Part 2: Fouling up the bathroom with Pulled Groin
A group receptive to criticism
by Steve Howell
Steve: What do you guys plan on doing for the next release as far as the songs you're working on? Are they different from what you've been doing,
or are they along the same lines as Precious Squeezin's or Butt-Crack Chronicles?
Rob: Uhhh, Butt-Crack Chronicles was a...
Steve: An epic?
Rob: More of a wide ranging... No, just kind of all over the place. This one's a little bit more focused; a little bit more hillbillyish again.
Steve: Do you have the banjo back?
Rob: Well, they're oriented towards that guy.
Rob: Larry Martin.
Mark: That all depends on the sympathy of the wife.
Rob: Oh, he's OK. It's Dave Moore who's out of the picture.
Mark: Yeah, I wrote that guy off.
Rob: Yeah, I tried and tried and tried.
Michael: He put some hot stuff on the "Julkandanc" track.
Rob: That was the last time... That's what I'll do, I'll just be like, "I'll give you 100 bucks. I don't care if you come here and take a shit and leave." He's like, "I don't have time to rehearse or learn it." I'm like, "Don't even fucking try to man, just show up."
Steve: That wasn't with the wife was it? Dave Moore?
Rob: That was Dave Moore. Well, it wasn't strictly his wife. His kid was sick, and he's going through a lot of stuff. I was just like, "I've got 80 bucks or whatever; come over, or if you want to foul up the dude's bathroom, you can shit on his carpet and leave, I don't care. Just come, and I'll give you 80 dollars. I don't care if we keep it. I don't care if you kick his house."
Mark: In fact, I'd want you to foul up his bathroom.
Steve: How did you come back to wanting to do a more country/folk/bluegrass/rock album again?
Rob: I think it was the strings.
Mark: I think that all comes from Dave and Larry. I think what we do is not country at all. That presence is so strong that that's what you'd have to call it.
Steve: How did you hook up with those guys, Larry and Dave?
Rob: Somebody told me about the...
Mark: Probably Merner.
Rob: Or Tommy, or Merner told me about the bluegrass folks at the bowling alley...
Steve: Oh yeah! Secor Lanes.
Rob: I went there and got Dave's number and some other guy. The guy who was fiddlin' there was like 80 years old and pretty crusty, but some other dude, some banjo player, gave me Dave's number, so I called him up, and just for the hell of it, and that tune's about... "Buster," that's what I was calling him about. That's a song about some dude who used to live next to me taking a dump in my backyard. I'm thinking, "This is some bluegrass guy. He's going to hear the freakin' lyrics, and he's going to say "Fuck these guys man. These guys are too loud for me." He lived in Blissfield [Mich.]. I'm thinking, "He'd be totally out of it." But, the vibe of "Buster," when fiddle was put on it, like Mark said, that's what made that sound. It was nuts!
Steve: When you talk to those guys about what you're playing, do you explain what you want, or is it more like, "Let them do what they want?"
Mark: I'd say definitely let'em do what they want. We could never explain that.
Rob: Exactly. Dave will come with three ideas some times. I'll say, "Idea number two; I like idea number two, and I dig number three. One, I don't like so much." So, we'll just work from there.
Steve: You guys seem pretty honest as far as the songwriting goes, like [Rob's] explained about the ratings system with the poop.
Rob: The "poo ratings?"
Steve: Yeah. How did you come up with the whole honesty system? Mark it's up to you.
Michael: The senior editor.
Mark: I don't know, that's what I do best. I don't want to be involved in something that I can't... I don't like it. Rob is very receptive to the criticism.
Michael: Well, you have to be.
Mark: He's got a great... I don't know, I wish everybody was like that. Some people, you're afraid to tell'em that it sucks or whatever, but I've never been afraid to do that with Rob.
Steve: Mike, how did you come into the equation?
Michael: Well, me and Rob were playing together anyway, and I got brought in more... Well, because Mark was out of town, and I did a couple of the bass parts on Precious Squeezin's, and that was our first meeting in the studio. So, then, to play those live, I started playing bass and then, when I wasn't playing bass, I played guitar. Then, when I was playing bass, Mark played guitar.
Steve: So, when did you join? I guess it was unofficially around Precious Squeezin's?
Michael: Yeah, whenever that was recorded.
Steve: When are you looking for the new album to be released?
Mark: Record? I haven't even heard any of the songs yet.
Steve: Where are you guys going to record it? Are you going to do it at Finch's Space again?
Rob: The way we do it is I write a lot of songs, Mark tells me which ones are cool and which ones suck, we take the ones that he thinks are cool and make a tape of those, everyone drives around with the tape for a couple of weeks, then we have a rehearsal and record the rehearsal, then everyone drives around with that tape for a couple of weeks, and then, we go and record generally.
