SUB POP GRUNGE PARADE PT. 2 The Fluid

Denver Devils: In 1988 they became the Seattle label’s first
non-NW signing.

BY FRED MILLS

 

 

In honor of Sub Pop’s 20th anniversary celebration in July, we take a look at two of the label’s acts that
reunited especially for the event — Green River,
and the Fluid. For our Fluid coverage go to our companion feature “Sub Pop
Grunge Parade Pt. 1
.” And for our blow-by-blow coverage of Sub Pop 20 itself,
along with links to killer photos from the even, go to our feature “Swingin’ On
The Flippity Flop
.”

 

 

Long before Sub
Pop’s tendrils stretched forth to touch locales as far away and disparate as
Los Angeles (Beachwood Sparks), South Carolina (Band of Horses), Massachusetts
(Pernice Brothers) and even New Zealand (Flight of the Conchords), Denver,
Colorado, supplied the label with its first non-Northwest act. And what an act
it was: the Fluid, five young twentysomethings in the process of shedding their
hardcore skins (and growing progressively more hirsute by the minute) and rediscovering
the hi-nrg hard rock of their youth — Stones, Who, Stooges, Alice Cooper,
Dolls, MC5, etc.

 

The Fluid, who’d
formed in 1985 out of the ashes of Denver
punk combos Frantix, White Trash and MadHouse and issued their debut, Punch n Judy, the following year, got to
the Sub Pop table early. They inked a deal in ’88 via an intriguing
cross-licensing situation between Sub Pop and Germany’s Glitterhouse, with whom
they had hooked up to reissue Punch n
Judy
and release their sophomore platter, Clear Black Paper, for the European market. Sub Pop wanted the
Fluid; Glitterhouse wanted Sub Pop upstarts Green River;
everybody won. Clear Black Paper bore
the Sub Pop catalog number SP16 — which, just to place it in context,
sandwiches it right in between releases from Seattle
stalwarts Soundgarden, Green River, Tad and
Mudhoney. That was followed soon enough by 1989’s Jack Endino-produced Roadmouth, a churning slab of Motor
City-inspired mayhem that to this day holds up as a primo artifact of the early
Sub Pop era.

 

Yet even though
the band was readily embraced by the burgeoning Seattle
music scene, in both sound and outlook, the Fluid’s collective heart still
belonged to Denver.

 

“We were
carrying the Denver flag loud and proud,” recalls
Fluid vocalist John Robinson, who along with guitarists James Clower and Rick
Kulwicki, bassist Matt Bischoff and drummer Garrett Shavlik, recently got back
together after a 15-year hiatus in order to play the Sub Pop 20th anniversary bash in Seattle — preceded,
significantly, by a pair of shows in Denver.
“We were often misconstrued as a Seattle band,”
continues Robinson, “but we didn’t want to be aligned with Seattle outside of being a Sub Pop. We never
aligned ourself with grunge, certainly; and we never aligned ourself with Seattle.” (You can check
out our complete Q&A with Robinson at the end of this article.)

 

Just the same,
the Fluid benefited from the Sub Pop cachet, touring both the U.S. and Europe hard for the next couple of
years and frequently sharing stages with their Seattle labelmates. Robinson recalls this
period with a mixture of fondness and incredulity, saying, “Lots of crazy shit
happened. Once in Seattle
we played a show and the whole van, trailer, suitcases, guitars, amps and drums
got stolen. Everything. We sat around for four or five days with nothing
turning up so the community got together and put together an impromptu benefit
show to raise enough money for us to fly home. Soundgarden and Swallow played
it; we played on Soundgarden’s gear.”

 

The nineties
dawned, and the Seattle
scene found itself upon a collision course with the mainstream music industry.
The Fluid issued one last record for Sub Pop, 1990’s Butch Vig-produced Glue, then parted ways with the label in
anticipation of being scooped up by one of the many major labels whose A&R
scouts had been flocking to Fluid shows. Robinson’s still not sure why the
courtship lasted a couple of years; in that time Nirvana exploded and the Fluid
was wined, dined and jetted around by Elektra, Virgin, Geffen and others.
Ultimately they signed with a new label, the Disney-owned Hollywood — “It was a
big offer, the type you might harvest
out of a bidding war, but [Hollywood] wanted to try and not even have a bidding
war,” says Robinson — and traveled to California to record their fourth
full-length.

