FAQ Animation
Frequently Asked Questions concerning:
THE MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


Last updated: 8/29/11
Why did you name the band Pere Ubu?
Alfred Jarry staged "Ubu Roi" in Paris in 1896. The principal character is a fellow named Père Ubu. You need three things in a band name: (1) It shouldn't mean anything but it should seem to mean something, i.e. bestow Mystery; (2) It needs to look good and sound good; and (3) It should have three syllables. I was intrigued by Jarry's production ideas which seemed designed to engage the audience's imagination in the theatrical process. Also the Ubu character was monstrous. The singer is the mediator, the funhouse lens through which the audience receives the narrative voice of the band. He should be monstrous.
monster n. & a. ... 2. imaginary animal compounded of incongruous elements. --The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1985.
For a more detailed explanation follow this link.

What happened between the end of Rocket From The Tombs and the beginning of Pere Ubu?
When Rocket From The Tombs broke up I decided to put together a studio band to record some of the songs I'd been part of writing. I didn't want to start a new band but only to wrap up the RFTT project with a document. I was into exploring Salvation Army used record bins for obscure singles and I had the idea that one day someone would discover ours. That was the extent of my ambition. The original plan was a 45 of "Final Solution" and "30 Seconds Over Tokyo." As we rehearsed for the studio session my ideas changed when we came up with "Heart Of Darkness." Then I decided there should now be two singles and then we decided to play a concert to promote the first single, and then we began to write a few more songs so we wouldn't have to do too many covers and then we decided to be a band.
For more follow this link.

What do you think about today's rock scene?
I think today's rock scene is afraid.

What elements of art influence your music & lyrics?
Pere Ubu is a rock band. I guess you're asking whether there are "art influences" as in coming from other forms like writing or sculpture or theater, etc. There aren't any. We are a rock band. We have no need of your stinkin art, gringo. Pere Ubu arrived on the scene at a pivotal point in the early 70s as concrete sound and analog synthesizer-generated abstract sound were being integrated into rock music, given a specific narrative role, and Pere Ubu had a hand in that process. From that point in time we have continued to explore the possibilities of narrative technique suggested by those developments. We pursue rock's manifest destiny. Rock music is the cultural voice of the American folk experience, along with jazz and blues, and whether or not that is art is irrelevant. It speaks with the voices in your blood. In that context, who cares about art?

What is your favorite Pere Ubu record and why? And conversely, what is your least favorite and why?
The favorite is always the latest. After spending months writing and recording you know the work intimately. Familiarity breeds love. Least favorite records change with time. It's useless to speak of it. As well, the reasons are more often personal and utterly irrelevant to a listener.

What is your favorite [FILL IN THE BLANK]?
I don't have favorites.

Is there anything you've really wanted to say in an interview, about you or your music or just anything in particular, that no one's ever asked (feel free to ramble)?
I answer questions. I don't ramble. I don't volunteer.

You must have been asked this before but was Captain Beefheart one of your formative influences, or is any similarity purely a coincidence?
This question of formative influences is always a bit of a puzzle. An influence is a fundamental change of view. It's in the nature of a vision, and results in long-term, if not permanent, consequences. A lesson is what you can consciously learn, imitate, absorb, and can be a transitory experience. Now the earliest and most fundamental musical experiences in my life are:
Tom Dooley by The Kingston Trio
Word Jazz by Ken Nordine
The Lighter Side of Lenny Bruce
Bongos Bongos Bongos by Olatunji(?)
The Nonesuch Vachel Lindsay album

Ghoulardi
Ghoulardi

These are albums that my father had and that I listened to endlessly at an early, pre-teen stage. And then there was Ghoulardi. I was ten in 1963 when he went on air and 13 when he left Cleveland in 1966. After him I believe that I could only have perceived the nature of media and the possibilities of the narrative voice in particular ways. (It has been suggested by a number of us that the Cleveland/Akron event of the early 70s was attributable in large part to his influence.) Then I remember listening to talk programs on the radio: Alan Douglas, etc., all night long and even as I slept: flying saucers and conspiracies. I was 14. I couldn't understand rock music. The words were too hard to figure but I did like Herb Alpert. Then my buddy and me in high school made stuff and I listened to the typical high school stuff of the time:

In C by Terry Riley
The World of Harry Partch
AM radio
In The Year 2525 by Zagar & Evans

My last year at high school I bought Uncle Meat by Zappa and, then, Hot Rats. I heard Beefheart singing "Willie The Pimp." He sounded cool. I went out and within a week bought Trout Mask Replica, Mirror Man and Strictly Personal. I still couldn't understand the words (but it didn't seem to matter anymore). Then I dropped out of school and lived with some white panther types. I was 17. At the communal house we listened endlessly to:

Kick Out The Jams by The MC5
Smiley Smile & Wild Honey by The Beach Boys
Burnin by The Wailers
Super Fly by Curtis Mayfield

After that is a data-blur. The singer I am always compared to is Captain Beefheart but I always wanted to sound like Roy Orbison and I studied Frank Sinatra's timing endlessly and Rob Tyner was about the best and I envied ruthlessly the singer from The Sonics. So, you tell me. What are my influences?

