Boston Hassle Fest 7 brought punk and electronic music to life from the 5th of November to the 7th. Talent and artistry flowed through the booked-up spaces in the form of dark comedy, poetry, and visual art. Along the way, thoughts were stimulated as bodies surfed, jumped, pushed and danced. A variety of musical equipment was scattered and a considerable quantity of merch was piled over the tables. Everybody talked to everybody. Kids wore black leather jackets. I stayed in the present with Screaming Females, and went back to the past with Flipper.
I was ecstatic hanging out with an energetic crowd. On Friday night, I interviewed Screaming Females, whose performance skills are terrifying. They are one of the leading bands in the current underground punk scene so I was thrilled to get the chance to chill with Marissa Paternoster in their van. Marissa is a punk rocker, and she is badass. Her voice is deep, powerful, and empowering. Also the source of the Females’ sharp guitar, Marissa can bring any competitor, whether male or female, down with her talent.
LB: Your voice is so powerful.
M: Thank you.
LB: You do scream, but not all the time.
M: This is true.
LB: Where does that force behind your screams come from?
M: I don’t know. We all listen to a pretty eclectic mass of genres of music. I listen to a lot of quote-unquote “heavier” music. I listen to a lot of music where people scream or yell. So I think the fact that I can scream is just another tool that I can use to emphasize sonic points in songs.
LB: Who is your favorite yeller?
M: That’s a good question. Right now, it’s probably Sadie from the band G.L.O.S.S from Olympia, Washington. They’re fucking awesome. They have a great voice.
LB: You’ve been producing a lot of albums since 2009.
M: Our first album came out in 2006: Baby Teeth.
LB: I listened to your albums on Spotify. It seems like you produce an album every year — except 2011 maybe.
M: I actually don’t know. I suppose we were writing music, and didn’t have time to put out a record. Putting out a record is a lot. Most bands don’t do it. We got into like a weird habit of doing it for our first couple of records. Then we spent a little more time writing, demo-ing and recording our records.
LB: “Burning Car“ is a deep tune, lyric- and music-wise.
M: “Burning Car” is kinda like a metaphor that I loosely built around being chronically ill. Thinking a lot about being like encased in something.
M: Yeah, being like within something, as if you’re within a car. It was kind of like my persona or soul, or whatever you wanna call the…
M: The inexplicable thing that makes you you — like within your body. “Burning Car” was like a metaphor for my physical self because I was chronically ill at the time. I had a chronic case of mono — which isn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it screwed up my life at the time. While it was happening, I didn’t know when I’d get well. There was, like, no good prognosis. I was very stuck in my own head thinking about that. So a lot of the songs on Rose Mountain, and “Burning Car”, in particular, is about my body failing me.
LB: What’s your favorite song on Rose Mountain?
M: My favorite song is the last one. It’s called “Criminal Image“. I don’t have any reason why. I just like it. (Laughs)
LB: You guys were jamming on stage. I felt, like, a ‘70s vibe. You took me back in time. That was so good. Where did this trio talent emerge from?
M: We’ve been a band for a really long time — like ten years. We definitely don’t want to get up on stage and just do the same thing every night cause that’s not entertaining or engaging for anybody involved, including us. Mike and I grew up playing music together since we were very young. That’s how we learned to play — through jamming or just, like, improvisational playing. Jarrett didn’t grow up with us, but he was kind of mimicking the same thing when he was in high school with his friends. They would just, like, hang out in the basement and play music. I don’t think it’s a particularly unique way to learn your instrument, but I do think it’s the best way to learn if you want to play in a band. Then you can get thrown into different kinds of situations, feel confident and capable.
LB: Where do you live now?
M: I live in Philadelphia.
LB: What do you think of Philly?
M: It’s cool. It’s cheap. My house is really nice. I love my roommates. There are a lot of cool DIY venues. There’s a lot of cool people who put on shows. It’s a really nice little community.
LB: Is it your first time playing at Boston Hassle Fest?
M: Yes, that is true. Not the first time in Boston, though.
LB: What did you think of the fest?
M: I thought it was awesome. Really eclectic and interesting lineup. I didn’t think it seemed disparate or improperly placed. All of the bands kind of had their time to shine. It didn’t feel like they were forcing anything. It’s definitely a product of a group of people who have been working really hard to make something cool happen.
LB: Manifestation my dear, we call it manifestation. Your performance made my night. Thank you!
