Tropical Fuck Storm’s Fiona Kitschin: “When everyone comes up to rehearse or record, dogs outnumber the humans. It’s chaotic, but lovely.”

Original Photo by: Jamie Wdziekonski. Handmade collage by B.

One of Gimmie’s all-time favourite bands, Tropical Fuck Storm, have just announced a new 7” single for the song ‘Moonburn’, releasing a video for the B-side, a wild reinterpretation of The Stooges’ classic ‘Ann’. We caught up with bassist-vocalist Fiona Kitschin to find out about the release, their recent European tour, her history discovering and performing music, a new hobby she’s taken up, and the band’s love of dogs.

FIONA: My day has been good. I’ve been working. I organise all the TFS stuff; right now overseas tours, Australian tours, new releases. I’m our manager.

Gareth’s mentioned that previously, and said that you don’t get enough props for all of the behind the scenes things that you do.

FI: [Laughs] Awww. It’s bloody exhausting! It gets pretty hectic when you’re working across three different time zones – here, Europe and the US. You never get to sleep. I like sleep [laughs]. 

Thanks so much for talking with us today, it’s appreciated. We’ve wanted to speak with you for ages. We’ve spoken to Gareth and Erica before. Let’s start at the beginning; where did you grow up?

F: In the hills of Perth.

How did you first discover music?

F: I grew up in a pretty bogan area. When everyone I knew was getting into Sonic Youth, I was into Gunners and Black Sabbath [laughs]. I’ve always loved music! I’ve always loved performing; I’m a weird introvert performer. I’ve got tapes of when I was 4-years-old singing, it’s quite funny. It’s pretty cute. I have this really broad Australian accent [laughs]. 

Can you remember the kinds of things you would sing back then?

F: When I was a kid I would sing [breaks out into song]: one little speckled frog / sat on a speckled log / eating the most delicious grub / yum yum! [laughs].

Amazing!

F: I was obsessed with The Muppets too. My parent’s liked Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. I grew up with boys, so I used to high kick around the house singing that stuff.

Nice! What was the first concert you went to?

F: New Year’s Eve when I was fifteen, it was at Fremantle Oval. It was Baby Animals, Hunters & Collectors [laughs]. That was my first concert. Nothing very cool I’m afraid. Gaz always brags about his first concert being Bob Dylan, but it was nothing like that for me.

My first concert was the hip-hop group Arrested Development in 1993. I went with my older sister, everyone in the crowd near us were handing around joints. 

F: That’s a cool one. What a dream.

When did you start playing music?

F: I played trumpet when I was a kid in primary school. That was short-lived. You had to do a test. If you passed the test you’d have to chose out of three instruments: clarinet, flute or trumpet. Each of the instrument teachers would come around and try to sell to the kids, why they should play that instrument. The trumpet player said, “If you play trumpet, all the muscles that you build in your lips will make you a really good kisser.” [laughs]. As a 10-year-old that really appealed to me, and so did the fact that all the other girls played the flute and clarinet, and the boys did the trumpet. I didn’t want to play those “girly” instruments, I wanted to play the trumpet!

Sadly, when we had concert, the girls would stand with their clarinets and flutes and watch me blow on my trumpet and my face would turn bright red and I got teased so much because of that. I mean there’s lots of reasons why my trumpet career didn’t take off [laughs], it was also because it was annoying to my family. There were five kids in my family. I had a practice book that my mum had to sign – I’m lazy with practising musical instruments – but she was so happy not to have the noise, that she would just sign it whether I did it or not. Many factors went against me becoming a great trumpeter! [laughs]. 

[Laughter]. When did you start playing bass?

F: Not until I was much older. The share house that I lived in was a bit of a party house, all the dudes would come around and play music, that was our form of entertainment. I thought, ‘Stuff that, I don’t want to be left out of it. I’m going to play too!’ I took it up. It was like (going back to my trumpet practice) the easiest instrument to play.

Photo by Jhonny Russell.

Were you in any other band before The Drones?

F: I played around in a few little things with other friends and then I met Gaz in Perth, we had this group of musician friends, and I played in two other bands with him before The Drones. We had a friend, mad cunt called Robin Maverick, and we had a band together. We had another band with a friend, Brendan Humphries and His Elephant Men. So, we had a few bands before moving over to Melbourne.

How do you feel you and Gaz complement each other creatively?

F: We have different roles. I do all the organisation and planning. He organises all the music-side of things. It’s actually a really good partnership, there’s not really a crossover where we step on each others toes. He’s 24/7 thinking about music and I have an organisational mind, so I’m plotting and planning things. I could’t imagine two of the same in a partnership, it wouldn’t work as good, you’d be trying to out organise the other one and out create. 

What’s one of your first TFS-related memories?

F: We hadn’t met [Lauren] Hammer when we started the band, so it was a really cool night when me and Gaz had a blind date with her, more or less. We stalked her through a metal friend, Gaz had seen her play in High Tension. Through the mutual friend we set up a blind date for the three of us. We didn’t know what to expect. We got really drunk and by the end of the night we were making plans. The real turning point was when she said she was vegan, I was like, ‘Oh my god! I love you.’ [laughs]. 

You’re vegan?

F: Yes! It was a such a happy accident to have everyone get along.

Lovely. Previously you’ve mentioned that going from The Drones into Tropical Fuck Storm, you told to Gaz that you wanted to be in band with more women.

F: Did I? I can’t remember that, probably. That sounds about right! [laughs].

And, you wanted things to be more fun and less depressing?

F: Yeah. Musically. I didn’t mean the band itself. Definitely TFS has more of a sense of fun. There was nothing much fun musically about The Drones.

What kinds of things have helped make TFS more fun?

F: Musically, it’s upbeat and less serious. It’s more danceable and silly, whilst being dark.

We especially love tracks you sing on like ‘Suburbiopia’.

F: I love singing. We have a new single coming out, I sing on that. It’s really fun. 

