January 05, 2005

Interview: Tub Ring!

Ahhhhh…Tub Ring! These guys from Chicago are insane, they’re intense, they’re nuts, they’re…wonderful. Their style is a style that encompasses punk, pop and experimental music, and they mix it up in such a way that will leave you gasping for air. I know that when I heard their recent release, Zoo Hypothesis, I was totally, utterly blown away. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s totally, utterly Tub Ring. Live…they’re…insane…and I’m being quite modest. Just watch keyboard player Rob Kleiner, and you’ll soon witness the definition of ‘insanity.’ Sean and I had a great time, even though the night looked to be a disaster, thanks to a double booking at the club which prompted a last-minute venue change and two reviewers who wanted to see both shows. (We did, and Tub Ring was clearly the winner of the night.)

JK: So, how long have you been with Tub Ring? Too long?

Yeah. (laughs) Too long. Well, Tub Ring started when the singer and the bassist were in high school. It was a punk rock band, but it has nothing to do with the music we’re doing now. I think I joined in ‘98. That’s kinda when it took the shape that it is now. It’s been six years…which is kinda disgusting, but I was little then.

JK: Do you feel as if your presence added a new set of influences that contributed to where the band’s music is now?

What’s funny is that they were a punk band when I was in high school, and I was in a metal band. We were both in the Chicago scene, but my band had been plugging along for about two years with zero fans. Tub Ring came along and were, like, funny pop-punk…and overnight, they had all these fans. There were kids in my high school wearing their T-shirts…so I was like, “Fuck Tub Ring! I wanna kill those guys! (everyone laughs) How come MY band doesn’t have kids wearing our T-shirts?” I hated them, and I refused to go see their shows…but I became friends with Kevin the singer and, years and years later --- maybe around ’97 --- we became friends AGAIN. We used to follow Mr. Bungle around the country and see their shows.

JK: You know, that wipes out my next 10 questions. (everyone laughs) You can’t listen to the last two Tub Ring records and NOT think “Mr. Bungle”…or, at least, I know that I can’t.

Like I said, I’ve listened to them since I was little. Before I heard them, I was into Whitesnake and Poison. I think that every person has a band that kinda breaks them into good taste.

SP: (laughs) A gateway band?

Exactly! You’re listening to shit…and one day you hear this band
that you don’t think you like at first…

JK: “What the hell is THAT??!?”

Yeah! You think, “What the hell is that?” It doesn’t make any sense to you for the first 10 listens, but for some reason you keep listening anyway. It’s like an epiphany, and then you enter into good taste. (everyone laughs) I think Mr. Bungle was that for me. I’ve always felt a close bond to them for what they did for me. They were definitely a huge influence. I don’t think I’ve popped one of their CDs in for years, but it’s still deep-rooted.

SP: When a band’s music is deeply rooted inside of you, you don’t necessarily have to listen to them all the time. My “gateway band” was
My Bloody Valentine, and I know their “Loveless” album from back to front even though I haven’t listened to it in about seven or eight months. Rob: Yeah, and until the day you die you’ll give them credit. Even though you might not listen to them for three decades, someone will bring them up and you’ll say, “Hey, that was a good band.”

JK: Once you hear “Stub-a-dub” you’ll never forget it anyway! That
record’s just fucking amazing…

That first one? Yeah.

JK: …and I guess that Tub Ring’s progression is a bit like Mr.Bungle’s in that they were a band in the ‘80s that started out as regular punk, and then came out with the one that Mike Patton did with them.

He’s been in the band from the beginning, but I know what you
mean. They did “OU818” and things started getting crazy. When I joined, they wanted to do more experimental stuff. They didn’t want to be a punk band anymore. At that point, we should have just changed the name of the band so that it wouldn’t have anything to do with the high school punk band that it was. In Chicago, there are a lot of people that still think that that’s what it is. For a while, we couldn’t get booked at certain places, or people would dismiss us right away.

JK: Are the two bands you’re playing with tonight straight-up punk?

I’d say that the experimentalism of Tub Ring is to punk rock what
Dog Fashion Disco is to metal. Bad Acid Trip is a little coarser. They’re definitely metal and insane, but the insanity fueled by rage more than it is by experimentalism.

