Circling the Pile: An Interview with Tom Hazelmyer
As a teenage male coming into my musical prime in the early Nineties, I was inevitably drawn to the Amphetamine Reptile label, founded by Tom Hazelmyer, and his band Halo of Flies. My first indoctrination to the label was through The Cows, if I remember correctly, on the recommendation of one of the older dudes who worked at the local record shop who noticed my headlong plunge into the Touch and Go catalog at the time, the Jesus Lizard in particular. After The Cows it was a few short steps to Lubricated Goat, Cosmic Psychos, Boss Hog, and others, eventually working backwards to Halo of Flies. Hearing "Tired and Cold" for the first time is a moment in my musical history I will never forget. As cliche as it sounds, Halo really sounded nothing like anything I'd heard before. Full of rage and intellignece, spewing bile amidst intricately wound chaos via blistering guitars and an exceptionally tight rhythm section. "The most physically and cerebrally assaultive post-hardcore you'll ever hear," as someone once said. And all that with a touch of Mod as well! They were all an impressionable young boy could want. Perhaps the band that turned me into a "collector scum", I spent years amassing their entire discography on vinyl, and began following the label voraciously. Equally reviled and revered, the label (and the "AmRep Sound") certainly had it's ups and downs, but in the long run it was the take-no-bullshit work ethic of Hazelmyer that endeared the label and its mission to me, through both the high and low points. Taking cues from previous DIY punks and bringing it into the burgeoning indie scene of the time, ideas like the "Dope, Guns, and Fucking" singles and accompanying videos, The AmRep Research and Development Series, AmRep Classics, limited press color vinyl, and more gave the label a solidarity of vision and a unique slant that I hadn't seen at the time. It was the total package, with Haze himself leading the charge, standing behind what he thought was right and good, and taking on all comers. Even after Halo dissolved, the Hazelmyer/AmRep attack was relentless and unwavering, through the critics souring on the label, the success of Helmet, the break-up of almost the entire roster, and more. As an example of what good can be accomplished by sticking to your guns (literally) in the independent record game, Hazelmyer is a classic example. Over the course of numerous e-mails I had the chance to find out what Tom's been up to since the label closed its doors and pick his brain a bit about Halo and the label.
TB: How have you been keeping busy since the closing of AmRep as a functioning label?
Haze: One of the reasons for shutting down was I was too busy with other things and the label was getting shoved aside anyhow. My paycheck comes from some bars I started about 10 years ago. The first one I went in as a partner with my Dad in '95. By '97, me and Pat Dwyer (one of the first and last AmRep employees) had sold the AmRep compound (an old doctor's office in the ghetto) and bought a second bar. That’s what started chowing the time. Recently I opened OX-OP, an art gallery behind the bar, and that has been an amazing consumption of time to say the least. There’s also been a string of projects like a series of toys, and several books, and other projects related to the gallery. In a lot of ways the current underground art movement reminds me a lot of the early punk/alt/hardcore days and I’m kind of consumed by it.
TB: Are back catalog sales still moving steadily? As in, are there still AmRep employees filling orders and such? Are you still pressing old stuff, or just selling out leftovers?
Haze: No, there’s not much to speak of in back catalog sales. We haven’t repressed anything since '98. There’s still stock laying around and available for sale, but most of the more desirable titles have been out of print for a while. Of course we haven’t lifted a finger to inform people that there still is a ton of the stuff available, and every once in a while we’ll get some store calling, getting all exited that they can get the stuff. AmRep is me and one part time guy, and we’re just as likely to be filling orders for the gallery or Flame Rite as we are AmRep. We’ve been talking about trying to get titles back in print, and maybe some retrospective titles like a CD “best of” the seven inchers.
TB: Is it true there is an AmRep retrospective book coming out that Henry Owings is involved in? If so, what can you tell us about it or was it just rumor?
Haze: Not a rumor per se. We’ve been talking about this for a couple of years. Part of me wants to document that era before parties involved can’t recall it, let alone educating newcomers that think Pearl Jam was a high water mark for the 90’s. The other part of me isn’t really one for spending chunks of time rehashing the past, so it’s hard to get 100% fired up about spending months reliving days gone by, when I’m usually chugging on new stuff that’s more fun. The main problem relates to your first question in that finding time to tackle such a monster hasn’t been easy for Henry or myself. That said, AmRep was far too Midwestern to get out there and blow our own horn, but I now realize that if we don’t nobody else will.
