issue 3 :: Fall, 1995

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Interview: God Is My Co-Pilot

“GodCo” is one of those bands where the more I hear them in different contexts/records, the better I understand/enjoy them. It is a good thing that they are a highly prolific band. When I was in New York I had to interview them. It was imperative. Things started off tensely, perhaps because I had woken Craig up from sleep the morning before (at 11am! and this was after Juliana Leuking and Anthony Coleman had returned my phone calls that morning...) I met the Craig and Sharon outside their apartment along with new violinist Ida, who promptly left before the interview began. I brought my long-time friend Bob for moral support.
-Josh Ronsen
Craig Flanagin: Now, I don't want to make people suspicious of any one journalist, but you should be suspicious of the idea of journalism in general. He [Josh] was telling me how much he liked Elliott's bass playing on our Straight Not record and how nice Elliott was to him [when he played in Austin], and after all these things he wrote “Ick.” [see MMPP#1]

Sharon Topper: He won't tell you why though.

Josh Ronsen: Do I have to defend myself?

Craig: No, no...

Sharon: It has something to do with the previous-

Craig: It has something to do with the fact that he didn't like Elliott's String Quartets, I'm sure, or he doesn't know what the Fibonacci series is, but the point is that journalism is intrinsically like that. You can't help it, it's the whole idea. You can do it, but you should be suspicious of it. It's like being in a band. You can do it, but you should be suspicious of it.

Josh: I'm already suspicious enough of myself.. but I think my criticism, the “ick,” if you could call that criticism.

Sharon: [laughs] Defend your ick!

Josh: ...has to do with that whole John Zorn/Elliott Sharp scene...

Craig: Ah, there could be criticisms of that...

Sharon: They would probably disagree that they are in the same scene though.

Craig: This is the thing about journalism. It probably looks that way from Texas than it does here. If it's not East 7th Street, than it's kinda too far away to have the same picture of it. Down here on 4th Street, we hardly know what's going on.

Josh: But I do like Anthony Coleman [see interview this issue]. You did see my yea “criticism?”

Craig: Based on what?

Josh: I have some of his records and I've seen him twice.

Craig: He toured Europe with us last summer. It was very entertaining.

Sharon: He's funny as all Hell.

Craig and Sharon

Josh: Tell me about the tour of Europe.

Sharon: No

Josh: Was it bad?

Craig: No. It was a lot of fun.

Sharon: That was the last one. We've just got back from England and Iceland.

Bob Otillar: Are you getting ready to go to Japan?

Sharon: Are you asking about my Japanese etiquette book?

Bob: It looks interesting.

Sharon: It's actually very silly, and I don't know how much of it is totally out-dated and how much people actually do. 'Cause the Japanese people I know don't act like this.

Craig: [reading my list of questions] We've already covered Anthony Coleman, Elliott Sharp. Mingus, it says. So I think the headline for the people of Monk Mink Pink Punk should be “where the people of Monk and Mingus live let's call this” or “Monk and Minkus” or “where Punk and Mingus live let's call this.” It's kinda the name of a Roland Kirk song if you didn't know already.

Josh: Who's the Gertrude Stein fan?

Craig: Everyone's a Gertrude Stein fan. That was Ida who was just here...

Josh: I know, I was just reading Ida.

Craig: “There was a baby born named Ida.” There's a tape recording somewhere of Sharon and Fly reading that.

Sharon: It's really silly.

Craig: It will not be released. Also not to be released is the drunken Hungarian record. What will be released is the Bartok record, which will be recorded in the summer of 1995. We decided to really do our homework on this one.

Josh: Are you going to record it there [Hungary]?

Craig: Well, we went there already, and that was fun, but I think it would be better to record it here, since every one on the record is here in America.

Josh: What are you going to do by Bartok? [I think they heard by as about]

Craig: I like the sound of that. Like it is up to us.

Sharon: What are you going to do about Bartok, Craig?

Craig: Bartok is going to be bigger than the Beatles when we're done.

Josh: Is this going to be the next new thing?

Craig: As soon as people read about it in your zine, it's going to be the new trend across America.

Josh: Someone was just telling me that Bartok is, you know, Bartok, but he has two really weird string quartets.

Craig: He has a lot of weird stuff actually, which might be the stuff we emphasize.

Josh: Are they going to be interpretations or-?

Craig: They are going to be a faithful as our Mingus cover.

Josh: You have a Mingus cover?

Craig: On our first single.

Josh: Which I don't have. There's a Mingus quote on What Drs. Don't Tell...

Sharon: That tape is funny because I thought no one would see it, but it seems to get around.

Craig: That tape was made for our own entertainment, That and the 10”. We liked the guys who run Quinah and we like Shrimper a lot. It's just a cool thing.

Craig and Sharon

Josh: Let's talk about being a prolific band.

Craig: Some guy in some magazine in Delaware that I can't remember the name of, who had written to ask us to put a record on a compilation he was doing. his review of What Drs. Don't Tell said “These people put out too many records and I'm just sick of it!” after giving us rave reviews of 5 records and 2 live shows in the issue before, and then asking us to record another song for him. A lot of it is,... I don't know. We're not as precious in a certain way as some people where everything has to be hyped and and timed. Obviously, if you're going to do a record that's going to come out on CD with a nice 4-color package [holds up How To Be] you're going to have a different idea about it than your Shrimper tape, because you can have more fun doing something... I mean What Drs. was recorded for our own entertainment, just fooling around, obviously recorded live with Charles Mingus and Mark E. Smith. And you get a lot of results that way that you wouldn't in you're totally precious. We don't put out everything we record by a long shot.