What’s the single called?

F: It’s called ‘Ann’ a Stooges cover.

I saw a photo of Gaz in at Zenith Records picking up a test pressing of the new single and wondered what was coming out. A new TFS release is always very exciting!

F: It’s a new 7-inch called Moonburn and the B-Side is Stooges cover ‘Ann’. 

What made you choose ‘Ann’ to cover?

F: It was at the beginning of lockdown when Melbourne had its “ring of steel” and Ham and Erica couldn’t legally come see us, there were checkpoints on the freeway. We’d set all this time aside for recording a new album and we were getting depressed about being unable to record it. I said, ‘Well, we could just do something, let’s just do it.’ So Gaz got on the drum machines and he came up with the idea of doing ‘Ann’.

What kind of song is Moonburn?

F: It’s one of my favourite emo TFS songs. It’s has a heavy vibe, it’s on that side of the TFS spectrum. 

Do you know where the title came from?

F: I could make something up, but I was probably just doing something else when Gaz told me about it. I wasn’t listening [laughs].

Single cover art by Gregory Jacobsen.

TFS were recently in Europe; do you enjoy touring?

F: Yes, I do. It’s fun. There’s touring and then there’s touring! The more comfortably you can do it the better. The days of sleeping on people’s couches are thankfully over, now I just have fun planning a secret night off in accommodation like a Scottish castle or something like that to surprise everyone. It’s fun that we can afford to stay in hotels now, nicely. People show up to shows too [laughs]. That’s always good when you don’t have to worry about no one showing in Europe sometimes, back in the day with The Drones that was a definite scenario. 

The last tour that we just got back from in the UK were sold out shows, it was such a surprise. There were younger people, like 19-year-olds, moshing and singing the words. We were deeply shocked and thrilled. It was weird and amazing.

We’re always stoked to see you play too. Previously Gareth mentioned in an interview that when you’re on tour he loves to drag people to see things like war memorials and other historical sites; is there anything you love to drag him to see?

F: [Laughs] Yeah. I don’t drag him to see anything, it’s easier to do it by myself.

What’s some of the coolest things you saw while away this time?

F: We had two days off in Rome, which was fun. We did the Coliseum and all of that stuff. This time was a really stress-free tour. Though half way through we did get sick, really sick. It was quite awful, it was more on the holiday end of things. There was one show in Oslo that me, Erica and Gareth felt like shit, we all had insane flus. Erica’s doctor’s certificate says, laryngitis. I had a doctor come see me in Greece cos I was so sick. We also played a show in Athens when the three of us were really sick; it was the last show of the tour, when it’s the last show there’s no fear of totally fucking your voice for the rest of the tour. We just push ourselves so hard for that one hour and then if we collapse or lose our voice it doesn’t matter.

We still managed to relax in a villa on a Greek island for five days, eating yummy food, swimming. The other guys, not me, were cliff jumping into the ocean. If we can, we love to have some nice time on tour.

The Greek islands sound wonderful, it’d be so pretty at this time of year.

F: Yeah. We’ve got more Europe shows in September and it’s just show after show after show and no days off. 

Is there anywhere high on your travel bucket list?

F: I just love the Mediterranean countries. Greece and Italy. I hate the cold. I’d love to play South America. Me and Gaz have been there on holiday, Argentina, Brazil and Chile, to see some family. We’ve never played there though, that would definitely be fun!

I read that you went to Mexico and had some scary experiences.

F: We finished doing a tour and we ended up in San Diego and from there it’s a quick drive through Tijuana to Baja. It was wonderful we had a nice holiday. But, we’ve had some dicey experiences in Mexico. 

Two years later, we were at the end of a tour and thought we should go back to Baja, Mexico. We did it with our friend [Amanda] Roffy, she was driving on The Drones tour of the US. During that period the drug cartels had moved in and it had become a really dangerous area. No tourist were going there. Tourists were being kidnapped on the highway, women were being raped and money stolen. We got to our hotel and we were the only guests there. Two days later we read in the Gringo Gazette what was happening there, it was quite horrifying. We had to go through army check points. We also read that you should look at their shoes and machine guns to make sure they’re the real army, cos they could be the drug cartel. We had an outdoor jacuzzi at the resort, but had to turn the lights off at night so no-one would see us. Luckily, the over the counter chill pills are good in Mexico [laughs], it helped somewhat.

[Laughter]. I also wanted to ask you about your pups, Foxie and Ralph.

F: Awww my favourite topic!

They’d be around 10-years-old, right?

F: Yes.

How did you meet them?

F: They’re real characters, they’re quite naughty [laughs]. Our neighbours up the road had just had puppies. There’s a Fox Terrier breeder in a country town near us. Our friends up the road are Fox Terrier Fanciers. They’d always have fox terriers. They had a boy fox terrier called Kevin that was really cute. Our neighbour went to the breeders and the Grand Champion Bitch, Ruby, the owner said she couldn’t breed puppies anymore and they were going to fucking put her down.

Noooo!

F: So our neighbour Andrew took her. Gaz and I were recording an album up at Andrew’s with Spencer P. Jones with a band called The Nothing Butts. While we were recording the album, we saw conception out the window, Kevin was having sex with Ruby! It turns out that she could have another litter!

Miracle babies! 

F: Miracle babies! We would go visit them everyday since they were born and it just became inevitable that we would take them in. Everyone in the band loves dogs. Between the four members of the band we have five dogs.

I know Erica has Poncho!

F: Yeah. Ham has Jack and Toohey. When everyone comes up to rehearse or record, dogs outnumber the humans. It’s chaotic, but lovely.

Nice! That sounds perfect. We love dogs so much! We have a little pup named Gia, she’s half-Jack Russell Terrier and half-Maltese.

F: Awww.

Another thing I was curious about was the sparkly black dress you’ve been wearing when you play live. It’s amazing. The way it catches the lights on stage is pretty special. Where did you get it?

