Before writing again for Smother, I wrote for, a now defunct but still available, online magazine Crimes Against Art!. And between giving up on an indie print magazine and writing for CAA!, I gave up on this modest attempt at musical journalism. Then, I watched an excerpt from Oxbow's DVD, "Music For Adults" from the Neurot Recordings sampler. What I saw was a band that mixed blues and other more aggressive rock/metal tendencies with a heavy focus on art. They were like nothing I had heard before. Sure there was a bit of this band and that band here and there, but this band is unique. After watching the stripped-down acoustic version of Oxbow live in DC, I decided that I wanted to learn more about this band. No, I NEEDED to learn more about this band and their music. So, I picked up a few releases and still wasn't satisfied. This lead me to writing for CAA! for one selfish reason...I wanted to interview Oxbow and get the answers I needed! What I got was much more. Now, several interviews, reviews, and magazine changes I'm back with Smother and it's time for another Oxbow interview. I had no idea how this one would go since a lot of ground was covered with the first, but Mr. Eugene Robinson is a man with a lot on his mind and so it began...tales of music, art, and violence. Ladies and gentlemen, Oxbow through the eyes of vocalist, Eugene Robinson.
It's been months since the last newsletter. What has been going on with Oxbow?
"The usual things that no one ever considers when they consider a normal band like OXBOW. I mean there ARE bands who record 4 times in one year and whatever Simon Legree-esque label they're on is actually welcoming of this many releases in a year and they're all good, the records I mean and they play every weekend and jump in the van for months out of the year in some Lil Rascal rondele of 20 something lovin', but that's not us."
"Our records seem to come out every 4 or 5 years. We tour on them for like 4 to 5 weeks total between releases (in the intervening 4 years). In the interim, to actually address your question, we're getting groceries, getting stuff to pay for the groceries with, getting gas, for the car, and variously either destroying our lives or reconstructing them according to our tastes. Oh. And we work on new music that closely mimics our mental states whilst creating that music. "
"But you've tied this in to the last newsletter: and yes, we've been working hard. Dan on a way to build non-fossil-fueled race cars, Greg on a way to build race cars, Eugene at EQ magazine, and Niko, on the best and most relaxing body position to recline in while writing Oxbow music. "
"Love That's Last" is being released through Hydrahead Records in February. What all is involved with this release?
"Well we'll let them tell it....
Courtesy of J Bennett.
Love That's Last: A Wholly Hypnographic and Disturbing Work Regarding Oxbow
CD + DVD
In the early 90s, the assiduously amazing & truly terrifying quadrangle known as Oxbow mangled the underground's fragile psyche with the release of nerve-fraying long-players entitled Fuckfest and King of the Jews. Their legacy continued with Let Me Be a Woman (recorded by Steve Albini), Serenade in Red (featuring guest vocals courtesy of Marianne Faithfull), and An Evil Heat (on Neurosis' Neurot Recordings label): With each recording, the men of Oxbow channeled a harrowing psychic landscape through a devastating gamut of stark murder-blues, serpentine slide-guitar torture, and churning predatory noise. Love That's Last: A Wholly Hypnographic and Disturbing Work Regarding Oxbow, and its companion DVD documentary, Music For Adults, serve as an A/V re-introduction to a band that has no equal and a love that has no name."
This past year seems to have been more focused on the "acoustic duo" version of Oxbow. With "Love That's Last" being released, will we see the full band more this year?
"In the fall. But that really depends on what you mean by WE. If by WE you mean people who dwell in major metropolitan centers, why yes. If by WE you mean people in Lansing, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio or Baltimore, Maryland? Probably not. We have a limited time to do what we do and the usual and corrosively amusing riposte to any sort of Oxbow appearance by usually at least one wag in town "Oh. Well I'll see you NEXT time" will eventually be met by "no you won't." If your town raped our asses before it's unlikely to do so again. So enjoy the surfeit of drugs and good TV and pizza, we'll go somewhere where the money runs a little fucking thicker, thank you."
Aside from the sonic aspect, as in "volume," how does the live experience between playing with the whole band differ from the acoustic duo for you?
"Well it's maybe not so much how it affects us, it's how it affects the people that hear us that amuses me. I mean perhaps like that guy from DEERHEART said when he said about OXBOW giving Europe a little TOO MUCH of America that we should back off, perhaps he's right. If you are faint of heart it seems that OXBOW ACOUSTIC is just barely tolerable. Which perforce means: OXBOW full band is waaaayyyy too much. Which means it's infinitely more attractive because of this. HOWEVER we can actually MAKE money with the acoustic thing. Not so on the full band. Sad, sad, fucking truth."
