THE GORIES: IT JUST FRIES YOUR BRAIN
The Gories were something between ‘primal’ and ‘feral’ and ‘savage’ and all the other words that make an Animal Control officer strap on the special gloves, and they didn’t need anything besides Back From the Grave comps, guitars and Thunderbird wine to chop out a couple dozen songs that sound like they came out of the backwoods solely to hunt for prey. Their recording career includes both Alex Chilton and a Quonset hut and guitarists Dan Kroha (later of Demolition Doll Rods) and Mick Collins (later of Dirtbombs) even backed Andre Williams on his vital Silky album, and after they broke up in the early 90s, their legend continued to stalk the earth. They reunited for a few shows in 2010 and L.A. RECORD is proud to have sucked them in to play our show in Austin this year, since we missed them in L.A. because we were on a deadline. Kroha speaks now despite feeling toasty and also probably inventing grunge. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
This isn’t technically a Gories question, but what happened the day you, Mick and Andre Williams recorded a little song called ‘Pussy Stank’?
Oh! Andre always had a song where it’d basically be an instrumental, and he’d have some vocal interjections, so I was like, ‘Man, we gotta do one of those!’ So I just started playing that lick and he was like, ‘I got it! PUSSY STANK … and so marijuana!’ ‘Allllright!’ Just out of thin air! Andre had a notebook full of lyrics. But he didn’t really have any ideas about the music. Mick and I were like, ‘Well, we should do a song sort of Chuck Berry-style, a song Jerry Reed-style, and let’s do one that sounds like the Gories backing Andre Williams!’ That was ‘Agile, Mobile and Hostile.’ I totally ripped that lick off one of my all-time favorite garage-punk songs, ‘Destination Lonely’ by the Huns. When Andre first heard us play it, he was like, ‘This sounds like Chinese to me!’ The rhythm was so foreign to him. But he got it pretty fast. I remember when we were first learning his old songs for his comeback shows, he was like, ‘Man, you just can’t compare to those old bands I used to work with—shit be poppin’ out EVERYWHERE!’ And when I listen to those tracks, it’s true—shit do be poppin’ out everywhere. There’ll be like a little guitar riff that’ll pop out, a little bass lick, a little horn lick—all this shit be poppin’ out! It’s really hard for people now to make stuff like that. I’m on a totally different level—I’ve always been a primitive. An art brut!
Are you a primitive in every aspect of your life? Eat primitive, drive primitive …
Yeah—I have very specific ideas about what’s right, and what I wanna hear and how I wanna hear it. It’s a very REFINED primitive.
Neanderthals invented music with a bone flute 50,000 years ago.
I’ve been thinking about that lately because I’m writing liner notes for an album of Mississippi fife and drum music. They’re blues records that were comped in the 60s and are really rare now, and one is fife and drum music. Some of it was recorded in the 40s, some of it was recorded in the late 60s. It already has excellent liner notes that are very factual and really well-researched, so I’m gonna try something that’s a little more impressionistic. I was thinking how ancient that music is and how it goes back to bone flutes and drums—probably two of the first musical instruments. It’s like the first time I ever heard Muddy Waters, it was really deep. It almost felt like I shouldn’t be listening to it—it almost scared me.
Where is the disconnect between technique and songwriting? Someone can be insanely technically accomplished, yet struggle to put a song together, and someone else can barely be able to play and still make something that can instantly connect with people. ‘I Think I’ve Had It’ is two chords—
There’s actually a third one in there! I don’t know why, but I’ve always been very conscious of that. When I first started playing guitar, I was always attracted to the quality of the song more than technical ability—like hearing Bo Diddley, a huge, huge influence and he’s got a bunch of amazing one-chord songs. John Lee Hooker, basically one chord in a lot of songs with only suggestions of changes and the drone of the open tuning. I’ve always been attracted to that drone. The Gories were always very aware of our limitations. We consciously worked around them. We tailored what we did to fit so we wouldn’t overreach and it would still sound good.
What’s it like going back to these songs now that you can play? When Alex Chilton did Flies on Sherbert, he said something like he wanted to forget everything he’d learned about guitar in Big Star and play like he was 13 again.
