Stacy Ellen Rich
From the opening needle drop of their Self-Titled Way To Go Genius 12” I knew I was going to dig the hell out of the band. There are a lot of bands that are going for a real no frills, stripped back, honest to god punk sound these days, there just aren’t a lot of them that do it well. Way To Go Genius may sound like some off hand, flippant remark that a teenager would make but if you’ve come across the simplistic, frantic, insanely entertaining band, it might as just well describe you! I talk to a lot of bands who, while they’re madly talented, will never hope to reach the radio airwaves or much more than a niche market with their sound, Way To Go Genius is not one of those bands. Songs like “Your Kids” “and Super King” sound like the good stuff they played on the radio late at night when I was a kid and we were all supposed to be asleep. That kind of passively aggressive, maddeningly catchy punk rock. And I do mean rock, because from start to finish on the album and the single Way To Go Genius will not leave you lagging or lose your attentions, throbbing beats and rumbling bass fronted by a snarky, snarling vocal line and guitar distortion that sounds fresh from the Anarchy In The UK album! From blasters like “Dos Dos” to extremely well crafted breaks in pace such as “Skin” Way To Go Genius is not only an amazing band but they offer up one of my favorite serious punk albums I’ve heard, in well forever… “Black Nightmares” might be my favorite thing on the album, the distortion level exploding through the ceiling, in the red production values and howling vocal lines teemed with a perfectly restrained vocal line melt into a freakin’ masterpiece in my opinion. Building to these wicked crescendos and dropping out into bottomless pits of insanity, pure fits of madness, and I love it! By the time the album was over I had sent an e-mail and was finding out all that I could about the band, which wasn’t much. Thankfully I managed to track down all three founding members and grilled them, as I do, endlessly about the history of the band, their recordings, live performances, and just what they have planned for the future. So kick back and read the interview, you can do it… There you go… Way To Go Genius!
Listen while you read: http://waytogogenius.bandcamp.com/
What is the current lineup for Way To Go Genius? Is this your original lineup or have there been any changes made since the band started?
Eric Big Arm: This is the one and only lineup of Way to Go Genius, which is me on vocals and guitar, Chris Westcott a.k.a. Westerburg High on drums and vocals, and Kristen “Wheels” Wheeler on bass and backing vocals.
The more people I talk to the more I realize that a lot of people are in more than one active band at a time and that despite the fact I know all about one of their bands I might never even come across their other band! Are any of you in any other active bands at this point? Have you released any material with anyone in the past? If so can you tell us a little bit about that?
Eric Big Arm: Yeah, we’ve all been in bands over the years and bounced around.
Wheels: Before this band, Westerberg High and I were in another band for a long time called The Slighted where the roles were reversed, and I played drums and he was the lead singer.
Eric Big Arm: I’ve been in a couple of bands in LA…
Westerburg High: Including some bands of ill repute.
Eric Big Arm: …Funeral Director, Red Roses—
Westerburg High: What was that band in St. Louis called?
Eric Big Arm: Douche Powder Factory.
Westerburg High: That band rules.
Eric Big Arm: They still play around but they changed their sound.
Westerburg High: Do they go to the gathering of the Juggalos?
Eric Big Arm: (laughs) No….
What was the local music scene like where you grew up? Did you go to a lot of shows when you were growing up? Do you feel like the music scene there played any role in shaping your musical tastes or the way that you play today?
Eric Big Arm: My musical tastes have changed so much from when I was young. I was forced to go to lots of shitty shows in St Louis. My first show ever was New Kids on The Block…. Yes, I said it. We went with my family. Then we went to another show, Amy Grant. Then Eric Clapton Unplugged. All big, giant venues and outdoor concerts. And then I turned eighteen and I started dating this chick, and she took me to a Buckethead show that opened up my mind quite a bit. Before that my motto was anything written after 1970, I don’t want it, I don’t care. And after that Buckethead show, actually, I was very intrigued. He was a weird dude that I’d never seen or heard anything about, playing with a fuckin’ chicken bucket on his head. After that I started going to clubs in St Louis and then when I moved to LA I really knew what I wanted out of live music.
