INDIAN JEWELRY: AN INFERNAL RED
Houston-but-once-L.A.’s Indian Jewelry kicks off a fourteen-show tour tonight at the Echoplex alongside Best Coast and Health. Their latest full-length release, Totaled, came out on May 19 on We Are Free/Monitor Records. This interview by Dan Collins.
So, you guys are a couple?
Tex Kerschen (guitar/vocals): Yeah, we’re actually married.
Is it easier or harder to both live and work with someone?
Tex Kerschen: I think it’s easier; it’s definitely simpler.
Erika Thrasher (guitar/vocals/keyboards): The way we’re completely consumed with the band, I can’t imagine—it just would be hard to give time to the person you’re with if you’re obsessed with your band and constantly on the road.
Are you ever on the beach together, and the other one starts talking about the band, and you’re like, “I just want to have five minutes not to think about the band?”
Erika Thrasher: Ha ha, I can imagine that it would be pretty nice to be in separate bands in some ways, because that way you could just have your time together and have it not be about the band. But that’s the way it tends to be, and that’s cool for right now. I don’t mind that!
We haven’t seen you live in a while! What’s new in your live show?
Tex Kerschen: Technically, we’ve got a bass player. Sound-wise, we’re louder. Light-wise, we’ve added more lights.
Tex Kerschen: Red. Infernal red! A strobe and a red light.
The red is angelic and the strobe is demonic?
Tex Kerschen: I think they’re both very hellish.
Who’s playing bass?
Tex Kerschen: Our friend Rich. He’s an old friend of ours from Houston.
Erika Thrasher: He plays through a lot of pedals and effects. A lot of the new stuff has a lot of bass lines and aren’t so much just keyboard.
Most rockers from L.A., when they think of Texas, they think “Austin-Austin-Austin-Austin-Austin.” What are the advantages of being based in Houston?
Tex Kerschen: It’s a real city, for one! But there’s nothing to do—Austin has a nightlife and lifestyle, but Houston has miles and miles of freeway. You can get a lot more done. There are no distractions from working on music. Dallas, I think they might even have record label people there. When a band gets out and does things in Dallas or Austin, they’re not… uh…
Screaming into the void?
Tex Kerschen: Yeah!
Erika Thrasher: There’s a lot of interesting music going on. Our friends Future Blondes, and Balaclavas. Tents. There are the obvious ones here, like Beyonce!
A Houston newspaper described your music as “thistly.” Are you thistly?
Erika Thrasher: I don’t know! I think it’s definitely layered.
Well, you guys are pretty famous everywhere, despite your dull town! What’s coming up for you?
Tex Kerschen: We’ve got a new album coming out called Totaled, and then we’re doing a short tour with Lightning Bolt.
What’s new about your new album?
Erika Thrasher: I think this one has way shorter songs on it, which is different for us. We recorded it all over the place, in Houston and L.A. It’s a combination of our first album, We Are the Wild Beast, and Invasive Exotics together. It has some electronic stuff, and it’s kind of… easier than some of our other records. Easier for the listener, because it’s a collection of two minute songs. People seem to think that’s easy.
Are things coming full circle?
Erika Thrasher: Yeah, I think so! We’ve been playing in this other band, Twisted Wires, which is pretty much me, Tex Kerschen, Richard, and Mary, but more centered around Richard and Mary’s songs. It’s more synths and drum machines, and it’s really smooth and kind of funky. So I think that may have had some influence on this record as well.
Is Tex really in a Prince tribute band?
Erika Thrasher: Oh, that’s real. I played guitar in it for a while.
It seems like in the aughts, a lot of bands were playing on the floors of venues, instead of on a stage, drum kit and all. Do you guys still play on the floor, or are you back on the stage?