I definitely miss that innocence. It’s gone. I know too much now! I have too many references. But I also try to remain in touch with it as best I can. When we do the Gories now, it’s like a recreation. We’re all totally different now. I went back and listened to the records to make sure my guitar tone I’m getting now still sounds the same, and the style of playing I did in that band is totally different—I play a lot of choppy barre chords, which is difficult to do! It’s like going back and relearning, but we’re very conscious of doing it correctly! When people come to see us, they hear the sound they know from the records, which to us are now twenty-some years old. But there’s a lot of young kids where it’s a brand-new thing to them! The time dislocation is disconcerting—and also interesting!
What do you think of the collapse of the rock ‘n’ roll space-time continuum? Every band that still has live members is playing out. The Gories from the 80s can play with Rodriguez from the 70s and like some band of kids from right now and it’d be a normal thing.
It’s something that’s never happened before. When I was in my twenties, there was no such thing as parents and children being in bands together. People of an age difference of even ten years let alone twenty—that never happened! Never! And now … I have a buddy ten years older than me who plays with dudes in their twenties, and it fits! People don’t even think twice. The thing I lament the loss of is mystery. The mystery is gone now! Even into the 80s, people thought the 13th Floor Elevators were from San Francisco cuz they were on so many posters from there, and you couldn’t just google an instant biography. It was exciting when you found somebody who knew stuff! You had to make that connection and hunt things down and write letters. It’d be hard for a young person to imagine the mystery all this used to be, and the beauty of all that mystery! Mick and I have discussed this—the internet has collapsed the time continuum.
Were the Gories a mystery band? What’s it like to live the Velvet Underground thing where the adoring world comes back to your music twenty years later?
I imagined that might happen—at the time. The bands I loved the most, the Velvet Underground for instance, were not as loved when they were around. I knew we were doing something very out of step with what was popular, and because I idolized the Velvet Underground so much, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought, ‘This could happen to us.’ I’m glad that dream sort of came true! It’s really awesome to see how happy it makes people when we play, and there’s a certain magic this band has I’ve never found in another group. And it’s always there.
Weren’t you offered to sign with Warner? What alternate future would we live in if the Gories had been the White Stripes?
People don’t realize we were together for seven years. We didn’t do a lot of promotion and didn’t really tour. I felt we coulda been really successful at the time, but we couldn’t pull it together. We were bashing our heads against the wall for seven years, and in your twenties, that is … FOREVER! We started in ’86 and lasted till the spring of ’92, and in the last year we started to get a little more publicity. Just before Nirvana—right on the cusp. Before grunge was even a word—I used to call the Gories grunge in the 80s!
That’s like when Bomp! called bands ‘hardcore punk’ in 1974.
Yeah! I said, ‘The Gories are gonna bring grunge music into the 90s!’ Cuz to me … it was really grunge-y! So for five or six years, there’d be like ten or twenty people we all knew. My sister and her buddies. All our pals. The last year, there started to be a buzz and people we didn’t know would come see us. We’d attract 75 people! Or 100! Larry from In the Red had called me and David Katznelson [later of Birdman Records] called me like, ‘Hey, would you be into making a demo for Warner Bros.?’ He was gonna give us $700 to do a demo—that was big money. We woulda spent like twenty bucks for cassette tapes and Thunderbird. So big money, and I practically laughed in his face! I was kinda rude to him! We were at the end of our rope at that time, and I thought it was just ridiculous. But it’s interesting. I think, ‘What if the Stooges held it together? They could have been huge!’ Same with the Velvet Underground, any of those bands—it could have been the same with the Gories. If we could have held on, I think we would have met with some success. But maybe now, people wouldn’t be so into it?
Is it true you used to compete to see who could drink the most Thunderbird, and the winner got the bottle as a trophy?
We … drank quite a bit!
Too much to accurately answer this question?
I still have a couple bottles. I haven’t drank the stuff in many years. I’ve been super into white lightning—moonshine.
Like from an illegal still on the back of a truck?
