Anarchy in the USA
Originally published in Guitar World on September 1, 1991
Paul Leary talks like a good ol' boy, and produces an ungodly fuzzy, throbbing guitar tone. It's like a Carbona high--the perfect complement to the Butthole Surfers' gloriously low--budget kitsch pychedelia. It's also galaxies removed from the fluid, ethereal guitar work of Dave Navarro and the sensitive guttersnipe poetics of his band, Jane's Addiction. How you gonna compare these two guys to one another? Or to Trent Reznor, for whom guitar is just one more corrosive element in the heavy-duty industrial mix called Nine Inch Nails? Their videos would indicate that none of these bands are fond of wearing shirts, but is that all that links them? Well, aren't they all supposed to play something called alternative rock? Must be, since they're all Monsters of Alternative Rock! Strange, isn't it? But not nearly as strange as having all three guitarists--who have never met before--on a transcoastal conference call...a Monster Party Line. Prepare for some true confessions and out-of-control behavior. Things get rude and raw at times, but in the end, friendships are forged and everyone agrees to meet up this summer on the American rock and role road. The talkfest starts innocently enough, as the operator links Guitar World with Paul Leary's Austin abode and Trent Reznor's liar in Cleveland. Paul is telling us about discovering MIDI guitar for his new solo album, The History of Dogs, when there's a click on the wire that seems disproportionately, maybe even supernaturally, disruptive.
OPERATOR: Excuse me gentlemen, we have Dave Navarro on the line.
GUITAR WORLD: Hi Dave. Welcome to the Alternative Rock Party Line. We're talking with Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers....
DAVE: Hey man, you're my favorite guitar player around today. Serious, man.
PAUL: Right on.
GUITAR WORLD: And we also have Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails on the line.
DAVE: That's great. All you guys, I don't know how you began playing guitar but I think the best formula for playing guitar is no formula at all.
GUITAR WORLD: Paul was just telling us how he started playing in 1965.
PAUL: Actually I played in my first band in '65--and that was like in the third grade. I started playing when I was about five years old.
DAVE: I was 12 in my first band. We did really horrible Cream, Hendrix and Zeppelin covers. Hold on man, I gotta go. [Vague commotion on his end of the line.]
GUITAR WORLD: Trent, you went through a copy band period too, didn't you?
TRENT: Yeah, I grew up in Pennsylvania, and there is no such thing as original bands there.
DAVE: [to someone in his room] Hey, you know where my other shoe is?
GUITAR WORLD: Hello?
DAVE: Hold on. You know where my other shoe is?
GUITAR WORLD: Oh boy.
PAUL: [starts laughing]
GUITAR WORLD: I knew this would be totally chaotic.
DAVE: You guys manna know how totally chaotic it is? I'm actually waiting for my manager to come pick me up to take me to a drug rehabilitation center. I might have to cut this short.
PAUL: Hey, I wish you luck.
GUITAR WORLD: Yeah, definitely, best of it. Dave, what, if anything, do the three bands represented here have in common, that explains their classification as alternative rock?
DAVE: Jane's Addiction has apparently reached some level of success, and I suppose that's great. But let me tell you the honest truth: None of us got into music for the purpose of getting laid or to make money or to be famous or any of that stuff. I personally didn't care about any of it. And the band is actually taking a leave of absence--I'm trying to avoid saying we're breaking up--because it's gone too far. We've been doing it for five years and it's gotten to the point where my heart's not in it anymore. I'm leaving and I'm going to do my own thing.
GUITAR WORLD: Well, you guys will be doing this tour, right?
DAVE: Yeah. I gave my tour manager a leave of absence date--I said I'm out of here at the end of Lollapalooza on August 26th. There's a lot of people working with us and for us, and I don't want to screw them over. I don't dislike anybody. It's just not what I'm into, creatively. I basically want to go out and do my own project. I'm not committed to anything. I'll maybe get a one- or two-record deal, and do an album with a different group of musicians on each track.. There might be a couple of tracks of comical, self-indulgent guitar work. But some of that would incorporate instruments like a Renaissance dulcimer, along with strings, just to make it interesting and catch your ear.
GUITAR WORLD: Trent, you've worked a lot on your own. Any advice for Dave?
TRENT: Well, I'm going in the opposite direction. I have worked by myself, to the point where I need some other input. But I can understand what Dave is saying. I've had experience with bands and group decisions, and all the compromising that involves, which is why I've been a one-man band for so long. But the problem there is getting each instrumental part to have its own individual identity. That's what slows the whole process down to a crawl.