F: Thank you! It’s my favourite. I got it from my oldest friend, who I met when I was three. We grew up in Perth together as Mormons. You can only wear a stage outfit for so long I feel, I might have to put it away for a while. I would wear it every night if I could!

Last question; what’s something that you like to geek out about?

F: Well, I feel very middle age, middle class saying this, and it’s a bit of a trend at the moment but, I started pottery during the pandemic [laughs]. I was watching this series The Great Pottery Throw Down and I’d get on my pottery wheel and make bowls and things. That’s my latest thing.

The other thing is, I love food and cooking! I’m always thinking about new recipes and cooking. I make a lot of Mediterranean thins, and savoury pies.

Tropical Fuck Storm have a new 7” single Moonburn/Ann available for pre-order HERE. Check out TFS Records. Find them at @tropical_fuck_storm and TFS Facebook.

Catch them on their Australian tour kicking off tomorrow (August 4):

The Stooges’ James Williamson: “Originality is the important part… you gotta be creative and original in everything in life ‘cause every day presents an opportunity to screw things up or do ‘em right!”

Original Photo: Franklin Avery. Handmade collage by B.

James Williamson is an emotional guitar player, he plays how he feels. He’s essentially self-taught and writes from trusting his instinct. James co-wrote The Stooges cult-classic album Raw Power with Iggy Pop back in the early ‘70s after joining the band, crafting a pioneering guitar-style that is aggressive, powerful and influential—laying the foundations of the punk sound to come.

Gimmie spoke to James from his home in California about latest musical offering, album Two To One, released last week on Cleopatra Records. Created with good friend Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman), the 11-track record struts and commands your attention as it plays, reminding us of all the reasons why both of these artists are all-time. Rock n Roll is very much alive in 2020.

Why is music important to you?

JAMES WILLIAMSON: I don’t really know other than I’ve always been doing it, since I was a teenager. I found it to be a really good emotional outlet, it’s ingrained in me at this point as a way to express myself emotionally.

What emotions were you expressing when playing the guitar as a younger person and what emotions do you express now? Has it changed?

JW: I think they are largely the same. I was simply able to emote that way, to get out my teenage angst and aggressive emotions, and maybe more tender emotions too. A lot of the style I developed as more or less a self-taught guitar player, that aggressive style. I think that’s what people hear in my music. When people hear this new album for example, people will be able to pick out the songs I wrote pretty much right away from the way the guitar sounds.

You’re still angst-y?

JW: [Laughs] I can still make some noise that way! There’s things that transcend age, this was the intent of this record, to go back to the straight-forward guitar record. I think we accomplished that. In doing so we brought up those original styles from ourselves as well.

There was a time when you weren’t playing guitar for a few decades; when you weren’t playing music, did you have another emotion outlet to express yourself in?

JW: Well, sure. I had decided that I was finished with music and I was moving into recording studio work, but I wasn’t really very well cut out for it because I didn’t really like the musicians that I was having to record [laughs]. It was not something I could do very well.

I ran across my first personal computer around that time and was captivated by that, they were very primitive compared to what they are today. I couldn’t even believe it! I decided I would dedicate myself to trying to learn how to make these things. It took me quite a while to get to that point but once I did, I got a front row seat for the whole deal: personal computers, the internet, networking and everything! I’ve been here in Silicon Valley since. I’m literally captivated by the technology, it’s been amazing!

On the flipside of that, I had the opportunity to come back and see what never happened for us [The Stooges] back in the day; when we came back we were fabulously popular. We played very, very large places, the first show back was 40,000 people! We went on to play in front of 350,000 people—just huge shows. I was able to see what it was like to be a big-time entertainer, it was an amazing run for me.

It sounds like both things you chose to do – music and tech – were at very exciting times in both fields.

JW: Yes. I was very lucky in that way.

Was it hard to pick up the guitar again? Was there a lot of feelings that came with doing that?

JW: Yes and no. When I first was approached to come back, I first said “no” because I didn’t know if I could do it. I had put the guitar down completely and not played it at all because it’s such a powerful thing for me! When I decided to do it, lucky for me we had many, many months before we were going to do our first show back. I had to work on it quite a bit, but it came. I was fortunate enough to have a local band that were thoughtful enough to let me play a show with them, just to get the hang of what it was to do a live show again. It all worked out but it was a lot of work for sure.

Have you ever had a really transcendent experience playing live?

JW: You could say that, any time we’ve played live it is an experience for sure. The type of music that we play in The Stooges is a type of music where the fur is flying and you don’t really have a chance to sit back and observe yourself onstage, you better be concentrating on what you’re doing because it’s moving so fast. If you lapse in concentration, you screw up! If you want to call that transcendent, it really is a deep concentration.

I saw some videos online where you were deconstructing songs “Search and Destroy” and “Shake Appeal” you mentioned that were in a way, respectively, derived from “The Bunny Hop” and The Lone Ranger theme.

JW: [Laughs] Yes. That was a couple of conferences where I was speaking and maybe it was a little bit stretched but I did feel it was not that big a stretch in some ways. I explained it to myself [laughs].

Were those things part of your childhood?

JW: Of course! I don’t know if I was conscious I was doing that though at the time. When you write music, you can’t explain where it comes from because there are so many ways to play the few chords that we have available to us and same few rhythms that are available, that they seem to be endless; surely there’ll be some overlap on things that are common to everyone.

There’s a lot to be said then for the attitude you play with then.

JW: For sure. I think that’s very much part of it.

On the record – Two To One – that you’ve just made with Deniz; what was one of the most fun moments that you had?

