INTERVIEW: TERRY AND LOUIE + THE EXPLODING HEARTS DOCUMENTARY
illustration by nathan morse
The Exploding Hearts were a teenage kick to the gut—a band who unexpectedly clawed their way out of Portland, Oregon, with a debut album Guitar Romantic positively celebrated all the way from Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll to then-prominent Rolling Stone Magazine. In 2003, with Guitar Romantic setting the U.S. and Europe on fire, they embarked on their first west coast tour. The Exploding Hearts were set for world domination, but on an overnight drive back from a triumphant debut in San Francisco on Sunday, July 20, a car accident killed three out of four members of the band. Adam Cox, Matt Fitzgerald, and Jeremy Gage passed away. Only guitarist Terry Six survived. The Portland music community and fans all over the world were shocked. Everyone lamented what The Exploding Hearts could have become. After nearly ten years of musical silence, Terry Six quietly got together with longtime friend and former Exploding Heart confidant “King” Louie Bankston and they decided to record some songs together. This partnership became known as Terry And Louie. After releasing a couple of singles and winning enthusiastic reception at festivals like Gonerfest and the Burger Boogaloo, Terry and Louie decided to record their debut full-length album, with one of the main lyrical themes being heartbreak and loss. This long-distance collaboration is called A Thousand Guitars and took over two years to complete, and will be released by Bachelor in Europe and on their own Tuff Break imprint in the US. Filmmaker Ardavon Fatehi, childhood friend of Terry and the rest of the Exploding Hearts, has begun working on a full-length documentary. This Exploding Hearts documentary film by Ardavon Fatehi will put many rumors to rest and will finally unveil the real story about the band and its members. Terry and Louie will perform two sets—one of Exploding Hearts songs—at the 7th anniversary of Cretin Hop alongside a special screening of the documentary trailer on Sat., Jan. 19, at Zebulon. This interview by Justin Maurer.
Terry and Ardavon, where and when did you guys first meet and what are some of your early recollections of each other? Ardy sung in a band called Goons of Destruction, right?
Terry Six: I first met Ardavon—we called him Ardy—when I was thirteen. He and I shared a mutual friend. Ardy suggested we break into the recreation room at our friend’s parents’ apartment and shoot pool. I didn’t see him again until my first day of high school. I recognized him immediately and mentioned if he remembered me and what we did at the apartment and he said, ‘I don’t fucking remember you or that—I was probably really high.’ By then, he was calling himself ‘Anarchy Ardy’ and he had a band called the Goons Of Destruction which was a kind of Mummies/Spider Babies worship done very badly. Ardy actually didn’t sing—that was Isaiah Summers. Ardy played guitar and wrote the music and was the mascot. I was in a few bands before the Exploding Hearts—all terrible. I was even in the Goons Of Destruction for a minute.
Ardavon Fatehi: The summer of 1994, my grandma was visiting from Tehran and staying at my uncle’s apartment. I spent a lot of time there but I was a kid and therefore wasn’t particularly interested in hanging out with an old Persian lady. Often I’d wander off into the apartment complex looking for some trouble. That’s where I met Terry through a kid who lived next door. We broke into a rec room using a spoon I had spent the better part of the afternoon sharpening and played billiards. That was the first time Terry told me his biological father was Clyde ‘The Glide’ Drexler. Many moons later we ended up in high school together and through a mutual love for punk rock and 80s action movies, we became friends pretty quickly. He had remembered me but I had no idea what he was talking about. I was pretty high that whole summer. Then one day he tried to tell me about his ‘real’ dad and that’s when the memories poured back in. I’d like to go on the record here and state that I did NOT call myself ‘Anarchy Ardy.’ That was a ‘punk name’ given to me in junior high because I was really into 19th century pseudo-anarchist Russian literature and would spend my weekends at Zapatista rallies. I always hated the nickname because I didn’t consider myself an anarchist at all. The Goons of Destruction were a stupid garage-punk band that I started with a couple other friends when we were 14. We were all virgins so every song was about sex. Our first show was at a house party. The Spits were supposed to headline this basement show but they all let us play last because they got a kick out of a bunch of 15-year-olds wearing Ray-Bans and sheer stockings over their heads, covered in fake blood, playing GG Allin & The Jabbers covers.
What kind of trouble did teenage Terry and Ardy get into in the suburbs of Portland?