TB: Do you still stay up to date on current indie music? If so, do you like what you hear?
Haze: I don’t intentionally stay in touch, but through the bars I get an earful. The vast majority doesn’t have me running to record store dying to hear it a second time. My biggest bitch is, what happened to the future? I lived for hearing new bands that were striking out into uncharted turf. When bands emerged like Teenage Jesus, Minor Threat, Slayer, Birthday Party, Pussy Galore, Gang of Four, etc., all of which I couldn’t cite chapter and verse exactly what their influences were, or readily rattle of a dozen bands that had sounded like them. Yeah, yeah, nobody comes out of a vacuum, but it seems a majority of new bands are content to simply mine the past and add little innovation to the mix. It doesn’t take a rock historian to realize that a band like Devo took a big jump forward from all that was happening around them. The overall impression I get from the pedestrian crap being peddled is that the drive to create something new, different, and ballsy is at a low ebb to say the least. Yeah the MC5 were one of the greatest bands ever. One of the main things that made them great was putting them along side of what was happening when they existed. It was still a world of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy” and the Beatles “Hey Jude”. Juxtapose “Kick Out The Jams” to that crap. Where’s a Sex Pistols right now? Yeah Joy Division changed my life in 1980, that’s no reason to start a band and sound exactly like them decades after the fact. That’s a cop out, and not all that interesting. First time I heard Interpol all it made me do was pull out that copy of 'Unknown Pleasures' I hadn’t listened to in twenty-some years and give it a spin. Basically like jazz & blues, the minute a form of music quits innovating and reinventing itself, it’s dead. Who knows maybe there’s a wholly innovative ass-kicking scene blossoming in Peoria and I’m just clueless.
TB: What do you think of our pals the A-Frames?
Haze: I fucking love the A-Frames. One of the very few bright spots in a world of blight. So fucking good they probably don’t have a chance considering the lack of quality running rampant in bands “making it” (haha). Also, Japan’s Polysics have occupied an inordinate amount of my listening time. Otherwise most of the new stuff I listen to is done by Vets of past rock & roll wars. John Brannon's new outfit Easy Action are fucking amazing, and it’s cool to see somebody from the original hardcore era actually make some of the best stuff he’s ever done. Melvins still rule 20 years later. Vaz can always be counted on to challenge when they get a new release out. Billy Childish’s new outfit The Buff Medways are incredible. Also some of the best stuff he’s done.
TB: Where do you keep the gold Helmet record these days?
Haze: Right on the office wall. In my smart-ass irreverent youth I had it hanging in the john, right above the toilet. Now I view it as a victory of sorts. For good or bad, it’s proof that we had a big impact on the course of things. Considering it was in the era of Hootie and The Blowfish, most times I think it was good. Hearing some of the pap that ripped Helmet off in following years, sometimes not so good. The decade plus later has me appreciating that a hell of a lot more than I did in the day.
TB: Any records you wish you had released on AmRep during its time ("ones that got away")?
Haze: Not really, as most of the bands I would have loved to work with seemed to have met the same end as most of the AmRep roster. I always had a hard on for Brainiac. I still listen to Bailter Space a ton. Thankfully, there’s no instance of me turning down a Nirvana or White Stripes. Most all of the bands I would have killed to have, like say a Jesus Lizard, I never had a crack at in the first place. One of my favorite records of the past 5 years was by Lifter Puller ('Fiestas + Fiascos'), and I wish I had still been active and aware enough to have been involved with that record.
TB: Was the AmRep Classics series (which I think only the X reissue was officially a part of, but I would guess might technically include The Urinals and Thrown-Ups?) destined to be a bigger project? Were there any other bands/records you wanted or were trying to reissue that never panned out?
Haze: The follow up was supposed to be a Pebbles-style compilation series of obscure American '77 era punk gems, I was working on that with Johan Kugelberg. Relatively quickly, we both learned how damn near impossible the task of tracking down band members for such a release was, and shelved it. It also dawned on me that my time was better spent helping bands active right then, instead of rehashing a past to mostly deaf ears. It dawned on me that if I had my head buried in the past I would miss the modern day equivalent. Imagine the guy sitting in London in '66 reissuing big band stuff and not bothering to go down the block and go see the The Who or The Creation in the height of the London Mod thing? I know Mods who’ve done just that with their lives.
