June 4th, 2009 | Interviews

josh slater

Download: The Sonics “Strychnine”


(from Here Are The Sonics! available now on Norton)

The Sonics weren’t pioneers so much as cavemen—the first humans to discover tools, fire and the absolute rudiments of chemistry. Their original ‘60s songs still sound wild and feral today, and their debut Here Are The Sonics! devours most of the million punk rock records that timidly followed it. This will be their first Los Angeles-area show ever. This interview by Dan Collins.

When was the last time you guys played the Los Angeles area?

Larry Parypa (guitar/vocals): I don’t think we ever did. We recorded down there a bunch. We went to the Whisky a Go Go and the Turtles and the Doors were there, before they got really popular.
Gerry Roslie (vocals/organ): We saw Ike and Tina Turner! It was extremely happening down there. We were like wide-eyed country boys.
A lot of L.A. bands really emulated the Beatles. But you guys didn’t seem to be Anglophiles.
LP: We loved the Beatles, and we even played some of their songs, but in no way did we try to emulate the Beatles. We were a very minor, dark sounding group for those days.
GR: We’d try to do a pretty song, and it’d just end up getting ‘nice and rough!’
Rob Lind (sax/harmonica/vocals): We loved the Kinks. We actually traveled with them and opened a number of shows for them.
LP: We played the way that we played, which was without a whole lot of technique, and real hard. A live performance—I mean, the room would almost breathe because it was so powerful. Knowing that we weren’t masterful musicians or anything, knowing that we weren’t a vocal group, we were there to pound it out. It was our style. Nobody was doing 1-3-4 progressions, real minor progressions. And they weren’t singing about the topics we sang about. And nobody was screaming!
You both had brothers in the band. Did Larry and Andy ever fight like Ray and Dave Davies did?
GR: When didn’t they? They had some real sessions. We were heading down around the Portland area, and Larry had a brand new Buick, and had his radio on real loud, and me and Andy were in the back seat. Andy was like, ‘Turn that volume down back here at least!’ And finally Andy had enough getting Larry to do it, and he was drinking a bottle of grape pop, and he poured it down Larry’s speakers while the car was going down the freeway, and the speakers go ‘bloooblublublublublublublu!’ And he pulled over, and I think they were just about ready to go to blows right there on the side of the freeway. Andy was always on Larry’s case for playing too loud.
Why did you decide to scream about things like drinking strychnine? It seems like that would kill you.
GR: Well, I’m kind of crazy by nature. I do crazy things and think of crazy things. But I’m not dangerous—heh heh. Honest, judge!
RL: The PA systems were normally pretty bad. Sometimes we just had metal horns. And so Gerry started screaming so he could hear himself.
GR: It’s a wonder I’ve got a voice left! I screamed myself silly. I was inspired by the voices of Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis of course. I liked their energy, but I don’t remember anybody doing witchy stuff. It’s just a crazy, psychotic thing. After we got going, there did start to be crazy, witchy things, like Ozzy. Everything was kind of like, ‘love and marriage, la la la la la,’ and I went ‘Nah! That’s not dirty enough! That’s not the way I feel!’
A lot of your songs seem to be about revenge—particularly upon some girl! Was there a particular relationship in your life where you’re like ‘I’m going to get even with her and write a song about it?’
GR: Do you have a couple hours, my friend? Who hasn’t been screwed over—guys or girls?
Do you secretly hope to yourself that some day, that girl is going to walk into a record store and see a Sonics poster and think to herself, ‘I blew it!’?
GR: Oh, yeah, I do hope that happens! That would be sweet!
You guys are often cited as the original punk band. Did you feel a kinship with bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols?
RL: The Clash, I thought they were hard-rocking gods. The Sex Pistols, I didn’t like a whole lot of the stuff they did, but I liked their attitude, and every once in a while I’d hear one of their songs and go ‘Whoa, that’s good. Way to go, guys!’
LP: After the late ‘60s, I didn’t listen to music much. If I did, it was probably more country.
RL: Yeah, more the Seattle guys—that’s really where garage rock started with us, and it was like Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, and Mudhoney, and Screaming Trees, and Alice and Chains—it was kind of like those guys were our sons! We were real proud of them.
Let’s talk about the earlier Northwest scene. It seems like the first breakout bands were instrumental combos like the Ventures and the Frantics.
RL: The Frantics and the Ventures and Paul Revere kind of predated us. I think one of the first rock songs I ever heard was ‘Walk, Don’t Run,’ and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.
LP: God, the Frantics were just a fantastic group! Even today, they really stand up. The first interest I ever had in guitar was Duane Eddy—actually it was ‘Rumble’ by Link Wray, but then Duane Eddy had a song out that was all instrumental, and just really got me stimulated to want to play guitar. Not long after that, the Ventures came out with their stuff, and I tried to learn every song on the Ventures album. Another band that was more regional was the Wailers. They came out with instrumentals that had much harder rhythms than what the Ventures were doing, but then they got Rockin’ Roberts, and Gail Harris, and they would do vocals.
