Sheila Rene': Hello David. Where are you today?
David Wm. Sims: I'm in Los Angeles. We have a show here tonight.
There's so much to talk about on this album, let's get started. I guess we'll start back in '87 in Austin.
Are you in Austin? My family lives there. My Dad lives in Rollingwood and my Mom lives up north around the Airport. I hang out quite a bit in Austin and I still have a lot of friends there.
Austin really came out to support you recently at the Austin Music Hall show.
It was really a lot of fun. We always have a lot of fun when we play Austin. We've had a couple of really great shows at Liberty Lunch, and of course the Lollapalooza show was certainly one of the best.
I was going to talk to you about that tour. Was it fun?
We did have fun on that tour. I think the shows that we all liked the best, just because of the way we interacted with the audiences, were the general admission shows. We were playing really early in the day and people just aren't there yet. It's not really an issue when you're on the general admission shows, because anyone there who wants to see you is up as close as they want to be to the stage. That was the case in Austin and a few of the other shows.
Who'd you enjoy hanging out with the most?
We knew the Sonic Youth people because we had toured with them and the Pavement guys are friends of ours. We met Elastica and the Mighty Mighty Boss Tones and they were all really great. It was a fun crew of people to hang out with.
Was it really tough on your guys to leave the Touch And Go label folks behind?
On a certain level it was wrenching because we'd been with the label for so long. It was such a personal relationship. They're really great people and a lot of them are very dear friends and we knew they'd be disappointed.
That label has had some of the greatest bands to come down the pike.
It's a wonderful label. They're a label that truly does know how to treat bands and get them recognized. They work very hard and good things will come to them just on the basis of their reputation.
There's certainly no disappointment here. If any of your fans thought you'd be changed by going to Capitol Records, they're dead wrong.
That was the crux of the issue. Major labels were always around virtually since the inception of the band. The thing that probably took so long, since the money was always there, came down to control. Labels have no problem throwing money around but it was how much they were really ready to write into the contract about how much control we would have. It took five or six years until Capitol came around with a deal we could feel good about.
Did you and David Yow hit it off immediately when you met?
I think so. It's been a while. I'll have to think back. That would have been in 1981 and there were only three or four kids at Austin High that were into punk rock at all. I was one of them, a girl named Carla, and David. I met David because Carla was going out with him. He was a friend of a friend.
How about Steve Albini, your longtime producer? Was he shocked when you went to GGG Richardson?
Steve does what he does and you take the good with the bad with him. That was a break that everyone on all sides thought it was time for. We were never a band that was fundamentally committed. We always wanted to work with different folks in the recording process. Working with different people does bring out different aspects of the band and you try experiments depending on where their talents lay and what their interests are. The only reason it didn't happen sooner was just that it was convenient. He was in Chicago and at the time, he was relatively cheap. We were always concerned with making the most record we could for the budget we had.
This album has had me in the dictionary more times than I've been in years. I had to find out what Placidyl was, as in the song "Blue Shot."
(laughing) Sure. I didn't know what Placidyl was either. I can't speak for the lyrics very much.
There must be a landlord story somewhere as represented in the song, "Thumbscrews."
There is one. I know that David was very unhappy with his last landlord before he moved to where he is now. I've been so lucky in that respect. I've lived in this one apartment in the Humble Park section of Chicago since 1989. I think I could say I have the coolest landlord in the world. That's one major headache that I'm blessed not to have.
How did you get that megaphone sound on "Good Riddance?"
It does take on a mechanical quality that gives the song a menacing element. It operates on people's unconscious fears of that kind of stuff.
As I recall, the vocal track was run back through a guitar amp for that effect. They turn it way up until it starts to distort.
The songs are written with a minimal amount of words and they tell such big stories, as in "Trephination." I had to go to the dictionary on that one, too.
That's a medical term. It has to do with drilling a hole in the head if someone has suffered a severe head injury. They're worrying about pressure building up so they open the skull and let everything drain out. They actually use a trephine tool. That song, I think was something that would have sounded different depending on who was producing and whatever set of circumstances were at hand. That's the stuff where Garth really shines. He's good at weird sounds and weird vocals.
