MISERY is a band that needs no introduction. Hailing from the epicenter of the late-80s American anarchopunk movement, they have continuously kept at it for almost 25 years now. After releasing a number of split albums over the years, they have released their first proper full-length in more than fifteen years, From Where the Sun Never Shines. In my humble opinion, this is the best material the band has ever recorded. I decided that since they haven’t been interviewed for PE in more than 20 years, this was a perfect excuse to catch up with the lads.
Email conducted via e-mail by Damien Inbred. All questions were answered by the band as a collective.
PE: Right, so I’m sure most of us are familiar with the band’s history. But since it’s been about 20 years (or more) since you were interviewed in PE, can you give a brief run-down of how MISERY started?
A brief run-down really couldn’t do a very long story any justice, so we’ll give you MISERY-“the long fucked up story”.
Jon and Gary grew up together, bought their instruments in the early 80s and started learning how to make different noises while screaming silly shit about the government and how everything was pretty fucked up. Growing up with the constant threat of nuclear war could lead to actions of the sort. In 1985, Gary moved to Minneapolis to spend some quality time living in the trunk of his car and frying some chicken for a living. He soon hooked up with a bunch of fucking clowns that lived in a large apartment building down town called 10th and Harmon Place. This was a whole building full of 100% pure, filthy, drunken fucking chaos, which was the Minneapolis punk scene all in one beautiful package. This was where Al and Gags came from. Jon made a few visits to this fine establishment with his guitar and amp and started doing some more music with Gary. Al took notice, and they started planning for a band in the future.
In 1986, Gary and Jon moved to Portland, Oregon where they started playing some more while living off giving plasma, food stamps, and the Green House soup kitchen. After finding some poor bastard that rented them a house, they hooked up with Sid and started playing together in the garage. After spending about a year in Portland learning how to be total pissheads with the help of those beasts from POISON IDEA, they headed back to Minneapolis to get things going with Al.
At that point, Sid moved down to Oakland to become a well-robbed pizza delivery person. After a few months of fucking around with different members (including Dan PE playing a two stringed guitar as a bass), and at one point having two drummers we finally hooked up with Gags and formed a solid band. That fucking bass was the last and finest ingredient that we needed. We also had a female vocalist named Christy Lovegren who left the band in the early stages of us forming.
In 1988-89, we made our first trip to New York to do some shows that our good friend Ralphy Boy had set up with his Squat or Rot label. Sid had made the trip to Minneapolis to take part in our little tour. The Lower East Side of NY was kind of in a state of chaos when we arrived, as they were starting some sort of war with the squatters and the homeless living in Tompkins Sq Park. It was a very inspiring, eye-opening adventure for us. Playing shows with NAUSEA, PUBLIC NUISANCE, A.P.P.L.E., THE RADICTS and making tons of new friends was just the fuel that we needed. Al made a really good friend named Alicia, who soon made her way to Minneapolis to spend a few months. After we all made our way back to Minneapolis, we did a few shows with Al and Alicia doing the vocals which was fucking great. We then did some recording at the Underground Studio and Al left the band to sing with NAUSEA in New York.
Somewhere in all of this chaos, Sid’s return ticket to the west coast had been stolen so he was stuck in Minneapolis. That was when he started playing with us, and because he still hasn’t found his ticket he still is. Even though he is now married, owns a house, and has 2 wonderful children, I think he is still looking for that fucking ticket.
Anyway, we all started doing the vocals, went back into the studio and sung over a bunch of the vocals that Al had laid down. Those tracks would become our first two 7″s, Born Fed Slaughtered and Blindead. With the help of our good friend Felix Von Havoc, they were released and we were a real band. Not like SPINAL TAP, BAD NEWZ, or The MONKEES. A real one. Luckily for us, our friend Rat Boy held on to the recordings with Al and we were able to put them up on the internet for people to hear. They are on soundclick.com under Misery (mpls) and called The Prehistoric Times if anyone would like to hear some very old stuff. Straight off a cassette tape that made its way around the country with some local punk rocker that actually lived in the 7th street as a child.
*Editors note 7th Street Entry a club adjacent to the historic club called First Avenue (see Purple Rain for more info) in Minneapolis, where punk bands could play and punk fans could get kicked in the head by skins hanging from the rafters.
PE: It seems like the band started at a really crucial and exciting time in Minneapolis – PE started around that time, bands like DESTROY… am I accurate in describing that as an exciting or positive time, or am I romanticizing things a bit?