I’ve had that, but it’s quite the trend to have unaged white whiskeys. Buffalo Trace makes one that’s super tasty called White Dog. I love whiskey, and White Dog tastes like corn—it smells like buttered popcorn. It’s awesome. But you gotta watch it cuz it’s 125 proof! I feel a little toasty the next day … in fact I feel a little toasty today! But it doesn’t give you a headache. It just fries your brain!
Have you ever gotten into a physical fight about a record?
No! I’m not a huge record hound. I used to be really snobbish about what I liked, and I think I’ve mellowed out. I was such a snobby little mod! I’m not a fighter, man! I’m a little guy. BUT … there was one time! I had these vintage polyester flare pants with a giant houndstooth check on them. There’s a 16mm movie of the Texas band Zakary Thaks, and I swear the guitar player is wearing the same fucking pants. Circa 1966, really cheap polyester with a plastic belt—they were dead stock. I was wearing them at a Gories show and some random jock meathead was giving me shit. ‘Ooh, look—it’s Greg Brady!’ I had a few beers and this other guy started egging me on: ‘You should kick his ass, man! He’s been fucking with us all night!’ And I had just enough beer in me: ‘Alright! I’m the man to do it!’ So I took a couple swings at him and he wrestled me to the ground. He kicked my ass.
But you stood up for your pants.
Totally, and one time someone stole one of my harmonicas—some asshole grabbed one off the stage and I saw him and I confronted him, and he was taller than me. Also. ‘Man, give me my fucking harmonica back! I saw you steal it—fuck you, give me my fucking harmonica back! I’m gonna kick your ass!’ So he did. He was just a drunk asshole.
So don’t fuck with your pants, and don’t fuck with your instruments.
Yes! That’ll get me going.
Who was the best person to spend midnight to six with when you were in Memphis recording with Alex Chilton?
We didn’t know a bunch of people in Memphis. We stayed in Tav Falco’s house—this very small house from like 1910 and we drove down from Detroit and Lorette Velvette was climbing out the window. We had no idea who she was, and Tav was in Europe. Middle of the afternoon. Her and this other legendary Memphis character. We get out of the car and Misty runs up, ‘It’s not what you think! It’s not what you think!’ Lorette and Tav had broken up, and she was retrieving a leather jacket. We went to the bar with Alex a couple times but we kept to ourselves, really. There was a liquor store where I’d go buy a pint of whiskey every day or two and we’d cook macaroni and cheese in the kitchen. Alex hung out with us quite a bit. And some of our buddies drove down after a while—my girlfriend! ‘I gotta see what’s going on down here!’ By that time, Alex had quit drinking. He must have been … probably getting close to 40. He’d settled down quite a bit.
It’s hard for me to imagine him as the responsible authority figure.
He was very hands-off when we recorded. He just let us do our thing—that was his genius. He was very conscious of not involving himself. But it wasn’t that wild! I think this was before the Oblivians even existed. When the Doll Rods came back in like ’95, we played at this joint Barrister’s with the Oblivians, which was awesome—there was probably close to 100 people there. The place was packed.
Now you’d probably get like 1,000 people for that same bill.
It’s amazing—I really thought the Gories were the last word on primitive garage rock, and it ended up being the beginning of a whole ’nother thing. We were some of the first young punk kids that tried their hand at rhythm ‘n’ blues stuff. During the 60s, bands were doing it, but somewhere in the 70s blues and blues rock became so bloated no one would touch it anymore. We brought a new perception to that type of music. Alex said to me that we were doing for R&B what the Cramps did for rockabilly, and I think that’s kind of true. Bands just wouldn’t really actually try and play some blues. We were as influenced by obscure British R&B stuff as much as Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf, where a lot of groups at the time only listened to 60s garage but didn’t really go back to the real roots. … In one sense, we wanted to show those guys how it’s done. And in one sense, I was jealous of those guys. They all had records out, a modicum of fame … there was a whole scene. I kinda wished I could be around that but we didn’t have much of that in Detroit. We had one band—the Hysteric Narcotics—and they were fucking great. So I was jealous, but it wasn’t really doing anything for me. There was something else—another idea. Tim Warren [from Crypt Records] really defined an aesthetic with Back From the Grave—the alternative to Pebbles. Almost like a Beatles vs. Rolling Stones thing—Tim Warren was the more raw, more primitive, more confrontational purveyor of those sounds, and that was a big influence. Not only the music but his whole attitude in the presentation. We were totally uncompromising. We had a vision! We might not have been able to play, but we had a vision, and that’s really important. And we followed that. We wanted to make the kind of music we wanted to hear. It was very selfish and very personal, and if you liked it, fine … and if you didn’t? So what!
