from Sour Jazz
by michael rys
I seem to be a bit into music lately that you
just cant quite put a label on. Well at least I cant anyway
Sour jazz is another band I just have a hard time describing. Oh,
they are all some rock n roll punks for sure. But Sour jazz goes
beyond even those limitations with songs that cover subjects like
over used one liners by crinkled up cock rock stars, what happened
to my friends from the corner, and ones unmitigated love of the
city, dirt and all. Not to common subjects for most punks these
days. Any one of the four records currently out ,(Rock N Roll Ligger,
Dressed to the Left, Lost For Life, No Values) is one of those discs
you put in when its a long night of pool playing and dark beer.
My friend and bandmate Rev Paul I think,
describes them best when he said'
These guys make the records Iggy should have
been making the last ten years."
The following is an interview with bassist Mark or Cowboy as he's
called. ( I should have asked the origin of the nickname but I'll
leave that to you.) He and bandmates Ratboy, Splat Action and Mr
Popular (Lou) deserve a listen, just turn the light down low, slip
those head phones on, light a smoke, Sour jazz is going to take you
on a trip through the rough side of town, the good news is they have
a limo and there are some Russian babes in the back seat wearing
fishnets and pistols.
Hey ,Its my trip I'll take it anyway I
Read on, and by all means check out Sour Jazz and Mark at
MR-How long has Sour Jazz been around?
M-About ten years, actually... we started out sometime in 1998. Lou,
our singer, and Ratboy collided first, hauled me in, and then Lou
brought Splat in to drum.
MR-Everyone has pretty extensive experience
before coming together as Sour Jazz. Whos' been in what?
M-Lou played with Cheetah Chrome
after The Dead Boys split, and served his time in heaps of bands
that I couldn't even start to mention. I think that the last thing
he did before Sour Jazz was a band called Dirt Search Headlight.
Splat was their drummer, which is a bit of history, I guess, that
Splat drummed for too many bands to mention, as drummers do. Right
before Sour Jazz, he was in Suicide King, and also Martin's Folly --
they were a great band. Their keyboard player, Jim Duffy, has played
on all of our albums. The final Martin's Folly album featured a duet
with Ian Hunter, which is well worth searching out.
And then there's the World Famous Mr. Ratboy -- he's played with
Motorcycle Boy [produced by Syl Sylvain], Pillbox [managed by Joan
Jett], Bebe Buell, Jeff Dahl, Marky Ramone's Intruders... fuck, it's
endless, really. Just before Sour Jazz, he did a solo album which is
What else... myself and Splat played with Kevin K for a few years,
and Splat, Rat and myself played on two or three tracks off the last
Freddy Lynxx album. And I've been in stacks of loser bands that
nobody ever noticed. Just prior to Sour Jazz, I was kicking round
with Fur, who'd just quit The Cramps, and a few years ago I played
guitar on a mini-album by a band called Triple Hex.
MR-Sami Yaffa( Hanoi Rocks) was in the band
M-Yeah, that's right. Briefly. So I
played rhythm guitar for a few weeks.
MR-With three records under the bands belt
already can you speak of the character of each one, and is there a
favorite of yours personally?
M-I'm not really sure about any of them having much character,
although I suppose they must. I'm too close to them, really. I have
a difficult time standing outside of them, and I have absolutely no
fucking clue what any of them must sound like to somebody hearing
them for the first time. I can't really say that I'm able to pick a
favorite, either. It's too cliche to say that my favourite ones are
the ones we're recording at the moment, for our new album... but,
yeah, that might be the truth.
MR-I understand your working on the
next record now.How is that coming along and when can we expect to
M-It's fucking great, so far. Although, at the moment, we still have
plenty of chances left to ruin it completely. The whole band met up
here in NYC during summer 2007, and we managed to write, arrange and
record eleven songs in two days' time. Then we took another day for
some guitar and percussion overdubs. Then we crawled back to our
caves and licked our wounds for a few months before tracking the
vocals, which we recorded over the weekend that fell between
Christmas and New Year's Eve. So, yeah, now it's just a matter of
tarting it up with the horn section which, as always, features
Steven Moses out of Alice Donut, and we've just brought in Duffy
again to record keyboards and organ. This time round, we've also
been able to solicit some generous donations from sympathetic
friends... Jim Jones [Jim Jones Revue, ex- Thee Hypnotics and Black
Moses], Kim Salmon [The Beasts of Bourbon, The Scientists, The
Surrealists, etcet], Max Decharne [The Flaming Stars, ex- Gallon
Drunk, Nikki Sudden], Ginger [The Wildhearts, Silver Ginger 5, etcet],
and Tracie Hunter's recorded some fantastic backing vocals.
MR-Sour Jazz operates a little
differently than many bands. You dont all live near each other, so
the band is not out several nights a week or even a month performing
together. How does that effect the writing, and recording process?
M-Well, yeah, that might be why we're still a band, ten years later.