Mark: And, then, the songs that I think suck, they play with Quantum 4 and turn out to be really good songs.
Rob: He actually shot down "Parts and Pieces," the original version.
Michael: Well, that was a song that really grew in the studio. I mean, lots of things changed and layers were added. When it started, it was like a chord and some pseudo-melody lines.
Rob: One chord.
Michael: I said, "You know what this song needs Rob? More chords." So then, more chords were put in there, and it eventually worked out.
Steve: I don't think I ever heard the demo for that one.
Michael: No melody.
Rob: No words.
Mark: There are a lot of them. Rob's strong at concepts, but...
Michael: It's more of a vibe.
Rob: It was a germ.
Steve: Compared to the other bands that you've been in, do you feel that there's quite a bit of chemistry more than in the other groups?
Michael: We never see each other. Other than... We rarely play.
Mark: I wouldn't say there's a lot of chemistry.
Rob: It doesn't feel like it.
Steve: So, it just comes from practice?
Rob: No, it's not practice either. It comes from... Tommy's just super-talented to record on minimal rehearsals and to play that well live with minimal rehearsals. I'm decent at it because I wrote the freakin' songs, so I know'em, then, the rest is up to these two (Rob directs his attention to Mark and Michael). Michael's pretty disciplined and Mark, we just roll the dice live.
Mark: Pretty much.
Steve: How do you come up with the instrumentals on the albums, like "Irish Outro?" Do you decide that you're going to have an instrumental on an album, or do you just work it out in the studio?
Rob: They all start out instrumentals. That one just never got lyrics.
Steve: As far as styles go on each album, is there a conscious decision that you do make like this song is going to be like this or this is going to be country inspired or art rock, or do you think it's more like you write the batch of songs, go in and whatever happens, happens?
Mark: We've only had four albums (actually five) and the first one was just me, Rob and Tommy, so none of us played any extra instruments. Rob wasn't even a guitar player very much at the time. That's all I played was on bass, not much even. It was the first time I ever played bass, and Tommy just plays drums, so that's why that's real stripped down. The next album is the same thing. If Dave wouldn't come, then it wouldn't have had any country flavor. It would have been pretty close to what the first one was. Then, the next one, we took a lot more time, and we recorded differently. We didn't do it live. We built off of Rob's demos. We overdubbed basically to the demos, so that's why...
Michael: It's completely backwards, because sort of the process to that one, starting with just a guitar track without a click.
Mark: And, the next one was kind of the same thing. I wasn't there most of the time, and then we didn't have Larry. So, it's just a situation that dictates how the album sounds. There's no method to it, I don't think.
Rob: What we do is we do the basic recordings, and then, we drive around with them and start hearing things that we feel should be in there.
Mark: That's how I do it for sure.
Rob: Which you kinda tell off of the acoustic demo. We just drive around with it, and no thought is wrong. No matter how ridiculous it sounds, we go with it. So, I heard a trash can on "Down Dave's Neck." This thing needs a trash can on it or something.
Mark: Was it a dry can?
Rob: Well, it turned out to be a door banger off of somebody's door. That aluminum part that you bang, but I just heard it. I was driving around, and I just said, "Wow, that should be in there."
Mark: Rob's got no shame.
Rob: No shame.
Mark: He'll put a garbage can over his head.
Rob: I was trying to sing like a black dude into a can.
Steve: Where was this?
Rob and Mark: It was at Noel's.
Rob: "Glory B." The original version, Tommy said it sounded like "Puff the Magic Dragon," so I got all embarrassed.
Mark: So, he went and put a garbage can on his head.
Rob: I love new melodies. Trying to sing like a black person.
Steve: When you guys get ready to record, do you say, "We're going to go to this studio," or do you go wherever is cheap?
Rob: Cheap and willing people.
Mark: And now, Michael's pretty much got all of that. We go there, but we went to Noel's because he was very open to it.
Rob: Never, he just wanted the money I think.
Mark: I think he liked us a little bit.
Steve: When did No Focus records start?
Michael: When Brandon bought that 18-track actually -- beginning and end of it right there.
Steve: When did it start, was it with Butt-Crack Chronicles?
Michael: Yeah, because Precious Squeezin's was still at Noel's, and we had a Quantum 4 project that we had started and all of the basic stuff, we did at Noel's, and then he left town, and Brandon bought his stuff at the same time. It had been on and off working with him anyway, so we finished most of the second half of it at Brandon's. Yeah, that's about when we started recording several of those, then Butt-Crack Chronicles, and actually the other person we knew that Josh thing (The Oilbirds) that you and me played on.
