November 19th, 2008 | Interviews

dan monick

Stream: Wounded Lion “Pony People”


(from the “Carol Cloud” 45 on S.S. Also click here for video!)

Wounded Lion are Brad, Ami, Shant, Chris, Jun and Raffi, and they join the Lamps as the L.A. contingent on the excellent S.S. Records label. They have something to offer fans of joy, skronk, fire, Paris 1942 and Karate Party. They speak deliberately in order to communicate more completely.

One reviewer said you would be perfect to tour children’s hospitals—why?

Brad (guitar/vocals): There’s a certain joyousness in our performance, and perhaps that’s what the person was noticing? You know—we’re a rock ‘n’ roll band but we’re not nihilistic.
Are you supposed to be?
Ami (drums): It’s central to most of our musical influences. It’s at the heart of rock ‘n’ roll.
How did you replace nihilism with joy?
A: It came somewhat accidentally. The group was sort of formed around people Brad wanted to hang out with. He said something to me about if I’d like to be in a band, and I said if we’d never perform publicly. But it became clear when Raffi showed up that it needed air and space and people. Raffi is a huge embodiment of fun.
Do you tell him that?
B: He knows!
A: When Brad and I first started playing, we identified the bass drum as ‘boom’ and the floor drum as ‘chick’ and we would say combinations of ‘boom’ and ‘chick’ and work it out. I have a very strict no-fills policty.
B: Maureen Tucker from the Velvet Underground is a key infuence guidepost. They could be really jamming, really rocking and really simple.
How about the Monks?
B: Funny you should ask. Absolutely. And we could cross into a discussion of guitar being used in a similarly factual way—no effects-straight-ahead rhythm guitar.
What’s an example of fictional guitar?
B: That can be exciting! The Jimi Hendrix experience—the guitars are a thrilling instrument in an expanding way. But we’re very focused. The guitars are mostly rhythm instruments contributing to the rhythm section. It’s our natural state in one sense. Ami does what she can do on drums and I do what I can do on guitar. We’ve got five tools in our toolbox and we’re using them all. But the results aren’t dry. The results are decadent and chaotic.
Are your lives outside of the band chaotic?
A: My main other tasks are being a visual artist and teaching drawing to teenagers, which is absolute chaos. Or it is in my class.
What do they want to draw?
A: Disney characters and graffiti. But most don’t want to draw anything. They’d rather fashion weapons out of a combination of rulers and erasers. They’re not very effective for grievous harm. They’re like first-generation shanks. But they’re moving slowly toward something more deadly.
B: And they’ve got a lifetime to perfect their skills. At least they’re believing in the symbolic power of objects. And the empowerment of making things yourself.
What’s the objective difference between a shank and a sculpture?
A: I wish it were sculpture class, so we could figure that out.
What was the last occasion in your life when you had to improvise a weapon?
B: I’ve improvised weapons against black widow spiders. It was real caveman. And I had to defend my succulents and geraniums from grasshoppers. First I got organic bug spray and all it would do was make them wet. Wet with organic fluid. So I had to resort to a rock.
When was the last time Wounded Lion had to resort to a rock?
B: Maybe from the beginning. The Cramps are a big influence. There’s a Cramps song called ‘Caveman.’ One of my favorite lines is, ‘Big rock / hunt meat / cave man / rock beat.’
You say that so solemnly.
B: I know that song really well and we try and take it to heart. Guitar is played forcefully. Even though we talk about these primitive things—we’re interested in songs, songwriting, interesting oblique lyrics and things that aren’t part of the caveman tradition. The Kinks, the Move, the Creation—sophisticated interesting lyrics.
But scientists think Neanderthals invented music.
B: I’m not surprised—it’s very primal.
What do people mean when they say music is ‘primitive’?
A: They’re trying to say it’s both simple and it does something to their bodies.
Can songs be both primitive and romantic?
A: Absolutely.
B: Ever heard the old Elvis recording of ‘Blue Moon’ on the Sun Sessions? It’s drenched in reverb and there’s hardly any instruments—mostly voice. And with all the reverb it becomes a sound—it’s utterly romantic. The sound and lyrics work together. It creates a whole atmosphere you live in for two-and-a-half minutes.
What’s more important to the band? Music or atmosphere?
A: Definitely the creation of atmosphere. Even though we’re creating music, the ultimate goal of what we’re doing is something akin to creating an experience of rock ‘n’ roll. I’m not sure it can be described out loud in words. It’s a feeling you’ll know you have when you get it.