GUITAR WORLD: Will your new album be more guitar-oriented than your first, Pretty Hate Thing?
TRENT: Yes, much more guitar-oriented. It's going to be a lot more live and a lot more raw and harder--a lot uglier. I think our fans are in for a shock. And if we lose them all? Hey, I can't say I don't care. Because I do. But I'm not going to tailor my music to what I think those people are going to like next. I don't think in terms of radio and MTV.
GUITAR WORLD: Paul, you did The History of Dogs all on your own. Did you run into some of those problems referred to by Trent--finding an identity for each of the instrumental parts?
PAUL: No, no; it was more like diarrhea. I had a lot of ideas that I just wasn't comfortable doing with the Butthole Surfers. But I talked Rough Trade into giving me some money for a record, and boy was it a release--it felt really good coming out. I'm not into any kind of identity thing. We had a country western song on our last record, and the British press really lit into that. You know--a "bullshit country western song." ow can you criticize the Butthole Surfers for doing a bullshit country western song?
GUITAR WORLD: your band and Jane's Addiction are definitely mixing genres. People always use hyphenated terms like Industrial-Funk-Psychedelic-Metal-Thrash in trying to describe the music.
PAUL: I think you should just call us retarded.
GUITAR WORLD: Well, it's shorter.
PAUL: We're not gifted musicians at all. Some of our records sounded awful. Awful songs. Just pointless. But there's kind of a nice point to being pointless sometimes.
GUITAR WORLD: The Butthole Surfers have of late branched out into a bunch of different solo projects. There's your album, and also an electronic spin-off band called the Jack Officers. Had it reached a point where, like Dave, you were all feeling the need to do things on the side?
PAUL: Sort of. It's always amazed me how well we've always gotten along, especially after ten years. Most of those years we were dirt poor, living under the most ridiculous conditions, and we still managed to get along. But it's real refreshing to work outside the band, and I think it's real healthy. We've gotten rejuvenated over the last year. We didn't tour for over a year, and that sure helped the nerves a lot. Touring is fun for a few years, then all of a sudden you realize that it's just killing you.
DAVE: Yeah, it's a nightmare for me. I respect that. Hold on one moment.
GUITAR WORLD: Sure. While we're holding on for Dave, we'll....
PAUL: Hey, I'm getting ready to record a bluegrass gospel band tomorrow. They're from Austin, and they're called the Bad Livers. We toured with them a couple of times. They're mainly a banjo, a fiddle and a standup bass, although they also have accordions and tubas and stuff like that. But they're definitely world class at what they do.
DAVE: I'm back by the way.
GUITAR WORLD: Good, let's talk about influences. The Butthole Surfers are the elder statesmen here....
DAVE: Hey, lock the door, okay? Lock the door!
GUITAR WORLD: And, ummmmm, was punk a big influence, Paul, in putting the band together?
PAUL: Oh yeah. Back in the late Seventies everybody was freaking out, going to see Black Flag and the Germs and all those bands. You could see fist-fight slam dancing in California, and it just created a means for bands to come out and play and go on the road.
GUITAR WORLD: What about you, Dave?
DAVE: Well, it's interesting you should say that, because, as I told you, when I was really young, Hendrix, Page and those kind of dinosaur old man rock guitarists were a big influence. But then I stopped listening to rock music all together. All I listened to in my spare time was classical music or talk radio. I'm really glad o be speaking to you guys, because the Butthole Surfers were a big influence on me; I admire and respect their approach. And I love the guitar sound--how it's just kind of all over the place. I don't want to call it sloppy, but it's almost anti-guitar, if you know what I mean.
PAUL: I know what you mean.
GUITAR WORLD: And speaking of mutual influences, on the liner notes to Pretty Hate Thing, Trent gives credit to Jane's Addiction for "ideas and sounds."
TRENT: [embarrassed] Actually I sampled a little of "Had A Dad." But at the same time....
DAVE: What did you sample? The drums?
TRENT: No, the scream and the drum fill. And there's also a guitar loop of that pattern going through the song. But at the same time, I really like Nothing's Shocking--not that this is let's lick each other's butts because we're all on the phone together....
DAVE: Yeah, right. Absolutely.
GUITAR WORLD: Paul, your tone reminds me of players like James Gurley of Big Brother and the Holding Company and Leigh Stevens of Blue Cheer. Were you influenced much by the Sixties?
