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Nihilist Spasm Band interview

November 24, 2014

Nihilist Spasm Band interview

Nihilist Spasm Band was formed in London, Ontario in 1965 and soon became one of the weirdest music collective to the present day. Back in the late ’60s music became flooded with flower power fashion and everyone tried to join a ‘rock’n’roll’ band, but there were still a lot of groups who didn’t care much about the fashion and tried to take their own music to the next level. Among them were experimental bands like Red Krayola, Cromagnon and a lot of others. Nihilist Spasm Band was even weirder than aforementioned groups and I can barely imagine a teenager, professor or anyone in particular buying their record solely because of the cover artwork, which looked pretty bizarre. Purchaser probably expected some innocent novelty record – but what happened next probably shocked them. We are talking about 1968, remember that. Sure you had a lot of freak’n’roll music around, but mostly people were used to regular radio friendly music (not that today is any better, even worse).
From the very start of their album you can hear loud growling voice screaming: “Destroy the Nations. England is dead! Destroy America. Sheuggghhhh on Canada!”. You can only imagine how the recent LP owner felt when hearing this.
In the following interview we will go through their musical journey. They are still active after so many years. The beginning can be attributed to Greg Curnoe (1936-1992) (among other factors), who was a film director and wanted to do a soundtrack for his upcoming 16 mm film.
Curnoe decided to do something unconventional and bought a lot of kazoos and gathered some friends to perform free-improvisations using aforementioned instruments. They realized they are enjoying improvisational performance and after soundtrack was made, they built larger kazoos and added one-string acoustic bass and also an unusual drum set. They made another step and plugged everything into electricity. Soon they added electric guitars, electric violin, theremin and everything that they felt it was cool. Even building weird instrument like ‘noisemaker’ and stuff like that didn’t stop them. They went further, recorded and toured in places like Paris and London, but most of the time they were really an obscure collective of friends, playing whatever they liked and that is the main reason why I find them as one of the most interesting groups.
I have always been a lover of improvisational music. I think a lot of people have whole different perception when it comes to improvised or experimental music. Technical ability is highly regarded among most of the regular listeners, but for me that is not important aspect of music; meaning that I truly believe music is an extension of individual performer who is translating the language of his soul or emotion into the language of music and when everything is made without any restriction or intention, catharsis is possible. To understand music you don’t need any education, because music is the language we all can understand. We will always cope with obstacle of moral nature, which individual listener is experiencing while listening to music and his perception of understanding.

L to R: John Clement, Murray Favro, Bill Exley, John Boyle,  Aya Onishi, Art Pratten
© Dennis Siren

Greg Curnoe co-founded Nihilist Spasm Band in 1965 to make a
soundtrack for his movie. What was the name of the film? Was it ever released?
Bill Exley: The title was “No
Movie”, and it included scenes from Nihilist Lodge in Port Stanley, Ontario,
which our group rented for two summers in 1965 and 1966, and also scenes from
the first Nihilist Banquet, which included a formal programme of speeches about
the history of nihilism and other toasts to the past and future, together with
the singing of “God Save the King” (he had died in the early ’50s). The movie also included scenes from the first
Nihilist Picnic, which featured races such as “women’s kick the shoe”. (The 50th annual Nihilist Picnic was held on
September 7, 2014.)  There were also
scenes from a lacrosse game and people drinking in the York Hotel. “Connexions”was another movie made by Greg
about people and places in London, Ontario.

