Interview with The Weasels (1998)

So there are band interviews. And then there are band interviews. And the surreal-rockin’ Weasels are a close-knit bunch who have spent so much time together, over the years, that injecting an outsider into their midst is almost guaranteed to produce one of the latter.

“We started working together in the late ’80s . . .” begins guitarist-songwriter Roy Weäsell as we watch Beavis and Butthead in the cozy basement den next to the control room at Delmar’s Big Saucy Sound Studio.

“Mid ’80s,” interjects keyboardist-producer (and Big Saucy honcho) Chris Graf.

Singer-lyricist Dr. Fun rides in on that interruption’s slipstream. “I was at Rumrunner’s and I read an ad in the paper that said sax-slash-keyboard player wanted . . .”

Weäsell counter-interrupts: “Remember when you used to play keyboards?”

“And remember when you used to play sax?” adds Graf . . . and the Weasels’ conversation carousel is off and running, with three separate voices symbiotically processing the story as if they were a singular entity.

“So I borrowed a quarter from Andrea the bartender and called and these guys were playing in a band . . . this was about ’84 or ’85 . . . yeah, it was before I went to law school, so it was a long time ago . . . and I started writing tunes around ’88 . . . I did a lot of them on four-track but wiped the vocals off when Fun came in and wrote the first batch of lyrics . . . and some of that early shit is on the fourth CD in our new box set . . . is ‘Red Meat’ on there? . . . no, that’s not on the original tape . . . ‘Red Meat’ was from Morris Street . . . that was a hot fucking summer . . . we were on the second floor, right down from Valentine’s . . . we wrote a bunch of tunes, but we were so delirious because it was like 1,000 degrees in there . . . we had this eight track . . . no, a four track . . . no, we had my brother’s reel-to-reel . . . no, I didn’t use that . . . yes, I know there was a reel-to-reel involved . . . okay, right, the reel-to-reel . . . and anyway, that’s how we got started.”

Got that? Good, because there’s more. After a few years’ worth of basement work, Fun, Graf and Weäsell submitted one of their tapes to Metroland‘s EarJam competition in 1992. The Metroland judges were so impressed by The Weasels’ eclectic offering that they invited the group to play live as one of four EarJam finalists — despite the fact that The Weasels didn’t exist as a performing ensemble.

Undaunted, The Weasels made their concert debut that fall with a rented rhythm section. And while they didn’t win the EarJam competition, The Weasels did earn positive feedback from Albany’s concert-going cognoscenti while also road-testing the cabal of supporting musicians who would help flesh out their ensuing albums: Meat The Weasels Volume One: Fondue Cabaret (1993), Leon’s Mystical Head (1995) and Uranus or Bust (1998).

Fun, Weäsell, Graf and keyboardist Adrian Cohen (the fourth core member through Uranus or Bust‘s production) will again be enlisting helpers for a concert at Valentine’s tomorrow (Friday) night. This rare live appearance will celebrate both the release of their new rarities album, Generation XCrement, and the public inauguration of former Caged Monkey guitarist Matt Pirog and off-and-on collaborator Jon Cohen (Adrian’s bass-playing brother) as official members of the Weasels’ creative collective. This new six-piece line-up is already at work on the next studio album in their Delmar basement hide-out.

Despite the decade separating Generation XCrement‘s oldest and newest cuts, the fundamental, underlying premises of recorded Weaseldom remain fairly consistent throughout the package’s four discs. “I think one of the neater things about what we do is that I write some sort of pretty-ish material that can lure you in,” explains Weäsell. “But once you’re in, then we cut your throat.”

“It works on different levels,” agrees Fun, whose literate, poetic and eccentric lyrics provide much of the karmic bad juju behind the group’s throat cuttings. “I mean, I write my lyrics by finding little bits of things that appeal to me; I write them down and save them. And then at some later time I’ll extrapolate a whole lyric from one little thing that I found. As an example, in the song ‘Red Meat’ there’s a line that goes ‘this is not a sushi bar.’ And that’s a line that I got while watching The Rockford Files: Rockford walks into a bar to meet this guy and there’s a sign on the wall that says ‘This is not a sushi bar.’ So I wrote that down and saved it . . . for two or three years.”

Weäsell and Graf both laugh aloud at this revelation. “If I sound surprised about some of these references,” Weäsell offers once his chortle has passed, “It’s because I am. Back in the early days he’d just send me the lyrics and I’d write the music. And now sometimes I’ll write the music first and he’ll write the lyrics to the music — but for me to know that this song fits with this lyric, I don’t have to know what’s going through his head . . .”

“Thank God!” Fun erupts. “Actually, though, I think that’s why we’re so good at what we do: we don’t collaborate. He writes the music and he’s great at that. I write the lyrics and I’m great at that. And Chris records the music . . .”

“And I’m mediocre at that,” Chris interrupts, modestly.

“But this is what we do,” concludes Fun. “It’s a part of us now. If we were to never make a penny doing it or never play Shea Stadium, we would still do it because it’s our art. It’s what we do and, in a certain way, it’s what we are.”

And for the first time that night, no one interrupts, denies, corrects, appends or laughs.

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