SP: Are all three bands touring together right now?


Have you been getting good responses?

It’s been an amazing tour. Houston on a Wednesday night is pretty rough, but most of the shows --- NYC, Chicago, Tampa, Indianapolis,
Baltimore --- they’ve been huge. Every night’s been huge. Even on the smaller nights, there are at least a good 30 or 40 people, which is a nice turnout if you’re doing experimental shit.

JK: One thing I’m looking forward to seeing tonight is the showmanship. One word that came to my mind when listening to Zoo Psychology was “showmanship.” Is that a big part of your live act? I get the feeling that when Tub Ring is on stage, they want to put on a good show.

SP: Yeah, the music sounds very theatrical on record. It’s almost as if you can visualize the singer jumping out at you during the screaming parts.

Just wait. You’ll see. (everyone laughs) Everybody always told us before this record that the live shows were a trillion times better.
“You don’t translate very well on record, but I love your live show!” I think that the new album closes the gap. It’s definitely more equal now. If you’ve never seen a Tub Ring show, your question will be answered by the end of the show.

JK: There’s another band that you guys remind me of, who I wanted to ask you about…Tripping Daisy.

I read that in your review. Who are they exactly? Is that the singer of the Polyphonic Spree? What was the single?

JK: (sings) “I got a girl who lives with me…”

I like them, and I REALLY like the Polyphonic Spree, but I wouldn’t consider them an influence.

JK: When they were doing their thing live back in the ‘90s, they were insane. They were big on showmanship and multimedia. When I saw them, they had 10-foot films behind them, beside them and all around them, all going on at once. They were really big into improvisation. They’d even have sets in which they said, “We’re not gonna play any songs that you know,” and just wing it from that point on. It was awesome! Do you guys do a lot of improv in your sets?

No. You go through phases in which your musical tastes grow and change and modify themselves. For a long time, I really liked improvisation, but now I’m firmly anti-improv. I don’t believe in improv at all.

JK: “Play the set list!”

Yeah, I’m not saying that it shouldn’t sound different from the record, but I like everything to be precise, neat and calculated. I love calculation, where you have blueprints of how you want something executed, and then you go and execute it…(snaps fingers)…to a T.

SP: I’m not shocked at all.

JK: I thought you guys were teetering on the edge of falling apart…not necessarily loose musically, but…

SP: …because there are so many shifts.

JK: …you reach track five or six, and by then the album just becomes
one long song!

The way it’s mixed together, it kinda does. In a sentence: I don’t mind it sounding like it’s unplanned and improvised, but in fact…the blueprints are all there. I like it to be deceptive so that you don’t know whether we meant to do stuff or not, but I don’t believe in improv at all…at least not with this project.

JK: Do you have other projects?

Yeah, I do but nothing…(trails off)

JK: …worth mentioning?

Well, it’s ALL worth mentioning, but nothing that anyone’s going to read about for a year or two.

JK: In other words, you’ve got your plans in the basement. What about the other guys? Do they do anything outside of Tub Ring? I mean, who’s the real musical driving force behind the band?

The singer and I. I do keyboards and write most of the music, and the singer writes most of the lyrics. It’s mainly the two of us. You know, back in Chicago he and I do music for TV commercials. I’ve done a couple things on soundtracks and TV shows. I think Kevin sang in Coors Lite commercial, and I’ve played in a couple commercials. There is gonna be more stuff, but it’s just starting now. I’m teetering with two ideas right now. I want to have a 12-piece orchestra to tour with, and then I also want to have a pop band with me and, like…six chicks playing in the background. (everyone laughs)

JK: Robert Palmer style!

Yeah, exactly! That’s the only thing I can compare it to, but that’s
what I want it to be: hot chicks and then me.

SP: Except that your chicks will actually be able to play instruments and not look bored while doing so.

That’s the problem…finding THAT. (everyone laughs)

SP: You just said that you and the singer do music for commercials.
I’ve heard from other people who do commercials that the process is very, very precise. You have to get it one or two takes, and it’s done very quickly and in a regimented style. Do you think that that way of working informs what Tub Ring does as well?

