The Most Frequently Asked Questions

[Any of the endless variants of questions about being a punk band.]
How many times do I have to answer the question? Okay, here's the 1,791st time: "We had nothing to do with punk. We were a rock band operating in the mainstream. Punk was cliche pablum used to sell merchandise to gullible rubes in a second rate, decaying culture."
Note that I refer to "a second rate, decaying culture" not in regard to a specific country.

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. It's too convenient to lay blame on the 'suits' in the music business. Record companies are in the business of selling records. Shock! Horror! The problems arise in three parts. One, musicians are cowards - they are slaves to approval. Two, music critics have set themselves up as arbiters - it is, therefore, their fault if things have gone bad. Three, people choose to buy pablum - at every newsstand on sale side by side are the Wall Stret Journal and People magazine - the choice is free and clear.

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. We were paying attention. We were aware of our location in the stream of time and circumstance. 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 voice in your blood. In that context, who cares about art? And what does it matter? Is music art? Yes. Okay, now what?

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. I don't make lists. Don't ask me to comment on 'seminal' albums. That's your lousy job. Don't ask me to say the first things that come to mind when you say [blank]. This is not a game.

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
The World Of Harry Partch
Word Jazz by Ken Nordine
The Lighter Side of Lenny Bruce
Drums Drums Drums by Olatunji
The Nonesuch Vachel Lindsay album

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
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?
That's a description we applied to ourselves in 1979. Journalists and critics require labels above all else. We were fed up with the labels that were being applied to us. First we were 'industrial,' then we were 'post-industrial,' then we were 'pre-industrial.' All within two year's time. Same with 'punk' - 'punk,' 'pre-punk,' 'post-punk.' Well, we never had an affinity with the punk movement. We were a rock band operating in the mainstream of rock music. We were paying attention. We knew where we were in the stream of time. 'Avant-garage' appealed to us because it didn't mean anything but it addressed what others saw as a schism in Pere Ubu - that we liked pop music and we liked noise, both in equal measures - all sound is created equal. We are a Rock Band. We are the mainstream. Others have deviated from the mainstream since 1975 and they need the labels, not us.
Related links: NewFear

In your case is it "art for art's sake"? Do you want to make music that people will probably like, or do you simply do your thing and be very happy if the people like it?
I don't care what others like or don't like. Am I an entertainer? Yes. So was Herman Melville. We don't sit around trying to come up with music that people won't like. Are you insane? As I said, we pay attention to where we are in the stream of time and circumstance. Lots of other people don't. So why concern yourself with what others like or don't like? We are not slaves to approval. We are not sand on the beach to be shifted with each new tide. Pere Ubu is an idea. That idea has not changed an iota in forty years. We pursue it ruthlessly.
Related links: Pere Ubu Is Like A Cup

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. Many times I, for my part, will be interested in 're-writing' someone else's song. There are endless and frequent references to pop music in Pere Ubu's songs. Rock is folk music. Folk music is self-referential and constituted as a continuum. But 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 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 (The Art Of Walking, for example). The process varies. The means is there to serve the ends.

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. It doesn't matter. They don't fit. We don't fit. We recognize each other instinctively. We make music that doesn't fit for people who don't fit.

What is the purpose of a live performance and why do you sometimes not like clapping during a show?
The purpose of a performance is to purge yourself in the furnace of the moment. Clapping is a distraction - it wastes my time and disrupts the flow of a show. At the end of a song I'm ready to go to the next stage of things. Waiting around for applause interrupts my timing. And sometimes it simply irritates me. Maybe we've just gone through a series of crystal moments of inspiration and I think to myself, in regard the applause, "What?! That's the best you got after what you just heard?"

You have stated: "Everything I have done has been a failure". How could "The Modern Dance" and "Dub Housing" be a failure?
Because they're not all that they could have been. Nothing ever is.

What is your past? Burden, inspiration or something to run away from?
None of the above. It's something to be ignored. It's what they say about cornerbacks: the good ones have short-term memory.

Finally, what's next for Pere Ubu?
The glib answer is, "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."
I work to a long-term schedule. I have an idea of where I want the band to go and how I want it to be and I work towards that. Meanwhile, other members of the band have similar ideas. Twenty years ago I had the ambition to achieve the Chinese Whispers method with the band. It took that length of time to achieve it. I know where I want to be with the band in five years time. I will work towards that. When I finish one album I begin to formulate what I want the next album to mean or what I want it to be about or what I want the themes to be. Meanwhile, other members of the band are doing the same.

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.