Josh: I think a lot of people would be surprised to hear that.

Craig: Well, [grabbing tape recorder] just for the record, we have as many more things in the can that won't come out as the things that will. Because sometimes you work on this stuff and you play it and it sucks and then you don't put it out. I wouldn't have felt I had to say that before I heard the last Truman's Water record-OOPS! [hand covers mouth].

Sharon: Truman's Water are our friends, Craig.

Craig: They are our friends, but honestly, doesn't their tape recorder have a pause button?

Josh: What's it like playing with Jad Fair?

Craig: I like Jad.

Sharon: I like Jad a lot. He's really funny. He opened for us a few weeks ago, and before he went on, he came up to me and I was holding a new guitar I had bought and he was holding his. He said to me “Sharon, um, how do you think this looks? Do you think this looks cool?” and he jumped up and strummed his guitar and said “is that good?” I said “I don't think so,” and I showed him the way Joan Jett does it, kicking her legs all the way back so her heels hit her butt. Jad said, “Oh, OK, let me try that.” And we were just jumping backstage trying to look cool. [laughs] He likes to have fun with music. He's not afraid to make an ass out of himself.

Josh: What's your favorite Joan Jett song?

Sharon: I have a lot. What's [sings verse of “Do You Want To Touch Me?”]?

Josh: “Do You Want To Touch Me?”

Sharon: That one is funny. [looks through record collection] I saw her when I was 16 on long island, and me and my girlfriend got dressed up in cool punk clothes. We looked so funny. When I was in high school I listened to this one a lot [holds up original release of Bad Reputation]. I think it's funny she's having a revival now, doing the riot grrl thing, but I'm not interested in her.

Josh: So she's not going to guest on any GodCo records anytime soon?

Sharon: No.

Josh: How easy is it for people to play with you?

Craig: It's not that easy to play in God Is My Co-Pilot.

Sharon: That's a good question.

Craig: Are you trying to audition or how easy is it to learn the songs?

Josh: I'm not trying to audition...

Sharon: You have to be available...

Craig: It's invitation only...

Sharon: 6 to 9 hours a week...

Craig: You have to have excellent [garbled] memory...

Sharon: A good, cheerful disposition, for those 9 hours a week,

Craig: Yeah, the rest of the time you can be any way you want.

Sharon: You have to be willing to drop everything and-

Craig: Have fun...

Sharon: Have fun and come across the world with us and... you don't have to play an instrument but you have to like to try and to like sounds. And you have to be nice to us. Especially me.

Craig: You have to be nice to Siobahn.

Bob: You have people who have no clue how to play instruments but they like sounds and are friendly?

Sharon: Me!

Bob: I saw you playing with that harmonica thing...

Craig: That's the other thing, you don't try to be bad. Obviously you don't have to be trained. If you've been playing drums for a few years, you're going to get better. Siobahn is a great drummer; she had sat behind a drum kit before, but learned playing with us for all practical purposes. She was a beginner when she started [in GodCo, presumably], but is a seasoned professional now. In this band, having training isn't necessarily an in.

Bob: That must have an interesting effect on your music. I imagine most musicians have their ideas about music much more set. It seems like [people in GodCo] soak up a lot from y'all.

Craig: And vicey-versey, obviously. I learned as much from playing with Siobahn as she from me, needless to say. I picked up the guitar a couple of weeks before our first show. It's not a necessary hindrance.. I'm trying to think of an example...

Sharon: I was thinking of Michael [Evans?] who is formally trained...

Craig: but he is not dumb, he's great. I'm not extolling caveman-picks-up-guitar attitude, it's more like your brain isn't already a fossil. Anthony [Coleman] is totally ready to have fun and try new stuff.

Josh: Do you see your sound developing, going anywhere?

Craig: No...yes...

Sharon: Everywhere at once.

Josh: So there's no master plan for the future?

Sharon: Everyone is pulling in the direction they are more interested. On How To Be, I really like the more pop and disco stuff that you could hear in a house club and do a lot of fun mixes with...

Craig: Yeah, everyone brings in ideas. Alex and I will hit something and work it through for a while, either a genre or something we've heard that has excited us. Or just ideas on how to set up structures. Alex is really great that way, not exactly arranging ideas, but more formal ideas about how to structure songs.

Josh: How much of the music is improvised?

Craig: If you would join God Is My Co-Pilot tomorrow, you have no idea how much stuff you would have to learn. Some things are very very specific and other things are left up to the way you want to play them at that time.

Sharon: And that happens in the studio as well as the rehearsal space.

Craig: As well as playing live.

Sharon: It's really a mixed bag.

Craig: If you think it's just squeaking and farting, you've got to wonder where these unison parts come from. But then sometimes in the unison parts, the harmony is left up to you or vicey-versey.

Sharon: On a lot of our early reviews were like: “It seemed like total chaos, but then they all stopped at once!” Before I was in a band I always thought that a band would work on the ideal version of a song and then record it. But for us music and songs are always changing, constantly developing.

Photos by Bob Otillar. 2014 Note: In the original print edition, there was a 4 page excerpt from the interview with Anthony Coleman that concerned his relationship and history with God Is My Co-Pilot. This was done to balence the pages between the two issues. This excerpt is now in the complete interview with Coleman in the online version of issue 4.
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