Sure, a brassy horn part can reliably put a smile on my face, but when it comes to my favorite songs, I'm partial to those with clever lyrics. Few other things stick with me as long as a creative phrase set to music. Shortly after moving to New York, I started listening to White Hassle, and often found myself walking around Manhattan with one of their wordier songs stuck in my head. It's been several years since the band has toured, and even longer since their last recording, but in February Glacial Pace released The First Line, the debut album from former White Hassle vocalist/guitarist Marcellus Hall. In this, the third Two Minute Interview, he spoke to me about Beavis and Butt-Head, stardom in Holland, and home-cooked meals in Italy.
- What are some of the most memorable places you've performed, and why? Where would you go back first? Railroad Jerk enjoyed brief inexplicable stardom in Holland for a time. That was fun. White Hassle performed at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California for All Tomorrow's Parties. I remember the weather was perfect. Japan welcomed Railroad Jerk with sincere enthusiasm. I would love to return there some time. Some places in Italy were memorable. An Italian promoter's mother once cooked us a delicious lunch before we hit the road for the next town. A friend tells me that if I were to learn a lot of Eagles songs, Thailand would welcome me with open arms.
- Describe something surprising, humorous, or disappointing that's happened in your travels. I recall poking fun at the European stereotype of Americans by playing that stereotype in a conversation with some Italians not long after September 11th, 2001. They were remarking on how it was the first time, besides Pearl Harbor, that the United States was attacked on its own soil. I assumed an earnest expression and said, "Oh no, that's not true. When America first started we were attacked repeatedly by the Indians!" The Italians' expressions of outrage, and uncertainty about whether I was serious or not, were priceless. Another funny experience was when Railroad Jerk and Chavez were touring Europe. Dave Varenka, Railroad Jerk's drummer, and I were traveling in a separate vehicle (there was a van and a car that we all took turns riding in). The show that night was in Ljubljana, the capital. When we got to the Slovenian border, Dave and I and our German driver were welcomed. The van, however, with Chavez and the other Railroad Jerk members, happened to go to the wrong entry point and was not allowed into the country. Without cell phones at the time, Dave and I and the anxious Slovenian promoter waited at the club unaware of what happened to the others. When the rock-hungry Slovenian fans began entering the club, the promoter turned to us and asked if we could somehow perform. It just so happened that Dave and I had just finished recording our debut album as a duo under the name White Hassle. We borrowed a guitar, an amp, some drums, and random pieces of metal and put on one of our best shows. The audience loved it and we were treated like kings. Chavez and the other members of Railroad Jerk, of course, were pissed. They had spent the night at some dreary hotel, while Dave and I rocked Ljubljana.
- When you were starting out with Railroad Jerk, or even with White Hassle, where did you dream of playing live? Our dreams were modest. Each step in the lives of both bands was a nice surprise. Just getting a record deal was unexpected. Railroad Jerk was featured on Beavis and Butt-Head and White Hassle got to record for the John Peel show in England. Those were exciting breaks. To play in front of a large audience was a dream that eventually came true. Opening up for some better known bands and playing festivals allowed that.
- As a fan, do you have any enduring concert-going memories? Who did you see? When I was in college (and just after that) I went to see a lot of bands that influenced me (for better or worse). Among them were Big Black, The Pixies, Pussy Galore, Killdozer, The Jesus Lizard, Galaxie 500, The Replacements, The Ramones, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Jonathan Richman, Richard Thompson, Sugar Blue, The Beastie Boys, Dinosaur Jr., The Throwing Muses, Dave Thomas, Half Japanese, The Cramps, The Gun Club, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Bunny Wailer, The Swans, Live Skull, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, White Zombie, and Firehose.
- Many groups compose songs on the road (during sound checks, in the van, etc.) and tracks like "One Drop of Rain" and "Don't Go" seem to be about distance, meetings, and partings. Did anything on The First Line come to life that way? Very few of the songs on The First Line came about on the road. On the other hand, the two tracks you mention are indeed about distance, meetings, and partings. The former is actually a true story.
- Do you look forward to touring, seeing cities through the eyes of a working musician, or would you rather be writing and recording from the comforts of home? I admit to having soured over the years on the rigors of touring. That being said, it's been a while since I was last on the road and I'm raring to give it another go. There is a certain giddiness and romance one feels in rolling into a town and then high-tailing it out the next morning (or even, in some cases, that very night). Like the Beatles though, I do enjoy recording.
- As a musician (or even as a visual artist) what do you find most exciting or inspiring about New York at the moment? The things I find exciting about New York now are the same things I have always found exciting about New York: the diversity, the history, and the energy of the people.