BAND OF THE WEEK: Zs + EARTHEATER

26 Feb

We get it: we don’t get it.

Our true understanding and knowledge of music, composition, art – any subject you can name, really – rises to the level of sub-dilettante, and only just. We are the offspring of resignation, our personal formats forged not in the fires of creative liberation but in the dense logic of escape, manifested in a youth spent drinking warm swill from twelve-ounce cans, slumped and slack-jawed in the back seats of Japanese cars hidden in American suburban parking lots, “Show No Mercy” offering persistent background ambient noise (while still occasionally hearing the chorus to “More Than A Feeling” and thinking, “That’s kinda fucking cool.”).

So, we get it – we don’t get it.

Luciano Berio got it. He said the following in 1993:

“The increasing diversity of the forms of musical consumption, the evolution of techniques and audiences, and the consequent instability of possible points of reference are the product, to a certain extent, of the available means of recording, reproducing, and conserving music. Such is the quantity of noise – actual and virtual – around us, that it cannot be made the object of methodological analysis. It is not so much a musical phenomenon but a phenomenon of musical amnesia that has nothing to do with any musically valuable territory we are interested in exploring.

“Through new technologies, one can enter new acoustic and musical directions. Already in the 1950s, Karlheinz Stockhausen, with Zietmasse, Gruppen, Kontakte, and the related theoretical apparatus (wie die Zeit vergeht, ‘how time passes’), was looking for an extreme, and often paradoxical, conceptual homogeneity among qualitative and quantitative sound dimensions, among time proportions, frequency, and timbre, among micro- and macrophenomena and forms, in the attempt to reach a quasi-natural, quasi-divine, total fusion of all possible qualitative and quantitative parameters. We know, however, that in nature every morphogenesis has a molecular basis, while in music – vocal and instrumental – the integration of large and small-scale phenomena is never innocent because the phenomena have no absolute values. Through the new computer-assisted technologies the composer deals with, so to speak, ‘molecular’ digitized sound dimensions where everything can be formed and transformed, where anything can become anything else. However, this fascinating field of possibilities is also very risky, when the computer loses contact with the specificity of the musical matter.”

We don’t get it, but we do have a desire to get it, and we do tend to know what we like. What we really, really like (and on occasion, trick ourselves into believing we get) are the two Guardian Alien albums that we own and worship, which makes other music made by the two principal aliens of Guardian Alien of tremendous interest to us.

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Xe” (from Northern Spy Records) is the most recent and perhaps most bewildering album yet released by Zs, and the first to include the drumming skills of Greg Fox. Calling Greg Fox a “drummer” feels a little like calling Count Dracula a “goth dude with a funny accent,” so we’ll defer to simply calling him an alien. And alien sounds abound throughout “Xe,” perhaps none more compelling than the album’s centerpiece, the brilliant, twelve-and-a-half minute “Corps.”

As solid an example as you’re every likely to find of Berio’s afore-mentioned reference to the quantity of noise that “cannot be made the object of methodological analysis,” “Xe” brings the noise that makes us reject any and all analysis, and instead merely wish we could take a long walk across the rings of Saturn with Albert Ayler.

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Meanwhile, Fox’s fellow Guardian Alien, Alexandra Drewchin, has just released her debut full-length solo album under the Eartheater moniker on Hausu Mountain Records, entitled “Metalepsis” and rightly pegged by the label as “an intensifying murk of cyborg psychedelia.” Listen to “Homonyms” one hundred times and call us in the morning.

Could there be a better representation of “the attempt to reach a quasi-natural, quasi-divine, total fusion of all possible qualitative and quantitative parameters”? Simply put, “Metalepsis” is an astonishing, strange and blindingly creative album, both intensely personal and undeniably universal, even (or especially) when capturing the sound of universes collapsing, universes unhinged and unburdened by the bondage of the ten-thousand things, universes getting born together. Highest possible recommendation.

“Xe” by Zs is available now from Northern Spy Records.

“Metalepsis” by Eartheater is available now through Hausu Mountain Records.

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BAND OF THE WEEK: THE MYRRORS

13 Feb

There’s more than a hint of mystery surrounding The Myrrors, the impossible-to-define sonic-shaman hailing from the Tucson, Arizona. The mystery, however, feels far from manufactured – it would appear to exist naturally within the band’s collective DNA, a double-helix of third-eye vision that informs their every note.

