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NoMeansNo

by Chris Colland

I was going to write some long ass intro to this interview, but I'll let the interview take care of itself. All I'm going to say is that Nomeansno may be the most underrated band of the last twenty years. Chris: We're going to assume that everyone is just stupid and they don't know who NoMeansNo is. Just give a brief history because you guys have been around much longer than most people know of.
Rob: We started out with our first single release which was before we played live, it was the first thing that had NoMeansNO's name on it in March of 1980. It was called "Here Come the Wormies," sort of a strange little new-wave song. We were just recording on 4-track. So that's twenty-one years we've been a band.
Chris: So you were a two-piece, just you and your brother, and then you got your first guitarist, Andy Kerr?
Rob: Yeah, we started as a two-piece and then Andy joined us. The two-piece line-up made us sound the way we sound because being a two-piece we couldn't do straight guitar rock. So we had to a lot more as a rhythm section. So we carried that through until we got our first guitar player.
Chris: So that was around 1985 for the album "You Kill Me," which you put out by yourself?
Rob: Yeah, us and a small label called Profile. At that point we managed to get really lucky by going to Europe and finding a big audience. That's what turned a sort of college art project into an actual career.
Chris: So you think you do better in Europe than over here?
Rob: Oh yeah, we do. Twice better in Europe than as in North America. We always have. It's kinda weird, but you know what it is? --- It's liquor. All those little all ages places can serve beer. Every little town had its youth center, government funded, nice PA, little stage, cafe bar where they could sell liquor. So every show when people would come, even if it was only twenty people they were all drinking. Money was generated so these places survived and people started bands and they had a really strong scene. In North America, you can't sell liquor at an all ages show, so they cannot make money. So they cannot stay going. So that's why the scene in North America has always been weaker than Europe. Weaker, weaker, weaker than Europe. It really wasn't the artistic sensibility.
Chris: Yeah, you should've just said that Europeans are much smarter.
Rob: It's economics and liquor. Liquor and rock'n'roll go together. You can't get away from it.
Chris: So you went from a three-piece with Andy Kerr and then....
Rob: And then in the early nineties Andy left, and we made another record as a two-piece where I played guitar. For better or for worse. It was "Why They Call Me Mr. Happy." So when we went to tour for that record we garnered the services of a friend of ours named Tom Holliston who was also from Victoria and who also wore glasses, those were the prerequisites to being in the band. We basically had to teach him how to play guitar our way which was very diffiucult for him. But he wanted to do it, and it was better than having someone who could play really well, but was a real stinker. It was always better to have someone who was of like mind. So we've been touring with him ever since and then we toured with a second drummer for a few tours. It was really fun but legistically a nightmare. Now we're back to being a three-piece, and we just finished our ninth full-length album.
Chris: So what exactly happened to your first guitarist, Andy Kerr?
Rob: He's living in Amsterdam with a wife and kid. (laughter)
Chris: So he doesn't do any music anymore?
Rob: He does home recordings but he doesn't do anything live or touring. He's basically a house dad.
Chris: So he just has a job?
Rob: No. (laughter) In Holland you don't need a job.
Chris: I'm just gonna throw the word Canada out. You know that many Americans have a strange perception of Canada and make fun of it a lot.
Rob: But you know that most major comedians in America are Canadian.
Chris: Yeah, exactly. But do Canadians take that humor with a grain of salt or do they get all pissed off and say, "Fuck those fucking Americans."
Rob: Well, there's "knee-jerk resentment" sometimes but mainly Canadians feel lucky to have access to the most dynamic culture in the world and yet not have all the social ills that come along with it.
Chris: 'Cause guns aren't legal.
Rob: Yeah, it's sort of toned down America.
Chris: You also have a way better health-care system up there right?
Rob: Well, sort of. It's free but it ain't exactly quick. Unless your lying bleeding in the street, you'll have to wait months and months to get stuff done. Mainly, what's good about Canada is that it's a big place with very few people and that makes life a lot easier for everyone.
Chris: Music in general, you guys have been around long enough to see music go through several changes especially in the underground which doesn't seem to exist anymore. Where do you guys think you fit in, in the whole scheme of things?
Rob: I really don't know where we fit in anywhere now, if at all. We fit in with the crowd that likes us and likes our music that we've garnered over the last twenty odd years. But as being part of any cohesive scene, that cohesive scene doesn't exist anymore. It's been totally diluted. We're really lucky in a sense that we never were so aligned with a scene that we died when it died. I'm kind of disappointed but it's inevitable. I mean I love to see punkrock get hugely popular but when it did everyone's mind-set changed to becoming rich and famous popstars instead of playing this kind of music because you loved it. Whenever money gets involved it changes everything. I always thought the Ramones should've been the number one pop band but if they had been it wouldn't have been as good probably.
Chris: It's sort of how there is no difference nowadays between the jock guy who beats you up and the punkrocker with earrings. They all listen to the same music.