TB: Was this the germination of the idea that begat the Killed by Death compilation series? Also, how did you get involved with an uber-collector like Kugelburg?
Haze: I think Killed By Death was already going, and Kugelberg knew something about it (ahem). We wanted to actually bring it above ground and work it right, instead of skulking around like bootleggers. I was actually responsible for giving the Swede his first bed in the States. He used to call from Sweden and order records and talk. Never could figure out how he could afford to make these long calls until I found out he was the overnight clerk at some hotel and was calling from there, and I think got fired as a result. Put him up for weeks, then he hightailed it to NYC. You’d never know I helped out when he was fresh off the boat, as the jackass can’t be bothered to respond to e-mails anymore.
TB: How did your time in the Marines prepare you for your years with the label and the bands? Was it helpful or hindering?
Haze: Hindering in so far as most folks in the music biz find it extremely alienating. Of course I did NOTHING to put them at ease and alleviate said fears and preconceived bullshit. On the personal side, it helped me pull my shit together and focus on what I wanted to do. I doubt that would have happened had I gone the route of my my friends from the neighborhood who wound up being short order cooks and getting wasted. Nothing like being stranded in a barracks with no money and a guitar to make you knuckle down. It was also helpful in being forced to live and deal with folks from every strata of life, we all tend to become isolated in our own clique/world. I certainly had been doing that in my punk rock youth before joining. In general eating a mountain of shit for four years helped keep me grounded and ego in check when shit was taking off.
TB: With the state of indie rock these days, do you think that if Amphetamine Reptile were just starting today it could still be as successful as it was? Or was a key part of AmRep's success the time/era in which it existed?
TB: Definitely. It’s hard to objectively analyze that. The fire to destroy the pap being pushed by corporate labels/radio/mags in the early 80’s had me ignore massive obstacles and plow headlong into it regardless if there was any monetary incentive let alone a decent network to do so.. Looking back it’s amazing to me we succeeded at any level. Certainly considering how deviant, abrasive and non-commercial the music we pushed was. Now looking at it, with the burning fight long since dissipated, I can’t imagine trying to start something similar now. Now it’s more fragmented, and the Corporate types do not have nearly the monopoly and stranglehold they once did. Stuff like the internet, and easier access to recording and manufacturing, and huge array of other circumstances have marginalized that monopoly, but also seemingly given folks less cause to kick against the pricks of mediocrity and stagnation. Due to a lack of any cohesive “scene” (fragmentation) it seems daunting here and now.
TB: Do you think that mainstream media/culture's recent co-opting of punk/DIY imagery (Nike swiping Minor Threat's cover art for a skateboarding campaign ["Major Threat"] for example) is eroding the solid underground network that labels and bands like yours worked so hard to erect? Or is that already too far gone?
Haze: As you can tell I think it was eroded and disintegrating long before the corporate types saw it as a viable sales tool. My guess at underground stuff being used more reflects Gen-X and younger types finally getting into positions to call shots in advertising and promotions. Like the Buzzcocks winding up in a Nissan advert. The younger types finally convincing the fucking Baby Boomers in charge that using “Born To Be Wild” for the millionth time doesn’t cut it anymore. Is it erosion or actually keeping some of those elements in circulation way past validity? The emotional side of me has skin crawling when I hear Nike using "Search & Destroy" to pitch sneakers. The reasonable side is happy to see Iggy and company finally get monetarily rewarded after changing the fucking world musically. I just wish it wasn’t my sacred cows being used as commercial jingles (ha-ha). I’ll draw the line if they use Chrome or Birthday Party for a Spam commercial!
TB: Living in the digital age, do you find it disturbing at all that kids are now willing to simply download an album off the Internet instead of going out and buying an actual record? Do you think there is something lost there, the loss of cool packaging and artwork, and being able to actually physically hold a record (or even a CD) in your hands?