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Certainly, there’s something mysterious about the band’s first album, “Burning Circles in the Sky,” given that it was recorded “sometime in 2008” (as stated by The Myrrors themselves), but only saw release late in 2013. And there’s something mysterious about the constant hum of activity that has defined the band in the months since “Burning Circles” was released – a hum that includes adding two more releases to their fast-growing catalog, along with an invitation to appear at “Levitation,” the 2015 incarnation of Austin Psych Fest.

Yet with the release of “Arena Negra” – the band’s first release for Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records – there are signs that the mystery has been solved. Put another way, there may have never been a mystery to solve in the first place. As the forty-two minute journey unfolds, it becomes abundantly clear that The Myrrors are simply one of the most compelling bands on the planet at the moment, whether their records are arriving three times a year, or only every three years.

The Myrrors sound is one of urgency, but urgency not beholden to velocity. From the twelve-minute “Arena Negra” title track that opens the album (by slowly slithering out of the ground and into the air), to the twenty-minute inhumanly heavy album closer, “The Forward Path,” it’s immediately apparent that the band has captured completely the sound of shackles being shed. “Arena Negra” comes on strong, as clearly, evenly and undeniably as the very light that enters your eyes, fueled by a heroic dose of Bardo Pond-esque levels of elevation and amplification.

Arena Negra” is – both by turns and, miraculously, all at once – dramatic, reflective, ecstatic and otherworldly. It’s the work of craftsmen and the cosmos, equally, dialed-in to accurately reflect immensity and awe.

Arena Negra” by The Myrrors is released March 25 by Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records. It’s stunning.

 “This moment is very important—whether the world is empty or not, whether it exists or not, doesn’t matter. Take away your opinion, then what? What is left? That is the point. Take away your opinion—your condition, situation—then your mind is clear like space. Clear like space means clear like a mirror. A mirror reflects everything: the sky is blue, tree is green, sugar is sweet.” – Seung Sahn

 

BAND OF THE WEEK: SMOKING WHITE

5 Feb

We don’t know much about Smoking White, which can lead to the tricky task of making some assumptions. And we don’t like making assumptions. But we do like Smoking White.

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We’ll try to skip the assumptions and, on the singular strength of “Soft Chains,” recommend that you consider doing the same. “Soft Chains” is the name of the full-length debut from Smoking White, a band from Texas, and one that mentions My Bloody Valentine and The Stooges as key performance indicators. It’s a good start to winning our love, and while we’d say the band’s sound often falls closer to the “Loveless” side of the sonic spectrum than it does to the “Rock Action” side, that’s assuming that there’s any agreement about a spectrum at all. And we’re trying to skip the assumptions – rather, we recommend just slipping into the surprisingly comfortable confines of “Soft Chains,” beginning as it does with a monstrous title track that sets the stage for the album as a whole.

Momentarily panned all the way to the left-hand side of your speakers or headphones, “Soft Chains” announces itself with a guitar riff three-to-five times more complex than our memory can give it credit for being, before the entire landscape is filled with the type of universe-destroying, highly-amplified, highly-hummable chaos that we’re always happy to hear come our way. “Soft chains/slow fury,” goes the moan that lays not quite on top, but somewhere in the massive middle of the song lead by an absolutely unassailable bass line (we’re holding out for a 14-minute dub remix), extending what is essentially a single idea and expanding it to the point of maximum buoyancy and felony-level fuzz-pedal abuse.

Pick any two songs from “Soft Chains” and create your own bullet-proof seven-inch of seventh-level shoegaze heaven. “Psychic Anything Blows” offers an amplified death-blow to psychic anything, the guitars seemingly shape-shifting into a languid harmonica accompaniment and back again in the blink of an eye. “Blood/Breath” strikes sharply enough to pierce the skin, oscillating effects pouring salt in the wounds all the while, and the Quaalude-calm of “Holy Joke” delivers a sound collage as its punchline, the aggressive and aggressively weird heart that beats beneath the band’s narcotic, distorted exo-skeleten.

And so it goes with Smoking White, a leisurely draw on whatever you prefer to inhale, consequences and tinnitus be damned. Who’s got a light?

Soft Chains” by Smoking White is available as a free download at their Bandcamp page. You’d be silly not to take it for a spin.

“If we are bound to a repetitive cycle of work that deprives us of our freedom to inquire and understand things for ourselves, we soon stagnate, crippled by the chains of routine. If we are spurred to action by elevating ideals but lack the discipline to implement them, we may eventually find ourselves wallowing in idle dreams or exhausting our energies on frivolous pursuits. It is only when accustomed routines are infused by vision that they become springboards to discovery rather than deadening ruts. And it is only when inspired vision gives birth to a course of repeatable actions that we can bring our ideals down from the ethereal sphere of imagination to the somber realm of fact. It took a flash of genius for Michelangelo to behold the figure of David invisible in a shapeless block of stone, but it required years of training, and countless blows with hammer and chisel, to work the miracle that would leave us a masterpiece of art.” – Bhikkhu Bodhi

BAND OF THE WEEK: NOEL BRASS, JR.

