Dark Meat Vomit Lasers Family Band: Interview
Dark Meat Vomit Lasers Family Band
is not a jam band, which doesn't mean they don't jam. They're also not
Polyphonic Spree, which doesn't mean they don't have a whole shitload of people
in the band (18 to be exact) or wear wacky costumes. Dark Meat Vomit Lasers
Family Band is an Athens collective that's part blues-rock, part Motown and part
Mardi Gras parade. Someone else called them "Funkadelic meets the Stooges meets
the Manson Family," a description that they seem to like and that certainly
fits. They don't share members with Jefferson Airplane or Moby Grape, though,
Athens being Athens, you'll find people in this band who have been in various
other bands, including Hope for Agoldensummer, Vicariously Through Cats, and We
vs. The Shark. I bent the ear of Ben Clack (bass and vocals) and Jim McHugh
(guitar, vocals) herein.
What kind of meat is Dark Meat, and what does it taste like?
BC: Dark meat is dark due to the nature of its physiological imperative: slow
twitches. Dark Meat is everywhere and shall remain so. It tastes like clouds and
butterfly wing filaments. Not Monarch butterflies however. Butterflies like you
see when far off of the trail in the woods and you come to a decaying squirrel
carcass and there are several yellow butterflies scurrying about.
Who exactly is Dark Meat, and what are some of the other bands your members
are/have been in. What is Dark Meat's relation to the Vomit Lasers Family Band?
BC: Dark Meat Vomit Lasers Family Band are a collective of 18 musicians. Dark
Meat is four people. The remaining members exist in one of three subgroups: The
Vomit Lasers (Horn and String Players), The Sub Tweeters (Vocalists and
Dancers), and The Key Bumps (Percussionists and Flag Corps). Dark Meat Vomit
Laser Family Band shares members with Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape.
You have a bunch of people in the band, including two drummers, you wear funny
costumes, you play an improvisational blues-based rock, and you have people
running around, running through the audience banging on things. Doesn't that
make you a jam band?
BC: We try to make music that is representative of the fact that we are 18
individuals, 18 distinct planets. Subsequently our influences just as our moods
are extremely varied. I feel as if we are part of the zeitgeist and are tuned
into many things non-musical that greatly influence our creativity. Personally
I'd rather listen to Marion Brown than Phish any day.
I understand you guys started off as a Neil Young cover band. Is there really a
market for such a thing? Why didn't you try to be a tribute to CCR? Personally
you remind me more of them. How did you evolve?
JM: In Athens you can make serious dough covering any popular artist. All we
needed was one Rockin in the Free World and one Heart of Gold and we could've
played all the Arc, Weld and Tonite's the Night we wanted to and still commanded
hundreds of bucks a show. As for CCR, I don't feel like we have the hair for it,
though they are one of the killers, we all agree. The evolution was as follows,
roughly: our personal creative prerogatives blinded us to any moneymaking
schemes where our guitars are concerned, and we started writing. We've all been
in a million bands -- it's what we do -- so that part came naturally, and then
things got noisy, and then people heard we were loose and free with our music
and attitudes and wanted to come and play and we never said "no", not once.
Sometimes, we destroy Bad Moon Rising in practice; once it lasted 15 minutes,
but by the end it sounded more like Pharaoh Sanders on chromatic harmonica than
anything. During a string change at a show, too, we accidentally went into Born
on the Bayou, too, so good call.
Does it irk you when people keep comparing you to Polyphonic Spree? It seems
like the only thing you guys have in common with them is the fact that you have
a bunch of people in the band.
JM: No - irks is not the right word, though it is egregiously incorrect. It's
obvious what they are responding to with that comparison; size and a proclivity
toward robe-wearing. My favorite one -- and I think it does several elements of
our band justice is Funkadelic meets the Stooges meets the Manson Family. I get
psyched on that one.
How do people get their nicknames in the band? For example, how did Alice B.
Toklas get her name? I'm going to assume Alice is a literary student. What if
someone doesn't like their nickname?
BC: Nicknames are appointed by the
member of the collective upon entrance into the collective mind. The collective
is allowed to edit and rename the individual as it suits the identity of the
individual. The maximum allowable names is three. At any point the member is
allowed to rotate names as it becomes applicable to the particular situation.
