raves, dodgy sunglasses, psychedelia, and doing copious amounts of drugs. In 1991, under the influence, the band released their seminal, and most revered album, Screamadelica – for all concerned, Primal Scream’s finest moments. That, and XTRMTR (2000).
Click here to watch Primal Scream playing
It’s been a wild two and a half decades for The Scream. And along the way, Gillespie has had a series of well-documented blowouts. He’s outspoken to an absurd degree: to the point of being a character. A rebel. An oddball. An impatient drug addict with a tendency to fly off the handle. And even though he was a rude c**t on the phone, in a world saturated by boring musicians, I love his unpredictability.
Perhaps Gillespie’s most celebrated outburst is his 2005 display at the Glastonbury Festival. According to reports, Primal Scream were called in at the last minute to replace Kylie Minogue. And during the show, Gillespie was said to have been “playfully abusive”. Even going as far as making Nazi salutes, and saying “we’re a punk rock band and you’re a bunch of fucking hippies” to the crowd. Hysterically, when ex-Stone Roses bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield started up a Stone Roses bass line, and the crowd cheered, Gillespie added “Do you want to hear the Stone Roses? Well you should have been here fifteen years ago, you lazy bastards” and “Coldplay are the reason Radiohead are so miserable.” The band were eventually forcibly removed from the stage, after blasting through a reportedly fierce set. Asked afterwards why he’d behaved like such a nutter, Gillespie replied, “Some fucking hippy stole all my ale.” All in a night’s work.
On June 7, a few weeks before my scheduled and rescheduled, and eventually aborted interview, Gillespie did a phone interview with UK DJ and TV personality Lauren Laverne that ended with him shouting “mind your own fucking business”, and slamming the phone down on her. The guy’s a kook. An Iggy Pop-like whirlwind persona. A genuine rock ‘n roller.
By all accounts, Beautiful Future is Primal Scream’s take on a pop album. It’s softer, and more straightforward than usual, yet still straddles genres without a care in the world, and has that distinct Primal Scream, driving bass guitar, we’re-gonna-have-a-good-time-tonight-no-matter-what sound. It’s by no means their best work, and there’s only one track that really jumped out at me: track one, “Beautiful Future” – and that went on too long. I quite like the single though.
Primal Scream are no fools. They’ve been in the game long enough to spot the talent. And production on Beautiful Future was handled by Björn Yttling, of Peter, Björn and John fame, and Paul Epworth, who produced Bloc Party’s 2004 classic, Silent Alarm. Which gives the album a washy modern sound, yet still maintains the fuzzy rock, bass heavy, Gillespie purging sound of old.
It’s an album that’s going to fly over a bunch of young peoples’ heads, but for the die hards, Beautiful Future is a solid effort that won’t dissapoint. I can’t really see myself popping it back in the CD player anytime soon though.