Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Interview with The Ukiah Drag

What's noise and what's music? Is it simply a way to bide time until death or is there a desperate hope inexplicably tied to the act of creation? I was born with the expectation to speak and listen. Communication and communion. I'm a student of the sublime - that feeling you get when you're on a flight and the PA clicks on and the pilot says, "Well, folks, we've been notified that the next thirty minutes might be a little bumpy so you had better fasten into those seat-belts lest you float from your delicate position and concuss yourself on the cabin ceiling," and you realize that even in our most powerful machines, on a whim, the dynamics of storm and wind have the wherewithal to snap their fingers and, like a candle flickering at the mouth of a lonely cavern, turn out the lights. But I'm also a student of beauty. In Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, he pits these two ideas and feelings against each other, but if I'm going to preach for a hot minute, I'd say that music, along with other artistic media, often succeeds in being able to capture both.

Which is, of course, what The Ukiah Drag does. You might be thinking me a wee crazy now, and you'd be right, but not because of the previous claim. Beauty is created by way of a dedication to form while the sublime is an overflowing. I'll give an example. At the moment of genesis, noise music began was sublimity in effigy, but as noise became familiar it was able to fill a form dedicated to the genre, which also makes it beautiful, like how a duck fits into our form of waterfowl. To an extent, there are familiar song forms here, but there's also a tint of controlled chaos that circumnavigates those forms: guitars and other noisemakers may, out of nowhere, decide to stray from the main piece for a bit and carve their own paths.

If we're going to play the genre game, The Ukiah Drag falls into a lot of categories. Punk, Blues. Psychedelic rock. Country. Noise. And this failure to pin the band down makes it that much more exciting. Just give their newest record In The Reaper's Quarters a listen, which you really ought to, and you'll see what I mean.

Jordan Reyes: Ukiah is an interesting word to choose in a band name. I only know it as a city in California. Why did you choose it? Where does the drag come from?

Tommy Conte: Ukiah is the county seat of Mendocino County where wine flows like blood through the Russian River; it was a sordid hotbed for burnt out hippie ruralists in the sixties. Jim Jones held his first Peoples Temple congregation in Ukiah. Charles Manson was a demigod there at some point, giving his LSD sacrament to runaways and with low self esteem; he and Susan Adkins were arrested there in June 1968 for peddling drugs and fucking underage girls. At one point the locals referred to Van Damme State Park as “Dog Blood Beach” because of satanic cults sacrificing animals there. And ad nauseam...The dark side of hippie culture is one hell of an American cultural priapism, a hard cock that was useless and bulging. Hence, DRAG.

Zack Arrington: Yeah we get our name from the town, I've never actually been to but have heard stories and folklore that really builds this image of a haunted rural town, somewhere where people have a lot to tell but don't say much... and the word Drag just puts a stamp on that vibe.

Brian Hennessey: Zack named the band, it works well.

Drew: Because The Zombies was taken.

JR: There are a lot of interrelating sounds in your music. There's psychedelia, noise, punk, pop. Where do these sounds come from? Were they conscious?

ZA: We draw from an eclectic palate, and write on a conscious plane so when we're writing songs there is a well rounded pool of influences that pours out and we let it just come out as natural as we can. Never forcing anything - that's a real pet peeve of ours. Letting the song grow into its own and allowing it to align it self instead of relying a formula or assumed structure.

BH: Most of us have been playing in bands for a substantial period of time. As artists that have a continued interest in the outlet of making music, it only makes sense to keep your palette varied and fresh. Some decisions are made with a clear vision in mind, but we have a natural chemistry as a band, and this is the most important creative factor at the end of any day.

TC: I only listen to hip hop and country so personally I have no consciousness of the above mentioned music genres let alone music consciousness in general.

JR: Tell me a little bit about your new album. How did you write these songs?

ZA: For me, this record has been in the works for several years, a slowly focusing vision, very squinty-eyed, and trying to craft the pieces, some of these songs were written before the band really existed and it has been a process of first finding the band to write them with, allowing the band to form and come into itself and then having the perfect facility to record them in. It has taken a couple years, written between a couple of towns and cities but now it's finished. A period is marked and now it's time to move on.

BH: We recorded it in a church-turned-studio in Hudson NY. It was wacky. The band solidified this batch of songs over the last 18 months or so, and were able to embellish them nicely in the studio.

TC: We wrote them with our ass in the air catching a breeze, Ben Greenberg holding a very sensitive, expensive microphone between his teeth and Sultan’s carpet absorbing the large pool of jissom. As for writing, what happens when four Floridians lock themselves in a basement? We don’t have those in Florida so you go a little stir crazy.

JR: Are lyrics important to your music? What themes or topics do you find importance in?

