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vol 5 - issue 09 (may 2003) :: untapped
interview and photo by insane wayne chinsang
illustration by debbie


Wayne: Iíve done a lot of interviews with people, but this is the first interview Iíve ever done where I didnít have any questions prepared.

TKLove: But you said you had one question ready.

W: Yeah. But itís just in my head. And the question is this: Iíve known you for a long time, and Iíve always known you to be into music, but my question is, do you remember when we took a bath together?

T: (laughing) Shut up.

W: (laughing) What? Iím serious! Do you remember?

T: Um,... (pauses) W: Of course you donít. T: (laughing)

W: You probably donít even remember when we made love.

T: (laughs) Shut up.

W: (laughs) Okay. Why donít you start off by telling me how you got into music. I know that from an early age you were interested in a lot of different types of music. You were the person that turned me on to classical music.

T: Well, I started when I was three, with the Suzuki Method, which they put kids through. And I found out later in life that my parents put me on it because of my problems with dyslexia. I was having a problem looking from left to right, so they figured that maybe if they gave me some other medium, like musical notes, that would help me. Of course, it didnít work. (laughs) But Iíve always memorized everything Iíve done since then. So thatís how it all started. I quit a couple of times, but I always ended up picking it back up.

W: Did anyone else in your family play any other instruments?

T: Not anyone in my immediate family, actually. But I grew up in bars, and there was always music there. And a lot of my extended family played music.

W: Would you then say that your friends influenced you more in what you were listening to than your family?

T: Yeah.

W: What kind of stuff were you listening to during your childhood?

T: I was oblivious to a lot of things when I was young. I liked radio music,.. just lame stuff. I was never really into music as much as some people are when theyíre young. Like, my boyfriend has records that his parents used to listen to. We had nothing like that. We didnít even own a record player.

W: Really?

T: Yeah. There were a lot of things I had to revisit as an adult, older stuff, like Neil Young and Led Zeppelin. I missed out on all that stuff when I was young. I was yelled at by one of my friends because Neil Young was on the television, and he was like, ďYou donít know who that is?Ē But I never had that phase in my life.

W: So, I know you play a number of different instruments, but where did you start?

T: Definitely with the violin. And when I got older, like in middle school, I got bored with it. You know, the whole rebellious thing.

W: Right. So you started playing the accordion.

T: (laughs) Yeah. No, I picked up the piano and the flute, but I hated those things, too. So I quit all together for a little while, until high school. I played violin in my high school orchestra. But then I quit again when I was 18. I got to the point in music where someone would say, ďHereís your piece. Learn to play it by tomorrow.Ē And I could never read the music. I mean, I can read music. But I canít sight read very well. So I quit again. But when I was 19 I met Sage from an old band in Milwaukee named Wild Kingdom. He owned a cafe called Hi-Fi, and they used to close at 10pm. But after closing, people would just bring in instruments and play some stuff. And someone brought in a pedal steel, and I remember thinking, ďI want to learn how to play this thing, so letís just goof around.Ē They wanted to do a lot of Hank Williams kind of stuff; like old bluegrass and country. And I had never played that type of stuff on the violin, but it was just all for fun anyway. But then we started getting shows. So thatís where everything kind of started. I picked up the bass from there, and then the guitar from the bass. I play the vibes, too. A lot of the other instruments came about when I joined Lullaby (for the Working Class). Whatever needed to be played, it was me that needed to play it.

W: So you started off in Milwaukee, but I know you lived in Nebraska for awhile. How did that come about?

T: I went to go see either Low or Ida, one of those bands, and Lullaby was opening up for them, and they had a cello player. And Iíve always loved a violin and cello combo. So I asked them if they needed a violin player, and they said, ďWe do actually,.. but we live in Nebraska.Ē At that point in my life I had just broken up with a long-term boyfriend, and I didnít really have very much going on for me in Milwaukee. So I moved out to Nebraska.

W: Thatís a big move to make. So how was Lullaby for you? And tell me a little bit about that cello player. (laughs)

T: (laughs) It was fine. At that point, I still wasnít taking music that seriously. I just did it for fun. I didnít try as hard as I should have, in retrospect. It was fun, because they had already been playing for a year or two and had already done all of the really crummy tours. By the time I joined them they were already established, so I got on some good tours. Like the second tour I did with them was through eleven countries in Europe. So it was a nice introduction to that world.

W: Do you like touring?

T: Yeah. I love it more than anything.

W: So youíd rather live nowhere and just tour?

