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The latest round of TNB Music Staff Picks. Dig it, baby…

 

PHILM
Harmonic
(IPECAC)

Stunningly complex atmospherics from an unlikely legend

When Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo recently talked to TNB Music about his three-piece side project Philm (with guitarist/vocalist Gerry Nestler and bassist Pancho Tomaselli), he gamely addressed the various sounds the band have incorporated into their forthcoming debut: “heavy,” “bluesy” and “diverse.” Having finally sat down with that record, Harmonic, we realize that words cannot begin to approach the spectacular brew of genius, madness, terror and ecstasy that fuel one of the more fascinating releases of 2012. Harmonic is a relentless 15-song campaign that storms through the fields of Coltrane, Santana, Gilmour and Hanneman, and while attempting to identify a singular sound is a fool’s errand, punk vocals, jazzy dissonance and of course, masterful drumming appear in ample doses.

Many, many moons ago I used to write for a magazine you’ve never heard of. My editor had a curious theory: Rock and roll had hit the wall during the 77-era of punk. It’s not that he didn’t like music made since then. On the contrary, he was a huge Nirvana fan and was a mainstay on the American hardcore scene of the early 1980s. It’s that rock and roll could only get so fast and heavy before it ceased being rock and roll and started being something else.

I respectfully disagree. It’s true that many strains of rock music are too damn tight to allow for the little shimmy-and-wiggle action that puts the “roll” in “rock and roll.” Greg Ginn discovered this during Black Flag’s early days. He compensated by making everyone play at one-quarter speed during rehearsals, working their way up to the mid-tempo hardcore the band’s post-My War years. Motörhead, on the other hand, are a prime example of a band playing music both heavier and faster than punk with more than enough swing in its step to properly be called “rock and roll.”

I thought you OD’d.

Is that a question?

 

I mean, I keep hearing rumors that you OD’d –- what’s up with that?

I‘ve heard those rumors, as well – apparently, fans and others can’t understand why I would choose to lay low in New Orleans as opposed to whoring out my celebrity status after White Zombie broke up, so therefore I must be dead. I must say I appreciate the rock’n’roll ending they’ve given me, up there in the company with Hendrix and Joplin with the whole OD thing. It’s especially amusing since I never did any hard drugs, ever. In the past fifteen years I’ve had to respond to the question “Are you dead?” at three different points. It’s always an interesting phonecall to receive, and perhaps next time I will say “yes” just to see what happens.

 

It’s been fifteen years since White Zombie broke up –- why a book on your days in the band now?

It was in reaction to going through my storage room two years ago – I found about ten boxes labeled White Zombie, and began to open them up for the first time since I packed them and shipped them to New Orleans in 1996. This was because our management had contacted me for tidbits for our upcoming boxset at the time. With dread I went to dig through my boxes. What had ended as a bad memory suddenly exposed itself to me for what it was –- an amazing, triumphant adventure in an era that not many people know about, unless they were there. The whole story of us coming out of the ratty, arty Lower East Side and becoming a huge 90’s metal band is ridiculous in itself, but those bands, the intensity and extreme testosterone-driven music – it just brought back a whole world that is so distant now. I felt the need to share it.

 

Do you consider this a coffee table book, or something else?

The book did start off as a coffee table book, filled with my photos from backstage, passes and tickets, flyers and other ephemera. As I began collaging pages, certain flyers or photos would remind me of what happened that night, and I started adding written stories. As I did, people started saying “More of that!” So I wrote more and more, enjoying it a bit more as the details came out of the woodwork. It felt as though I was making a director’s commentary on a movie made in the distant past. I think the book is a hybrid – part autobiography, part documentation of the 90’s in rock and metal, part coffee table book.

 

Do you feel that using the word “chick” in your subtitle is self-deprecating and/or sexist?

No. I’ve never had any problem with that word. Who ever says “chick” in a bad way? It’s a funny and silly word. It’s the female equivalent of “dude”, and nobody has a problem with that being sexist! Those were the tags in the metal scene, and that is what the fans called me, in a very sweet way. I was officially dubbed “the chick in White Zombie” by Beavis and Butthead. They also loved the Butthole Surfers and Iggy Pop, so I am more than happy to claim the title from such arbiters of good taste!

 

When did you join the band?

I hate that question! I never joined the band; I helped form the band. Nor did I ever leave the band; we broke up. Ever since my ex decided to take the band’s name as his last name, the world has been led to believe that Rob Zombie is White Zombie and vice versa. This could not be farther from the truth. Rob and I started White Zombie, and while I was doing the graphic layouts and typography, he was doing the illustrations. While I was writing riffs, he was writing lyrics. In the first five years I did all of the booking and handled all of the expenses and business, due to Rob being extremely quiet and anti-social. It was a true band and family, and although Rob and I did most of the work, everyone worked hard and contributed.

 

You’re familiar with the worlds of music, art and design — did you find starting something new like writing to be difficult?

The realm is familiar to me, although I’ve never tried my hand at it before. My father was a writer and my mother helped him with all of his research and editing. (He wrote five definitive Hemingway biographies and became president of the Hemingway Society before he passed away.) Growing up with two English professors for parents definitely got me used to the whole process, and combining so many of my photographs with short stories definitely took away the intimidation of completing an entire book. My publishers, Soft Skull, were also extremely helpful by letting me structure and design the book however I wanted, and making it as long or short as I wanted.

 

Between your photography, design, music and now writing is there one area you would like to focus on?

I would love nothing more than to do one thing, and do it really well. Unfortunately, as soon as I start working on new music, I get an idea for a photography show. As soon as I start that, I get an idea for my designs. Classic Gemini behavior, I suppose. Since I can’t I manage to pick one, I can only hope that as I put more and more years into all of these fields perhaps each will become more refined.

 

What are you working on now?

Besides book tours? Writing with my New Orleans band, Rock City Morgue, preparing to record with my new band Star&Dagger, developing new items for my home décor line, and prepping for a new photography show. Now that Mardi Gras is over I might actually get some of this done. It’s not easy living in the Big Easy; lots of party demands.

 

Last words?

Have a good time, all the time.

 

 

A few weeks ago, I was leaving our little mountain post office when the postmistress herself came flying out of the building at me like Smaug after a Baggins.

“If you’re not going to check your mail for a box key, I’m not going to bother putting it in. I was trying to be thoughtful. I was trying to be nice. But if you’re going to just run off with it, I am NOT going to do it anymore.”

Our postmistress has a frizzled crown of shoulder-length grayscale hair on her head, wears artsy hippy attire and generally looks as if she has been plucked from a medieval mob scene. That is to say that she resembles a librarian. In my experience, all librarians–beautiful or plain–can be easily imagined in Renaissance festival attire and sucking on a turkey leg. If she had produced a rotten turnip to throw at me in that moment, I would not have been the least bit surprised. Unlike a librarian, however, she bears the additional countenance of one who could be packing heat. Had she produced a 9mm Beretta, for example, I would have been equally stoic.

I blinked twice, looked down at my fistful of mail, gave it a shake, and sure enough, a little orange key fell to the pavement.

She shook her head hotly and smoldered her way back into her position of public maintainer of peace and of parcels.

And actually, had she flashed a gun at me, it would not have been the first time for me. As a matter of fact, I have seen down the muzzle of a gun no less than five times in my life. I have been:

  1. Detained outside of a car on the side of a dead-dog-strewn highway in Mexico;
  2. Threatened through a site not to take a step closer to a barbed wire fence patrolled by a tower guard at the East German border;
  3. Awakened to find a gun pointing carelessly at me through the backseat window of a car at a checkpoint entering a still-red Hungary;
  4. Ordered at point blank range to leave a protest in Hong Kong by a mainland Chinese soldier; and,
  5. Startled while doing some target practice to find a man had set up a .50 caliber canon on a tripod directly behind me and my instructor, and was preparing to blast a hole in the side of the mountain in front of us, from about six feet above our heads. Apparently we were in his way.

A few months ago, I walked into a gas station after having filled up my Jeep Cherokee to ask for change for a $5 bill. Simple request.

May I have five ones, please?

The man working the counter was old. I mean, really old. If I have to guess, I would put him somewhere around 97. It is possible he once knew someone who voted against Lincoln. His hair was pulled straight back over his shiny scalp and butch waxed into neat little comb stripes. I could see that he had been tall once, but his shoulders were in a losing battle with gravity. His nostrils and ears looked as if someone had ripped out something electronic that used to reside in there, and left the uncapped wires to the elements, a good 30 years ago.

He didn’t answer me at first, so I repeated my request a little louder. A little more chipper. Irene Zion is always talking about how the elderly and infirm like pets and happy people. I smiled broadly. Cocked my head to one side like a Spaniel.

He didn’t look at me directly at first. When a noise so low and guttural began bubbling and churning in my ears, I thought at first that a faulty air system was trying to kick on somewhere on the other side of the parabolic lighting. He held out a large, gnarled hand at me, edemic and spotted like a giraffe.

“Now, look here,” he said after removing the phlegm from his throat which had nearly initiated an emergency visit from the HVAC folks, “if I give you change, then I have to give every young whippersnapper who waltzes in here change. I’d be doling out change all the livelong day.”

A wheeze ripped through his rusty windpipe like a Sawzall and rearranged the mangled wiring hanging out of his nose.

“No, no,” I smiled even broader this time, imagining Irene and her passel of puppies, “I’m a customer. I just spent $45 on gas out at the tank.”

He began sputtering like a whistle-less kettle and shuffling his feet until a fellow customer saved all of us with his wallet.

“Here. This guy’s not gonna budge anytime before his next Metamucil break.”

We exchanged bills and I was on my way, pushing past the crowd of people crammed into the Boulder Conoco, apparently all waiting to magically multiply their single bills at the expense of the elderly.

I don’t think I look like a threat. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a street rat holding a proverbial can of graffiti. I often wear black, but usually accompanied by something in the color scale. I smile. I make small talk. I have no visible tattoos. I have been known to karaoke. I’ve even tried to look intimidating. Take, for example, the time I dressed up Emo in order to attempt to avoid jury duty. (FAIL.) I am decidedly un-metal.

So, I guess I’m in the throes of self-realization here. I’m gazing at my own navel and what I’m finding isn’t pretty. For one thing, it has the telltale scar of a past attempt at being a badass, or “badlass” as my daughter once erroneously-and-yet-appropriately put it after watching Aeon Flux. I took the stainless ring out at some point during pregnancy when it looked as if it could be used as a controlling device poking out from underneath my shirt. As if someone could clamp a leash onto it and lead me out to pasture.

But also, I’m realizing that despite my numerous attempts at a persona of personal strength, I still come off to the average Joe as a bit of a doormat. A non-event. The perfect person to whom to refuse a simple dollar bill exchange and over whom to attempt to shoot a tank. Also, I do annoying things like making sure that I have no prepositions at the end of my phrases.

But there’s something else, too. (No, look deeper. Past the lint.) And that is the fact that I don’t actually feel like a doormat. Like, when the old guy at the gas station told me he wouldn’t make change for me, I was already composing the letter in my head to his manager, along with a scathing review for the local paper, as well as this very post. That is to say, I’m not as nice as I apparently look. I am occasionally vindictive.

I don’t know what to do with this knowledge yet, but I feel I could quite possibly be a dangerous individual. I should not be trusted. If I were a man, I should be out right now perusing the sales lots for a very large truck. I should be practicing my Boris Karloff look in front of the mirror. I should practice my cussing. I should go out and take names. I should become a kung fu master. I should acquire a suicide bracelet. I should tattoo my neck.

I should become a postmistress.

For the last few months, everything obscure that has popped into my mind has found its way into reality.A conversation about an old neighbor from twenty five years ago led to an unsolicited email in my Inbox from that neighbor’s son a few days later.When I couldn’t remember my third grade teacher’s name, I asked my Mom, who promptly ran into her in a mall parking lot a week after our conversation.I think of things, and they happen.

Before I got on the plane for the Middle East this past week, Joe Daly sent me a playlist for my iPod – a playlist that included Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules (my absolute favorite track from the Dio-era Sabbath).In the spirit of the song I started a Facebook conversation taking pot shots at the singer on another friend’s page.I’ve never disliked Dio, but it is hard to deny that he is easy to make fun of.And so we did.As a few of us took turns skewing his lyrics, I had to listen to more and more of his music for research, and as I did so, I found myself singing it in my head.Holy Diver, Man on the Silver Mountain, Rainbow in the Dark… it was the soundtrack as I trekked through the desert all week.

De gustibus non est disputandum.

Even before I became a Latin major in college (another in a long and colorful string of jackass moves by yours truly), I knew what this sentence meant.  It basically means “there’s no accounting for taste.”

From my earliest age, music has been manna for my soul.  It has been one of the primary platforms where I relate to the world (and to myself).  From my first album (Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”), to my first concert (Aerosmith, 1984, Worcester, MA), through tens of thousands of LPs, cassettes, cds, MP3s, concerts, shows, festivals, mix tapes, radio stations, etc., right up to the last time I played guitar (twenty minutes ago), music has accompanied me in virtually all endeavors, big and small.  As I compose this article, I am listening to the album “Wrecking Ball,” by Dead Confederate.

For every trip I’ve taken, there has been a corresponding mix.  Every relationship, an artist. I have go-to albums for every mood, and to this day few things excite me more than making a mix for a friend.  My tastes, like Tiger Woods’ girlfriends, are all over the place.