I’ve never thought of that…that’s a really good question. I’d have to say yes. Looking at the broader picture, though, I’d say that’s what all indie-rock is --- not just Tub Ring. Indie-rock is music that needs to be brilliant, but also costs next to nothing to make…’cause nobody has any money to make the music. (everyone laughs) It’s coming out of the artist’s pockets, or out of the pocket of a true fan who wants to start a label. They need to make it sound amazing, and they’ve gotta go into a studio and crank out…fucking GENIUS in no time flat. I mean, a Britney Spears single can sound fucking awesome, but they can work on it for a month with an unlimited budget. I’m not trying to rip on Britney Spears; I love the production on a lot of pop music…but indie music has to compete with multimillion-dollar corporate music, and it has to do so on a budget…

SP: …with one hundredth of the resources.

Exactly! What you’re saying --- that it has to be done within one or two takes --- is probably conducive to ALL indie-rock, not just Tub Ring. I think that’s an excellent point, though, and it’s totally valid.

JK: Where do you think that Tub Ring fits in the scope of indie-rock? It seems like you’re somewhat of an enigma no matter where you go. You’ve got these elements of screamo punk, and then you turn around and have really poppy moments. Do you ever find it really difficult to simply exist on your own?

Well, a lot of people won’t give anything outside the set box a chance, but screw all them. I’m not gonna play stuff I don’t wanna play to make other people happy. I think that’s another really good point. I’ve been reading a lot of good quotes from people who write music reviews while looking for Tub Ring reviews. I don’t normally read a lot of record reviews, unless they’re about a record that I’m interested in buying.
My philosophy has always been that the people who are making the best music today are the people with the best record collections. People that have the best stuff coming into their ears are going to have the best stuff coming out of them in their music. I read a really interesting review of Clinic that said, essentially, “These guys must have an awesome record collection.”

I don’t know if anyone else would understand it, but it really spoke
to me. That’s a really great compliment to give someone. You’re saying that everything in Tub Ring skips around so much, and I think that it’s because we love so many different types of music that it would be a disservice to just play pop or punk. That would get so fucking boring to me…or even to play beautiful Beach Boys shit all the time, or bad-ass grind-punk. I mean, it’s cool on its own, but there’s so much good stuff out there, so experiment with all of it!

JK: It’s too bad that you guys couldn’t get on a bill with Black Dice (band playing across the street that night, along with Animal Collective), because that’s almost exactly what their philosophy is. When they started out, they were releasing 7-inches with 12 songs on one side. Everyone got used to them being this wild, screaming band…but now they’re doing 15-minute ambient pieces that still contain the elements of what they first started out with.

Well, you’ve given a good endorsement of what they’re doing, ‘cause I’m already sold. I’m excited to hear what they’re doing.

JK: At the same time, the lead singer of Black Dice band is interested in things that his audience wouldn’t expect. He’s also in this twee indie-pop band called the Ninjas.


SP: I agree that the best music is often a filter of everything that the artist hears. The finished product doesn’t end up sounding like seven or eight things awkwardly stitched together, but instead it’s very nebulous. It never fits into any sort of genre at any given time, even as it’s hopping across genres. You can’t say, “This is the punk moment,” or “This is the Beach Boys moment” because everything fits together well.

I’ve heard it the other way too, where it sounds really forced. I think that’s an excellent compliment when you say that a band can sound smooth and cohesive even when they’re trying to sound un-cohesive.

JK: Has Tub Ring personally been enjoying this tour?

Yeah. It’s really cool. I think that when you get a package of good bands to tour together, it’s way better than just going out on your own.

JK: Who’s the first band up tonight?

Rob: Bad Acid Trip. Do you know System of a Down? (we nod our heads) The lead singer, Serj, has a record label called Serjical Strike and Bad Acid Trip are his main flagship band.

JK: So it’s more metallic?

It’s metal, but it’s weird metal. It doesn’t have the keyboard element that the other two bands on the bill have, but they’re just as spastic and weird. They just did a tour with GWAR.

JK: Have they been around for a while?

Yeah, but they haven’t left California until recently. They got a lot of exposure touring with GWAR, and they did a tour with Motoraider.
The System of a Down guy’s been talking them up a lot.

