Pizza! man, Big Whup-per, and writer Geoff Geis confesses (on the eve of his first solo tape album release):
“My earliest songs were quite emotional, but as I got older I think I just reacted against my teenage self.
“My Freshmen year at USC was the year that Dashboard Confessional and all of those other terrible emo bands got big, and I hated that music so much! It was so whiny and insipid, but by realizing that I also realized the same failings in my own music. I didn’t ever want to make music that sounded anything like what that Dashboard Confessional guy made.”
Big Whup‘s Drew Denny interviews bandmate Geoff Geis, whose solo tape comes out Monday:
How/when did you decide to compile and release Princess?
In March of this year, it occurred to me that I had enough recordings to actually put a record together. I’d been thinking about making some stuff on my own for a long time, but I didn’t have an adequate way to record myself until I bought Morgan [Gee, of Big Whup]’s computer last year. I definitely had a record in mind when I bought the computer, but the process of creating it wasn’t actually that deliberate—I was just teaching myself how to use my new technology, sometimes improvising and sometimes building on top of concepts I already had.
I became enamored of all my new equipment, the capabilities it gave me, and the speed at which I could put things together. The speed of it was really liberating. My lack of meticulousness is typically checked by other personalities in both bands, and I appreciate that collaborative balance. Left to my own devices, though, I just jammed stuff together until it felt okay and then moved on to the new thing. I wanted to make a good record, not a perfect record. Around March, it occurred to me that I had about enough tracks.
Why this collection out of your entire archive? Why the tape format?
As I said, the record was an educational experience for me. A couple of years ago, I used Tyler [Sabbag, of Pizza!]’s MPC for some really bare-bones backing tracks for a few songs so that I could play a show in Huntsville by myself. Those tracks were natural starting points for me, and out of those I chose to flesh “Where Have You Been” and “Mother of All” into fully orchestrated pieces.
The full-band songs, “Superbowl B4 De-lete” and “The Lonesome Part,” were recorded with Andrew, Miles, and Pascal from Moses Campbell. I put that band together because my friend Christopher wanted to record me for his final project at engineering school in Hollywood. We only had one rehearsal together before we went to the studio, so I chose the most complete and easy-to-teach jams that I had. That whole process was a lot of fun, and the boys breathed a lot of new life into some songs that I’d started long ago but never finished.
Why tape? Well, why not? I guess that vinyl is the standard, but it’s certainly not how most people—even the vinyl buyers listen to music. Most of my listeners are going to be listening via their computers, whether they purchase the tape or not. With that in mind, tape has a lot of advantages. Foremost is the fact that it’s a lot cheaper and easier to do than vinyl.
I’m definitely a follower in this regard—obviously a lot of other people are doing it and have been for a while now. I understand why. It’s a good way to jump into the realm of physical release without the banality of a CD release or the overhead of releasing vinyl. I’m also in love with the second-hand market, like at Goodwill. I’ve bought so many classics [on cassette] over the past year or so, and none of them has been expensive.
How did you discover Arthur Alexander? What’s your favorite lyric of his?
I don’t remember how I discovered Arthur Alexander—in my mind, it’s like I’ve always listening to him. It was probably through the Beatles.
I don’t really even know which of his lyrics were written by him, and which of them were covers. He wrote “Anna,” of course, but a lot of my favorites came from other writers—including “Where Have You Been?” I was always taken by his delivery, and also by the tragedy of the story that accompanies the music. My favorite moments? The intense part in “Where Have You Been,” the way that he goes “Ooooh, it’s crazy” in “The Girl That Radiates That Charm,” and the way that he completely outdoes Elvis on “Burning Love.”
What’s the most personal song you’ve ever written? The most political?
The most personal song I wrote was “Cover My Eyes.” I had the structure of that song for a while, and the guitar line in the coda was recycled from something I’ve been playing for years—it was actually part of a New Motherfuckers song that got shelved after a couple of performances. When our relationship ended, you talked a lot about maybe moving somewhere else. You were in Colombia, I was thinking about that, and I wrote it into a basically straightforward song—although, forgive me, I did keep some of my nonsense filler lyrics like “Oh my god, my hands are dry” because they simply sounded good.
My most political song is “Buttersaw.” I wrote it right after the election, and it’s about how the American Dream is a sham that can’t be fixed by Messianic figures, no matter how inspirational they are. I hope that it’s not an accurate depiction of the present or future.
Why did you avoid emotional content in your music for so long?
Pizza! is about positive vibes, just friends goofing off cleverly. Those are my bros, and all we’re trying to do is entertain each other. My lyrics for that band reflect nothing more than the fact that I’m enjoying myself.
The Big Whup songs, for obvious reasons, were cathartic. I never actually stopped writing emotional content, I just didn’t use those songs with Pizza!. In Big Whup, I let myself go a bit more.
How does the South affect your work?
The South has a very powerful mythology. The most awful and dramatic saga in the history of our nation took was fought there, and the signs of that are all over the place. For example, the church I went to when I was a kid still bears a black mark that, legend has it, was made by a Union soldier who was about to set it aflame before his torch revealed that it was an Episcopal church.