The Nihilist Spasm Band with Greg Curnoe in 1966. From left,
Greg Curnoe, John Boyle, Hugh McIntyre, John Clement, Murray Favro. Vocalist
Bill Exley’s megaphone is on the right.
Photo: Don Vincent
Murray Favro: The movie although Greg’s project was also a collaboration. Hugh McIntyre (later a band member) who worked as a film
librarian had much to do with making it he had the connections to get editing
done on “No Movie”. He also supplied cuts of a Farnburogh Air Show as well as
undersea creatures like octopuses and sea snakes. I am unsure but think it was Drew Gilles of the National
Film Board who did the actual film editing because neither Hugh nor Greg could
operate editing equipment. The first kazoo involved in our nihilist activities was at
the first nihilist picnic in the same location where some of the filming for
the movie was done.
When Greg saw the film cuts of all us London people playing
Kazoos at the beach, that gave Greg the idea to use a kazoo sound track. The soundtrack was recorded in Greg’s studio in that fall
or winter. It was a lot of us and I believe we watched the film as we played
for the soundtrack. It was so much fun to see it and hear us make noises. And
best of all it needed no synching up it would always connect up somewhere
interesting. Like a sea creature cut would sometimes line up with a weird sound
or a jet would make a near fart sound that exploded into wild noise. It worked
as a separate tape soundtrack not actually on the film. The movie was shown in art galleries across Canada and I
think Greg had it in a local film co-op who made it available. It was never
released it remained an experimental art movie. The chaotic sounds in that sound track had an interesting
high energy to it that got us rather jokingly talking about what if we formed a
band. Hugh thought more of it than a mere joke because within a few days he
showed up at my studio holding a small Kazoo and a funnel he wanted to make a
louder kazoo for the band we were talking about. I could not join them up so we went to Greg’s studio his
power drill and somehow joined the two things together. Greg got excited about
having us form a band. And was soon rounding up people to talk about it. Art
Pratten was there within a day or two and Greg got John Clement who had already
made a 12 string guitar as well as a Archie Leach who assured us would be a
good addition since he was known to hang out 3rd story windows and shout
insults to people walking by on the sidewalk below. Archie always wore a suit
coat and tie and was working as a bookkeeper. He seemed a contradiction and
probably a danger to himself but anyway we tried him and his harmonica, which
didn’t seem to work with our stuff. He gave up on the harmonica and invented a
slide clarinet that was loud and perfect for our band. Exley and Boyle were in it by then too they would come to
London on weekends from their jobs out of town. Billy Exley however did not
want to ruin his teaching career so anytime we were to play in public he would
wear a monkey mask. Greg, Boyle and Pratten made kazoos and we all collected
used drums. Hugh had someone make him what he called a ‘gut bucket bass’ this consisted
of a 5 gallon metal drum with one string and a levered neck to change the notes
as he played. I played drums some of the time and a thing with strings on it
that needed amplification. Exley sang through a huge megaphone on a stand. This was the beginning before amplification that soon came
as I made guitars and Hugh had an electric bass made. By the time of our Allied recording we were all amplified.
Nihilist
Spasm Band on the top of Greg Curnoe’s studio. May, 1966. 
Photo: Don Vincent

Art Pratten: “No Movie”, it did get some
circulation and then became a myth with a lost soundtrack.

John Boyle: It was released and later
the soundtrack was lost without a trace.

Do you know his original idea behind making improvisational
soundtrack?
Art Pratten: A soundtrack was needed and like everything
else at the time if you wanted or needed something you just went out and did
it. We had some kazoos we obtained more and a group of about 15
to 20 sat around in a circle and kazood.
John Boyle: Someone found some red and black (actually red and navy
blue) 25 cent kazoos and we thought they looked like Nihilist colours of red
and black. People sat around in Greg’s
studio (he was a painter) and threw ideas around. He decided on his friends improvising on
kazoos because the film was about connections among families and friends and
the interdependence of people.

