you resource for all things shoegaze & dream pop.

09 December 2010

Interview: A Conversation with Jack Rabid.

The revived New York trio Springhouse are perhaps remembered as the first major-signed, nationally touring U.S.shoegaze band of the original era — with a 1991 MTV video “Layers,” a Rolling Stone “New Faces” feature, and copious airplay bringing notice to two memorable albums on the fabled Virgin Records’ subsidiary Caroline Records (home then to Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Drop 19s, Naked Raygun, Idaho, Misfits, etc.) Springhouse were among the first Americans to cover My Bloody Valentine, and share stages across the country with The House of Love, Ride, Kitchens of Distinction, Ocean Blue, The Chills, The Psychedelic Furs, Judybats and others. Now they’re reborn and reanimated as an orchestral-folk-pop hybrid, bound to surprise and please old fans and the newly curious.

And though Springhouse’s unique contribution to the original movement — singer/songwriter Mitch Friedland's exclusive use of small, nylon-stringed acoustic guitars, heavily processed with wicked effects, while employing an endless battery of alternate tunings — has been shelved in favor of a more organic, crisp sound, their exuberant playing, highly evolved arrangements, and love of a tune to die for remains their calling card. Amazingly, their first self-produced record (by bassist Larry Heinemann), is the culmination of a solid decade of work. It’s true: Sessions for From Now to OK began in 1998 and did not stop until all were satisfied that their envisioned opus had been fully realized. - Taken from the Springhouse web site.

Jack Rabid is the creator, publisher and editor of one of the most beloved underground rock magazines of all time, The Big Takeover. He is the drummer of the legendary dream pop band Springhouse (one of our favorites), and a member of the hard hitting post punk band Last Burning Embers . The man has done more to promote great underground music and keep real independent rock journalism alive than anybody in recent memory. Jack only writes about what he calls "music with heart".The same could be said of what he does with The Big Takeover.It is,in my opinion,most certainly "writing with heart". Not only is Jack a great writer and musician, he is a living repository of musical knowledge.He has either interviewed,written about or played with every band of note from the past three decades (and then some).We writers/bloggers (I use the term "writer" loosely when referring to myself.I can barely spell my name most days), can only hope to get close to the bar Jack has set. I don't think anyone can,or will surpass what he has done and continues to do. So when Jack agreed to be interviewed by When The Sun Hits we were understandably thrilled! Jack suggested we do the interview by phone and I was more than happy to oblige.This would be my first phone interview ( and with Jack Rabid no less *gulp*!) As I had hoped, he was one of the most obliging and forth coming people I have worked with .What was supposed to be a rather short and generic 10 question Q & A turned into a 2 hour conversation with the man, the myth, the legend and now a friend - Mr. Jack Rabid.

The following interview is a condensed version of a long conversation between Danny Lackey and Jack Rabid.It took place on November 29th, 2010

When The Sun Hits
: What were your initial reasons for starting The Big Takeover?

Jack: Well, I didn't mean to! (laughter) Dave Stein was the reason. Dave is a friend from junior high that got me into some cool music, in particular David Bowie. I didn't listen to anything like that at the time. It was all classic rock and pop. At that time music like the Beatles was accepted, but stuff like Bowie was not. I thought Bowie was a freak! (laughter) Dave kept saying "You gotta hear this guy, you gotta hear this guy..." I finally acquiesced and got a copy of Bowie's Changes 1. I think I listened to it 15 times before it made sense, but when it did it was life changing. Society trains you to distrust the unusual and abnormal. It wants you to be in a box. That's where my 15 year old mind was until I "got" Bowie. I went nuts over Changes 1 and then bought Low and Heroes. In a 3 or 4 week period everything in my mind changed. At 15 I realized that finding your own path is the way. From there I got into Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Brian Eno, then was introduced to punk rock through the magazines of the day (late 70's). Living 20 miles away from NYC was helpful too (New Jersey to be exact). There was a 3 year gestation period and by the time I was in high school I was done caring what people thought. By this time Dave wanted to do a fanzine on David Johansen from the New York Dolls. I wasn't into his solo stuff,I was more into his Dolls period. My idea was to do a fanzine on Bad Brains, or The Stimulators. So Dave and I agreed on a Stimulators zine and called it Cradle Robber (a great Stimulators track!). We eventually changed this to The Big Takeover (a Bad Brains song), for obvious reasons! (laughter) It was supposed to be only one issue, but people kept asking when the second issue was coming out. Dave bailed on the zine shortly after its inception and I continued on until today.That's how the whole thing started.I owe it all to Dave!