ZA: I mean to me they are. Its like the accompanying narration to the music - it gives it a little personality. Not just filling in blanks with some sort of vapid karaoke routine but giving it a little bit of a soul. The lyrics are typically pretty personal for me but vague enough to assimilate to the listeners imagination and they can do what they want to do with it from there

BH: Sure, I care that they sound good to me. Anyone's interpretation though is up to them, and in earnest they are usually the last thing I hear when I am listening to music. I've heard it said that any song is about love, war, death or sex. While I don't think that's EXACTLY right, I'll say that all of those themes do resonate strongly with me.

TC: I like karaoke and sex and you’ll have to believe my word.

JR: Do you guys read a lot? Any favorite authors or poets?

ZA: When my attention span allows it, I love reading. It's a very fundamental stimulus for me but I usually need something that just hooks into my brain and doesn't let go until I've read the whole book or whatever or I'm liable to just shelf it and will come back to it like 6 months later... Been on a heavy WS Burroughs and Harry Crews thing the last year or so. We also pass a lot of books around among ourselves.

BH: Same here, my attention is a hard thing to wrangle. A biography on Tom of Finland by F. Hoover Valentine reeled me in real hard last year. Michael Chabon writes some entertaining fiction that I enjoy.

TC: I very much have to read, and there is a fine line between indulgence and compulsion. That’s why I can read the Holy Bible and a Haynes automobile manual and react on a visceral wavelength to both. A few slabs I've read recently that have resonated deeply into my cold, brackish heart: The Family by Ed Sanders (beat poet turned hard-boiled gonzo journalist), A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor; The Process by Brion Gysin (Nothing is true, everything is permitted); You Can’t Win by Jack Black; The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson (The Exploited ain’t the only idiots who like sex and violence); Ted Morgan’s revised biography of William S. Burroughs; Freedom is a Two Edged Sword by Jack Parsons; Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger; any and all Antonin Artaud, whether it be an absurdist manifesto or a dinosaur-like cat (cat-like dinosaur?) drawn on a napkin; Paul Krassner’s The Realist; Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby by Takashi Nemoto. I have no life so I must indulge vicariously through literature.

JR: What differences were there between this record and the cassette releases that came before from labels like Ascetic House and Night People?

ZA: Well "Jazz Mama" and "Variations of Candy" were recorded in the basement of the apartment me, Tommy and Brian lived in in Boston. We were more of a recording project at the time wide open with a lot of ideas but still coming together as a band.  

ZA: When Drew join in, he kinda served as a backbone for us and since then we have really grown and matured and really started to articulate what we are doing with our music, so after a couple of tours and recording a single it was time to do the LP in a studio, we really wanted to give justice to these songs and were more than adequately facilitated to do so    

BH: Home recording vs. a studio environment was definitely the biggest difference.

TC: Mood, drug choice, tape hiss.

JR: Where did the art for the record come from? Seems somewhat similar to the recent zine you put out.

ZA: That's because I did the art for both.

JR: There seem to be some mystic or spiritual tropes in the artwork, maybe more archetypal. Do these themes have any impact on your music?

ZA: Not necessarily an impact as much as they're parallel. Two outlets from the same source. Sisters  

JR: You recently toured with Merchandise. How was that tour?

ZA: The tour was a blast, those guys are kin. It's nice touring as a roving herd because even if a city or show is a pit you still got 8 friends to get in trouble with, and when it's a good time it's even better because you have the crew, which is a mobile sense of the familiar.
BH: It was cool. I saw some places that I hadn't seen before, and got to hang out with a lot of old friends. I'll be hard pressed to go on a tour that is any more like a vacation than that one was.

TC: A highlight was eating Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville. Chris Horn from Merch is a fried chicken guru and that’s why he plays saxophone so well - the valves are lubricated with gristle. It was our first time in Canada as a band and I wandered alone in both Montreal and Toronto for hours, trying to get into sex shops and being denied. They knew I was not a Quebecois fuckboy, just a plain American one.

JR: What is the musical climate in Tampa like?

ZA: I would not be the guy to ask, I haven't lived there for over 2 years now

TC: Hip hop and country music

JR: Are you guys going to tour behind the new record?

ZA: It's looking like early next year were going to tear up the whole US

TC: Lock up your unibrowed sons and sweaty lawn boys! The Sultan is in heat...

JR: What all is in the future for Ukiah Drag?

TC: I want to play the David Letterman show

ZA: Sex? Drugs? Maybe some cash? Been thinking about getting a pet Tarantula but will probably settle for a ficus tree... hard to say.

BH: We'll write more songs and probably eat each others food on the sly until we leave for tour. A 12" EP coming is out sometime in 2015 too, so there's that.

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