How did you know him and where did you all meet?
Bill Exley: I met Greg at a party on Talbot Street in London, Ontario in
January, 1961. I had brought a recording
of Ravi Shankar classical Indian ragas, and he borrowed it from me and invited
me to his studio to get it back. Greg
was then interested in new ideas of all kinds, and he retained this
intellectual interest in a variety of topics all his life. He was interested in jazz, for example, but
he also listened to French eighteenth century music, recordings of Ezra Pound
and other twentieth century poets, and he read writers like George Grant, who
had written “Lament for a Nation” in 1965, a book about the importance of
Canadian nationalism. Through most of
the almost 50 year history of the Band the members conversed, not only about
making noise, but also about politics, arts, ideas, etc. This kind of discussion was a part of the
vitality people felt when they heard us.
Murray Favro: I met Greg by going to his studio when I was in my last year
in art school. I wanted to see what a studio looked like and how do I get to
rent one once I finish art school. My teachers advised me to get a studio and
begin working. They knew Greg was back from Toronto and started working in a
studio in London. Ron Martin another art student knew Greg and had suggested we
should drop by on our way back from a trip to a Picasso show in Toronto. I was
impressed by Greg’s artwork and studio. It was at Greg’s studio that I met other people who
eventually became part of the band. Greg is the only artist I have met who could paint and carry
on a conversation with a number of people. He had a lot of chairs to sit on and
lots of people came and went as he worked. Every Saturday Hugh would buy a few cases of beer they went
into a big thing with ice in it we sat around and had a few beers people would
show up a lot of nurses someone had met and other beautiful young ladies would
arrive, Greg would put on records and it became a party. People who were around
in the creative influence of that time went on to do interesting things
elsewhere, one person went to head the national film board, another went to run
and edit Arts Canada Magazine. Tony Pennicott later became premier of the
Yukon. The point I am making is there was a cultural scene of creative and
interesting people and lots of them, and a place like Greg’s studio was
important as a meeting place.

Art Pratten: Greg and I grew up in the same neighborhood,
went to a couple of the same schools and took newspaper from the same depot.
The Nihilist Spasm Band in 1966. From left, Bill Exley (vocalist, with his giant
megaphone), John Boyle (kazoo), Greg Curnoe (kazoo), Murray Favro (drums), Hugh McIntyre (one-string acoustic bass) and left Art Pratten (DIY door stop instrument). Taken in Greg Curnoe’s studio.
Photo: Don Vincent (published in Region Issue No. 8)

John Boyle: We were all independently friends with Greg or with one or
another of his friends, some from early childhood. We met in his loft studio in downtown London. I was introduced to Greg by my friend Bob
McKenzie in 1960. Greg took an interest
in me because I had decided to become and artist.


Curnoe was also a member of London Regionalism. Can you tell
us what was that about?
Murray Favro: London Regionalism was a way of thinking for Greg not a
thing he belonged to. The way I understood him was the way he emphasized that art
need not emulate what is happening in a place like New York but is as relevant
no matter where it is done and need not emulate anything. In short Greg needed
other creative people to talk to in his own environment. He valued the Nihilist
Spasm Band because it was not like mainstream culture, and would be an honest
export from this region and as relevant as any other creative works from
anywhere else. We are however not
his invention I was showing my work in other cities within a year of getting my
first studio here in London. Greg did encourage people to stay here though
which actually is OK but rather unrealistic because the world was becoming very
mobile at that time and every artist that lived in London then is long gone
except myself. The concepts of the band are no leader no planned musical
direction where everyone plays what they want. We are all individuals in the band and one of us (Bill the
singer) who wants some predictable words and structure to our song pieces. We
do restrain ourselves at the beginning of his reading of the lyrics. But in the
past he used to insult the audiences but now likes them and insults band
members to be quiet while he reads the important words. We agree with him but just find it difficult to be quiet.
Art Pratten: The idea grew out of the belief you could find
inspiration and resources locally and since none of us were interested in
leaving necessity was turned into a virtue.

John Boyle: There was no London Regionalism organization. Greg was from London and loved London. He thought London was as relevant and important culturally as any other place, including New York, Paris or the other London. This was revolutionary thinking for many of us, to love the region you came from. We lived and continue to live in a colonial culture that tends to think that anything produced here is inferior to things produced in the Mother or Dominant culture, e.g. England, France and the United States.


Did any of you have any musical knowledge?
Art Pratten: We all had a knowledge and appreciation of
music, but no formal training.