When The Sun Hits: Wow!

: (laughter) Like I said, it wasn't supposed to happen.

When The Sun Hits
: Who have been some of your favorite or most interesting interviews through the years?

Jack: Mostly my heroes from childhood! John Peel, Eric Idle, Brian Wilson (Jack says Brian was a sad interview because of Brian's mental state at the time), Mark Lindsey, Graham Nash and definitely Joe Strummer. I will never forget Joe and I arguing over who would get the check for dinner! I said to Joe "No way are you getting this. If it wasn't for you guys there would be no me. I'm getting it!" Joe was like "Well, ok then!" (laughter)

When The Sun Hits: That is so cool!

Springhouse. Layers.

And now for a brief mid-interview history lesson:

Taken from New Route Magazine, 1991

Springhouse has been around for a couple of years, evolving in the detritus of Rabid's previous punk band, Even Worse (which briefly housed Thurston Moore). Along with Rabid, the band consists of bassist Larry Heinemann and singer/guitarist Mitch Friedland. They released their first single on Bob Mould's Singles Only Label (SOL) entitled "Menagerie Keeper", which was about religious demagoguery but caught attention for its controversial picture sleeve, a grainy photo of Jim Bakker many mistook to be Jimmy Carter.

The group bears a resemblance to the jangling British pop sound that developed in the wake of punk. Such comparisons don't bother Rabid, who names The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen and the Buzzcocks among a few of his favorite groups. "Certainly we like that stuff," he says. "That wide spacious expansion."

"The underground has been so elitist for so long that it's just championed everything but what is genuinely good and will last. In this sense, they're getting their just deserts because so little of what they've produced has been remembered. To play in a band like that now would be counterproductive to me as a human being."

Or as Rabid's bandmate Mitch Friedland aptly puts it: "The first time around it's history, the second time it's bullshit." ~ Joe S. Harrington.

Springhouse. All About Me.

When The Sun Hits: Who were Springhouse's influences?

Jack: We all loved The Chameleons, The House of Love, The Who and The Beatles. Lots actually.

When The Sun Hits: How did you guys get signed? Did Caroline Records contribute to the demise of the band?

Jack: We put out our first single, "Menagerie Keeper",on Bob Mould's Singles Only Label or SOL. Then shoegaze happened and that helped because we sounded sort of English. "Eskimo" (a great song.The lyric was written by Jack about the homeless in NYC; appeared on the 1st album Land Falls and the Eskimo EP), was the song that got us signed to Caroline. They were the first label that approached us and we signed. At first they were really supportive and interested. They wanted to know what we were doing in the studio and the song listing for the album, etc. Between the making of the first and second albums Nirvana happened. It was a curse not a blessing for us, or for underground music! Caroline suddenly lost interest in what we were doing. They just didn't care anymore and wanted to drop us. The whole thing (alternative/indie rock) was like a steam engine that had built up with no exhaust valve. It just blew apart everything! Not only that,we spent $35,000 dollars to record both albums and only sold 30,000 units. We were not making any money and our distribution was awful.

Springhouse. Eskimo.

When The Sun Hits: I couldn't find the albums anywhere here. I remember looking for them!