28 Jan

Our introduction to the music of Seattle-based keyboardist and composer Noel Brass, Jr,. came in the form of his release from this past year, entitled “Another Solo Mission.” The album title itself turns out to be a near-total misnomer; if Brass continues to release such inspired music, music that runs concurrently, seamlessly on the twin engines of exploration and excitement, there’s no way that Brass can keep interested parties and discerning from insisting on hitching a ride.

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Fortunately, Brass seems more than willing to let us ride shotgun as he travels his spaceways, his spaceways, from planet to planet, and the songs he describes as “composed works from improvisational recording sessions” seem to our ears to be nothing less than map-points on an ever-expanding sonic universe, one crafted entirely and entirely admirably from Brass’s active imagination.

To attempt to describe “Another Solo Mission” is to make effort in vain – to paraphrase another solo mission visionary, this is an album whose landscape must be heard to be believed, and more important, must be believed to be heard.

For his part, Brass does a more than adequate job of putting an umbrella description over his essential sonic beliefs: “Part ambient, part psychedelic, all soul – influenced by early sci-fi soundtracks, film noir, and improvisation.”

All of these things are there in spirit, if not sound (but frequently sound), throughout “Another Solo Mission.” Your context clues come in the color provided by the song titles: “Cortex Joyride,“ “Bebop Stargate,” “Stranded Lover Movement” and “Bodegas to Starfields” among them, each one an infinity of sounds found by Mr. Brass. To drop yourself anywhere within the limitless scope of these sixteen songs, these seventy-seven staggering minutes, is to believe you’ve gained entry to a new world – a new world with endless spools of raw tape, capturing the sound of Klaus Schulze spreading out on an unreleased Chamber Brothers score to “Fantastic Planet,” while Philip K. Dick bobs his head in silent, cyborg-approval, all too happy to have Herbie Hancock thrusting his wacky spacecraft through an extraordinary expressway to our skull. Or something.

If it sounds like we’re gushing, make no mistake – we are. The journeys taken by Brass on “Another Solo Mission” are continually surprising, and not infrequently breathtaking. Get on board Brass’s great space-synth coaster, roarin’ to the other side. Highest possible recommendation.

 “Another Solo Mission” by Noel Brass, Jr., as available now as a name-your-price download at his Bandcamp page. You’d be silly not to investigate further.

“Yes, the simple answer to that is I have expressed the idea, my conviction, that there is only one story in the world. There are many stories in the one, but we all take part in that one story. We have our part to play, and so it seems perfectly natural to me that we retell stories and they work in different contexts and they shed light upon different situations, but they are all part of the same thing.” – N. Scott Momaday

BAND OF THE WEEK: HEY COLOSSUS

23 Jan

Of all the adjectives we expected to employ when babbling on at length about “In Black and Gold,” the new album from the U.K. cosmic-crush-collective known as Hey Colossus (out February 9 on Rocket Recordings), “beautiful” wasn’t one of them.

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When last we left our heroes in Hey Colossus, we were just introduced to their somewhat unhinged, somewhat indescribable sound, in the form of 2013’s “Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo” – an album we declared had us “breaking out in a cold sweat, trembling, our eyes rolled back toward the back of our head, our third-eye squeegeed quite cleanly, our tongue out, out, all the way out.”

And now? “In Black and Gold” has us returning over and over again to the single, simple word – beautiful. As in, “The first track on the new Hey Colossus album is simply beautiful.”

It’s true. The first track on the new Hey Colossus album (“Hold On”) is simply beautiful. As a song, “Hold On” seems to appear nearly out of thin air, a bit of seemingly inconsequential ambient noise and good Theremin vibrations making the transformation to tear-streaked angels choir in what must be a land-speed record. We hear the angels inquire, “Can you feel that it’s changing?,” before the song reaches its ultimate destination as a stirring yet subdued piece of musical perfection, one we’re only minimally ashamed to tell you has the power to make us weep, even – or especially – after several dozen listens. Ladies and gentlemen, Hey Colossus is floating in space.

So. That’s “Hold On.” Simply beautiful. And “In Black and Gold,” the album as a whole? Simply masterful.