Ardavon Fatehi: We had a general penchant for juvenile delinquency. Lots of drinking. So much drinking that I don’t remember a lot of it. Clearly Terry doesn’t either. We were only a 10-15 minute bus ride to downtown so we actually spent a lot of our nights going to shows. Back then Portland had shows nearly every night and we’d be out in the city about 4-5 nights a week. As soon as we’d get to the venue, the girls in our group would go coerce some older dude to buy us all beer, which generally consisted of 2-3 cases of Pabst. Pig Champion from Poison Idea used to buy us beer all the time, God bless that man. We’d get teenage drunk, watch some shitty punk bands, occasionally a couple of us would get in fights and subsequently get beat up by a pack of skinheads, then half of us would make it to school in the morning. This is probably why our class had a graduation rate of less than 50%.
One thing that I remember about Exploding Hearts was Matt your bassist being a weed dealer and how much weed you guys would smoke right before playing shows. I always found it remarkable that you guys could play that stoned after hotboxing Matt’s van outside venues like Meow Meow or The Blackbird. Terry, were you ever too stoned to play?
Terry Six: (laughs) Well, we all really liked smoking weed, Adam especially. He’d give you any record in his collection for a decent sized amount. It came to be a joke after a while. Whenever I needed to go record shopping, instead of going to 2nd Avenue Records, I’d just take weed over to Adam’s and raid his collection. I was never too stoned to play. None of us were. The higher we were, the better. The only time we’d regulate that was in the studio. We were all very focused and professional in that department.
I also distinctly remember a lot of people in Portland talking a lot of shit on Exploding Hearts, basically because of the clothes you guys would wear. I don’t think a lot of guys in Portland were wearing white jeans and pink bandanas in the early 2000s before you guys did. Do you think people look back at those times through a rose-colored lens?
Terry Six: Oh definitely! I think when most people look back, they seem to forget that a lot of our supposed diehard fans were some of our biggest haters. It took a lot of effort and a certain moral tenacity to stand apart from the crowd and prove that we weren’t a joke. Eventually towards the end, most of those people and some of the bands from back then got it. But it’s all in the past. I don’t hold grudges and a lot of these folks are now dear friends. It’s just one of those things when you’re young and in the game.
Terry, in your mind what was the best show that Exploding Hearts ever played, or a show in particular that stands apart from the others in your memory?
Terry Six: There were two. The first show was when the Harvard Lampoon flew us out to play their coveted graduation party. Just for the weirdness alone of the whole thing, that’s what makes this show stand out. Getting wined and dined, put up in nice bed and breakfast spots, being shown Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle porn that they made, Jeremy getting locked in the secret room at the Lampoon Mansion, and watching Ivy League kids lose their shit when we played. I remember walking into the main dining hall, and looking at all the portraits of people they had immortalized on their walls, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Conan O’Brian, the Strokes, and then seeing us up there? It was a very rare moment not too many people get to have. The second show was supporting the Makers on New Year’s Eve 2002 into 2003 at Satyricon. I felt like that performance in particular was when Portland finally got us. The room was filled with people I’d normally associate with hating us, but that night, the entire room bended and everyone who was there was jumping around and dancing the entire set. Michael Maker commented to Adam after we played and jokingly cursed him that they were going to have a hard time following us after that. It was perfect.
Do you remember the plot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Porn? And secondly, did Michael Maker look like Prince back then?
Terry Six: [laughs] It was done in the style of a TV Funhouse cartoon. The plot is that April O’Neil is going live on the news reporting that Krang and The Shredder were once again foiled by the mysterious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She wraps up her report and then it cuts to Master Splinter on all fours behind the news desk holding a trip wire winking and shushing while looking into the camera. Michelangelo is also hiding around the corner. April O’Neil walks towards Splinter holding the trip wire and whoops! She trips over it while falling right onto Michelangelo’s erect green turtle dick. This immediately follows her giving turtle head. It then moves forward with them in every funny turtle position imaginable. I think there are some hi-fives with Splinter and a possible interspecies tag team. About Mike Maker, Adam was quoted as saying, ‘Michael Maker looks like a mix between Lenny Kravitz and Prince’.
Terry, when did you first meet King Louie Bankston and what was his role in Exploding Hearts songwriting? He wrote the song ‘I’m A Pretender’, right? How would you describe Louie’s personality to someone who has never met him?