Jack: We just didn't fit on Caroline anymore. The whole 90's alternative thing was fake and watered down. It hindered a lot of good bands that didn't fit that mold. They (most 90's alt rock bands), liked taking a "walk on the wild side" without actually taking any of the risks! They were fake. Caroline had us scheduled to go on the road with label mates Smashing Pumpkins.The Pumpkins threw us off the tour before the first show because their record blew up.We all had spent weeks making arrangements and getting our jobs covered and renting the van and rehearsing and all that, and only days before the first date they threw us off the tour without even meeting them. It was just a joke! They are the biggest jerks ever, for that. I told Billy later on that I didn't appreciate it, but he didn't seem to care. Bob Mould said, "Society is like a balloon. People think they step outside, but really the balloon just changes shape."

When The Sun Hits: That pretty much sums up the whole 90's alternative movement for me.

Jack: Also,on the last tour we did our van was broken into in San Diego .We lost about $6,ooo dollars worth of equipment,plus damage to the vehicle (the thieves ripped the steering column out).We were on the hook for all of it.The money that went into that would have gone for a new demo to get us on another label. By that time we had been playing together since '88 and we were just tired. I do feel like we could have gotten a lot further, but our momentum was in reverse.We played a lot of shows to only twenty people (Jack tells me this occurred in the South. *shakes head in embarrassment* ), and sometimes three of those were the same guys each night!We did have fans,but mostly in the bigger cities. (laughter) It's a weird Yin Yang feeling of not being popular when your draw is poor, yet the people who do come know all your songs and love the band, and you’ve never even met them!After we left Caroline we broke up in 1993, but we did a reunion tour Mark Burgess, ex-singer of The Chameleons around '94, and that was it until 2002, when we played with the reunited Chameleons themselves. Then in 2008 we released our new album we’d been working on for 10 years, and toured with Magnetic Morning. This year we did two gigs for the Big Takeover 30th anniversary festival.

Springhouse. Open Your Eyes.

When The Sun Hits: Did you guys not have fans in England?

Jack:We always did want to tour England, but we couldn't get support over there because we were on a major label there,Virgin.They released a single we didn’t even OK, “Eyesore” and the single flopped!

When The Sun Hits: That seems strange to me, as you were perfect for that era.

Jack: John Peel wouldn't play our music because over there it was on Virgin Records and he wouldn't play major label bands. So we got no airplay.

When The Sun Hits: That's crazy because over here you were on an indie!

Jack: It was a lot of different things, Danny, and we couldn't get work permits. Work permits are hard to come by and they cost a lot. We payed $700 dollars to play one gig in Canada! We had to live and pay rent and it was just too hard.

When The Sun Hits: Why did you guys decide to get back together and do a new Springhouse album in 2008?

Jack: The Chameleons did a reunion show in England and of course I went. Mark Burgess wanted us to play together again.So we did a tour with the Chameleons that started in Washington, D.C. at the Black Cat in '02, our first concert in 8 years. The fans there surprised me by knowing every word to our songs and singing along, I could hear the whole crowd singing! That’s the only time that ever happened to me in my life!It was an amazing feeling. In the interim between the band leaving Caroline in '93 and the show in '02, Mitch had started recording a solo album. That album eventually turned into the new Springhouse. Larry (who was the musical director for The Blueman Group), built a studio and we are all such close friends, why not?! We had the songs and we enjoyed playing together. We had a lot of fun making the new album and it was a great experience.We really wanted to do something new on this album (And that they did! It's quite a departure from the early, dreamy Springhouse sound. It's more orchestral. The songs are just great and a step forward for the band).

When The Sun Hits: Did you start the record label Pink Frost (the name is from a Chill's song), to release the new Springhouse?

Jack: No. I started it to release Last Burning Embers (Jack's other band).

When The Sun Hits: Will you guys do another Springhouse album?

Jack: I would if the guys wanted to. We have to have the songs though.

When The Sun Hits: How was The Big Takeover festival?