John Boyle: In spite of what some of us may claim, the answer is NO!
What do you think was the main inspiration and influence for
Nihilist Spasm Band back in the ’60s?
Bill Exley: London, Ontario was a conservative (in the bad sense) and
unadventurous kind of place, and I think 
this environment created in many young people the desire to be hostile.
Murray Favro: In the 1960’s I cannot think of any influences on the band
except to have fun making energetic sounds.

Art Pratten: I think the building of the instrument was the
catalyst for the band. We could have gone on listening to music, arguing about
music and  kazooing forever but when we
started modifying kazoos and building new instrument we really started to
compete making a noise and this created a “Noise Band”.

John Boyle: We each individually had our own tastes, interests,
influences and inspirations, not necessarily shared by any of the others. We each brought ours to the group. All of us were necessarily influenced by the
others’ influences whether we liked them or not, simply because we were forced
to deal with them in our group improvisations until we found something we were
more or less happy with. For example, a
few of us were aware of New Wave free jazz like Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler
or Cecil Taylor, while others liked Mediaeval Troubadour music or English
madrigals, or the Rolling Stones. We
learned to throw our licks at each other and bounce them back and forth. If you hated some things you tried to drown
them out with your sound, and thus we became noisier and noisier.
What influences you these days?
Murray Favro: Our influences have always been the moment and the space we play in along with our equipment and listening to the other members. It is a very immediate experience and not a real influence.
Art Pratten: Just about everything.

John Boyle: I just try to listen carefully to the many improvisers we
meet at festivals and performances and learn from them when there is something
that might benefit or change my playing. I like much of what I hear , but have not yet heard anything that would
radically change what we do.
What was the scene in London, Ontario back then? Where did
you hang out?

Murray Favro: At first we hung out at Greg’s studio but it soon changed to be at the York Hotel. And that also was where the band began playing every Monday night we packed the place we also got a lot of press coverage outside London in magazines and newspapers.
It was on one of these Mondays that Bosswell head of Allied records came to hear us and during an intermission talked to us outside the York. He wanted to bring out a record of us. Soon we recorded the album in Toronto. That is how we got the record deal by Bosswell coming himself to hear us.
The Nihilist Spasm Band in 1968 at York Hotel. They played every Monday night in their pub for several years.
From left, Hugh McIntyre (bass), Art Pratten
(Pratt-A-Various), Archie Leitch (slide clarinet), Murray Favro (guitar and drums), John Clement (guitar), Bill Exley (vocals and theremin), John Boyle
(kazoo), Greg Curnoe (kazoo and drums). 
Photo: Ian
MacEachern
Art Pratten: Greg’s studio was the real centre. It was open and admission was a passion for something…anything… art, literature, theater, movies, car racing, boxing, girls, beer and parties. Not necessarily in that order.  

John Boyle: London was extremely exciting in the mid 1960’s for young
visual artists in particular. Greg
Curnoe had moved back to London after art school and found a large loft
studio. He and a group of friends opened
a small cooperative gallery called Region Gallery showing uncompromising local
work. He also started Region Magazine
where provocative local thinkers published their thoughts and poetry.  20/20 Gallery followed, and 20 Cents
Magazine. Jack Chambers moved back to
town from Spain and began painting full time in his studio. Local musicians were playing in various pubs,
and the York Hotel agreed to let the Spasm Band play on Monday nights. Artists, writers, academics, and musicians
met and socialized in Greg’s studio and in other artists lofts, exchanging
ideas and dreaming up projects.
Allied Records was a pretty big record company and it’s
quite unusual they got you signed and manage to release your LP titled “No
Record”. Did Greg Curnoe had any ties with them?
Murray Favro: I remember Allied Records was some offshoot of a big label,
it was based in Canada Boswell actually owned the tapes himself. He was out to record the next thing to happen in music and
was recording all the experimental stuff he could in case it may be one of them
that sets a new direction in the music business. Allied was doing an early
scouting for new directions.
He would not have been in the least interested in us if he
noticed influences by other bands in what we did. The Allied Corporation is the real name to search out on the
web otherwise you will end up only finding Allied Recordings in western USA
that is not the right Allied. Greg had no ties with Allied until later when they began
negotiating with us and I got the job of designing and doing artwork for the
cover of the record jacket. Someone else did liner notes, (I think it was Hugh)
and do not know who designed the back of the jacket; it may have been assembled
by the printers in Toronto with material we sent them.