T: Yeah. I just got an apartment, actually. But itís like, you always want what you donít have. Once youíre on the road for awhile, youíre like, ďAll I want to do is go home and cook a meal and take a bath.Ē But when youíre at home cooking a meal and taking a bath, youíre like, ďIíve got to get on the road again.Ē

W: So after Lullaby, what did you do?

T: Well, I moved to Chicago and finished school, which was a landmark after eight years. (laughs) I never stopped playing, but I only played in bands that didnít tour. Bands that would stay in Chicago, like Sweep the Leg Johnny. But after I graduated, I decided to go back to playing music again.

W: So where did you go?

T: I stayed in Chicago for awhile and formed the band Head of Femur, whose first album comes out really soon.

W: I think itís supposed to be out in two or three weeks.

T: I love it. Itís so good.

W: I know youíre excited about it.

T: I am. Itís going to do really well.

W: There is a rockiní picture of you on Head of Femurís website playing a tambourine.

T: Oh yeah?

W: Yeah. Your hair is flying around; you canít even see your face.

T: (laughs) Yeah, I get a little tambourine solo. And I never wanted to play the tambourine. I would always be like, ďIím not being the tambourine girl.Ē But I love it. Iíve embraced it now. I also feel like Iíve established myself as a musician more, so I feel like I can play the tambourine now.

W: It could be worse. You could be a cowbell girl.

T: Exactly. I play tambourine during a cover of a Brian Eno song called ďThe True WheelĒ. And itís kind of a joke to us because everyone tells us itís our best song, but itís just a cover song. But we do a really good job of it. We even ended up putting it on the album.

W: What label is it going to be on?

T: Itís being put out by a small label out of Portland called Greyday Productions. Theyíre also doing Maydayís vinyl that is coming out soon. And they handle a lot of bands from L.A., like Consafos and Still Life.

W: You sound like youíre really excited about Head of Femur. When I saw you last time you said that this was going to be the band that blows up. How is Head of Femur different from Lullaby?

T: It rocks. Lullaby is a very intellectual type of band. The lyrics and orchestration are very complex. Itís a sit down and think type of music. Head of Femur is about getting up and dancing. But yet, itís not radio pop. Itís also very complex. Itís more like a Kinks and Beach Boys kind of rock.

W: Is stuff like that more fun for you to perform?

T: Yeah. Itís more fun, but itís also got its own,.. you know. I mean, with Femur, if everyone is playing, there will be eight people on stage. So that makes it hard to be heard because there is so much going on. But with Lullaby,.. Lullaby is dead, actually. Mayday is basically the new Lullaby. Well, not really. Itís just the same singer and me.

W: (laughs) Whereís the cello player?

T: (laughs) We went through a lot of cello players with Lullaby. And now Mayday doesnít have a cello player.

W: I donít really care. I just like giving you shit.

T: I know. Look, you wanna do this or not? (laughs)

W: (laughs) What? Itís okay. Sheíll never read this.

T: Yeah right. Anyway,...

W: Okay, so how did Lullaby die and give birth to Mayday?

T: Itís always been Ted Stevensí (lead singer) baby. And he always had Mayday as a side project, even when Lullaby was a band. So there would always be these Mayday celebrations. Ted would always bring the people that lived with him to these things. Maydayís drummer, Pat Oakes, used to live with Ted. So after Lullaby formerly broke up, Ted had a lot more creative control over what he wanted to do, because he didnít have anyone else to answer to. So itís changed quite a bit in that respect. And heís been getting a lot more country lately.

W: Yeah. I saw Lullaby play and, I told you this before, I just wasnít that into it. But when I saw Mayday play, it had more of an old country feel to it, and I was really into it. What influences caused this change?

T: Itís more that he personally has changed his musical tastes, and that influences his music. I still donít listen to country. And itís not even that weíre country. Or radio country.

W: Ugh.

T: Yeah. Thatís miserable. Itís more old-timey. And thatís what Ted has been wanting to do. There were a few shows on the last tour where we performed completely acoustic in the middle of the audience. We stripped down everything; no mics or amps, just us playing. And I think he likes that rootsy feel.

W: Thatís cool. Alright, so you also have spent some time with Bright Eyes. How did that come about?

T: Well, when I moved to Nebraska, Connor (Oberst, lead singer) was 17, and was in Commander Venus at the time. We were just friends, and weíd play together every now and again. And when I was in Chicago, I would perform a couple of days with him if he was in the area. Then last year we made the new record, which got huge. So he asked me to tour with him. It was a huge production. That was a lot of fun.

