Ethyl Meatplow

Interview by Al and Krk
Flipside Number 74 Sept/Oct 1991
(Click on any image to see a full-sized scan!)

Ok, so they are a disco band... They're also a rock band, a punk band, a dance band, a noise band, a weird band, an interesting band, a great band.... I could go on but you get the point and here's what they have to say...

(We sit down right after an intense rehearsal...)

Carla in Meatplow. Click to see full image. Carla: This is really fun right now - sometimes it's less fun, but now it's really fun, we're playing new songs and stuff.

John: Whenever we write a new song it just makes it really fresh, it's not dirty diapers anymore.

Al: It seems to me that you guys got the band happening pretty quickly and it just took off. How long have you been going?

John: Unofficially, uh, about 2 years ago...

Biff: That's "officially." I'd say the last 9 months to a year has been gigs and work - it kinda got out of the garage phase...

Carla: Last year we were only playing once a month, this year we're playing five times a month! There's a difference!

Biff: And we got some vinyl out (4 song EP on their own label).

John: And we'll have a maxi-12 inch out on Peace of Mind.

Biff: Just doing the vinyl makes things a little more happening.

Krk: Was it scary at first because there weren't as many bands compatible with you guys?

Biff: Not so much a year ago, but over a year ago - it was weird. The first two or three shows, or more, that we did were  weird...

John: ...big flops! People hated it, they didn't know what to think.

Biff: Yeah, mainly confused. "Where's the guitar, man? Where's the guitar?!"

Carla: We played this really great show at Cal Arts where people threw a potato at us, a cookie and a Pepsi. We got the show, and it was really good pay - and they paid us before we went on! So we totally went off because they hated us and  were fucking with us so much.

Biff: They had a band that sounded like Chicago on before us!

Carla: They hated us! They were throwing shit at us, we were taking off our clothes and making rude gestures.

John: I took my pants off and shoved the microphone up my butt! I'm thinking, yeah it's Cal Arts, yeah, Karen Finley,
performance art! Right on!

Carla: They were so un-hip!

John: We stopped between songs just to curse!

Carla: And fuck with them. Our female dancer had jockey shorts with a big dildo glued to the front and she was naked on
top  - she was like "Echh ecch."

John: And all these butch dikes were up front going "Yeah! Yeah!"

Al: John, what kind of sounds did you manage to get out of that microphone?
Carla in Meatplow. Click to see full image.

John: I was too busy screaming, I was screaming loud enough for it to reverberate in my culo! I gave it back to the sound man  and he's like "Oh, if it's broken I have to pay for it!" And I took out the money they gave us and I was like "Here fucker, I'll pay for it right now!" and he's saying "Naw, that's alright..." and runs off with his tail between his legs. The perfect way to end a   perfect show.

Al: I guess that's the way you end a show if you have to.

Biff: Give your money away!

Al: No, singing into that mic! (Laughter) The first time I saw you was at Club XYZ...

Carla: That was ancient...

Biff: That was with 20 million girls. That was the first time we had girl dancers.

John: We were called "sexist" by feminists in the audience. We asked these girls to dance, thinking none of them would show  up but all of them did show up! There was like 15 of them!

Al: The sound almost seemed more experimental back then.

Carla in Meatplow. Click to see full image. Carla: It was formative!

Biff: Our older songs are rawer, more minimal straight line songs. Pretty much one bass line, although some of our songs now  are one bass line although they're colored so it's more, it's different. Then it was more straight out grooves that we did. We still  do a fair amount of those older songs, but they've improved. The live thing has just improved in a lot of ways.

Al: Has it gone to a "disco" type beat?

Biff: It's always been real "dance", real sequencer...

Carla: Is that bad?

Al: Not bad, but...

Carla: I think it's great. I love it. We have a lot of people that really love us, we have a pretty religious following and they all like to shake their butt - it's great.

Biff: The main thing that concerns us is making sure there's an innovative edge on it. Because you can do all that and it would be pretty boring. We make sure there's a lot of edge on the vocals and the sounds - without using guitars.

Krk: Why's that?

John: For me it's because I've played guitar for so long in so many bands I've just gotten sick of it! I wanted to do something  different.