I used to have their album Live at the Castle. Did you ever play at the Castle in Tacoma?
LP: Yeah! In fact, we turned down Jimi Hendrix there, before he was the Jimi Hendix. He came and wanted to sit in, and we told him to get lost! It was a big club—a big dance spot for the Seattle area. You’d maybe get a thousand kids in there. There was a place called the Crescent Ballroom in Tacoma, where the Wailers played a lot. It’s like the first time I ever played there—I was 14 or 15, and probably didn’t have a clue about what I was doing. Lesley Gore came through town and for some reason, my brother [Andy] and I were part of the backup group for her. We did that with the Shangri-Las also, and we just ruined them! We knew we were going to back them up, but we didn’t learn their songs! Their songs had a lot of breaks in them, and we’d play right through them.
RL: The lead singer of the Shangri-Las said something snarky about us. So next time we played with them, we made fun of them. They were doing ‘Leader of the Pack,’ and Gerry was riding his piano like a motorcycle, and I was down on my knees, being like, ‘No, Danny, please please don’t go!’ We just humiliated them. You don’t come to Seattle and trash the Sonics! So they said they’d never play with us again.
We interviewed Mary Weiss last year. Do you want to tell her publicly that you’re sorry?
LP: We’re sorry! We played in Barcelona last year, and she was also on the bill. And she remembered! Oh, yeah!
RL: We smoothed things over. She’s playing with the guy from the Smithereens, Dennis, and we drank a lot of Scotch in the hotel in Barcelona, and we sat and chatted with Mary and her husband. Things are fine now.
How about Paul Revere and the Raiders? Any bad grudges there you want to settle? Like, who played ‘Louie Louie’ better?
RL: Oh, I think we did! I don’t think there’s any question!
Did you get just a little pissed off when the Raiders got to be on TV and in Teen Beat and you guys didn’t?
RL: Not at the time. I used to know Paul Revere, and Paul is the epitome of a businessman. The problem with Northwest rock ‘n’ roll bands—with the exception of the Ventures who broke out and became worldwide—was that us and the Wailers got trapped in the Northwest.
LP: We didn’t even think too much about what we were doing musically or where we were going. We’d hardly ever practice or anything. We would throw our instruments in the van maybe Sunday night after doing some weekend stuff, and wouldn’t pull them out again until we’d play again. We were more interested in whether we could get girls into the motel rooms that night.
It was kind of the cusp of the Summer of Love! Did you guys get to have drug orgies?
LP: We’d have the bathtub full of beer and stuff—to try to ply them with liquor. That really was a key objective. The music was just a vehicle to get us in some parties! You’d hit the road in summers, just playing one-night-stands all over the place. That was an exciting way to spend your teenage life!
The Meters recorded a live album on the Queen Mary—are you guys planning on recording one there too?
RL: No, we’re not doing that. We’re actually planning on going back into the studio in July. All new material. We need to get new stuff out.
LP: We don’t know what’s going to happen because we don’t practice. We go months and don’t touch our instruments. For this show we’re going to get together for an hour and a half at my house before going to L.A. and run through the songs again just so we can make sure we remember them. And sometimes we don’t!
I’ve heard a couple cuts from your previous 1972 reunion, which Norton added as a bonus on the Sonics Boom album. It sounds even more hard than your sixties recordings. How did you guys resist the urge to get all bluesy like Foghat?
RL: We never sat there and scratched our heads and said ‘What could our gimmick be?’ We always played real hard. Larry played guitar as hard as he could. Bob Bennett played drums as hard as he could. Jerry screamed and banged on the piano. I tried to play sax the way Larry played guitar. I tried to play as hard-dirty-nasty as I could. We used to play dances in armories or big roller rinks, where we’d have three-four-five thousand people. And we didn’t want people standing around with their arms folded staring at us. We wanted people to start dancing immediately. What a lot of bands would do is blow two or three songs and get the level right and then get into it. We wanted to get into it as soon as we hit the stage, so we came out blasting from the get-go! And that’s exactly what we do now. We are going to come out blastin’ and attempt to blow the place up.
GR: We don’t tone it down! We don’t try to blow people’s heads off, but… well, yeah, we might try to blow people’s heads off. What the heck?
Ar the end of your career, suddenly a basketball team starts up in your own town and calls itself the ‘Supersonics.’ Did you feel your name had been usurped?
LP: We thought it would be good publicity to sue them, even though we’d lose—just to say, ‘Hey, the Sonics are suing the Sonics!’
GR: It was kind of a shock! But we were out of the business. But now they’re gone, and we’re back!