Interview With The Girlfriend Experience
by Arm The Pit

It has been said listening to the The Girlfriend Experience begs the question, "Can catchy two minute pop songs co-exist with minimalist no-wave squall and a shoe-gazer meets stoner rock aesthetic?" They have only one answer for you "Damn straight!" After going back and forth with The Girlfriend Experience, we were able to get an audience  with James Maize, the bassist. Here's that interview.

Arm The Pit For the record, what is your band's name? How did you come up with that name?
James Maize The Girlfriend Experience or GFE is a type of escort service in which a prostitute acts like she's interested in the guy….it's supposedly a warmer, friendlier sort of exchange. Our booker suggested the name, and we started laughing immediately, so we kept it. Most people like the name, and it's easy to remember, so that doesn't hurt either.
ATP So who's in the band and what's everyone's life story in 50 words or less?
James Tobias Hawkins sings. Ty Gerhardt on guitar. Jeff Left drums. I'm on bass. Tobias used to sing for Laundry (a side project of Tim Alexander, who drummed for Primus). Tobias recorded with them and toured a bit opening for Tool, before they got huge. Ty's father was a hitman, and his upbringing really comes through in his playing. Jeff is the quiet Midwesterner in the group who's got more Pomeranian figurines than anyone should be legally allowed to own, and when I'm not touring with these guys, I'm teaching health care workers how to takedown and restrain the mentally unstable without causing further harm to either.
ATP In a nutshell, please describe your sound.
James Tightly wound gargantuan diddies about people and institutions collapsing and the state of the resultant and ever-changing detritus….and, uh…sex.
ATP Why did you each of you start playing music and was there a turning point from becoming the dream child that every mother and father hopes their child will become before discovering music? Why did music become a career choice for you?
James I think I can safely say that music either prevented or enhanced our lives of crime. We all grew up hungrily devouring music and started making our own at early ages. Jeff played in the Notre Dame marching band. Ty avoided juvenile hall by hanging onto music as if his life depended on it. Tobias got into drugs at the ripe age of 7 and kicked a meth habit a year and a half ago. My first favorite songs were Devo's "Whip It" and Black Sabbath's "Iron Man". I remember going nuts as a toddler when those songs were on the radio. For my sixth birthday, my sister bought me AC DCs Highway to Hell, and it's all been downhill from there.
ATP What bands have influenced each of you?
James I'll start with Jeff, because I asked him this not too long ago. He's a big fan of stoner rock, but he said his biggest influences were John Bonham, Bill Bruford and Ringo Starr. Ty and I share a lot of influences. We both have played bass and guitar in different bands over the years, and have influenced each other creatively and by borrowing each other's music collections. Ty's bigger into brit pop and shoegazer music than I am, but other than that I'd say we have pretty similar tastes, which include a bazillion bands, but here are a few that spring to mind right now: Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth, The Swans, Tones on Tail, The Smiths, Fugazi, Tubeway Army, X, Husker Du, Nick Cave and his various Bad Seeds, 16 Horsepower, Queens of the Stone Age, etc. We also like some punk like the Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, Minor Threat, Agent Orange, etc. The three of us are still trying to figure out what the hell Tobias is thinking when it comes to music appreciation.
ATP What makes your band unique?
James We're not a metal or screamo band. After a 2005 filled with 3 trips to the pacific northwest, 3 trips to southern California, a 12 city southwest tour, and a bunch of gigs in the SF bay area and vicinity, I'd say the fact that we don't fall into those genres pretty much makes us the 2nd coming of Christ.
ATP If you could hang with anyone, who would it be?
James Someone who can quickly explain how to untie a noose using only one's neck.
ATP What instruments do you each play? How did you learn to play, self or school?
James Pretty much answered this one already.
ATP Do you write your own music? Who writes the music?
James There's this guy in Florida who writes all the material for the big boy bands like 98 degrees, Backstreet Boys, etc. We pretty much make up the dance moves and lip sync to the tracks he sends via rapidshare. For the most part, we come up with our own parts. Initially, we were catching up with song structures Ty came up with, then we came up with a lot of material just improvising during rehearsals and shaping whatever came out of that. Jeff, Ty, and I have come up with song lyrics, but a lot of that falls to Tobias. We're all pretty flexible with altering a part here and there, and honestly we don't over think it. It all comes together pretty quickly.
ATP What inspires the songs you write?
James Our twisted histories. The current state of the world. Things we see or experience day to day.
ATP How long does it take you to write a song that’s ready to record?
James It could be just one or two rehearsals, but for "When in Rome…Do as the Lions" almost all the songs will have been played on the road for over a solid year.
ATP Do you do any recording on your own?
James Yeah, but pretty much these recordings serve to just catch something new, or as sketches for recording at Radiostar or Hyde St.
ATP How would you describe your local music scene? Likes, Dislikes.
James Oh, god. God help us all! We have a few bands we like to play shows with, but overall, San Francisco right now just can't rock to save it's life. Breathy is really big right now for some reason.
ATP What would you like to change about your local music scene?
James We would like to start with some carpet bombing, and then move forward through a series of sound bites and benchmarks until freedom and democracy reign once again.
ATP What is your favorite local venue? 
James In SF, I like the Great American Music Hall. Café du Nord's pretty cool, too, and we've had great turnouts at the Bottom of the Hill.
ATP What's the biggest problem you find when working with other bands, booking agents, promoters and venues when setting up a show or a tour?
