November 5th, 2012 | Interviews

ward robinson

Warren Thomas is the low slow voice at the black heart of the Abigails, the band he describes as—and that he correctly asked us to describe as—satanic outlaw country, which explains everything but his love songs and actually even some of the love songs. He was once in the Growlers and the Grand Elegance, but the Abigails are his baby (or spawn) and their new album Songs of Love and Despair throws itself into a black hole that Skip Spence, Lee Hazlewood and Roky Erickson all knew too well. They’re in residency every Monday in November at the Echo. This interview by Frankie Alvaro.

What’s the story behind your first tattoo? Mine was in a bedroom when I was 14 and it cost $13.
Warren Thomas (guitar/vocals): Shit—the day I was going to get my first tattoo, I had just turned 17 and was going to this weird alternative school. I wasn’t the worst kid in the world, but didn’t have much interest in high school—but came from a good family and knew that I wanted to graduate. I remember Jess the Mess from Broken Bottles was in my class. He never said anything and had a tattoo of a guy with a knife in his back on his forearm. Anyway—these guys I knew met this older guy and he was tattooing out of his garage. This is Orange County in like ’97, so the rockabilly-Social Distortion-whatever scene is totally going off. There’s flame tattoos everywhere you look and I remember the first guy to go over to the garage got flame tattoos that covered both his forearms. Hopefully he’s still into that shit—if not he’s probs pretty bummed. So we start heading over to the guy’s garage and all of a sudden we get in a fucking car accident and my fuckin’ face smashes through the windshield! There’s hair dangling from shards of glass, my face is pouring blood and I remember this very distinct smell of dirt—kinda reminded me of a baseball field or something. The paramedics arrive and I tell them I’m cool, that I don’t need to go to the hospital or whatever. But as I was only 17 and my face was bleeding fuckin’ everywhere, I didn’t have a choice, so off to the hospital I went. I was pulling pieces of glass out of my face for at least a week and ended up getting the tattoo a couple weeks later. It was the Misfits’ ‘Die, Die My Darling’ art—the Marilyn-glass-skull thing. I still like it.
Where are you from?
Like most people, my dad fucked my mom and nine months later I came out of her pussy. As far as where I come from, I was born in New Jersey. As for my ancestors, I’ve always been kinda puzzled about that. I remember sitting at my friend’s house last Thanksgiving next to her boss—he’s from France and asking me where I’m from and I couldn’t really answer. Whenever I’ve asked my mom where I’m from, she starts sayin’ all these different countries which I can never remember. I usually just tell people I’m English. I mean, Warren John Thomas II sounds pretty fuckin’ English to me. I tell this dude my family is from all over Europe and he says, ‘Oh, cool—you’re a bastard!’ I’d never heard of that, but it had a nice ring to it.
The Abigails is basically the first band that’s ‘yours,’ even though you’ve been in lots of bands before. But this one is like pure Warren. So what made it come out after all this time like … outlaw country from hell?
There’s really no explaining it—well, maybe there is. It just kinda comes naturally to me. You know what they say: ‘Country music is just the white man’s blues,’ and Satan’s always lurkin’ in the shadows and I’ve been around the block a few times now. So I’d say it all kinda makes sense.
Your songs seem like they’re either love songs—even if it’s love gone bad—or songs about hell and general fucked-up-edness. Is that what life comes down to? Hell and love? This is the Roky Erickson question.
Hell is a good place to write songs, get smashed, take drugs and destroy your sanity, well-being, future and relationships. Other than that—fuck that place. A while back I was driving down the most perfect road and traveling at the perfect speed. Everything felt perfect. I kept going, just me and my car, and eventually it became dark out and all of a sudden the road became a bit bumpy—not the biggest deal, but not quite the same. My car didn’t seem to like this very much, so I pulled over. She seemed to be a bit hot, so I let her cool down, gave it time and eventually started her back up and continued down this road, not going too fast, taking it real easy. But no matter how slow I went, the road was just too much for my car to handle. This beautiful smooth road had become completely fucked and there I was—stuck in hell. Lemme tell ya, it was a pretty long walk back, but I made it in one piece. Sorry for the story—I have no idea what Roky woulda said.
