Reunions seem to be topic of discussion these days, more and more bands are doing them. Let the past be the past for music’s sake. To some, it may be the money and to others it’s an attempt regain that thrill they had long ago. The nostalgia, the excitement of once again sharing the stage with your friends to simply rock out and have a good time. The latter is definatly the reasoning behind this year’s Distorted Pony reunion. A band who earned their keep in the underground rock world, all the while playing with some of the memorable bands such as Nirvana and Jane’s Addiction, just to same a few. I began speaking with Theo a few months back when he was introduced to me via. Rennes, France guitarist for We Only Said, Florian Marzano (neither of which i’ve actually met in person). The following interview was conducted over a few weeks via. e-mail. Theodore was super easy to talk to and so willing to help out with anything and I really appreciated that. I had a blast speaking with him both during the interview process as well “off the record”. Enjoy.
Vinyljunkie138 You guys are currently practicing for the first time in 16 years and a European tour is in the works. How are things coming along?
Theodore Jackson Well, I want to first go on record as speaking only for myself, and not the whole band. I am 1/5 of the band, and in some respects, have the same vitality to DP as Flavor Flav did to Public Enemy. So, you are getting one guys perspective on all of this, not a band perspective. In any event..Tricia, London and I stated practicing in January. After Robert decided not to participate in the regrouping, Eddie came aboard in mid-Feb, and that was a lot of re-learning of songs, figuring our parts, etc. It was slow going but always encouraging. Then just recently, at the end of April, David came out from Austin and we practiced as a full band for the first time in 17 years. The first night was great..just huge and mean and noisy..and really exciting to all be playing the songs with a full band. The next night was torturous. Once the novelty of playing together again was over, the reality that we were not the super tight, read one another’s thoughts, cohesive unit we once were set in. We struggled to get through the songs, debated parts and sounds, and generally put some real work into everything. The final night of practice together, I thought was awesome. We had worked out the most troublesome stuff, and had some friends there and we kind of blew them away, I think. It was totally a glorious din..and it was a lot of fun and we really enjoyed it. So David went back out to Austin, and will come back in May for a few more practices and then we are gonna go out and play live..on May 22.
VJ138 Growing up in LA and being part of the burgeoning scene, what made you decide to get into music and performing. What were some of your earliest influences and favorite bands/albums?
TJ This answer is totally different for everyone in the band, cause we all came from some pretty different places., but the role I think any of us played primarily was as fans. Personally, I was really into the early LA punk/roots scene. It sounds so pedestrian now, but the bands I was into were the Blasters and X and Los Lobos and Rank and File, and you need to recall that at one point, those bands were pretty “underground”. The Minutemen and Social D were early favorites, and from there on in, I kind of started to get schooled in the history of LA music and learned about the Alley Cats and Savage Republic and so many others. But the cool thing was the diversity of it all. Punk rock meant so much more than the loud fast chowder head thing it became. I was always a huge fan of the LA music scene. Robert, David. Dora and myself all met in college, working at KXLU where you were inundated with great bands and got to learn so much, from the music and the older DJ’s there. It was total living history and I think so important, as far as opening my eyes, to more and more music. David came from a similar back ground, but had a lot more knowledge of the international scene, from my perspective. Dora too. The Fall and Birthday Party, and some of the first wave UK noise stuff. And London was totally in on the early DC scene, playing in Reptile House and Dag Nasty and being around all the awesome Dischord bands.
I had been a fan of DP when it was just David and Dora and a drum machine. I think I saw all their early shows, with various lineups, and a very different sound too. The band really evolved over the years, but at one point, maybe late ‘88, David mentioned that they were looking for a percussion player to play along with the drum machine, and I asked if I could give it a go. I think he agreed somewhat reluctantly, but it worked out. After that, the goal was to just play music. Anything beyond playing in a practice space has been a huge gift.
VJ138 Since Distorted Pony’s break-up in 1995, what have you been up to ?
TJ I think we actually broke up in August of 93..the last album came out in April of 94. Everyone stayed involved in music to some degree. Robert ran Surrogate Spike Studio at the house we all shared, and recorded a ton of bands. David has played in numerous bands, like Switchitter, and currently Red X Red M. and is currently finishing up his PhD., focused on indie rock the associated life choices. Tricia played in Saraspoden with Dave Gomez from Oiler, and they put out a single. London has been in tons of bands, including a Samhain reunion, Son of Sam, Tiger Army and currently The Foul and the Fragrant and Millions of Dead Comps. He also works as a nurse at Children’s Hospital, which is very cool. They are actually all much more interesting to interview than I am. I played in a band, Go-Kart, with Steve from Slug and we put out a single..but mostly, I have been teaching, which I still do. I am in and out of school all the time..working on a second Masters degree right now. Not really sure why, but, I am. Tricia and I both have two daughters (separately, not with one another). London has a son. But David and London are the true lifers, music wise. They have both always stayed involved in music and bands and continue to rock on a daily basis!