Westerberg High: Bay Area for me. So I grew up on metal and classic rock, then synth and goth. First show was Scorpions and Iron Maiden at the Cow Palace. Second show was Styx, Kilroy Was Here tour with that short film before the band came on that showed them as futuristic rebels fighting for freedom of information.
Wheels: I didn’t start going to good small-club shows until I moved to St Louis for college. Mississippi Nights had all the cool bands come through there, and it was all-ages. When I moved to LA in the early ‘90s, that’s when I really got into a true local music scene, which was awesome at that time. Chokebore, The Necessary Evils, Touchcandy, 400 Blows; all loud and crazy stuff.
What was your household like when you were growing up? Was it very musical? Were either your parents or any of your relatives musicians or extremely involved/interested in music?
Eric Big Arm: My mom, dad, grandpa and my grandma, they all played in bands. And my aunts played in a rock and roll band when I was a little kid, all the way until I was probably twelve. My mom and I toured Canada with them when I was about five years old in their van they called “Booger”. They made me a shirt that said “Loadie” because I couldn’t say “Roadie”. Watching them play was what started me wanting to play music and I always wanted to perform. Not long after, I got in trouble with the babysitter because I got all the kids she was babysitting to start a “band”. We were playing tennis rackets and were all standing up on the couches and one kid was playing the drums on the Inchworm. We all got in trouble, but I got in the most trouble because I organized the whole thing.
Westerburg High: My stepmom played the autoharp. At the time it was horrifying, but now I think it’s the best. She played Anne Murray and some Crystal Gayle and a lot of church songs.
Wheels: I actually just learned recently that my uncle was a jazz drummer for years.
What do you consider your first real exposure to music?
Eric Big Arm: Definitely the band my aunts were in. And then listening to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin totally made me want to play guitar. I started really listening to them after high school and was determined to learn how to play Jimi Hendrix’s solos. My style and tastes have changed of course, but it made me a better player.
Wheels: My older brother turned me on to a lot of good bands like Black Flag, Husker Du, Flipper, The Minutemen, and even those first cool B-52s records. I was listening to all the popular stuff on the radio and he showed me there was a whole other side of music out there that was way better.
Westerberg High: Bay Area radio was different when I was young and each station had their own playlists. I would sit in my room at night with a boombox listening to everything from Doctor Demento to Hearts of Space, plus there was college radio. Believe it or not, Stanford had a killer radio station back in the 80’s.
When and why did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music? When did you start doing that?
Eric Big Arm: When I was eighteen or nineteen, I started playing in my first real band. We played a bunch of covers, but we had a handful of originals. I didn’t write for that band, though. Not long after that, I started tinkering with recording and that’s when I started writing and recording tons of songs in my basement at my mom’s house.
Wheels: When I was young and saw the movie Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains on USA’s Night Flight, that’s when I knew I wanted to be in a rock band. A long time later, I finally started a band called Hans Kristen Anderson. It was me and another girl named Kristen and we had one song called “Best Boy Electric.”
Westerberg High: I didn’t really pursue drumming in a band when I was younger. I dabbled in keyboards and synths and I tried out for a few bands when I was in my twenties, but my improvisation skills and my ear were a little flat so it never worked out. A friend of my roommate had left behind an old Acetone organ and I started playing that a lot, it was so much simpler than a synth. I had pretty much given up on playing in a band and then I found an “organist wanted” flier for a band that looked really cool. They were called Jeepers Creepers and fronted by a musician and artist named Michael Motorcycle. They were okay with my skill level and would clue me in on what keys the songs were in. It was a “psychobilly” band and that genre had a very strong following, so I started out playing some pretty packed high-profile shows.
If you had to pick one moment of music that changed everything for you, redefined the meaning of music and opened the door to all the infinite possibilities of music, what would it be?
Eric Big Arm: During college, I had a friend that was a crazy record-collector dude who was constantly turning me on to new stuff.
Westerberg High: I got lucky with this club Iguanas, which was a club in Tijuana in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. That place was total mayhem. It was in Mexico, but it was an American-run club so they had a bunch of money and they built a fat fucking club. I was going to school in San Diego and you could walk right over the border to it. Everybody played there. I saw Nirvana open for Dinosaur Jr., the Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Jesus Lizard, Living Color… Henry Rollins got knocked out on stage. That place was anything goes, tequila shots were a dollar and everyone eighteen and over could drink. That was where I learned that playing in a band, and seeing bands could be this insane madness. Going to Iguanas in TJ, brief but lovely.