It's probably also the reason why, when we're together, touring or
recording, we all enjoy each other's company. How does it affect the
writing and recording? It forces us to act on instinct, to honour
our guts... it's not like we have a year in the studios writing,
arranging and recording. There's never the luxury of going to the
rack and back over songs. We literally just do it, bash it out.
Maybe we're walking uphill backwards, I don't know, but it seems to
suit us. Then again, nobody's expecting 'Bohemian Rhapsody' from us.
MR-Your producer for Rock n Roll
Ligger is on board for another go around.Is he basically another
member of Sour Jazz? Whats his role in the finished songs ?
M-Yeah, and we're honored that Daniel Rey agreed to work with us
again. I wouldn't like to speak for the other guys in the band but,
yeah, to my mind, Daniel's a member of Sour Jazz, even if he is the
only one getting paid. He's got great ideas in the studio, he's
always been great to bounce ideas off of, and he's a fucking great
musician himself. I can listen to 'Ligger' and pick out this and
that and the other, and say "That's Daniel here" or "That's Daniel
there" without ever thinking "Erm, maybe we shouldn't've left that
bit on." He's got a big say in the records because we respect his
That said, I think his role in the finished songs on the new album
is different from 'Ligger,' just because we went into his studio,
really, with nothing, and he played an equal part in... you know, he
was there while we sat round and wrote the whole album, basically,
song by song, very much an involved part of everything. So, yeah, I
don't think his role in Sour Jazz can be underestimated. I'm proud
of his involvement and grateful for his enthusiasm, and I value his
MR-Sour Jazz toured Japan in support
of the last record and recorded a DVD to document it. Describe that
tour and how it went.
M-I haven't got the words. The tour... what a great memory. We did
something like seven gigs in ten days... fly to Tokyo, rehearse for
four hours in a studio playing songs that we hadn't played for five
years, then bang into headlining the tour. Obviously, I went into it
having no idea how -- or if -- we'd be received, but the crowds were
great. People turned up in homemade Sour Jazz shirts, sang along and
shouted out requests, had to have their photos taken with us and get
us to sign things... and seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic about
music or going to see bands, which isn't always the case here in NYC.
And Japan --as a country, as a culture and as a visual aesthetic--
was beautiful, from the little bit that I managed to actually see.
We were kept on too tight a schedule, really, in terms of having
time available to us to really plant out boots into the streets. But
it's a fair trade-off, really, because when you visit another
country as part of a touring band, people are kind of eager to take
you aside and show you what life is like for them...for me, at
least, that's the sort of education you don't get by just being a
tourist or visiting a museum. I was stood talking with some people
at our Kobe-City gig, and they were teling me all about what their
families went through in 1995, when Kobe was leveled by a massive
earthquake...telling me about their losses and the re-building of
not only the city, but of their lives as well. It's a privileged
window to be allowed to look in, you know?
MR-As I understand it Japan's music
fans are diehard and show way more excitement for acts from the US
than kids here do.Is that true? Are we Americans jaded when it comes
to Rock n Roll these days?
M-Yeah, I don't know. Maybe. I don't know whether or not "jaded" is
the correct word... it seems like passion is a bit of a rarity these
days in America, there's no room for devotion in a pop-culture
that's got a built-in best-before date, you know? Kids have so much
information available to them, literally at their fingertips,
people's allegiance just flits from this to that to some other.
Everything seems disposable by design. I suspect that we're the last
generation to carry one or two bands close to our hearts for life.
One generation carries Sinatra through life, one carries Elvis
through life, another The Beatles, another The Clash -- I can't
imagine many elderly people seventy years from now still responding
to their old Fall Out Boy albums, or whatever. Records by
stage-school kids with dance routines and calculated attitudes
probably don't endure.
MR-Is there going to be a tour of
North America to promote the new record?
M-If someone offers us one that will pay for itself, yeah, sure, I
don't really see why not. It's just that touring overseas is a whole
lot more logical for us, mainly because America is so big, and so
time-consuming... we're too old to quit our jobs and spend eight
months with each other in a crap transit-van, sleeping on people's
floors and eating McDonald's every day. We've all passed the point
in life where that's even a possibility. We're old, practicality and
pragmatism entered the picture years ago.
MR-I hear so many influences in a
Sour jazz song You've got the punk honesty,the driving rock n roll,
and yet there is a certain sophistication in the music,like a nice
cold stout and a hand rolled Hondoran cigar. Is it that new York tap
water or is it by design?
M-Neither, really. I think it's all down to our age. I mean, I don't
think that any of us could've done this band, this way, when we were
in our twenties. We're too old to care about sounding relevant, you
know? Our sound, whatever that is, it's never been calculated...
we've never tried to sound like us. And whenever we try to sound
differently, we always end up sounding like the same old Sour Jazz
shit. I guess we sound like like we do because we all have sort of
wildly different tastes and influences. There's bands throughout the
past fifty or sixty years that all of us love, but not that many...
not a huge amount of common ground. And the fact that none of us
keep aware of current trends, or whatever, in contemporary music...
our records are completely irrelevant. I'm really proud of that.