Is this due to it just being the two of you, expense-wise, the musical format or both?
"Both. One guitar. One mic. One car. And Niko's a vegetarian. So low per diem and low costs."
In regards to touring, I had a discussion with someone who tours pretty often about whether or not it lessened the impact or satisfaction, if you will, of the music and release playing live so much. I have never been in a situation to where I've "toured" as in played weeks at a time, but I've gone through times of playing a show once a month to several shows in a month and I believe that if I was able to tour consistently, it wouldn't mean as much because there's such a release of tension, etc. Do you believe that getting limited opportunities to perform throughout the year adds more fuel to fire for when you do play or would it make a difference?
"Wellll....it's 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other. I mean the longest we've toured straight has been 8 weeks. And it was a concentrated 8 weeks with only three days off the whole time. Like the day we left and the day we got there and one day in the middle when we had like a 10 hour drive. So you can do the math. And while the expectation would be that the shows got rote or mechanical or something by the end of the tour they had taken on a whole different kind of coloring...I mean, DEEPER. Because we were LESS healthy. From any single considered vantage point: physically, mentally, psychically, sexually...whatever...it was interesting. And so you can see and we could feel that we were attaining escape trajectory. You know the speed and placement that currently indicates that there's no going back possible. And ever since then though we've never toured for more than half of that time. "
"So to answer your question: it seems to make no difference as we don't play enough no matter what for it to feel mechanical. And I'm a recluse, so there's bound to be a certain frisson that comes from playing to more than just ME."
When I asked you about Oxbow coming back to the
VA/MD/DC area in the near future, you said that it was unlikely due
to the lack of turnout and whatnot. I think there were a lot of
other factors involved...other bands on the shows, promotion, and
Oxbow's still relative underground status, for lack of a better
term. Do you think it's possible that Oxbow could expand a bit
through working with Hydrahead?
"Very possibly. And we'll go anywhere people want to see us. And the corollary, we will not go places where people do NOT want to see us,
holds true as well. So while local pride is motivating you to defend
your locale and while I'm sure that shows by FUGAZI locally are
packed, well, we're probably not FUGAZI and to be horribly fatalistic: what we do is not for very many people at all an experience they want to have multiple times. Will Hydrahead reverse this seemingly inevitable trend? Only time will tell."
I don't think a typical Fugazi crowd would know what to do with an experience like Oxbow!
"Well we've made the journey...from indie darlings to heavy metal black sheep. Strange. I felt it the day it happened. We played a show at Gilman with Creeps on Candy and the audience was just like "Fuck this. Seriously. Fuck them. This is not MY indie music." And so it was. Since then metal's gotten more adventurous and so here we are."
I think that there's a mistaken belief that "indie" music is more sensitive and comfortable compared to machismo of hardcore and metal. I still don't understand the guys wearing women's sized jeans, shirts, and the hair styles. I can see where you guys wouldn't exactly fit the trend. Not mention music and lyrics that don't swallow easily.
"Welllll....if you're digging music like you might dig a certain cut of pants...or a hairstyle...and I'm not saying you shouldn't...I mean I used to like certain artists and have grown out of them....I mean art is a certain type of fashion....well more power to you. But if MY insoluble emotional difficulties leave you uncomfortable in your own skins and unresolved issues well by all means opt out. But what disturbs me most about indie music, and you've latched on to it, is that it's sooooo fucking sexless. There are traditional reasons for this that have everything to do with it being music made by teenagers to repressed homosexuality and so on, but I don't care. If the cock makes you uncomfortable, the cock here being an analog for the fleshy component of our emotional lives. If it makes you uncomfortable...then move the fuck along because the music we make we make for us. And the aforementioned insoluble emotional difficulties."
I've heard a lot of debate over bands using MYSPACE to promote their bands. Some like, Justin from The Locust, seem adamant about refusing to use the site as a promotional tool for bands. Yes, FOX has its hand in the cookie jar now, but I still think it's a useful site for bands. What do you guys think about the site and have you considered setting up a spot for Oxbow on it?