“Sisters and Brothers” follows “Hold On,” a sick sideways shuffle that’s as catchy as it is cantankerous, which is followed by “Hey, Dead Eyes, Up!,” a sort of sister-song to “Sisters and Brothers,” but one that’s less a toe-tapping rhythm a more a series of barely controlled detonations, Venom’s “Warhead” performed by a thousand multi-armed mutants, repeatedly smashing wooden clubs into fully-loaded washing machines. What could it mean when they scream, “Do what you feel feels good – do it AGAIN?” – what could it mean except that we’ve cast our ballot for “Hey, Dead Eyes, Up!” to win “Scream of the Year”? The answer certainly won’t be found within the menacing motorik employed by “Wired_Brainless,” the song that follows and, to these ears, contains the very beating heart of “In Black and Gold” as an album (“We can talk about it – we can slow down”), despite its being followed by the very-nearly title track “Black and Gold,” which probably won’t provide us with any answers, either. “Black and Gold” may very well be the heaviest song on the album, or perhaps the most epic, kicking rocks as it does over a Martian wasteland littered with blown amplifiers, spent hash pens and a cyborg Leonard Cohen positioning the listener at “the center of a story that can now be told.” “Lagos Atom,” something of a robot’s respite or a Dalek’s lament, follows as the longest song on the album, bringing with it the time to briefly consider old, Frosty memories of the high weirdness that was “One In Their Pride.” The penultimate procession of “Eat It” begins with an almost surf-rock-like introductory message, but it’s clear from the beginning that we’re headed for a wipeout. The song is a low, moaning sing-along, dragging and dredging its way across a sub-sludge-swamp, our introduction to the end of “In Black and Gold.” When the end comes, it’s a “Sinking, Feeling.” And we had one all along. And before we know it, we’re back to “Hold On” and weeping.

Can we feel that it’s changing? Perhaps. So what’s changed?

As far as we can tell – nothing. Hey Colossus have only released another massive and magical album. Hold on, indeed.

In Black and Gold” is released February 9 by Rocket Recordings.

 

“As soon as we sit down the mind is flooded with thoughts, memories, and plans, and our body is not comfortable. We start to have pain in the back, then in the knees, then our cheeks start itching. We try various postures. We want to forget about the past or the future but they come back all the more quickly. Like the oxherder we have to be firm and hold on tightly. There are many obstacles: restlessness, sleepiness, daydreaming, etc. We have to realize that for the last twenty, thirty years we have cultivated many habits which promoted distractions, and when we meditate we go against all these habits. It is going to take some time before we dissolve the power of these tendencies.” – Martine Batchelor

BAND OF THE WEEK: STRESS WAVES

5 Dec

It says something about the regard with which we hold GNOD – that is, the highest possible, with an infatuation that verges on the unhealthy, certainly absurd – that we will listen to anything and everything released through their Tesla Tapes imprint.

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Will we love everything? No. But we will take their endorsement as an invitation to try, and long before we ever even had to think about trying, we fell in love with Stress Waves and their sickeningly addictive release, “Orphic Ruin.”

But then, what’s not to love? We know little about the why’s and how’s of Stress Waves, apart from knowing that they are apparently composed of two guys from Australia who have a drum machine, a synth, and a bone to pick with the shadows that darken our lives.

Stress Waves sound like Rain Parade if someone truly did rain on their parade and, not only that, proceeded to cancel the entire parade, then broke the band’s guitars over their knees, doused their drum-kit in kerosene before setting it aflame, and eventually put two of the band members in the figure-four leg-lock, laughing at their anguished cries for release, and calling the finished product “Orphic Ruin.” Which, we suppose, is to say that Stress Waves sound nothing like Rain Parade, but for an overwhelming shared sense of melancholy coloring their sound.

“Orphic Ruin,” perhaps more than any music that wasn’t written and recorded by Venom, sounds like orphic ruin. Which is to say, it sounds like your world is falling apart. The pace is funereal, the “hooks,” as it were – or as it would be, if the hooks were anything like hooks – have been melted down, drippy and disfigured, long before they ever reach your ears, and the vocals are one giant, cavernous moan, genetically predisposed to carrying the melody, but not wanting much to do with the job. It’s overwhelming. We kind of get woozy just thinking about it. Stress Waves is so good, we get woozy. That’s is the highest possible recommendation from this stupid website.

But then, was it not Rain Parade who sang the words, “what’s the point of anything that brings you down?” For all the melancholia in the sound of Stress Waves – massive, thick ribbons of melancholy, threatening to stain your clothes if not your very soul – “Orphic Ruin,” doesn’t bring us down, and whether it’s the sound of castles burning or drum machines churning, you won’t find us turning this one down.