 

In 1993, after purplemetalflakemusic came out on
Hollywood, the band hit the road in support of it, and despite solid reviews
for the record (which beefed up the Fluid’s already widescreen sound without
succumbing to major label smooth-things-out syndrome), things immediately began
to go wrong: bizarre marketing ideas, such as a proposed tour with the Goo Goo
Dolls (which, much to the band’s relief, didn’t happen); interdepartmental
confusion at Hollywood in terms of conflicting promotional
demands they laid on the band; and, following a corporate shake-up at the
label, vanishing financial tour support. “Nobody succeeded from that time
period at Hollywood,”
says Robinson, grimly. “They had one band of every genre but nobody got off the
ground.”

 

The Fluid limped
home from the purplemetalflakemusic tour broke and somewhat shell-shocked. With relationships in the band
“beginning to sour for various reasons,” as Robinson puts it, the Fluid
gradually fell apart in chunks. First Shavlik, who’d begun moonlighting in a
side project, Spell, split, then Clower gave his notice. Bischoff, Kulwicki and
Robinson soldiered on with a new drummer, but after Robinson decided he wanted
to leave and work on his own music, the Fluid was officially done before 1993
had come to a close.

 

Since then only
Shavlik and Robinson have remained more or less musically active. Shavlik’s had
a string of bands, most recently the Press Corps, featuring Mudhoney’s Dan
Peters and Green River/Mother Love Bone alumni Bruce Fairweather; Robinson,
following a move to New York,
formed New United Monster Show with Das Damen’s Jim Wallerstein, although that
band ended in 1999. (Fun fact: not too long prior to Kurt Cobain’s death,
Robinson had a long talk with the Nirvana frontman about putting together a
songwriting project with Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan and Robinson was
in the process of recording demos when word reached him about Cobain’s suicide.
See the full Robinson interview below for details.)

 

Then last year
at a concert in New York, Robinson ran into Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman and
Megan Jasper, who floated the idea of the Fluid getting back together for the
Sub Pop 20th bash. Robinson had had a few of conversations over the
years with a couple of his erstwhile bandmates about a Fluid reunion “and how
maybe it would be fun one day if there would be a good reason.” The Sub Pop
thing, he realized, was that good reason, and after he “put a really positive
spin on it” to the band, everybody signed on to do it.

 

Everybody also
took it pretty seriously too: the Fluid rehearsed for several months leading up
to a pair of pre-Seattle gigs they put on in June in Denver for their old
hometown fans, a move Robinson notes was their way of saying thank-you to the
folks who supported them from the outset. “It was a giant love fest!” he
laughs. “I think it made people proud to have been a part of the Fluid’s think
and proud to have had us as a local band.”

 

Robinson, who
spoke to BLURT prior to the Seattle
shows, added that there are no immediate plans for future Fluid activity, but
he’s having talks with Sub Pop about reissuing his band’s out-of-print back
catalog and that he’s not ruling anything out.

 

“There is a
piece of yourself that just is that,”
he says, referring to how quickly and naturally his old Fluid persona, from
vocals to stage moves, came back to him. “It’s like an equation, and you might
not have done that equation for years, but once you do it, it becomes a
complete entity that you download. Once you download that, it’s just as
complete now as it was back then.”

 

 

***

 

SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY

 

Punch n Judy (RayOn, 1986)

Clear Black Paper (Sub Pop, 1988)

Freak Magnet EP (Glitterhouse, 1988)

Roadmouth (Sub Pop, 1989)

“Tin Top Toy” / “Tomorrow” 7” (Sub Pop, 1989)

Glue EP (Sub Pop, 1990)

Glue/Roadmouth CD (Sub Pop, 1990)

“Candy” 7” (split w/Nirvana; Sub Pop, 1991)

purplemetalflakemusic (Hollywood,
1993)

 

 

***

 

JOHN ROBINSON: THE BLURT INTERVIEW

 

On growing up, then growing out of, punk;
on Seattle and Sub Pop; on how the major label recording industry can crush
bands’ souls; on a proposed collaboration with Kurt Cobain; and on, of all
things, designing those iconic ad campaigns for national retail powerhouse
Target.

