Aside from being a massive Paradise Garage head Keith Haring will always be associated in my head with that colourful 80s New York period that is very Test Pressing. In 1984 he went to France for the Le Mans 24 hour race and, as ever, created some art for the race. I found loads of images on this French site so thanks chaps.
February 28, 2011
Soody Sisco, Martha Fiskin and Linda Pitt made up the core of Dog Eat Dog, an early 80s punk funk band out of NYC who were sassy, smart and fun. Think along the lines of Liquid Liquid or ESG and you are on the right lines. Claremont 56 have been lucky enough to get their hands on unreleased recordings from the band consisting of live tracks and studio sessions which will be released mid-March in a lovely Keith Haring sleeve. As massive fans of that era in New York we asked the band if we could interview them and talk about those times and they kindly said yes…
So who met who first? Where were you living? Were you at college when you met? What were you studying?
Soody: Linda and I went to High School together in Piscataway, New Jersey. We met working on a school publication. I went to college with Martha. A friend introduced me to David Wald and then David brought in Kevin.
Linda: Soody and I met up during High School. We met up again in our last year of college, there we met Martha. I studied art.
Martha: I met Soody and Linda at college in New Jersey. I studied art: studio and history.
What initially made you think ‘ok. lets form a band?’ Were you inspired by other people out there. Who was that?
Soody: We lived in the East Village, NYC in 1980. All of our friends were in bands.
Linda: After college Soody and I were briefly roommates in Brooklyn. I remember watching the Miss America pageant on TV. There was a sax in the apartment, I picked it up, I made sound… If Talking Heads (art students), The Ramones and our friends Liquid Idiot could all form bands, so could we.
Martha: It was an exciting time. You could pick up an instrument and start a band.
What clubs were you initially going into?
Soody: Tier 3, Max’s Kansas City (where Linda worked), Mudd Club and CBGB.
Linda: I worked at Max’s Kansas City pre-band. CBGB’s was around the corner from home.
Martha: Club 57, CBGB, Tier 3, Max’s, Mudd Club, Hurrah’s and The Roxy. We walked to all these places. New York did seem smaller in those days.
Were you part of that whole Mudd Club scene, hanging out there or just playing gigs?
Soody: A bit of both.
Linda: We went to the Mudd Club a lot but never felt part of the scene.
Martha: I was in a group art show there.
I guess you were quite involved in that art scene that ran alongside the music scene at that time? If so how? Did you see those two scenes as linked?
Soody: Yes, Linda and I were hanging posters that we collaborated on.
Linda: Definitely linked. Take Club 57, a small venue on St Marks Place in the EV, art, performance, music, movies, a showcase for everyone. Al Diaz our percussionist did the SAMO graffiti with Basquiat. Soody and I made art flyers that we wheat pasted around the neighborhood (see above). By chance the guy with the guitar is Richard Hell. We all did our own personnel art as well.
Martha: We all made stuff; various media.
Seems a lot of people involved in the music scene came from an art background and then did the music thing as an outlet for their creative sides. Was this the way it was for you?
What were your favourite places to play at that time?
Linda: CB’s had the best sound and the infamous dressing room. We once played at 4am in a basement on Chrystie Street that turned out to be a Chinese gambling parlor.
So you played at CBGB’s. Was that another hang out?
Soody: Yes, it was in our neighborhood.
Linda: Went there a lot. I loved the matinees.
Martha: Sure. What a sound system!
So the music – it seems to have a very funky edge. The congas and the percussion have that Latin thing going on. What were you influenced by? Or was it just a New York thing to have that Latin sound as you grew up surrounded by it?
Soody: It was a popular sound at the time and our early percussionist, Al Diaz, is Hispanic.
Linda: Don’t be fooled by the cow bell.
Martha: Love love love drums. Latin, African, dub…
How do you fit in with the other No Wave bands? Were you having out with ESG, Liquid Liquid etc or did you feel aside from them?
Soody: We were friends with Liquid Liquid.
Linda: Liquid Liquid are our friends. I only met ESG once but they seem incredibly nice. We were part of the noise NY and Naive Rhythm scene so I always felt we were all in the same boat.
Martha: Totally in with Liquid Liquid and Konk.
Who were you favourite bands to go and see back then and why?
Soody: Hmmm, there were a lot. Of the local bands we would go see our friends a lot. I loved DNA.
Linda: The Ramones were always fun, and any band that was recommended that I knew nothing about. There were a lot of new bands and most music at the time was fun.
Martha: Fela, DNA, some big soul shows, all our friends.
I like the review I saw from the Soho News that says ‘the melodies are carried by a very amateurish saxophone player’. Surely that was the whole point – to play like you couldn’t? You know deconstructing your abilities and almost looking at it in a different way… Was that something you were about?
Soody: We couldn’t play!
Linda: I believe the words are self taught. We played out shortly after we started playing our instruments.
Martha: We were inspired neophytes.
The music really benefits from having that raw, captured live thing. Well some of it was obviously recorded live, but when in the studio was it a live run through or did you try and record separately.
Soody: Everything is recorded live, either in studio or performance.
Linda: I remember late nights hardly able to stay awake.
Martha: Down and dirty, low-budget and raw. In a good way.
How come you never got signed to Sire, Ze or one of the other labels picking up bands at that time? I presume that scene was picked over pretty heavily…
Soody: We just didn’t get an offer in the short period we were around.
Linda: We almost got signed to 99 records.
Martha: It would have been 99 if anyone signed us. Maybe Rough Trade or ROIR.
Boring question but how did you hook up with Keith Haring for the Dog Eat Dog piece he did. Were you mates with him?
Soody: Keith Haring was a downtown artist and easy enough to run into. We just asked him if he would do a poster because the dog was one of his favorite motifs. He was very sweet and said he would do it and made an extra for us to add future dates to.