No, you are not romanticizing things one bit. Back then a whole new Minneapolis political music scene was emerging. From the land of The REPLACEMENTS and HUSKER DU, something different was blasting out of the basements. Something that the local scenesters really couldn’t get a grip on. There were a few bands that already had been doing this sort of stuff like IRON FIST, The CLAYMORES, SKULL FUCK, TEST MONKEY and a few more, but the newer bands like MISERY and DESTROY were kind of taking it one step deeper. The Anarchist Gathering in Minneapolis brought a fuckload of new people into the city and just added to the fire that was already burning strong. Profane Existence started at the first show we played, December 1988. PE started as a spoken word bit to kick off the show, which was a TEST MONKEY video shoot at The Whole music club at the University of MN. At some point back then Dan released MAS (Mpls Alternative Scene, which in one way or another became Profane Existence), the beginning of something that has done wonders for 25 years. It received enough attention locally that someone actually put out a spoof zine called No MAS, which was fucking hilarious – they had a drawing of Gags as an ape and a bunch of piss-takes on the whole Mpls scene. I guess someone didn’t like what was happening. We did. It was a challenging time in this city, all these bands, record labels and groups grew out of necessity. Our scene was tired and needed stimulus. We all heard the call for change, and along with that came knowledge, and more people came together with similar ideas than ever before. We all began to speak up and be heard, both musically and politically. Yes, it was both positive and exciting.
PE: This was also around the time when the anti-racist Baldies crew formed to combat street-level fascism – was the white power scene huge in Minneapolis at this time?
Had you been here in the 80’s/ early 90’s you would have experienced a Midwestern intellectual “void”, that’s for sure. Actually there really wasn’t much of a White Power skinhead movement in this city, at least not one that was any sort of threat. St. Paul was the place where there were plenty of misdirected children, AKA Nazi skinheads. Nothing like what was going on in Portland, or a lot of the west coast at that point in time though. Thanks to the Baldies, that sickening part of humanity never had a chance to set up camp here. We stood by them as we were fighting the same war. It is fucking great to see that those folks are still around here and still fighting for the good.
There was one fucking funny party that some skinheads of the Nazi type did make the mistake of showing up at in Mpls. I don’t think there were any Baldies around to take care of the situation, but a bunch of mad, drunken punks had a little window removal party on their vehicles as they were running away. Pretty cold ride home from a party that they should not have attended.
PE:Were any of you involved in the early ARA or any street-level anti-racist activities?
One of the very active members lived in the house that we started our band in. Yes… we were involved in the positive education in our city, but in a less violent way. Racism, sexism, nationalism and homophobia are all pretty much a big joke to people that don’t have those diseases imbedded in their minds. How could anyone be so fucking ignorant and arrogant at the same time?
PE: Since the band started getting really active, there’s only been one major lineup change, correct? What would you attribute that to?
Say you are the biggest fan in the world of NAUSEA, and they call you and ask you to move to New York and join the band. What would you do? Al knew that there was no stopping what we were doing, even if he were to exit. So he did what was right and we all have him to thank for his decision. He joined NAUSEA and did wonderful things. Never any bad blood involved with his departure and as a matter of fact, last evening he was at our rehearsal space singing with us. “Midnight” still sounds the same, 25 years later. Ha ha.
No, he’s not rejoining the band – just stopped in for a few drinks and a lot of laughs. The line up has been quite solid and will continue as is.
PE: MISERY is pretty unique in the fact that each member does vocals on different songs. Are these the songs that each member writes, or how is it decided who sings on which track?
We all write everything. As far as who sings what goes, we just kind of listen to the racket that we’ve created and decide whose vocals would sound the best. A lot of who sings on which part has to do with our different styles of vocals and just being able to do it live.
PE: Are there a lot of songs that have been written, but never recorded? Any old material from the very early years you’d like to re-record?
Not really anything that we have written hasn’t been recorded and released. We have our own recording equipment, so we usually record the shit as we come up with it. That’s where From Where the Sun Never Shines came from. A bunch of different sessions of us writing songs. Kind of an odd and long drawn-out process, but with our lives’ schedules it’s pretty much the only way we can work.
PE: The general consensus is that From Where the Sun Never Shines is your finest recorded material in years – or ever. Do you agree with that? What would you say is the cause of that?
It is by far one of the best releases by us; at least that is how we feel about it. Even though the production is far from what David Pinsky did for us on the EOM split, it is a release that sounds more like what we really sound like than any other. Having the tools to do it all ourselves really made it a much better experience for us. We had the time to think more about what we were putting together and think less about what the clock was doing and how high the price was getting. After our last studio disaster with the P.O.D. and TOXIC NARCOTIC splits, we were kind of up in arms as far as where to record and how to find someone that could make it what we wanted. It’s kind of hard to find an engineer that understands where we are coming from musically, so we decided to give it a go ourselves and see if we could pull it off. With the help of Jack Control at Enormous Door Mastering, we think we ended up with a pretty good piece of work.
PE: Why has it taken so long for this new album to come out?