B: When you’re seeing a band and you’re totally conscious of being in the presence and you’re so glad you’re seeing it and experiencing it live, and it sort of takes you over. It doesn’t have to be dancing—sometimes that what’s it is. Sometimes you can’t stop smiling because you’re amazed people are pulling it off.
A: I heard ‘China Girl’ by David Bowie on the radio when I was five and I thought my life would never be the same.
B: And I remember hearing the first B-52’s album at age nine or ten. I can still see the tiny one-speaker ghetto blaster it was playing through. And hearing the opening of ‘Planet Claire.’ It practically created a doorway for me that I entered into, and it sort of showed me what I wanted. And it also happened with a Devo video—The Men Who Make The Music. The total experience—the visuals, the music, this peculiar absurd attitude that’s really reigned in but deadly funny.
Ami, did you find an echo in your own experience being in a band when you did your art project on cults and gurus?
A: My attraction to that subject was definitely about stage performance. I happened to see this documentary called Aliens From Spaceship Earth—narrated by Donovan—and it’s about gurus. Made in the ‘70s. I had been working with political spectacle as a topic for a long time, and there was this one sort of guru party at a place called the Palace of Peace in London. And it looked just like a fascist spectacle. The only dominant visual theme was a huge rainbow. I was struck by the fact that this year 1973 had these gurus veing very active—and a lot of dictators in Africa and South America also had these spectacles. And then there was glam rock—always a special favorite of mine. And I really wanted to explore the aesthetic tie between those things. All of those things at that moment are really coming off the ‘60s and the idealism and the resulting sort of complete loss of hope, and these three expressions were an attempt to somehow pull away from that despair into some kind of transcendent euphoric togetherness. But all three in their own ways result in paranoia—darker than perhaps the way they started. Because they can’t match the spectacle.
Is that how we got punk?
A: I’d say it definitely played an important role.
Are there any modern equivalents?
A: It’s a lot harder to track now. Individual personal expression is subsumed under this corporate takeover of culture. The Internet is a democratizing force. But in terms of bare technical facts—most publishing houses and music companies are owned by giant international corporations now. There used to be thousands of independent publishers and they’ve all come under ten or fifteen umbrellas. That really restricts public access to what’s going on in intellectual life. There’s still lots of independent musicians and writers slogging away. But that democratization also means there’s no mid-range filter.
B: But it almost seems music has found a way to survive. You can still have labels run by one person, and those individuals figure out ways to find music they like and distribute it. It’s on a small scale but exists. We put out our single on S.S. and we’re about to put out a record and a single on In The Red. And there are great small one-person-run labels like Siltbreeze where music has found a way. I don’t know why that is. Is it people need music so much?
What new things were you thinking about when you made the record?
A: It brought up new conversations. I was very uncomfortable with the idea of recording. I thought so much about performance and what we were doing that I wasn’t really sure if there was a role to play as a recording. But I realized how models for what we’re doing came from bands I’d never seen. Take Roxy Music—‘Love Is A Drug.’ That song creates a whole world filled with colors and environments—when I listen to it, at least. And coming to understand that allowed me to think it might be possible for us to do as well—in terms of creating an environment on a recording, rather than a live presence.
B: I wasn’t as worried. I was just concerned—many many rock ‘n’ roll bands of a certain kind are concerned that their recordings have vitality, right? I’m sure everyone talks about this with you.
Not everyone.
B: Really? Well, I have experiences where I hear some band recording and it’s just so lifeless. They believe it and they’re into it and live it’s exciting—but then it can also lose something like intimacy. It’s just a concern. The best things about the song and the best about the performance being captured—someone could know what we’re about.
What are you about?
A: I’m not sure the answer I can give you is specific enough.
What environment would be most appropriate to listen to the ‘Carol Cloud’ 45?
A: A cave?
Is there a fire in the cave?
A: That’s up to our listener.