(Interview done on December 1997, Vancouver, B.C. at a house party.)
Nardwuar: Check, check. Hello!
Dr. Frank of the Mr. T. Experience-
Once or twice, yeah. I've never figured out why anybody thinks we look alike but once or twice I have been mistaken for Dr. Frank. I am a lot fatter.
So what are you doing here? What are you doing here in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada here? Again, Jello, what are you doing here?
Well, this time I've come to export the wisdom of B.J. Snowdon here. First Wesley Willis, now this. She is a music teacher from Massachusetts and as you can see, the name of the album is Life In The U.S.A. and Canada. She is very, very fond of Canada, and soon anybody who hears her song on your show will be singing along when they see a maple leaf. "In Canada, they treat you like a queen. In Canada, they never will be mean." Yeah-
This seems to be your personal mission. It's your personal mission, isn't it, Jello? Like what, is Wesley Willis over? Is B.J. Snowdon the new thing?
I wouldn't put it that way.. I would just say that by us helping Wesley get out there, and by Wesley's sheer force of personality, he's gotten people interested in other types of very, very unusual people doing very unusual music that aren't worrying about whether they're "punk rock" enough, or "alternative" enough, or "major-label kissy-ass-skinny-as-Kate Moss-to-be-on-an-MTV-video" kind of thing, and this is just one of the people who have come out of the woodwork.
She's a woman? B.J. Snowdon is a woman?
Um, as far as I know. I mean, part of the evidence would be the shot of her crochet sweater here where you can clearly see a rather substantial industrial strength bra underneath.
What is her background? She is a high school teacher?
I don't know what level. I just heard that she is a music teacher. A friend of the people in Ultra Bidé, one of our bands in New York, brought it over when I was staying with them, and said she was from Massachusetts, she comes and plays the clubs when she's in New York sometimes, and often brings her young son with her. I mean, she is a single mother trying to get by. Her music is part of that.
And somebody has released her on CD then.
Demilo Records - so now you don't have write down the address - is 13 Saint Marks Place, New York, NY 10003.
So, Jello, I've read reports that you were with Wavy Gravy recently. What's that all about? Jello Biafra and Wavy Gravy.
Um, I've never met the man but we were at the same event, a couple of them recently: a rally to save Headwaters Forest, one of the last virgin Redwood forests left, from being chopped down and made into picnic tables and particle board, and, of course, Bill Clinton thought otherwise but we're still fighting; and then there was this - what is it - thirtieth anniversary of the Summer of Love outdoor festival in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and they had Jefferson Starship or Airplane or whatever-
And Jello Biafra!
And when I walked onstage, I realized I was the only person from my generation or younger who had been asked to perform at this thing. So I had to cover a lot of ground. And I also pointed out how the difference between this event and the '60s Summer of Love was the great big Miller Beer balloon over by the concession stands, and if this was the '60s, somebody would get rid of that balloon and do it quick, and within minutes, that balloon had been put out of its misery. Miller then refused to put up their share of the sponsorship money after the fact for the Summer of Love because the Summer of Love failed to guarantee that no one appearing onstage would diss Miller and pop their precious balloon - with one lit cigarette, no less. And, finally, they were shamed into paying up and the Summer of Love people agreed to patch the precious balloon.
Do you think they asked you maybe because you had been cast by Cynthia Plaster Caster? Jello, I've heard reports that you have the biggest "helmet." You have the biggest "helmet," Cynthia Plaster Caster - did you?
Um, I would be surprised at that. If you want sheer girth, take a look at the casting of Jon Langford of the Mekons.
She actually said that you were of an average casting when I asked her. When did you get cast by Cynthia Plaster Caster? How did she approach you? Did she "plate" you herself?
Um, she "plated" me herself, although I had a little help because it didn't work the first time around. So I had to go back and do it again. It's weird to try and get all erect nervously in front of someone else and then have this cold stuff put on you and you have to stay hard with this cold stuff all around you. But the second time I guess I must have succeeded.
What year was that?
God, I don't know. '89 maybe. It must have been when we were working on the Lard Last Temptation of Reid album.
Jello, I've interviewed Joey Shithead a few times and I've always asked him about a famous incident between Jello and Watty, but he will never shed any light on it. What is the deal on that, Jello? Jello versus Watty of the Exploited.
I've never met Watty in my life. I've never said anything to him, rarely even said anything about him, but in order make his band big and make money, he started ragging on Dead Kennedys in about 1981. And later he some of his gooney road crew down along with some British Movement members - which is the British equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan - to try and bash heads at one of our shows in Leicester, England in 1982. MDC was opening and they pushed Dave the singer off the stage and the skinheads split his head open with their boots and sent Dave to the hospital. They never quite got me but that gives you the kind of picture of the kind of person Watty is. He didn't go there himself to beat people up; he sent other people. And yet, we never did anything to him. I even bought his records at one point.