Terry Six: I knew who King Louie was for a few years before actually meeting him. My favorite record in my senior year of high school was The Persuaders LP. I was really excited when I found out that Louie moved to Portland from Louisiana. I thought maybe the Persuaders would reform and play a few shows. Instead he was doing his One Man Band and I caught him playing outside Discourage Records in Portland. I first met him years later when I was already playing in The Exploding Hearts. Adam sat me down after practice and said, ‘Hey, so I was day drinking with King Louie the other day and he’s going to join our band now. He wrote a song for The Royal Pendletons that they didn’t want. It’s called “I’m A Pretender” and it’s great! Don’t worry about it.’ Honestly at that point, I wasn’t sure if I was excited or hesitant, because we were a solid four piece. I couldn’t see any room for another member. We set up a rehearsal at our house. Louie showed up with a corn dog and a hot pickle in one hand and three different drinks in the other. I was anxious to hear this song he’d written, so I cut right to the point—I handed him a guitar and asked him to play it. He put down all of his various beverages, inhaled his corn dog, and then out came ‘I’m A Pretender.’ I got it immediately. I said, ‘You got any more like that?’ He said, ‘Ya like that one? When I played it for Alex Chilton he said, “Louie, you just wrote your first hit song”’ From that point on, we all sat around and started writing songs. I felt like his influence was the key ingredient we were missing that I didn’t even know we needed.
How did Louie fit three different drinks into one of his hands?
Terry Six: Let me rephrase. The drinks were all cradled in his forearm. He did have a corn dog and a pickle in one hand though. I do remember that. He had his ‘cold drink’—Southerners call a plastic cup filled with crushed ice and soda pop a ‘cold drink— a 40 ounce Pabst, and Pepto Bismol.
Did some of you guys work with Louie at Oak’s Park—the amusement park in Portland? There’s references to the ride the ‘Tilt A Whirl’ in one of the Exploding Hearts songs, right?
Terry Six: Right! Jeremy worked with Louie at Oak’s Park for a summer. Louie operated the Ferris Wheel and Jeremy operated the Rock ‘n’ Roll. Jeremy would blast ‘Psychotic Reaction’ by the Count Five for a bunch of five-year-olds and yell over the PA, ‘OKAY, KIDDIES! ARE YOU READY TO FREAK RIGHT OUT?!’ I, however, will never ride a Ferris Wheel again after Louie stopped the ride when I reached the top and kept me there for 45 minutes swinging in the wind. We naturally gravitated towards including hints to Oak’s Park in our songs since we were there almost every day.
When did you start playing music with Louie and how did it turn into the partnership it is now? You’re living in different states—was it difficult to get together to work on these songs?
Terry Six: It started with me revisiting a song I wrote called ‘I’m Looking For A Heart.’ It was the last song I wrote for the Exploding Hearts, and one that Louie told me—before he left to head back home to Louisiana—that he’d help me finish. I decided to hold him to his word, even though it was ten years after the fact. He flew out to Oakland where I currently live and we recorded the singles ‘(I’m) Looking For A Heart’ and ‘Can Ya Tell Me?’ and I thought that was it. I wasn’t interested in playing shows or anything beyond that point until one day, he calls me and says, ‘N.W. Donk! I booked us for Goner Fest! I got us a backing band and we’re playing Hearts stuff, our stuff, all of it!’ Since then, we’ve been actively writing and playing out. When we were working on the singles, it was really difficult and expensive to get together and too cumbersome to rehearse over the phone. For this album I took a new approach. Chad, Aaron, Louie, and I spent two days doing basic tracking and from then on I just wrote and recorded all the music and as much of the lyric content on my own. When Louie would come back out to the Bay Area, he’d have a clear, mapped out direction of what to do so we could avoid wasting time that we didn’t have.
‘Looking For A Heart’ is a cool riff—I can see how that could be an Exploding Hearts tune! What does ‘N.W. Donk’ mean?
Terry Six: Thank you! I guess I didn’t like the idea of letting that riff go. Louie calls me ‘N.W.’, pronounced ‘Enn Dubya’ because I’m from the Northwest and for some reason back in the early days he latched on to calling all of us ‘Donkeys.’ I guess it comes from when Louie referring to himself as a ‘Swamp Donkey’ in passing and we all laughed hysterically. Now everyone is a Donkey.
Heartbreak seems like it’s a common theme on the new album.
Terry Six: Heartbreak is a very broad, multi-faceted subject to explore. Louie just told me that someone recently stole his 12-string Rickenbacker and he’s beyond heartbroken by it. Heartbreak doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to a lover’s quarrel. I could easily write a song about Louie losing his guitar and relate it to every emotion in the book. The amount of material is endless and relatable to anyone on the planet. Everybody has their own unique spin on what they can personally relate to in identifying with a song, even the biggest tough guys. That, I think is why we tend to zero in on heartbreak as a thematic element so heavily in our writing.
What was the experience recording A Thousand Guitars like? It took over two years to complete, right? Was Pat Kearns, engineer of the Exploding Hearts album also involved in recording this album?
