Bare Wires play a kind of glam-influenced garage rock that’s been labeled “smooth punk,” which seems to mean it’s played tightly and sincerely, drawing lyrical inspiration from the best of power-pop: girls, dancing, love and the trials of youth. If The Warriors had ended with a dance party instead of a guy getting a switchblade through the wrist, Bare Wires could have been provided the soundtrack. Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Matthew Melton bravely battles the interviewer’s digital fidelity problems in order to discuss high school beatings, late ‘80s Memphis underground cassette rap and exactly which American city lives up to its frightening reputation. This interview by Tom Child.
Your video for “Don’t Ever Change” features a group of high school delinquents. What was the most trouble you ever got into in high school?
Matthew Melton (guitar/vocals): I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and one time in high school, I was sitting on my desk. I was a punk kid with this blonde Mohawk and this other kid who was, like, a preppy fucking king of the soccer team was sitting on his desk on the other side of the class. The teacher was, like, “Matthew, get off your desk,” and the other dude’s still chilling on top of his shit so I was like, “I’ll get down when he gets down,” and she threw a big fit, sent me to the principal and they beat the shit out of me. I actually received licks. I think you can still receive licks in Tennessee. But yeah, I received ten licks for being insubordinate and then I just walked out. They just beat me so I was just going to leave. I’m not going to go back to class. There was a bunch of shit. I got kicked out of one high school just for poor attendance and shit. I had a pretty classically terrible high school experience and it’s a big inspiration.
Well, that actually leads into my next question pretty well. A friend of mine insists there are still some parts of the country where a guy can spend a night in jail just for having long hair. Have you ever experienced any prejudice in the USA for your appearance?
M: One time in Canada, we had just played in New York City and we were coming up the road going to Montreal across the border. We crossed over about eight o’ clock at night, running late for our show in Montreal and we fucking cruised through and they pinned us as being drug users so they searched the whole vehicle and they actually found three hits of LSD in a small drug bag that we had forgotten about. So, they make you stand there and watch them as they search your car and they hold it up and they don’t say anything about LSD so they’re like, “What is this weed bag? What is this?” and we were like, “Uh, yeah, man. That’s just garbage. That’s nothing,” and they grill us on it. “What do you mean? You just keep garbage in your wallet? What is this shit?” We just played dumb and they were like, “Do you have anything else like this in your van?” and we were like, “No, we’re totally cool.” They kept searching that van but they weren’t able to identify what those hits of paper blotter acid were so they actually gave it back to us and let us go into Canada.
Whoa, that is some awesome karma you’re working with there.
M: I guess we stumbled on a little loophole because there’s no real test for LSD. There’s a test for cocaine. It’ll turn blue or something if it’s real but LSD, you just have to take it. So, it was pretty cool. We didn’t know that but I guess it’s only if you say, “It’s LSD! You busted me!” then they can do something. But if you don’t admit what it is, they can’t really do anything. I thought it was really funny that the Canadian people gave it back to us. Like, “What? It’s obviously something!”
It’s that legendary Canadian politeness.
M: Yeah, “Here you kids go.”
I was reading an interview in which you mention that your SXSW festival survival kit included a lot of California marijuana. What are the logistics of transporting that kind of contraband through the Southwest? When I’ve done that trip it always seems that my car gets sniffed four or five times by scary dogs before I get to Austin.
M: Well, here in Oakland, marijuana is basically legal. Shit, I’m going to be discrete about this in print but basically there’s this Measure Z that got passed that makes marijuana and hash the lowest priority so underground stores actually pop up where you can go in and buy grass. You used to need a medical exemption from your doctor but now you can just go in there. Here [in Oakland] it’s so legal that we just got used to certain types and higher grades of it so we just have it shipped to various points along our tour. It’s just our preference. I don’t know. I just started smoking weed recently.
What is the perfect drug combo that one should take to get the most out of a Bare Wires show? Is there a Bare Wires cocktail?
M: Well, shit, probably just… I don’t know, man. Maybe, like…aw, shit…nitrous? Like a nitrous balloon? I don’t know. I’m not a big advocate of drugs. I honestly wish I didn’t have to smoke weed but it just becomes this kind of necessary weird thing…a habitual thing. I don’t drink anymore. I quit drinking.
Oh, good for you! How is that treating you?
M: Definitely our touring became more efficient because we would do shit like blank out and leave cymbals behind and shit. Just stupid moves. You know, everybody’s wasted and people’s buddies are carrying stuff out of the club and nobody knows what the hell is going on.
You mentioned in another interview that you had developed a way of sort of spacing out through the whole experience of touring. Can you provide any tips for other touring musicians on how to achieve this Zen like state?