"Depends on what you mean by USEFUL. Does USEFUL mean that people in Norco whose major preoccupation is with $2 drinks and sports gear will "get exposed to our music"? Then I question the entire premise of utility. I mean WE don't have a page up there because WE are too busy/lazy to do so. I'M apparently not too busy to do one for MYSELF, however, which I have done. To a completely and bitterly useLESS end. However, we are not opposed to it. Not because we think it's useful for our music, but because it might be very useful in regards to getting PEOPLE WITH CASH closer to us in the froth and illusion of accessibility."
You've mentioned the desire for money twice, so far, in regards to Oxbow. I think it's great to hear someone actually admit that they want/need to make money to able to keep playing.
"FUCK playing. I need money to maintain the lifestyle to which I've become ACCUSTOMED, goddamn it. You show me someone who doesn't need money and I'll show YOU someone that has LOTS of it."
It seems like so many bands, when interviewed, try to come off like it doesn't matter whether they get paid or not because "it's all about the music."
"Well unless I'm singing a cappella in my shower at home it's clearly NOT all about the fucking music. It's all about the money. To quote the recently deceased Old Dirty Bastard, "who the fuck wants to be an MC when you can't get PAID for being an MC!!!!"
"That being said, we would make music regardless of whether we make money or not. I mean we DO and we make NO money anyway. But you'll never find us saying that money's not important. It's important when buying food. And I like food."
If you sing in the shower anywhere close to how you do with Oxbow...who knows what the neighbors think?!
"Hahaha...my neighbors are suicidal old cusps anyway. I do my best to darken their worldview at any and every given opportunity.
And while I have no doubt that Oxbow does take it's music very seriously, it's refreshing that you're not trying to come off like righteous DIY crusaders. It's easy to tour whenever and supposedly not care about the money situation when you're living with your parents still.
"And even then you should think long and hard about value...somehow, for example, a blowjob that I have NOT had to pay for is something I value quite a bit. It's not the same at all for musical art. Think: coffee shop troubadours."
I was reading your articles with LA Weekly online recently (a fine read, by the way) and something stood out to me that I wanted to ask about. You said/wrote, "We'd rather play a set than fight one, but in the end, where it all ends up, it's almost the same thing." What did you mean by that?
"I meant that we, or I, have or will have managed to communicate some vital and essential truths about ourselves, or me, as well as YOU."
Oxbow vs Fighting. Two things that you care a lot about. What is pull to each of these for you and which, in the end, is more satisfying?
"Well Oxbow is an artistic enterprise with highly emotional, intellectual underpinnings. Fighting is a highly emotional and intellectual enterprise that may or more than likely may not have anything to do with art. Creating art is infinitely more satisfying. But I like dominating other men who deserved it as well.
"But one I HAVE to do. One I LIKE to do. You choose which."
I ask because after reading too many newsletters, articles, etc, you seem to give about equal thought and consideration to each. Then, again, I could be WAY off.
"Well I don't think about fighting OR Oxbow as much as I think about sex. And then: death. Make of this what you would."
If you had to choose between making a living doing Oxbow full-time and fighting professionally full-time, and the money was equal and good, which would you go with?
"Oxbow. Fighting lacks articulation."
True, but fighting WELL, takes skill which is a physical manifestation of expression in itself, in my opinion. Hence the label, "Martial ARTS."
"True enough. Which I believe. But it is counter language. And I'm such a language lunatic THIS part I miss when fighting...I mean when the question is asked: well what do you mean? Fighting resists this kind of analysis."
When I first heard Oxbow, I knew I was hearing something different and surprisingly unique. Especially with what's being championed in both mainstream and so-called "underground" music. But, I have to admit, I wasn't sure whether or not I liked it.
"A few people have said they took the records back to the store. Then went back and got it again. Then took it back again and the third time kept it. It's a dirty process for dirty records but I like it. I mean that's how it works for ME."
It took some time for things to sink in. Do you think that art, whether musical or visual, should take time to digest?
"SHOULD? Well I don't know about should, but I do know that you might want to sit with it a bit. Live with it for a bit. I had a painting that I used to look at. Every day. For just a little bit. Trying to decide why I was driven to see it, this way and that. Again and again and I swore I'd keep it up until I could figure out why. And that was 15 years ago. And right now that painting...or actually it's an etching, is hanging up in front of my face...over my desk. Does this make it good? I don't know. But it makes it significant."
I have a personal belief that one of arts main functions, aside from personal expression, is to confront. Which is probably why the music you four create resonates with me.