VJ138 It’s been 15 years since Distorted Pony called it quits. With reunions becoming more and more prevalent, (for example, Black Flag (sorta), The Slits, the Pixies and Soundgarden) why did everyone in DP feel that, “now is the time”?.
TJ I don’t know that we all feel like that, necessarily. I, personally, hate reunions and had real reservations about doing this. Mostly because I feel like bands have a shelf-life and belong to a certain era, and to try and re-establish that is not a great thing. And I didn’t really think anyone cared that much. Its not like we were playing to packed stadiums in the past, we still had plenty of shows that were 3 people in Oklahoma City on a Tuesday night. But Thom Fuhrman, from Savage Republic, kinda egged us on, suggesting it would be a cool thing to go and tour Europe. We always planed to in the past, but it never happened. So that was the biggest impetus. It seemed kind of dumb, if the opportunity presented itself, not to do it. And it kinda did. In addition, it’s the twentieth anniversary of our first release, the 7” on Piece of Mind Records. So then we had to really question if this is something we want to do. And if we were going to do it, it couldn’t be, “two original members and some young kids” type of thing. And we didn’t all disband on great terms. But it gave us an opportunity to address those issues, as adults, and I think we have done that well. We like each other..we seem to click musically, and we push each other to some degree as well. And it’s kind of cool to be able to do this now without the expectation of popularity or desire to make a living with it, but just do it cause it’s a lot of fun. It was always fun, for the most part, but now, it seems, that’s really the only motivation. And if 10 people want to see us play, cool. So, the only reason that “now is the time” is that we all agreed to do it and not because we have any illusions of “This time, the world is gonna love us!”
VJ138 Why the decision to make Europe your first destination for the reunion tour and not the US ?
TJ As I said, its something we always wanted to do. When we broke up, Facebook didn’t exist…flyers were done by hand..marketing was going to shows and handing the flyers out. Now, with the Internet and Myspace and all that stuff, it seems like Europe is where there is a real desire for us to play. Originally, we had no intention of any US shows. Now, we are thinking, if people want us, we will come. But, we have some of us have lives that are no longer centered around music, so we can’t be doing 6 week tours and ignoring responsibilities like we could when we were 23, 24.
VJ138 How did you hook up with Eddie Rivas and how is his addition been going thus far in DP 2010?
TJ Eddie was a big DP fan, and remained a friend after we broke up. He played in a number of bands, including Leopold. When Robert said no, we decide it was either Eddie or one other person we were going to ask. Eddie seemed like the natural choice cause he is into the bands music; he is low maintenance, and he a good guy to hang around with. Fortunately, he said yes..and is really into it. The only detriment is that, like David, he is a bit of a gear-geek, and anyone who has ever had to be around THOSE types of people know what a chore that is! You know, I pick up a piece of garbage on the way into practice and that’s my new gear. Eddie and David have spent years working on the tone of their amps and the right settings on their pedals, and they still are unhappy. But it’s gone great and has been really fun, and Eddie has been a great band member too, taking on stuff that the rest of us may be less than enthusiastic about. It’s been really good.
VJ138 In some circles the DP back catalog are considered collector’s items. What are your thoughts about the possibility of them being re-issued as well as their current availability on Itunes, Amazon, Napster, and Rhapsody?
TJ Well, if they are collectors’ items, I have some copies that can be bought at a fair market price. But, we have talked about reissues, maybe fleshed out with some bonus tracks are remastered…again, we don’t know that there is a huge demand. We put Instant Winner up on al those download sites, and I think are grand total is 0 downloads. Don’t really know why anyone would pay for them when they are readily available for free all over the internet..but, you know..not trying to talk anyone out of anything!
VJ138 Why did DP choose Steve Albini as a producer on “Punishment Room” and “Instant Winner”?
