It wasn’t easy, but it happened. The cagey Bodish boys of MORDECAI found themselves cornered and compelled to respond to the grilling of a trusted Richie Records // TestosterTunes agent. The guys were reluctant to answer, and demanded that much of the conversation be deleted from the public record. But here’s what remains. It’s heavy on Quine, Reed, Dead, regional, & congratulatory content. Introduction & interview by Max Milgram of Philadelphia…
I was intrigued by the existence of Mordecai’s debut lp on the Killertree label from a couple years back. The notion of a noisy proto/post garage/punk band from Montana on Ex-Cocaine’s house label had me checking the state of my wallet (thin) but the ultra-murky result had my checking the state of my ear canal (waxy). Cool but maybe the lack of fidelity obscured the songs a little too much. Happily a video of them playing in a bathroom shed some clarity on their sound and made me a firm believer. A follow-up single on Wäntage showcased some vague pop sensibilities amid the guitar-shard grime and is very, very good. And now their second lp, College Rock, is due out on this very (esteemed) label! It is unquestionably their best (yet)! What do they sound like, you may wonder. Perhaps I am too easily influenced by the power of suggestion(see the first question), but I hear them leapfrogging from the Neon Boys to the Voidoids while dipping into both Swell Mapsian clatter and Crazy Horsian loose rural songsmithery. A lazy comparision for sure but I never claimed to be ambitious. Here’s what the Brothers Bodish had to say:
MAX: What’s the story with owning Robert Quine’s guitar?
Holt: Parent’s got a buddy with impeccable taste. Studied sitar playing under a student of Ravi, worked at IBM in the 80s and 90s, used to have parties at his ranch house in Butte that my parents would go to and the kids would get to play around in his music room (first time I played an electric guitar…he had a stage built in his basement with far too many guitars, drums, basses etc. to hit/make noise). The parents played pool in a room kids were not allowed into because the walls were plastered with Playboy centerfolds. He worked at a guitar store in New York in the early 90′s that Quine would frequent and one time asked Quine about a shiny blue guitar that he had (maybe he had worked on it or something…or saw a picture of him playing it (supposedly used to record some solos on Mathew Sweet’s Girlfriend though I’ve never actually listened to the album (ED. NOTE- Don’t bother.))) and Quine just gave it to him! About the mid-late 00′s he gave it to me as a b-day present or something hoping that I would start playing licks like the Quine. I had heard the Voidoids before but never knew the guitar player’s name. Elijah knew about him though (somehow that dude learned how to use the internet to find cool shit and I never have (luckily he has my email)). We had already been playing music together with our buddy Eric on drums but I remember us really kicking out some jams one I had that axe….really the pickups on it are some kinda custom Quine magik; they sting!
Elijah: Mordecai/Watery Love split rec “Underneath the Bottle”/”Waves of Fear”(ED. NOTE- Huh????)
Holt & the guitar
Who is Steve Hesske and how did his portrait end up as College Rock’s cover? What exactly is “stun guitar”?
Elijah: Steve is a friend of the band. Resident of MT. Lifelong fan of under-the-counter-culture. Took an interest in our crappy recordings early on and has helped support for three years now. Pushing us on others and assorted ‘weird’ music on us. He recently heard someone say their fav. band was Mordecai and told the kid something along lines of “Mordecai wouldn’t be what they are today w/out me.” He’s right. That’s why he’s on cover. “Stun guitar” is a guitar played by either Eric Bloom (ED. NOTE- Eric Bloom played “stun guitar” in Blue Oyster Cult, a fantastic American rock outfit) or Steve.
Holt: Hesske would know what a stun guitar is, but I can tell you it is not a real guitar at all. Its more of an aura you know. He hipped Eli and thus me to some good tunes. I’m not one for names of anything but I can tell you that whenever Eli would put it on it would blow me outta the water. Because of that I started to play the guitar more ferociously and with less and less self consciousness. It became a release you know, like a really good release of all this tension and aggression and emotion; one doesn’t experience that catharsis when one tries to actually play the guitar. It comes from a realization that the sounds you wanna hear are not what traditionally comes out of a guitar, it’s whatever is put into it from the inside. And what you got inside is not a Merle Haggard song or a Bob Dylan song (not that they are not great songwriters) its more of a Neil Hagerty kinda song.
I drew the cover art for College Rock. Steve sent Elijah, and Elijah sent me, a cell phone picture that I mocked up and it came out looking like he was attending the performance of an Elizabethan play (or maybe an actor in one). That was something that just came out of the drawing though, I sometimes have to look at pictures of mathematicians from the 1800′s and 1900′s and that kinda filtered into my image i guess.
Steve really is an inspirational figure ya know. I’ve never met him or had a convo w/ him but I kinda think of him as the Mersenne of good music these days (Mersenne was a guy Fermat and Descartes and a buncha other French intellectuals corresponded w/ and he would send results of one mathematician to another one that he thought would get a kick out of it…or maybe improve on the result). Steve is in my mind constantly connecting the music world together.