M: Well, I think what happened was we just booked way too many shows. We’ve been touring nonstop for the past two years and it’s just kind of gotten pretty ridiculous. It kind of becomes this funny thing. But it’s cool. I’m excited for this. We’re leaving on tour in basically two days and I’m very excited to come down there because we worked up a bunch of old shit and a bunch of new songs and kind of abandoned the record that we’re touring on, which is kind of a cool move. We totally went back and took it down a notch. But yeah, spacing out? I don’t know, just smoking shit loads of weed. Just getting there. It becomes a super surreal experience.
At the end of a show, do you ever think, “Whoa, did we just play a show?”
M: Yeah, it’s like, “What happened?” It’s like second nature.
Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick allegedly coined his band’s name upon noting that he had gone to see a Slade concert and they had “performed every cheap trick in the book.” What’s your favorite rock ‘n’ roll live show cheap trick?
M: If things are going well, I like everything to stay going really well. But it seems that sometimes we’ll play clubs and venues where things aren’t going well on stage with the sound and our response is usually to push the microphone stands over into the audience and that usually makes things worse so it generally snowballs into a really psychedelic performance where we just kind of forget about the structure of our songs and go a little further out. It’s just kind of a response, you know? If this place can’t get its shit together to have, like, a monitor… I’ve kicked a couple monitors over into the audience, especially if it’s a little piece of shit that’s not doing anything anyway and the guy is making it feed back but most of those guys don’t give a shit. I’d like to tour with my own sound person but I just don’t know who that would be right now.
Do you remember the first time you heard a Slade song? How did that feel?
M: I remember really liking the production on all that classic Slade stuff but they did that movie called Flame. I thought that was pretty cool. Slade’s ok but a lot of times, I’d just rather listen to the Testors, you know what I mean? I like a lot of that ‘70s glam produced stuff.
Do you foresee a Bare Wires full-length movie in your future?
Fuck yeah, dude. We’re totally doing a full-length movie where we go to Coney Island and take over a cotton candy stand or something. It’ll be tight. Yeah, we want to invade New York City. I don’t know. We’re going on tour in Australia soon too.
You mentioned in another interview that your album title, Artificial Clouds, is about the feeling you get when you wake up and realize that things weren’t the way you thought they were but rather than being discouraged by this knowledge, it just inspires and motivates you. Can you tell me the most important “artificial clouds” moment in your life?
M: Well, I think everybody can relate to that because the way people live today is pretty lame, I think. I don’t know. I have something like that everyday because everybody’s in a different mode and you can be going along with your day and you can run into somebody who’s so brought down on themselves, that it just changes. I think I understood the question you were asking but I couldn’t hear at all! I feel bad because I can’t hear you very well so I’m kind of interpolating every other word. Am I on speakerphone or something?
I’m trying this thing through Skype. I’m basically just yelling at my computer. You mentioned in another interview that you were listening to a lot of dollar records that had been discarded on the street. What’s your greatest dollar record score? What’s the best record you’ve ever found on the street?
M: Definitely Dwight Twilley. The Dwight Twilley band. That guy’s cool. I like that guy’s early stuff that he did with Phil Seymour. You’ll see him in the dollar bin. The Bay Area has some great records. All of us are homeless and unemployed at our core so…I don’t know; I don’t really have a record player anymore because I don’t have a place for it to be because we have been traveling so extensively. I go places, I see cool records, but I can’t really buy them because I don’t have a place for them. I guess records are kind of one thing you’ve got to give up if you’re really touring, unless you can afford to hold down a swanky apartment in Echo Park or something.
When you were in Memphis, did you ever visit Ardent Studios?
M: Yeah, I checked it out. I’ve never recorded there. I left Memphis when I was still pretty young but people would always be passing through town like, “Yeah, we’re recording at Ardent, blah blah blah.”
If you were going to cover an Alex Chilton song, which song would it be?
M: Alex Chilton? I don’t know if I would cover an Alex Chilton song. You know what? I take that back. His 1970 album…it’s him and you can hear that he’s pretty wasted throughout the whole experience, or at least chunks of the experience. He does a really good cover of “Sugar, Sugar.” That album is cool. I think that’s the best record he ever made.
You’ve said you don’t really listen a lot to other people’s records when you’d rather be recording yourself. When you start listening to too much music, what does that do to your creativity?
M: I don’t listen to a whole lot of music mainly because I don’t have the time. If I had more time and I had a record player, I’d definitely collect records but I don’t think I’d be a big collector person. I’m a person who would just rather make something happen than sit around and listen to the same records over and over. I don’t know. Things will inspire me for a time but everything has an expiration date and I just sort of get burned out and want to move on. I don’t have any problems never looking back. Just trashing a bunch of cool records and being like, “Well, it’s cool. I’ll find other shit.” Or the radio is even more interesting sometimes…like AM radio in a weird town or something.