Tex Kerschen: We’ve been on the stage lately. One, because it’s louder—we’re been going for sonic values, a little bit away from performance, I think, for the past several years. Also we got tired of our gear getting brutalized by people and our shit getting ruined. It seems like between 2004 and 2006, every time we’d go out, half our gear would get broken and destroyed. People were taking one of the things we were doing and taking it to that level of stupid where they’re trying to hit us with our own gear, like throw our broken cymbals at our faces while we’re playing.
That’s not cool!
Tex Kerschen: It’s not cool after a while! It’s fine if you hurt yourself, if it’s your one night out that week, but we’re a band on tour, and we don’t want to get hospitalized.
Erika Thrasher: We used to put out cymbals and things, trash percussion, and people would go fucking crazy! Someone nearly decapitated me at some point. I looked behind me after a show, and there was a broken, jagged cymbal in the wall by my head just kind of moving up and down! I’m not kidding. People have come up to us with blood all over their hands, like, “thank you so much!” Like, I’m not going to shake your hand! They think they’re on some kind of drug trip, so they’re just freaking out. I guess that’s kind of normal.
What’s the worst injury you’ve received at a show?
Erika Thrasher: We’ve been really lucky! We’ve just destroyed so much gear. I’ve had a PA speaker fall on top of my keyboard, from the ceiling. It grazed my shoulder; it would have killed me if it’d hit my head! I’ve felt guitar stock heads come swishing by my nose, and my hair get swished by things with a lot of force coming through.
Do people do weird things to your gear? Somebody once took one of the Mooney Suzuki’s effects pedals, covered it in mustard, and then put it back on the stage.
Tex Kerschen: That was a buddy of ours in Houston that did that! It’s funny you’d know that. That’s a piece of Houston trivia I didn’t think ever left the city.
The Mooney Suzuki guys probably want to kick his ass! What’s his name?
Tex Kerschen: Oh, I don’t want to call him out.
Erika Thrasher: I can probably guess!
Back in the day, you had Jimi Hey in the band. Are you guys still on good terms?
Tex Kerschen: Oh yeah, we’re friends with him.
He’s a very dreamy man! Was he the Dennis Wilson of the band when he played with you? Did all the girls jump past the rest of you guys to get to him?
Erika Thrasher: Oh, Jimi Jimi. He’s totally dreamy.
Tex Kerschen: Uh… yeah… Yeah, the boys and the ladies alike! He’s got a lot of charisma, that guy.
Erika Thrasher: He was really cool to tour and play with. Of course, he had a girlfriend at the time. He was very true.
Who’s your drummer now? What does she bring to the table?
Tex Kerschen: Our friend Mary Sharp. She’s been in the band since 2008, I think. She’s one of the hardest drummers I’ve ever played with! She has a real heavy, stripped-down style. She hits the drums so hard, we had to get louder amps to hear ourselves on stage, so she made us all louder.
One of the things that struck me when I first saw you live is that your drummer doesn’t have headphones! He, now she, plays to looped beats, but without using a click track, just by hearing the beats as loudly as the audience hears them. How did you come up with that technique?
Tex Kerschen: Oh, everything that we come up with is out of necessity. We knew we wanted to have a drummer. We did one of our tours in 2003 or 2004, and all of our gear was from our main band Swarm of Angels, a regular guitar-drums band. Whatever we’ve done from the get-go stemmed from whatever we had access to, so we never had access to a click track and headphones. I don’t even know if I’m aesthetically into that. Everybody has done things that way. Especially when we were really getting going with this band, we wanted it to be just as heavy and ugly as it could be. We’d stack reams of practice amps that we had lying around together and just have field static!
Was there anything you tried that was a mistake, and you had to pull it out of the recordings or the live show?
Tex Kerschen: Ha ha, we used to be a lot more open about people playing with us. Because I had this idea years ago that “everybody has rhythm,” right?
I don’t know that I agree with your premise.