 

 

 

BLURT: Our relationship extends back some
years, doesn’t it? I had written about the Fluid from your earliest records.
And I recall working with you and a couple of the other guys in the band to
create your Hollywood Records bio back before purplemetalflakemusic was released — putting together a promotional Fluid fanzine, complete with interviews
with the band and your manager; a comprehensive discography; a tour diary that
you compiled; and weird drawings from all the band members.

 

JOHN ROBINSON:
That’s right. Yeah, in the end it came out really well!

 

 

B: After that was done, Hollywood had me draft potential ad copy that
they could use in their promotional
campaign. Here’s the main one that got used: “With an ear to the ground and a
hand on the gearshift, the Fluid have left treadmarks on the hearts of the
underground since 1985.” So far so good. But then they also used this one:
“Peel out and taste the asphalt.” You have to say that in a real serious,
announce-type voice…

 

Oh man… [long, loud chuckle]

 

 

B: Yeah, I don’t think I had much of a
future in advertising. One of my favorite ones that got rejected: “The Mile High
City’s burning, baby, and
the Fluid are pouring gas on the flames.” Whew. Or this one: “The Fluid: blood,
sweat and hormones.”

 

[Robinson starts to choke with laughter]

 

 

B: Okay, enough of the preliminaries. As
we speak, you’re in Seattle,
about to do a pair of gigs this week for the Sub Pop 20th anniversary bash. It was kind of a second home for the Fluid – does it feel
familiar?

 

Yeah, it does.
I’ve been here about three times in the past year for a business project I was
working on too. I’ve seen Kim Thayl [this time]. Also Mark Arm, saw him
yesterday. And I’ve met some people who were fans back in the day.

 

 

B: You did two warm-up shows in Denver back in June — did
you feel self-conscious in any way, or was it like slipping into an old skin?

 

In the last
month, six weeks or so, I wasn’t too concerned about it. Mostly because I did
my homework and really listened to the songs a lot. As the list of songs
developed that we were going to give a run, I listened to them a lot, and I
plugged them into a PA at home and kind of did a little Fluid karaoke. So I
just prepared myself, really, and once I did that I wasn’t self-conscious.

     I think this may be true for a lot of
people and it holds true for me, even being off the stage for ten years now:
there is a piece of yourself that just is
that
, and it’s not a lesser piece of yourself in some ways, than who you
are just kind of walking and talking through your normal day. So it is very familiar
to do that. It’s sort of like a “body memory” thing; it’s almost like math. In
doing the songs, it’s like there’s an equation, and you might not have done
that equation for a few years, but once you do it, it becomes a complete entity
that you download. You’ve got this reference point in the tape loop in your
brain; somewhere it’s in there because you did that thing 800 times. And once
you download that, it’s just as complete now as it was back then. It’s just that you haven’t really thought about it for
15 years.

 

 

B: Guitarists will speak of “muscle
memory”: hands sliding to certain places on the guitars even if they haven’t
played the song in a long time.

 

Exactly, that’s
what I was trying to say. So for me, there wasn’t any rustiness. And [the other
members] had rehearsed with a different drummer before I got to Denver, so they’d worked
out all their kinks. They rehearsed together every week for maybe two or three
months — they also said it was a thousand times easier once I got there and
they had the vocals, too, because they were able to play the songs without
thinking about them. There’s a vocal cue telling you where you are in a song.

 

 

B: You ran into Sub Pop’s Jonathan
Poneman and Megan Jasper at a show last year in New York and they put the idea of doing the
reunion at the 20th Anniversary bash in your head. Had there been
any prior discussions over the years among the members about ever getting back
together? The band basically fell apart bit by bit and rather painfully.

 

Not much
discussion prior to this round of talks, no. I would presume most people in the
band would have told you it would never happen. The relationships in the band —
yeah, it was [painful]. It just kind of crumbled. With some of the
relationships in the band it was pretty rough.