Can you narrow down a favorite Dead show or even just era? Lately I’ve been digging the Persian base lull of the 78 tour but not enough to pinpoint one particular show.
Holt: Dunno what the Persian base lull of 78 is (ED. NOTE- Persian base was a potent form of heroin that everyone in the band, but particularly Jerry, was using. By ’78 he was severely strung out but in a way that gave that year’s shows a slowed-down, nod-out deep heaviness. Very recommended year to check out. Don’t do drugs!) but boiling down a fav. Dead era is tough. Recently my mom sent me a show from their 71 tour on youtube and It blew my mind (hers too). The Dead are really wrinkled, they are playing a cold June night in France in from of some chateau and the equip or the cold or the drugs in France have these guys ripping through a version of “Hard to Handle” sung by the sickly Pigpen that passes the litmus tests I employ. 1st Dead album is great for me. Can’t really think of a bad song on that record. “Morning Dew” is a beauty. Recently some of the later 70′s jams of ‘Loser’ have been hitting me hard: “and I got no chance of losing….this time”. Dunno, Its gotta be the right day and time and i gotta have the right kinda herb to really be a huge Deadhead because I like it more in your face most of the time, but there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of good grass here in Montana so there does not seem to be a chance for me. So I can dig punks hating on the Dead, they get a little dreary and plonky sometimes, but it’s not reasonable in my book to say that Jerry doesn’t melt your soul with his leads and singing. Sometimes all a punk may need to get along in the world is for his soul to be melted.
Elijah: My favorite Dead songs are ‘Cream Puff War’ and ‘Viola Lee Blues’ and I don’t know of any instance of them playing these songs live past American Beauty era (and probably earlier). So my favorite period is the early one. I don’t have a favorite tape from this era but have heard good ones.
Correct me if my assumptions about Missoula are way off base (ED. NOTE- My assumptions WERE way off base as Mordecai is not based in Missoula but in Butte, which is over 100 miles away), but isn’t there a considerable amount of empty space? I’m surprised you chose to record in a community center bathroom or was that the only viable option?
Elijah: I know MT is the the 4th largest state with the 3rd (approx) smallest population in U.S. so it does have lots of open space. Our drummer, Gavin, is a real MT guy: hunting, fishing, etc. But me and Holt are more pocket-protector indoor types. We thought the Y’s bathroom had good natural reverb and were renting a studio there from our dad (an artist who was then director of an arts foundation that owns a 100 year old ex-YMCA). The new record was recorded in our newer studio which used to function as an army recruiting office.
Holt: Our dad was the director of a non profit arts foundation in Butte, not Missoula (ED. NOTE- Yes, got it), while we were going to high school and until i got into college. One of the things they did was invest in a YMCA building (that was sold to them for $1) and attempt to open a community art center. He gave us a place to play music. It was the best music studio one could ask for. The men’s locker room at a YMCA. So we went crazy, recording in the showers, playing really really loud music a lot. When Elijah went to college and I was still living in Butte going to high school me and my buddy Nick would play loud guitars together there almost every night. It was way too much fun and probably why I got no scholarships in high school. But it was probably better than any scholarship because you only live once and experiences like that come so rarely. The other option was to sit at home and do nothing, or to go out and play beer pong with 30 cases of Keystone Light. There was no better option than what we had. And I would attribute the sound of our band to being able to learn while jamming like that, in a relaxed environment where we could sound however we wanted and not feel (too) bad about it.
On a scale of 1-25, how excited are you to be on the Richie Records//Testostertunes roster? Outside of College Rock, what is your favorite release? Please. Be honest.
Elijah: Feel odd w/ the number grading system. People always say a really big number to show how enthused they are but it usually makes them seem less than 100% and more like they are afraid the person they are rating will be offended if they don’t overcompensate. But i am really excited (and generally not too excited of a guy), especially since all my extended family lives in PA, and i think some are Phillies fans (ED. NOTE- Go Phills!!!!!). Home Blitz is the best band in the world. Watery Love is the best in America. (ED. NOTE- I am willing to live with that)
Holt: I’m way stoked, couldn’t be happier. I’m bad at communication and use of technology but whenever I seem to have to email Richie to give him my address or something I get the impression he’s a great guy (ED. NOTE- Richie is kind of a prick). Those are really the only interactions I’ve had with him though, but I can’t complain about his taste. I love the Watery Love singles (I don’t know which one (if any) he put out himself): like the “New Kind of Kick” cover a lot, others great too just don’t know the names (ED. NOTE- All 3 Watery Love singles are excellent and well worth your time tracking down). Hearing the Home Blitz album for the first time was a fucking eye opener, I never imagined you could do music like that! I wanna hear that Clockcleaners stuff too, Richie, if you’re listening. Never got much into Vile but I don’t think his music is terrible. My buddy played me a song off his new LP recently that was good (you could hear his voice clearly and there was a solid ‘riff’) but then the next song totally turned me off, so it seems hit or miss for me.
25 dude, where else would I rather be?
COLLEGE ROCK will be released May 28.