(FYI Alice is actually a banker)
Logistically, how do you guys deal with touring? How do you get from show to
show? Do you ever have trouble finding places to stay because you have so many
people in the band? Do you ever have trouble going to clubs and finding out
their stage is too small to suit you?
BC: We tour in two passenger vans usually. Part of the reality of the 18 piece
band is that there is little money for the individual. However the group can
live lavishly if it pools its resources. We have had nothing but luck on the
road thus far. We always find ways to enjoy ourselves and sleep is often had
between shows and in small corners of living rooms. We are extremely adaptable
in our setups and have played very, very small venues and very large rooms.
There are advantages to each.
Describe your songwriting process. Is Dark Meat a songwriting democracy or
dictatorship, and how will that style of government be evident on the new album?
BC: One or two individuals traditionally bring the material forward.
Arrangements are made more collectively and lyrics are for the most part handled
How much of your live show is improvisational?
BC: between 5% and 5000%; it really
depends on how we all feel.
These days, does it help or hinder a
band to be from Athens?
BC: Athens is a wonderful and beautiful place. There are many amazing musicians
working out of Athens/Clarke County and it's fantastic to live in a community
that is so incredibly supportive. The traditions of Athens are richly deserved,
however there are many amazing bands that are very under the radar around here;
Ceramic Dvck, Subversivo, Ginger Envelope, Teenage Meth Lab, Lona, and Scott
Stapleton for example.
Tell me about the documentary Brett Heckman is making of you. Are you directly
involved in making the documentary, and if so, what are you hoping to tell the
world about Dark Meat? If not, what are you hoping Brett tells the world about
Dark Meat? (Full disclosure from the writer -- Heckman has asked to use some
footage I shot of the band when they played Kings in Raleigh, N.C. in March.)
JM: Brett is an old buddy of ours and the co-founder of http://www.tablesturned.com,
and he wanted a productive excuse to hang with us back in Athens and on the
road. In that we share influences of all sorts and we are all buds, we are
involved, but there will be no hands-on involvement from band members; he'll be
editing and creating when he's back in Portland. What I want the doc to showcase
is a little of the chaos we can create, musically and socially, and that, often,
chaos can be the optimal environment for the creation of beauty -- that it is
hard for beauty to breath in a stifled, controlled environment: nothing is more
chaotic sometimes than 18 nervous, jumpy, excitable brilliant people crammed
into vans on the highway, then, hopefully, you get to watch in wonder at the
music that pours out.
Anything else you'd like to tell me?
BC: Our first album Universal Indians comes out July 23rd on Cloud Recordings
and will be distributed by Secretly Canadian.
Bonus: You've seen the Web site and you know what Tiny Mix Tapes is about. Tell
me what a band called "White Meat" would sound like, and make a mix tape of
songs they would cover.
Here's a White Meat mix tape:
01. Ronnie Boykins "The Third I" (from The Will Come Is Now)
02. The Grateful Dead "New Speedway Boogie" (from Workingman's Dead)
03. Pelt "Deer Head Apparition" (from Ayahuasca)
04. Marion Brown "La Sorrella" (from Why Not?)
05. Minutemen "The Big Foist" (from Double Nickels on the Dime)
06. Erkin Koray- "Estarabim" (from II)
07. Townes Van Zandt "Marie" (from No Deeper Blue)
08. Arthur Russell "A Little Lost" (from World of Arthur Russell)
09. Allman Brothers Band - "Whipping Post" (from S/T)
10. Anne Briggs- "Blackwaterside" (from Collection)
11. Incredible String Band - "All Writ Down" (from Be Glad For the Song Has No
01. Velvet Underground -- European Son (from Velvet Underground and Nico)
02. Meat Puppets -- Oh Me (from Meat Puppets II)
03. Albert Ayler -- Bells (from Bells)
04. Neil Young and Crazy Horse -- Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown (from Tonight's
05. Moby Grape -- Omaha (from S/T)
06. Coltrane Quintet -- Favorite Things (from Village Vanguard 2 with Pharaoh
Sanders on Tenor and tambourine)
07. Neu -- Hero (from NEU '75)
08. Charlatans -- Codine (from Nuggets)
09. Yardbirds -- I'm Not Talking (bootleg version)
10. Bert Jansch -- Reynardine (from Rosemary Lane)