Haze: Maybe it’s more pure, as it becomes only about the music and not the imagery. I’m mixed as obviously I’ve always loved the aesthetics involved, and personally have been as influenced by a Jamie Reid as much as the Sex Pistols themselves. I guess I’m split on it. As a young intense fan I was moved by the graphics as well as the sounds, but as I switched roles and started doing a label I was in the position to be listening to most of the music I loved without benefit of the graphic end, as I would be getting advance copies from my bands or other labels and getting caught up in the music long before I ever saw any imagery. The upside is a kid now can check out ten times more stuff. The downside is the lost momentum that used to be created in underground record shops. The posters and fliers, the tracks being played. I suppose you can obtain something akin to that through message boards and chatrooms, but I’m too fucking old school to find out.
TB: Do you miss playing/being a band at all? When was the last time you picked up a guitar?
Haze: It’s funny you ask. I didn’t miss shit, and didn’t touch an instrument for more than a decade. Then last fall, out of the blue, I brushed off the guitar and started recording some stuff with the Melvins and Kenny from Mog Stunt Team, and hunkered down to write/mix/play a soundtrack with an artist friend in NYC. I’m about 15 songs into it. It’s been a blast as the shit has been pouring out. I just hope indeed it isn’t all shit. The details are all top secret for the time being, but I’m enjoying the process immensely. I think it’s because there isn’t an actual “band” involved (ha-ha), nobody to fight with about song structure, practice spaces, who farted in the van, all that amazing shit that only a band can find important enough to come to blows over. I was also surprised that my guitar playing chops hadn’t completely evaporated in that decade plus. Also being completely free from relevance I can do whatever the fuck I want as for now it’s strictly for self gratification, I have no hopes or desire to take over the world like your average 20 year old.
TB: Personally, I was upset that Michael Azzerad didn't include a Halo of Flies chapter in "This Band Could Be Your Life." Unlike some of the bands he discusses, Halo never made a bad record, and have stood the test of time much better as well. Where do you think Halo's place in the punk rock pantheon is? Are you happy with what the band did, or would you have liked there to have been more? Do you feel Halo is just as important as Big Black, Husker Du, Mudhoney, and other big name contemporaries? Or was Halo's greatest success in that they were critical faves who never attracted the more normal/mainstream attention just by virtue of the music's non-compromising attitude/attack?
Haze: Fuck, like I would know? I’m just waiting for Xanax to call and offer a shitload of cash to use "Rubber Room" for a TV spot. I don’t know what impact we had, as I don’t know anybody who knows who the fuck we were (haha). I take that back, having the A-Frames name check us was a big warm and fuzzy, as I actually love the band. We got enough props while were were happening to make it worthwhile. What that means down the road, who knows. Your asking a guy that always thought of Killdozer as massively more important than Big Black, or the Thrown Ups more important than Mudhoney, Pussy Galore more important than Sonic Youth, hell I even thought (and still do) that Chrome were one of the most important bands EVER. Seeings how most listed haven’t fared as well historical relevence wise, my judgment can be called into question, to say the least, by most of the worlds critic geek standards. It is a drag to see a lot of detail about that decade seemingly slip into obscurity, as it was every bit as creative, vital, and groundbreaking as eras that seem to be rehashed endlessly. Then again, having a whole generation wasting their time aping Big Black or the Cows doesn’t sound that enticing either.
TB: On the initial Halo singles, was their limited run a conscious decision to make them scarce, or was it simply a necessity to do a small amount? It could be said that AmRep/Halo sort of started (or popularized) the trend of intentionally limited run singles and color vinyl in the Eighties, and that Sub Pop ripped the idea off of you somewhat. True, or am I reaching on this one?
Haze: It was a scam of sorts. I was a Private in the Marines and was starting from extremely shallow pockets. On the first single we could only afford to make 200. I knew that was pathetic, and came up with the hand numbered thing as a ruse. It was a bullshit front that said “Yeah, we could have made a million of these things if we wanted to to, but we’re just catering to our small exclusive club”. What made it work was the fact that some very key folks (Coley, Cosloy, Davis) took it upon themselves to praise the project, which in turn had probably about 400 people trying to track it down. No, it’s not a reach at all with Sub Pop. AmRep’s first steps were done in Seattle right in front of Pavitt (who was a local critic/columnist at the time) who’s never had any qualms on “borrowing” ideas. He was older (I was 20 at the time), probably smarter, and a hell of a lot better connected than I was, so more able to flesh out said ideas quicker than AmRep was.
