Q&A: Scarcity Of Tanks' Matthew Wascovich On Not Being A Poet, Cleveland Punk, SST Records, And Releasing Two New Albums On The Same Day
Bottomless songwriting pit machinist Bob Pollard has some friendly in-state competition from fellow Ohio native and Scarcity Of Tanks guru Matthew Wascovich. The Clevo skater/sporto/wordsmith/punk dudethe lone constant in SOT's revolving universe of all-star avant-rock beastsis touting two new LPs (via his own Total Life Society imprint) that bustle with his crud-bathed white-noise blues. Instead of conveying just his hometown Clevo-punk history, both discs channel the dissipated bowels of scum central Manhattan before it was overrun by condo-lined high-brow-ness and music-space shutdowns.
Scarcity of Tanks, live in Brooklyn in 2007.
The skronk-dripping double deuce of Vulgar Defender and Fear is not Conscience was recorded here in New York, and the bushy beardo managed to pluck a righteous backing band out of this city's killer underground rock depths to realize his SST Records-flavored, NYC-inspired art-rock vision. Oneida/Man Forever drums master Kid Millions, punk-jazz provocateur Weasel Walter, saxman Jim Sauter (of avant-jazz noisemakers Borbetomagus) and Necking's Nick Lesley descended on keysman Don Godwin's Gowanus studio with SOT regular and electric eels guitarist John Morton, armed with Wascovich's cerebral-cum-bombastic wordage and sticky guitar-anthem hugeness.
Fittingly, Wascovich will commemorate release day with a show here in New York. Sound of the City caught up with Wascovich via email as he was laying down vocals for Toothless Grin, a band he's in with a host of punk rock and avant-garde purveyors.
Have you ever considered moving out of Cleveland, to, say, New York for the benefit of giving Scarcity Of Tanks a different level of exposure? Some of your collaborators are here like Weasel Walter and Kid Millions of Oneida and Man Forever.
I've thought about moving from Cleveland, but it doesn't seem to make much financial sense. And with how the music industry works now, or doesn't work, I don't know if Scarcity Of Tanks could exist in a city like New York. I also considered moving to Europe but I'm not sure that's valid either. Cleveland is pretty small-minded in mentality but that doesn't necessarily mean it's any worse than a bigger city. I guess that I have not had a compelling enough reason/s to leave. Some days this place is nice and on other days it is a total shit hole. Even within the last 10 years, Cleveland was the 14th-largest area in the U.S. We had an economic output equal to that of Ireland. I'm not sure where we stand now. I used to have an interest in what made cities tick, but I have lost much of this desire to keep track of things. So it's not like this is a rural area. But the Cleveland region has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs and nearly every year, Cleveland ranks in the top five of poorest and most violent cities in America. It's weird even calling this part of the country the Midwest. Look at a map; we are more accurately to the north and east of things.
When Scarcity Of Tanks gets press, Cleveland's historical musical lineage always seems to be the reference point (and the band name dropping predictable: Pere Ubu, Rocket from the Tombs, electric eels, etc.).Yes, you've played/play with Clevo legends like John Morton (electric eels) and John Petkovic (Cobra Verde) so that adds fuel to that talk. Do you consider the Cleveland music scene as an albatross and put on this holier than thou pedestal that you've had to live up to with your own band?
There's not much written about SOT, so when you read something it's typically from a writer who is already into Cleveland musical history. For me, I like the groups that you mentioned but I don't take it into consideration when I create songs. I can relate, on some levels, to what each of those historical groups may have gone through but it's a different time. I have either played music with some of those guys that you list, or I have hung out with them, and they assure me that SOT is drinking from the same water that they were in the 1970s. That's kind of nice in a way. This notion of relating to other generations is important to me. Not that I need it, but it does validate things a little bit. I've felt that way when Jack Brewer, Tom Watson (Slovenly/Red Krayola), Michael Yonkers, Mike Watt, Steve Mackay (The Stooges), Jim Sauter, John Morton, and many other who have worked with SOT. It's heartening and affirming, though I am not trying to sound too precious here. I should add that I'm only referencing older members of the group. There's been a ton of people younger than me, or my peers, who have made some great music in the group. I try not to discuss it too much because interviews are typically short and I don't want to unnecessarily dwell on the membership of the group. Who cares who has played in the group, or who is currently in the line up? If you want to check out what Scarcity Of Tanks is doing, then the music should come first. There's already interviews, or reviews, out there about the group that just don't help matters. They are either factually off, or they make comparisons that don't fit. They paint a picture that isn't accurate. The writer or magazine may, or may not, have their own agendas. The record may be well reviewed but get a lower ranking because Total Life Society Records does not buy ads from their magazine. Shit like that. Maybe this goes to your Cleveland point about people bringing up this fact when discussing us? Yes, I was born and raised in Cleveland... but so what?
I do hear an SST Records influence in Scarcity Of Tanks. Do you identify with the music Greg Ginn released in its heyday as much as Cleveland's storied history? What music did you actually grow up with and were inspired by?
Yea, I/we often get the Jack Brewer/Saccharine Trust comparison. I don't know. Jack is a brother to me. He's played in SOT. I love him much but SOT and ST are very different groups. When I was very young, I was ordering releases from SST and Dischord Records. These labels had a huge effect on me. I was a skateboarder and I heard about SST, Dischord, The Big Boys, and JFA this way. I can't understate how important this was to my development. Twenty years later, when I started to associate with some of these guys, they couldn't believe that I had bought their releases when I was so young. To this day, I get musical advice from Ian MacKaye. He is always open and helpful. In the 1990s, I had seen Cobra Verde but was not so much influenced by them other than by Petkovic saying to me that I should be a singer in a group since I had good words. I always bought CV releases. Petkovic is a great front man and musician who always has fresh musical ideas. Regarding DOS, I was too young to have seen them by a few years but liked those records.