Stress Waves “Orphic Ruin” is available for download now from Tesla Tapes.

“Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. But I try to work one day at a time. If we just worry about the big picture, we are powerless. So my secret is to start right away doing whatever little work I can do. I try to give joy to one person in the morning, and remove the suffering of one person in the afternoon. That’s enough.

When you see you can do that, you continue, and you give two little joys, and you remove two little sufferings, then three, and then four. If you and your friends do not despise the small work, a million people will remove a lot of suffering. That is the secret. Start right now.”

- Sister Chân Không

FUNNY FLASHBACK: PATTON OSWALT

4 Dec

If there’s one thing I love as much as music, it’s comedy. And my family. And cookies, too. So that’s three things …

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to interview some of my favorite comedians, and since I started this stupid website … I figure it’s as good a place as any to stick the ancient transcripts, for the sake of posterity and general amusement.

In anticipation of his soon-to-be-released book, “Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life From An Addiction to Film,” here’s a transcript of the September 29, 2002, phone chat I had with the always inspiring Patton Oswalt.

 

What year did you first start performing stand-up?

1989.

And how old were you then?

Nineteen.

Was this during college?

Yeah.

And you attended William & Mary?

Yep.

And you’re from Virginia, originally?

Yeah, Northern Virginia.

What drew you to stand-up initially?

Uhhhh . . . I don’t know, I was always trying to be funny, around people and around my friends. And I guess I had a lot of confidence that I could do it because around the time I entered into it, the comedy scene was really very saturated.

What surprised you most about stand-up at the beginning?

It was hard to be personal.

In what way?

Bringing that element of personal reality to it. That was a lot harder than I thought. And I was also surprised to learn that it was actually an art form.

How long did it take you before you began to view it as an art form?

I think I realized it was an art form at the beginning, but it took me a really long time before I was able to view what I was performing myself as an art form.

How long was it before you had confidence in what you were doing an part of the art?

Oh, God. It took a really long time. I really didn’t feel good about what I was doing until about 1995 or ’96, around the time I moved to Los Angeles.

What were the biggest hurdles in performing for you to clear personally? Were you uncomfortable on stage …

I was a little uncomfortable at first, and then I became very, very focused on what would work for me to help my career. Things like how should I look, what should I wear, what should I be doing, as opposed to focusing on the actual stand-up, which I think I had a pretty good handle on.

Marc Maron said the biggest challenge is going from faking fearlessness on stage, to actually being fearless on stage. Does that ring true to you?

Yeah, but I like to keep a little bit of the fear. I like the idea that things could maybe go wrong. I think that brings a different element to stand-up. You don’t get the courage to do whatever you do in stand up if you know that people are always going to laugh at you, every time.

Do you feel you usually excel when maybe the audience isn’t quite with you?

Yeah. I like the feeling of winning people over, and that’s one of the things that you get by going out on the road. I don’t believe in the “hot house” atmosphere. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a room like Largo or The Uncabaret. They’re great rooms, but for the most part you really are preaching to the converted. I like winning people over that are completely separate from what I am doing.

When you achieve a certain amount of name or face recognition, can audiences ever be too willing to laugh at you?

Sometimes. Sometimes, but I’m not that recognizable. I mean, people see me on “The King of Queens” and they have this certain thing in their mind, and what I do is not really that, but it’s not something that they can’t accept.

What is the perception that audiences have if they know you from “The King of Queens”?

I think it’s actually a lack of perception. I think they like that character on TV and that’s about it. I don’t know. I’m not sure how to articulate that.

What was the best advice you ever received about performing stand-up?

Don’t get too high on the highs and don’t get too low on the lows.

And by contrast what was the worst advice?

I don’t think I ever really received any really bad advice, but I remember one night a guy was onstage and he was doing a bit about how he was a non-smoker and he didn’t like smokers, and when he got off stage, the club manager came over to him and explained that the prevailing notion was that people didn’t like non-smokers, or people who were actively anti-smoking, and what he needed to do was find a way to put that point of view across on stage, and one day maybe that would change, and then he could just change it around again, but right now what he needed to do was to pay less attention to his material and more attention to what was going on around him. I mean, the guy was just clearly insane. And I overheard the whole thing and I was just blown away with what horrible advice he was offering. And this guy used to do stuff like that all the time. Actually, he wasn’t even the club’s manager, he was the owner’s husband. And he would sit people down all the time and tell them nonsense. It was actually pretty entertaining after awhile.

When you first began doing stand-up, did you ever get sucked into doing something really lame like taking a course on stand-up or anything like that?

