Old Time Relijun: Interview
A pirate life would be a little more interesting
out of the cultural backwater, in the truest sense, of Spokane, in eastern
Washington, and perilously close to the Aryan Nation, Arrington de Dionyso
escaped to the state capitol and home of K Records, Olympia. At some point along
the way, he started making music and hitched on with K Records. Presumably still
far afield in support of his third album, 2012 (Rush anyone?), on K, (natch),
he's tilting at windmills with the best of 'em. When Old Time Relijun shambled
through Syracuse on its shoestring tour, TMT caught up with de Dionyso between
their set and an inspired game of charades. Arrington's charade was "The
Adventures of Baron Munchausen."
How's the tour going so far?
We're about a fourth of the way through. We're on tour for about two and a half
months. I'd say I'm rather satisfied with how things are going so far.
Calvin [Johnson] just played up here. Did you get a chance to meet up with him?
Not yet. He actually just flew out to the East Coast. We haven't met up with
him. I think we're going to see him tomorrow but he's not playing the show. The
first show we're doing together is like the 23rd [of October] and
then we're doing six or seven shows with him
How'd you initially hook up with Calvin?
I've known Calvin for years and years. It's a long story. I lived in Spokane
when I was in high school- which is a large city but it's on the other side of
Washington State from where Olympia is. When I was about fourteen or fifteen,
Beat Happening came and played a show in Spokane. I don't think I would be
exaggerating too much to say that it was one of those shows that changes your
life and puts you on a whole new course. I was a pretty veracious music
consumer. I went to the library and checked out records and I wanted to listen
to every kind of music I could find. But unfortunately in Spokane the music
scene for live music was very limited. There was one all ages club that the kids
went to every weekend and it was just like skate punk bands and hardcore bands.
All of the kind of stuff that just sounds the same every time. I still went
every week anyway because it was something to do. Beat Happening came and played
and up until that point I had never seen or heard anything like that in my
entire life. I guess you could say I was converted to hearing pop music and punk
music in this whole new context. I ended up going to college in Olympia and I
did an internship at K Records. I did some recording projects with Calvin and
one thing lead to another and when I had the band ready to do our first couple
of records we just did that.
How do you feel about constantly being compared to Captain Beefheart?
It gets old. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to say that I never
heard a Captain Beefheart record in my entire life. Maybe we transmit some of
the same kind of energy. I actually don't really feel like our music is very
The thing about Captain Beefheart's music is that he wanted to take music off
the Earth. He wanted to kind of get into other planets and stars and stuff. I
feel like Old Time Relijun is very Earth Driven. Not every single song that
we've ever done, but I'd say most of our songs are presented in a format where
it's fairly rhythmic and danceable. Some of the later Beefheart albums have that
because he got tired of being so uncommercial or whatever. There are very few
songs on Trout Mask Replica that you can actually dance to in any
conventional way. In Old Time Relijun, our songs are kind of more soulful and
rhythmic. There's kind of a disco beat that do a lot. Guitar and bass styles
were very different, because most of my songs I'm only playing one or two notes
throughout the whole song. There might be one or two little changes to put an
overdub in or make it more complicated. All the Magic Band albums are very
layered guitar parts that go all over the place. They were based on his piano.
He would like plunk away on piano and record it and then force the musicians to
play it exactly the way he had plunked it out. We don't really do anything like
that. Captain Beefheart played saxophone and bass clarinet on a couple of albums
and I do as well. I've actually studied those instruments, and so I think that I
play them with a bit more proficiency than Beefheart did. He would just pick
them up and wail. That's not really exactly what I do. Sometimes it sounds like
that, but it's not what I do.
Vocally, I get the comparison a lot. That's one thing that I listened to when I
was young but nobody says, "Hey you sound like David Byrne or Gordon Gano from
Violent Femmes." I think that those singers are just as much a part of my sphere
of influence as Beefheart might have been.
Where does the whole "crazy guy" write up come from?
There might be some reviews out there from people that might have seen a live
show, but they never talked to me or anything like that. I'm a very, very stable
person, but in performance I feel like I don't really make any compromises. So
when I perform, it's really one-hundred percent commitment to the music and to
the performance. Maybe people who aren't really used to seeing that think that
comes across as kind of crazed. There is something to be said for this idea that
music can kind of take you to the brink of insanity and bring you back. Part of
our thing is maybe we play with that a little bit.