     I may have had one or two conversations
with a couple of the guys from the band about how maybe it would be fun one day
if there would be a reason. But then I think I had abandoned the notion that it
could ever happen. So then I run into the Sub Pop folks, they told me about
this 20th anniversary, they were very complimentary and reverent,
and they asked us to bring it home.

 

 

B: So there’s your reason.

 

Yeah! It seemed
like a good catalyst to me, and it seemed like a really fun thing to do the way
they were talking about. So I put a really positive spin on it and snowballed
it with the band. I didn’t sense much hesitation in the beginning; I basically
re-communicated to everybody why I thought it was a good thing to do. Everybody
agreed to it pretty quickly.

 

 

B: A lot of reunions happen for the wrong
reasons. I think the Police reunion, for example, was as much about the
financial incentive as anything else.

 

I would think
90% of them are. It’s a different game out there today. You’ve got a music
community where, by and large, everyone’s accustomed to paying 20 dollars or
more a ticket. So if you can get out there and there are a number of people who
want to see you, the guarantees and the revenue are a lot more than what it
used to be. Especially if you’re traveling around in a rock band that was
playing theaters and clubs – it was like a six or eight dollar ticket back
then.

 

 

B: What did it feel like playing in Denver? What was the
initial vibe when you hit the stage?

 

Oh, it was a
giant love fest! I’ve heard bits and pieces from the guys who [still live in Denver] and people there
were really, really excited, just overwhelmingly positive and really happy. We
did a show there that we didn’t announce, and I thought everyone knew about our
“secret show,” but as it turned out it stayed pretty secret so there was a
decent sized percentage of the audience who hadn’t found out about it except a
few hours before the show. But everybody in the crowd was a familiar face, and
they were really pumped.

     It
was very gratifying. In some ways, the Denver
shows were nothing more than an opportunity to say “thank-you.” That’s why we
wanted to do those first: if we were going to reunite at all, then Denver deserved the first
show. I explained from the stage briefly why we put this back together, and
that we felt Denver should get the first show, and I think it made people proud
to have been a part of the Fluid’s thing and proud to have had us as a local
band.

 

 

B: The Fluid were the Next Big Thing in Denver for a number of
years.

 

Yeah. There were
a handful of acts, but… yeah, that’s true. In particular, in the vein of punk
and alternative there wasn’t really much. On our heels came Apples In Stereo
and 16 Horsepower; during our time period, there was Big Head Todd. We were
carrying the Denver
flag loud and proud. We were often misconstrued as a Seattle
band, but we didn’t want to be aligned with Seattle outside of being a Sub Pop. We never
aligned ourself with grunge, certainly; and we never aligned ourself with Seattle.

 

B: At that time in the late ‘80s, all
these little scenes were popping up around the country, and each had its own
degree of hometown pride that the bands wore proudly. That’s important to have
your identity.

 

Really, you
know, the thing with the Fluid in comparison to the Seattle
scene at the time: (a) we didn’t have the opportunity to be influenced by our
peers in rock bands because we weren’t in Seattle;
and (b) we started doing this stuff a lot earlier than many of the Seattle bands even formed.
All along, the Fluid was just doing what we did for ourselves. The chemistry of
the band was great, and one of the reasons for that was we were all punks at
the same time — we were all punks in the late ‘70s when punk was real, and we
all got disgruntled with punk around ’81 or ’82 when it started becoming
un-real and something contrived. Shortly thereafter, we were all young men
around the ages of 21 or 22, and it was like, well shit, the Rolling Stones have always sounded good to me my entire
life, so I’m going to be listening to that again.
Rolling Stones and Alice
Cooper and whatnot. And individually, we’d all taken the same paths in our
psychology and our listening tastes. We’d rebelled against what punk had become
and grown our hair out. That happened to all of us as individuals. I didn’t
know everybody in the Fluid prior to auditioning for the band, but most
everybody knew each other in one way or another.

     The first day I saw Garrett after the punk
days, he walked into the place where I was working, we looked at each other,
and we both had hair down the middle of our back. What?!? “Hey, I guess you’re in the same place that I am with this
whole deal…” He said, “We’ve started a band and we’re just playing
straightforward rock ‘n’ roll, forget all the bullshit, and you should audition
for us.”