Nothing like that. The only thing I ever did was I got sucked into doing were things like radio gigs and charity events that I probably wasn’t appropriate for. There were a lot of cable TV programs I did coming up when there was this huge explosion of comedy on cable TV that, in retrospect, I’m glad I did, but when it came to do my half-hour special or Conan, the ones that really counted for something, I was already very, very comfortable with performing on camera.

What was the downside to doing those TV shows?

There wasn’t really a downside. There was a risk of me getting a really bad idea of what I needed to be doing as a comedian. Luckily for me, those tapes don’t seem to have survived, and the shows have all disappeared, and I have learned not to do that sort of thing, especially in re-watching the tapes and saying, “Boy, that was bad.”

I think there’s something amazing about original comedians who make it through the beginning and intermediate stages of a comedy career without quitting or killing themselves. What do you make of that? Is it just sheer persistence? Was there a time you thought, “You know what, I’m just not fitting in with these people, this isn’t working …”

Yeah, there were a lot of times, but there were also things that just kept me going. There’s the fear of failure, there’s the idea that you don’t want the assholes to be right, there’s a lot of spite in it. There’s also a subconscious sabotaging, like you can’t go back to the beginning anyway, so you just have to press on. There was a time when I was living out in San Francisco, and things were not going well, and I was thinking I would just come back to Virginia. I was engaged, and I broke up the engagement to move out to San Francisco, and I was going to go back to Virginia and just beg this girl to marry me, but I didn’t do it, and I’m not really sure how I did it. I can’t really give you details of how I managed not to quit, but I didn’t.

How would you say stand-up comedy has changed since you started? For the better or for the worse?

It’s definitely changed for the better. It died. Everything that people thought stand-up should be, in the late eighties and early nineties, proved to be wrong. All the sort of impersonal, jokey, crafty thing, it all just kind of failed. I think right now is the best time for stand-up, ever. I sincerely do.

Why is that?

Because there are so many amazing people doing it right now. And there really is no clear entry way to a saturation point. In other words, there is no more “A & E’s Evening At The Improv,” or “Caroline’s Comedy Hour,” where they just plug comedians in until people just get sick of them. There’s nothing to really give people a bad idea of what stand-up is right now. It’s really just for the connoisseurs, for the people that really want to go see it. And there are comedians that have day jobs, and they want to go out and do it anyway. I mean, the death in the late eighties and early nineties really shook out a lot of hacks. The pond just sort of dried up for a lot of really bad comedians.

At the tail end of the boom, before the hacks were shook out, as you said, did you ever begin to sort of hate stand-up, and hate where it was?

Yeah, there were a few years in the early nineties where I really began to hate what was valued as funny and just sort of what was valued in stand-up, period. That was starting to piss me off. I remember one time I was performing in this comedy competition in Newport News, and there was this little comedy magazine that got published, and there was this one comedian on the cover, who shall remain nameless, and there were a bunch of comedians around, and I picked up this magazine and said, “Hey guys, you know what’s funny?” and they said, “What?” and I pointed to the picture of this comedian on the magazine and said, “Not her.” And they all went, “I don’t see you on the cover of a magazine. She’s rich. I don’t see you on TV. Where’s your TV show?” Like, as long as you’re on the cover of a magazine or are making money, that erases everything else that is wrong with you.

Financial success is the ultimate indicator of whether or not a comedian is funny.

It really was. And there was this thing where, now, luckily, or hopefully, I hope, this has died out, but the thievery of material was just rampant, especially at the tail end of the boom, and it increased that feeling of the end justifies the means. There really was this feeling of, “Whoever does the joke the best, that’s their joke.” There really was a point, and it didn’t last long, but it really was about acquisition and not about creation. Which probably paralleled the go-go eighties stock market. I remember a comedian who had a lot of heat on him, who has now mostly crashed and burned, who blatantly stole just huge chunks of material from a friend of mine named Blaine Capatch. I mean, just huge chunks of material. And Blaine and I were still MC-ing, while this guy was featuring. And this kid was only like twenty or twenty-one at the time, and he started featuring with Blaine’s material. And Blaine confronted him about it and the guy was so shameless about it. He wasn’t angry at Blaine and he wasn’t trying to defend himself. The guy’s argument was, “Look, I’m doing feature gigs and I don’t have a half-hour of material. If you were doing feature gigs, I certainly would let you do your material. But I’m the one featuring right now, and I need the material. You’re only MC-ing right now, you only need ten minutes of material.”

Completely unremorseful.

