Part one: interesting stories aren't hard to find
by Steve Howell
Toledo band Pulled Groin began as a fictitious idea in one man's mind during 1995. The name of that individual is guitarist/vocalist Rob Weaver (aka Jack). Now, seven years and five recordings later, the tangible group is setting in to record their sixth record, Smells Like Grandpa's House. This interview was conducted with Weaver last year as he and the band wrapped up the release of their fourth and fifth EPs.
Next month, Weaver will be joined by bassist/guitarist Mark Bickle (aka Chester) and guitarist Michael Johnson (aka Maynard) on the pages of Music Notes and Quotes to expound upon the ideas laid out here. However, drummer Tommy Gryzbowski (aka Karvel) will not be joining the rest of his bandmates, all in the name of remaining a mystery.
S: When did Pulled Groin form?
R: I would say back about '95 or '96.
S: What about the band's lineup?
R: The original story, I don't know if you've ever heard it, was I created the band in my head, and I used to write [to whom] we call Karvel fan letters in the other band he's in (Gone Daddy Finch). I would write that band fan letters, and I was this guy Jack in this band Pulled Groin, and we were touring the world. And, I would take names off the Risk [game] board -- Cumchapka -- I would say, "Yeah, we're touring Cumchapka; we got V.D. in this little island called Hoochie." I'd write him these crazy ass letters, with all these terrible things happening to this band; having sex with gorillas. He had no idea who was writing this, and I would just [sign them], "Your friend and fan, Jack." Then, I'd send him another letter, and he had the letters in his van. He used to keep them. He had no clue who it was, but I would go out to clubs, and I would see people, and I'd be like, "God, if I had a band, that dude would be in my band." So, Karvel was one of those people, [as was] Jason Beebe from Glide. I saw Jason at a show, and he just went apeshit one night. He just jumped up and went nuts, and I thought, "Wow, that was bad ass." And, then, Chester as well. I was in a band with that who we call Chester (the band was The Sprags). I was in a band with him, and I always dug him. And, I thought, if I had a band, it would be these people. And, we recorded one song as a four piece.
S: Did you put that recording out?
R: Yeah. It was on the Music of Toledo. It was like a compilation. It was a little four-track recording of "Welcome to the World," which ended up on our first [EP], No Tocar Canasto Giratorio. We re-recorded it [for the EP]. That's not the original version [on No Tocar]. Jason played on that first one.
S: Who was that [compilation] put out by?
R: It was Rich Seng. It was put out by that guy. He was a Sprag guy for a while (Seng was The Sprags manager).
S: I was looking at the bio on The Sprags Web site today.
R: That's the origin of it all. I wasn't getting tunes played in the band, and that's what that No Tocar ended up being. They were songs that I was writing that I couldn't get played, so I said, "Screw it! I'll just form my own thing," and I got these guys to go along with it.
S: I noticed Mark Bickle's name wasn't on the new release (2001's Butt Crack Chronicles), but I thought that he played on it. Is he still with the band?
R: Yeah. He went to Springfield, Mass. He came back, and we went and remixed some stuff that he didn't like, and then we started rehearsing again, and he was all for it. Here's how our band works. I write a lot of songs. I write everything and give it to [Bickle]. I give the whole thing to him, and he either rates it as a little star for "Let's do it," or he rates it a little pile of poop... a steaming pile of poop for "Let's not do this." To me, [the songs] are all the same. It's Mark who decides what's going to be done and what's not. To me, I think all the songs are equal, and I just go along with whatever he says. If he says, "It's shit," I say, "OK, let's not do it."
S: Have you guys known each other since high school?
R: Me and Mark met in [The Sprags]. That was in '93. So, we've known each other about eight years.
S: How did you get together with Karvel (Gryzbowski)?
R: He dug the band I was in at the time, and I dug his band (Gone Daddy Finch), and I just started talking to him. He would come to Rusty's to see the shows, and I just ended up talking to him and expressed interest in recording the No Tocar thing. No Tocar [contained] the first songs I've ever written that were logical.
S: Did you ever take [guitar] lessons or anything?
R: No, I would change chords whenever I felt like it. It had nothing to do with time. So that's probably why the band I was in didn't want to do them, because they were just like... just things in like 6.5/13 time. So, what is this? Yeah, I just changed chords whenever I felt comfortable.
S: How has the auxiliary lineup (Pulled Groin sometimes contains fiddlers and banjo players) of the band changed since the first album up to the present one?
R: That's what it's about. It is about those people. Larry Martin, he's our banjo. He was on [Precious Squeezin's], and this one as well. Dave Moore, fiddle. He had two tracks on Nuts and one track on Precious Squeezin's.
S: As far as his contributing, has [Moore] played on every album?
R: [We] couldn't get him to play on this. He's done. His son is having some medical problems, and I think our content is not to his wife's liking possibly. I can't verify that. It's more in reference to [the line from "Steamboat AZ"], "I hope that Jesus ate his breakfast, because I'm feeling pretty wreckless." I think it could be religious content as well. I don't think the bodily functions bother her as much as the religious references.
S: Who else has been a key player?
R: Michael Johnson now has taken on Maynard, as far as I think he's enough of the group that we're going to give him... he's got his own codename. Once you get a codename, you're in I guess.
Larry is really appreciated by people who dig Pulled Groin. In the bluegrass scene, he's just another banjo player. With us though, people actually really dig him. I think he digs the attention. He gets a lot more attention in Pulled Groin.
S: Does he play mainly with a bluegrass band?
R: I think he has his own.
S: How do you feel the direction of the sound has changed since the inception? It seems like it's pretty diverse.
R: It is, isn't it? From Iron Maiden to... Yeah, it's almost theatrical. That's kind of a little bit of the feeling I had is that I did want some theatrical things in there.