Your music has been described as avant garage. How would you describe it?
We call it rock music. We adopted the phrase avant garage in 1979 so we could throw a label at writers. Labels are not our problem. We don't get paid for labels. In the truest sense, though, we are a "rock band." We are the mainstream. Others have deviated from the mainstream since 1975 and they need the labels, not us. Carve it on our tombstone: Rock Band.
Related links: QuoteNewFear

How would you say Pere Ubu's sound has left a mark on the current music world, and how was it initially received?
Well, from all accounts, and if you look at the press reaction from the time, Pere Ubu was a bit of a bombshell when we "appeared" - startling, shocking, etc. Of course, to us, it (the music and playing) was utterly ordinary and normal. It was the obvious thing to do. Where else was music supposed to go in the mid-70s but where we (and others) were taking it? As for influence, the roll-call of bands who name-drop Pere Ubu is lengthy and distinguished. Also a very broad church. So I suspect - I know - any such influence was not stylistic but maybe something like conceptual. I personally never hear us in any of the bands that can be cited. But of course I did note that I consider our sound, our approach, to be ordinary and normal so why should I? As with Elvis a band like Pere Ubu was inevitable - we just happened to be the ones in the right place with the right "training" at the right time.

You are noted for your attention to detail on things such as the theatricality of your live shows. What is the dynamic and focus of the construction of Pere Ubu's live show?
I may be noted for such a thing but it is utterly wrong. I do not give alot of attention to detail especially in regard to "the theatricality" of our live shows. I am extremely laissez-faire. I often joke that I am a "laissez-faire perfectionist." I believe in selling a song on stage but it is an organic process. If you're gonna get on stage you ought to be able to perform - to sell soul. Some of my more extreme stage mannerisms were simply developed out of practicality. In the early days Allen needed a long time to change his synthesizer's patches between songs. Rather than stand there like a lemon in awkward silence I began to tell stories or engage in odd monologues. This seemed to be popular and it was fun... and it served the material. (Some others in the band found it irritating but then again they didn't have to stand there while nothing was happening.) There was nothing premeditated about it. To repeat, I am not a detail person. I wish I was. I am a natural performer. Our music has always used every trick in the book - and when those ran out we invented some of our own - in order to cram more data into as small a package and short a period of time as possible. Everything is dedicated to increasing dataflow. When you pursue that course it's natural to use performance itself as an element in the dataflow. When you talk of theatricality in regard to Ubu you do know that we never - rarely - bother with lights or staging - we pile the amps up on stage and go! Our rider specifically instructs the light man to never talk to me. Lights and staging bores the life out of me and I consider it an insult to our talent to think that we need lots of flashing lights and bright baubles to entertain audiences. As regards detail in the production of the music itself, again, I am very laissez-faire. I try to surround myself with very talented people who have a compatible vision and I try to stay out of their way as much as possible. Clearly I act as an editor or conductor but only as far as I need to do in order to keep the band on course or to serve a specific vision I have for the piece itself. Very rarely I contribute an actual musical idea, for example: Wasted, On The Surface. Usually, I am given a set of musical ideas by the band or by individuals and I then shape those ideas according to what I want to do vocally. Every so often a member of the band might get to the point where they can't deal with that. And so, every so often, there are changes in the personnel when such a method becomes intolerable to that person.

What is your creative process in constructing a track?
Pretty standard stuff - get a starting idea and let it evolve. The goal is almost always the same - do what is necessary to encourage an idea to take on a life and mystery of its own beyond the input of the individuals involved. How to do this varies with every situation. If you mean the recording process itself - this also varies depending on the song. It's often pretty standard as well - record the drums, get the bass, get the guitar, get the synth and slap on some vocals. Sometimes we take things that we've recorded at somebody's home or at rehearsal and use them as is or as the basis of a number of overdubs. "Dark," from St Arkansas, was originally a jam that happened once in the rehearsal room. I told Steve the drummer to chart it out exactly as it happened with every anomaly and inconsistency and then we painstakingly reproduced it exactly in the studio. But when it comes to playing it live we just straighten it all out because otherwise it's too much trouble for too little return. Sometimes we record one song and then eliminate all the basic tracks and only keep the overdubs. Sometimes we go for strict structure (Song Of The Bailing Man, for example). Other times the opposite (Art Of Walking, for example). The process varies. The means is there to serve the ends. See this note to the Why I Hate Women page for more detail.

If you could save only one of your albums from destruction, what would it be and why, and what does it mean to you?
I don't think in these terms. Pere Ubu, like light, is at the same time a series of individual particles AND a wave-like continuum. Nothing is ever a final point or a finished statement.

You have been described as having a well-formed and enviable "cult" following? How would you describe your fan base, and any humorous fan stories?
I don't tell humorous fan stories. Our fanbase is, as it always has been, a fluid collection of people who, for one reason or another, don't fit. Why they don't fit varies. Doesn't matter. They don't fit. We don't fit. We recognize each other instinctively.

Finally, what's next for David Thomas and Pere Ubu?
Another album. Another tour. Another album. Another tour. Another album. Another tour. Another album. Another tour. Another album. Another tour. Another album. Another tour. Another album. Another tour. Another album. Another tour.

What is the most the important thing about rock'n'roll you've learnt in your life?
Rock music is about moving big black boxes from one side of town to the other in the back of your car.

Advice for other musicians?
Quit before you get ahead. Though recently a journalist suggested that I replace that with: If you can't make it work with one chord and a will to rock then you oughta get out of the business.

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