     In the beginning we were doing it for
ourselves, in some way a rebellion against how stupid the scene we had just
come from had become. You had these violent factions of skinheads, and this and
this and this, four or five different factions, whereas previously it was just
punk rock and anything goes. In those factions it was anything but anything goes.

 

 

B: All the “rules” for punks: look like
this, sound like this, have these politics…

 

All of it. We
were very much coming from a “fuck all of that” point of view.

 

B: At the time that your first album Punch n Judy came out, you could tell
just by looking at the photos that the Fluid was different – longer hair,
slightly glam/hard rock image maybe. Not like most of the punk groups releasing
albums at the time.

 

And it’s funny
because there wasn’t any thought that went into that. It was portraying
ourselves as we were, as a collective and as individuals: “This is what we look
like.” And to have that whole thing happen in indie rock in the late ‘80s and
early ‘90s, where rock ‘n’ roll scenes developed in many places, was really
odd. The Fluid had already been playing live for two or three years, and I went
out to L.A. one
time to see family, and at a show I went to, all the music business people had
grown their hair long! I literally went into the bathroom and shaved my head.
“Nope. I’m not a part of this either!” [laughs]

 

 

B: In reconnecting with the tunes and
your band members, have any particular memories gotten churned up that really
stand out for you? The Fluid toured constantly.

 

No doubt about
that. Lots of crazy memories! The things that come to mind instantly: either
high levels of energy, or high levels of stress. Most of the memories are good,
but lots of crazy shit happened to us. Once in Seattle, we played a show, and the whole van,
trailer, suitcases, guitars, amps and drums got stolen. Everything. The van
turned up gutted about 3 ½ weeks later, but we lost everything. We went down to
Sub Pop: “Our van’s been stolen, help us put out the word…” We sat around for
four or five days with nothing turning up so the community got together and put
on an impromptu benefit show to raise enough money for us to fly home.
Soundgarden and Swallow played it; we played on Soundgarden’s gear, charged
five dollars at the door, passed around the tip jar all night, and made enough
money to fly home. We flew home completely shattered.

     There was another occasion when our
practice space burned down! That was early on. The only thing that survived
that was the shells to Garrett’s drums. Everything else was melted. We were
definitely fighting numerous adversaries the whole time, and one of our
greatest adversaries was timing. For me, that’s more evident in hindsight.

 

 

B: The timing issue is a good point. In
the early ‘90s Nirvana goes overground and the major labels go trawling for
underground bands. Hollywood
picked you up in ’92, but rather than it be a positive experience, it more or
less wound up breaking up the Fluid.

 

I’m not sure why
it took the major labels so long to really respond to us with an actual offer.
After Glue and after we severed our
relationship with Sub Pop, we stayed touring and hired a manager and began
shopping for another record label. We did that for a couple of years. In that
time period Nirvana exploded so there was that post-Nirvana feeding frenzy
going on, and our shows — our industry guest lists would be 40, 50, 60 A&R
people that had expressed interest in being there, and some expressing business
interest as well. [laughs] An
industry show is a lot different from
a regular show — people talking to other in different ways, and like at a frat
party. Our shows in the major markets had become that and we started being
flown around and having meetings with Elektra, Virgin, Geffen… and then the Hollywood thing came along.

     We were periodically getting calls from
somebody who’d say, “Oh, Virgin’s gonna sign you guys!” “Well, yeah… okay,
great!” Then we’d go out to Virgin, meet with their executives, talk and talk
and talk, and in the end it was like, “Do you have any questions for us?” We’d
be, “Yeahh… Are you gonna sign us, or what?” The answer was, “Well, there’s a
lot of people at my label that think I should…” “Well – we’re ready to make a
record!”

     In the end, our decision to go with Hollywood was based on a
couple of things. One is that it was a big offer, the type of offer you might
harvest out of a bidding war, but he wanted to try to not even have a bidding
war, so he — Peter Paterno, from Hollywood — came in with this big offer. We
had one week to shop around that offer to the other labels and nobody came in
with anything so we just said let’s [go with Hollywood].

 

 

B: I talked to a number of people at the
label after you got signed and they were very excited, really enthusiastic,
because you were their first, and maybe only, hard rock-slash-alternative band.
They were in uncharted territory, though.