OK—here’s a hell question for you. Tell me about taking Hell’s Bells.
I would never recommend anyone taking Hell’s Bells—ever! I mean, unless you’re some tripped out shaman chillin’ in the desert, talking to eagle-buffalos or some shit. It’s the most psychotic drug I’ve ever taken. I remember I was walking around one night and this weirdo drinking a King Cobra comes up to me all tripped out and asks if he can use my cell phone. He said he needed to call his sponsor. I told him that probably wasn’t a good idea cuz he was obviously fucked out of his mind. He totally had the crazy in his eyes. I asked him what he was on and he said Hell’s Bells—the shit grows like wild flowers in Southern California and that it’s super psychedelic. Being into psychedelics, I immediately went on my search. Didn’t take long till I found a fuckin’ plethora of these satanic bastards. Grabbed a bag, filled it up, threw them in the freezer. A couple days pass and I had mentioned to a couple friends I was really stoked on taking these things. They begged me not to. One of the guys said his brother went blind for like a month. He made me promise I wouldn’t leave my house. So I go out that night, get drunk, nothing crazy. Come back with my Japanese friend, Aya, who just moved here and barely spoke English. We run outta booze and it’s like quarter to 4—the liquor stores are obviously closed and the 6 AM bar sesh seemed too far away. All of a sudden I remember I’ve got these fuckin’ Hell’s Bells in the freezer. We put a shitload of the flowers in boiling water with some sugar and something else. After we drank it, we lay in my twin bed and like retarded drowsy. Next thing I know it’s daylight and I’m outside. There was this car and I coulda sworn it was a car full of my friends coming to pick me up. I go to open the door to hop in and the door is locked. I then look into the car—my vision is completely fucked at this point—put my hands to my face and the window, squinting, to try and see who it is that’s picking me up? I then realize that no one is in the car. I kept having this feeling in my hand, like I was holding a cigarette or something and then all of a sudden the feeling would leave as if I had dropped my cig. My vision is so bad that I’m on my hands and knees looking for this cig, practically digging into the sidewalk. The next thing I know I’m more than certain that I’m in my backyard locking up my bike when all of a sudden I’m approached by this really burly man. He asks me what the fuck I was doing in his backyard and I told him I was just locking up my bike. He told me I didn’t have a bike and that I needed to get the fuck out of his backyard. I was totally tripping fucking balls! And not like tripping balls like on shrooms or some good Lucy or something—straight-up psycho times. I’d imagine this is how Skip Spence felt when he freaked out and tried killing his bandmate to save him from demons with an ax. Anyway, I’m really into baths—somehow managed to draw myself one and kinda come to around 1 in the afternoon. I don’t know what happened to Aya. My roommate said he found her on our porch topless.
If you could set up a dream show, who would you play with? Skip Spence? Roky Erickson?
There’s this super awesome unofficial autobiography of or by Tiny Tim. He was like the weirdest dude. Like say he was in front of his wife and his ass or dick itched or something, he wouldn’t be like, ‘Hey babe, my fucking butthole is on fire!’ He’d be like, ‘Oh dear, my B-U-T-T itches.’ He was super possessive and got his voice that he’s famous for from entering these sorta battle of the band/singing talent show things. He always got the boot in the first round or whatever and then one day shows up singing all tweaked out a capella and wins the motherfucker, trophy and everything. He was so stoked. Anyway, I was on tour a while back and we were playin’ some weird town in Pennsylvania. I don’t know why, but a lot of sound guys—actually a lot of people in general—just seem to give me a lot of grief. It must be my exterior—bum tan, face tats, I dunno. Anyway, this dude was like super into me and he told me he was Tiny Tim’s road manager back in the day. He said Tiny Tim was so weird—all he’d bring on a few-week tour would be a couple giant bags of bananas. I’d wanna play with him and fuck—I dunno. I’ve played with Snoop, he sucked. My friend got a blowie under the stage while he played though, and that was pretty rad.