Jello, so, yeah, and like, you probably like the Nuns too. Why is Jennifer - you mentioned this on the phone to me about Jennifer of the Nuns not really - in that James Stark book, there is that book called Punk '77, all about the San Francisco punk scene - and Jennifer of the Nuns doesn't have too many kind things to say about the Dead Kennedys.
I think she only says one thing about Dead Kennedys. Granted it is not kind, but we came along after the Nuns, and, well, Dead Kennedys are remembered one way and the Nuns are, well, maybe they're remembered.
Did you like the Nuns? Were they pretty good?
I moved to town after they became a really, really big band and kind of threw their weight around and weren't in the communal spirit like the Avengers and the Dils and the others who were trying to build a unified force of bands. The Nuns - like, when I got to town, Negative Trend opened for them, and the Mabuhay Gardens did an unheard of to that point 2000 door, so many people showed up at 4 dollars a head. And the Nuns took 65 percent of that, and paid Negative Trend 50 bucks. That was not exactly camaraderie in my opinion. Apparently Alejandro protested that but.... Anyways, so it was kind of - we were on a different wavelength. The Nuns and Crime were much more of the old school competitive rock and roll band and we've got to fuck over other bands to keep our place, that kind of counterproductive thing that left Crime with very few friends by the end of their existence.
How about the Avengers? You really liked the Avengers and a lot of people still like the Avengers. What do you think of them now, listening back to them? Do they still stand up, do you think, over the test of time? Did you really like them yourself?
Um, the Avengers were one of the major reasons why I started Alternative Tentacles. Here I saw one of the best bands I had ever seen in my life again and again and again go through so much material no one would record. The big record companies wouldn't touch them. Nobody on our label had any money so three great albums were lost. One was later cobbled together that is still pretty damn good. They were one of the best bands America ever produced in its whole history of any kind of music. I miss them more than just about any other early punk band except maybe the Screamers.
How about Crime? Do you know Mike Lucas of the Phantom Surfers at all?
He was a big Crime fan. He always talks about a big fam. Do you remember him back then being a little kid on the Crime scene - or were Crime that important in your scheme of things? You said they were kind of older, like the Nuns and Crime were competitive....
Um, they were not that big a part of my thing because I came a little later in a little bit more - as I say, people stood up more for each other with the later bands, and so I didn't meet Mike Lucas until a little later. I never got to see the Junior Executives unfortunately.
Was that one of his bands?
It was a really crude Flipper-tempo - but much earlier than Flipper - teenage band where they all dressed in film noir detective suits with hats. The A-side of their single is "Capital Gains Tax Increase Blues." They couldn't be Crime so they got this crooked executive schtick together instead. And I think the record was sold in only one store: Rather Ripped in Berkeley.
Did you ever see the Hitmakers with Ron Silva at all?
Do you know Ron Silva at all?
He was like in the Nashville Ramblers. He was also in the Crawdaddies, a band out of San Diego. I saw one of their pictures in the James Stark book. I guess I'm just grasping at any picture I see in James Spark's book and go, "Oh, Jello must know Ron Silva!"
What do you remember about the Pointed Sticks, Jello, playing with them? I mean, how would they go over: the Dead Kennedys and the Pointed Sticks playing together? It seems really odd!
Well, by today's standards, Pointed Sticks would be considered a punk band, a pop-punk band. Back then, they were a really high energy new wave pop band who played high energy enough music that they would do well on punk bills, at least down in San Francisco. I guess we befriended each other when we went to their show in Seattle the night before we played. I knew Dimwit a little bit from the Subhumans earlier. And so they didn't know any other bands in San Francisco so they called us up. Steve Macklam, who I guess manages K.D. Lang now, got on the ball like a good manager should, and called up Dead Kennedys. "Oh, sure, come on down. All the other Canadian bands play with us. Why not you too?" So we forged a friendship from there.
Did they go over? Like what did you think? How did the crowd like them? How did the crowd like the Pointed Sticks? I mean, 'cause, you know, keyboards and stuff....
Keyboards were not necessarily considered bad then. Keep in mind the Screamers were keyboards and no guitars. And we even tried to get a keyboard player, to add another Dead Kennedy, but we could never find the right one. You could just do that much more that way. So the keyboards didn't really bother people, and they were a little more charismatic and intense than the San Francisco new wavy pop bands like the Readymades and Pearl Harbour & The Explosions or S.V.T., all of whom openly scorned being co-billed with punks, whereas the Pointed Sticks had no problem with that.