JK: For some reason, when I see the name Dog Fashion Disco I think of the Butthole Surfers.

Nah…like I said, Dog Fashion Disco is to metal what Tub Ring is to
punk. They have a lot of different genre collisions total.

JK: Well, “punk” isn’t an adjective I would come up when listening to your record.

Really? Well, I think that it’s BASED on punk. You know what I mean? There was some idiot a couple of weeks ago in New York who was trying to say that Amadeus was punk, because to him it was more of an attitude thing than a musical thing…to which I say, “Yeah, but…no.” I think that the attitude of recklessness mixed with a good amount of the songs having a bit of punk rock in them…I would still call Tub Ring punk. It’s interesting to hear you say that you wouldn’t…and I guess that I wouldn’t either, but if someone asked you to describe Tub Ring in a sentence, the quickest shit I could say would be “punk.” It isn’t necessarily the most accurate thing…

SP: …but it’s the biggest signifier that would draw people in.

Yeah. I would tell people “experimental punk,” or spastic punk.

JK: I know that this is kind of a smaller venue. Do you have any sort of multimedia presentation along with the show?

Nope. When you see us, you’ll know that there’s no need for multimedia. We all spazz out and break things. We break ourselves. (everyone laughs) There’s all kinds of breaking and freaking out.

JK: You’re doing the …Trail of Dead thing.

Yeah. You’ll see. It’s freaky.

JK: When Sean saw them at SXSW, somebody had stolen a car and put it on the train track behind the club after the show.

SP: The train ran into it, and that was the finale of the show…and that was already after the near-riot that Trail of Dead started with the sound men by handing pieces of their drum kit to the audience. That was in 2001, but they suck live now. They played at the Siren Fest this summer and they were terrible.

Well, we don’t have a label that puts any money or does anything for us. All of our fans and all of our notoriety comes from our live show.
We’re not on the radio or on MTV. This is it. It’s just word of mouth
from our live show…

SP: …which is the best and most organic way to gain a fan base anyway. When a band puts on a good live show, you can see the real talent on display.

JK: That’s how Tripping Daisy made their fan base, and that’s pretty much how the Polyphonic Spree did it too. You don’t have a label deal, so you just go out and play everywhere all the time. You have a really whacked out live show. Then again, I guess that’s true with all of the great bands. They worry about the live show first, because if the shows are good, people will buy your records at the shows. I think I was going somewhere with this…

SP: When you’re a good live band, you don’t have as much of a need for a publicist because the people who see you live will publicize it for you.

Yeah, word of mouth is the best…

JK: …and that’s total punk rock.

It’s human nature. If a friend tells you about something and gives it a good recommendation, it means way more than some PR guy going, “Here’s the new thing. This is so cool. You need this.” That works on kids and basic consumers, but people that are out there looking for good music? It’s word of mouth.

JK: Yeah, PR gets old. I hate hearing about how a band is awesome…

SP: …and you’re hearing it from magazine writers who are regurgitating press releases.

JK: …or from publicists who review their own records in big magazines. See, that shit pisses me off.

It’s the nature of the beast, though. I was just having a
conversation inside with our merch guy, Alfredo. I don’t ever want to badmouth any other artist, and I’m not trying to do that by bringing this up…but I was asking Alfredo, “How old do you think the guys in Blink 182 are?” He replied, “Probably in their 30s.” They’re still doing pop/punk. I’ve got nothing against pop/punk, and I’ve got nothing against doing music for money either, if that’s what you’re setting out to do…but at that point, that’s what they’re doing it for. They’re doing it to make money. They’re doing it to provide themselves and their families with food, shelter, and luxuries. Do you think that they actually LISTEN to pop/punk? If they do, then they’re deprived. What artist at the age of 35 hasn’t matured out of pop/punk?

SP: They’re singing about emotions and experiences that haven’t been
their own for at least 15 years.

Exactly! That’s my theory!

JK: That makes perfect sense.

There’s a pop/punk band from my hometown that I see selling about the same amount of records as us. I wonder how long they’re gonna do that for. They’re all around my age.

SP: It’s arrested development.

…and then, when it IS all over, are they gonna be able to look back and say, “Wow…we made some significant art.” I don’t think so.

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