Blast From the Past: The Homostupids
This originally ran in MRR #307, December 2008, this issue is sold out
In the few years the Homostupids have been around, they’ve grabbed the harrowing task of deconstructing rock ’n’ roll by the balls, diving head first into a tiff with our venerated verse/chorus/verse conservatism, asserting themselves as perhaps the best purveyors of an entirely counterintuitive brand of aggressive music that they haven’t even gotten their heads around yet—in the process paving their way to leaving a pretty significant stain on underground punk of the ’00s. This interview was conducted at Steve’s marvelous summer home after a night of burgers and bowling in the mistake by the lake. Tape recorder in one hand and mixed drink in the other, this is what became of our discussion of Cleveland’s finest. Now go out and buy all their fuckin’ records. Intro and interview by Brandon Gaffney.
MRR: So, the Homostupids. A lot of people like you guys, despite your always insisting that you’re a real shitty act. Any thoughts? Are we a bunch of retards?
Steve: I think you are a retard. How do you like that? Our band is great. Of course a lot of people like our band, our band is very good. All of our records are better than most other bands’ records.
MRR: Last time I was in Cleveland you told me that your band’s forte is the dialectic of simplicity and complexity, that they’re one and the same. Fingers connected to the same palm—you know, all that LSD bullshit. You think it’s people’s ability to paint their own understanding of such simple, caveman music?
Steve: Hang on there, I was supposed to call our guitar player Josh when we started the interview. Hang on a sec and I’ll put him on speakerphone so we can all talk. [speaking into phone] Hi, Josh?
Josh: Lemme call you back.
Steve: Alright, forget that for now. What were you asking? Something about LSD, right? Stay away from the stuff. Bad for your body. How does the song go? “Don’t do drugs, be a hero not a zero, drugs are no good, get ’em out the neighborhood.” Is that what you’re talking about? ‘Cause that other shit you said doesn’t make any sense.
MRR: What I meant is that most punk, hardcore, whatever, is very one-dimensional. Yours is very ambiguous. Difficult to pigeonhole. It’s simple but at the same time complex. Your thoughts?
Steve: I like that you say that. It’s nice to hear or read what people have to say about our music and approach to making the music. They make us seem more competent and interesting than we really are. As a bass player I’m very limited to what I can do. I’m not very good at it, so that makes it easier for me. The idea for the band, before we even had our first practice, was very simple: primitive style song writing—bang/pound/bang/pound/bang/pound/bash/shit/end. Blown out and ridiculous, but still contained and very direct and to the point as soon as possible. So you do that, and if you want to play the song ever again there has to be some kind of a hook in there or a groove. A lot of our songs don’t have a chorus, maybe just one verse then solo and an instrumental part, and then it’s over. But there’s a hook. I’m explaining all of this like it’s a contrived art project or some shit. It’s not. We’re just lucky to be able to pull this shit out of our asses and it works. And it happens to work with my original vision for the band. Josh and Dale are both very good at guitar and drums. They could play anything…the Kinks, Guided by Voices, Led Zeppleski, whatever. So I think the three of us together give you the sound of our sweet band. Anything they write is gonna have to be checked with my incompetence and lack of skill. Does this make sense?
MRR: Of course it makes sense. I think the few people who really nerd out, to punk music especially, and take the time to focus ideas and write about the sounds they’re hearing are prone to hyperbole and have active imaginations to begin with. In reality it’s just farting out music that smells how it smells. I notice you don’t have lyric sheets and know that you personally prefer to be ignorant of what’s being whined out. So the songs you write/sing—what are they about?
