I had a chance to talk to Jeff Schneider recently. Jeff has a new book out about his time in the influential and amazing Providence based group Arab On Radar. The following redacted exchanges have been allowed by the CIA and FBI.
A lot has been written about music in Boston over the years. This feels like the definitive story of Providence ( and the noise scene,really). Was this your intention or a happy accident?
Jeff: I set out to write the stories of this period of my life. The book ended up being a memoir of the early part of my life and the Providence music scene was and is something I feel I helped create, worked within and contributed to in an important way. There was a lot going on in the time that Arab On Radar played, Lightning Bolt’s best shows, and many, many other bands. I mention Six Finger Satellite a lot in the book as they were a major influence on my life, it was a time of intense creativity. It was intentional on my part to tell these band stories in the book to the best of my ability.
What prompted you to tell your story?
Jeff:Many things of course as it is complicated, but, first I wanted to document the important things that happened in my life in music. Also, I wanted fans of my band Arab On Radar to glean some insight as to what was going on with us during the time we played e.g. how we wrote songs, how we practiced, how difficult it was to tour at that time, how we wanted to make it big, most of all how delusional one can get about your worth and why it is okay to do many things in life, don’t put all your bread in one basket. Another aspect is that my former bandmates seemed to be co-opting a lot of my work, things I did and things I was a major part of, they seemed to be omitting me from history. At this present moment you can (if you have a strong stomach) go to Facebook on all of their personal pages and see a “statement” on their part calling me an “individual” as if I wasn’t in the band or something. It is malevolence of the worst kind. I can tell they were scared of what I might write about them but if you read the book they all look pretty damn good if you ask me. I think they look really foolish for trying so hard to ban the book from being published. It is out, people can read it and judge for themselves about who did what. There is some healing from trauma aspects of it because they have been shit talking me for years and it does hurt, so I feel redeemed that they can no longer profit from a false narrative they have spread for over 15 years. The truth will rise above and shine.
It was obvious seeing AOR many times that you guys worked really hard to perfect your craft, yet you were always fun to see live. When I read the book it surprised me that the tone was pretty serious, all grown up even. Was that a conscious decision or just maturity rearing its ugly head?
Jeff:I don’t know. Masturbation in peep booths and snorting cocaine in Seattle is pretty juvenile shit. I wrote about the past and I am grown up. I am a responsible adult now in my mid-40’s, I guess I should write it seriously. Maturity is inevitable, some wear it better than others.
How long did it take to write?
Jeff:It took exactly one year to write to the day and perhaps to the hour. I am continuing to write and my next book I think will take longer. I had to get this out fast, the whole thing was a frenzied process of late night typing and seeing the sun rise on it. I think it shows in the punctuation and grammar which of course is intentionally that way. It was a high energy experience much like speeding down the highway on a Harley at night doing 100 mph. You better not hit a pebble.
Was it cathartic, painful, or fun? Or all at the same time? Why did you decide to put it out yourself? I’m sure there was a lot of interest.
Jeff: It was cathartic, I feel liberated, I got a lot off of my chest and I told my stories well I think. I told the stories in the way they should be told, in the correct voice i.e. “This book is to be read in a Providence accent,” I wanted it to be unique writing. Painful, yes, to think of what could have been. I am saddened when many of my friends succumbed to drug addiction because no matter how you cut it, you do think, and it’s true, what could this person have been if addiction never entered their lives? I feel similarly about the book’s content. What if I had enlisted in the US Navy at 18? How would my life have been different? What if I never met Eric Paul or Steve, Andrea, the others that came and went, what would I be like? Would I have been the guitarist in Mike Patton or Devendra Banhart’s band? Michael Gira’s band? Dashboard Confessional? Holy shit… I put it out myself because first, I believe in DiY ethic, no matter how out of style it may be now. Fly your flag and see who salutes it – Lemmy. I am sick of paying some other guy’s mortgage. Arab On Radar was always a financial mess and there are bimbos living high on the hog partially off of our ass to this day. There was no interest whatsoever. In fact, there was a massive campaign of intentional disinterest and obfuscation from many people. Both of the label owners that AOR put music out on, when sent their free copy, both said something to the effect of “got it, haven’t had time to get around to reading it yet…” blah blah but yet get up every day, put on fancy clothes, do hair like a model and take selfies all day, every day, share on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and probably others I have no idea about (Snapchat) ha ha, and promote themselves, I just can’t imagine being a person like that. Then again I am from the old neighborhood in Providence, RI and proud of that. But interest, not of yet. I know Lydia Lunch read my book and that is about all I need to be happy for the rest of my life, that is who I wanted to reach. If there are any hotshots in the writing world who want to help me get this to another level of course write me, I am not too proud to beg.