He completely saw no wrong in what he was doing. He had no ill feelings towards Blaine, and he wasn’t even being sneaky about it. He was only shocked at Blaine coming to him saying, “What the hell are you doing?” And he’s saying, “What do you mean what the hell am I doing? I’m featuring! I’ve only got five minutes of material!” Like Blaine was an idiot. And that was literally his reaction.

Do you think his theft was sort of a function of the amount of work that was available at the time? Like, anyone who could cobble together thirty minutes, whether or not they created it, could feature?

Yeah, there was just so much work. Now, luckily again, when the boom died, all of that died. And a lot of these guys . . . well, there were so many reasons . . .

Hello? Hello? [PATTON’s CELL PHONE DIES … HE CALLS BACK]

Sorry about that.

No problem. Can you recall the first time you heard the phrase “alternative comedy”?

Ummm . . . no. I must have been living in L.A. at the time, but I don’t remember.

Did the term ever mean anything to you at all?

No.

Should it ever mean anything to anyone?

No. I mean, all alternative comedy is are comedians that have being doing it for so long, for so long, that they were relaxed enough to start becoming personal on stage. I had been doing it for about six or seven years before I started doing places like The Largo and The Uncabaret. I mean, ninety percent of all comedians are just boring people, and ninety percent of alternative comics are shitty comedians. You take the good ones in the ten percents between the two, and that’s where you get the good stuff. So I’ve never differentiated between the alternative and the mainstream. There are plenty of alternative comedians, and I mean ones that sort of started off as alternative comics . . . that’s like saying, “I’m going to start off as a jazz improvisor.” Well, do you know how to play scales? “No. I’m going to start off by improvising.” It’s like a guy saying, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to start off as a four-star chef.” Well, can you cook a cup of rice? “No.” Can you cook an omelet? “No.” Well, why don’t you start off learning how to cook rice, and by the way, that takes about a year. Four star chefs take a full year learning how to cook rice and how to cook omelets. “Well, I’m not going to do that.” Well, then you’re never going to be a four-star chef. So many guys start off going, “Well, I’m just going to be alternative, like Janeane Garofalo.” Well, Janeane Garofalo was banging away for ten years. She was a brilliant joke writer, a brilliant comedian, and then got so good that she could do it in her sleep, and started to challenge herself. I mean, it’s the same thing with Richard Pryor. Guys watch Richard Pryor and think, “I can do that. He just goes up onstage and says ‘motherfucker.’” Not realizing he had been doing it for fifteen years. I mean, guys go up on stage thinking, “I’m just going to go up on stage and talk about my day like Janeane does.” Uhhh, no, you’re not, actually. You should actually go and write a joke first. You know what? Go and write a knock-knock joke first. Seriously, can you write a fucking knock knock joke? I remember one time I was at Largo and a guy said, “I love seeing mainstream, headlining comedians come in here trying to be alternative, because they just sweat, sweat, sweat and say, well, it doesn’t really have to be funny! Hahaha.” And I went up after him and said, you know, that is fun to watch, but you know what’s even more fun? Watching an alternative comic out on the road. That’s hysterical. They’re on stage going, “Yeah, me and my friend Terry … you guys know Terry, right? … Huh. Well, we went to Blockbuster and Terry rented “The Wedding Planner” … I mean, if you guys knew Terry … Hell-oooo? Ok, fine, you guys are fucking idiots.” That’s my impression of an alternative comic on the road. Here’s my other impression of an alternative comic on the road: “Ok, you guys aren’t listening to me.”

“The Wedding Planner” is the punchline for their joke. That’s all they need.

“Uhhh, I mean, if you guys knew Terry, you would know … I mean, weren’t you guys there when we all went and played Putt-Putt? Ahhh, you guys are morons. I can’t believe that my thirty friends are not in this room in Ohio right now. This is the shittiest comedy club on the planet.”

At the same time, I think you’re an original comic, whose jokes are somewhat intricately worded, whose premises take a fair amount of thought to get …

Hang on. [To cab driver] Get off on Olive, and then over to Buena Vista. No, you should have gotten off on Olive. Ahh, fuck it take … no, no, that’s the wrong exit. Get off on the next one and take me back to Burbank. Yeah, Lincoln. But not the Lincoln exit … no, no, no. Take Burbank Boulevard. Jesus Christ. Yeah, go west. [To me] Where were we?

I think I’m going to skip where I was going, ‘cause I may just be covering the same ground. I found something online called the ChildCare Action Project . . .

The CAP Alert.

Yeah, you’ve seen that?

Oh, yeah. That guy’s got a real hard-on for me.