TB: Was the purpose of doing the Halo CD so people would stop paying over $100 for the records, to deflate their value? Or just so non-collector scum could hear the music for a reasonable price? Did you ever think the prices on those records would get so out of control? Any regret in doing that?
Haze: I thought the prices were silly, and in turn delegated the singles to baseball card collector status. I did release the CD thinking I would be able to hear the collector balloon pop. In actuality it just made them that much more desirable as more folks were exposed to the band. I can’t feign knighthood though, as I wasn’t above swapping some of those singles for key L.A. Punk records I was desperate to lay my hands on back then (Dangerhouse/Weirdos/Urinals), as none of it had been re-issued and I was eating the stuff up.
TB: How did you learn to play guitar? What guitarists were influential in creating your very unique style, which was once aptly described as "Hendrix-on-carbona"?
Haze: I had exactly one lesson when I was 14. It was in '79, and I signed up in the neighborhood guitar shop and the guy told me to bring a record of something I wanted to learn to start with. I showed up with the first Clash LP, and the guy dropped the needle and said “this is shit, this is retarded”, and refused to teach it to me. I walked out and realized I was on my own. I ended up learning the way most folks do, by playing in bands, nothing like the peer pressure of other people in the room to make you knuckle down. The biggest leap I made though, was at 18 when I was in the Marine Corps. Broke, sitting in the barracks with nothing but time had me really hunker down and start writing and really learning how to play. As far as style I haven’t ever had much control over that. I always wanted to sound like Gang Of Four or Beefheart but it always came out sounding like Hendrix or Blue Cheer. I have no idea why. That stuff was very influential, but no more so than early hardcore or punk was to me. To this day I still can’t sit down and figure out somebody else’s guitar parts. I mean NEVER. In Halo of Flies, Mac had to show me the parts if we were covering anything more complicated than "Wild Thing." He even had to teach me a Cramps' song because for the life of me couldn’t figure out the three chords. I thought that was a retarded curse to have, but in hindsight probably saved me from just copping somebody else's style outright. So basically what happened was me attempting to sound like Scratch Acid even though my fingers wanted to do Wayne Kramer.
TB: Were you, Mac, and Anglim all really high school pals? How and when did Halo solidify as the band we know?
Haze: Yup. Me and Anglim were from the same Minneapolis neighborhood, and joined forces when he got kicked out of his Heavy Metal cover band, and decided the biggest fuck you he could level at those guys was to join a punk band. We met Mac in Vocational High School and started playing with him. The three of us had a band in '80 called Alleged, which they in turn kicked me out of (ha-ha). I started a hardcore band, that then morphed in to Otto’s Chemical Lounge. When that started happening I dragged John Anglim back in, as he was perfect for the Acid-influenced stuff we wanted to do (he being Keith Moon's only heir). He was also my first choice when I started doing Halo of Flies. After the first couple singles we decided the 2 piece thing was a pain in the ass and looked up Mac. Originally he was just going to fill in when we were recording, but quickly became irreplaceable. Like I said before, both those guys were real musicians, and I was the Tommy come lately, so it was weird that I became defacto leader/songwriter.
TB:How'd you discover that the Rubber Room 7" had been bootlegged, and how did you end up in possession of the boot copies? Was it someone you knew?
Haze: They weren’t bootlegs, they were counterfeits being passed off as the real thing. It was actually a record store owner that sent me two of ‘em to have me verify if they were real. In his words, “I’ve never even seen this thing so to have two land in my lap makes me skeptical”. I indeed traced it back to somebody I knew, and he knew me well enough to know that my style of persuasion didn’t involve lawyers. They were on my doorstep within 24 hours of me finding out. I've never been tolerant of the bootlegging scene. Expend that effort and resources on that struggling band that wants your help, that’s what AmRep was. There’s no excuse for it other than greed and sleaziness. Fuck, major labels have more honor.
TB: And how come it is Scale 02 instead of Scale 01? Is there actually a Scale 01 that was never released?
Haze: There was indeed a seven inch that was recorded and never released. It’s truly horrible and never will see the light of day. The only thing that stopped it was the pressing plant said the masters were out of phase and couldn’t be pressed. In hindsight, that was a small miracle as by the next studio session everything came together and was infinitely better, and in turn started us off on the right foot with the Byron Coleys of the world.
TB: Who is Richie, and why a song about his dog?