You got your first guitar ever for the Abigails, right? Where? What needs to be ‘right’ for you to sit down and write a song?
I can’t remember which guitar was my first, but both were gifts from friends and are special to me because of that! One is this really sweet super-crappy classical guitar. When Kyle [Mullarky] and I were working on this album, I was living with the Growlers and there were guitars all over and the beach down the street. I’d write down chords to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams songs and go play guitar at the beach while those guys surfed. I was kinda hesitant to do that at first—watching some douchey guy walkin’ down the beach with guitar in hand is the biggest set-up to get heckled. I’m more of a grab-a-twelver-and-chill-on-the-beach kinda guy. Anyway, I started with little covers and then was writing my own stuff. The first song I taught myself to play was Roky Erickson’s ‘For You.’ I looked up the chords—G, E minor, C, D—but I got super frustrated that my fingers didn’t wanna do the C at first. So anyway, I show up at Kyle’s house one day with a handful of songs and he’s kinda tripped out. I mean, we’ve been playin’ music together for like twelve years and not once have I even picked up the guitar, unless it was to just be annoying. We start workin’ on these songs. He’s writing some, I’m writing some, collaborating on some … and I really took a liking to his shitty classical guitar. He was like, ‘Yeah, you know—I wanna give you that thing.’ I was reluctant to take it. I didn’t know if it was a drunk giveaway that he would regret the next day, but he convinced me he wanted me to have it and so I did. The other one was a birthday present from a friend. I was going through a pretty hard time—just gotten out of jail, the old lady left me … I was fucked. I was in total mental limbo and it was really dark. That gift was one of the nicest things anyone had ever done for me. But here’s the problem I have that I’m trying to get beyond. I wish it was that things had to be ‘right’ in order to write a song—I’m talking about a song that I’m gonna stick behind, record, put out, play live … but things have to be completely wrong for me. When I’m at the lowest of lows, when I can’t sleep and am fucked by God, that’s when I’m writing the songs I like—when the lyrics come to me like nothing. When it’s completely real. I can always write a fictional song, but there’s just something that doesn’t hold as much justice to it, you know?
Do you feel that you’ve reinvented yourself musically at all over the years?
No—I mean, I never take a step back and try to psychoanalyze myself or what I’m doing—I never know what the fuck I’m doing, or like I totally know what I’m doing at a certain point in time and then that time passes and then I forget. Like I swear I’ve had otherworldly experiences before, but as time passes they just aren’t as vivid and it’s kinda like they never happened. Like right now if you were to ask me to explain an acid trip, I wouldn’t really be able to. Playing guitar is something I’d always wanted to do. I’m just lazy and never really tried. I think the internet fucked up a lot of my life. I went to continuation school—you know, like bad kid school—and only had to go a few days a week for a few hours a day. I would just sit at home and look at internet porn and play on AOL all day. I guess I really liked playing the drums back then, and skateboarding was cool. But yeah, it was time to play guitar. I still don’t know what strings are what or how to tune. I just know some chords and got this deep, sexy voice. You dig?
What’s the best story someone ever told you about you—even if you don’t remember it?
The problem is that I can’t remember any stories that anyone’s ever told me about myself. Maybe my lack of memory is what makes me kind of a storyteller—I’m just tellin’ people these weirdo stories based off of what I kinda remember. Does this make me delusional? I guess it kinda does, huh? If you ask around I’m sure you’ll find some stories. I’ve put pills up my ass, I’ve made out with guys, I’ve shot up tequilla, I’ve OD’d, I’ve been in love—you know, there’s a lot of shit out there to do. I don’t care to live by the standards society has kinda set up for us or whatever. I’d like to think of myself as a well-rounded person: polite, fun, crazy, I dunno. Sometimes when I’m down, I’ll kinda trip on myself and be like, ‘Fuck, am I just this fucking bipolar-alcoholic with a multiple personality disorder?’