When did you get your first instrument and what was it? Who gave it to you?
Westerberg High: I got my grandpa’s piano when I was a kid, but I hated taking piano lessons for the usual reasons. Then I had a friend whose older brother was a badass drummer and he gave me some lessons and turned me on to some good songs with sweet beats, lots of Prince. Even songs like “Looking for Clues” by Robert Palmer. That shit is tight!
Eric Big Arm: Aside from the Spaulding tennis racket and a Muppets drum set, my aunts had all this junk in the basement that they were going to get rid of when they went on tour, and I found this old guitar that they were going to throw out. It was missing a string and it was way out of tune. I smacked and twangled on that thing forever. It was a cool old guitar. I wish I still had it. It had a paisley pick guard and the rest was painted all black.
Westerburg High: (Sings “Smoke on the Water” and laughs) Later that year, when I was probably five or six, my Aunt Julie came back from Canada with a mismatched set of drums, no cymbals. I beat those thangs with the heads duct-taped together. They were rad.
Wheels: Clarinet fifth grade. But when I was in high school I realized I was a really mediocre clarinet player and I switched to mallet percussion, e.g., bells, xylophone, glockenspiel, chimes, marimba, vibraphone. There were about twenty clarinetists but only two mallet percussionists, so I thought I could stand out more in that section.
When and how did you all originally meet?
Wheels: At The Scene in Glendale, right?
Eric Big Arm: I may have met you guys before that. I went to see The Slighted at Painkillers with The Husbands and the Turpentine Brothers.
Westerburg High: That’s right, Painkillers. They emptied out that loft for the show and put it all in a U-Haul outside.
Eric Big Arm: I didn’t know anyone in LA when I went to that show. I was just smoking weed and napping in my truck between bands.
Wheels: How did you hear about that show?
Eric Beg Arm: That crazy record-collecting friend of mine from Illinois turned me on to the whole LA punk scene. And he told me to go check out the Turpentine Brothers at Painkillers.
Wheels: You saw us but you didn’t meet us, did you?
Eric Big Arm: No, I guess not…
Westerburg High: I remember seeing you at that show. You were very complimentary.
Eric Big Arm: I had long hair…
Wheels: What? No way!
Westerburg High: Yeah. It’s all coming back to me.
Wheels: But we really formally met at The Scene Bar…
Eric Big Arm: 2007 or 8.
Wheels: …Where all the best bands played for a long time. But when we first met you, you were in a different headspace. You were a lot more, let’s just say “energetic.”
Eric Big Arm: Oh, was that the cocaine? (Laughs)
Wheels: (Laughing) Yeah. You had a different vibe to you then. You were playing in bands with our friend Grant and we met you through him. We were a little scared of you because you were kind of intense.
Eric Big Arm: I was too much for a lot of people.
Wheels: Yeah, you grabbed his nuts at one point.
Westerburg High: You did, you grabbed my nuts.
Eric Big Arm: Did I really?
Westerburg High: Oh, yeah, in front of my girlfriend…
Eric Big Arm: (Laughing) Oh, my God.
Westerburg High: And she said, “Are you going to do something about that?” And I was like, “Ah, fuck.”
Wheels: You didn’t want to fight him, but you didn’t want him to touch your nuts anymore.
Eric Big Arm: I was crazy and fun. I was new to LA… (Laughing)
Westerburg High: Yeah. You definitely cupped my balls, though. And just left your hand there like, “What’s up?”, kept it there.
Eric Big Arm: I did? (Laughing)
Wheels: It’s funny because thinking about it now that’s actually your normal personality. That’s your gesture of friendship.
Eric Big Arm: That’s me. Like, “Hey, bro.” (Cups airnuts)
Westerburg High: That’s pretty much standard procedure.
Wheels: But when we first met you…
Westerburg High: Now he cups my balls and I like it. But then it was foreign to me.
Eric Big Arm: It was the first time.