TJ Well, he was always insistent, and it was true, that he was not a producer. He was an engineer that may have offered his opinion in certain cases, but he never actually “produced” anything. I think we were a little frightened at the prospect of working with him. Obviously, we were big fans and DP went through a phase that was very heavily influenced by Big Black. But more importantly, he did really great work. No one can make drums sound the way he does. But, you know, we had heard so many stories about him and his cranky nature and his opinionated stances, I think we were expecting him to laugh in our face. But we contacted him and he was just a great guy. I hope that doesn’t dispel any of the myth that surrounds him, but e came out to LA, stayed at our VERY crappy, roach infested house, slept on the couch, cooked us diner, and recorded a great record in our living room.
I remember having to take a few shots of whiskey before we were beginning recording, just cause of the legend that surrounded him and I expected him to storm out and ask “What is this crap?!”, but, it was always a great experience and he was/is a really good person. At the same time, we did not want to seem like we were trying to rely on his indie-rock celebrity to get our records heard and we were always very conscious of not putting his name anywhere on our album. We referenced him in smart-ass ways, but his name never appeared anywhere.
VJ138 After joining Distorted Pony along with Robert pre-”fleshy drummer” London, why the decision of the group to add a percussionist, a second guitarist and not a live drummer?
TJ DP had a live drummer in earlier incarnations. The decision to go t a drum machine was two-fold, I believe. I was not part of that decision, so I may not be 100% accurate. One, I think David and Dora were finding it really difficult to work with live drummers and get the sound they wanted. But more so, at that time, a drum machine was the exception to the rule, not the norm. SO it gave the whole thing a very different feel and sound, which was the goal at the time. But then drum machine started to become much more commonplace, and even mainstream, which is what led to the switch back to a live drummer.
The percussionist was kind of always there in one form or another. As the band progressed and the sound changed and the influences changed. You can probably really reference bands like Savage Republic and Einsturzende Neubauten for that influence. And as the band became more aggressive and intense, the additional guitar seemed to really lend itself to that sound. Plus, Robert was a really good friend who was involved with DP in many different capacities, and he just kind of worked himself into the band in that respect.
VJ138 Would you mind telling me your favorite experience while a member of Distorted Pony, as well as anything else you’d like to add about some of the bands you’ve played with?
TJ Well, I could tell some stories personally, but I am a married man with kids now and a teacher and don’t know that I want that stuff going into print. But we met so many cool people, who welcomed us into their homes, it was so cool. I always found that the people you expected to be the must fucked up and cracked, based upon their music, were often the most friendly, funny nice people you could meet. Neurosis is a perfect example. Just really nice, friendly sweet people who make some scary as shit music! But they were always the coolest, nicest people. I think we are all kind a bunch of goofs, never really into any sort of drug scene or getting laid on the road. Probably my favorite experiences were touring and meeting people. Playing with and becoming friends with bands..meeting people I admired and respected. The Kinman brothers, who I loved form the Dils and Rank and File became friends and we played with them a lot while they were doing Blackbird. That was really a thrill for me. Jawbreaker were good friends and I remember sitting in the basement at the Chameleon in San Francisco with Blake and just talking about girls and relationships. Slug were our total brothers and best friends and greatest competition. We always wanted to be as good as them! Sandy Duncan’s Eye are in that same category. I had a great time with the guys from God and Texas, smoking cigars and drinking. The Braniac guys were a lot of fun. Mecca Normal was another band that became true friends and we had a lot of fun together. Playing a show with Tar and Jawbox on the same bill was kind of a music fan’s members wet dream for me…unnamed members of the band being arrested for unnamed charges was pretty funny..touring with Ron (from Beekeeper and Karate Brand Records) was great cause he was a good friend and we had a ton of fun together. David and me bugging the shit out of everyone in the van with our stupid in-jokes and renditions of Old Man River throughout every tour. You know, we all got along well..we had a lot of fun..and as grueling as touring could be, it was also a lot of fun. And on a personal note, playing with Nirvana and Tad at Raji’s in LA, where I was drunk out of my mind and sat at the bar with Chris all night explaining to him everything I disliked about Nirvana.
VJ138 What is DP’s ultimate goal behind deciding to reunite after all this time?
TJ Europe was, and may still be, the ultimate goal. At least the prospect of it was what got us talking about playing together again. But that has been put on hold for now, and we do have any plans set in stone. Its obviously not an attempt to cash in, as their was never any cash there in the first place! I don’t think we have talked much about it. We have our first show in 17 years coming up on May 22, and nothing scheduled after that. It could end there…it could go on well beyond that. I don’t think any of us are considering Distorted Pony a full time thing though. It would be nice to come together a few times a year, do some shows or short tours. It really depends on kinda what we said at the start of this conversation. If people want to hear us, we will play. If no interest exists, then you can’t flog a dead horse.