Californians, I’m sure, gain attachments to figures figures they learn about like John Fremont, Ceasar Chavez, and Jerry Garcia. I was drawn to heroes of the south, like Andrew Jackson, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, William Faulkner, and R.E.M.
I never thought I’d stay in the South. I never had a southern accent, and I only went muddin’ once (we got stuck and had to get towed). I love Civil War history but celebrate Sherman, you know? But when I left I became nostalgic. I started writing country songs and saying y’all.
How’s summer camp going?
Summer Camp was amazing. To be honest, I didn’t want to do it. I’m really glad that I did, though. Our team designed a week-long academic summer camp from scratch, and making it work in reality took a tremendous amount of dedication and fortitude. I’m proud of us. We positively impacted a lot of the kids, and to my knowledge only one of them got a busted nose.
I like being an adult. Working with kids, though, reminds you of how you got where you are. There were many teachers in my childhood and teenage years who really made a difference in who I became—people for whom I’m eternally grateful. It’s incredible to be on the other side of that, and I hope that I never become cynical about that.
How has your music-making process evolved since your bathroom shows in high school? Has it come full circle somehow?
I make music so differently now. Getting recording software has changed my life and upended my process entirely—then, I was a songwriter and a guitar-player, but now I’m more of a producer.
There are a few parallels, though. I was in a few obnoxious one-off bands when I was a kid—when I was fifteen, I was in a band called the Bungholes that wrote five songs and played four or five times during the three weeks that we were together at summer camp. We held bathroom parties in the dorms of Duke University, and our singer stuck a drumstick up his butt. In high school, I was in a band called Shu Bao that mixed a few rehearsed songs but more often played these aggressively unpalatable shows that involved fires, cameos by a dude called “gas mask boy,” mock beat poetry, and poorly-thought out attempts to bring the tape music experiments of Steve Reich to the house party-going teenagers of my hometown.
I’m grateful that I still get to do stuff like that, thanks to projects like the Avant-garde Volkpenis, Toe Jam, and Hot Topic. So maybe it has come full circle.
What contemporary public figures have inspired or informed songs on Princess?
Eddie Vedder and Saddam Hussein.
How could Obama redeem himself in 2012?
This is the most befuddling question of the whole lot. Obama is, in so many ways, a reaction to Bush—we didn’t want another cowboy, and we didn’t get one. But sometimes we need a cowboy. When South Carolina tried to nullify some tariffs, Andrew Jackson sent troops there. When they left the Union, Abe Lincoln kicked their sorry little asses.
This debt ceiling debate is a perfect example of the Republicans moving the football, to borrow a a metaphor from Charlie Brown. It’s an arbitrary number that’s been raised countless times, and the nut jobs on the far right wouldn’t be able to make it such a big deal if it weren’t for their spineless so-called “moderate” counterparts who’ve voted to raise the debt ceiling countless times but who aren’t doing so now because its politically advantageous.
There are real consequences to these actions, though. No, we don’t really face “fiscal Armageddon”—it’s just a game of brinksmanship, of Mutually Assured Destruction. But the fact that these Tea Party folks are even playing at this—and that the Republican establishment is rolling with it—is evidence of how irresponsible they are. In April of 1979, Congress pulled similar shenanigans about the debt ceiling. It was eventually raised, but the legislative wrangling caused a few delays in payments of Treasury Bonds. Consequentially, the interest rates on Treasury Bonds increased—costing the federal government quite a lot of money. When interest rates increase, it means that the government is spending more capital but gaining no added benefit. Isn’t that the very thing against which this whole Tea Party movement stands?
The point, though, is that these fuckers are irresponsible assholes who either don’t understand how the world works or who—even worse—know how it works and want to exploit that to their own shortsighted political advantage. Obama, on the other hand, has respect for our institutions. He seems to legitimately believe in compromise and cooperation, even if the people on the other side of the spectrum don’t. After the precedent-bucking Bush administration, he seems to be watching his step.
Maybe it’s time for him to forget that. He’s been signing some executive orders, but they’ve not been about really big issues. Maybe it’s time for that to change. What if, for example, he executive ordered the Bush tax cuts to end? Sure, the House is supposed to write all spending legislation, but I’m sure that the Justice Department could figure out a reason why that didn’t apply in this case—selective logic doesn’t have to just be a tool for the right. He could probably raise the debt ceiling by executive order, too.
I’m not for the Imperial Presidency, and I know he’s not either… but sometimes you have to fight assholes by being an asshole.
Experience the debut this Monday at Pehrspace…
This week it’s the Sean Carnage / Kyle Mabson Monday Night Six Year Anniversary celebration, part one!
Featuring Geoff Geis‘ “Princess” release party
with The Monolators
Plus Sisterfucker & Mind Cemetery (Oakland, member of No Babies)
Starts 9:30pm / $5 / all-ages
Pehrspace—325 Glendale Blvd., in Historic Filipinotown RSVP