But why you, of all people? I thought the funniest part of in was at the beginning, it says, “ A family’s sixteen year-old child was developing a strong interest in Patton Oswalt.”

Ahhh, let me be! Creepy. I like when he says I focus on the male demon anatomy … [To cab driver] Go down to Olive … no, Olive …then right on Buena Vista, right on Park, and then a left on Lincoln. Not Lincoln up there, Lincoln down here. Oh, Jesus. Keep going straight. Stay on Burbank Boulevard. {To me] So, the CAP Alert …

I thought it was funny how absolutely filthy it makes you sound.

It makes me sound ten times filthier than I actually am. I don’t think anything I do is all that controversial. I’m not the type of guy that sits down and says, “I’m going to piss some people off so bad.” My thing, the hat trick to getting people to laugh at things they normally wouldn’t laugh at. I mean, anyone can go out there and be offensive. That’s the easy part. Anyone could do that. I could go out there and go, “Hey, Nigger!” Boom. I win. You know? But …

This thing makes it sound like you walked on stage, talked about stomping midgets, talked about necrophilia, talked about golden showers, and said good night.

Well, you know … if anything, that should attract more people to my show.

You mentioned before people knowing you from “The King of Queens.” Are they then ever offended by what you say on stage?

Yeah, a couple times. I mean, usually if they are offended, they don’t tell me.

Do you ever consider that reaction beforehand?

No. Like I said, I don’t think I’m that type of person. If someone is going to be offended, I don’t think it’s because of me, I think it’s just …

They would have had a problem with whatever comedian they saw that night.

Oh, yeah. Good lord … [To cab driver] Take a left on Buena Vista, take a left on Clark, take a left on Lincoln. [To me] I’m sorry.

No problem. There’s a new book out co-authored by Tom Shales …

Yeah, about “SNL.”

Right. Do you think there could ever be a book like that about “Mad TV”?

No.

If that book ever did exist, what would your role in the book be?

Minimal. I was only there for the first two seasons, and I was kind of an asshole.

You were kind of an asshole?

Yeah.

Why do you say that?

I was just very contentious with what we were doing. I had a lot of problems with the show the show was set up and structured. I don’t think anyone there would have much to say about me.

Before that, did it feel like, “Wow, this is going to be great.”

Yeah, I was very excited.

When it turned into an unpleasant experience, did it feel like, “Well, that was my big shot.”

At the time, it certainly did, but now I feel like, if I’m not enjoying myself . . . I just figured I really don’t need that much money to live. And that way I don’t get sucked into doing things I don’t really want to do.

How did it come about that you toured with Aimee Mann and Michael Penn?

They saw me perform at Largo, and they asked me to open up for them, and just do the banter for them. It kind of just happened organically.

Did they say, “Come along and do it like this,” or more like, “Come along and do whatever you want.”

They said, “Come along and do the tour,” and that was that.

It seems like everything I read about it had a really positive reaction to having a comedian as part of the show.

Yeah, all of the gigs went really well. The only one where I had a problem was one in London, and that’s because the manager didn’t let people in the door until five minutes after I started performing. He was like, “Well, you do your comedy while they’re sitting down,” and I was like, “No, you don’t.” And he was like, “Well, it will work if you’re funny. If you’re funny, they’ll laugh.” And I was like, “Oh, Ok. You’re one of those guys. I remember guys like you from back in the eighties.”

[CELL PHONE DIES … PATTON CALLS BACK]

Hello?

Sorry about that.

No problem. I wanted to ask you how your role in Magnolia came about.

Paul Thomas Anderson was hanging out at Largo and saw me perform, and said, “He do you want to go do this thing for my movie?,” and that was it.

That was a big laugh for me, seeing Magnolia for the first time in the theater, and within the first five minutes, there’s Patton Oswalt on the big screen.

Thanks.

I thought the thing you did with Jimmy Kimmel for “Crank Yankers,” the radio team of “Boomer and The Nudge,” was just really, really great. So what is it about radio that just sucks so bad?

Yeah, I don’t know. It’s just so awful. I mean, there are a few radio shows that I think are really great, like “The Phil Hendrie Show” and a few others, but for the most part, it’s just awful. It’s just like, why do they have to talk like that? Why can’t they just play music? And I’ll never understand why comedy club owners insist comedians go on local radio shows. It never enhances the comedians work at all, it never gets people interested in seeing the show. I just don’t know.

Well, I think I’ve wasted enough of your time.

Hey, thanks, man.

I really appreciate you taking the time to do this and I’ll email you a copy of it when it’s done.

Yeah, great.

Take care.

I’ll talk to you soon.

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