W: Youíve done both small and large tours. Even beyond the money aspect of it, what are the differences? And do you think the size of it affects it artistically?

T: I donít think so, because most of the bands are true to the Saddle Creek label. Like, Connor will always be with them. So heíll never have a corporate executive telling him, ďI donít like that song.Ē Heíll always have creative control. But I think it affects people personally. Especially when it comes to what is expected of them musically. I think the band Cursive has been getting a lot of scrutiny for stuff like that lately.

W: And Ted is in that as well, right?

T: Yeah. Ted replaced the guitar player a couple years ago when he went to college.

W: Do you always see yourself working with this group of people? Is this like a family to you, or is it just where you are right now?

T: Well, Iíd say itís a little bit of both. Iíll always be with Ted and Connor. But itís also brought me a lot of opportunities that I wouldnít have had before. Like next week Iím going to be playing with M. Ward, who is from Portland. His new album is on Merge Records. I never would have met up with him, had it not been for Bright Eyes. And then you have people like Dave Dondero, who has been playing for ten years and will never get the recognition he should. Iíll play with anybody who will take me.

W: Youíre a music whore.

T: Music whore. (laughs) Itís never come down to making a choice between Ted and Connor, but they would both be my number ones. Like if there was a tour for both bands at the same exact time, I donít know who Iíd pick. Because Iíve been playing with Ted for over six years now, but it would be hard to say no to Bright Eyes.

W: Name something funny that happened to you while touring.

T: Iíve got a million. Pick a band and a state.

W: Well, you told it to me before, but can you tell the readers the Michael Stipe one? (laughs)

T: Oh yeah! Thatís a funny one. (laughs) Alright, while we were in Vancouver performing, R.E.M. was also there recording a new album. Our tour manager was Sullivan, who has toured with The Replacements and Soul Asylum. This guy has been on the road since Ď84, so he knows just about everybody. So he invited them to the show. And during the third song, I wasnít playing anything, so I got off the stage. And Michael Stipe followed me backstage and said, ďExcuse me. Do you have tweezers?Ē And I said, ďSure.Ē So I handed him this pair of tweezers, and he said, ďIíve got this piece of tissue stuck in my ear and I canít get it out. Would you mind getting it out for me? I canít see it.Ē So I extracted the napkin from his ear, and scolded him for putting such small things in his ears. (laughs)

W: (laughs) Did you sell it?

T: Thatís the big thing. Everyone was like, ďDid you keep it?Ē

W: Why would you honestly keep it? T: I donít know. I probably could have given it to a friend.

W: You probably could have put it on eBay and some freak would have bought it. Thatís what Iím going to do when you get big. Iím going to sell all of my--

T: What? Yearbooks? (laughs) ďLook, she wrote in my yearbook! ĎKeep in touch.íĒ

W: (laughs) Yeah. Okay, so what other things are coming out that you want to plug?

T: Well, the newest things that are coming out are the new Mayday and the debut of Head of Femur. The Dave Dondero stuff is finishing up recording in June, so Iíll be recording with him then. That will probably be on Future Farmer out of San Francisco. Dave Dondero is a singer/songwriter that just circles the country in his pick-up truck by himself. I went on tour with him right after the Bright Eyes tour. It was such a humbling experience. You go from these large venues with people waiting on you hand and foot, to crummy clubs with 20 people. And thatís the bad part about being an auxiliary musician, and not having it be your own work. Itís up to somebody else to decide whether they want a violin or not.

W: Right. So what tours are coming up next?

T: Well, weíll be opening up six shows for Bright Eyes as Head of Femur. Itís a lucky break. The day after we get back, Mayday comes out. So itís going to be busy until June.

W: Last question: do dogs have lips?

T: Yeah. Dog lips, man.

W: Thatís what Iím saying.

T: They totally do.

W: Cool. You know, I canít believe you donít remember taking a bath with me.

T: (laughs, pauses)

W: Is this making you feel awkward?

T: (laughs) Where was it?

W: Your first apartment.

T: In Milwaukee? (laughing)

W: Yeah.

T: Wow.

W: It wasnít anything like that. We were just sitting around and I said, ďDo you want to take a bath?Ē And you said, ďSure.Ē So we did.

T: Wow. Youíll have to excuse my memory. I repress these sorts of things.

W: Whatever. Itís all the drugs.

T: Yeah. It could be, huh? (laughs) I donít do those,.. (pauses) anymore. (laughs)

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