Haze: It was just a regurgitation of various childhood memories. Richie was a neighbor's kid, that I’d heard years later died from an O.D. Our families went from being great friends into a full-out dog-poisoning, fisticuffs family feud. One of many for the Hazelmyer Clan (ha-ha).
TB: You were releasing Halo albums on Twin/Tone and AmRep during the same time period? How did that arrangement happen?
Haze: We signed to Twin Tone as I just wasn’t capable of pressing and distributing anything more than 1,000 copies of something. They were cool enough to let us keep doing our own singles and stuff during that time, and did a really good job of exposing the band at a time that my press/promo list was a whopping twenty people long. That morphed into the merging of the two labels for a while, as they were the ones who made it possible for AmRep to move on from being a singles only label. Everyone there was amazingly supportive and put up with our bullshit.
TB: What or who inspired you to write "Ballad of Extreme Hate"?
Haze: Just that, a ballad dedicated to a legendary Seattle group called Extreme Hate. I never saw ‘em, but for the years I spent in Seattle all I heard was these horror stories about this band that was dedicated to fucking up everything and terrifying everyone they came into contact with. Naturally that won ‘em a soft spot in my heart. Steve Turner once told me that seeing them scared the ever living shit out of him. John Bigley told me about fights with cops, incredibly hideous O.D.’s etc. Lots of side stories, like they would make cassettes of their hate drenched venom and then go into record stores and sneak said cassettes into other used cassette cases like Boston or ELO. I fucking loved that one in particular.
TB:At the beginning of "No Time", you lash out with "This ain't no heartfelt shit, this is Halo of Flies!"? What was that a declaration against, and who/what is that song an attack on?
Haze: Most of that venom was reserved for the then emerging “Emo” thing, and if I’d known that the shit was never going to go away and morph into even more heinous shit, I would have been even more vehement (ha-ha). Even though I fucking loved that Rites of Spring LP, and Husker Du and others, the whole heartfelt introspective, wear your heart on your sleeve trip struck me as a bunch of crybaby bullshit. Mommy and Daddy didn’t love me enough. Break out the Cat Stevens records while your at it, ya know? My whole trip in general was to attempt to beat the fuck out of people aurally and spew my contempt which was plentiful and extreme at the time, mix that in with a reactionary personality and you have me shitting on somebody else’s parade (ha-ha). As genius as Fugazi was, they certainly got the last laugh a thousand times over.
TB: What's "Father Paranoia" about?
Haze: Beats me. Seriously, most lyrics were an afterthought and stream of consciousness bullshit. If anything, it was just a running skewed narative on the Catholic Church, which in the States turned out to be even worse than I thought at that time.
TB: Besides the ones documented on record, did Halo ever do any other covers in the live set?
Haze: Not really. The only other songs we ever covered were Pink Floyd's “Interstellar Overdrive” and The Who’s “Doctor, Doctor”, neither of which I remember ever playing live. I always wanted to get The Who song on tape as we probably had the only drummer around that could actually have a go at Moon.
TB: Who were the "Clowns" the song is directed at?
Haze: All the “hipsters” copping a fashionable low brow vibe at the time, in a lame attempt to put some distance between them and their actual background. It was certainly vogue at that point in time for folks to walk around like they were white trash bad-asses straight out of the trailer park, when in reality they grew up in some distant suburb, were in choir throughout high school, and had a college degree. It seems a lot of ‘em went on to careers in junkiedom to attain that ever elusive street cred. I never thought of it as some role playing game, but I guess there’s always a contingent of folks playing dress up in any given movement, and they are usually the ones that take it over by sheer numbers. It’s certainly a petty sentiment, but I found it hugely annoying at the time.
TB: When did Halo start to dissolve and why? As the story we know goes, the last show was in London in 1991. Did you know that was going to be the last show?
Haze: Yeah, we knew right then and there in London. We got off stage and realized we sounded like a lame Halos cover band. I looked at John Anglim and said "I don’t think I wanna do this anymore." He agreed and started asking all the other bands on the Ugly American tour if anybody wanted to buy his drum kit. I don’t think he’s literally ever played again. You have to understand that the band was never a stable entity by any stretch of the imagination. We’d break up every other month and swear it off, only to come back together yet again. At one point we decided to try and go on without Anglim (one single and a couple of shows), and that brief moment made me realize it couldn’t be Halos without the three of us. At that point in London, I think all three of us had better shit to do.