M: Thank you. Right on!
Headlining Hassle Fest 7 was Flipper, who played the last night. Many fans were psyched. None of the younger attendees knew what to expect. We knew that original band members were playing with David Yow, former Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard vocalist. Having them perform at an underground punk fest is a dream come true to punk enthusiasts. Flipper might be labeled as punk, but to punk rockers they’re beyond punk. They were and are ahead of their time. Flipper sounded grunge in the late ’70s and ’80s. The theory was confirmed during the fest, as David’s lazy vocals set gave a new voice to his resolutely punk attitude.
Grunge was introduced in the ’90s, and was built on a generation who knew and listened to Flipper. When I knew I was interviewing them, I thought of it as a chance to get a punk history lesson. But watching them perform, I was in awe. They rocked the stage. David, Ted, Steve and Bruno started what I’m tempted to call a riot. I had to step away from the mosh pit. Their loudness was fresh, and their raucous guitars: rare and raw. It seemed like their performance was saving the youth from the poppified punk often heard on today’s radio.
I started off my chat with the band by traveling back in time:
LB: Wow. Flipper, man, it’s so weird I’m doing this; feels bizarre. You’ve been around since when? The late ’70s?
D: I’m the new guy, they’ve been a band (pointing at Ted) since 1978 or 9. I just joined about a month ago, so I can’t comment much about their history.
LB: I want to know more about the new guy.
D: What do you want to know?
LB: How did you end up joining them?
D: In 1980 was when I was first familiar with Flipper. I was an art major in college and I got into punk rock. Flipper showed up, and I thought it’s the perfect combination of real art and music. I thought it was genius. They had a 7” called Brainwash.
Ted: It came out in ‘79. It was a four band compilation. “Earthworm“ was one of the songs.
D: What?! Brainwash?
Ted: No, I was thinking of “Earthworm”. I’m sorry. It was ‘79 or ‘80. “Brainwash” was the backside of a 45. I think “Sex Bomb“ was on the backside.
D: Brainwash blew my mind. I’d never heard anything like it. The deal with that is that they have this vamp going, like a Flipper style song, and the singer was mumbling about some bullshit.
Ted: Yeah, nobody can understand it. When we did the mix of it, Bruce went in and tried to clarify the vocals. It was like a real fast punk-rock song. It sounded like it was out there. You couldn’t quite understand the lyrics, so he did a voiceover trying to explain the lyrics but they were going so fast, that all he could do is say, “Never mind. You wouldn’t understand anyway.”
LB: But you’re talking about something I don’t understand.
D: This is a 7” record, and the thing that Ted is describing lasted only like 13 seconds, and after that’s over, it happens again, the exact same recording.
Ted: 26 seconds. It was so short that it was that much on a whole 45. So we put it on 12 times, one after the other, and then the last time we scratched the groove so it would never turn off on a record player.
D: It’s called a locked groove, instead of a spiral, it’s a circle.
Ted: If it was on a jukebox, you’d have to kick the jukebox to turn it off!
D: It went on forever and ever and ever. It’s genius; it’s actual art.
LB: You’d rather focus on those who understand than those who don’t understand?
Sounding like Bruce Loose on Brainwash, Ted said repeatedly, “you wouldn’t understand anyway.”
D: When that record came out, I was a little punk rocker in Austin, Texas. I told all my friends, this thing by Flipper is the absolute most important recording since Abbey Road. It was so significant. It was so important and artistic. And now I’m hanging out with Ted.
LB: On stage you said, “It was inspiring today,” and mentioned that the bands at Hassle Fest 7 were weird and noisy.
D: Because all the bands that played today were weird, noisy, and inspiring.
LB: What did you think, Ted?
Ted: There was every range of electronics to bands, poetry, and art-performance stuff with music.
LB: Do you think that’s a weird mix or lineup?
Ted: We’ve been playing in clubs where everybody is playing Rock ‘n’ Roll, you know, and it wasn’t like somebody’s there with a synthesizer with a bunch of cords plugging. It was interesting in that perspective. It was a lot of art stuff going on here.
LB: You guys released a couple of albums in 1984. Can you illustrate 1984 to a ’90s kid?
Ted: George Orwell.
LB: Score. But really: how was 1984 for Flipper music-wise?