RUSH is a Canadian band. We are not in any rush. Truth be told, because that project was done in a totally DIY fashion, it took a lot of fucking around with. Jon spent numerous hours trying to get a whole bunch of different recording sessions to sound like an album. No easy task for a self-taught music engineer. Thanks to Mr. Jack Control’s magic knobs it did finally become something worthy. That release was not recorded the way most bands record their records. It is a collection of songs that were recorded as they were written.
PE: Is there a theme of some sort behind the new record? Lyrical or otherwise?
The name itself has a lot of different things behind it. It was written and recorded in a dark dingy basement rehearsal space where the sun never seems to shine, it was written by a group of folks that often suffer from anxiety and depression brought on by the frustrations of a pretty fucked up world where the sun never seems to shine, and kind of the feeling that everyone in this world is in a way left in the dark as far as what is really going on in this life, or in this world.
PE: Despite the bleakness behind a lot of your songs, it seems that there is some sort of a glimmer of hope in the background somewhere. Is that true? What are you hopeful for?
We point out the problems and scenarios It’s still got the glimmer, but it’s actually up to our society as a whole to find solutions, We try to have faith in humans – very little, but its there.
A lot of our songs are just explaining the world as we see it. The last track on From Where the Sun Never Shines is the only song that we’ve written that really shows any hopefulness at all. We hope that people will search inside themselves and realize that there is a better way, and a better person in all of us. Until we can find that person, nothing will ever change in this world. All change begins within, and like a well nourished seed it will grow and spread across the land. We are hopeful for a better place for the future inhabitants of this planet.
PE: Would you consider MISERY to be an anarchist band?
No, not Anarchists. Politically motivated? YES.
In all reality we realize that anarchy would never be a good thing considering the state of humanity. Greed and the craving for power seem to be very powerful evils imbedded in so many minds. Anarchy in this world would be nothing short of a blood bath which would just end up under the rule of some other fucked up system.
PE: Besides the band, what parts of your lives would be considered “political”?
The most active member outside of the band is Gary; He works for Northern Sun, a liberal and politically-minded mail order company that has been active for many years. He also is pretty active pounding the pavement at the local protests. The rest of us are pretty low key in that department as we have pretty solid work schedules. Guess that’s one way that they keep us in check – draining all of our energy for that next check. Sad but true.
PE: What is the current state of DIY/political punk in the foul year of 2012? Is it as strong as it was in the past, or do you find a lot of it to be more fashion/record collecting oriented?
It still stands on solid ground. As long as this world exists in the state that it does, there will be an underground movement that keeps growing in size as it shines a bit of light into the darkness of reality. Fashions come and go and never really do anything but that. Record collectors are record collectors – much better than bill collectors. When Book Your Own Fucking Life was first published, it really changed things for a lot of people involved with the underground music world. When we first started out it was really – and we mean REALLY – fucking hard to get connected with like minded people around the world. That publication was every band’s new address book and a resource that was more like a catapult that helped everyone on tour find a friendly basement in a different city to visit. Before that we only had connections from letters people had written us, and friends from local bands that had made their way out on the road. Laurie Barbarro from BABES IN TOYLAND helped us out with some connections back in the beginning, but our bands were in search of something completely different, so we did play some pretty odd shows – The Electric Banana being one of the oddest. With the internet as it is now, The DIY political punk world seems to be growing much closer together, even with the people out there that have no access to this technology, as there always seems to be some sort of grapevine connection, regardless of where you are and what resources you have. As long as the hands that try to control everything in the world are kept at bay, and not allowed to control cyberspace as they do everything else, this DIY network will continue to thrive and grow like a well nourished seed and spread across the lands of this world. In short, this is a thing that seems to keep growing much stronger than it has in the past, and will continue to spread as long as we can force the assholes of the world to keep their powers out of this place.
PE: The new record was originally intended to be download only. Why was this?
It just seemed right to not put out music in a material fashion. That just seems to be kind of wasteful. Music is music and why do you need to be able to hold it? With the internet being what it has become, you can put your music and message out there for people to get without the package, post, or wasting any of the natural resources it takes to produce records and CDs. Maybe it isn’t time to do it in that manner yet. It does seem like the right way though.
PE: What made you decide to release it as a physical release after all?
It is what people that like our band wanted. Mike Crow (Inimical) offered, so we did it.
PE: Rumor has it that there will be something in the near future with former vocalist Al Long. Can we get some details on this?
We’re just spending some quality time with a good friend, making some music and we will be sharing it when it is done. It’s more about having a little fun than anything else.
PE: Looking back, can you tell me some of the best memories in your history? Fucked up/hilarious stories, stand out gigs, etc?