PAUL: Well, you know, since I'm an old fart--yeah, sure I was. I also own a lot of equipment from that era. I've got a handmade '64 Marshall JTM45 that spits and growls without even trying. You just plug your guitar in and it has that sound.
GUITAR WORLD: Are you an SG player, by any chance?
PAUL: No, I've got a couple of new reissue Firebirds.
DAVE: Those are beautiful.
PAUL: Yeah, today I just put on layaway a Gibson reissue 1961 Les Paul--the one that looks like an SG, with double cutaways and three gold pickups. They only made like 500 of them. Man, I got tons of that shit. Those guys ought to give me something, 'cause I got rooms full of guitars.
DAVE: How interested are you guys in equipment?
PAUL: Well I'm a big equipment fiend, I mean I've got...
DAVE: Who's this speaking?
PAUL: I've got a billion guitars and computers.
DAVE: Who's this now?
PAUL: This is Paul. I'm a chump for that stuff. I couldn't begin to count all the stuff I've bought.
DAVE: At this stage. I don't care and don't know anything about equipment. If it works and sounds okay, that's fine. I have a guitar tech for the road and, honestly, if he were not there I would not be able to put together my gear.
PAUL: That's the way to be a man.
DAVE: I have a couple of Boss footpedals, 'cause those are the things I had when I was 13 and playing through a Champ. But I ended up buying some things you can't work unless you know trigonometry. So now if I get a guitar and amp that sound crunchy and good, that's all I need. I don't want to sit and learn all that other stuff.
GUITAR WORLD: Trent, you have in the past expressed a similar attitude towards equipment.
TRENT: I'm kind of half and half. When it comes to computers and samplers, I know everything there is to know; I'm a total gearhead nerd. But with guitars, I just like plugging in and seeing what happens. The record I'm working on now has a lot of guitar riffs. But for the sound, I've got a Marshall 900 amp, and what I like to do is just run stuff into the board and overload channels. You get a cool sound if you go through four LA-4A compressors and turn them way up. It's not very good for the equipment, but it sounds cool.
GUITAR WORLD: What about guitars?
TRENT: At home I've got a pretty good Jackson and a couple of Explorers, which I'll play on the road if I don't think they're going to get smashed. Otherwise we have a bunch of disposable low- end Charvel guitars, known for their neck splintering, shattering virtues.
PAUL: What's your record for guitars smashed in one show?
TRENT: Usually it's just one guitar per set for me. But last time we had a couple of our roadies come out and play guitar on the final song, and we had a five-man simultaneous guitar smashing. It was real fun, like five lumberjacks hacking down trees onstage. There was shit flying everywhere. Luckily no one got hit...I thought. But at the end of the night one of the roadies came back and said, "Did you see our tour manager anywhere?" He was lying face down on the drum kit. A bridge flew off and cracked him on the back of the head and knocked him right out.
PAUL: Yeah, it's amazing that people don't get killed by that stuff. We just used to go to the pawn shop and buy the smashers. Sometimes you get one that just won't break.
TRENT: Oh yeah, I've had that trouble too. It sends a jolt up your arm and almost snaps it. And then you look really stupid.
PAUL: At that point, you just set them on fire. Our favorite gig was to come out and burn and smash about a dozen guitars during the first song and then pull out the good guitars and play the rest of the set. Why do it at the end, you know?
DAVE: Do any of you guitar guys do anything else creative for yourselves? Like, I paint. I have so many ideas that are not workable with Jane's Addiction, I need a chance to create on my own so that I won't lose my mind. I find it difficult sometimes to work with other musicians.
PAUL: That's what's cool about working with computers. They don't argue, they remember everything and they don't drink all your beer.
DAVE: I don't drink beer.
GUITAR WORLD: Getting back to the Sixties thing, why did the Butthole Surfers record Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man"? Was that parody or tribute?
PAUL: We used to do all kinds of songs like [Gordon Lightfoot's] "The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald." Just really bullshit songs. And "Hurdy Gurdy Man" was just something we had fun playing for a few years. Then we were farting around at home and recorded a version of it. It freaked me out, though, because there was some kind of Donovan revival going on when that track came out. So it was sort of embarrassing.
DAVE: Hmmmm, I didn't catch that. But it's funny about the Sixties thing. 'Cause on our first album, Live XXX, there's a cover of "Sympathy For The Devil." And personally--people get surprised and shocked when they hear this, sometimes angry--I hate the Rolling Stones. I always have and I think I always will. I like what they've contributed to the industry, but I would never put on a Rolling Stones record. But did you guys ever get in that trap where you're playing something and you think it's great, and all of a sudden someone starts singing the words to some other song? We ended up singing "Sympathy For The Devil" as a joke, and we played it live and it ended up on the record. I can't believe that one of my least favorite bands is on my first record.