JW: The whole album was fun! First of all, Deniz and I are friends, we get along really well. We come from a very similar perspective, he grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I spent a great deal of time in Detroit and Ann Arbor—we have a very similar perspective on music, on ideas and so forth. I brought in the drummer I always use Michael Urbano and then I brought in a bass player I liked, so the people were compatible and everyone had the same objective. We recorded at a wonderful studio, it had a magical sound, and as we went through the project everyone was delighted. Everyone wanted to do it, there were no attitudes. From the beginning the album was charmed.

We recorded Deniz’s vocals in Hawaii and some of his overdubs. I brought it back and did mine in San Francisco, we mixed here too. Then unfortunately the shutdown came because of Covid-19. The album was finished but wasn’t mastered but fortunately Cleopatra Records had a mastering guy who had an operation out of his house. We just barely squeaked it in! [laughs].

It’s a great album! One of my favourite tracks is “Small Change”. I spoke to Deniz about it. I think that’s a lovely song too. I love the sentiment of the song of making positive changes in your life to have a better one.

JW: There’s a lot of nice subtlety in that song.

Is there a time in your life you made a small change that made a positive difference in your life?

JW: Of course! Even though I didn’t personally write the lyrics for that song, I think it’s true and that’s why people like you and I relate to that song. You have done things like that in your life and they did make the difference. I’m a big fan of that song.

You wrote the music for that one?

Yes, ah-ha.

Could you share with us a really life changing moment from your life?

JW: There’s been so many. Anything that’s important and long lasting in your life is something like that where you’ve had to make a decision and had to change in order to move in a direction that was best for everybody concerned. I’ve been alive to have made many changes [laughs]. Things like getting into technology. I’m married, I have children and a granddaughter, there’s many things you make adjustments for along the line that do make a difference, for better or for worse. It’s a universal theme really… and it’s just whether you make changes for the best or worst [laughs]—it’s your choice always!

What has fatherhood meant to you?

JW: It’s been really a godsend in my life. My children are not children any more of course, but they are wonderful people and I’ve been fortunate enough to know them their whole lives. It’s hard to beat!

Photo: Anne Tek.

Was there anything challenging writing and recording this album?

JW: There wasn’t, that’s one of the nice things about this record, there weren’t any attitude problems within the band, there weren’t any real big differences between Deniz and I. The Cleopatra [Records] people were wonderful to us. Out of all of the records that I made, this has been one of the smoothest ones!

Will you keep making more records?

JW: Well, we’ll just have to see. Right now I’m busy trying to wrap up this one [laughs].

Why did you call it Two To One?

JW: That seemed to describe what it was all about, two guitar players into one album—it sums up the album rather well.

Was there a particular mood you were trying to capture with the album?

JW: Not specifically, it was more that we were trying to make a good ol’ fashion guitar album. What you’re looking at here with the album is that there’s two guitar players and one of them can sing. We didn’t want to do something that wasn’t us, we wanted to do exactly us. If you don’t like guitar, it’s not your record! [laughs].

What did you learn from Deniz while making the album?

JW: He’s a good guitar player, he came up with such good stuff! What was really nice that on a lot of songs, if it was his song he’d play the rhythm and I’d play the lead and on my songs vice versa. It was a nice mix and variety of not only the song writing but also the playing. I think that blended really very nicely and makes it more interesting.

What’s also surprising to me, I’ve made a fair number of albums… I produced it as well. Writing it, mixing it, I’ve heard this album a million times and I still like listening to it!

What did it mean to you to get inducted in to the Engineering Hall Of Fame?

JW: It was really a very big honour for me. I got inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall Of Fame, which was a huge honour as well but, to get into the Engineering Hall Of Fame as well was a total surprised. Sometimes you just get lucky, I guess [laughs].

Or you’re really great at what you do, have a genuine passion for it and have worked hard.

JW: Well, a little bit of that too! [laughs]. The other thing that’s really gratifying about this album is that you’re talking about a couple of really old guys making a rock n roll record, so the fact that people still like it, is a very big honour really. Part of what we set out to do was really do it right and not just phone it in—we did work hard on it. We really enjoyed it too and I think that comes through.

I know that you haven’t ever really been interested in writing music for commercial purposes; was that something you decided early on?

JW: Not really, the thing was that we were attracted to originally and we always thought that that’s what we wanted to do. When I joined The Stooges and we started doing Raw Power we were really stoked about how the record was coming out and we thought it was going to be a big success! Of course we were totally delusional [laughs]. Nobody wanted that album at all. It actually did become a success, it just took about thirty years! We were right, it just took a really long time.

You mentioned that in terms of your creativity you value originality; what are the other things you value?

JW: Originality is the important part, related to music, and in terms of other things, you gotta be creative and original in everything in life ‘cause every day presents an opportunity to screw things up or do ‘em right! I think you have to be creative to get along in this world really. It’s a very challenging thing sometimes.

At this point in your life; what does success mean to you?

JW: I think success is just to be able to spend a lot of time with my family and to be on good terms and to not try to reach too far with other people and just allow them to be who they are. To enjoy my life, that is success to me!

What’s something that makes you really, really happy?

JW: I’m really, really happy when I can get a big smile out of my granddaughter!

Read Gimmie’s Interview with DENIZ TEK here.

Please check straightjameswilliamson.com + JW & Deniz Tek on Instagram; JW & DT on Facebook; Two To One can be found HERE.

Deniz Tek: “The creative process itself is extremely rewarding, it’s not a financial reward but, it’s more of a spiritual reward”

Original photo: Franklin Avery. Handmade collage by B.

Deniz Tek is best known as the guitarist and primary songwriter from pioneering, influential and rule-breaking Australian rock n roll band Radio Birdman. He’s packed a lot into his life thus far, not only has he lived many musical lives creating in various incarnations – TV Jones, The Visitors, Angie Pepper Band, New Race, Dodge Main, The Glass Insects, The Soul Movers and more – but he’s also saved lives as an ER doctor and ex-navy flight surgeon, and these days he’s also a coffee farmer living in Hawaii with his own blend of Kona coffee, Tekona.