Art Pratten: Not that I know of. A guy showed up on a Monday
night and asked if we were interested in making a record and we said “what
will it cost us?” he said “nothing” we said “sure why
not”.

John Boyle: He knew some other artists who were recording with Allied,
and probably that is how Allied heard about the NSB. Allied was looking for new experimental bands
and individuals to record. I think they
thought they would discover people who might become big in the unpredictable
psychedelic music world of the 60’s. They asked us to record.
I would like if you could tell us what are some of the
strongest memories from recording this album. Where was it recorded and what
instruments were used? You had your own ‘noise-machine’.
Murray Favro: It was done as if a live performance one take no rehearsing,
which we cannot do anyway. We gave
titles later for some of the tracks. I remember my Toronto art dealer being there with his
secretary, (he had taken an interest in exhibiting and selling unusual guitars
I had made a few years earlier and always was asking about the band and what we
were doing. He had not heard us though until that recording day. He could not
contain himself from jubilant laughter; he recognized pure creative activity
was what was going on. He liked it so much that he right then ordered two
cartons of the albums before they were made. I asked him later why did he buy
so many and Carmen replied ‘they will be worth a lot some day’. Some of them
eventually sold for hundreds of dollars each. I played a homemade version of a guitar with no frets on it;
also the neck could be bent to change a note while playing. Look up my name on
goggle and on images the guitars are there. You mention a ‘noise machine’, I never heard of any ‘noise
machine’ unless it was that thing Art Pratten tried out with doorstoppers on
it.

Art Pratten: The recording session is very much a blur for me
except for Archie who was hyper and shouted out some lyrics of his own. That is
where “Dog Face Man” comes from.
John Boyle: We recorded the record in a studio in broadcaster Bill
Bessey’s basement in Toronto. There were
several kazoos, drums and the bass. The
guitars had replaced a couple of kazoos. Archie Leitch had made a slide clarinet and Bill Exley played a theremin
that a friend had built for him. I
remember a wife or 2 tickling Bill’s
feet so he could make laughing noises.
What meaning has the material on the album? “Destroy the Nations” has some very provocative lyrics…
Murray Favro: I think “Destroy The Nations” had provocative lyrics as you
suggested it does. But when I actually listen to it implies that countries
mentioned have lost any idealism or Nationalism has no meaning or value any
longer. It is about doing away with the failed concepts of nationalism. But
then again another of our songs may imply the opposite on later songs like  “No Canada” where a line mimics the Troggs in saying “Canada I think I love you,. But I want to know
for sure”. Those provocative
lyrics are fun to say and fun to hear. Too much syrup is not good for anyone.

Art Pratten: They were suppose to be provocative and
humorous.

John Boyle: All of the band members contribute lines, words, ideas. We would sit around in an artist’s studio or
in a restaurant and shout out our contributions with Greg writing them
down. We were usually trying to be funny
and outrageous, but not serious. Some of
us were anti American, others were not. 
Some were almost entirely non political. Our sense of irony made things seem more revolutionary than they actually
were. Over the years some of us have
learned that ironic comments are entirely lost on many members of the public.

How about the cover artwork? Who made that?

John Boyle: The photo is of Hugh McIntyre, our bassist for 39 years
until his death. Some friends had bought
him a north African bernuse, a long gown, which he wore occasionally. The band members agreed on the title. I was not involved in the design. Was it you, Murray?…, or Art?