Biff: When we play a show there's usually at least two other bands with guitars, so you'll get your fill of guitar no matter what.  When we write these songs, we're like thinking it's too pop, or it's too gay...

Carla: Not gay enough!!

Biff: But then if John and Carla are going to sing on it then it's not going to be too happy. It'll be happy, sort of, but it will have vocal edge. There will be a lot of anxiety no matter what.

Krk: What did Geza X do on the record besides producing it?

John: He just produced the one song "Silly Dawg." It's one of our poppiest songs, considering it's Geza.

Carla: He helped sing on some of the back-up vocals.

John: He did a great job, though, we're really happy with that. He works at Paramount Studios now and does a lot of Top 40  stuff - and he's happy.

Biff: He's going to use our tape in his portfolio.

Al: Ever since you used those dancers a while back, it has stuck.

John: Yes, we narrowed it down but it has definitely stuck.

Carla: We have our two favorites - Jimmy and Michele, Miss Hell! She's wonderful!

Krk: What happened to your last band John, Here Eat This?

John: Silly differences - just like any other band that breaks up, we just split up. People decided they didn't want to do that  project anymore and went on to do other things. I started doing stuff on my own, at home, on 4 track. Actually that was during  Here Eat This - at the end of that. I had drum machine stuff and lots of guitars and backwards vocals.

Biff: One of those songs is going to appear on this 12", it's called "Mustard Requiem". It has weird guitars on it and background vocals.

John: And it lasts all of one and a half minutes! Most of that was really short, I was just doing it to get it out of my system. I was trying to figure out my next plan of action. In the meantime I played with Chris D. in "Stone By Stone" and we recorded an  album "I Pass For Human" here at Biff's studio. Then I joined this other band, Four Way Cross (that Biff drums for), and toured with them.

Biff: He's on one album, he goes by the name "Ethyl Meatplow."

John: I was doing stuff on my own and Carla was coming to help me with it. At one point I brought some stuff over to Biff,  because we had recorded with Biff in Here Eat This. So I brought over my four track and a bunch of cassettes and we were transferred up to eight track, and we decided to make a real project.

Biff: He said "I really want to do this kind of percussion band thing," and I wanted to do that kind of thing as well but I never
found anyone to collaborate with.

John: I just purchased a sampler and I was getting into the programming thing. He was always into the programming thing,
he had drum machines a long time ago, so it just clicked.

Biff: We did a bunch of songs on 16 tracks and made a cassette - this was like two years ago to the day. We put it all together on a cassette called "MK Ultra."

John: Carla sang some of it.

Biff: We still do just about everything on it but some of it has changed.

Krk: What kind of background do you have Carla?

Carla: I've been in a few bands. I was in Neon Veins when I was 16. It was punk rock, sort of - we couldn't settle on a style! That was fun, we played around a lot. That was like 9 years ago, then I died for a few years!

John: Yeah, I did too for awhile...

Carla: Then I was in a band called Invisible Chains with this person named Joey, who is dead and is not coming back. Invisible Chains made a record that I was listening to the other night. We made it in like 45 minutes at Radio Tokyo. Mike Watt was going "Ya gotta hurry man, we've only got 20 bucks!" I was listening to it and thinking how Joey didn't know what he wanted to do, I think about him a lot because he's dead. I liked him a lot. He didn't know what he wanted to do, but since we've been doing this project I think, this is it, this is what Joey wanted to do. We made that record and it was rinky dink - Casio drums...

John: It's really hot! Great!

Carla: Joey would say he wanted to do a sort of jazzy, drum machine... this is what he wanted to do.

John: That's about the time I met Carla, I was in Incest Cattle and we used to play together...

Carla: We used to play together - Neon Veins and Incest Cattle.

Biff: Four Way Cross with Incest Cattle as well.

John: We all kinda met each other a long time ago. We needed time to
get fucked off for a while.

Biff: To get totally disenchanted and come back.

Krk: Why do you think you've gained such a large following so quickly?

Biff: Freshness.

Carla: It's a different sound that people don't get to hear. We're not an "industrial" band because we're not into just trying to  assault your ear drums, or make the ugliest sounds possible, we're not into like oil drums and shit - which I connect with industrial.

Biff: We're not as "down" as industrial, which is a little darker... We always want to make sure there's plenty of anxiety or intensity but not really just darkness.

