Q&A: Ted Leo, Dan Deacon And Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner On Our Band Could Be Your Life, Bus Tours And Cherished Cassettes
Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life is one of the definite accounts of the 1980's independent rock scene and the rise of alternative culture. But unlike many cultural historians, Azerrad has little use for nostalgia. When the Voice talked to him about the Our Band Could Be Your Concert--the 10th-anniversary celebration of the book, which takes place tomorrow--he was just as excited about the young bands playing on the bill as the icons getting honored. This concert isn't just about the past to Azerrad; it's about showing where indie rock came from and where it's going.
Ted Leo; Dan Deacon; Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak.
Expect the Bowery's green room at Bowery to be a bit of a mutual appreciation society, then, because many of the younger bands on the bill have credited Band with either exposing them to favorite acts or detailing the do-it-yourself, "anyone can be in a band" practical ethics of Black Flag, Fugazi and The Minutemen.
For our story on the concert, we talked to a few of the bill's most exciting young artists: electronic composer/dance machine Dan Deacon (who is covering The Butthole Surfers); Jenn Wasner of Baltimore quiet-loud duo Wye Oak (who are covering Dinosaur Jr.); and Voice favorite, era link and DIY veteran Ted Leo (who is covering Minor Threat). Of course, there was only so much room for their insights in the print edition. So for your reading pleasure, we have edited together, from three separate interviews, the artists' thoughts about finding inspiration and linking the past to the future.
Do you have any memories of reading Our Band Could Be Your Life for the first time?
JW: A friend of mine gave me the book for my birthday. I tore through it in about two days.
DD: I read that book while on my first full US tour in 2004 with (Baltimore rapper) Height. Halfway through the tour the car died outside Fresno and we had to junk it. Height flew home but I didn't have any valid ID so I couldn't fly. I had $450 to my name and I used it to buy a 30 day bus ticket to finish the last 25 shows of the tour. That book kept me going through some really rough times and helped to keep me grounded. Every time I started to freak out about being alone in a part of the country I had never been--with no cell phone, no email, no credit card, no money and no ID--reading that book helped to remind me of pioneers of the scene and the shit they went through.
I had pre-bought all my food for the tour to save money--one can or corn, one can of beans, two rice cakes and two servings of peanut butter for each day--and that's what I lived on. I had to carry that shit on my back while lugging my 150 pounds of gear with me from bus station to bus station, and I did it with a smile on my face thinking about the rotten and moldy apples Black Flag, a band I had never even knowingly heard, ate while they were on tour. The book means a lot to me. I think if I hadn't been reading that book when the car broke down I would of just taken a bus straight home and might not of toured again.
Ted, as someone who's a bit older, you probably have a different perspective from the younger musicians on the bill who discovered these bands from the book. What did you think about it? Were you a fan back then, or were you already starting to play in bands?
TL: I started playing in bands in '86, but nothing really serious in terms of thinking about playing shows until '88, '89, so I guess you could say I was more of a fan. I enjoyed reading it. I enjoy reading any well-written history. In terms of the books that have come out, oral histories documenting the punk and underground world, (Mark Spitz and Brendan Mullen's) We Got The Neutron Bomb or (Steven Blush's) American Hardcore or whatever, I definitely liked Our Band Could Be Your Life the best. There's a real love of subject matter that comes through without it being fawning or sycophantic or anything.
Did you think the book fully captured that experience, or looking back do you see things that Michael didn't pick up on?
TL: No, I think that because he actually spoke to a lot of people, I think from my perspective it was pretty accurate. In terms of the life of an active, touring punk or indie musician back then, so many of these stories are really familiar to me because there really isn't a heck of a lot that was all that different from the early '90s as well, in terms of the grungy life and the larger questions of where you fit in society in the pre-internet explosion. Maybe the '90s has a lot more in common with it than people think.