Art Pratten: That was all Murray.
What happened after the record came out? It actually had
some promotion & distribution since it was released on bigger record label,
right?
Murray Favro: Your question about a bigger record label is perhaps a
different Allied than the one Boswell was head of. (www.discogs.com/artist/519321-Jack-Boswell) confusing it was Allied. My
impression was that they spread the albums thinly around the world to see what
might happen somewhere. It was on it’s own in record stores where they did sell
what they made then Allied sat back to see what might happen. Something did but
it was a spread out audience and what eventually happened ten years later was
someone offered to make a new album and the same has happened other times
through the years and by now we have made a lot of albums, perhaps because of
that first one with Allied.

Art Pratten: We were jubilant. The Band got about 50, we
each took a couple copies bragged to our friends about it and promptly
abandoned the rest at the Greg’s studio.
John Boyle: Nothing much happened. It did receive some air
play, and we got a few invitations to play on university campuses. Gradually
copies found their way around the world and began to build our international
underground reputation. It took a long time before we got any feedback. One
copy made its way into the hands of Toshiji Mikawa and Jojo Hiroshige of
Hijokaidan in Japan in the late 1980s. In 1991 we received an invitation sent
to the mailing address on the record in London to record on Alchemy Records,
Jojo’s label in Osaka.

What can you say about concerts? With who did you share
stages?
Murray Favro: The NSB has played numerous concerts and music festival
things and tours, so many places that I sometimes mix them up when I try
remembering what happened where.
Audiences today are better listeners than the ones in the
1960’s and more musicians can play along with us now also it seems that in the
past they always wanted to bring some concept to try out with us. These ideas
never worked, now many musicians can just play with no plan its all listening
and reaction what they do will be a surprise to them. Some people I remember were Maynard and the Mocking Birds,
Mike Snow, Lighthouse, Sonic Youth, Joe McFee, Joe Joe and Junko, to name a
few.
I have never listened to weird stuff.

The Nihilist Spasm Band performing in UK at ICA, London (1969).
From left, Archie Leitch (clarinet), Hugh McIntyre (bass), Bill Exley (theremin, vocals), Art Pratten (pratt-a-various).

John Boyle: For 20 years we mostly emptied theaters and bars. In the 1980’s we played in Quebec for the
first time and received an enthusiastic response for nearly the first time
ever. We were shocked. In the 1990s we began to tour
internationally for the first time since 1969. Also, the No Music festival was started by some young enthusiasts and
fans in London. There were 5 festivals
in all. We played with many of the
world’s leading improvisers, including Fred Van Hove, Thurston Moore, Lee
Renaldo, Hijokaidan, the Incapacitants, Ken Vandermark, Alexander Hacke, Joe
Mcphee, REM, and countless others. We
were always impressed by the down-to-earth civility and friendliness of the
musicians, but we were never overawed by them. Thankfully, we always felt like equals. Of course, all humans are equals.

You even went to Europe. What’s the story behind that?
Murray Favro: We have gone to Europe many times on tours and played in
festivals there. When you ask what the story is about going to Europe you
must be referring to the first time we were sent as Canada’s part in an art
cultural thing in Paris’s at it’s main contemporary museum where other
countries sent stuff to hang on walls we played outdoors and the street
audience seemed to enjoy it. Then we went to some art school in London England and played
next and came back to Canada.

Art Pratten: We represented Canada at the Paris Biennial. It
was great none of us had been to Europe before, the wives all went and we had a
great time and Oh yes we played a couple of times.
Your music is very unique. Did you know or listen to other
weird stuff like “Trout Mask Replica” by Captain Beefheart? Or perhaps bands like Cromagnon, Red
Krayola or even maybe work like “Indeterminacy: New Aspect of Form in Instrumental and
Electronic Music” by John Cage and David Tudor?
Murray Favro: Never heard or heard of any of those people like Beefart, or
Krayolla or the others even never read about or heard John Cage’s stuff, only
heard the name in conversations.