What bands do you like that someone familiar with the Bare Wires’ music would be most surprised to find that you like?
M: Ah, that’s a good question. I like really specifically Memphis underground rap from the late ‘80s into the ‘90s. I’d say that’s probably some of the best stuff. All these young rappers were cruising around Memphis, releasing these songs they recorded on, like, 4-track cassette tape and they’re so raw that they definitely blow my mind. There’s a guy named Tommy Wright III. That guy is badass.
Do you have any good Dodge Ram van breakdown stories or has she been consistently sweet to you?
M: Yeah, I got a good story about our last van, the first van I ever had. It was an all black Dodge Ram. It was black and we put green shag carpeting in it and we called it the Black Widow. We did a tour with it and by the time we made it back it was pretty non-functional. It was making terrible noises and it was basically on its last legs. This drug dealer in the neighborhood in Oakland…I ran into him on the bus running down the street that my house is on and he offered me a thousand dollars cash. I needed money at the time so I took it and he came back later that night with this really torn up girlfriend and he smoked a blunt with me and took the van. He never registered it in his name and two major events happened to the van in a month period. He pissed off some tweaker people who lived upstairs from him and they drilled holes into his radiator to sabotage him and then, like, two days later, somebody else stole the van. I get a call from this guy going like, “Hey man, you gotta call the cops, man. The van got stolen and it’s in your name still.” I was just like, “Aw shit.” So that’s the fate of that thing. But then he got it back a couple months later and then it disappeared. But you’d see it parked. You’d see our van parked, like, right down the street. It was really fucked. But I have a really good van now, a GMC.
You played in Monterrey, Mexico and you said that it wasn’t super dangerous like everybody thinks. Have you ever played a town that turned out to be exactly as dangerous as everybody thinks?
M: El Paso. Yeah, El Paso’s fucked up, dude. It’s just long strips that have these washed out tequila bars and it’s pretty desolate in a lot of places. It just feels like people are cruising back and forth over the border and you just don’t know what’s going to happen. We saw some people having sex in the bar where we were playing. This dude was just wasted and he started fingering his girlfriend at the bar. It was just gnarly. It was like, damn, people are getting gnarly here.
What’s the most wholesome rock ‘n’ roll experience you’ve ever had? You ever finish a show and go drink some tea or something?
M: Well, hang on just one second. Let me pass this question off to Nathan Price who is our drummer. Nathan, it’s L.A. RECORD. He wants to know what our sleaziest rock ‘n’ roll moment was.
Nathan Price (drums): Woo! Let me think about that for a second. That’s a good question. Me and Fletcher [Johnson, bass] got arrested in Tijuana and spent the whole day down there. We were in the wrong part of town at the wrong time and it was this really gnarly drug zone. They just picked us up right off the street with machine guns. They handcuffed us together and marched us off down the street. That was fucked up. We barely got out on bail. They wanted to keep us for two days. We barely bailed out of there after the third jail we were in around seven or eight o’ clock and then Matthew somehow magically had a cab. I don’t know how he popped up but we drove straight to the venue in San Diego and played our show that night. That’s probably the best story I’ve got because I really thought it was possible I might die in there. It was really shitty, man. It was totally like a Tarantino movie when I got in there. I was like, “Is this fucking real?” Everything looked so gnarly. It looked like a set for a movie almost. The first jail had dirt floors and two cells. In one cell there was this snappy chick and in the other cell there were three dudes. Then there was, like, a chair that had been ripped out of a car sitting on the dirt floor, and a table, and then a stack of broken bicycles and a stack of used car tires behind them. I was just like, “What the fuck is this? Where the fuck are we?” I seriously thought I was in some sort of a movie. It was trippy. We got moved around to three different jails and they wouldn’t speak English to us. We were the only white guys. It was terrible. But we definitely learned a lot that day.
So was that show you played that night in San Diego like the best show you’ve ever played in your life because you were just so fucking relieved?
N: It felt pretty good but we were really out of it and really tired. We were really dirty after being in jail for a long time but we played with our friends the Dead Ghosts and the Indian Wars from Vancouver. They’re kind of our buddies that we went on tour with and they’re really badass. Check out the Dead Ghosts and the Indian Wars, they’re good dudes. So, yeah, that was probably the best one.
L.A. RECORD PRESENTS PSYCHO BEACH PARTY WITH BARE WIRES, SHITTY LIMITS, ROUGH KIDS, COSMONAUTS ON FRI., JUNE 10, AT THE BLUE STAR, 2200 E. 15th ST., LOS ANGELES. 8:30 PM / $10 / 18+. LARECORD.COM/SHOWS OR BLUESTARROCKS.COM. VISIT BARE WIRES AT MYSPACE.COM/THEBAREWIRES.