Is Pig Roast Publishing your main focus going forward?
Jeff: Yes sir. I put out a great book by Christopher Feltner, a photo documentary book about scrolling in bathroom stalls, he and another gent collected these photos over 15 years of material, all sorts of cool, funny graffiti from all over the globe. It is an interesting topic. I was at a chic dinner party and mentioned the topic which broke out to a long (too fucking long) conversation about why do they do it and what motivates a man to do that? I have seen some pretty vile scribblings in bathrooms of all genders. Some of the funniest jokes I read at campsites in the ladies rooms, one said, “Shit Creek Survivor.” I will be putting out more books, a chap wrote me just the other day about a collection of short stories. It is a collaborative process. I want authors who really have no fear and write amazing stuff, I am low brow, I like Bukowski, there I said it. I also like thug writing, street writing, something real. I hate poetry publishing (even though I read some poets) I think the genre needs a rest, people send me manuscripts almost every day, sometimes 5 a day, and if I read one more “Father” themed poem I may vomit. It is spent. The only poet I would consider is someone from the Caribbean, but the Anglo authors should stop. I also wholesale reject Marxist, Feminist blah blah for my publishing. Save it for the Ivy League colleges. If you want to send real stuff, something as real as Arab On Radar or any other artist mentioned in Psychiatric Tissues, then please do. I do read each and every manuscript and give feedback, sometimes offending people but sticking with truth. If I know of a better place, a better publisher more in synch with the writing, I will make a referral for the author. Not all things have to be on Pig Roast Publishing.
Are you still making music?
Jeff: No I am not. There is an entire Arab On Radar album written that was never recorded and there is an entire Made in Mexico (my other, later band) album recorded all but the vocals. Interest has diminished, Music is pretty bad now (bar a few novelty acts e.g. Surfbort) and as I documented in Psychiatric Tissues I have some strong opinions as to what happened. This pillar of society (Music) collapsing has made it too painful for me to continue the never ending suffering of being in a touring band. The Cons outweighed the Pros. I also, arrogantly, feel that people don’t deserve it. You get what you deserve and if you are so fucking dumb and selfish, you don’t communicate with your neighbor or can’t, then well, sorry you get Trump for your president and eat shit at your local grocery store, as Morrissey says, “You just haven’t earned it yet baby.” You get what you deserve and there is no place for me to play in right now, the situation is bleak and I can’t in good conscience contribute to its downfall anymore. Ask me a positive one please.
This book will create a new Arab On Radar mania for younger fans not fortunate enough to have seen you. Is this book the spark of a comeback or the final ashes spread on the glorious coffin of Arab On Radar?
Jeff: I wish it would create mania. I think it will be killed by the power of faint praise and ignored purposely by my enemies who are strong. I shared my soul with brothers and sisters who were in these bands with me, people who could never comprehend how difficult it was for me to get the credibility and struggle to do things like get signed to Skin Graft Records. It wasn’t easy, but they remain silent and could care less about the “easy in” I gave them, real ingrates if you ask me. So, yes, I am very sure Arab On Radar will never play again. This is not my choice, they quit the band, I am the last Arab On Radar there is! ha ha. But, they are really irrational about it, and hate me for no reason at all, it is clear we can’t coexist together, even for our fans which burns me up. It would be great to play those songs and do the shows again, perhaps record the last album finally, but they said no. It is very unfair and the positive thing is that – it is all in the book. Check out the details in the last chapter of Psychiatric Tissues if you want to find out what happened exactly it is a great read. It is the last thing Arab On Radar will ever do and it is written in the spirit of our music, fucking insanity.