GUITAR WORLD: What do you guys think of the current crop of English psychedelic groups, like the Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, etc.
TRENT: I hate them all.
PAUL: I never listen to that stuff. From the Sixties, man, give me Dean Martin.
TRENT: I don't know if I'm getting more selective, or fickle, or if there's just no substance whatsoever to those groups. And with regard to that whole Manchester dance bullshit scene, it just seems like a bunch of follow-the-leader people who can't write songs--bands who have no talent, whose only merit is that they were in a club and at some point were seen by somebody in the English press. I find it all boring. Much the same way that house music doesn't interest me either.
DAVE: I don't know how you guys feel about the Black Crowes. I think they're fine, but I don't personally understand what's the big deal about them. Obviously there's nothing new about them. Bands like that seem to be coming out from around every corner now.
TRENT: Right, and that hints at the real story--to which my eyes have been opened to in the last year or so, since we've had a marginal amount of success. I was fooled into thinking that the music business was about art or about music.
DAVE: Right, right. Who's this speaking?
TRENT: This is Trent of Nine Inch Nails.
DAVE: Yeah, I agree with you there.
TRENT: It's just a corporate thing, you know. If art slips through, it's an accident. All the A&R people who desperately want Nine Inch Nails now are from the same major labels that wanted nothing to do with us when I played the exact same songs for them two years ago.
PAUL: Yeah. Now the Meat Puppets are gonna come out on a major label. Are you guys into the Meat Puppets at all? I always thought the Kirkwood brothers were a couple of the best guitar players around. I think it's great when a cool band actually does make it onto a major label. It took a while for Husker Du to make it. And Sonic Youth had pretty good results. It's almost as if labels were scared to release the good bands. It's kind of hard to understand.
DAVE: They are scared. That's why I feel like I might have to shop this solo thing I've been describing to an independent label. I'd almost prefer it.
TRENT: Well, speaking from the viewpoint of being on an independent label, and a shitty one at that, theoretically, sure it's fine. The idea that you can retain the spirit of control and not incur a great debt....
PAUL: Hell, our independent label just went belly up. Rough Trade went kaput on us.
DAVE: I just want to put out something I can feel proud of. I'm really proud of our music. But I also have a problem with some of it. Our lead singer is somebody that I don't necessarily get along with or agree with. I respect his right to believe what he believes. But I'm kind of biting my tongue all the time.
GUITAR WORLD: We were talking about labels, Dave. What have your experiences been with the majors? How has Warners treated you?
DAVE: At the time we were signed we triggered a bit of a bidding war among the major labels. They all pretty much wanted us, so we had creative control. There were other labels that offered more money, but we went with Warners because they offered us more creative control. We could basically do what we wanted to do, production-wise, and with artwork and videos.
GUITAR WORLD: Are any of you into metal? Chopsmeisters? Vai?
DAVE: I wouldn't say I'm into them, because I don't own any of those records and would never purchase one. But I am personally amazed by their playing. Yngwie Malmsteen, Vai--all those guys! I'm not a sports fan, but when I see an incredible athlete I'm impressed. Apart from being a metal speed freak, I think Steve Vai does get incredible sounds. The sounds that come out of his instrument are what I'm predominantly interested in.
PAUL: That guy from Slayer....
DAVE: I don't listen to that.
PAUL: God, they've got an awesome guitar player.
DAVE: What do you guys think of, like, Yngwie and Vai?
PAUL: I don't even know. I don't listen to metal.
TRENT: I pretty much agree with what you said. I can be impressed by someone's incredible technique, but I lump that kind of music in with jazz, which to me is just an exercise. Who can play the most interesting scale and all that kind of shit.
PAUL: A lot of times it just comes off as humorous. I crack up every time I hear those guys going up and down their fretboards a million miles an hour.
DAVE: It is funny. I'm much more impressed by Daniel Ash of Love and Rockets than by Steve Vai. Ash is no technical wizard, but he knows what's needed in each song, and that makes it beautiful. Daniel Ash and Robert Smith of the Cure are my favorite guitarists right now.
GUITAR WORLD: The most interesting guitar players today are those who work with texture rather than notes and scales.
DAVE: Right, right. I'm trying to get more into that. Unfortunately, there are times when I'm stuck into that thing of wanting to throw in a really quick riff. We have a song called "Then She Did...," which doesn't need a guitar solo, so there's no guitar solo on it. The rest of the guys wanted me to do one and I said no. Lyrically, the song is beautiful and emotional, and it's got a very airy, open, moody tune. If I put a guitar solo in there, it would totally cheese it up. But then in "No One's Leaving," which is a pretty fast song, I threw in some very fast riffs. It all depends.
GUITAR WORLD: It seems like you're very aggressive on the A side of Ritual de lo Habitual, while on the B side you do some really beautiful, clear, clean textures on guitar.
DAVE: Thanks, I'm glad you heard that. I didn't plan it that way, but upon listening to it, that's what I felt too.
GUITAR WORLD: I also like your use of wah-wah on the record.
DAVE: Thanks. Wah-wah and echo for me are a really good way to cover up mistakes. It's a very good mask.
GUITAR WORLD: Do any of you practice? Exercise?
PAUL: I never practice. I use these thick strings that don't break and, a couple of months into a tour, I've got these wicked calluses on the ends of my fingers. Gibby Haynes, our other guitarist, is one of those guys who thinks he can't play; but one of my favorite ways of putting a guitar solo on a record is to catch him playing in a room by himself, when nobody's listening. I'll just turn on the tape recorder. Boy, you get some good leads like that.
DAVE: I never play guitar unless we're playing a show. It's so hard to get us together for a rehearsal; it seems like we need an audience for us to get together and really play and work on stuff. So I can't even say I play at rehearsal. The only time I ever play guitar is during performances. But as I keep saying, when I was younger guitar playing was all I did. I've noticed that my playing has in some ways actually deteriorated over the years. I'm just growing out of it. I play at the shows; luckily, they're fun enough. And if I screw up tremendously, I don't care. It's just a raw energy feeling, anyway. But I've gotta ask you guys: really, how important is it for you to be a musician in a band?
TRENT: I always thought this was what I wanted to do. I haven't had any time off, not even a second, since I got a record deal. So I haven't had an opportunity to sit back and analyze it. My career and my life are the same thing at this point.
DAVE: Me too.
PAUL: Man, I wouldn't do anything else. I think being a musician is just a total gas. The main thing is to be able to wake up in the morning. I just think you do without a lot of things for an awful long time. Then once you have some success, you can become a human being and start thinking about things that other people think about a lot earlier in life.
GUITAR WORLD: It takes a while, but eventually you do arrive at some sort of equilibrium, don't you?
PAUL: Oh yeah, man, I got a house full of antiques and a wife and a car and all kinds of shit. I fell like a normal person.
DAVE: Are you ever able to enjoy those things?
PAUL: Yeah....you know, now that we're making more money on shows and from records and stuff, I can go play pool everyday if I want to. A couple of months out of the year I gotta go on tour, a couple of months I gotta record....
DAVE: I love to record. Recording is my favorite end of it. You guys record at home, right?
TRENT: Yeah, I can record at home and then just mix it at a studio. I do a lot of pre-production at home. I'm self-sufficient. I'm tired of asking the record company, "Can I have money to do this?" And then you go in and face all the pressures of being in a studio. At the level we're at, every penny counts.
DAVE: That's wonderful. My wife and I are going to move to an apartment with one bedroom and a loft,and I'm going to make the loft a studio and are gallery where I'll do my recording and painting. That sounds like a dream come true to me.
TRENT: It's absolutely essential for me to have a place where I can record. We got a year off from touring, and every piece of gear I had was broken. I didn't have a home. It was a mess.
DAVE: You were on tour, non-stop, for a year?
TRENT: Yeah. And when I'm touring, I don't ever think. I'm always shuttled around like a piece of meat, and I'm either drunk or tired or irritated.
PAUL: We toured for three years straight. Didn't have a home. We cut the trunk out of a two-door Chevy Nova so we could have a place to lie down.
DAVE: Wow. Well, listen guys, I gotta go. My manager's here and I'm about to go take care of my life.
GUITAR WORLD: Thank you Dave, take care now.
PAUL: Good Luck.
DAVE: Thanks. I'll see you guys in about another month or so. Bye.
GUITAR WORLD: I think we've just about done it.
PAUL: You know, when my manager told me about this, I thought it was going to be all nine guitarists from the Lollapalooza tour on the phone. I was looking forward to that.
GUITAR WORLD: I think three was quite enough.
Transcribed by Keith Duemling