Art Pratten: The problem is that although we listened to
various groups we can only do what we do make a noise on whatever we have at
hand in response to whatever noise the others are making.
What are some of the craziest memories you have, that
happened on the road or in general?
Bill Exley: There are so many funny stories. The story Murray tells about the van in
Quebec having to drive back a hundred miles to pick up Bill Exley, whom they
had left behind, is not true. It is a crazy
story, but it is an invented one.
Murray Favro: I am now trying to think about the craziest things happening
while traveling with the band. We toured and made an album with Sunplexis they flew over
from France and we started in Quebec from there we got in a van and came into
Ontario. I forgot most of the trip to Toronto but when the album came
out Sunplexis wrote the liner notes in them were things I had forgotten but
seemed crazy to read. They complained that Canadian food causes diarrhea
especially that peutine stuff, then went on to say we had forgotten Bill Exley
at one of the rest stops and did not notice for hundreds of miles before we
went back to get him. We actually noticed almost right away because it was so
quiet in the van, the problem was these super highways in Canada are one way
with a turn around point which is about a hundred miles then when you are going
back on the far lane (again one way) you can only wave to him and then proceed
to the next nearest turnaround to get back in the right lane. So OK it was a
couple hundred miles but that’s nothing in Canada, it’s a big place. I suppose
in Europe it would be like driving from France to Russia perhaps but here it is
necessary to get to those turnarounds and it was crazy for Sunplexis. That is
my crazy trip story wait listen to this when they got to Toronto they went
“whew that was a long way but at least we got to see all of Canada.

Art Pratten: I view the Band as one single long event.
Individual events just blend in. 
Do psychoactive drugs play any role in your songwriting,
recording or performance as a band?

Murray Favro: We never took drugs but at a performance with Maynard and
the Mocking Birds after hearing us one of them said to Hugh “we will trade you
what we take for what you guys are taking”. Hughs answer was perfect “You get
high to play”……”we play to get high”. And that is our attitude still.

Art Pratten: At 10 cents a glass beer was and still is the
drug of choice.
It took almost ten years to record second album, which came
out in 1978. What’s the story behind this one?
Art Pratten: We played at the “Music Gallery”.
They said that they recorded all concerts and did we mind if they put out a
record, we said “what will it cost us” they said
“nothing” we said “sure
why not”.
Later on you recorded and released a lot of albums and you
had a few visits to Europe and Japan. You actually have a lot of fans in Japan.
How do you feel about that?



© Warren Pratten
Murray Favro: It is good to have listeners appreciate our
creative works. I think I understand why they like us, it has to do with living
in their society that is so structured and with proper ways to act that they
let loose when they see unstructured creativity. As an example one of the best
Japanese noise performers works at a high up job at a bank but he is an
entirely different person making noise music on weekends banging his head with
drumheads and making noises like a cave dweller. They need chaotic
distractions.
Art Pratten: It is nice to be liked. and it was nice to go
to Japan meet the players and hear what they were doing.

© Warren Pratten

How did the lineup change during the years?
Murray Favro: The only person to quit the band was Archie Leach and he did
it around late 1969 so he actually was only in the band for about 5 years. He
was about to turn 30 or had already. Archie had told us many times he had a goal to be a
millionaire by the time he was 30 and we were had not helped with this ambition
of his so he wanted his fair share of any money we had put into buying amps.
Hugh and I had the task of solving this by not stopping him from quitting the
band or making us sell the amps to give him his fair share. A few beers and patience listening he wanted cash not any band
equipment and he settled for a share of the equipment when the band breaks up
and sells it. Hugh wrote out an agreement for us to sign on a cigarette carton.
I’m not sure how legal it all was or if Hugh made two copies. Anyway Archie
seems to be OK with the fact we still have not broken up the band.