TB: Was it during the Ugly American tour when the supposed incidence of you running through some German street with a Big Mac in each hand screaming "USA, USA!" occurred, as the story goes?
Haze: I think it was in Holland with Killdozer. I was plenty drunk and at the end of a six week tour in which all we were eating was cold bacon and hard rolls. I was so stoked when I came across a McDonalds that I had to become the Ugly American. I’ll have it known that took place years before the Simpsons were ever on, so they owe me some dough for character appropriation every time Homer chants USA USA!(ha-ha).
TB: Is the Public Pop Can live record honestly HoF's first show? Is it a legit record, or a "fan club" release?
Haze: Semi-legit, as it was a friend and he indeed asked and let me do the cover art (ha-ha), and I think it was from our first show. I didn’t want to do our first show in Minneapolis. Don’t ask me the logic of that as it’s been too many years. So we set up a show in Chicago instead. Probably because we had released a bunch of singles prior to actually playing and not wanting to embarrass ourselves in front of friends and family as expectations were higher than if we had proceeded in a normal manner, and had been playing out well before we got around to releasing stuff.
TB: What was going on during the transition from HoF breaking-up to starting up Gearjammer?
Haze: Actually, the first (Gearjammer) single was cut during one of the many HoF break ups/down time. I was exploring the possibility of doing what I enjoyed most, which was writing and recording, and I was seeing if I could just do that on my own ala Jim Thirwell. The obvious downside to a band is multiple people involved in the process, and all the ancillary problems involved with that. After that single was cut, I think HoF reformed once or twice more. The second 7” came at the point I was completing the transition from musician to label guy. There was a last remnant of me that was still interested in writing and playing and Gear Jammer was an offshoot of that. I think Bill Hobson was in the same boat as he was freshly ejected from Killdozer right then. Once it was released to little to no fanfare we both realized that we should stick with our day jobs (ha-ha).
TB: Do you still get inquiries from people looking to score copies of the rare HoF singles on the cheap?
Haze: Not really, but I’m sure there’s still requests showing up at the old building to this day (which we moved out of in '97). It used to amaze me when folks would write to Anglim's parents (the address used on the 1st couple releases of less than 400) years on, and hundreds of releases later. So seeing how that address was the main one for most releases, I’m sure they still get mail. You’d think the internet would fix that, but it seems most folks into music’s history are luddites. Go figure (ha-ha).
TB: How helpful was Peter Davis in the Halo of Flies saga/career, and AmRep as well?
Haze: Vital. Without Pete I don’t think it would have happened as well as it did. As pioneering as we tried to be, Peter was the same when it came to setting up tours. He broke our brand of shit into a lot of places ignored by folks from either coast. He’d break open towns like Des Moines or Tallahassee, when other booking agents wouldn’t bother. The fact that we all were stuck in the middle of nowhere meant we weren’t as prone to marginalizing the vast wastelands of “flyover” country, as that’s who we were too. Yeah, that might only mean 75 folks in each town, but they were fellow weirdos as desperate as we were, and when you started adding ‘em up it was a substantial amount of fans buying the releases. He was also the guy that introduced Cosloy, Coley, Moore and other tastemakers to the band and label, which in turn aided us immensely. Aside from that he gave my hardcore band their first show in '82, and also started me writing reviews for Your Flesh at the same time, and we’ve been great friends ever since, so he’s been pretty influential throughout my life in a ton of ways.
TB: The Coleys/Moores of the world seemed to latch onto Halo right away, and went so far as to exclaim they could use the entire pressing of a Halo single for trade/collection purposes in Forced Exposure. Did you ever play up to their critic/collector geek cravings for records, and do you think they would have reacted any differently had Halo singles not been so rare and/or collectible? Did you ever have a chance to meet those guys in person?