Wheels: Then it seemed like an aggressive moment…
Westerburg High: Now it’s like warm pudding.
Wheels: When we first started playing together, you were kind of touchy with me too and I was like, “Hey, not so much with the touchy.”
Westerburg High: Handsy. “What’s with the handsy?”
Wheels: And then you were like, “All right, I’ll stop being handsy with you.” But you kept being handsy with him.
Eric Big Arm: Some people like to be touched.
Westerburg High: Some people are hot. They’re irresistible.
Eric Big Arm: Totally. I just want to run my fingers through your hairy chest…
Wheels: But now I feel a little bit left out.
Eric Big Arm: (in a sweet voice) You feel a little left out? You need a little rubbin’?
Wheels: It’s a fine line between feeling left out and being felt up.
What led to the formation of Way To Go Genius and when was that?
Eric Big Arm: It was 2011 and I had been toying around with different ideas and playing with different people.
Wheels: The Slighted was kind of on the wane at that point and people were wanting to play different styles and switch instruments.
Eric Big Arm: I got together with Westerburg on drums, Noah from The Slighted on bass, and Edgar from The Guilty Hearts on guitar. We played together a few times but it seemed like they didn’t want to commit or they had other things going on.
Wheels: You guys were Voice of Nyquil at that time, right?
Eric Big Arm: Right. And Westerburg and I were at a party after that thing went poof, and I said, “I’m still down, I still want to play.” And he said, “Me too.” And a week or so later we talked about it and he said we needed a bass player and I suggested another friend of ours and he said, “Actually, Wheels wants to give it a shot.”
Wheels: Yeah, I heard about you guys getting together and said, “Well, maybe I should just come hang out and play bass with you two, just to jam for fun, to try something new.”
Eric Big Arm: So we met up and it came together really naturally.
Wheels: Songs came fast and easily and we all just gelled really well right away.
Westerburg High: But then you still weren’t sure and I had to give you the deadline that it was either you or our other friend.
Wheels: I just needed that push and I said, “I’m in” ‘cause I didn’t want to miss out on something really good.
I love the name of the band, somehow I feel like I should always be saying your name sarcastically to myself in the mirror when I’m listening to your music ha-ha! What does Way To Go Genius mean or refer to in the context of your name? Who came up with it and how did you go about choosing it?
Wheels: We struggled and came up with a bunch of names but none of them seemed right or they were taken by other bands, or we just couldn’t agree.
Eric Big Arm: Some of the other ones that were in the running were Drunk Canoe, Limp Zipper, Hobo Stag Party…
Westerburg High: Drunk Canoe was high on the list. Hobo Stag Party, you gotta be an extreme band to be called Hobo Stag Party.
Eric Big Arm: And if I remember right, Westerburg, you sent a text with a bunch of names and Way To Go Genius was one of them, but I just blew it off and moved on. I was already spurting out new names, and then a week later we were at rehearsal and you said, “What about Way To Go Genius?” And that time it rang true for me and stuck. When I read it I didn’t care for it, but when we heard it, it was totally right.
Westerburg High: It’s not the sarcastic, snarky term that you think it is. It’s a heartfelt accolade and encouragement. I say “Way to go, Genius” and I honestly feel like you’re a genius.
Eric Big Arm: (Laughs) You’re so full of shit.
Westerburg High: No, that is what it is…
Eric Big Arm: And it’s coming from the most smartass person in the group.
Westerburg High: …No way, (in an encouraging voice) it’s “Way to go… Genius.” (Reaches out to hug Eric)
Wheels: The great thing is that every time you tell people the name they either laugh or smile.
Is there any shared creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares or lives by?
Westerburg High: We live by the lyrics of Creed.
Eric Big Arm: And Fireball.
Where is Way To Go Genius currently located at?
Eric Big Arm: We have a great lockout space in Glassell Park and we’re all based in LA.
How would you describe the local music scene where you’re at now?
Westerburg High: Better and better. Everything I want, every style of music I want, I can go see in LA.
Wheels: Big clubs, small clubs…
Westerburg High: Everywhere a club, club.