MR-Ive seen a picture of you playing
a Gretsch White Falcon guitar before,thats the holy grail of axes
for me. How did you come by one of those?
M-I wish. It's actually a 1958 Gretsch Anniversary, which I bought
off a friend in 1986 for two hundred and seventy five bucks. I've
since agreed to legally reunite them in my will. So, yeah, not a
White Falcon, but it's my favorite guitar, by miles.
MR-Your a bass player in Sour Jazz.
Is that your primary instrument or are you a guitar player who plays
M-I'm the sort of bass players that proper bass players hate -- I'm
a guitar player with a bass. I'd played bass in a band back in the
early 80s, but hadn't touched one until Sami Yaffa left Sour Jazz. I
switched from guitar to bass because we didn't want to bring in a
fifth member and fuck at all with whatever chemistry we'd had. I
like the bass a lot, though, and it's taught me how to listen to
music differently than I'd listened to music as a guitar player.
Even albums that I've listened to regularly for thirty years --
'London Calling' or 'Electric Warrior' or 'Desolation Boulevard' or
whatever -- I approached them from a fresh angle after playing bass.
I learnt to listen to music from the bottom up.
MR-At what age did you start playing
and what got you started?
M-I think I got my first guitar right around ten years of age... a
nameless mid-60s solid-body electric thing, with inch-high action
and a low-rent sunburst finish on. And the coolest bit... for an
amp, my dad and I went to HeathKit and bought their version of a
Fender Twin Reverb, and built it together. I have absolutely no idea
why I wanted to learn guitar, really... it's not like I can point
towards Keith Richards or Pete Townshend or whoever and say, yeah, I
wanted to be HIM.
MR-Who are the guys and gals you
grew up admiring?
M-From the start, really, I guess I was pretty obsessive about the
records that my parents had laying around the house. Things like Les
Paul & Mary Ford, Louis Jordan, Tennessee Ernie Ford... all stuff
that I really like quite a lot, now, in my adulthood. As far as the
bands that I picked up on all on my own, I loved bands like The
Sweet and Bay City Rollers, Alice Cooper, all the early seventies UK
glam bands, alongside The Who and the Stones. I think the first
album that I bought...that I actually saved up my allowance and
bought... was 'Desolation Boulevard' by The Sweet. Still have it,
still listen to it. Then, of course, come 1976 or 77, everything
revolved round the Ramones, Pistols and Clash. I was at the right
age, I guess, to be really impressionable when punk rock started
happening. It really captured my imagination.
MR-New York has been delt some
severe blow to live music the last couple of years with the
closing's of CBGB's and several other venue's.Whats the state of
live underground music in the big apple these days?
M-The way I see it, you know, you don't need so many venues when
there's so little talent around. If bands were good, and people were
excited by them, then all of those venues would've flourished. I
really couldn't tell you anything at all about the general state of
things here these days, because I feel like I exist quite apart from
it. Over the past ten years or so, NYC has become ridiculously
expensive, through the roof. Into orbit. It's become Millionaires'
Island. It's no longer the sort of city that's sympathetic to, or
nurturing towards people like rock musicians or poets or painters or
writers or sculptors or otherwise creative fuck-ups.
MR-With the changes in the way
people access music, all over the world.Do your think music
specifically rock n roll is headed back to the 50's where its the
single that makes the band, or live shows that keep it going?Where
do you see it headed in the next 5-10 years?
M-I wouldn't even like to take a fucking wild guess at where the
industry will be in five months, let alone five years from now. I'm
not even sure where it is at this moment. I mean, I know that the
industry shot itself in the foot by their high profit greediness
when compact discs killed vinyl, but... I don't know, it's weird for
me to say, really. I seem to have one view as a consumer and a fan
and a collector, but, yeah, I think I have a slightly different view
as someone in a band, on a label, who would honestly love to see our
label -- and labels like ours -- start reaping some easily
identifiable rewards, not least of all financially. "Sad" isn't the
right word, but it's kind of sad when the only exposure that an
elder statesman can get these days is on a television commercial.
But, on the other hand, it's really nice to see Iggy finally get the
exposure that we've all known for years that he deserves. Yeah, it's
the best of times and it's the worst of times, and the future'll
probably be the same. Only different. I mean, the way we treasured
our vinyl albums or 45s... I can't imagine anyone treasuring the
ringtones that they downloaded last night.
MR-Just out of curiousity put your
dream band together, your in it of course who do you want playing
with you living or dead?
M-I pretty much have them all together on the new Sour Jazz album. I
wouldn't kick Noddy Holder or Chris Spedding out of the studio.
MR-One more question. Who's got the
best selections of on tap beer in New York. I need to know
this,we'll be visiting soon.
M-If I'm not drinking tea, I'm drinking Pernod. So, yeah, I couldn't
point you towards any pints. But if you want a nice hot cup of
Barry's Tea in NYC, Ryan's Pub on Second Avenue in the east village
is your place.
Thanks Mark, good luck with the new CD and we hope to be seeing you
and the boys soon