Carla: It's fun music, people have fun when they come to our shows.

Al: I think you guys have a definite sex appeal, a sexual edge...

Biff: I think it's the kind of thing where if you come to see us you'd want to take your clothes off.

Carla: And go home and fuck.

Krk: Does it bother you when they call the band "sexist"?

Carla: It would bother me if we were sexist, but we're not. I don't care what they call us.

Biff: It was real quick and we got a male and female dancer...

Carla: Because Jim is like the God of the world - he's come through above and beyond anyone else - we've had like 50 dancers work with us and he's the consistent one that's always there, always doing something really fucked! That's why we have a male and female dancer, but sexist? We're not sexist.

John: We're not picky either!

Carla: Any time you get into any kind of sexual theme at all you risk people calling you sexist, no matter what it is.

John: Today marks the day that I start my sex therapy - it's official. I went in for my first session today.

Carla: He can't sleep anymore, all he can do is fuck - all the time.

Biff: We're gonna put a lock on his zipper at the next show!

John: I'm having problems right now! In a genital sense...

Al: How far can you take the dancers with nudity, and whipping your dick out and stuff. If you get popular you may have to  change all of that.

Carla: The mid-west could be a problem.

John: Definitely not going to do it in Florida!

Carla: Well it's not really like our thing, it's just something that goes down sometimes. We don't depend on it at all.

Al: But I think it is an attraction to the band.

Carla: It's not like we get in a huddle...

John: Ok, third song my dick comes out! (Laughter)

Carla: The last time we played my parents were there in the balcony with my sister who has found Catholicism, and when I got  on stage and went to the mic and said "I know my parents are in here somewhere," I'm basically saying this for John's benefit,  "Where are you mom and dad?" And they're in the balcony "Hello honey, how are you!" but of course John gets his dick out  and Michele is dressed as Jesus Christ with pastes and Jim is dressed as the Virgin Mary! And I'm like "Fucking chill on your goddamn penis, my parents are here!" My parents are up in the balcony like this (covers her eyes)!!

Biff: This one time we played the Radio, I don't think we had any dancers so Carla said "If anybody wants to come up and  take their clothes off and dance with us that would be great." That was a mistake, all these people came up!

Carla: This was the girl in this brown, fringe, Indian sort of get up with leopard skin thigh high boots dancing very pristine and  I'm ripping her dress. I was like "Take off your dress or I'm going to rip it off!" and she's like "Go ahead!" And our friend Rich  Costigan, he's like the lizard boy, like 4' 11", weighs 80 pounds, he gets on stage with these pants that are way too tight, without a shirt with this belt that is tightened...

John: Like an onion ring without the batter...

Biff: And this little couple came up to the side of the stage and were dancing with each other - the guy got down to his boxer  shorts and the girl had this big white bra and white underwear! It was weird! They were losing it!

Carla: They come to all of our shows now.

Biff: With a lot of bands you can just flap your hair around or push people...

Carla: It's fun flapping your hair around and pushing people though!

Krk: What bands have you guys seen that you can get off on like people can get off on you?

Carla: Jesus Lizard! L7 kicks ass forever...

John: There's a lot of bands that are fun and you can get wild to... I like lots of stuff...

Carla: I like really fucking loud rock'n'roll. I'm into that whole headbanging bullshit.

John: I like Helmet right now, and Nirvana a lot. We saw Neubauten, Meat Beat, Consolidated, Severed Heads - they were  fucking hot, they made Tommy Pressure Hed vomit!

Carla: Pressure Hed! Slug! Oh boy, this could go on! You asked that when we started if it was hard because there weren't a  lot of bands like us - well, there aren't a lot of bands like us but there are a lot of bands that are compatible with us. There's five  or six bands that are like the incredible six fingered hand: like Ethyl Meatplow, Babyland, Slug, Distorted Pony, Pressure Hed  and Death Ride 69. Like those bands, in any combination, we've played billions of shows together from the beginning.

John: An incest thing.

Carla: But what I like about what we've been doing lately is playing really diverse bills. We're playing with L7 next month and  they're totally different but they're really great. That's the best thing.

John: We're doing the Whisky with 6 guitar bands!