"Well yeah, confront. It does that by existing though. The confrontation is with you resisting the experience. Which is exactly why that etching is up over my desk."
Are there any bands out there that Oxbow would consider contemporaries? Whether it is sonically, creatively, or otherwise?
"Contemporaries? Well there are bands that we LIKE...a long list of those. But their musical styles are widely diverse and we're united only in the desire to earnestly connect with some sort of internal eternal understanding of self and the universe. In short, we can use the word ART to describe what we do with completely straight fucking faces. I'd like to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers fucking do THAT."
How has Oxbow grown creatively since Evil Heat?
"Well our records are always about 3 to 4 years off of where we really are as people because it takes that long for us to finish. I mean we rehearse a single song for 6 months. And so yes, things change. And the men that made what you were listening to at such time as you might buy/own an oxbow record is a little behind the actual individuals. So I don't know if GROW is the word to use but rather EVOLVE. See, evolve just sort of implies functionality and speaks not at all to any moral benchmark of GOOD. I mean I think I'm BETTER but I know this doesn't mean that I'm GOOD...at least for anybody but me. So yeah we have evolved. In what way? Well lyrically I like the idea of writing less and less...like an old TV when it dies into a single point of light on an otherwise blackened screen. So this record does that. Minimized the floridity of past language excess and write simply. Which works since the emotional states I'm describing are anything BUT...and they don't really open themselves to LESSER expression. So forcing it all into tightly controlled boxes that get more and more dangerous is great and vocally I try to make the voice do what it's never done before because to describe these emotional states like I have I need to have it do what I've never done before because when I was living it I was doing things I had never done before. If that makes any sense."
When you guys began writing for Narcotic Story, did you have a certain direction thematically and/or musically you wanted to go in this time?
"Well it's all...from Fuckfest to now, a diary of my life and doings. From one record to the next. It's a journey...love dies in Serenade In Red....and in my real life I had a road to damascus moment...and then An Evil Heat....where I saw for the first time who it was that I was and it was good. Or rather it was BETTER...and post-facto Narcotic story catalogs the years immediately following An Evil Heat where I took this brand new self with narcotics as an analog, both figurative and literal, of life outside of the outside. There will come a point where the Oxbow records catch up in real time, either because we've slowed down or because times have caught up. And at that point we'll do something else. In fact we think that doing something else is necessary...we tried to do a split with US Maple where we swapped singers but their singer didn't go for it and said some disparaging things about me. I was going to issue a jihad against him but I still like them too much to do so. And I've done songs with DJ/rupture, Capricorns, Todd, This Side of Jordan, Xiu Xiu, Rope, Steamboat Switzerland and so on. People are asking for an acoustic record and Niko and I have this thing cooked up called THE SERVANT that we're excited about. I'm on the verge of getting a book deal to do a book on fighting...and through them all? The line of my life, in living fucking color. And since nobody ever believes I'm telling the truth anyway I can just tell the truth...so, perfect...success.
"But The Narcotic Story will either be phenomenal or a miserable disappointment. Time will tell."
After reading TOO MANY Oxbow lyrics, perhaps, it looks like you could make a good book writer.
"Hahah...no doubt about it. You'll come to a band end if you keep THIS shit up. I've written 2 novels, one deservedly unpublished, the other I got reamed on...it was at Random House but dissolved in a swelter of threats and recriminations between my agent and my editor. It was called A LONG SLOW SCREW...stolen from The Swans record of the same name I think. It is a crime saga loosely based on my time as a collections thug. But as luck would have it the same editor happened to read the article I wrote in the LA WEEKLY on my life as a fighter and he's now at Harper Collins/Regan Books and got me a deal to write a fight book and so I will. It's non-fiction but fuck it. More people will probably read it."
Do you take inspiration from any particular books or authors?
"Inspiration? Well I don't know about that. I like a wide variety of writers...from Nabakov (his book Pnin is phenomenal)...to Martin Amis, despite his pop tendencies I never get tired of his willingness to, as Willie D says, 'let his balls hang.' Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet reminded me of my life circa Fuckfest. And I used to like all of those writers that everybody likes...Cormac Mc Carthy, Bukowski, Kerouac, Harry Crews and so on...until I grew out of that. But I'm strange that way. When I'm writing non-fiction, I read only fiction. And when I'm writing fiction I only read non-fiction."
I know you mentioned being enthralled with a book about Mao.
"Yeah...June Chang's new book on Mao. I've been on the mass murderer jag. Started with biographies on Pol Pot....then Mussolini...then Hitler...then Hitler & Stalin....then Stalin...and now Mao."
Aside from being a face tattooed on Mike Tyson,hahaha, what interests you about this particular individual?
"Yeah...that was a weird call. Well I'm studying evil. I know everyone else likes to stroll down the renegade land of independent operators...the Ted Bundies and Mansons and so on, but these guys are JV compared to the ones I've named. And according to every estimate Mao was the champion. 70 million deaths are what he's caused. 70 mil and college freshman still put posters of him on their fucking walls. The most perfectly executed exercise of evil ever...aggressive self-interest, socio-pathology, lack of empathy, delight in cruelty, lazy, lustful...didn't brush his fucking teeth or even wash his body very often (if at all). He didn't even do The Long March. He made the "proletariat" carry him in a specially designed rig so that he could sleep and read all day. He's a textbook example of complete evil and it's genius and I can't stop reading it. It really shines a light on the fact that our virtues seem to solely be about our willingness to endure hardship for things that don't directly benefit us (family, country, love, bon homie)...and he did NONE of this and in that way I sort of find myself having extended fantasies about exactly this kind of life. Though I must say I derive a great deal of joy out of brushing my teeth and bathing."
"But, but, but...this is a fine example of what I think I'm saying. Brushing your teeth and bathing is a hardship. It's a hardship worth enduring for many because you accrue great social benefit from not being a stinky motherfucker. HOWEVER if there was no social benefit to you...say, because you could KILL everyone who appeared to be irked by your lack of attention to toilette, would you still do it? Oh sure, sure, there are HEALTH reasons but he lived a fucking long time with black teeth and a funky ass. Had lots of mistresses too. Now I don't know what I expect to find at the end of this journey, especially since I've made my peace with evil as it works within me, but perhaps I'll know when I get there and start working on my fight book and going back to reading fiction."
I've had a considerable amount of time since the last interview to discover different things in Oxbow's music. It seems like every time I listen to each of the three albums I have, something new pops out or something that I thought sounded one way before sounds different than I thought before. But, I've been paying more attention to your lyrics and the different ways of vocalizing. Each song seems to tell a different story rather than a straight, autobiographical approach.
"Thanks for figuring this out. I spend a lot of time thinking of this stuff. It's nice to have it noticed."
And what I want to ask is do you use the different styled vocals to project the voice of different characters involved in these stories or has lack of sleep, consecutively, finally caught up with me?
"Well it has less to do with "characters" and much more to do with varied states of being...and evolving. I mean it IS autobiographical. And if you have the time and the interest you can track ME through each and every one of the records. A documentation of "what the fuck has happened"...but for the cheap seats there's the "story" as it might be, but for me, and that's who they're made for, they are markers on the road to me today sitting here at work answering your questions. And my field of play? How I feel, what I think about what I feel and what I've done and expect to do...and does love die every time? Noooooo....only ONCE."
A lot of vocalists tend to write lyrics that fit in a song format and have little weight behind them without the music.
"Well as a singer and a lyricist it's easy to get buffalo'd by a guitarist/songwriter or any other music making band member into doing shit like picking a word that "rhymes with cop" or some such thing. The same reason why parents might name their kid John or Michael. It's expedient. But inside the song there's an emotional center and a truth that may be only significant to the writer of the lyric and the singer of the song. I mean I appreciate guys who do schtick. And believe me we ALL do a certain amount of schtick....from Fugazi's concerned and earnest young men to Oxbow's crazy negritude, but in the lyrical landscape where we try to tell you EXACTLY what we mean. What we say comes from the head, the heart and the cock. I mean I'm not nearly so excited about being didactic as I am about letting you know exactly why what's going to happen to you when you come into contact with me. Which could be anything or nothing. But at least it's something. And I don't lie."
"I always thought this was an inferior thing until I read a book of lyrics by Bowie. And on the page they were the stuff of junior high school book-binders, but when you heard them in the song they were trenchant and wonderful. And this was a new kind of genius to me and one which I'm pursuing sort of. I mean I like the economy of it rather than the purplish Nick Cave-esque prose. Just something simple when read but that just fucking EVOKES when sung/heard. This could be a miserable failure, but I try to do it on The Narcotic Story. And I try to do it specifically because my interior language has also gotten sparse and I don't want to tell you anything. I just want to show you...as directly as possible. And here we are back to the fighting again. I guess."
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