Jack: It was great! We did the entire second album, Postcards From the Arctic(This was the first time they had played the 2nd album in it's entirety.On night one they played a mixture of the first album and the new one ), on night two.

When The Sun Hits: How did you guys wind up playing at The Earl in Atlanta with For Against in 2008?

Jack:They [the promoters of the For Against show, Chris Chandler and Jeff Clark] asked us to! (laughter) And they even flew us in to do it, which was a first for us as well. And we’d been dying to play with For Against for 20 years, so it felt so very, very right to open for them. We just played with them again at our Big Takeover festival, so now it’s happened twice!

When The Sun Hits: (laughter) Jack, what are your top 5 favorite albums of all time?

Jack: Hmmmm, five is gonna be a hard one!

When The Sun Hits: We can make it ten! (laughter)

Jack: Oh, good! (long pause). Here goes:

1) The Kinks - Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire).

2) The Beatles - Revolver (that changes daily though! [laughter]).

3) Jerry Lee Lewis - Live at The Star Club, Hamburg '64.

4) Comsat Angels - Sleep No More.

5) Buzzcocks - Different Kind of Tension.

6) Wire - 154.

7) Bad Brains - ROIR Sessions.

8) Love - Forever Changes.

9) Hollies - Butterfly.

10) Iggy and The Stooges - Raw Power.

When The Sun Hits: Who have you been listening to lately? Do you have any newer shoegaze bands that you like?

Jack: I have been listening Early Bee Gees.

WhenThe Sun Hits:Me too! Especially Odessa. People refuse to believe they wrote great songs before they went disco. "Saturday Night Fever" is all they hear when you say Bee Gees!

Jack: For 25 years I have been trying to get people to pay attention to early Bee Gees! (laughter) As for new bands.... I like The Depreciation Guild, The Sleepover Disaster, Joy Formidable (Jack says he really likes this band) and the last Secret Shine is just great.

Springhouse. Alone.

When The Sun Hits: Jack, do you have a philosophy on life and creativity that you live by?

Jack: I am an Atheist and have no religious principals, but I don't want to think there is no point, like Mark Twain! (laughter) I refer you to East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Halfway through the novel Steinbeck addresses the reader. He talks about living your life in such a way so that people really grieve your death.The point is to lead a good life. There is no joy in a life not well lived and the only way to judge your life is through death. I think Steinbeck was referring to several real people here. The first being John D.Rockefeller, who was extremely wealthy and famous, but people were not sad when he passed. They were probably happy, actually. The second was Andrew Carnegie,who also was well to do and famous. He tried to win the love of the people through philanthropic work with his great wealth but his death also was not mourned all that much. The third was Samuel Gompers,who was a labor leader. Gompers had many wealthy enemies,but the common people loved him.They sincerely grieved over his death. They saw his demise as a loss!He made a positive, viable difference in common peoples lives, unlike the first two, whose incredible wealth off the backs of the working class made them objects of envy, not love.

This is also what Steinbeck actually says. Also, I should note that Steinbeck doesn’t actually name any of these three people, but these are my educated guesses as to who he is referring to from the biographical details he provides!

The point is to make a difference of some kind and hope it inspires people. You have to be creative, interesting, involved and give sincerely. That is the point.

Springhouse. Eyesore.

When The Sun Hits: Jack, thank you so much for your time. I hope we can make you proud with our little blog!

Jack: There is no such thing as a little blog, only little readers. You guys are as legit as The New York Times!

When The Sun Hits: Thanks Jack! This has been really fun. Amber and I really appreciate this.We love what you do.

Jack: Let's get together and have a drink next time you are in New York.

When The Sun Hits: For sure! I will definitely hit you up. Thanks again.

Jack: Goodbye Danny.


I would just like to add that this was one of the coolest interviews I have done. Jack is a really sweet guy and a massive inspiration to me as a musician and a writer. Without guys like Jack our "scene" wouldn't exist. Jack,thank you for all that you have done and continue to do.

Interview by Danny.