Rob: Yeah, it's time to move on. You need people to focus on being creative musically and doing that in their own way. That's what was the "alternative" to alternative music. Pop music is music made to be a product to sell records. When that becomes everything, you're missing it. There's just not that much original music for its own sake being made. Ironically enough, in the club/techno scene there's probably more originality.
Chris: Yeah. I can't think of that many modern day rock bands that I even like. I suppose they're out there if you really look for them. But I guess I think some techno music is at least interesting.
Rob: Yeah, it's not my scene either. But at least there are people out there doing things just for the fucking hell of it. But most rock bands nowadays go out looking for the contract first and think about the songs later, and that's just stupid.
Chris: On that note, I could say that your band influenced me to a great degree. Not to pat you on the ass or anything. But as Rob of Nomeansno, who initially influenced you to do what you do?
Rob: I think it was the attitude of punkrock, not the music. When I first heard the Ramones, I was listening to fusion jazz and blues rock.
Chris: So was it the wreckless abandonment of...
Rob: It just took away all the dross, and there was the core of what I really wanted to hear which was a hard-driving riff. And also the attitude of people talking as people and not as Hyperian Gods or whatever fantasy world they're living in. It's just a "fuck you, we're all the same, do what you want, be pissed off if you wanna be pissed off" kind of attitude. "Be stupid if you're stupid."
Chris: Was there any other bands besides the Ramones? I definitely see some sort of post-punk influence there.
Rob: Yeah, when we first started that's what got us in to the whole thing. When we actually started playing, we were more influenced by bands like PIL and the whole post-punk thing.
Chris: Killing Joke, Gang of Four....
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. When we first started touring, we were playing mostly to hardcore audiences. But the southern California super fast hardcore stuff was something I never really got into. My stuff was always previous to that and then anything else that I'd been listening to for years, blues, jazz. But, it was our attitude that let us fit in with that scene. We just did what we wanted to do and drew from everything we'd already heard. Whatever sounded right we tried to do. And that's a question of attitude and not really musical choice. And that's what's missing from a lot of music now. It's formulaic.
Chris: Yeah, it's sort of like when someone has been listening to KORN all day and they come to your show expecting you to sound like them or whatever they like. And when you don't sound that way they get all pissed off.
Rob: Yeah, it's alright for KORN to sound like KORN, but it's not OK for the twelve other bands trying to sound like KORN. You know what I mean.
Chris: Well, I don't think that most people come to shows nowadays to be enlightened.
Rob: Yeah, I think we have the advantage to that because that's what people do expect when they come to our shows. People who are KORN fans don't necessarily come to see a Nomeasno show. We sort of have our own little fan base. They come to see what we're up to at the moment and they accept a lot of shit from us.
Chris: Are you still doing your own label, Wrong Records?
Rob: Sort of. That's always been a sort of an on-and-off thing.
Chris: So it's never really been a full time occupation?
Rob: We never really wanted to go out and find the next new band or whatever.
Chris: So you basically put out records by your friends?
Rob: Yeah, like the band we're playing with tonight, Removal. They are a band from Vancouver who we liked, who were having trouble getting their music out so they're on Wrong Records. That's basically what we do. We don't take demos.
Chris: A lot of people have told me that they've had a harder time trying to find Alternative Tentacles records (Nomeansno's label) since the division of the partnership between Jello Biafra and the other Dead Kennedys?
Rob: I'm sure that's true.
Chris: Have you guys felt the effects of that at all?
Rob: I think we have, yeah. It's unfortunate that the label and distrobution is not in good health. That's true of independent music in general unfortunately. There might be changes made, it's hard to see. It all depends on whether Jello can get his ass out of court. That's one of the big problems. It's one of those pathetic things. Why does that always happen with former bandmates trying to divy up the spoils. In the court system it's just classicly stupid.
Chris: But on the high note, you do have a new record out called "Nowhere"?
Rob: "No One"
Chris: Ok, sorry, see I couldn't find the record.
Rob: (laughter) There you go. That's why we have to sell it on tour out of the back of the truck. I'll give you one.
Chris: Ok, on that note. We were wondering if we could just pay you guys directly to get in instead of giving Club West our money because Club West is evil.
Rob: (laughter) I can probably get you plus two on the guest list.
Chris: I thought we'd just take a stab at it. It seemed like the perfect time.
Rob: Yeah, it's ok, we don't really have anyone on our guest list anyway.
Chris: Let's end this out because I've already made this way too long, what's the future for Nomeansno?
Rob: Nomeansno is going to take a rest after this tour. We've done about a year and half touring on this record, which isn't even really a new record anymore. We're going to try to do another Hanson Brothers (Nomeansno's/Ramone's alter ego) record. It's hard to say. We've never had five year plans.
Chris: Yeah, I was going to ask "Where do you see the band in ten years?"
Rob: I don't know. It could be going strong with its thirteenth release or it could be all done.
Chris: I'm sure you didn't even think you'd be doing it this long.
Rob: If you'd asked me when we started, "Do you think you're going to be making a living and doing this twenty years from now?" I would have been, "What are you nuts? It's impossible." When I say, "Twenty fuckin' years." It doesn't seem like it. It seems like five or six with maybe one lost in between. It's quite amazing actually.

 

 

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