Did you really get kicked off lead vocals on a Dr. Ross cover because you weren’t horny enough?
No, it was Link Wray—‘Hidden Charms.’ I sang it, and Mick just … didn’t think I was singing it horny enough. He just fucking told me. He had no bones … if I played something not to his liking, he’d just come right up and say, ‘Don’t do that.’ I never took offense—I trust his instincts and he trusts mine.
Is there one last unreleased Gories 45 out there?
Yes—we did a session in the house I where I grew up, where one of my buddies bought the tape machine and board used to record the first Gories album. My buddy set up in my parents’ house and my amp was in a bathroom, Peg’s drums were in a bedroom and we put Mick in another bedroom, and we couldn’t see each other and I couldn’t even really hear what I was playing! All the recordings ended up on singles that are out of print now. It was ‘Baby Say Uh,’ ‘Great Big Idol With the Golden Head,’ ‘Hate’ which was the Stoics tune the Gravedigger V did, ‘To Find Out’ by the Keggs, we did this Detroit instrumental ‘Ichiban’ by Nick and the Jaguars … all in the same day, and two tracks were never released. A cover of ‘Again and Again,’ which the Black Lips ended up doing years later—it’s the Iguanas that Iggy played drums in, and it sounds like him singing. It’s one of those really cryptic super-crude songs with weird lyrics … just what I love. The words are really hard to understand cuz they’re so weird. So we did a cover of that and we did ‘New Orleans,’ and those didn’t come out. Mick had the master or something, and he did a mix but then he lost the tape and all this shit … I dunno what the story is. I gotta ask Larry. One thing I’d like to put out—we made demos for our second album cuz we thought we’d hit the big time getting signed to New Rose Records in France, and for some reason even though it wasn’t required, we decided we should make demos! We rented a 4-track cassette machine and set it up in that same room in my parents’ house—they’d moved out, so they were spared—and so there’s demos for that album that haven’t come out. There’s a couple extra tracks from the session in Memphis—a couple cover songs. ‘Cry Girl’ by the Kan Dells and ‘She Cracked’ by the Modern Lovers—the version that Kim Fowley produced. Mick and I recently wrote music to a bunch of Kim Fowley’s lyrics. Norton’s doing a book and Kim sent them some material, and amongst them was a bunch of lyrics. They’re nothing really crazy! One of ’em’s like … ‘Grey gardens blaze with golden color/only the sad can see/silver oceans, golden seeds, flowers at midnight grow slowly …’ Stuff like that, but it’s cool! It’s not ‘Animal Man,’ but it’s cool!
Are you the guy who introduced Mick Collins to techno?
Oh—oh, hell no! Mick has always had more broad musical taste than anyone could imagine. He made house music tracks when we were still doing the Gories. ‘Five Card Stud.’ I’m afraid he’s kind of embarrassed of it now. There was a scheme at one point to make me into a teen idol after the Gories. Like Mick had got together with one of his buddies, and they were gonna write some pop songs, and we actually went to a studio to try to record the stuff … but it just never panned out.
L.A. RECORD + BLUNDERTOWN + IN THE RED RECORDS + SAILOR JERRY + DVS / MATIX PRESENT THE GORIES WITH THE SPITS, CHEAP TIME, KID CONGO POWERS, TOTAL SLACKER AND SPECIAL GUESTS ON FRI., MAR. 16, AT EMO’S EASTSIDE, 2015 E. RIVERSIDE, AUSTIN. 9 PM / FREE WITH RSVP AT DO512.COM / ALL AGES.