Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Interview with Tara McManus Hubbard of Mr. Airplane Man

C'Mon DJ Cover
There are a few bands that changed the way that I listened to music - bands like Nirvana, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Neutral Milk Hotel, Libyans, Bad Brains, Burzum, The Who and a few others. Another one of those bands is Mr. Airplane Man. Mr. Airplane Man was the project of Margaret Garrett and Tara McManus (now Tara McManus Hubbard after her marriage).

To this day, Bull City Records in Durham is the best record shop I have ever been to. Most of the reason behind that is Chaz Martenstein's unbelievably conscientious methodology behind selling the record to you that you didn't even realize that you wanted - you in fact needed it. Currently, BCR is on Hillsborough Rd in Durham, but it used to be above the Avid video store perpendicular to 9th street. When I was 18 years old, I walked into the shop and heard Mr. Airplane Man's cover of "Sun Going Down." It changed my life. The bright guitar strikes accompanied with a haunting reverb and psychedelic know-how was something that I had never seen done at the same level of proficiency. It was only after I heard Mr. Airplane Man that I first got into Jay Reatard, Ty Segall, King Khan & the BBQ Show, Thee Headcoats and other bands that both recalled the old rock world while promoting a modern view on the world at large.

But Mr. Airplane Man broke up even before I had bought their CD. It took me a long time to find out how to figure out what happened to them, but I basically stumbled luckily upon Tara's husband Justin Hubbard while checking out the band Far Corners. It was totally serendipitous and awesome. I started talking with Tara and really wanted to figure out what happened to Mr. Airplane Man (and also try and get a Mr. Airplane Man T-shirt).
Tara and Margaret

Tara was more than receptive to my questions and wanted to help me with an interview, which seriously has made me starting this blog worth everything. I am so honored to be able to relay this interview to everyone because Mr. Airplane Man's music affected me so profoundly.

You can learn about them on their MYSPACE or read up about them on ALLMUSIC

This is one of my all-time favorite bands and I feel like the luckiest boy in the world to be able to share information about them with anyone reading.

Jordan: So how did the band originally start? How did you and Margaret meet each other and decide on playing together?  

Tara: We'd been friends since little kids, we always were super close and had a really strong bond over music.  During our 20s we were totally connecting about certain old records and seeing certain bands live and we just got so obsessed with it we decided to try to play, and then it became a band.

J: Why did you choose the name Mr. Airplane Man?  

T: We had a really hard time picking a name.  it was just a howling wolf song we really liked, and then it kind of seemed like it had another meaning to us, like some weird bird man bringing us somewhere

J: What would you say influenced the style of music that you played? Any bands or ideas in particular that impacted the sound or beliefs behind the band's output?  

T: Sure we were really influenced by really typical stuff: velvet underground, stooges, howling wolf.  as kids we were really into hardcore bands like flipper and black flag and fang, and really into jazz too.  when we reconnected in our 20s we were so influenced by seeing mark sandman (of morphine) play every week in little pubs in boston.  We got to know him and we recorded some songs with him and toured with morphine right before he passed away.  He was huge influence on us as far as trying to be minimalist and not do too much, and also trying to find some magic place he would get to playing live.  Then we were super into lee perry and african stuff, then we discovered howlin wolf which was this huge thing.  Then when i got turned on to junior kimbrough, jessie mae hemphill and r.l. burnside via the Bassholes that was a huge turning point.  As the band went on,  all the great Memphis rock and roll bands and people like Greg Cartwright, Shawn Cripps of the Limes, the Oblivians, Compulsive Gambers, Tav Falco, Jeff Evans became a huge influence.   As well as Boston bands like the Konks--they were like our brothers, we played together all the time in the beginning and really kinda supported eachother.  And of course the Lyres from Boston, they were a huge inspiration to us.  Their drummer is like some crazy mystical force I saw them live every chance I could.

J: How would you guys write and record a song or an album? Did you have specific roles in regards to the creation of your music?  

