TELL YOUR MOM I WOULD HAVE BEEN HAPPY TO PAY HER, HAD THE RIMJOB BEEN OF HIGHER QUALITY

Friday, February 25, 2005

"Snow On The Fucking Sand"

Letters Have No Arms is proud to offer this interview with Ben Wallers, aka 'The Rebel', the man behind the Country Teasers. Conducted via email, offered for your enjoyment:

Phil Honolulu: What kind of music did you listen to as a child?

Ben Wallers: Albums like Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, JJ Cale’s ‘Naturally’, The Moody Blues Greatest Hits, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen… When I heard ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ as a late teenager I got a mental picture or a white bookshelf to the left of a doorway in my Aunt’s section of the house which my Dad, Grandparents, Aunt and her daughters shared in Pimlico, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire (a huge house with massive grounds, including pond, woods, and three lawns) so I believe that the first song I heard may have been ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, These musics were programmed into me, I still love them and cannot either change it or give a critical review. If someone says “Elton John is shit, it’s provable by maths”, I can only reply “That may be so, but it’s programmed into me, I love to listen to it.”

PH: Was there any one big deciding factor in going from listener to performer?

BW: My parents suggested I try composing so I bought a four track, the Fostex X-30. May I mentioned that I am collecting them, I have got two which don’t work anymore (Larry Hardy got me one from Ebay when I told him my original one had died, but it died the other day, it had a stroke: the left side became paralyzed. Then the whole thing died.) So if anyone owns one they don’t want, or knows where they can score one, please score it for me, I will be very grateful. So anyway, at the time I was heavily into The Fall but still not cured of an infatuation with The Cure about which I am still embarrassed about because R. Smith’s lyrics are awful but I think his melodic sense is a brilliant instruction manual for anyone interested in songwriting. So my transition from listener to composer was a narrow leap: I just imitated the The Cure and The Fall. I don’t know how I learnt to compose, I just did it obsessively. I got a guitar when I was doing my A levels (exams aged 18) and I just couldn’t concentrate on my studies because songs were just pouring out. I mean melodies. Lyrics were a real struggle and I still consider writing lyrics a big fucking chore. I found performing completely natural and easy, there was no nerves or caring about what the audience thought. My attitude to presenting music is that if people don’t like it there must be something wrong with them and I should keep clear of them whoever they are.

PH: Could you talk a little bit about initially forming the Country Teasers?

BW: Well I was playing solo at an open-mic night for folks singers and my friend’s boyfriend was so impressed he asked to form a band so that he could play drums for me, he wanted to play drums as a relief from his day as the singer/guitarist in beat-group The Kaisers whom garage punk fans should know, his name is George Miller. I love that line in Jon Wayne’s ‘Is That Justice’ “She was hotter than a half-fucked fox in a forest fire”. So I formed The Country Teasers with George and my friend Simon Stephens in 1993 in Edinburgh there. I have never intended to have a band, I was just into recording, the four track meant that I could pretend I was a band already. Alan Crichton of the Male Nurse was staying on my floor so he joined on guitar and Simon started playing bass.

PH: When did you first hear The Fall?

BW: 1987. John Wilson, the brainiest boy in the school, was going to see Napalm Death in Camden (our school was Harrow, in North West Greater London) illegitimately of course and he asked me to tape The Fall’s Session on John Peel. It was the ‘Frenz Experiment’ Session: ‘Twister’, ‘Guest Informant’, err… I forget. I didn’t realize there was four songs, I missed one of them. ‘Australians In Europe’ I think… It remains my favorite Fall Session: so fucking tough, alienating, cold, arrogant; but coming up to ‘Kurious Oranj’, the pinnacle of their big proficient sound, never again equaled on vinyl until the good bits of ‘Levitate’. I wasn’t really impressed immediately but then it grew on me like cancer and I was obsessed. I think the first album I got was ‘The Wonderful And Frightening World Of…’ A Completely underrated masterpiece. ‘No Bulbs’, ‘Copped It’, ‘Stephen Song’, ‘Craigness’ and ‘Bug Day’ are all in my all time Fall Top Fifty. Then I got ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’, ‘Perverted By Language’, ‘Room To Live’ etc. and I couldn’t believe it, it was like being drowned in a tidal wave. Poor choice of image this year perhaps.

PH: What did you study in college?

BW: Fucking useless English Literature and impossibly difficult philosophy. The powers at my school wouldn’t let me do art because I was good at academics but they made a big mistake and fucked up my life. I didn’t want to go to University, I should have gone to art school.

PH: How do you feel about the first Country Teasers records now?