Rob: Butt 2 was the companion songs. Those were all recorded at the same time as the Butt-Crack Chronicles.
Steve: Yeah, I knew a couple of them were on Butt-Crack Chronicles. Why did you pick a couple of the same songs, was it just because you felt they were stronger?
Michael: "Steamboat [AZ]" was remixed pretty drastically. "Parts and Pieces" was the exact same mix, but, well it had a different ending.
Mark: It doesn't really matter, because no one's ever going to hear it anyway.
Michael: I think we have two copies of that one left, and the first one's been long gone.
Mark: Nobody's demanding them, so we're not worried about making new ones.
Rob: [W]XUT (the University of Toledo's FM radio station) played "Thee Knights." We were freakin' driving down the goddamn road.
Mark: Just out of the blue you heard that?
Rob: And "Gallowish."
Michael: Well, "Gallowish" was that first day we dropped it off because that was like right before the art museum show, wasn't it?
Rob: Oh yeah.
Michael: You dropped off a CD that night and they didn't have a songlist for it, so, "Here's the first one, and we don't know what it is." It was the instrumental because it was first.
Rob: I forgot all about that song.
Michael: Yeah, I always forget about that song too, because there's no words. It was right at the beginning, and it's over in like a minute and a half.
Rob: That was just a real basic song that Michael just shredded on. It was real simple. That was nothing special. A lot of these just ainšt nothin' special until you start layering some talented people on top of them, and then they start growing and evolving.
Michael: I always thought of the first record as one. The first one was more of a novelty record. It had a few more weird, oddball songs and the second one was really straighter. It seemed to be a second stringer all along, but then with the experience of also having done the first one, I think it was a little bit smoother sounding overall, but I donšt know if it's such an attention getter.
Rob: The first one's a freak show.
Mark: "East Side Mental?"
Steve: I like that one though.
Rob: I think during that stuff, I wanted to incorporate a little theatrics into the music. A lot of those songs came from that.
Steve: Were you listening to anything that kind of inspired you?
Rob: No, but I've always liked Frank Zappa.
Steve: That makes sense. Where can people find the CDs at? Is it just No Focus record's site?
Michael: Yeah, you can just get ahold of us through there. Yeah, let us know if you want some, and we'll make another batch of them.
Rob: He'll just have a marker writing on them. Those flat little cases.
Michael: It cuts down the printing cost so much though because you don't need a back cover or anything.
Rob: You don't have to worry about pulling the cellophane off of it.
Steve: Are you guys shooting for a time [of release]?
Michael: It could happen by summer.
Rob: It looks so easy to do, but man, it takes a long time.
Mark: I haven't even heard it yet.
Steve: Rob, when you first start out with a song idea, is it strictly you, or do you bring in Mark or Mike as far as when you're trying to create something?
Rob: No. Generally, I'll just sit down and write the stuff. Michael added a part to one tune this time.
Michael: I had to put three chords in a song.
Rob: And, it really made a huge difference. It took it out of mediocrity and stepped it up to... Now, it's not mediocre.
Michael: Yeah, but generally, chord structuring is all Rob. He comes in and has stuff like four chords in varied orders.
Rob: I've been bringing Michael in to find my way back to verses and choruses. I don't have a roadmap.
Steve: I remember you saying something about the weird time and tempo changes.
Rob: When I first started writing, I would just change whenever I felt like it.
Mark: Michael's kind of the weld between two different songs. Michael comes in as the welder.
Rob: Oh, the new title of the new project -- Smell's Like Grandpa's House.
Mark: What!? Smells Like Grandpa's House? What's that?
Rob: That's the title of the new project.
Mark: Oh, how ironic. You're house smells like my grandpa's house.
Steve: How many songs are you guys working on for the new one?
Mark: It starts with seven, and then...
Rob: A few could get pooed.
Michael: Then, other things turn up sometimes.
Rob: A couple could get a flaming pile of poo.
Mark: I'd like to say, I think the dominant themes in Pulled Groin are food and bodily functions.
Michael: Yeah, food and toilet humor. You generally get the toilet humor from the titles.
Mark: Sophisticated toilet humor though.
Rob: Shamelessness. I'll come up with ideas and just try to talk myself out of it for two weeks because it's just too immature, but I can't do it. Butt-Crack Chronicles; the names just come to me. Just like Smells Like Grandpa's House, it just comes.
Steve: It just came out of nowhere?
Rob: Nowhere, and then, I fight it. I try to get rid of it. Then, I just buckle down and bite the bullet and tell the public.
Mark: If you stripped it away, there would be nothing left.
Rob: Exactly, and I'd be a pussy. I'd rather be shameless and ridiculous than a pussy.