Eric Big Arm: The scene did all the heavy lifting for great bands for a while. When that changed ownership, things moved downtown to the Redwood, Five Star Bar and the Down and Out.
Wheels: And then on to some cool dive bars in Long Beach and San Pedro: The Prospector, Harold’s Place.
Eric Big Arm: Our two best venues now are Café Nela, which just started up, and Permanent Records, which is doing a great job of keeping bands I am really into playing here in LA.
Are you very involved with the local music scene? Do you book or attend a lot of local live shows? Do you help to record and or release any local music? If so can you tell us about that?
Eric Big Arm: I book most of our shows locally and I do set up a lot of shows for bands I know that are coming through town. All three of us go out to shows all the time. Currently, our rehearsal space is doubling as my recording studio as well. Doors are open here at Big Arm Recordings. I recently recorded tracks for The Chew Toys and the Tee Pee, and I’ve been talking to a bunch of other local bands about coming in for sessions.
Do you think that the local scene has played a large role in the history, evolution or sound of Way To Go Genius or do you think that you could be doing what you’re doing and sound like you do regardless of your surroundings or location?
Wheels: The local scene has played, and does play, a big part in our sound. All of us being in bands that were part of the music scene in the mid-to-late 2000’s, and hanging out with all our friends at shows around town definitely led to us being in this band, and being able to work together so well on a sound we all like. LA is a great place where you can put yourself out there artistically, and there’s always someone around who’s into it and will be supportive.
Eric Big Arm: We’ve definitely been supported from the beginning by Paul of Death Hymn Number 9, aka Pol E. Wog, who puts a lot of shows together under Ghoulhouse Records and has been in tons of bands over the years. He’s taught me everything I know about booking and networking, and he gave us our first local shows.
Westerberg High: We’ve had great support from people in the scene, which makes us want to bring the pain every time we play.
I could go into a lot of detail about it, but I won’t. I will suffice to say that I am terrible at describing bands to our readers. Rather than me making some long meandering statement that won’t really explain much of anything at all, how would you describe Way To Go Genius’ sound in your own words to our readers who might not have heard you yet?
Westerburg High: Southern California punk, with a dash of Warped Tour and a pinch of Bush.
Eric Big Arm: Nah…
Westerburg High: Not a pinch of Bush?
Wheels: You can always use a pinch of Bush.
Eric Big Arm: If Steve Albini were to record the philharmonic, that would be our sound.
Wheels: The LA Philharmonic?
Eric Big Arm: Any philharmonic.
Westerburg High: Phil H. Armonic.
There’s some really interesting stuff going on in your music that I can’t really put my finger on. Who are some of your major musical influences? What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?
Eric Big Arm: The Mentally Ill, The Spits, The Buzzcocks, Big Black, the Undertones… We’ve also been compared to The Germs and The Heartbreakers. We pull from a lot of different genres, we’ve got hard aggressive songs and upbeat songs. We run a wide range.
Can you talk a little bit about the songwriting process with Way To Go Genius? Is there a lot of jamming and exchange of ideas between band members that gets worked out and refined into a song in the practice space or does someone come to the rest of the band with a riff or more finished idea to work out and compose with the rest of the band?
Wheels: It’s a collective process. We usually start off with a riff or a beat, and work off of that. We find if vocals don’t come quickly while we’re working a song out, it’s usually not a keeper.
Do you all enjoy recording? I mean I think that most musicians can really appreciate the final result of all that hard work, there’s not a lot in the world that beats holding an album in your hands knowing it’s yours and no one can ever take that away from you! Getting to that point though, getting everything recorded, especially when it comes to having to do everything as a band can be a little bit stressful to say the very least. How is it in the studio for you all? Do you all utilize studio space when you’re recording or do you prefer to utilize the more do-it-yourself approach and do things on your own time and turf with your own equipment and personnel?
Eric Big Arm: Recording for us, is with my gear in our space. It’s all DIY and I could do it all day long.
Wheels: It’s definitely a huge bonus to have an audio engineer in your band with all his own gear. Both times we’ve recorded have been a blast.
Does Way To Go Genius do a lot of preparation before you record getting things to sound just so with transitions and arrangements or is the recording process more of an organic process where things have room to change and evolve a little somewhat?