 

Yeah, I just
don’t think they really knew what to do with anybody. It seems like the
different departments at that label never started working together. As an
example, when we were out on the road for our last tour, our tour manager was
needing to communicate with different entities at that label, and it got to be
crazy. This was before cellphones of course, so to do interviews or make calls
to the label we’d have to stop at a gas station and get on a payphone. When we
were actually stationary at a hotel, our tour manager’s phone would ring, and
he’d be saying [to the label], “I need you guys to collect your information so
I can be talking primarily to one person and get everything I need to
communicate to the band.” Because there would be times when he’d be on the
phone, and the line would beep, and it would be a second person from the label
in the next office with all kinds of stuff to say! [laughs] “Guys, c’mon, are you people not talking to each other at
all?”

 

 

B: When I was putting together your bio I
sensed a lot of multiple micromanaging going on at the label — it was like I
was writing for six different editors there, each person having a different
idea of what should go in to the bio.

 

That may have
been true for the bands in other genres the label had as well. Nobody succeeded
from that time period at Hollywood.
It was like they had one band of every genre but nobody got off the ground.
Then the label president got fired, etc. etc., and during that time we were out
on the road the label got shaken up. That didn’t help anything.

 

 

B: Tour support dries up, stress
accumulates on the band — would you say Hollywood
Records really did kill the Fluid?

 

No, but it
certainly didn’t help. There were stresses going on in the band, and some of
the individual relationships were beginning to sour for various reasons. And
then during that last tour we were getting opportunities to do bigger tours,
play before more people, like a string of dates opening for the Smashing
Pumpkins. The tour that we were on was so devastating in many ways that there
were members of the band who wouldn’t even think about what the next step was.
It was more like, “I need to be at home for awhile. I need to chill for a few
months at home and then we’ll talk about that…” So we missed opportunities for
us to take advantage of there in the end.

 

 

B: And I understand that your personal
musical tastes had started changing some too, is that correct?

 

Well, I was. Not
at the disposal of the Fluid I guess. I’ve always listened to a bunch of
different things; before the Fluid started I was primarily listening to a bunch
of chilled music — Brian Eno, especially, things like that. I had always
imagined myself making music, and at that period in the early eighties the
thing I was picturing myself doing was pretty, soft and mellow. Then this
opportunity came around to join a rock band and I thought about it and figured
that the perfect place to start as a frontman was with the music I grew up
with. So I’d always had a piece of myself that wanted to do something more
melodic, and after the Fluid had been playing 8 or 9 years it became a desire
that was more tangible. If that meant letting go of the Fluid to do it, I
didn’t want anything like that. But if there was going to be a side project it
was going to be something nobody was screaming in.

 

 

B: Tell me about the proposed side
project with Kurt Cobain and Mark Lanegan.

 

[long sigh] Um, the Fluid had broken up,
so I thought, okay, I’m going to go ahead and keep making music because at
least I’m notable in the music community in some way. I had a piano at home and
I had started writing songs on piano and the instrumentation I was hearing [in
my head] was trumpet, cello, things like that. So I had already begun composing
for a project like that.

     I ran into Nirvana right at the end of
’93, when the Fluid had broken up; they were in Denver on their last show of their North
American tour. I was hanging out with them, and Krist and Kurt were both really
wide-eyed: “What the hell happened with the Fluid? What’s the story?” Just in
disbelief that we had disbanded. I kind of abbreviated the story, and Kurt
asked what I wanted to do now, so I told him I’d been writing songs on piano,
wanted to do something melodic and pretty, and this is the type of
instrumentation I wanted to do. He locked eyes with me and said, “That’s
exactly what I want to do.”

 

 

B: You can hear on Nirvana Unplugged how he might have already begun tilting in that
direction.

 

Yeah. And I
added, “I’m just tired of screaming.” He gave a heavy sigh: “Me too. I can
imagine. Listen – I’ve been talking about making a record just like this with
Mark Lanegan, and you should be a part of this record, you know?” He asked if
I’d recorded the songs yet, and I said no. “Well, put ‘em on tape – put ‘em
down. I’ve got one more tour to do in Europe for this record, and then when I get
off the road, come up to Seattle and we’ll make this record together. We’ll do
3 or 4 of your songs, 3 or 4 of mine, 3 or 4 of Mark’s, and we’ll put out this
record.” I said yeah, I will absolutely do that.