Tex Kerschen: I had this conviction that everyone has rhythm. But it was disproved so many times on the road! And that’s one of the reasons we had to get off the floor, because we decided we were going to enforce a mandate that we were not going to get sabotaged by a bunch of offbeat motherfuckers.
Erika Thrasher: The way Mary plays, she kind of rules the drum set. We told her, if anybody comes up, just put a boot in their face. She’s had to endure a lot of roughhousers. She’s had to manhandle a few people.
If playing on the floor was a 2000s thing, what’s the nineties equivalent?
Tex Kerschen: The nineties and the 2000s were kind of the same thing.
You just blew my mind. Well, what’s the future?
Tex Kerschen: I kind of invented some sort of thing going back to the [Busby Berkeley] productions, these cascading stairways. And we’d play at the very top of the apex of a gigantic stairway, out of sight of the entire audience.
Would you ever do a show like Public Image Limited, where you play behind a screen and cause a riot?
Tex Kerschen: Have we? With this band, I can’t remember. I know I’ve done a show behind a screen before. I know it was done to antagonize people. And I know that nothing we do has quite the same amount of immediate impact as what Public Image Limited did. Also, they did things kind of quick, and we’re doing things longer. And people were much less jaded.
Erika Thrasher: Turning the lights off and using strobe lights is enough to really piss a lot of people off. I don’t think we’ve ever played a show without strobe lights, and we’d be in the dark, with only the beer light signs… “The beer light will guide us!!!” A lot of people are really not into turning off the lights. I think it was in Utah that a fire was almost started.
Has a club owner ever said, “You can’t turn on a strobe light. People will have seizures?”
Erika Thrasher: Honestly, the only time people get upset with that is in Europe. There’s like a strict rule. You can only have like 45 seconds at a time. You have to have some kind of ratio of lights to strobe lights. In the U.S. it only happened once, and it was because the owner of the bar had seizures. He came after the show, and he was just really upset about it!
Have you ever gotten people so mad that they’ve pissed on your stuff, or chased your van out of a parking lot?
Erika Thrasher: Scolari’s Office in San Diego told us that we were the worst band that had ever played there before, and the owner tried to demand that we pay for all the drinks he gave us for free.
You’ve probably been asked this before, but I’m curious—why did you guys take the name Indian Jewelry? Why not “Native American Decorative Attire?”
Tex Kerschen: We had a lot of reasons at the time! This is going back kind of far. At the time we were going under different names every tour, which was really fun in terms of the poetics of it all, but it was a really a stupid economic idea for trying to support yourself on the road, because people never knew we were the same band that they happened to know personally. So we were operating under a bunch of different names. A lot of them were different, like “I Love Words,” or “Turquoise Diamonds.”
Erika Thrasher: We did a couple tours as Turquoise Diamonds.
Tex Kerschen: And we go on the road, and we see in Europe, there’s this band called Seven of Diamonds. And there was a band, Black Diamond, which was similar.
Erika Thrasher: And then we met Lavender Diamond!
Tex Kerschen: And we did pass through L.A. and find out there’s a band called Lavender Diamond. So we saw that recurrence. Particularly when we were starting, we were much more contrarian, and didn’t want to get caught up in somebody else’s rope. So we wanted to change the band name. And we wanted to pick something that was kind of beautiful, kind of poetic. We picked the name because we saw it listed everywhere as we were driving back and forth across the desert. “Indian Jewelry”—you’d see it everywhere. It’s like the elephant in the room. You’d see it over and over again. And we figured it was closely related. And at the time, I was reading a whole lot of stuff like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and I was getting into the history of how bad Native Americans had got it. And it also tied in with trips I’d made to Palestine years before that, when I was trying to organize exhibitions of art by Palestinian artists. It’s sort of this idea of the underdog, the victim, the receivers of bullshit, of oppression. We kind of wanted to take that a little bit, without getting too heavy into it, using something that was sort of found? You know, it’s a found object, because the name is everywhere, right? It meant lots of different things, because it also means East Indian silver jewelry, and things like that. It means something of beauty and it means something of reminding people about real American culture having to do with exploitation. It means many things without ever being any one of them. It’s not an explicit meaning—it’s a poetic meaning.