Band in 1990s. © Norma Exley

Greg died while riding his bicycle that was hit by a truck
about 1995. Hugh died of cancer in about 2008. Aya is now our drummer; we met her in Japan where she organized
our tours there. She was truly a fan and sort of followed us back to Canada
where she went to university to learn English well enough to be able to dub
movies. I was never sure if it was to dub Japanese movies with English or to
dub English movies with Japanese. Either way she ended up not dubbing films and marrying John
Boyle, now she travels as our drummer to all concerts. She is like a member but
wants to stay out of any internal band problems so we have to decide things.

Art Pratten: Archie Leitch left of his own accord, Greg was
killed, we picked up Aya Ohnishi in Japan and then Hugh died. I can not imagine adding anyone else. We will probably continue playing til a
few more die and the others are not let out.   

50th Annual Nihilist Spasm Band Picnic. Murray Favro is missing. Taken at Poplar Hill Park, near London, Ontario.
© Jesse Locke
Aya Onishi: When I was fourteen years old in 1984, my school mates and I started the band called
Sekiri in which I was the drummer, and that led me to meet Jojo Hiroshige of
Hijokaidan, who is the founder of Alchemy Record in Japan. In 1996, I was working at Alchemy Record,
and we organized the Spasm Band`s first Japanese tour. During the tour, I sat in with the band and
played the drums with them for the first time in my home town, Kyoto,
Japan. Later In 1998, I was interested
in making sub-titles for movies so I decided to go back to school to study
English again, and I told Jojo about my plan. He gave me the crazy advice that
I should  go to a school in London,
Ontario, Canada so that I could go to their every Monday night show! I thought it was a brilliant idea so I
followed the advice, and  ended up being
lodged at the Prattens, going to school, and playing with the band every Monday
night. I got a chance to make sub-titles
when the great Canadian film maker, the late Zev Asher made a documentary film
about the Spasm Band called “What About Me: The Rise of the Nihilist Spasm Band” in 2000, and the film was shown in Tokyo, and Osaka in 2004.  Looking back, I did lots of shows, tours, and
projects with the band. To me, the sound of the band is unique, curious, and
stubborn but never menacing. When we play with great attention to each other`s
sounds, it  becomes incredible. It sounds
alive. When we play like that, that is definitely my favourite moment of the
band.   

Who is currently in the Nihilist Spasm Band and what
currently occupies your life?
Current band members;
Murray Favro  (lead guitar)
John Clement  (lead bass)
Art Pratten  (lead prat-a-various and second fiddle)
Bill Exley (lead vocalist)
John Boyle (Kazoo, drums and lead thumb harp)
Aya Onishi (lead kazoo and lead drummer)
Bill Exley: One of the bad things about getting older is that people
fall into attitudes of hostility, narrowness, and lack of intellectual
curiosity. I am reading new books,
meeting new people, and finding inspiration from people who are young or who
have youthful enthusiasms.
Art Pratten: As answered in “What influences you these
days?”… Just about everything
Any advice for people who are starting a band?
Murray Favro: Tour as little as needed in a year or your band will break
up. We have seen it many times a band with a gig almost every
day for months. If you do this just remember familiarity breed’s contempt
(sais Uncle Hugh). You will hate one another in no time if you overdo it, just
do what you can enjoy otherwise your band may last a maximum of 4 or 5 years.

Art Pratten: Be bold’ 
there will always be people who will be surprised and amused that you
have the audacity to put something out there but if you believe in what you are doing they will come to
either appreciate what you are doing or at least respect you for doing it. But remember… this is for you, your vision comes first.

The Nihilist Spasm Band atMusic Gallery.
Art Pratten, Murray Favro, John Boyle, Aya Ohnishi, Bill
Exley, John Clement 
© Tara Fillion

I would like to thank you for taking your time and effort
for this Psychedelic Baby interview, which I 
really enjoyed making.


“Under AK 47”, 2014 
John Boyle, Bill Exley, Art Pratten, Murray Favro, John
Clement, Aya Ohnishi
© Laura Exley

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014
One Comment
  1. very very

    Absolutely brilliant interview. Awesome.

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