Ted: At that time, every club in San Francisco was having bands play. With all those clubs, there’s tons and tons of bands. There’s all kinds of places to play. It started with a big divergence from Pet Rock to Punk Rock. Poetically our lyrics fit the groove, and we’re maybe more hardcore than a lot of the punk bands. Our style of presentation wasn’t within that 1-2-3-4. The Ramones type of Rock & Roll. In ‘84 there was a big divergence: the art bands started, the hardcore thrash bands started, and the poppy bands started.
LB: Like the Synthpop bands?
Ted: Yeah, the synthesizer stuff. That was part of the art rock stuff that was going on. It was the beginning of the ‘80s that all these other bands started diverging, and started redefining straight punk rock, like the Ramones and Sex Pistols.
LB: They played at the clubs.
Ted: There was a lot of clubs that was sponsoring the bands. Every club had four bands playing. Everybody was doing bands. You wouldn’t make much money. You’d only have 50 to a 100 people there, but it was like a place to play. It developed the whole music scene, relative to the clubs they had to play in. Now in San Francisco none of the clubs hardly at all have bands. And the bands that they do are from outta town. Then they have a band support. (Groaning)
LB: Do you still live in San Francisco?
Ted: No, I live in Oakland. He’s (pointing at David) in L.A.; Steve is in L.A.; Bruno is San Francisco.
Bruno: Right on!
LB: David, you were the vocalist for the Jesus Lizard. Tell me more about your experience back then.
D: Jesus Lizard was like The Birthday Party meets Led Zeppelin with extra swing. The Jesus Lizard broke up in 1999. We did a reenactment tour in 2009. We played 40 shows worldwide. A few months ago Steve asked me if I would sing for Flipper. That’s how that happened.
LB: David do you see what’s on my left foot?
D: That’s duct tape.
LB: Do you know where it came from?
D: A roll of duct tape.
LB: You threw that duct tape when you were on stage and it stuck to my shoe. You also put some over a kid’s mouth. Why did you do that?
D: I bring my own mic when we play shows. It gets unplugged sometimes, so you need tape to put it on there.
LB: Why bring your own mic?
D: So I don’t have to have my mouth an’ shit where other people spit. Keeping it healthy. Microphones are gross. People you don’t know are drooling and slobbering on them. That’s gross.
LB: Thank you for blowing up the amp, not the burp.
D: I think I apologized. I don’t know who blew the amp.
LB: How’s your overall experience at the fest?
D: They gave us this room to hang out in because we’re the last band. It’s really nice. I got to listen to bands all day long. I was here all day long. I don’t know the names of the bands that played. They were all great, noisy, fucking cacophonous, and shitty. It was great. Really, really cool. It wasn’t like things I have been involved with before where they have bands that play, thinking they’re rock n’ rollers and that punk is easily definable. All the bands that played today… I really felt it was noise music and that’s exciting to me.
LB: Bruno, you’ve been part of the band since ’83. How do you keep existing in the underground scene?
Bruno: I don’t know. How do we exist on this planet? Seriously.
LB: That’s the ultimate question; you answer me.
Bruno: It’s an odd thing. Not to parse it out idiomatically or ridiculously, but I love this life. I love this world. I want to stick around and see how it ends up. I fucking played with these guys for 35 fucking years. I really don’t know how to answer that question. There is no other alternative than to hang out and see what happens. I fucking love it that people still enjoy hearing what we do.
LB: I find it so impressive that you’re all here. Steve — you’re one of the original members — how do you think you still manage to do it?
Steve: I know. Isn’t that crazy? I’m amazed myself. I don’t know how we’re still here. It’s been over 35 years.
LB: How often do you play?
Steve: We started this little recent project with David Yow in October. We haven’t played since 2012. We had a three year hiatus. We’ve played eight shows so far. Next week we go to Italy for three shows. So altogether we’re doing eleven shows with David. It’s been fantastic. Really great. We’ve been playing better than ever.
LB: You guys are legends.
Bruno: Yeah, that’s right. We’re “legends.”
LB: You are.
Bruno: Fair enough. I don’t want to be disingenuous. Flipper are legends, but we’re just a bunch of idiots playing noisy music. I think there is a little bit of Flipper in everyone. They want to see a little chaos. They want to see a little spontaneity. So I think that in this world that parsed out and neatly curated Facebook pages and cropped photographs, then Flipper comes out. You never know what you’re gonna get.
Bruno: You know what I mean, right?
LB: I do.