Erika Thrasher: We’re going through a lot of changes right now; I think you might even see a name change coming up soon. We’re kind of past Indian Jewelry.
Is it because there are so many bands now with Indian-inspired names, like “Pocahaunted?”
Erika Thrasher: Oh, have you noticed that? What’s funny is that when we first started, there were no bands that had any kind of Native American names, and now it’s just disgusting!
Tex Kerschen: Initially, it was kind of irksome, seeing this sort of, like, theme, pop up so directly. And it feels a little bit corny, you know? But at the same time, everybody’s got to make their own way in this world. Some bands are good and some bands are less good. I think a lot of people—you know, when you’re young , you’re kind of easily influenced, and when you get a bit older, you’re still influenced but it gets a little subtler, less direct.
Erika Thrasher: We have camaraderie with a lot of the people who have names like that: our friends in Cry Blood Apache, and some other friends, Apache Dropout.
I’m going to start a band called “Arapaho Amethyst.” But I’ll wait until you guys change your name and then steal your new name. Any guesses to what it might be?
Erika Thrasher: I think “Future Indians.” Possibly.
What are some bands that have influenced you in ways that might not be immediately obvious to the listener?
Tex Kerschen: Goodness gracious! The problem is that I know, having lived in Los Angeles for a year, that people in L.A. know way more about music than we do. Every motherfucker there has got a more extensive record collection, in all genres of music, than I think we will ever have, even on our deathbeds! So, I don’t want to say there’s anything they don’t know about. I kind of came from a musical background that was a mixture of a lot of shit. The things that you can hear in the music are, like, the Butthole Surfers, right? Things like the Pain Teens—they were a really cool Houston band that was around from like the eighties to the late nineties. They did sound collage, and made good music. Houston was a real hotbed, all throughout the years that I was kind of young, for experimental music.
Is that why you guys stayed there?
Tex Kerschen: There are environmental reasons, and sentimental reasons, because it’s home. But yeah, we have a lot of hometown pride. I have this stupid name—I can’t help it! It is a cool place in terms of the things that do get done, when they get done. Great bands, like Culturecide. Great bands like the Pain Teens. The Red Crayola. The weirdest bands come from here, because there’s really no call to compromise yourself, with whatever you’re trying to do. There’s a lot of courage in that.
In the liner notes of one of your albums, I think it said Don Bolles had helped you guys with your recordings.
Tex Kerschen: Oh yeah. Don was really helpful to us when we were first in L.A. He’s helped us on tours throughout. He was one of the first people to really help us out when we got there. We went to his studio, and he helped us do the drums on this one recording that ended up on Invasive Exotics, the black one with the snakes on it.
Did you ever think that that album looked a little bit similar to that Metallica black album?
Tex Kerschen: Ha ha! That would be cool, but I don’t think so.
They have a snake on theirs, too!
Tex Kerschen: Oooh! Well, shit, I was a huge Metallica fan in high school, and still am, towards the records that meant things to me.
On your next album, you should have a cross with a lightning bolt coming down on it.
Tex Kerschen: Maybe the next album will just be the Ride the Lightning cover!
Erika Thrasher: No.
KXLU PRESENTS INDIAN JEWELRY WITH BEST COAST, GOLDEN PANDA, AND HEALTH ON TUE., JUNE 8, AT THE ECHOPLEX, 1154 GLENDALE BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8:30 P.M. / $14 / ALL AGES. INDIAN JEWELRY’S LATEST RELEASE, TOTALED, IS OUT NOW ON WE ARE FREE/MONITOR RECORDS. VISIT INDIAN JEWELRY AT SWARMOFANGELS.COM/INDIANJEWELRY.HTML.