Steve: Umm…Josh’s lyrics, I think, tend to be about girls’ clothes, food, and animals. He has two kids so I think he’s written a few songs for them. Our song “At the Zoo” was for his daughter. Mine are sometimes about food or animals. Uh…sometimes Mexicans. But mostly about either girls doing drugs or beating up a girl because she’s always doing drugs, or girls going to jail or your girlfriend having you put in jail because she’s on drugs… Uhhh, a girl who is camping and taking control of the whole camping experience by, uh, you know, setting up the tent and finding the wood for the campfire then building the campfire then making the food. Like, you wake up the next day and she’s organizing a hike for everybody and is fishing and catching fish and shit. All that shit. Cat Music, our new record, has a lyric sheet and The Edge EP has one too. Well, Edge has the lyrics typed out phonetically but Cat Music has the lyrics enclosed. You’ve heard our records, what did you pretend we were singing about? [walking into the kitchen] Do you want a drink or something, Brandon? We’ve got juice and water…not much else.
MRR: I’ll have a Sam Adams, thanks…I just assumed the lyrics were about the nuances of grocery shopping and pissing your pants on the school bus, but it looks like I wasn’t far off. Most of your songs are about women, huh? Are the Homostupids swimmin’ in wimmins?
Steve: Well, not women…girls. Girls who take drugs mostly and how their boyfriends deal with them as a result of them being fucked up on drugs all the time….No Sam Adams. There’s orange juice and…there’s vodka too. You want a juice and vodka?
MRR: I’m not keen on vodka but it’ll grease the interview pretty well, so why not… Some people may not be up on DA/DM and Distort and other zines in which you’ve extrapolated on the origins of the band, so sorry if this seems redundant but could you just provide a rough outline of how the group got started?
Steve: For quite a while I had an idea for a band. Very simple, primitive song structure and high energy. This just seemed like it’d be the most fun band to be in, right? So I’d been listening to a lot of The Mummies and Dwarves’ Blood Guts and Pussy and Toolin’ records, also Grabbies’ I Wanna Be Blind EP and Supercharger and shit like this. I’m looking around town, asking around, picking my brain wondering who’d be into doing this. And guess what? Nobody is interested, at least nobody I wanted to work with, right? A friend of mine named Jae hipped me to Dale and Josh. I didn’t know Dale at all, but Jae says he’s a great drummer and not in any bands right now. Josh, I knew a little but barely. Great fucking guitar player. Just ridiculous. He plays with his fists. I made a cold call to Dale and he was into trying it out. He didn’t have anything going on, right? So why not. Jae and I stopped by Josh’s place one afternoon and I ran the idea past him. He asked, “What do you wanna call the band?” and I said, “Homostupids.” He started laughing a little and said that he’d for sure be down to try it out. We didn’t know who was gonna play bass and I had just acquired one. So I brought it to the first practice. We wrote “Flies Die” right on the spot and Josh started singing with it. That was it! First practice we wrote, I think, two songs, “Sixths” and “Flies Die.” The first few gigs we did, we’d start with a version of “Flies Die” with Josh singing, then we’d do “Sixths,” and then we’d do “Flying Dying,” which was “Flies Die” with me singing. After we wrote some other tunes, we dropped “Flying Dying,” ‘cause “Flies Die” is much better. When I listen to our songs now, I don’t think we sound anything like those bands I mentioned as core influences before, but the spirit is there a little maybe.
MRR: I remember reading an interview from maybe two years back where you said the reaction to you guys in Cleveland—at least by locals—was shitty and lacking. That wasn’t even the very beginning, right? How were those first few shows? How are they different from now—in the reaction and the playing and the cash money bonez? Because your stint at Horriblefest this year was off the fucking wall.
Steve: [telephone rings] Hang on, I think that’s Josh calling back.
Josh: [on speakerphone] Hello?
Steve: Hey, Josh.
Josh: Why’d you call before?
Steve: You said you wanted me to call you when that kid got here.
Josh: Oh, hi. Am I on speakerphone or something?
Steve: He was just asking if…
Josh: Wait, hang on a second. [Yells in the background] Get away from there!
Steve: What’s going on over there?
Josh: I gotta call you back.
Steve: Alright, what were you asking—about our gigs in Cleveland or something? Here. Smell my left hand. What the fuck is that smell?
MRR: [Laughing] I’m not smelling your fucking hand. I was starting to think you were the designated PR guy of Homostupids Inc or something. You should invite him over to drink with us.
Steve: Josh isn’t fuckin’ coming over here. I’ll call Dale, but he won’t come over either. Fucking douchebags Yeah, we’re not a very consistent live act. We can write out a set and practice it five times, then when we get to the gig it just sounds like a cyclone or something. Can’t tell what the fuck is going on. Other times we’re dead on—total pros. The greatest live act in the county! You’ve seen us in concert before, what’s your take?
MRR: My take? I think I may hunt down a soundboard recording of your set that night in Buffalo, last October maybe? Pain in the Big Neck—really cogent and focused. Everyone expected some falling-over-drunk-who-cares-cabaret-slapstick-bumfuck type deal. Really unexpected—you remember? Well, I’d like to bootleg that shit and maybe send you some after driving to another state, right? [laughing]
Steve: Yeah, you can try to hunt down a soundboard tape if you want. But those fucking things never sound like you want them to. It’ll be kick drum and vocals or some bullshit. But our records are really where it’s at for this band. Really, if there’s one thing I want to accomplish with this interview it’s that more people go out and buy our records. Come to the gigs of course, but buy the records. I’ve found it works best if you buy two or three of each one.
MRR: When I saw you at Horriblefest this year, it was a pretty violent set. Bar stools flying through the air and all that jazz. You guys aren’t the typical Clevo hardcore band in the slightest, but still retain the violent antics in the live setting. You don’t mind that people may not experience this aspect of the band by buying the records instead of seeing you live?
Steve: We’re a great live band. Better than most other bands playing now for sure, and I think we put on a great show whether we’re sucking or not. We blow every band we play with off the stage. Fuck ’em. So of course people should come to the gigs. I don’t think there’s any violence going on. If we’re jumping around or something it’s ’cause we’re probably horny or something. We’re more horny than violent.
MRR: Well, when you put the bass down mid-song and speared some mutants in front of me, it looked more violent than, uh, horny.
Steve: Oh, yeah. I was all jacked up that night. All hopped up on goofballs. Sorry about that. I do like the idea of stopping a song halfway through though. The first year or so we were playing, we’d fuck up a song terribly, stop in the middle, yell at each other, then play it again from the top. It was a lot of fun doing that. I think people thought we were doing it on purpose or something. We were just fucking up and then starting over.
MRR: You have any thoughts on what makes a good Homostupids set and what makes a sucky one? What’s the difference?
Steve: I told you before, I think all our gigs are good. If it’s sucky that’s ’cause you say it is, not me. What makes a sucky one for you?
MRR: I’ve never seen a sucky Homostupids set. But you refer to some gigs as being sucky. Like when you say, “We put on a great show whether we’re sucking or not.” Even if you suck at the playing, it’s a good gig, is that what you’re saying?
Steve: Don’t twist my fucking words around.
MRR: [Laughing] It’s a direct quote! Are you always so moody?
Steve: You interview fucks are making a mockery of my words, man. Moody? Yes.
Let me ask you about your records now. How do you feel about the response to them, in general?
Steve: I guess I just feel great. I’m not sure what the response is. My response is that we are my favorite band.
MRR: Most of their reviews seem to be “drug-fucked” or “pigfucked” or “noisy cavemen fucking in a cave” type shit. Do you agree? Is that what you’re going for?
Steve: I don’t know why there are so many swear words like that in reviews. I don’t think I remember swear words like that in reviews I’ve seen. but if they want to swear like that, y’know, use the F-word and all that, that’s fine. I guess what’s most important is that people continue buying the records. Don’t you think that’s important? I mean, you have a band and you made a record, right?
Steve: It’d be cool to sell a bunch, right? Sell ’em all. A common misconception about our band is that, “Aww, they’re all drunk and wanna look like they don’t give a fuck…aww…suck my pussy…aww…so fucked up and shitty and wanting to be, aww, shitty.” That’s not what’s going on with our very great band. We think we’re great and we write great tunes and want to sell tons of records. If we play a show and roll around unplugging each others’ shit, that’s okay ‘cause we’re having fun—we’re a very selfish band. The only reason we play is to have fun and goof off. If we suck sometimes, we’re having as much fun as when we’re not sucking. Actually, I don’t think we ever suck. Plenty of other bands out there gigging across the nation blow. But, uh, not us. We’re very selfish. We’d like to find a way so more girls buy our records and come to the gigs. Haven’t figured that out yet. That’s really the trick right there… gotta get that down.
MRR: Give us a rundown of the usual Homostupids recording session. How long did The Intern take?
Steve: The Intern was our first record at a recording studio. Y’know, where you pay the person at a studio money and they record your band. Birthday and Glow EPs were four track recordings, all recorded by the same guy. Every record recorded by our friend Paul. Anyway, by the time we were ready to do The Intern album, Paul had his own studio and Parts Unknown gave us money to cover recording costs, so we went to Paul’s studio and paid him some money, then spent the rest on beer and hot dogs and shit like that. Down the hall from the actual studio itself he’s got this pretty large bathroom with lots of space in the middle. Thought it’d be cool to record in there, thought it’d sound interesting. Nope. Just made things more complicated. Impossible to mix. Every sound coming from every which way. Just a fucking mess. Worked out pretty great in the end though. I love the way the record sounds. Recorded on 12-track analog tape then mixed down to cassette tape. I think that record sounds fucking great. Josh’s ridiculous guitar overdubs! Since then everything’s been recorded at Paul’s studio. Well, The Edge was four track at our practice space, but Cat Music is at his studio and so is our second LP, which is gonna come out…well, I have no idea when it’s coming out. But we recorded it there too. Maybe it’ll be out early 2009? I think. But who gives a fuck, right? [looks down at watch] Some guy was telling me the other day—Chad is his name—Chad was telling me that he shoots squirrels and has a recipe for squirrel gravy. Have you ever heard of squirrel gravy? Says it tastes close to sausage gravy. I do like sausage gravy. Ever hear of squirrel gravy, Brendan?
MRR: Nah, man. Sorry.
Steve: You douche! You fuck! You dumb douche prick fuck! Hey, don’t let those douchebag fucks at MRR edit this thing down! Don’t let ’em fucking touch it! Those fucks. Piss. Shit. And tell ‘em we want the cover too. Can you do that, Brendan? Can you tell them that? Pussy, fuck, douche, piss!
MRR: [Laughing] Oh yeah, man, I’ve got some real pull around MRR headquarters. Gimme a break. So, I understand that The Brutal Birthday EP wasn’t a product of the Homostupids, per se. What’s that all about?
Steve: I would say it is a Homostupids record. It was recorded before the band was formed. I had been kicking around the band idea… Nothing was happening so, uh, I had to do something to keep myself motivated, I guess. I had some song ideas and fleshed them out with my roommates at the time, Joe, and Kevin, who played guitar in 9 Shocks and The Mormons with me. We’re good friends. So, we recorded the songs that became The Brutal Birthday EP in my living room. I wrote “Homostupids” on the cassette. A few months later we had the band formed. We recorded The Glow EP and sent it to a bunch of record label pieces of shit and nobody wanted to put it out except for Charles who has a record store up the street. It came out and then all those douches that passed on it wanted to do a record with us. I said, “Suck my fucking dick.” I wanted to put out the Birthday stuff at this point and knew if it was called “Steve and Kev” nobody would be interested, and the songs were written with the same ideas and influences that the band’s songs were. We kind of re-did our own version of one or two of the songs and used riffs from some too, so I said fuck it. It was kind of funny that when we went out of town the first few times a lot of people had just heard the Birthday record and saw us playing whatever the fuck we’re playing. Some people were pissed… especially in big old gay NYC. I mean “gay” like happy. Everyone is very happy in the Big Apple. I encourage all the gay people in every town to move there with all the wonderful gay people who are just like you. Anyway, in the long run, that record helped our band get over to different people who normally couldn’t care less. That’s one of the best parts of this band, to me—crossing over outside of just hardcore kids or garage kids. Also, it means more people at the gigs, which means more money at the door, which means we can drink better beer and eat better food.
MRR: That’s something I like about your band too, that it’s so musically unclear. Opens the door for lots of different punk types to get a hook into it. What kind of differences have you noticed from your 9 Shocks days as far as the response and the sort of fans the Homostupids have?
Steve: With 9 Shocks we had a nice—towards the end—well, actually through most of it, we played for ten years, we had a nice assortment of people coming out. Some real mutants were coming out of the woodwork. It was great. I’d say that’s the most irreplaceable part of that band—just some wonderful maniacs crawling out from the sewers to see that band. It was a lot of fun and I met some exceptional people. Met some real fucking douches too…mostly douches. I learned a lot from the yam-bags we dealt with then. Wedge, Tony, and Kevin were gallant troubadours in a sea of filthy diapers. [gets up to use the bathroom] I guess I’m having more fun now…before, I was just hating everyone and everything. Now, I just want to eat spicy food and listen to “Whad’Ya Know” and “Prairie Home Companion” and “Click and Clack” on the fuckin’ radio.
MRR: You and those cashew-dicks Clockcleaner are self-proclaimed “skull music.” Nobody seems to know what this means aside from you guys. Does it mean anything? Should we care?
Steve: [loudly from bathroom] Why do you say “cashew-dicks”?
MRR: That’s one of Sharkey’s (singer/guitarist of Clockcleaner) favorite phrases, it seems. I haven’t read an interview in which he doesn’t call somebody a “cashew-dick.”
Steve: [reenters with condescending smirk] Oh. I wonder why he does that. That doesn’t seem like a very nice thing to say to somebody.
MRR: Nobody likes having their penis called a cashew, I agree. So tell us about skull music. Or don’t.
Steve: Yeah, I like how you say “cashew-penis,” but you say Sharko says “cashew-dick.” When you say “penis” it makes it sound smaller than when you say “dick.” Y’know? Smaller, ’cause “penis” sounds small, and “dick” sounds B-I-G. But yeah, skull music! That means good music! John Jr. from Clockie Cleanie band and I are old buds. Used to eat poo and light off firecrackers in refrigerators together. We both liked skulls and music, so we decided that our two totally sweet bands were Skull Music. That’s the best fucking answer anyone will ever get to that gay question.
MRR: Is your kinship with Clockcleaner anything more than being friends? Aside from them, what acts are up on the same level as your band, do ya think? What bands are really sticking their dick in the pie like you guys?
Steve: I don’t understand that first part…but our band is digging on Plates from Buffalo very much, and Vagina Boys are also great and Lamps are also very good, and I like the new Portishead album, and I’ve been watching C-Span 2 a lot lately, and we like FNU Ronnies from Philly and Vegetative State from Columbus, who I think broke up. Uh…and Shoot It Up, of course. What do you mean by that first part of the question though?
MRR: I mean that a lot of people like to throw you guys in the same boat with Clockcleaner and Out With a Bang and Shoot It Up and some other bands, though musically there’s not a whole lot in common. It’s just sort of the upper crust of garagey hardcore stuff that people from all walks, whether it be the Termbo crowd or the MRR ilk, enjoy and can get behind. You know what I’m saying?
Steve: Well, all of our bands are sweet and we all get along and have a similar sense of humor and all that. Most bands are pretty shitty, and most people have a lousy sense of humor, so when you find some good eggs, I guess you gotta stick together… I’m glad someone’s paying attention. The tide will turn against us all sooner or later though.
MRR: How’s that?
Steve: The young and important will decide that we’re old and gross. Fuck ’em.
MRR: Alright, then. Now, Cleveland has quite the history of rock ’n’ roll—and I don’t mean that hall of fame. Electric Eels, Pagans, on up to 9 Shocks and Gordon Solie MoFos and the rest. I hate to ask you about your town, but c’mon, it’s an essential question. Give us your thoughts on the city and its relationship to music, whatever they may be.
Steve: Notice the huge gap you left there. Everybody from outside of here drops the, “Ohhh, Electric Eels and Pagans! Ohhh, my pussy.” Then to jump from the fucking Pagans to Gordon Solie? Jeepers creepers, guy! Spike in Vain was great, Numbskull, The Difficult, and Death of Samantha were spectacular, The Reactions, Boulder, Easter Monkeys, The Guns, New Salem Witchunters. Christ, so many good fucking bands from here and all you goofs ever mention is the fucking Pagans and Pere Ubu. I’ll say though that all these bands and the oodles and oodles of bands before and after them—some current bands as well—these people in our shitty town have suffered for so long from this disconnect from what else is happening in the country. Musically, I’m talking here, of course. This total disconnect from what else is going on for the most part—what current trends are floating around in say, uh, Santa Cruz or fucking Park Slope or Philly or whatever. No real expectations, and for the most part, no hope. That’s how I see it, at least. This can free you up to create something totally alienated and interesting. I don’t know if this makes sense to you or not, but I stick to it. Yeahhhh, hardcore is real popular and we’re gonna start a hardcore punk band, right—only we listen to more Blue Oyster Cult and Gun Club and our band is gonna sound like it crawled out of a microwave. Does this make sense? Of course, this isn’t the case for all bands from here, but it’s the case for most of the ones that stick out. It is why they stand out, in fact. Just this wonderfully depressing disconnect that we have here from the rest of you clowns.
MRR: Where do the Homostupids fit in all of this? Just a natural continuation of what you’ve described?
Steve: It’s hard for me to say we fit in at all. We like what we’re doing. We’re good at what we’re doing. What are we doing? I have no idea. That’s a big chunk of the fun. And like I said to you before, we are a very selfish band. We’re only in it for goofs.
MRR: Are those the defining characteristics of the band? Selfishness? Goofs? The lack of standards freeing you up from musical banality? Is that what makes the band tick?
Steve: Who says we’re selfish?! Again, you’re putting fucking words in my mouth! We let existing record labels put out our records. We’re not one of these bands like Tragedy running a vanity label with only our band on it. We give others a chance at making some cash off our fucking band, y’know? Fucking vanity labels. Maybe that’s just a west coast thing. “Lack of standards,” you say? I told you like five times how I think our band is the best band! Jeez. I don’t know what “banannaties” are though. I’m not gonna fuckin’ do it “banal” with you, you sick fuck. I barely know you and I have a fucking girlfriend! What the fuck is going on over at that shit-eating, piss-fucking magazine of yours?
MRR: [Laughing] Here at MRR it’s banal or bust. And yeah, we wear banana ties. Maybe Josh knows what I’m talking about? Maybe you should call him again?
Steve: Alright. [calls Josh on speakerphone]. Hey, this interview guy is asking us what the word “banus” means… Sorry, what the word “banal” means.
Josh: Uh…you mean like…in the butt?
Steve: That’s what I said.
Josh: Wait a minute. I’ll grab a dictionary. Okay, “anal: relating to, situated near, or involving the anus.”
Steve: Looks like that settles it. What kind of fucking questions are you trying to go over on us here? Trying to make us look like dipshits? Do you ask fucking Sex/Vid these kinda questions?
MRR: You like Sex/Vid?
Steve: Sure. Their merch guy is nice too. They’re a good live band. I like how they take a riff and work it for a minute and forty five seconds then end the song. I bet you treat them with more fucking professionalism than us, don’t you!? Alright, let’s wrap this up. Hey, can I give out the phone number for this Vietnamese restaurant down the street?
MRR: Sure. Give the restaurant’s number and their best dish and send us off with what’s in store for your band in the near future.
Steve: I don’t know what their best dish is. You’ll have to figure that out yourself. The phone is 216-228-4414. Nothing’s in store for the band. We’re doing nothing any time soon. Not going on the road. Not recording anything. Zip, zilch. I would like to say, though—to all my Hebrew brothers and sisters—L’Chayim!
Note: This interview was actually conducted entirely via email.