I had to look up "churl" in the big book. It means rude, boorish or surly. Certainly fits this band.
We intended to make an album that was probably louder and bigger and meaner sounding than previous attempts, while at the same time doing more experimenting with sounds and production techniques than before.
Have you seen your Website on The Palace yet?
I have a computer but it's not hooked up to a phone jack. I hear it's really good. It is something that interests me and I know e-mail would make my life easier. I just haven't had time.
I understand you're going to be in a computer game.
I think that's connected to The Palace stuff. I don't know a lot about it. The details are still jelling on that project.
David Yow has such a range of voices. He's very dramatic with his many voices.
I know what you mean. He's just so outgoing and he's very spontaneous. It's fun being around him, he does lots of accents. He's a gifted mimic and he picks up on mannerisms. He's pretty good at imitating people he's only spent a short amount of time around. He brings a lot of those voices into play a lot.
Yow seems to absolutely have no fear in front of an audience. Do you worry about him?
I do worry. I know he has been and can be hurt that way. It can be distressing. I just have to trust him to know where his limits are. I think he's learned from some of the mistakes he's made in the past. I've really seen him hurt himself hurling into the audience.
You guys just barely made it out of town this time. The Sheriff showed up over that complaint about the beer bottle hurled from the stage.
I don't really think anything will happen. I don't know what I'm at liberty to say and I don't think it's really an issue. Someone lost his temper, first he wanted to start a fight and then he wanted to call the police. The girl...wasn't even hurt. It was a lot of injured pride that came into play.
You just returned from Europe again. How was it on this album?
It was a couple of weeks coinciding with the release of "Shot." It was good. They weren't any huge shows or anything, but it went very well. It struck me as an opportunity for the new people at the label in Europe to check out the band.
Are you going to tour as extensively on this album?
Right now we're booked up through the end of the year with only a break here and there. We'll probably take two weeks off in Chicago to shoot a video.
What tune will be the next video?
I think "Mailman." I'm not sure it's actually finalized.
Now that's an interesting tune, given the fact that Yow writes from a female's perspective.
Right. That's one I don't know a lot about so I can't comment.
Some of my friends are telling me that the cover is a very spiritual Egyptian beetle.
I don't know what it is. We've been asked more than once and I suppose we ought to know. Michael Levine is a friend of ours who lives in New York. We asked him to shoot some stuff and he came up with several ideas, but we liked the bug. I'm really happy with the way it looks and David did the actual layout.
Now that the album is out, what are you looking forward to?
We actually didn't do too much touring in '95. We did just a handful of shows other than Lollapalooza. I guess I miss touring, so we're just starting up again and I'm having a really great time. It's a "glad to be back" feeling. We're going back to Australia and Japan later in the year, perhaps in October, and they'll be great just because they're the places we've been to the least. We're doing a bunch of festivals in Europe and in Denmark this year.
It's a wonderful album and I'm happy to finally be able to speak with you. Any chance you'd ever move back to Austin?
I guess I think about it. It's a nice lifestyle and it's an easier standard of living than Chicago. I get worn down by the grind sometimes but then again when you're in Chicago you can just expose yourself to so many different influences. Not just movies and books, but anyone who tours goes through Chicago and any band worth anything plays in Chicago. Austin sees a lot of that, but on any given night, there's a lot of ideas going around.
I've been interviewing bands since 1977, and your name comes up more often than not as the answer to the "who's your favorite band today" question. Page Hamilton of Helmet thinks you guys invented everything.
Oh, my, that's good. I have to say I like that. There is no higher praise. I met Page when he was in the Band of Susans. He's a great guy and he's working on an album in a studio in the Capitol building where I'm sitting right now. He called from there and was very happy about how things were going. He and his producer, Dave Sardy from Barkmarket, plan to come to the show tonight.
I appreciate you, your band and your music. Thanks.
Thanks a lot. I'll see you in Austin soon.
-Interview conducted by Austin-based Sheila René