BW: Nostalgic. I’d like to have that youthful confidence still. I hated the sound of them but I like it now. Some of the lyrics make me cringe when I have to sing them live because I don’t actually feel them anymore, but I felt them at the time and so they’re valid, I just have to put myself back into the character I was then.

PH: Has the Country Teasers sound REFINED into what your originally desired it to sound like, or was it more a matter of evolving?

BW: Interesting question… I think if I could go back to 1994 with a tape of how we sounded on our last tour and play it my 23 year old self, he would be very pleased, because we’re a lot more sophisticated but just as tough, soundwise, as then. Evolution, yeah, we just get older and mature. I write pretty much the same kind of songs, the bands learns them better these days.

PH: Has your distaste for studios softened at all?

BW: Nope. I still think there’s a communications gap between composer and studio technician, caused by the seductiveness of technology.

PH: About the lyrical subject matter, do you see yourself as more of a projection of a character or as you yourself as the subject?

BW: A bit of both. Despite being socialized, man has instinctive responses with are unacceptable and therefore buried. I let these out sometimes in the non-dangerous medium of song lyrics. Sometimes however I adopt a bad character to satirize bad characteristics in white male society.

PH: Are you a reader/what do you read? Of in general, what kind of everyday pop cultural type stuff do you enjoy?

BW: I’m a horrible reader, my mind just flies off every ten words. I’m trying to read ‘1982’ by Alasdair Gray. My favorite novel is ‘At Swim Two Birds’ by Flann O’Brien. I like to watch movies. My favorite is ‘Eat Drink Man Women’ by Ang Lee. I recently enjoyed ‘Dune’. I was a huge Seinfeld fan and now love ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ of course. Looking forward to seeing more, I don’t have cable right now. I like to listen to the BBC World Service with my wife. You get the world news and good programs without the middle class filter of English culture, which I fucking hate. I fucking hate English culture.

PH: What current hip hop to you enjoy?

BW: Kool Keith is my fave rave. I haven’t heard anyone else as good since he started. Otto Von Schirach is good.

PH: Do you listen to modern country music?

BW: No, not really. But I liked Gillian Welch for a couple years very intensely. Now I find her a little too airtight, a little cold. Brilliant though. I think that clean, expensive recording techniques destroy country music. No one hears music like that you fucking idiots except in your fucking suites listening to your fucking demos in Nashville. Bring back Billy Sherrill, or burn down all the studios.

PH: What are some of the big country influences on your music besides the Louvin Brothers, Carter Family, Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash?

BW: I love big country : The Crossing is perfect, Steeltown is 60%. The Stonemen Family: Cleoma Falcon (Cajun); The Cooke Duet; Jon Wayne; Dolly Parton is my second favorite after Tammy; I like some Burrito Bros.; not Graham “Git Yer Bra Off” Parsons though; fucking junkie; The Delmore Brothers ‘Blues, Stay Away From Me’; The Miller Sisters; Patsy Cline of course; wow, it’s really snowing here; can’t think of anyone else just now.

PH: What would be your ideal lifestyle?

BW: Errr… In the country, twenty four hours a day recording except when I’m with my wife. I just love to record, I’m not really very comfortable doing anything else. I hate society and being social, I hate going out. I would really like to be extremely wealthy and think I could be of great service to mankind if I was.

PH: Do you enjoy recording other people?

BW: I prefer to record girls then boys. I don’t really have the patience. I like telling people how to get a good sound. I love to tell people that all studios are bullshit.

PH: What were you doing on September 11th?

BW: Working in a basement folding t-shirts, listening to the radio coverage. Then I went upstairs to phone Robert in NYC but we couldn’t get through. He could see the Towers coming down from his apartment on the lower east side.

PH: Is ‘Deaths’ factual?

BW: Yes. Crichton was Alan Crichton the guitarist in Country Teasers and The Male Nurse who had a very miserable last couple of years as a junkie alienating everyone, well we weren’t good friends to him at all, especially me, I fucking hated his guts. Then he got the cure and died of an overdose because his tolerance had dropped during the cure. Cigarettes emptied to roll joints and the ‘Futurism’ book lay around the sofa where he copped it. He was very unsatisfied, he wanted to be successful at music. Strong personality, much too straight-talking for this lies-lies-lies society we have created for ourselves. Very sad, he crops up in my dreams a lot, but at the time I was glad he died, it was a relief. Bad situation. The other corpse in the story was my dear Aunt Pen who got cancer. She was a strong character too, very straight-talking. Very healthy, went surfing at Christmas etc. with the snow on the fucking sand. Then she got a cough and it was cancer, she lasted about three months, it was totally fucking bullshit. I didn’t understand why Elvis or Bob Marley of whoever’s in charge ended her very useful well-lived life instead of my miserable, self-hating “please end it!” life.