T: Margaret wrote the songs.  Usually she would bring in the basic melody and otherwise it was totally loose structurally.  We would just jam and mess around with it for hours, or just many times til we started feeling it fall into place.  She was always very patient with me figuring out drum parts or groping around for organ parts or backups.  We figured out songs by playing them out live too.  We played live at least once a week the first few years.

J: How did your music change through the course of the band? Do you feel like there was ever any sort of progression or ideas that made your style change? 

T: sure.  over time i think our different influences came together, and we found our own voice.

J: The recordings clear up a bit as you keep recording. Why did you guys decide to focus on a somewhat less fuzzy higher-fidelity recording style?  

T: It was more like, who came along to do a project with...although margaret may have had a specific desire to "clean it up".  I really love the sound on red light, but I also love the way the Easley recordings sound too.

J: What was it like working with Sympathy for the Record Industry while bands like The White Stripes were a part of it? 

T: Really exciting.  Although the whole White Stripes thing was a drag because of course, we were always being compared to them, as if we were trying to copy them.  Which was so annoying!!  Because we started way back in 1999, having no idea about the white stripes, or garage rock guitar drum duos.  We were such different bands, and honestly we did not like their music, so it just always was a drag to have that comparison going on. 

J: What would you say was the emphasis or differentiation behind writing and recording music versus playing a live show? What was touring like? How often would you all play and where?  

T: We always loved playing live, although i'm sure it didn’t seem it at times hah!  Playing live, well first of all, we always had to be stoned, which now years later, I can't believe it.  Because you'd be going through all the paranoia and confusion and self consciousness and anxiety and then suddenly it would be awesome and then later again weird.  Oh my god, like I can't imagine going through that anymore!  So shows could be a gamble, they could feel really ecstatic or just awful sometimes. But we loved it.  Touring was great.  It could get to be such a grind though because we took such bad care of ourselves.  

J: Any noteworthy shows and good stories from them?  

T: I loved playing in Portland, Austin, LA, Cleveland,...we played in some really special places in Holland and the UK.  We met so many sweet and cool people.  I remember doing a couple tours down south in Margaret's 68 Cadillac.  I remember it breaking down in the middle of nowhere in MIssissippi and getting towed on a flatbed truck to our show in Memphis w/the Husbands and the Doll Rods.  That night the Doll Rods were one of the best shows I've ever seen!  We used to play at this place the Union in Athens OH.  The stage was totally haunted.  I remember shows there just being insanely fun and otherworldly.  At one of them I was super spaced out and into the music and then my eyes came into focus and I realized Bim from the Bassholes was crawling across the stage towards me with this intense look on his face I will never forget that!  Another thing was almost driving into a lake at like 4 in the morning in that same caddilac.  Why am i remembering this stuff?  i remember one of our first shows in memphis, at the hi-tone there were like 20 people there, but Jack and Greg Oblivian and jeff evans were all there.  I almost threw up i was so nervous.  Another great night coming to mind was getting to play with Dead Moon in LA.  The door to the backstage was right behind the drums, I remember we were setting up and just about to play and Fred Cole having this big smile and smacking me on the ass and saying "Rock Out!!!!"  I remember freakin incredible shows opening for the Cheater Slicks.  So many great memories.  But I think a lot of my favorite shows were in the early days, at the Plough, and the Abbey Lounge in Somerville and Cambridge.  It was real exciting and all very spontaneous and in the moment

J: Why did the band eventually break up or stop putting out records? 

T: I think looking back we were getting really burnt out and discouraged, i think it may be a typical stage you have to get through, or maybe it was actually because we never had good management, like from ourselves or anyone else.  Neither one of us is good with money or planning things out, and we, well i'll speak for myself, i had this really irresponsible side.  oh man....i wish i could go back in time sometimes 

J: What have you both been up to since the band stopped making music? What sorts of projects (musical or other) have you been working on? Or, to put things even simpler, what has taken over your lives now?  