James For the most part, we've had a lot of good fortune to work with cool bookers, venues and bands. But in general, I'd say the biggest annoyance is flakiness, so we just either don't deal with certain people who prove themselves to always screw bands or incapable of following through on anything. But like I said, we've been lucky…either that, or we have really good bullshit detection.
ATP How experienced are you on the stage? A virgin or whore. 
James We're all whores.
  ATP How do you transport your equipment to the gig? Mom's car or a battle weary van. Do you have name for it?
  James Color-coordinated Mary Kay Cadillacs. We call it the Death Fleet.
ATP Most people will never know what it feels like to be on stage in front of a crowd, explain that feeling:
James I think that's different for all of us. For me, it feels normal. I don't usually get nervous. The best feeling is when I'm locking in with the music and going for a ride, and there's an audience there to vibe off of. When the crowd is of a decent enough size, there's something going back and forth between the audience and the musicians that's fucking amazing. It's why we do this.
ATP Describe your typical stage show performance. Give us a hint into what we might expect at your show and why we should go.
James Mind-blowing, jaw-dropping cascade of sound carrying you out to sea.
  ATP Tell us about your most memorable gig and why it was so great.
  James That might be the Mondy Porno Clown Porn Party. It wasn't our greatest gig, but it might be the most memorable. Clown Porn. Naked trapeze artists. We had a lot of great shows on the road. Oklahoma City. Eugene. Seattle. Tucson. Austin. Great towns to play in. Can't wait to rock them again in May, 2006 on our South x Northwest Tour.
ATP Tell us about your worst gig and why it was so bad.
James Any show in Concord, CA. Shell game tactics when it comes to getting paid, and bad judgement in putting 3 out of town bands onto a bill at a venue with no real walk-in traffic. Lies and deception.
ATP Do you believe commercial/mainstream music has had a negative effect on new music? Why or Why Not.
James There will always be a bunch of crap in the mainstream, and a bunch of carbon copies trying to ride whatever seems to be marketable. I think bands doing their own thing aren't negatively impacted.
ATP How do we take back music from the suits?
James There aren't a lot of suits in my music collection.
ATP How big of an impact do you think the underground, indie scene has on the current pop culture?
James I don't know, but we're conducting focus groups to leverage some action items, and we'll be sending over a powerpoint presentation real soon.
ATP Do you feel that "underground" is just a marketing term like anything else? 
James Well, there's an experience you can have that's real, that's hearing live music with unclogged ears, and there's the selling of an experience. They are entirely different animals.
ATP Has the internet really been helpful to your promotion? Why or Why Not.
James It's been great. There are people who heard of us on the web first, and then told their friends, and then showed up at one of our shows. Other people have downloaded flyers and put them up, or handing people handbills. Myspace has been great for keeping us in touch with fans, other bands, promoters, bookers, radio DJs, etc. It definitely makes things easier, but what's really cool is when we can actually meet with these people in the flesh.
ATP Can you name a few of you favorite places on the web for band promotions?
James Myspace. Ty and Jeff haunt places like Harmony Central and other music forums.
ATP Do you have a website? What's the address?
James AND
ATP Tell us about your website:
James Myspace is the most reliable for being the first to learn about shows, news, etc. I also help hook up touring bands with shows, and that's a good way to get in touch with us for that. Our regular website has other bits of information, pics, video, etc.
ATP Do you have a street team? How do you join your street team?
James Yes, and street team members can get free passes to shows, free CDs, t-shirts, etc. Go here to sign up:
ATP Would you open for a headlining act? Who would it be and why?
James We usually wind up headlining in SF, but we have and like to open for other bands, too. We've opened for Oslo (ex-No Doubt), Tri-Polar (ex-Everclear), and other bands. Usually what makes sense to do (unless the band is really bringing in a ton of people) is to have us headline and wedge a touring band before us and after a local opener. And when we're on the road, we like to go on right before a local headliner.
ATP Where's your dream gig?
James Touring Japan, Europe, South America.
ATP Are there any established artists with whom you would like to play with?
James As far as huge bands go, I can only think of Queens of the Stone Age, Interpol, or some band getting back together for a reunion, But I'm sure there are bands I'm not thinking of right now. We're looking into doing a show with Agent Orange, which is dependant on schedules, but that'd be fun as hell.
ATP Are you looking to get a record deal? Why or Why Not?
James There's been some interest, we have a couple options right now, and we're still looking into this, but we aren't going in blind, and don't want to sign our lives away to a royal screwing down the road.
ATP Let us say that you have been just signed by a major label and they say time to move 2500 miles. Now what, would you be able to move?
James If by move 2500 miles, you mean tour 2500 miles, then I'd say "Is that all?" – but if you mean re-locate, I'd say "What for?"
ATP What are your plans for the future? In a year, 5 years.
James In 2006, we're finishing our full-length "When in Rome…Do as the Lions" and that should be ready by the time we do a 20-city South x Northwest Tour during the month of May. After the SXNW Tour, there are a couple possibilities for more extensive national touring happening either in the summer, or in September and October. In 5 years, I see The Girlfriend Experience having recorded a few albums, and toured nationally and abroad a whole helluva lot and still kicking ass.
ATP Finally, do have any words on what Arm The Pit means to you?
James Not using deodorant ?
ATP James, thanks for your time. Arm The Pit will definitely be there the next time Girlfriend Experience rocks thru Austin.


Back to Interviews

1 1