Linda: He was part of the Club 57 scene. I think he went to school with Julie who was working with Martha at the time.
Martha: Keith was a friend from the neighborhood. His work was everywhere.
Going back to the clubs – where else were you hanging out? Were DJs important to you as people or did you more enjoy the art/punk/live scene. What about Paradise Garage, Funhouse etc…
Soody: I don’t think DJs were the entity they are today back then.
Linda: I like music live and went to places we could get in for free which was most. Peppermint Lounge, Danceteria (where I caught Madonna’s first show), loved the dancing boys, Irving Plaza, Tramps, jazz clubs names long forgotten. There was The Empire of Soul Club, Warren and the Empress spun B sides of soul 45’s at various venues.
Martha: The Empire State Soul Club was great!
Were you into hip-hop? Before it went head long down that drum machine beat route it seems the scene you were in (Fab 5 Freddy, Futura etc) was very hip-hop. I think your music is pretty B-boy…
Soody: We loved the rap scene and frequented the Roxy Roller Rink in Chelsea for rap/breakdance shows.
Linda: B-boy, I like it. Loved the early scene. Roxy was our place to go.
Martha: Checking out rap and hip hop at Roxy. Thanks for the comparison.
At the time did you look at the success of some bands around you and think about making your music slightly more commercial or were you not interested in that?
Soody: We would have loved some success.
Linda: Commercial, never wanted that as an option.
Martha: We enjoyed our artistic freedom then, but a wider audience is always great.
What happened with the band in the end? Do you still play together? Is it more of a historical thing or do you have plans to go play in the studio again?
Soody: Oy Vey, play again? We discussed the possibility, but would need to REALLY dust ourselves off!
Linda: Historical, well you never know…
Martha: No plans, but you never know…
What do you all do now?
Soody: I am a museum curator and textile designer.
Linda: Photo retoucher to the stars! That means publishing.
Martha: I work in the film business.
What music do you listen to these days?
Soody: A lot of 70s glitter and 80s punk, always The Ramones, actually too much to list!
Linda: Lots of radio, WFMU and WWOZ, still can’t get enough of Neil Young.
Martha: The Clash, LCD Soundsystem, Spiritualized, Greg Dulli’s various bands and more.
Thanks for the interview!
Dog Eat Dog is out mid-March on Claremont 56. You can order it here.
November 24, 2010
This is the first of a (probably very irregular) new Test Pressing format based around the world of books. I think books are one of those things that you naturally move onto collecting if you have the collectors mindset and I seem to happily pick up any book relating to music or music-related artists so it seemed fitting to start posting a few here.
First up is ‘Reggae Bloodlines’ first published by Heinemann in 1979 and subtitled ‘In Search Of The Music And Culture Of Jamaica’. Written by Stephen Davis and Peter Simon this is a beautifully written portrait of Jamaica in the format of a 1970s school book. The first few chapters focus on introduction and the history of reggae and from there moves through hanging out with Bob Marley (“The Wailers in their prime time were the best of the part-singing reggae vocal trios. Marley’s voice was broad-reaching in its possibilities, evoking both sentimental nosralgia and bitter rage, often in the same song”), watching Burning Spear at Chela Bay, a history of Rastafari and on.
Written in the late 70s the book captures a golden time of reggae across all styles of the genre and presents the music and the stories behind it rather than taking a critical view. The photography is also pretty special with classic shots of Marley, Augustus Pablo, Burning Spear, Bunny Wailer, Lee Perry and Doctor Alimantado. This is my favourite books on reggae and I suggest getting the early edition (about a tenner including postage on Amazon) not the later re-issue as it’s in a totally different format and doesn’t have the charm.
Next up is Keith haring and ‘Journals’. This is the diaries of Haring running from ’77 through to ’89 just before his death in February 1990. It’s an insight into the heart and mind of Haring as well as giving an understanding of his simplistic take on modern art. As Timothy Leary says, “I have shown his drawings to Australian aborigines who initiated me and they grinned and nodded their heads. Keith communicated in the basic global icons of our race.”
Keith Haring was a massive fan of Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage. I got given a DVD of the whole last night of the Garage (thanks Phil) and you can clearly see Haring dancing away with a female friend. Here’s an extract where he talks about his love for the club.
“Speaking of families: I’m sitting in an empty train car so I’m playing my radio real loud. I’ve got a tape on that Junior made me called Paradise Lost. It still hasn’t sunk in that the Paradise Garage has closed forever. Every time I hear a song that is “Garage song,” I get real emotional. I can’t explain exactly why, but something about just knowing it was there was a comfort, especially when I was out of New York City. There was always something to look forward to immediately upon my return. In fact, I often scheduled my trips around the Garage, leaving on Sundays and returning before or on Saturdays. It was really a kind of family. A tribe. Maybe I should open a club, but I really don’t want to deal with that headache. This is the worst headache I ever felt. It’s like losing a lover when everything was going just fine. Its like when Andy and Bobby died. Maybe Paradise Garage has moved to heaven… so Bobby can go there now. That would be nice.
The last night was pretty incredible but not as sad as I thought it would be. People were sort of numb. It’s just so weird knowing that you’re not going to see a lot of these people again. There were a lot of people I only used to see there, a lot of them I never even spoke to the whole five years I went there, but I feel like I “know” them ’cause I shared something with them. Grace came for a little while, but didn’t stay long. Larry Levan played all night and all the next day till after midnight. I had to leave at midnight because I had work to do Monday morning to prepare for this trip to Europe. ”
Music always seemed integral to the world of Haring and that comes across in his dairies. It’s an easy read, especially if you have an interest in 80s New York. The one I have was published by Fourth Estate in 1996 and again comes recommended.