Haze: The rarity and appeal to collector scum ethic certainly didn’t hurt, but at the end of the day there’s got to be something more than just a hard to find record to get folks interested. Hell, hundreds (if not thousands) of bands tried the same schtick with nil results in the following years. It certainly wasn’t enough to help some AmRep bands either. I rode that pony as long as I could though, and stuff like the Melvins series certainly showed that. Met Coley on several occasions and still keep in touch. My favorite was standing out in front of CBGBs and without warning he just round housed me. So I over ended him into a dumpster. It was probably due to me introducing him to Rumpleminz straight out of the bottle, a potent brew if your not adept and experienced in its sugar charged ways. Aaahhh, good times. I don’t think Byron and Forced Exposure have gotten enough props for how vital they were in helping create a very productive scene in the underground. I don’t think anybody since has done a magazine that in and of itself was as important as the music was. I’ve met Thurston a couple times but seriously doubt he could pick me out of a line up. Kim was always icy as hell, and I always assumed that was my charming reputation proceeding me, ha-ha. Don’t leave out Cosloy or Davis from the above mix forlatching on early and in general helping massively for putting AmRep on the map.
TB:The first few AmRep releases (besides HoF) were Thrown-Ups and U-Men stuff. How did you end up running into these guys in Seattle? Do you think they laid the groundwork for the later Seattle boom that SubPop capitalized on, and probably don't get the credit they deserve?
Haze: Absolutely. I met the U-Men through Peter Davis. I had just moved to Seattle, and they had told Peter they were looking for a bass player. I had just left Otto’s Chemical Lounge (as bassist), so Peter hooked us up even though he was sitting in Minneapolis. I never could do the full time slot (though I wanted to) because I couldn’t tour, as I was still in the USMC. I did get to play a little guitar on their LP, and do some gigs as fill in bass guy until they found a permanent replacement. I think historian types can’t wrap their head around how the U-Men impacted Seattle, due to the fact that there wasn’t a “grunge” bone in their body of work. They were the band that put on amazing shows and would have all the future grunge stars at all their shows. They showed the way for everybody by being one of the only bands in the era (just prior to the Seattle explosion) that got record deals with out of town indie labels, and cobbled together tours that actually went nationwide. Seattle was in a fucking vacuum before that, where if bands wanted to do ANTYTHING, their best option was to pack up and split to L.A. or Frisco. Those guys broke that pattern.
TB: Helios Creed: You ended up releasing at least half a dozen of his records, and we already know you hold Chrome in high regard. How did you end up being found by him (or did you find him?) and releasing those records? Was it difficult to release records by a guy you really respected musically (I mean, it's gotta be hard to tell Helios Creed you're not happy with something on the album)?
Haze: I tracked down Helios. Right before I got out of the Marines I was on a detachment in the Frisco area, and hit record stores and was asking around about Helios/Chrome, and nobody seemed to know shit about either, which bummed me out. Hell, in my mind he was right up there with Hendrix. Shortly after getting back to Minneapolis I tracked him down to do an interview for Your Flesh zine, and while I had him on the horn I asked him to do a 'Dope, Guns..' track (for vol. 2). Right about then his deal with Subterranean had fallen apart, and I jumped on the chance to work with him. I can’t say I was ever remotely disappointed with his output, but it was hard in getting the then younger crowd to “get it”. Shortly after signing Helios I received some calls from Damon Edge looking for a label, and knowing the lame stuff he had been doing following Chrome, wasn’t interested. It was brutal telling one of your idols you weren’t interested.
TB: Vertigo were a great and highly underappreciated band of the time and a local outfit for you as well. Did you try to specifically help local bands and was the community of bands in Minneapolis really unified at that time?
Haze: I dug the first single enough to sign ‘em as well. Vertigo had a rough time of it, as most critics were not in their corner. I was actually the opposite in regards to local scene. I had no intention of being a regional label. It just worked out that at that time there was a fair amount of great things happening in Minneapolis. I thought it was short sighted when the early Sub Pop made claims that that was their intention, or Dischord doing the same for some time. Why the hell shut your doors to a band that’s amazing because they ain’t from your neck of the woods?
TB: Cows: Do you think it's fair to say the Cows were the flagship band of AmRep? How did you end up finding Shannon & Co., and do you have a particularly favorite record or memory?
Haze: Pretty much got to know them through proximity (Minneapolis). I didn’t care for their first LP all that much, but once I heard the "Chow" single and saw ‘em live it all changed, the light bulb went off and I got it. It’s easy to cite them as a standard bearer. They were there for damn near the entire ride, they were constantly bringing new bands to the label, and their output was some of the best in the label's history. They were also the greatest help in AmRep establishing new bands, by taking ