(re)View From The Past #6
a retrospective series by Andrew C Schlett
A tale of two interviews…(part II)
It was all supposed to be so easy. Just me and Academy Black, sitting down for
an hour or so to do an interview that I would later turn into an article for the second
anniversary issue of Rivethead…our biggest issue to date. This piece was mine by
default, for although there were any number of writers on our staff back then who could
have done the job, only I was personally friends with the band. By then I had worked
with Jeff Mikel at our Domino’s for eight months or so, and in that time we two became
very close. I cannot tell you how many cases of Busch we must have put away together
or how much hell we actually did raise, but suffice to say that I have rarely in this life had
a better friend than Jeff, and I still consider him to be my brother. Through Jeff I had also
become friends with Greg Main, Damon Gill, Dave Yammer, and had recently met Billy
Lovelace, who all made up Academy Black, and so I expected this to be less of an
interview than just a basic bullshit session, which I knew Academy Black to be very good
at. They never took anything seriously, least of all their own music.
On that account, then, I really didn’t do much of anything in the way of
preparation for this project ahead of time. I just figured that I would walk into the room,
turn on my microphone, and let the guys have at it. Then I would take the tape home and
weave together some sort of readable piece. In essence, that is exactly what ended up
happening, but it did not go anywhere near as smoothly as I had planned. Today, as I
look back on the article as it appears in Rivethead, the questions offered up by the
interviewer (me) seem so straight-forward and linear, so concise and well-presented,
before they are torn all to pieces by the respondents (Academy Black). This was not even
close to reality, though. The sad but true truth is that I showed up for that interview with
not even one pre-staged question. I had nothing for the band; I just figured that they
would talk amongst themselves, and with me.
So they sat there, bantering lightly, singing ‘Vogue’ (strike a pose!) and belching
into the microphone for the first few minutes, then a very awkward silence descended
upon us all. I looked at Academy Black. They looked at me. “So now what?” Damon
said. Dave asked if anybody had any pot. Finally, Joe Claytor, Academy Black’s
manager at the time (amongst many other things, and who is very dearly missed here
today) broke the silence by asking me what questions I had for the band.
“Well Joe,” I was forced to admit. “I really don’t have any specific questions for
the band. I just kinda figured…”
“What?” interrupted Damon. “You didn’t come here with any questions? What
kinda bullshit is this?” There was a general murmuring of agreement from the rest of the
band, and I knew from that point on that I was going to flounder.
“No wonder you write for a magazine they can’t even sell,” said Jeff, smirking
widely. “They give it away!” And there was much laughter from the band.
When the merriment had subsided, Damon put me right on the spot. “Well, ask us
Here follows a good ten seconds of total silence on my interview tape. I couldn’t
even think of anything. Finally, I managed to come up with this: “What kind of profits
do you expect from the upcoming album, er, tape sales?”
“None!” they said almost as one, excited to finally have something kicked to
them. “Joe keeps it all! We don’t get jack shit!” Damon explained this further: “Joe
fuckin’ pays his truck payment, and then tells us that he’s actually doing something for
us!” This too was greeted by general laughter from the rest of the band, Joe included, and
I felt a little bit more at ease. But I still didn’t have any questions, and this lacking was
also soon to be addressed by the band. Time was filled as they discussed with Joe
upcoming gig dates, when they might get back to the studio, whether to rework ‘Father of
the Future’, and other general chitchatting, until Greg suggested that somebody pull out
an old copy of Rivethead so I could ask of Academy Black the same questions that
Rivethead had asked the Mentors.
Eventually, Jeff tried to open a line by suggesting that I ask them what their
favorite brand of beer is, and with that question and answer my actual interview piece, as
it was written, officially began.
“So now what?” Dave asked after the question had been handled.
“How do you respond to criticism that you actually do suck?” I asked, starting to
almost feel a groove.
“We agree!” they responded, again almost in unison. “Isn’t it pretty much true?"
Jeff then summed it up more concisely: “We have fans, but they don’t actually hear any
music. They hear a fast beat and go ‘wow! That’s fucking incredible!”
Again, there was general laughter from the band, then another long stretch of
silence, of looking around at each other, until Jeff took up my microphone and sang
‘Feelings’ directly into it, which sounds louder than hell on the playback.
“Well, moving right along,” interrupted Joe, as he looked straight at me. He
paused before continuing. “Lisa did such a better job at this, at least she had questions,”
he said, referring to the Academy Black interview that Lisa E had done for Rivethead
Issue #16, February 1990.
“Yeah, but her questions were too, I don’t know, normal,” interjected Damon,
amidst more general agreement from the band.
“No doubt,” Dave added. “But at least she had questions.”
“Yeah Andrew!!!” they said with one voice, glaring fiercely at me like a pack of
agitated wolves who had been summoned to interview, apparently, for no real reason.
“’C’ for – ‘common sense … NOT!’” pointed out Jeff.
“Okay then,” I fired back. “What are your influences?”
“God, that’s a good one,” laughed Damon. “Never heard that before!” Dave then
suggested that we didn’t have a paper big enough to print all their influences.
“What do each of you enjoy for breakfast?” Joe prodded, as if urging me to get on
my horse and think up some damned questions.
“Nelson!” somebody shouted out, and again the group dissolved into laughter.
“Nelson for breakfast!”
Then more belching, more feelings, strike a pose, etc. “Hey, I got fingernails on
the end of my hand,” Dave remarked, as though he had just noticed. There was joking
about Greg’s weight, somebody asked for another beer, but the interview was going
“Man, Andy, you’re good!” Jeff said again. “Let’s go, let’s go!”
I looked out dumbly upon the group, feeling weak, and lost.