Gimmie caught up with Deniz recently to chat about his latest project, album Two To One, a collaboration with long-time friend and Stooges’ guitarist James Williamson.

How’s your morning been?

DENIZ TEK: Good. Very productive so far, I got a lot of work done this morning. It’s been a good day! How about yourself?

Very good too! I think every day is a good day though, your day is what you make it.

DT: Yeah. At our age every day you wake up should be a good day, time is limited and you have to make the most of every minute you’ve got.

You’re at The Tek Farm in Hawaii at the moment?

DT: Yeah, I am.

Is that a special place for you?

DT: Yeah, my parents started it about forty years ago, when my dad retired from his job at the University of Michigan. They moved out here to Hawaii and started this farm. My wife Ann and I are out here taking care of the place, we took over running the farm. After my dad died my mother needed the help so we moved out here about three and a half or four years ago, we had been living in Australia before that. She’s now gone into a nursing home for about the last year. We’re just going to stay here and take care of the place for the time being.

That’s lovely of you both. Do you enjoy working outside, outdoors in nature?

DT: Oh yeah! Absolutely. I enjoy it so much better than working inside.

What attitude and spirit do you approach playing the guitar in?

DT: It’s just part of my life. I’ve played guitar since I was twelve years old. I’ve been in bands since high school. I approach it as part of daily life. It’s like eating, drinking, breathing. I play most days, occasionally I don’t play but typically, I’ll play every day.

Does it give you a particular kind of feeling?

DT: Yeah, time disappears for one thing, you stop being aware of the passage of time—you’re totally in the process. Time goes by and it’s very involving, it’s something I can really focus on without any effort involved. When my attention is focused on that, I don’t have any outside distractions.

Is it like a meditation for you?

DT: I suppose you could say that. I’ve tried meditating and I’ve never been very good at that because I keep thinking of too many things but, when I play guitar that’s not an issue so, I guess it is my meditation in some ways. I’ve never really thought about it like that but I think you’ve right.

I understand that having commercial success from your music has never really been a big a motivating factor for you; what are the things that motivate you to create?

DT: The creative process itself is extremely rewarding, it’s not a financial reward but, it’s more of a spiritual reward you get from that. Especially if it’s something that you create that other people can relate to or if it resonates with other people and they like it and it makes their life better in anyway or happier, it helps people forget their problems for a short time—what better reward could you ever hope for.

When you’re creating, whether it’s writing a song or painting; where do you find the most magic in the process?

DT: Whenever there is something new happening that’s going really well its magical. That can be just sitting with a guitar at home or in the recording studio or it can be at a concert. When you’re playing live to people that are throwing energy at the stage and we’re recycling that energy and giving it back to people; also doing it between ourselves in the band, band members giving energy back and forth between each other, that’s real magic—that’s transformational. It works with some higher powers that I don’t’ understand. It’s pretty amazing!

Photo: Anne Tek.

On the new album – Two To One – that you made with James Williamson from The Stooges there’s songs like “Take A Look Around” and “Climate Change” that speak to environmental issues; are these things that are important to you?

DT: Oh yeah! Yeah. These songs are not necessarily meant to be protest songs or political propaganda but they are observational. These songs were holding up a mirror and saying, this is what we’re seeing and this is what you may be seeing as well; maybe to increase awareness in certain ways.

Previously you’ve said that The Stooges album Raw Power helped shape your path as a young guitar player; in what way? What resonated?

DT: That was in 1973 when it came out. I was living in Sydney, I was a student. I was in a band called TV Jones, about a year before [Radio] Birdman started. I already had great inspiration from many other guitar players that were well-known but, I think the guitar playing on Raw Power brought a new element to it. The tone was so brutal and the playing was so aggressive and hard and I hadn’t heard anything quite like it in some time. To me it was wonderful to hear that, it was an affirmation for me that rock n roll music that is very high energy and aggressive was still alive, that The Stooges were able to do that. It was inspirational!

You’re good friends with James now and you’ve worked together before; have you ever had a fan moment with him in any way? Like, this is the guy whose guitar playing resonated with me as a youth!

DT: Yeah, you can’t push that too hard but, I enjoy it when I can get him to tell Stooges stories [laughs]; when he tells me stories that nobody else knows, it’s good to hear that stuff. I love that! That’s being a fan, to want to hear that stuff. Of course I was very curious as to how he got that guitar sound. He’s very happy to tell me about it and show me how he got this or that guitar sound. A Gibson Les Paul through a Vox AC30, cranked up loud with no effects pedals. It’s a balance of being a fan and being a partner in the work we do together AND being a friend. We hang out a fair bit together too, we play tennis and us and our wives go out to dinner together and do things like that.

Nice! Why is writing songs important to you?

DT: I don’t know. I guess it important to me because I feel like I’m contributing something and I have an impulse to create, that satisfies that for me. I have a hope that the songs I write will also benefit others, that people will hear it, like it, dance to it or it will help their day go better. That’s what I hope.

You’ve mentioned before that you’re not quite sure where songs come, that they just arrive, that you have to be tuned into their frequency in a way to find them; is there anything you do to tap into that frequency?

DT: The best thing is to just have a guitar in your hand and be playing, you don’t have to be playing anything specific, you could just be tuning it up, and just have a clear mind, not being distracted. When songs come you grab them out of the air, they come out of you or through you, and then the challenge is to remember it when it happens. You have to try and get it down right away, you write it down or record it. That’s what’s nice about our modern phones, you can record straight away. When these ideas come, if you don’t save them somehow you never remember them the next day. I suppose they float off and someone else gets them [laughs].

Maybe! [Laughter]. I love the storytelling in all of the songs on your new record. One that really stood out to me was “Small Change”.

