issue 4 :: Summer, 1997

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Interview: The Coctails

After forsaking the Coctails so many times when I lived in Chicago (“I'll see them the next time they play...”), they came to Austin and put on a fantastic show. I would have kicked myself if I had never seen them: if you do not know, they broke up January 1, 1997. Does this mean they are no longer relevant? Not while I've got an interview with them to publish! Actually, the Coctails have left behind a number of worthwhile records, including the full-out jazz of Long Sound, which was on my turntable a lot when I first thought of this jazz issue. After their show at Emo's, I cornered the quartet against their tour van at 2am. My friend Steve Woods provided moral support, although Barry Phipps, Archer Prewitt, Mark Greenberg and John Upturch were so kind and friendly that I probably could have tackled the interview solo (I'm such a shy person). Due to the late hour, I did not want to pester them for too long, hence the ultra-short interview.
—Josh Ronsen

Any interesting things happen on the tour so far?
JOHN: Yes! Tell him about the theramin.
MARK: I found a RCA theramin, something I've been looking for all my life in a music store in LA and it was one of the 200 of them ever made-
Emoguy: Did you guys do an idiot check?
MARK: Yeah.
JOHN: We did, thanks. I think the idiot is still in there somewhere. We're just hanging out.
MARK: Don't tell him.
BARRY: We've been trying to loose him for a long time.
Emoguy: I've really enjoyed you guys.
Coctails: Thanks!
MARK: [continuing] but it wasn't for sale because the guy could rent it to Hollywood studios for more than I could ever even think of paying for it. But it was nice to see it.
JOHN: I got another good story: we're playing in LA and we're opening 2 shows for Pizzacato 5. You know there's a stereotype of LA. We lived it.
JOHN: We lived the stereotype of LA. Both shows were sold out for P5, they're very big there. The first show was complete industry people, all these famous people. Before the show we went across the street to eat sushi just like they do in LA. We play this show and then Joey Santiago of the Pixies comes and invites these guys to pasta.
MARK: And Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo-
ARCHER: and Donita from L7 was there-
JOHN: and Gerard-
MARK: from Matador was there.
JOHN: and Franklin of Nothing Painted Blue was there.
This interview is going to be in my “jazz” issue and since I like Long Sound so much, I was wondering if you could talk about how that was put together.
MARK: Well, we've all had an interest in that type of music, although none of us are schooled musicians or anything like that, but we went through a period of time when we listened to a lot of Mingus and Sun Ra. We still do that, but there was an intense period that was probably the seed of [Long Sound]. But we had always been writing things that were more open compositional, jazz pieces and things like that. And it just happened that when we went in the studio, a lot of the stuff we had that we were working on, 90% of the stuff was focused around that genre and we decided to release a focused work of those kind of pieces. Because we tried to play them out live... you can't play a somber, floating jazz piece in a rock club, not without the conversations getting louder... So we did it as a form for that music to exist. We want to do another project like that.
I want you to do another project like that. How much of [Long Sound] is improvised?
MARK: Most of the songs had a rough structure and there are a lot of "checkpoints" where going to be moving through these chords. Playing that kind of music isn't strictly structured, certainly not written out. It's really important to listen to what the other players are doing, you can second guess what would sound good or what would add tension or resolution or whatever.
MARK: The ones that sound structures are the ones that are. "China Song" is fairly structured. "Water Logged"; there are a couple of solo parts in there, but for the most part...
ARCHER: There are a some compositions that are more thought out, even something as loose as the horn song, which we called "Stray Horn" is really worked out, and I think the only free piece would be the second rendition of —
JOHN: yes
BARRY: yes
MARK: And the middle part of "Monkeys and Seals" is free. "Tenement,” the parts that we all played were very structured, but of course no one had any idea what Hal [Russell] was going to do. Even he really didn't know...
My last question, as it is very late and very cold: what's it like working in a band where everyone swaps instruments?
JOHN: There's a lot of downtime in between songs, but it's good as it changes like in a 45 minute set we can be 4 different bands. We're a different band when Archer is playing guitar and I'm on bass, or when Archer is on drums and I'm on vibes and John is on saw. It can open things up; it's not so limiting. You can really use that to your advantage.
BARRY: It's very fun to do that: all of a sudden you're the front man for two songs and then you can hide out in the shadows and play drums and just be a nobody in the background. It's nice to disperse the attention and diverse the song emphasis.
ARCHER: And it also gives us the ability to choose for a particular idea the instrumentation that's appropriate for it. We're not limited to "we're a 2 guitars, bass drums group so let's figure out how to do it that way." It allows us a lot more dynamics which [in comically serious voice] some of the interesting juxtapositions of sights and sounds that we enjoy to present to an audience.
MARK: Which is nice.
Any last words?
BARRY: Uh...
JOHN: Uh...
Uh isn't a word.
JOHN: So does this have anything to do with with Pink Deville, the Pink Panther and uh...
MARK: The Monks?
JOHN: Punk rock?
Exactly right! No, it's just a little word game.
MARK: Are they all named this?
I've only done two issues.
MARK: Some zines will change their names...
JOHN: Are you going to change names?
I was thinking about it, each issue adding another word to the series, so the next one might be Monk Mink Pink Punk Punt...
JOHN: That's good.
But then I should have the first issue be just one word.
MARK: Or could start the next one with Punk and go from there.
MARK: Punk Plank... uh, just give me some time and I'll give you some stuff.
JOHN: That's good.
MARK: What was the name of Mingus's band in his autobiography that wasn't a real band? The trio he played with? Like Plink Plank?
I don't know, and I'm a huge Mingus fan...
MARK: Well, he calls this straight accessible band Plink Plank & Plunk, which was guitar, piano and bass.
JOHN: Like Wang Chung!
MARK: There's a picture in that Priestly book of the band, but they're called Strings & Keys, a lot less exciting than PPP.
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