T: Well Margaret had a kid, I got married and traveled a bit with my Husband and we wound up out here in New Mexico.  We have a baby boy and it is the best thing ever.  I love being a Mom.  We also have two bands going on, and we dj, and do shows on the college radio here, and I would love to get a record distro or store happening someday...

J: Has music retained its importance in your life? How has its role changed in your life? 

T: Of course its still important!  It always will be.  I am missing live music so much since we moved here though.  I think it depresses me to not have that kind of cellular rearrangement you get at a really cathartic show, you know? 

J: Which bands are you into now?  

T: Ha not a good time to ask me....I have been so NOT into most bands that come through the last couple years.  Not to sound like a jerk but I am so sick of the happy surf beat stuff.  We saw a great band recently though called Spray Paint.  A frames played here a couple years ago they were amazing.  But really I am soooooooooo not on top of what is going on.  I have been so absorbed in being a mom, and been totally into the Saharan guitar stuff coming out on Sublime Frequencies, all the great African Reissues --loving the orchestre polyritmo stuff on analog africa.  Justin got me on to the sun city girls.  Listening  to a lot of Lee Perry and Roland Kirk too.  And back to my Jesse Mae Hemphill records all the time too.

But I hate when some old person is like, all the bands now suck, and they only say that because they have no idea what is going on. I think I kind of sounded like that, so I just wanted to say I know there is really great stuff going on right now, there are ALWAYS good bands, but I am so deeply in Mom-of-a-baby right now and I have no time or idea what is going on at all...and kind of not much interest. But I know that will change when the kid is older and I have more free time and my bed time is not 9 pm

J: Do you think there is any possibility of getting back together or recording more or even playing more Mr. Airplane Man shows? 

T: Absolutely!  When the time is right.  We've been talking a lot lately.  moi j'connais is reissuing the stuff we did with mark sandman this winter, which....i dont know how good it really makes me cringe with embarrassment to hear myself back then....but they seem to feel real strongly about it so why not!  Anyway i miss playing with Margaret.  I think when my son gets a little older, we'll be able to move and I'll have some more free time for music

Anything else you'd like to say?  Oh yeah, the bands i'm doing now with Justin [editprs note: her husband] are Far Corners and Germ House.  Far Corners has put out a couple 7"'s and just has a new one out on Volar.  Germ House is about to go record a lp for Windian.  We are gonna do it w/Matt from the Resonars and Isaac from Lenguas Largas in Tucson which I am super super excited about! Margaret has some new bands lately too :)


  1. Here is a song Margaret just recorded with one of her new bands i love it i am jealous i am not playing on it :) Thanks a bunch Jordan ! Tara

    1. Is there supposed to be a link to the song here?
      So great to finally read a proper update on Mr Airplane Man. Saw them a few times in NY - loved them, and always wondered what had become of them. Thanks Jordan!

  2. Thanks for this interview. Love Mr. Airplane Man and am glad they are atleast thinking of reforming one day. I live in Boston but didn't realize how great they were until recently so I never saw them when I had the chance.

  3. The first self released album can be purchased

  4. I saw those first shows in Memphis. That was a great time for music here at the Hi Tone. I was entranced by this band, two beautiful young women playing this kind of music, for a 20 something boy was something to behold. I remember more than 30 people being there, too. She's being modest, they were very cult-popular here. -Kevin

  5. Thank you so much for the update on them. I was so sad to learn the band broke up. It's one of my favorites. Wished I had watched them live, but I'm from Brazil, where btw they have some cult following. I so hope they get back together for one more album.

  6. One of Margaret's bands is The Shangri-lips. They put out a record. Here's her SoundCloud link:

  7. I don't know if anyone is still lookin at this page but, i am BEGGING Mr Airplane Man to get back on the road again and do some shows and please come to Melbourne!! Bring your kid along, just do it! Just the thought of hearing some of those songs off C'mon DJ live at max volume is nearly too much for me! It's my fave recording (i love Shakin Around too) and me and so many people want to see you live..please don't wait too long....

  8. heard MAM is getting back together - that will be pretty damn cool