Terry Six: It did! Two years of tracking and six months in post! It was also very important to me early on when conceptualizing this record that it had to be performance based. I wanted to keep as many of those raw, natural artifacts—like cracks in Louie’s voice, flubs on the guitar, et cetera—as I could. I made Louie sing parts over and over and over until it was right, or at least had character. I could have used all of the digital bells and whistles in my arsenal to make it smoother but then we’d just have another boring plastic record that sounds like everything else. I really learned a lot from this experience and it helped when crafting the songs, but I actually did the bulk of the engineering on my own. That’s probably why it took so long. I had help from Josh Garcia early on for basics and help from Phil Lantz at the end. Pat Kearns mixed and mastered the record with me out in his Solar Cabin in the desert. That’s where the record really came together.
What is Pat’s solar cabin in the desert like? How is it different from his previous recording studio setups in Portland?
Terry Six: Pat’s Solar Cabin is just that—a modest cabin in the Mojave Desert that runs off solar power. He sets up Pro Tools and his outboard rig and can work around 6-9 full hours at a time. It’s also his living space. In Portland, Pat spent some time at Jackpot! Studios and built PermaPress behind Centaur Guitars which was considerably better than Studio 13, where the Exploding Hearts tracked Guitar Romantic. Honestly, mixing at the cabin was very reminiscent of recording Guitar Romantic. It’s a very tight and restrictive space hovering over him while he works. The major difference is the amazing desert views from his windows. Pat’s also in the middle of constructing a new studio on his property which I just saw. It’s going to be amazing.
Any touring plans to promote A Thousand Guitars?
Terry Six: We have a few one-off shows in the works. One will be held in Los Angeles for the record release of A Thousand Guitars and one I can’t mention yet. But we are currently working on a major European tour next summer. Franz from Otis Tours and Jens from Wild Wax are teaming up and booking the tour. I’m excited to head overseas—I’ve never been out there yet. My European connection started out with selling Elmar from Bachelor Records copies of the Terry & Louie singles for European distribution. Since then, he came out to a bar I worked in the Mission district of San Francisco and talked to me about him pressing the record over there to cut the cost of shipping, which was one of my biggest problem areas when pressing those records. I underestimated the market out there and couldn’t afford the high shipping rates. I liked him and his label, so I agreed. He also made it a point to meet me face-to-face which I always appreciate. The record release show is the same show as the Cretin Hop’s 7 year anniversary and the teaser trailer debut. It’s January 19th at Zebulon in L.A. We are playing two sets—one full Terry & Louie set to promote the release of A Thousand Guitars and another full set of Exploding Hearts songs after Ardavon and Co. reveal the official trailer for the film.
Back to Louie—I recall hearing about Louie being stranded on a roof with his dog and girlfriend during Hurricane Katrina, is that story true?
Terry Six: The story is 100% true! What I remember hearing is that when the water came, he took a chainsaw and sawed his way out of a roof where he lived, then Louie, his girlfriend, and her dog swam to another roof to reach safety. They were stranded up there for a few hours and then Louie’s girlfriend’s brother came out with a pirogue and could only get his girlfriend to fit. So she left first and left Louie to wait with the dog still on the roof. While waiting for her brother to return with the boat, a bunch of poisonous Louisiana water snakes called moccasins kept shimming up the gutter trying to get at him and the dog so he swatted them away with an oar for twenty minutes until the brother returned with the pirogue. Then they were taken to the bayou forest and camped out there for four days until help arrived. You’ll have to ask Louie for the rest, but that’s the story I know to be true.
I love that Louie Hurricane Katrina escape story! I didn’t know what a ‘pirogue’ is so I l just looked it up. It is also called a piragua or piraga, and is any of various small boats, particularly dugouts and native canoes. The word is French and is derived from Spanish piragua, which comes from the Carib piraua. Hey, you learn something new every day!
Terry Six: That story gets more and more wild to me every time I hear it or re-tell it. Speaking of learning new Cajun things—that is what I love most about visiting Louie in New Orleans. He picks you up in his red jeep with the top down and takes you all over and gives you history lessons about the entire area. He can make a hundred-year-old tree sound interesting. And then we’ll go get crawfish and char grilled oysters and go see his folks at the hardware store they run.
Terry and Ardy when did you guys first talk about making a documentary on The Exploding Hearts?
Terry Six: I was approached by someone who showed immense interest in getting a documentary film format in the works. At that point, I had been getting pitches for books and movies all the time, but I was always reluctant and felt a very slimy nature around it. I trusted and liked this person, so I thought we could work on it, but she was having trouble making contacts in the film world. I said, ‘I know a guy down in L.A.—you should talk to him’. That guy was Ardavon. They ended up corresponding over a few months and naturally the baton was passed over to Ardavon since he was doing most of the work. He has been tirelessly working on this film ever since. Poor bastard. Sorry, Ardy.