DT: The thing about “Small Change” was James presented the music for it and a friend of his, Frank Meyers, had written words for it as well. The story for “Small Change” was suggested by Frank’s lyrics but it didn’t quite gel with me, so I took his basic idea and re-wrote it. I turned it more into a story of a woman who decides to become free and leave the small-town single mother existence that she was stuck in, that she’d go off and do something else. The story of how it would take a lot of courage to do that. Sort of like a mini-episode of a movie.

I love the lyric from it: It takes a little bit of change and a great big heart. I think a lot of people can resonate with that. Has there been moments in your life where you’ve done that yourself?

DT: I suppose leaving home when I was sixteen or seventeen years old was sort of like that. Leaving the country at eighteen and just going off overseas with nothing but a backpack and a guitar.

Do you have favourite track on the album?

D: Not really. After it was mixed I didn’t really listen to it. You work so hard on these things and put so many hours into it and you hear it over and over and over again so many times when you’re finishing the production on it that you don’t want to hear it again for a while. I’ve actually put it aside and haven’t listened to it for about a month. When it comes out on vinyl and I have a copy of it I’ll listen to it again. I like all the songs, if I didn’t like them they wouldn’t be on there, I have a different favourite every day.

Why did you decided to call the album, Two To One?

DT: It was a big struggle to find a name for the album until we found one that we could agree on and that hadn’t been used. We’d decide on a name, look it up on allmusic.com and find out there were already thirty albums with that name so, finding something that hadn’t been used before was the challenge. My wife Anne came up with it. It’s an old blues expression and it’s a lyric in a Blind Boy Fuller song from the thirties. Two To One sounds good and it’s two guys doing one thing together.

For both you and James playing guitar is expressing your emotions; is it hard when you have to work with somebody else to get your vision through to fruition?

DT: It can be! It wasn’t in this case. We pretty much agreed on everything. When we first started writing for the album there were come ideas I presented that he didn’t like and likewise, there was a couple he presented that I didn’t like. We didn’t pursue those and we tossed them out early on and focused on the things we both agreed on and both felt were good. Once we had decided on that it was straightforward.

Are you working on new songs now yourself?

DT: Yeah, I am. I’m putting together songs for a new album now. It should have been recorded already but because of the coronavirus we couldn’t travel. Basically, I have another album written and arranged and ready to go. That will be a solo album.

You’ve been working on songs with your wife?

DT: She’ll play guitar on that album as well, when we finally get around to recording it.

Is it nice to have someone so close to you to bounce creative ideas off?

DT: It is! I’ve never had that in that way before. I’ve usually been the only guitar player in the family [laughs].

As well as your music I know you love to do art as well, you paint; is painting for you similar in any way to writing a song?

DT: It’s pretty similar. I’m a much more experienced song writer and guitar player than I am a painter. I’m just getting started with painting and figuring out how to do it. It’s just as much fun. It’s one of those things like I was saying, where time just disappears.

Over the years has there been any advice you’ve gotten I regards to creativity that’s really stuck with you?

DT: Not directly but, I read something that Keith Richards said when he was asked about creativity and he said that the thing he would like to have on his grave would be the words: he passed it on. In other words, you take from your influences in music and then you add something to it of your own and then you pass it on to the next generation. If you can form a link in that chain, that’s the greatest thing that you can do. I always took that it heart. I thought it was a really cool idea and that it was something that I would like to be able to say, I also did that—I formed a link in the chain and passed it on.

I think that you have done that, many times over!

DT: [Laughs] Thanks!

What makes you really, really happy?

DT: Not thinking about happiness but just being, existing in the world and being part of it—that’s what makes me happy. The minute you try to be happy, it just all goes away! [Laughs]. Just being makes me happy!

** Coming soon on Gimmie we also have a chat with The Stooges’ guitarist James Williamson**

Please check out deniztek.com; Deniz on Facebook; Deniz on Instagram; DT & James Williamson on Instagram. Two To One out September 18 on Cleopatra Records. Two To One via bandcamp.

Third Man Records, CASS Records and The Dirtbombs’ Ben Blackwell: “When you see a live show that you really connect with it blows your mind and changes the way you feel, there’s no substitute for that”

Handmade collage by B.

Recently Gimmie caught up with co-founder and co-owner of Third Man Records, founder of CASS Records and The Dirtbombs’ drummer Ben Blackwell to chat about new TMR release The Stooges’ Live At Goose Lake, August 8th, 1970. The record is a high-quality soundboard recording of the original Stooges line-up’s final performance; the 1/4” stereo two-track tape sat unheard in the basement of a Michigan farmhouse for decades until now. We also chat about The Dirtbombs, of things Ben’s learnt from his uncle Jack White, upcoming TMR releases and more.

What do The Stooges mean to you?

BEN BLACKWELL: The Stooges symbolize – whether they knew it or not at the time – the shift of standard “classic rock” to something more confrontational, a little more challenging and clearing the way for punk rock, which in turn cleared the way for do-it-yourself, self-starter ideas… in that, The Stooges were simplified and the people that were looking to The Stooges were like, “Shit, we can do that, that’s three chords!” I think it’s a shift in influence on a larger portion of the public, knowing full well The Stooges were not hugely popular, but popular just enough they influenced people like Ramones and the Sex Pistols, the Germs, all of that stuff. The through line from The Stooges to Nirvana to The White Stripes in my mind is super clear and super transparent; if not for that, we would not have this.

It’s funny how a lot of bands like The Stooges or even Black Flag or Ramones for example weren’t so popular when they were first around but have gone on to be more so and have a cult-like status now.

BB: Yeah, that’s the only benefit of being ahead of your time [laughs], it somewhat seems to pause it, that you will have a somewhat longer shelf-life.

How did you first come to The Stooges’ music?

BB: It would have been around May of 1996. Jack [White] had played me something off the first album maybe “1969” or “I Wanna Be Your Dog” which are probably the easiest ways of entry to that band, they’re pretty digestible in the grand scheme of things. You don’t play someone “Fun House” the song to start out. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is pretty undeniably great across the board.