S: I could tell that in [the song] "Thee Knights" (from Butt Crack Chronicles).
R: Yeah, exactly. It's like, "Let's spoof Iron Maiden." You know how that one Iron Maiden album opens up with that talking? That was a big spoof on Iron Maiden. There's nothing serious about it at all.
S: The rest of the CD; it starts out with an instrumental.
R: Yeah, that instrumental... that thing really took on a life of its own with Michael; with Maynard coming in and playing guitar. That's not me playing guitar. Just shreddin'. It's called "Gallowish."
S: Did [Michael] play on all the albums?
R: No, this is his first one. No, he played bass on two tracks of Precious Squeezin's. That's where he started, and that was it. Mark Mikel played sitar on Precious Squeezin's as well. And, Chad Smith played some bad ass organ on Precious Squeezin's as well; B-3 [ Hammond organ].
S: Do you think that the music has changed, or has it pretty much stayed the same?
R: I just write songs. However, they turn out is a crap shoot. I tried to do an Iron Maiden rip off, but besides that, it was mostly just what came out of me sitting with an acoustic guitar. I knew I wanted to be electric, since Precious Squeezin's was acoustic guitar, and I wanted a little bit more edge [on Butt Crack Chronicles]. And, I guess I wanted to bring some theatrics into it -- "East Side Mental" and "Saucy Temptatious." Usually we put an oddball one on there, and those kind of followed that [rule]. I thought it turned out kind of cool, but we had no direction. That one just started out with... there was an electronic drum kit [in the studio], and they recorded it.
S: I liked the way that it segued into "Thee Knights."
R: That was the whole point. "How quick can we shift gears here?" How drastic.
S: What did you guys record [Butt Crack Chronicles] on?
R: This was the Roland 18. I think it's the Roland brand name. Brandon Boltz -- it was at his place; 18-track digital. No Focus Records is what he calls the studio.
S: Where do the song ideas come from?
R: I guess if I want to say anything about my writing, it's [that] I'm not trying to change the world. It's about what I know, and I just like freaky people who don't get stuff written about them -- people who make for good stories. It's so around us, and if you just have enough guts to talk about it, about the craziness that you see... I mean, everyone knows the East Side smells, but nobody really says so. They just know it. Most people know somebody that's done something really stupid, but they just won't write about it, and I'm like, "Why not?" It's kind of funny. Why not write a song about a dude whose best friend is his lawnmower and punctured his left testicle. When he was telling me the story, he just didn't say, "My testicle," he said, "My left one." And, I just can't believe other people don't find this stuff amusing and funny.
S: How do you get these stories?
R: Just people I've met, people I know, places I've been.
S: Where will [Butt Crack Chronicles] be available?
R: Web site (No Focus Records), and we'll get some to Boogie. We're still a ways off. There's more tunes. We've recorded about 11 or 12 songs. As you noticed, they're all pretty short. I thought "Thee Knights," if somebody were to ask me how long do you think that was, I'd say, "Oh, three to four minutes." It's like 1:58.
S: Why the anonymity?
R: The original anonymity came from the fact that I thought everyone was kissing each others ass around [Northwest Ohio] musically. I was in a band, and we turned in a disc [to a publication], and they rated it like 23 out of 25. I'm like, "Who are we? Led Zeppelin?" You know, 23 out of 25. It wasn't that good, and my thought was, people are just afraid to say anything harsh about local bands. I thought it was because you'd hurt somebody's feelings, and they'd get pissed off at you and [the reviewed would take the stand that] you're not supporting local music if you say that band sucks. My thought was the complete opposite. You're hurting our music by saying that everybody's good. I mean, if they don't know they suck, how are they going to improve? So, I handed off this [package]. I dropped it in Ed Shimborske's (publisher of Glass Eye, a Northwest Ohio music publication) mailbox. The album was Nuts (Pulled Groin's second release). Nuts had no pictures. The only names on it were people who helped us, and I wanted [Glass Eye] judging it on the music, not on who I was or who the other people were in the band, because I knew if they knew, they would probably say nice things because we know each other. I thought it was such bullshit that I just wanted it rated on its own merits, and it never got rated. It never did. I kept looking, and they never did it. That's why I dig Mark [Bickle] so much. I dig Chester man, he's like, "That song sucks. You wrote a shitty song dude." And, you don't hear that. You don't read that much. There was one reviewer in Glass Eye -- Mike Graves -- who would do that. So, whenever I did something, I was like, "I'm just going to turn it in and have Mike Graves do it, because he wasn't afraid to say it.
S: Where did the idea for the instrumentation come from in the band, as far as banjos, etc.?
R: That way myself and Chester's love of coal-miner music from the '30s; really old coal-miner stuff. What was that movie about the Kentucky coalmine where they were striking. Some old guy with no teeth sitting on a porch singing melodies. It was so beautiful man. It was just so cool that everyday common people were singing these beautiful melodies. We're big fans of that type of music, even acapella. That old guy [in the film] didn't even need an instrument.
S: Do you consider your releases to be EPs or LPs? (most of Pulled Groin's releases teeter somewhere in-between)
R: Consciously short. I would say [Butt Crack Chronicles] was consciously short for a reason. I guess the thought behind a CD is that it always gets started from the beginning. So, the first clunker on there you find, I feel you're dead in the water. You've just lost your audience. So, we just thought it's better to have quality. If you're trying to save a nice one for the end, you're stupid. It's not a tape, and that may never get to the end. [A] reviewer may hit that dead spot and just throw it in the trash. It's a front-end load. Don't save anything, and shorter is better. I don't want to listen to anybody for an hour. I don't give a shit who it is. So, that's kind of a conscious thing. No Tocar was necessity. We just didn't have that much written.