Eric Big Arm: Before we record, we jam, we rock, and we kick it hard. Then, we lay it down in two or three takes, and done.
Let’s take a little bit of time to talk about your back catalog, your first release that I’m aware of was 2012’s self-titled 12” Way To Go Genius limited to only 300 copies. Can you talk a little bit about the recording of that first album? Was it a fun, pleasurable experience for you all? Did you all release that album yourself or is that on a label? When and where was that material recorded? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used?
Eric Big Arm: We recorded both that and our newest release here at Big Arm Recordings on Pro Tools and self-released both of them.
This past year 2013 you followed up the self-titled album with the Egg 7” which I also believe was self-released and limited to 300 copies as well. Are the songs from the Egg single newer or were they stuff that was left over from the session(s) for the earlier album? Was the recording of the material for the new single very different than your album? Where was the material for the Egg 7” recorded? When was that and who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used?
Eric Big Arm: The songs on the 7” are really different from our first release. Tougher songs with bigger balls and a harder-edged, rougher recording. We used the same recording process we used for the 12” but with different EQs and mic placements.
Does Way To Go Genius have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a single or a song on a comp that I might have missed?
Eric Big Arm: Just the two recordings so far.
With the release of the Egg 7” not too long ago are there any other releases in the works or on the horizon at this point?
Eric Big Arm: We for sure will do some more recording this year. I have some new old gear that’s gonna play a key role in upcoming recordings.
Where’s the best place for our US readers top pick up copies of your music? With the completely insane international postage rate increases this past year I always try to provide our readers with as many options for picking up import releases as I can! Where’s the best place for our international and overseas readers to score copies of your music?
Eric Big Arm: You can get our records at In The Red Records, Goner Records, Slovenly or BlackGladiator, Manglor Records and Permanent Records or you can get it directly from us at our Bandcamp page. International readers should definitely hit us up for copies. I just shipped to Australia last week.
Where’s the best place for fans to keep up with the latest news from Way To Go Genius like upcoming shows and album releases at?
Wheels: Our Facebook page is the best place to keep up with us and our shenanigans.
Westergberg High: And CNN.
Are there any major goals that Way To Go Genius is looking to accomplish in 2014?
Westerburg High: I would say a halftime show somewhere.
Eric Big Arm: More recording for sure and a lot of shows, a few 7” records and maybe a split.
Do you remember what the first song that Way To Go Genius ever played live was? Where and when was that?
Wheels: Our first show was booked by Pol E. Wog at the Redwood in 2012 and I think the first song on the set list was “Fall Smash”. It was a solid show and lots of our friends came out to support us. Great launch of the band.
What, if anything at all, do you have planned as far as touring goes for 2014 so far?
Eric Big Arm: We’re looking to put together two short tours this year, a Pacific Northwest tour; San Francisco, Oregon, Washington and maybe Vancouver. And maybe a couple dates in the Midwest.
Wheels: Next year we want to go international.
Eric Big Arm: Yeah, let’s get the fuck out of this bitch. We’re gonna go straight to Amsterdam and play there for like a week. (Laughter) Maybe we’ll only play one show, but we’ll be there for a week.
Does Way To Go Genius enjoy touring? Do you spend a lot of time on the road? What’s life like on tour for Way To Go Genius?
Wheels: Last year was our first tour and we had an awesome time. Fantastic bands, great cities, Tucson, Las Cruces, two shows in Austin, Houston, New Orleans…
Eric Big Arm: We had a great Town and Country van. Soccer mom vans rule for touring.
Wheels: …Then rounded it out in Memphis. We played a crazy house show for a bunch of kids there and then rewarded ourselves with going to Gonerfest, which was going on at the same time.
Eric Big Arm: That was our best fucking crowd reaction, in Memphis. Our first crowd surfing.
Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with the last few years?
Eric Big Arm: We’ve played with a lot of amazing bands. Bad Coyotes from the Bay Area, Death Hymn Number 9 from LA, Stumble Drunk from Austin, Pop Gestapo from Tucson. In LA we’ve also played with Ugly Kids, The 87’s, Lovely Sort of Death and Magic Trash a bunch of times.