PH: Who is Tammy Payton?

BW: Tam Payton was Bay City Rollers manager. He likes to chloroform young boys and fuck them asleep.

PH: I catch a lot of Manchester type punk influence in your stuff, but are you a fan of American punk?

BW: Hmmm… Do you mean Joy Division, The Fall, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, The Smiths? I’m not really au fait with Magazine, etc. and hate hate hate the Buzzcocks and Cabaret Voltaire. I’m really not a fan of punk at all. I love John Lydon but the rest of it sucks for me, musical-tastewise. I like the approach and the politics of course, but like those other ethnic groups gay, women and black, I just don’t like the aesthetic. I like rotten expensive arrogant self-destructive white male culture. Punk was too energetic and positive for me. Let’s see, what can I say to contradict that… I adored Pussy Galore of course. And one of my favorite albums of all time is ‘Chainsaw Masochist’ by Rancid Hellspawn. But the thing with these punk groups and Joy Division is that they have a lot of music in them, either in the rhythm, the melody or the production. Excusing for a moment the horrible generalization, punk music all sounds the fucking same. The Jam, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers: pub rock. I’m exaggerating for effect.

PH: What do you think about Americans like The Urinals, The Electric Eels, and The Gun Club, who might be more on your wavelength?

BW: No, no, no. Haven’t heard The Urinals; I like The Electric Eels but would never need an album; The Gun Club leave me completely cold.

PH: Do you enjoy the collaborative nature of recording/performing music?

BW: Not really. I like doing it all myself on my own. Having other people milling about just puts me off. Playing live is great though. I like improvising when it works, especially live. Country Teasers line-ups though the years have always been expert improvisers. The current line-up is extremely hot shit at this. Improvising in a practice room is OK, but the real thrill is doing it live. Yes that’s real rich music, made poignant by it’s intransigence i.e. nobody’s taping it, it only exists in the moment. Bands who don’t do it are square. I can’t think of any band I’ve seen apart from us who do it. Maybe we do it because we’re bored of playing after such a long time plugging away at it getting nowhere.

PH: Would you want to go on to far greater renown, even with the loss of privacy?

BW: I would definitely sacrifice everything except my wife to fame, yes. I want to be promised immortality before I cop it. I want the Priest to assure me that I will be remembered forever by millions. Otherwise my life will have been a waste of time.

PH: What are your most lucid memories from the Oblivians/Country Teasers tour?

BW: Sniffing poppers on a patch of lawn outside Anti Nazi League squat complex playing football with Greg, Richie and I can’t recall who else, in a small town in Germany. Sniffing Poppers on stage in Hamburg. The Rider in Fontenay Le Comte, France : wine, whiskey, and a table overladen with cheeses, meats, etc. Boy oh boy. Greg saying one morning in the van, blue skies outside, weed joint smoked : “I think it’s a good time to listen to Wings Greatest”. Listening to Trio. Stage diving in the van while we drove to a hotel after a gig. Playing “I’ll Never Change” with the Oblivians. Taking a heavy painkiller and lying on the floor of the van listening to ‘Satan Is Real’ I conceived ‘Satan Is Real Again’.

PH: Do you write prose or poetry or paint and by that I mean, do you pursue other artistic endeavors?

BW: I’m always jotting things down and sketching. Mostly I just write comedy routines. I draw a lot. I don’t write poetry exactly; I’m trying to write lyrics.

PH: What was the worst Country Teasers gig?

BW: The worst for me was one time in Cleveland 2002 I hated it and jumped on my guitar, smashing it to pieces. I felt like the band was separate from me, like a wild pony.

PH: The best?

BW: I can’t remember the best, there’s about 600 best ones. The Wesley gigs in Florida 2001 were good, because the kids hates us when we started and chanted “WESLEY ! WESLEY !” and “YOU SUCK” but by the end the usually liked us a lot. Those were great gigs because afterwards I could enjoy watching Wesley.

PH: What is your proudest accomplishment?

BW: I don’t know. I feel pretty fucking good about myself that this amazing girl Sophie thinks I’m great. I like her taste, and she likes my stuff, so I’m proud of my stuff. I’m very pleased with my albums – not Country Teasers, The Rebel – and whenever I listen to them when I’m copying them for people I feel something but I don’t know if it’s pride or narcissism. I feel proud when I read the map well on tour and we make the gig in time.

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