What about the convertible you used to have? That you had to get rid of because a bum pooped in it?
Like eight or nine years ago and this guy calls me up and asks if I want this sweet convertible LeBaron that he has. I didn’t have a car. He said the top was broken and wouldn’t go up, so things were just sounding even cooler. I cruise down to the guy’s house, grab this primer gray convertible, and head home to show my friends. We were living in this four-story Victorian house at the time called the Booby Trap. We had no neighbors and like a twenty-car parking lot. We could do whatever the fuck we wanted there, and we did! I don’t remember a bum shitting in the LeBaron. He broke one day and I just kinda let it sit there forever, so it wouldn’t surprise me. There was always muddy bum shits on the side of our house. A hobo guy probably just wanted to mix it up. There were the cool bums though that slept on our porch most the time. They were cool—get drunk, cruise out, smoke crack with them. They wouldn’t shit in my convertible; they were chill.
I remember when the Booby Trap had those scabies scares. How did you survive?
Ha ha—you know what? Everyone I lived with, all of their girlfriends, all of the chicks whoever was fucking, all of them got the scabies—except for one person, bitches! Me! I think I just have like a layer of dirt over my skin and they just couldn’t get under it or something. It was pretty sketchy and everything looked miserable. Norcos, Xanax, booze, dope, nothing helped. Everyone was stealing this cream from each other trying to cope. I just kept it weird the whole time.
What’s the story behind the Abigails T-shirts?
When I was in the Growlers, we had this little tour with Shannon and the Clams. We were playin’ like Fresno and Humboldt and stuff and we split for a day to go play in Idaho. We didn’t have the Growlers bus anymore, so we just took two trucks. It was still fun and to entertain ourselves we would have truck wars. See what truck could have the most fun that day, usually whatever truck was latest to the venue won. Anyway, we go to Idaho, play this show, and the town seemed like it was pretty wild! The other truck bails and we’re certain that whoever was driving was gonna get a DUI, so we decide to park our truck at the girl’s house we were staying at and take a cab back into town. We park our truck and decide to do a few bumps off these switchblades we’d been collecting while on the road, before callin’ our taxi. All of a sudden a fuckin’ cop shines his light in the truck, opens the door and pulls his gun on us cuz we all have fucking switchblades in our hands. We get pulled out, questioned harassed—cops are so weird, the weirdest thing about them is when they’re completely fucking up your entire life and then they wanna bro out with you, ya know! Anyway, me and one of the other guys get put in one car and our other friend gets put in the other. I’m explaining on the way to the station that everything is gonna be cool, we’ll just spend the night in jail, go to court in the morning and the judge will just realize we’re from California and let us go with time served for the night. Ha ha, yeah right. He tells us that Idaho is a lot different than California and that things weren’t gonna be that easy. He then asked what kinda music we play and where we’re going on tour, blah, blah, blah, and my friend is sooo coked out he asked the cop if he’s heard of Ariel Pink. Anyway, our bail was $5,000 each. We had to get lawyers, attorneys, whatever the fuck they are. I was looking at four years because the coke was in my possession and in Idaho if you give somebody any sorta drug—like if I handed you a joint—then I am distributing. Pretty heavy shit. Whatever, we fly out there for court like four times, go to jail for two weeks and yeah—so I’ve got these Abigails T-shirts that have the word ‘cocaine’ crossed out really big on it. I actually stole the shirt, it was from this 70s women’s Christian coalition against cocaine and it basically kinda tells the biblical story of Cain and Abel. I just kinda fucked with it and changed Abel to the Abigails.
Who’s in the Abigails right now?
Well Kyle and I do all the songwriting, recording, etc., and then we’ve got our crew. Ellie Mae, Shayda and Fish. Ellie Mae is my best friend, she’s amazing. She understands me on a completely different level. She’s a beautiful person and shreds at guitar and has a magical pinkie! Shayda is the super fun, like mischievous little guy. Like really nice but you know she’s probs up to no good—she’s perfect. Fish plays slide and is the chillest guy. We became friends nine years ago and then kinda went our own ways or whatever and then met back up and, lo and behold, now I sleep in his bed six to seven nights a week. The shows are always at everyone’s convenience, so if someone can’t make it, it’s totally cool with me. I’ve had lots of fun friends fill in. While in Seattle the Night Beats backed me, which was awesome! Kyle has a beautiful family. If he didn’t, I’d make him be at every show and be out on the road with me. Road doggies! I guess if I get asked to tour I’ll just figure something out. Everyone has these jobs they gotta go to and bills they gotta pay. Ellie Mae is getting sued for a million bucks. Ha ha, it’s funny that some asshole thinks he’s gonna get a million dollars from her. It’s funny to me that the hospital thinks I’m gonna pay them a cent.
You have a record out on Burger—what else is coming?
Yeah, Burger and Mono Records released the Abigails album Songs of Love and Despair. We did a limited run of 300 on garbage-colored vinyl. I’m so stoked that my friends were so down for what I’m doing that they invested their time and money into the music I’m making. It seriously has to be the best feeling in the world! I’m sure we’ll press more when this batch is all gone, and I’ve got another album’s worth of material I’m kinda startin’ to record and stuff. I’d like to put out another LP in late fall, hopefully Burger is into it. It’s a total family, but other people gotta get heard too, ya know! We just put a song on this double tape they put out called The Kitty Comp. Basically, they rescued this kitten they found on the fuckin’ freeway! It had a broken foot and all this other shit wrong with it and the surgery and everything was super expensive, so they asked 50 bands for a song.
Your album cover is a big black dot—what is it? A black hole? A dilated pupil? Barrel of a gun? If I gave you some chalk, what would you draw inside it?
No no—you got it. It is a black hole. What the fuck is more psychedelic than a black hole? It’s literally the point of no return. I don’t think I’d draw anything in the black hole. Well, maybe a squiggly face smoking a joint or a mouth full of beer. I like the dilated pupil, though—ha ha! Just writing songs, rolling on molly.
What’s on your record player these days?
I just got these Lee Hazlewood bootlegs. It’s all material I’m familiar with, but it’s awesome to have nonetheless! Burger Records is releasing so much shit it’s hard to even try to keep up! Cleaners From Venus, Wet Illustrated, dude, fucking Gap Dream! Holy shit, they are too good, seriously. They have a self-titled tape on Burger and a new LP coming out soon. This friend of mine, Christina, she plays in this awesome band called Tomorrows Tulips who we really like to play with a lot. She taught me this bong rip trick—you like get down on your knees, take a huge bong rip and then stand up and whip your head back as fast as you can! You gotta do it in front of a couch or bed or something cuz you totally fall over! Anyway, I did it, fell over, put on Gap Dream, closed my eyes and seriously started hallucinating so hard. I was like traveling through someone’s body! Not in a gross way, but like just cruising through some chill arteries or something. Check out Gap Dream! I remember one time I snorted two massive lines of DMT and I started hallucinating so hard that I had to close my eyes. I asked my friend just prior to shutting them to put on something trippy, he put on NEU! And it was perfect. I immediately turned into the fluorescent green beam that was traveling through space and there were these green orbs and I would kinda really smoothly beam into one and then be off to the next and then the next and then eventually I saw the light and opened my eyes and was totally stoked! I love DMT, it’s too cool!
What’s the happiest you ever woke up?
I swear have the worst memory ever—I can’t even remember ever waking up. I really wanna be woken up by getting a blow job, though. Yeah—my girlfriend, a blow job, a really cold Budweiser, two Oxycontins, a wallet full of cash, full pack of cigs, sunny outside, two fans, fresh breath and low blood pressure, headin’ somewhere fun like the Madonna Inn.