     So I had recorded my songs and was waiting
for him to wrap up that tour. I was super excited about it. I mean, Kurt and I
were good enough friends that it wasn’t out of the blue for this to happen. We
weren’t “best” friends, but they had always stayed at my house in Denver before
Nirvanamania, when they were just a band in a van. So I had a little more of
personal relationship with those guys than just sharing shows together. Of
course, he didn’t survive much longer after that tour… [pauses] It’s funny: I ran
into Mark Lanegan recently, again after all those years, just three months ago.
But we didn’t discuss it at all. Which has been, in my experience, fairly
common when you run into friends from that circle. In my conversations, Kurt
has never been discussed at all. Nobody talks about him.

 

 

B: Is any of that material from that time
period what ultimately became New United Monster Show?

 

No, it wasn’t. I
just kind of dropped that whole approach for some reason. Maybe Kurt’s death
was part of it. But I’d finally after all those years taught myself how to play
guitar and had started writing guitar music. Some of it was softer and some of
it wasn’t. I ended up in ’96 moving to New York City for various reasons, but
one of them was I wanted to find another band. I ran into this band that was
playing called Sensurround; it had the two guitar players from Das Damen. They
asked me to sing for them. And Jim [Wallerstein] from Das Damen really ended up
connecting well and kind of pulled that band apart and reformed it around our
own songwriting processes.

     New
United Monster Show was basically another loud rock band. We were loud and
splashy and in that way similar to the Fluid. Not the same of course, but still
a loud splashy rock band. I guess I decided there was a big enough piece of me
that always wanted to front rock bands so I would give another shot at that
particular thing, and at that time I was of the certain age that I made the
internal decision that if New United Monster Show didn’t go somewhere, that was
probably the last effort I’d make at being a rock ‘n’ roll singer.

 

 

B: Where do you see the Fluid reunion
going?

 

You know, that’s
the thing about this Fluid thing. At this point, we’re having a whole lot of
fun doing it and we’re having a whole lot of fun being around each other. If
it’s going to be something that continues on beyond this point it would have to
be strictly a business venture. It’s impossible to imagine any van tours. Most
of us have enough going on in our lives and careers that to climb in a van for
3 or 4 years would be an impossibility. So we’re doing all the things we’re
doing, throwing it out there and documenting it. I see it like a message in a
bottle: all the documentation we’re doing with these four shows, we throw it in
a bottle, put a cork in it, and toss it out into the ocean and see what the
tide brings in.

     We don’t have to create anything – there’s
no expectations, nothing riding on it. If something comes back in the way of an
offer to do a festival here and there, maybe do a show in Europe,
we’ll look at it at face value: Does it line up with our schedules? Does it
make sense? Will we get a cool trip out of it? Maybe pocket a little money? The
thing is, as I said, with documenting and throwing all this out there, we could
be creating some kind of commodity with it where if the website we’re putting
together gets enough traffic, maybe some promoters
will see that and go, “Hey, maybe there’s an audience for this…” And put
together an offer.

     But lucky for us, we get to exist in this
timespace right now with zero expectations. If anything comes of it in that
regard, it’s just bonus.

 

 

B: You’ve actually done pretty well for
yourself outside the music realm, as an artist, a designer, and more. Your ads
that you designed for Target are some of the most recognizable ones in America.
[Note: go to www.johnrobinsondesign.com to
view Robinson’s non-rock ‘n’ roll work.]

 

It’s been good
for me! I had a good opportunity with that stuff. I was able to be one of the
people that “created” Target — they’ve created a whole new identity for
themselves. I was lucky I got to be there when they were doing their really big
branding campaigns. The photographer that was hiring me to do that, getting
these jobs, we probably did at least 250 of those ads, and at least half of
those were big national billboards — Times Square, Sunset Boulevard and all the
key places.

 

 

B: Could you wear a Target teeshirt
onstage with the Fluid and do it non-ironically, John?

 

[laughing loudly] Oh man. I can’t even
wear anything red without someone
mentioning it.

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