Wheels: We love The Chew Toys too. And all the bands that were on the Permanent Records Eagle Rock Music Fest show, especially The Lamps, Smelly Tongues and Merx. Talk Sick Brats in Houston were fun and Buck Biloxi and the Fucks and Chinese Nightmares in New Orleans were really awesome.
Westerberg High: Also the Stalins of Sound from San Diego, Wreck of the Zephyr and Buck Biloxi were memorable for me.
In your dreams, who are you on tour with?
Eric Big Arm: I’d like to go on tour with Death Hymn Number 9 and Smelly Tongues. But in my dreams, Yanni.
Westerburg High: I’m into yacht rock so Volcano Choir. They’re more current. They’re similar to Yanni.
Wheels: If we could go on tour with the Murder City Devils that would be my ultimate.
Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows or performances that you’d like to share here with our readers?
Eric Big Arm: We booked a show in Austin at a bar that was supposed to be three bands and we were the third band. We get there and we see a girl writing on a chalkboard out front and it says, “Eight bands! Two stages!” And we were like, “Wha--?”
Wheels: We go inside to talk to the booker and the guys says…
Eric Big Arm: “It’s Vans Warped Tour! Welcome!” (Laughter) “Here’s your backstage passes. Stack your gear in that corner and we’re going to give you a little shitty PA to play through on the small stage because this is the real stage over here.”
Wheels: They’d had another show booked that night that was outdoors and then had to move it to the club we were at because it was raining.
Eric Big Arm: But all the other bands were like Limp Bizkit and Sevendust with Sublime closing the show, not a good match for us and the other two bands at all. So we end up alternating, their bands on the big stage and our bands on the small stage.
Wheels: And our stage was all crazy and loud with the Stumble Drunk lead singer writhing around on the floor in the crowd, and the big stage is like, “Clap your hands! Raise the roof!” with Fred Durst-esque backwards ball caps and playing that terrible, “Let’s Get Stupid” version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that makes Kurt Cobain spin in his grave.
Eric Big Arm: And then when we were loading out, this roided up dude knocked out some kids in front of the club just for looking at him. And then he charged up the street and randomly hit some other stranger walking down the street, and there were police cars and an ambulance…
Westerburg High: Cool story, bro.
Wheels: That was our tour catchphrase when anyone would go on too long with a story.
Do you all give a lot of thought to the artwork that represents the band like flyers, posters and cover art? Do you have a go to artist for your art needs? If so, who is that and how did you originally get hooked up with them?
Eric Big Arm: All our album art was done by Stacy Ellen Rich, aka LaStace. My wife. She’s an artist, a designer and an art director, and just really hooked into our style and sensibility.
Wheels: The Egg 7” design was a great collaborative effort with her. She had some ideas and through discussion, they evolved into the egg. Then while we were all still talking, she went into the kitchen, fried an egg and photographed it, then put it into the computer and made it a graphic. All while we were hanging out. And it turned into a really cool cover.
Eric Big Arm: Yeah, she’s very talented, and really hands on.
Wheels: And Eric’s done a lot of our best flyers. On the road, he was putting together these amazing flyers on his phone when we were driving from city to city.
Eric Big Arm: My favorite one was the Super Happy Fun Land one with the puking clown. Westerburg sent me that picture.
Wheels: LaStace made some great one-of-a-kind t-shirts that we sold on the road, and I designed our band shirt, which you can also order through our Bandcamp site.
With all of the many mediums of release available to musicians today I’m always curious why artists choose and prefer the various methods that they do. Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music? What about when you’re listening to and or purchasing music? If so, why?
Eric Big Arm: We like vinyl the best for the sound quality, and we’ll always release our stuff on vinyl.
Wheels: Vinyl is a great medium for cover art as well. And we do include download codes in our records for the digital kids.
Do you have a music collection at all? If so can you tell us a little bit about it?
Eric Big Arm: We all have big music collections that we’ve been building over the years. Lots of records.
Wheels: You can never stop finding good new stuff to add to a collection, and there’s always some rare releases you just can’t live without.
