Pink Reason needs no introduction to Drug Punk readers, and as it happens, I'm terrible with introductions. Anyways, Kevin Failure was gracious enough to do an interview with me via email in January, and these are the results. All pictures taken by Kevin on Pink Reason's 2011 European tour.
Drug Punk [DP]: 2011 was an eventful year for you-a full European tour, the first album in several years, marriage, and a child. What’s the future look like for you, and Pink Reason?
Kevin Failure [KF]: I find it difficult to predict specifics with accuracy, but I'd guess that the future of the band will by and large resemble its past. I don't really work in a linear way. I'm usually working on multiple projects at any given time, which are all in varying stages of "completion." I plan on releasing at least a couple different things in 2012. One is an album that a friend and I have been working on in my basement the past couple of months. I've also been planning on going to the studio soon with the band to record a 7" any day now. My buddy Harry Howes, who runs Last Laugh and Almost Ready and I are gonna be releasing future Pink Reason records on Savage Quality.
Other than that, I've been noticing a lot of gray hairs lately.
as an influence-what were you listening to when making the album? Did it
effect the album’s sound?
KF: Well, that album was recorded over a period of like six years, so, I listened to a lot of music during that time. Not much Joy Division, though I love the band.
I don't think what I'm listening to at any particular time has much direct relation to what I record. But who knows, really? I'm as inspired by Neil Young as I am the Minutemen, or Axemen, or Dead Moon.
It'd be easier for me to explain the events and circumstances that influenced the album, but I figure people can just listen to the album themselves for that.
DP: What were some highlights and ruts of your European tour? I heard you spent some time in jail in Berlin...
KF: Yeah, but that was not one of the highlights. I did spend fourteen days in Moabit maximum security prison in Berlin. The facility was used by the Gestapo in the 1930s, so it was kind of like a very realistic museum. I guess in some parts of Eastern Europe you can pay money to experience a re-enactment of arrest and interrogation by the Stasi or KGB. It's like a twisted amusement ride or something. In fact, I was sent a quite a hefty bill myself afterward. In the end, it would have been cheaper to stay in a hostel.
Considering the tour was over two and a half months long, and that I was traveling for all but a couple weeks of it alone and by train, I could easily fill a book with memorable experiences. Far and away the happiest moments for me were back in Russia where I was able to visit with my family there. These are not blood relatives, but the family that took me in as their son, brother and nephew there. It was very emotional for me.
The last night I was back in Kurgan, my buddy Denis, whose family I had lived with there, got ahold of our friend Lyosha. Denis, Lyosha and I played together in a band called Anastasia (Anesthesia) and I played my first show with them in a village outside Kurgan in '92. It was my first time seeing Lyosha in twenty years. After a nice dinner and drinks we gathered with our friend Pasha by the river that ran along the outskirt of town. Our parents used to scold us for swimming there when we were kids, because it was so polluted but nobody swims there now. We had some bottles of booze, and an acoustic guitar and did as young men in Russia tend to do when drinks have been poured and there is an acoustic guitar around and we sang songs. I had to catch a plane to Moscow the next morning, but we slept through the alarm and had to drive all the way to Tyumen (home of the great Chernozem - a great Russian punk band that features former members of Yanka's Great Octobers) to catch the only other flight that day from that region of Siberia to Moscow. That evening I went out by myself to the Victor Tsoi Wall (Memorial site for the late singer of Kino) off Novoi Arbat and drank by myself until I got tired, went back to my friend's house and in the morning stopped by the statue of Mayakovsky to say good bye to my spiritual homeland. Spilled plenty of tears along the way.
DP: Any favorite cities to play, in Europe or the States? I’ve heard that
Budapest has a pretty good garage scene going, what was the show like
KF: Budapest was great! I spent a week there and it left a pretty deep impression on me. I had some shows fall through in the Ukraine, so I wrote my contact in Budapest and asked about coming by early. I took a night train from Krakow, Poland to Budapest and he met me in the train station. On the way back to him and his fiance's flat, we stopped at a little bar called Mister Beer, which was a good sign, since back in the day in GB [Green Bay, Wisconsin], the boys and I used to drink Meister Brau since it was only five bucks a twelver at the gas station down the street, and after a few of 'em we'd often convince whoever was around that Meister Brau was German for Mister Beer. Good times. And I had plenty in Budapest as well. I felt very much at home and bonded pretty deeply with many of the people I met there. I met one guy who during the mid-80's, as a young punk, forged a passport, hopped a train across the border and made his way to the US where he applied for political asylum and became a US citizen. I was also able to do a lot of research there and had the chance to interview the singer of QSS who were part of the first wave of Hungarian hardcore. Great musical history there. Beautiful place. Amazing people.
Prepotto, Italy was another great place to play. I'm not sure I've ever played one that could come close to top it, experience-wise. The venue itself was a small family restaurant built on the side of a mountain overlooking Slovenia. It was solar-powered, there were horses wandering free and young children running around. The concert was a benefit for legal expenses incurred by all those gathered when the region elected a right wing government who destroyed their community space/concert venue/art studio/hostel they had run for years. Everyone who came - and there were about thirty or so adults in their mid-30's to mid-40's - donated thirty euros to the cause and were provided with literally the most amazing meal I've ever had in my life. Several courses of the most amazing and delicious home made food ever. Gnocchi, salads, steaks and a never ending supply of homemade wine as well, and this was supposed to be the best region for wine in the country. Amazing. Magick. It was so fucking inspiring and proved right everything I believe in regarding DIY.