1988 – NYC, our first trip out of the Midwest. Al was still doing the vocals at that time, and Sid flew out from the west to join us on our little adventure. Think it was just the five of us, two 16-gallon kegs of Cold Spring beer and all of our gear in a $300 van that Gary and Jon had already taken to the west coast (and lived in for a few months). At that point in time there was chaos in the Lower East Side. The police were working on the gentrification of the whole squatting district and kicking all of the homeless out of Tompkins Sqare. That trip in short was a fucking riot. The owner of the Aztec Lounge hooked us up with bottomless pitchers of kamikazes which kind of clouded everything. Things that happened that were not on our agenda were… watching a Hells Angel beat the piss out of a couple of cops outside the van we were sleeping in; Jon Finding Al passed out in the street after a night at Save The Robots; Jon waking up getting his head pissed on by a very drunken skinhead friend in our van; waking up in a squat with a bad roof in the pouring rain; and a horrible street fight with some PR gang bangers that jumped some of our friends on our way back from the river. We did get to play with some wonderful bands at some kick-ass shows that time. The top was a show with A.P.P.L.E., THE RADICTS, THE RESISTURZ, and PUBLIC NUISANCE for $3. That’s where the kegs we brought came in – free beer.
Also a great show with Al’s soon-to-be band mates NAUSEA at CBGBs. Soon after that voyage, Al headed to NYC to sing with them.
Next, the Old Barn Fests in Jim Falls Wisconsin. Three years of unbelievable chaos in a most unlikely location, in the middle of nowhere. These fests were put on by our friend Erik Trexel, then a local Wisconsinite. People and bands traveled from around the world to take part in that debauchery. Can’t really explain what went on there, but if you had the pleasure of attending any of them, you know it was pure energy and odd as fuck. Fucking ants and beer. Puddles of shit and puddles of drunk punks everywhere.
In 1995 or 96, can’t recall. Dan took us on the trip of our lives. European tour with EXTINCTION OF MANKIND in the dead of the winter. We had never heard or heard of E.O.M., so we didn’t know what to expect. Marvin ( bassist for MADONNA, BEE GEES, CHAOS UK, CONCRETE SOX, VARUKERS… fucking list never ends) had sent us a post card telling us that E.O.M. was a band of 15-17 year old straight edge kids from the Manchester area. That’s all it said, so we were wondering how this tour would go. Day one, we land and meet up with Edwin in Amsterdam, which was made up of cobblestone coated in glare ice from a rainstorm the night before, and begin our little adventure in a new land. Totally admiring this new (old) world, we set off to check out some local pubs. On our walk back to get some sleep at Edwin’s, Gags seemed to have disappeared. Looking back at the ice covered bridge that we had just crossed, we kind of panicked. Gags can’t swim, and the bridge crossed one of the many canals. So we turned around to find Mr. Gags walking up an embankment with his trousers around his knees, soaking wet – now we still don’t have any wonders of why he fears the water. That was just the beginning of a trip that we will cherish forever, because as we walked into the first place we were going to play, we saw Marvin with a band that we would soon consider to be our brothers. Happy to see that he was full of shit, (ie NOT straight edge) Like many bands, we’ve so many stories that it could be some sort of fucked up book so we’ll leave it at that.
PE: On the flip side, are there any particular low points where you felt like throwing in the towel? Or generally shitty situations that made you question why you’re even doing this anymore?
Without a doubt, but then you always have to ask yourself “why not continue?” A bad day always dies when the sun moves along and the moonlight brings some sort of peace.
PE: I know that you lads have always had other side-projects or other full-time bands on the go at the same time as MISERY. Is that due to some sort of noise addiction, or wanting to help out your mates?
It’s more about exploration and the feeling you get when you get some new recipe cooking up. There is something refreshing about variety in life.
PE: What are some of the other bands you’ve been involved with over the years?
Gary and Jon played in HELLSPAWN, COBW, and DISRESPECT together. Sid played in NRA (Portland OR) and had a nice long run as the drummer for the MURDERERS. Gags has had an on and off band that does MISFITS/ DANZIG covers. Gary has played in so many bands that the list may make your computer crash… MURDERERS, DREADNAUGHT, ASSRASH, plus many more and has done some work with Jon on his PISSHEAD BLUES projects. We are a bunch that likes to create a racket for different people to listen to.
PE: Jon, are you still operating the House of Misery studios? Do you still record bands? How did you get into that?
The studio still exists in the basement. As far as recording other bands, that part doesn’t. It’s no longer something that can fit into my fucked up work schedule. I got into it because there was no cheap underground place for new bands to lay their stuff down. After doing the pisshead stumble out of the last BLACKOUT session, I just decided that if I was going to dance like that, then I’ll just have to leave that world of recording to others. It is now a place where I can focus on what we can create, that’s a big enough task for me.
PE: What does the future hold for MISERY? Keep playing until the inevitable collapse of civilization?
There is no end to the misery.
The new album is out now on Inimical Records.
Photos courtesy of Andy Leffer, Damien Inbred, Jeff Blanch, Ratboy and the world wide web.