Can you remember what you felt when you first heard it?

BB: I had a general liking of it. I don’t think I had heard Sonic Youth doing it yet. In hindsight, I feel like I remember more listening to Fun House which was: it’s not as good as the first Stooges album. You have to absorb the self-titled album before Fun House really makes sense, at least at age… I’m presupposing lots of deep mental notes and calculations in a sixteen-year-old brain!

When you first listened to The Stooges Live At Goose Lake recording; what was the initial thing you noticed about it?

BB: There’s three to four immediate observations kind of happening in real time on top of each other. The first one is, Dave Alexander is playing bass; which I had been told or read or had heard for the previous two decades at least that, that was not the case at the show.

Secondly is, the recording quality is respectable. Having been a Stooges fan for many years I have paid accumulative of hundreds of dollars on really, really bad sounding Stooges recordings, and not really had too much to gripe about because you’re just happy to get anything with this band. On top of hearing Dave play, just the quality, to my ears, in my opinion is the best sounding Stooges recording from that era and line-up.

There’s some conversation to be have about a live recording called Georgia Peaches that’s the Raw Power era of the band, which is a good recording but I don’t like that version of the band as much—I’m more of a Fun House guy.

The third thing while listening to it is, the bemusement of, holy shit, this exists! It took me months to realise that. Only once the release was imminent did I think back and realise; oh wow! I was the first person to be able to fully refute that theory that Dave didn’t play bass that night. Anyone I’m talking to afterwards, if I share them the recording before it’s come out or doing a press release or sharing with you, it’s shared with the story that Dave did play bass! The question is answered for you. I sat there and was like; wow! That’s kind of all the weight of Stooges fans in the world sitting right there–holy shit, it’s there! Amazing!

What’s one of the most interesting things about the recording for you?

BB: The performance speaks for itself. The most interesting thing for me about the recording, having jumped so deep into all aspects of it, is the only real question we don’t have an answer to; why it was recorded? The engineer James [Jim] Cassily was a local audio engineer in Detroit, he wasn’t hired by the festival, wasn’t doing sound for the bands so… why was he recording this? It’s not too much to imagine that he had connections that could patch him right into the board. He didn’t record everything, he recorded little bits here and there. Of all of the people involved, Iggy Pop is pretty much the only person that’s still alive, in the immediate of it. Richard Songer the promoter is still alive but in terms of the band, Iggy Pop is the only one still alive. I wonder how it came to be! Why did it just sit there? Why was it recorded? What was the purpose for it?

I’ve seen people on message boards say that they heard this show happen in August of 1970 and people saying in September and October that they had recorded the show and that they were going to bootleg it on LP. This guy that talked about it said he lived in St. Louis or something at the time. He was like, he kept hearing it was going to come out in ’71, then a couple of months later they died and blah blah blah blah. It’s like, does that have any connection to this? It doesn’t make sense though because James Cassily didn’t pass away until 2005.

I was talking to a buddy of mine from Detroit that had sent me a congratulatory email saying he couldn’t believe I put it out. He said he remembers talking to Ron Asheton about this show. He said it was in ’78 or ’79 and my friend said to Ron that he thought the show had been recorded. Ron’s response to him was, “Yeah, but where the fuck are the tapes?” That whole chain of possession or the purpose behind it all, that’s what at this point would truly open my eyes wider.

Maybe the guy that recorded it just liked The Stooges and wanted a copy for himself.

BB: It could very well be. He recorded maybe ten other bands at Goose Lake. To me that almost signifies something larger, had he just recorded The Stooges it could be it was a more targeted, direct effort. When you’re recording a larger swath of bands it probably means you’re not recording it just for your own enjoyment. Who knows?

I know you’ve spent a lot of time listening to the studio version on Fun House, I read that the show at Goose Lake was the first time people got to hear that album’s songs in full before the its release, is that right?

BB: Probably not. There’s a rough recording of The Stooges in Chicago from a month prior in July 1970 and they play pretty much the album. The Stooges had a routine of anytime they had new music they basically stopped playing old music. By the time they had recorded Fun House they seemed to have ceased playing the first record. They recorded Fun House in May of 1970 and by June and July, we only have evidence of them playing songs off of Fun House, which didn’t come out until August. They may have not played any local Detroit shows in that intervening time in June or July, so it might have been the first time it was “unveiled” in Detroit. They played the Grand Circus Theatre in April of 1970 I believe, they were maybe playing “Loose” around then, if not more of the Fun House stuff. I’m still waiting for someone to find those tapes and bring them into Third Man.

Does hearing the live record change the way you hear the studio version of Fun House?

BB: Yeah, I think the live record makes the studio record seem polished. Fun House the studio recording is something that I never thought I’d say is polished anywhere. Steven Mackay’s saxophone comes out as really savage, I think it’s the unheralded star of this recording, and he only plays on two songs. Myself being a drummer, I think of all of the times I started playing in a band where I was severely under-qualified to play in. I played in this band when I was seventeen called The Dirtbombs.

I know, I love The Dirtbombs!

BB: We’re an OK band [laughs]. Listening to this live record reminded me of how I used to play drums in the studio, we would play songs we hadn’t rehearsed or toured out live, it was, here’s a new song we’re gonna do it… at that point my mind was like, I just don’t want to fuck this up! I don’t want to be the one to blow a take. You’ve got four other guys there with you.

I’m not saying that’s what Scott Asheton the drummer’s perspective would have been playing drums on Fun House – granted we have every take of every song on Fun House to go against—he really seems to hold his own. But, from the recording to the live performance, what I really hear in the live performance is that Scott has really found his place in the band. He’s way more freewheeling in where he lays out fills and really, really inhabit the entirety of the song. I would say the drumming on Fun House seems a lot more laid back comparatively from the live recordings of Fun House where Scott is just a maniac. I feel like it’s the best drumming ever captured of his.

Who or what inspired you to play drums?