As far as the States are concerned. I like Miami a lot. Lafayette, IN is fun too because I got good friends there who care, and they're down for the cause.
DP: Were you able to get much research done for your prospective book on
Soviet-era punk? Did you make any contacts in other former Iron Curtain
KF: I did learn quite a bit along the trip. I'm still figuring out how to apply the knowledge to something useful, and while a book might realistically be a ways away still, I have been writing about punk rock and dissident culture in Eastern Europe. Best way to find out more is to check out the zine Overdosing In Republican World. That's how I'm currently disseminating my writing.
DP: On that note, do you have any sense of what the underground music scene is
like in Russia, these days? Has the growing dissatisfaction with Putin’s
autocracy generated any sort of cultural response?
KF: While I'm a bit embarrassed and ashamed to admit it, I do not know as much as I would like to about what's currently happening music-wise in Russia. I do know some, but not enough to comment with any confidence. I will continue to strengthen the connections I made there this last time and learn more about what's going on now. You should be able to look to the zine in the future for more on that as well.
I can't really comment on what's going right now in reaction to Putin either. Unfortunately, I haven't had much contact with my friends over there since my return and it's often very difficult to get an accurate picture of what's going on, just by watching the news. I think there is a lot of dissatisfaction, but what it means, what it will lead to and whatever else is really hard to say. I think a lot of people don't care for Putin, but I don't know there is someone else they would prefer either. Same shit that's happening all around the world.
DP: Have you ever felt hounded or trapped by your past-in the sense that your
audience, or critics/reviewers, want to frame your work solely in terms of
your well-known, youthful adventures?
KF: If that happens, it's my fault. I like stories. It's a family thing. Both sides. I got a big mouth. My grandpa always said "If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with bullshit!"
DP: One sound I’ve heard echoed on some of your work (especially the “Cleaning
the Mirror” material) is Songs:Ohia. Are you familiar with Jason Molina’s
KF: A friend of mine years ago thought the same thing about those same recordings, and made me a mixtape with the song “Two Blue Lights” on it, which I am very fond of. I've never seen any of his records in stores.
DP: I’ve always considered your work to be folk music in a certain sense, but I
doubt most of us were expecting the extended banjo solo of "You canít Win."
How’d that come about?
KF: You mean on "I Just Leave?" That's all banjo on that song, and I play a solo on it. I recorded that song in Lafayette about four years ago. The kids from TV Ghost had pretty much taken over this girl's stepmother's house when the parents were out of state for an extended period. Everyone was like squatting there, trashing it while partying all the time and the girl's dad had a bunch of acoustic instruments like banjos, acoustic bass and stuff like that. I ended up holing up in the basement one day when everyone else was upstairs and recorded that song using all acoustic instruments and no guitars. Doesn't sound like it though. “You Can't Win” has banjo on it too, but no solo. That's the oldest song on Shit In The Garden and was recorded during the same period in Milwaukee in '04 as “Slate Train” and “Up The Sleeve.” My buddy lent me his computer to record with, and I just used whatever instruments I could find, which is why “Slate Train” has a broken toy guitar I found in someone's trash and “You Can't Win” has that 'lil flute solo - I found a plastic recorder in a dumpster. The banjo and mandolin belonged to people in the neighborhood.
DP: What’s the song “Winona” about? Any particular experiences along the
Mississippi that it memorializes?
KF: I used to go to shows in Winona[, Minnesota] in the 90s at Holzinger's Lodge. Shit was always insane. Kids there were cool. I became friends with the dudes from the Lushworkers. A few years later my band Hatefuck went to play a show there, and it was real gnarly. It was an outlaw show, and the kids just jacked the power using a bolt cutter to remove the lock. There was a three legged dog. Little kids with mohawks. Dude's huffin' JB Weld. Everyone shit faced. Train hoppers and drunk punks. People hanging from the rafters. Fights. It was pretty much heaven.
After the show, some of the kids involved in setting up the shows approached us and our buddies in Hell On Earth, who had each gotten paid three bucks, and asked us if we wanted to chip in on a barrel of beer. We said sure, and we gave them all the money we had. Someone led us to Latch Island, which is on the Mississippi between WI and MN and I guess was a kind of [a] legal no man's land where during the 70's all these people built houses on pontoons out on the water and started a kind of alternative community. They had some hassles and a kind of legal standoff at some point, but they're legit now I guess, or about as legit as that kinda place can get. It's about as gnarly as that show was, in its own way. Anyway, the kids dumped us off there, said they'd be back soon to take us to a party, but they just ditched us all. It was beautiful. A cosmic joke. As my old buddy Shaun Failure would say "Punk means never having to say you're sorry!"
DP: Any future recordings or US tours planned? You're living in Columbus these
days, right? What's the scene like there?
KF: I'm sure I'll eventually make the rounds of the states again. I don't know when. Got other priorities at the moment. Columbus is alright. It's low key. I can see the Cheater Slicks any month of the year, at least once, usually. I dig that. Decent record stores. My drummer Rich lives in the house behind me, and our bass player Shawn lives a couple blocks away. My favorite place to play in town is close enough that we've walked all our gear down there before. I don't really have to worry about anyone judging our performance because I can't remember the last time we played to more than five people here. It's pretty nice. I haven't been super stoked on anything going on here lately, but it comes in waves. There's a good foundation here, powerful traditions and I'm guessing shit is gonna start livining up around spring.