“What about jail?” Joe suggested, brightly, and I picked up on this immediately.
“Yeah, who has the worst offense?” This question also made the article. They then had a
ripping good time relating jail stories amongst each other, which did at least help to fill an
easy five minutes on the tape. Still, I wasn’t doing any better. Eventually, they turned the
tables on me, asking about my own experiences in jail, if I had graduated high school,
and did I plan to go to college? When your interview subjects start asking you the
questions, you know your interview is flopping. “You own a car, and you deliver pizzas,
right?” Damon asked, pretending to be serious. “So, do you just have just the liability
insurance, or do you have the full stuff?” Oh my freaking god. “And are your wages
higher because you have to pay for it yourself?”
It struck me that I was getting a lesson in impromptu questioning right then;
unfortunately, it did not strike me until much later, after the fact, while I was listening to
the tape and writing up the actual article.
“Andy, ask us what we think of the Houston scene,” Joe suggested, again clearly
becoming frustrated with my total lack of any preparedness. This question also made the
article, as the band promoted Lunacy, Axxis, and Social D as their favorite local groups,
along with Bad Samaritans, Sugar Shack, and Ninth Day Underground. This prompted a
lively discussion on the current state of local bands, until Joe remarked that I should ask
some questions of Billy, who had just joined Academy Black. “No!” Billy said, almost
diving under his hat, and this brought more jabs and ball-busting from the group. They
teased that he was the only real professional musician amongst them, that he had
auditioned for bigtime death-metal bands and had once tried to become Billy Vanilli.
That poor guy. I would have felt sorry for him were I not so busy feeling like a dumbass
myself. We continued on, not really getting anywhere.
“So are you going to ask us about our devil worship, or what?” Damon asked.
“Well, I was gonna,” I replied, clutching to the only lifeline I could find, “but I
thought that question would be just a little too ‘normal’.” This led to more mockery, and
eventually the suggestion of a Time-Life Books series on the occult, and then to toaster
mitts. Academy Black was just the kind of band as that toaster mitts had to come up
somewhere. How is any journalist, prepared or not so, supposed to deal with this?
Suffice to say that I did eventually make it out of there alive. The interview tape
goes on for another thirty minutes of similar tomfoolery from the band and more hopeless
floundering by the interviewer. In the end, Joe gave up on me entirely and took total
control of the interview himself, asking questions directly to the band from which I, later
and in the comfort of my own typewriter, was able to transcribe the fine interview article
which appeared in the outstanding second anniversary issue of Rivethead way back then.
I have to say that Joe Claytor saved my career that day. Without his intervention,
without his pushing me out of the way and doing the job that I was clearly unable to do,
there can be no doubt that I would have gone back to Lisa with three pages of total crap
or with nothing at all for her to run in the paper. In the face of such failure, she would
have been a lot less likely to keep me on her staff or accept any more of my further
submissions. ‘(re)View From The Pit’ would certainly have been doomed. My great run
as a music journalist would have come to an abrupt and ugly ending, and I would likely
have cut off my hair, gone back to Domino’s, become a store manager, then an area
supervisor, etc. By now I would be some totally square corporate geek making $180k a
year, wearing gay Armani, driving a bullshit Porsche or something, married to a woman I
can’t stand, with kids who are unappreciative juvenile-delinquent potheads, and taking
weekend golfing trips to Vegas with my buddies to nail overpriced hookers just because
we can afford to.
Truly, I cringe at the thought of such a life. Joe very tragically left us some years
ago, but when I myself get to the other side, I plan to look for him, to shake his ethereal
hand, and thank him for his help in that one pivotal instance when he enabled me to swim
instead of sink. Joe never took any credit for his assistance nor ever told anybody, that I
know of, how badly I had sucked as an interviewer. That article turned out to be one of
the real highlights of my career with the old hard-copy Rivethead. I got more of a
positive response, more random people coming up and telling me what a great job it was,
than from pretty much anything else I ever published. Joe himself, though, after he first
read the interview as it appeared in print, only lifted an eyebrow, looked straight at me
with a bit of a tilt to his head, long red hair hanging slightly to the side, and said, rather
wryly but with real sincerity, “Well, I am surprised at how good this turned out. You spun
gold out of pigshit, I think.”
A higher compliment I have never received. Rest in peace, my brother.
This brings us to the end of part II, and the conclusion of the ‘Tale of Two Interviews’
recollections. Thank you all for coming along on this side-by-side taste test. Part II was
a lot harder to write, because I’ve told the Exodus story to lots of people, but have never
really had the chance to tell the Academy Black story to anybody, and also because the
interview tape is old, some parts are difficult to hear, people’s voices are hard to identify,
and I don’t have much in the way of cassette players these days anyway. Mostly, though,
it was tougher because I wanted to get it just right, to honor my old friend Joe and all my
old friends in the band, now my friends once again, with a little bit of truth, whilst at the
same time revealing to everybody the sad fact that sometimes the “C” stands for ‘crappy’
or ‘can’t hack it’. I really do believe, though, that Joe would be pleased to learn that all
these many years later, I am once again spinning gold out of pigshit for Rivethead.
Until next time, H-town, don’t forget to tip your bartenders and waitresses, but tip
them more if they have followed all of the ‘(re)View From The Past’ series that have been
posted to date. It’s the feedback that keeps me writing. My page on the new
rivetheadmagazine.com website is to be set up as an interactive blog, and I very much
look forward to this. Expect me to be a rather active blogger! I also encourage any
bands who want to have material reviewed on the new website to get in touch with me
and send up a CD. I’ll give you my info. You can look for a review promptly.
Peace out, y’all! Because the Metal matters!!
The Editor's Desk
Because the Music Matters!!!