2012 sounds to me to be a lot more dance-oriented than Lost Light,
and Lost Light sounds more cohesive than anything you did up until that
point. What changed in your approach to music between albums?
That's a good question. You know it's a funny thing because, personally, I've
always wanted Old Time Relijun to be a danceable band. To me, every time we've
recorded a new song, I'm always like, "Oh this is totally danceable. I'm groovin'
on this." From the feedback that I get, people think that Lost Light and
2012 are much more in that direction than previous albums. Which, at
first, kind of surprised me... I feel like maybe the grooves that we build are a
little more solid. Lost Light and 2012 both had different drummers
on them. Those two albums are less noisy than some of the stuff that we have
done. On both albums, there are sections that are as noisy as anything we have
done but it is in more controlled bursts. There are sections that have a kind of
intensity, but it seems to be more selected in when it comes out.
What's the best Old Time Relijun tour story?
A few years back I had kind of an insane tour. I wrote up a big article about it
that was on the web for a while. It was on the K Records website for a while and
it might still be there. About three days into the tour in the middle of South
Dakota, my car broke down and it was a Honda. There were no Honda parts in the
area. I guess under normal circumstances, you just call up someone and you get
them to FedEx the part the next day or the day after and you're fine. I was at a
point in my life where the things that lead up to me being on tour were... you
know... I'd lost a job and I'd been working all summer. I'd gotten kicked out of
this house that I lived in. I was kind of having some... relationship problems,
to put it mildly. So, I basically had no reason to go back to Olympia. In a very
impulsive move, I traded my car and my last $900 for another car. We drove the
car three or four hundred miles and it broke down into an even more irreparable
state than the car before that. In the car before that, it was just the
alternator and it could have been fixed in a couple of hours. This time, the
actual rod in the engine got all fucked up and oil was spilling all over the
road. It was a really huge mess. We were in Omaha at this point and we were just
kind of forced to beg for charity. Then this lady, who was from Hong Kong, who
specialized in selling pork products to scientists picked us up and drove us to
Des Moines. She told us this whole story. It was like she's a broker in the sale
of pigs to scientists who do experiments on heart transplants into humans. She
got us a hotel room out of the kindness of her heart. There was no way we could
pay her back. We had no money. I was with a drummer who was like a temp drummer.
He decided at that point he'd had enough and he met up with a band that was
driving from Minneapolis to Kansas City and then they were driving all the way
back to Seattle. So he got a ride with them and I was like, "Well fuck that man.
I'm on this tour and this is my life. I've got no reason to go back home." I had
my bass clarinet. I had a bag of records. I had library books that were very
valuable. I just hit the highway. It took me four rides and I finally got to
Chicago about ten minutes before the club's about to close. I played the show in
Chicago and I hooked up with this other band who was playing a lot of the same
cities and some of the same shows on the schedule. We had the same booking
agent. I rode with them for a while. I got all the way to Arkansas and my uncle
gave me a truck. That took me part of the way. That truck broke down like three
more times but it was simple things.
The real meat and meaning of the story came about an hour outside of
Albuquerque. There was a hail storm and the sky was completely black and the
most vivid, vibrant rainbow that anybody had ever seen in their entire life
appeared. It was as if you had put neon signs up in the sky. It was this very,
very clear desert rainbow. The car broke down again but I knew that I was doing
the thing that I was meant to do. From there on out I have never given any worry
to trying to find a job or trying to find a house to live in. I never had to
worry about making ends meet because I knew that there was a reason why music
was coming through me and that if I really just trust that it would take me
anywhere I need it to.
Have you had anything like that happen to you so far on tour?
Oh no. We make sure that our vehicles are running smoothly. We haven't really
had problems like that.
Pirates or ninjas?
Have you asked me that question before? You've never asked me that? They both
have their finer qualities. I feel like a ninja is a little more stealthy. I
feel like pirates have more of a collective experience, because when they ruled
their pirate ships on the open seas, it was much more democratic than your
average textbook tries to say. The captain was only the captain if everybody
else on the crew respected his authority. It wasn't like you could be dictator
like a regular British Navy Captain. Pirates really had to work together and
they accepted anybody no matter what their race or orientation was. They were
like a tribe on seas. A pirate life would be a little more interesting. Ninjas
are just kind of all about assassination.