Carla: We played the Lingerie with like Electric Love Hog and Haunted Garage. These were all these rocker guys going "I like  it. I don't know why. But I like it. Fuck me, I don't know!"

Al: I don't think that the single, Ethyl Meatplow on vinyl comes across as well. When I listen to it I just don't picture it - the chaos, the anxiety.

Biff: On the single, the song "Car" is the closest song to coming to that dance, take-your-clothes-off thing. The single kinda represents the past, it's older stuff.

Al: Like the song "Silly Dawg" sounds like something some big commercial band would be doing.

John: It works! It works! On our new 12" we do a Carpenters cover, "Close To You". It's our rockin'est song.

Biff: In terms of recording, we could use a good producer. It's hard to get that same intensity as you do live onto a recording,  in every aspect. The "loudness" is hard to get in a studio. A lot of punk bands go in and record and their sound just gets sterilized. It's always so much better live. Sometimes when we're playing "Silly Dawg" live there's all this mayhem and I can't even recognize it!

Carla: I like to really go off, particularly on that song. It gets boring otherwise. There's room to fuck around on the songs.
There's a structure, they're all written a certain way but there's room to fuck around.

Biff: Our songs are pretty short, when we write them they're pretty short and we have to lengthen them.

John: Remnants of punk rock thinking.

Biff: It's weird how that works, we try to keep them tight, but live we have a lot of songs that aren't totally tied down to  sequences. They're sequenced but John mutes and un-mutes things as we need. So they're not totally locked down.

Krk: Are you approaching lyrics like you did in Here Eat This?

John: I write the same way, with symbols, double meanings and stuff like that. Carla and I are both writing the lyrics... Visions,
hallucinations, high school stuff, Jr. high school stuff...

Carla: Love, lawnmower...

John: Concrete, jail, butt-pliers... I'm being a lot more honest with my lyrics, collectively... No! It's too deep to be the truth...  We're starting to get a lot more respect lately. Getting interest from the music business people...

Al: Where did you develop your vocal style, John? Does that go back before Here Eat This?

John: Yeah, well back in Incest Cattle it was because I was up for too many days in a row. That's where it started - poison  psychosis. By the time it got to Hear Eat This it was a parody on myself. Also it was a wackier thing and made fun of these  testosterone bands that were coming up at the time. That's when all the glam stuff was kicking off on the Strip, so I was like  "Wahhhh wahhhh whaa" and it was a habit that stuck... like my sexual problems! (Laughter).

Biff: It cuts through! We always have to get the sound man to turn down the vocals.

John: I screech and Carla belts. Carla is very soulful.

Biff: When I first recorded him I was trying to figure out what was going on -  there was all this high frequency mid-range and  this vibration from one of his teeth! I could hear this metallic vibration!

Krk: How did you loose your tooth?

John: My teeth actually, now. One busted out with a microphone.Initially it was from a car accident. I was on a bike and busted my teeth - not out, but up into my gums, into my upper jawbone. Pretty gnarly. I've had serious face problems from 4th   grade on. I guess that contributed to my vocal style or lack thereof.

Krk: Do you think those experiences contributed to the way your life is now?

John: Yeah, I had to spend a lot of time by myself. I was accident prone and a kid and it had me laid up in my room, alone. A  lot. It gave me a lot more time than I needed to think about things. All these delusions about the world from too much television, too much talk radio and a lot of comic books.

Krk: Any childhood experiences or traumas that might have triggered your being in a band?

Biff: Where do we begin...

Carla: I was trying to think of something funny, rather than tragic...

Biff: I knew how to have an orgasm when I was five. I was masturbation king! When I was five I could climb a flag pole. When I got to the top I felt really good, I didn't know why! I just climbed - Wow! Full body experience!

John: I used to get warm, tingly feelings in my groin region when my 1st grade teacher would touch me on the back.

Carla: I was into technology. I had an electric toothbrush! (Laughter)

Biff: In terms of where we are now, I guess I like it the most because it reminds me of when I was 7 or 6 and I would play air  drums with my sisters would all dance around the living room to the Beatles or whatever. Now I have these like out of the body, youthful experiences when we're playing live. I think about all my sisters dancing.

John: A lot of the stuff that has to do with the band had to do with childhood stuff, definitely.

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