BB: I remember saying in passing that I wanted to play guitar when I was twelve or thirteen and my uncle Jack said, “You don’t want to play guitar, there’s five guitar players on your block already. You should play drums!” I was like, ahhh OK! He walked me through it and showed me the basics. I goofed around on drums maybe seven years earlier when I was six or seven, I never had a kit or anything; there were drums at grandma’s house. Jack styled me with some drums, “Here’s some stuff you can have, here’s some stuff you can borrow. Go figure it out!” Immediately me and my best friend started jamming in the basement, largely inspired by our love of Nirvana at the time.

It seems like Jack has been a really inspiring person in your life; what’s one of the best things you’ve learnt for him?

BB: Oh, shit! [pauses and thinks]. It’s been a fortunate perspective just to witness his career from the perspective that I’ve had, let alone participate in it. What I would say that I’ve learnt form him is, it’s OK to say, no! It might sound funny but as you get further on and do more things, people ask more of you. Saying no is the hardest thing to do in human existence; you want to say yes and you want to please other people, you want to be liked and all that stuff. Sometimes you just say no though for your own sanity. It’s hard for people to say that. It’s nice to be empowered to say, no.

Is there anything happening on The Dirtbombs front?

BB: No, not really. Patrick the other drummer lives in Melbourne actually, he did a move from Brooklyn. I’m here in Nashville. Mick is in New York. Ko and Troy are in Detroit. We only get together on rare occasions. It’s been a little over a year ago, we played a show here in Nashville in April 2019, it was a nice little family reunion; it was the Third Man 10-Year Anniversary. A great reason to bring everyone down here. Now we need another reason to meet up somewhere. Before that we all met up in Belgium and before that Detroit; we get a weird fly-out every once in a while, someone will offer us an obscene amount of money that we can’t in good conscience say no to. That’s all we’re waiting on!

The last Dirtbombs release was a split 7” on your own label, CASS?

BB: [Laughs] Kind of. We played a New Year’s Eve show in Detroit with the Soledad Brothers, the drummer of the Soledad Brother’s is Ben Swank, who’s the co-founder and co-owner here at Third man along with myself and Jack. I had pressed a 7” single by them not too long before this show and I had a different Dirtbombs single I had pressed prior… I paired those two together and pressed 100 copies to have something to sell at the show. I rubber stamped them and put them on a random colour vinyl and numbered them. They weren’t new recordings, I guess a commemorative recording release would be the right term [laughs].

Is there any releases coming up on CASS that you’re really excited about?

BB: There’s stuff coming up that I’m excited about but it’s too early to talk about it [laughs].

Awww. Then is there anything on Third Man coming up you’re excited about?

BB: I’m excited about everything we do on Third Man! [laughs]. We’ve got a live recording by Johnny Cash that should be out in a month or so, that went to our fan club subscribers, The Vault. Then we have a live Hives record. We have some Screamin’ Jay Hawkins re-issues. Always working on finding those overlooked gems in our world or other people’s catalogues. Constantly doing archival White Stripes releases, studio recordings or live shows… we’ve being doing a live show a month essentially through this platform called Nugs, which is streaming and CD’s on demand printed, cool downloads like that for hardcore fans; that’s where we put the live recordings that have piled up over the years.

You sound like you have the best job. I know how I feel when someone sends me through something that’s not released yet and it’s so exciting to hear…

BB: [Laughs] Yeah. It comes with responsibility, there’s about ten things I could tell you that are coming out on Third Man that we haven’t announced yet. I have to sit on these things and put them under my hat and not tell you about them! It’s a bittersweet thing. It’s a singular enjoyment that you can’t share with many people. My wife and Ben Swank are the ones that I talk to about these things [laughs].

Where does your hard work ethic come from?

BB: It’s probably a lot from Jack, on top of learning to say, no. Being around him makes you want to do stuff. You always feel like you’re not doing enough [laughs]. Here in the States they talk about the Midwestern work ethic, which I didn’t really know about prior to leaving the Midwest. People work hard everywhere don’t they? In the Midwest it’s like everyone has a job and does that but, then everyone you know and that are in bands and at the bar, they also do their other thing; they run a label or paint or do acting. It seems like you do the thing to pay the bills and then part of the bills is your creative endeavour. That’s just what I was exposed to.

The minute I saw Dave Buick running a record label [Italy Records]] out of the front room of his house in 1998, that blew my mind open! I realise you didn’t have to have an office, you didn’t have to have employees… the idea of doing-it-yourself on whatever scale you can. I remember someone once saying on a message board, that you can’t make money if you only press 200 copies of a single, the best you can do is break even. I remember thinking that that was such a defeatist attitude! You absolutely can make money from that, you just don’t need to be locked into some predetermined “you can’t charge more than $5 for a single” mindset. Make it cool, make it badass, and charge $7 for it. Doing it yourself and not wanting to entrust… I’m OK if I fuck something up but if someone else fucks it up I get pissed! That’s a great motivator for doing a lot of things myself.

You don’t go into music or writing or making fanzines expecting to make money, if you do you’re in the wrong business, go be a banker or trade stocks.

Why is music important to you?

BB: Music via records is a way to tell stories and hear stories, it’s kind of the same thing. What I get out of it, I like the historical aspect of it; I like finding an old record and putting the needle on and trying to figure out both literally and metaphorically where it came from and what inspired people to make music like this? Whether it’s really bad [laughs] or really good or terribly unique or terribly rehashed… to extrapolate further, the live experience of music it dwindles as I’ve gotten older and priorities change and you’ve got more responsibilities. When you see a live show that you really connect with – for me that was once a month – it blows your mind and changes the way you feel, there’s no substitute for that.

Please check out THE STOOGES Live at Goose Lake: August 8th 1970. THIRD MAN RECORDS. CASS Records. Ben’s writing/thoughts: TREMBLE UNDER THE BOOM LIGHTS.