I grew up around a fairly large collection of music, it seems pretty big to me now, but as a kid it was truly monstrous. I was encouraged from a really young age to listen to anything that I wanted and there was something magical about this ritual that I used to have. I would wander up to these seemingly endless shelves of music and pick something completely at random to me as a kid, stick it in the player, read the liner notes, stare at the cover artwork and let the music transport me off to another dimension. Having something physical to hold in my hands always made for a more complete listening experience and I doubt that I’ll ever shake my addiction to physical music because of it ha-ha! Do you have any such connection with physically released music? If so can you talk just a little bit about that?
Wheels: Having a physical copy of music is really important to me as well. I have the digital versions of things, but I really prefer putting on a record or picking out CDs. When I used to make cassette tape mixes for people, it would be an all-day affair where I would spend a few hours making stacks of all the things that might go on it. Then I’d spread them all out on a table, and while one song was recording in real time, I’d pick out the next song based on how that one was making me feel. And then you’d road test it, and go back and re-record it again and again until it was right. It’s definitely not the same as just dragging and dropping songs on your iTunes.
Westerberg High: I definitely have that jones. My home stereo has a turntable, cassette player and a CD player, and I still buy all three of those mediums. I scoffed when cassettes came back recently. Now, of course, I have a boxful of new releases on cassette.
As much as I love my music collection portability has always been a major issue for me, I love listening to music no matter where I’m at and I was never able to take enough stuff with me on the go to keep me happy. That was before the advent of digital music, though I can carry more music on my phone that I could have stuffed in my trunk a few years ago! And when you team digital music with the internet you have a real game changer on your hands. Together they’ve exposed people to an entire world of music that they otherwise would never have been privy to and it seems to be leveling the playing field somewhat for musicians willing to harbor and promote a healthy online presence. On the other hand though, illegal downloading is running rampant, it’s harder and harder to get noticed in the chocked digital jungle and the face of the music industry is rapidly changing to day the very least. As an artist during the reign of the digital era what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?
Eric Big Arm: When I make music, I would rather people buy the record. I prefer a physical copy every time if it exists. If they don’t buy the record and they can’t pay ninety-nine cents for it on iTunes or somewhere else, whatever, I don’t care that much. If they Google us, and like us, and want to get it for free, great. Steal it! I’m not Lars fuckin’ Ulrich!
Westerberg High: I’m too lazy to get my digital collection in good enough shape to take with me. I spent a period of time downloading music from the Internet, but it was always from people’s blogs and the albums were obscure and are impossible to locate now. When I started downloading current indie and punk bands, I felt shitty about it. Now I buy compact discs because they have dropped in price while new vinyl has skyrocketed. I still have a disdain for mp3s.
Wheels: But it’s important to have a digital presence out there and have videos on You Tube because that’s where a lot of people go for music, instead of buying it at stores and at shows. You want to be accessible to everyone in the end.
I try to keep up with as much good music as I possibly can but there just aren’t enough hours in the day anymore. With more and more bands popping up every day, and so many of them being so good, is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of yet?
Eric Big Arm: Yeah, the LA scene has a lot of cool bands playing right now, some we mentioned above. Death Hymn Number 9 and Smelly Tongues are two of the best out there right now.
Wheels: And White Murder, Pol E. Wog’s other band.
Westerburg High: Check out Katrina Parker and The Savage Gospel as well.
What about nationally and internationally?
Eric Big Arm: For international, The Anomalies and Bits of Shit.
Westerburg High: Heavy Lids from New Orleans.
Wheels: Ex-Cult, Blind Shake and TV Ghost all put on intense live shows.
Thanks so much for taking the time to finish this piece, it wasn’t short and I can’t assume it was super easy but you’re done now! Before we sign off and call it a day though, is there anything that I might have missed or that you'd just like to take this opportunity to talk to our readers about?
Wheels: Thanks for asking us!
Eric Big Arm: I’m from Edwardsville, Illinois, and I have a cat named Drexl and I collect matchbooks from all over the world.
Westerburg High: Put your fucking phones down and absorb the greatness of Way To Go Genius.
(2012) Way To Go Genius – Way To Go Genius – digital, 12” – Self-Released (Limited to 300 copies)
(2013) Way To Go Genius – Egg – 7” – Self-Released (Limited to 300 copies)
Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
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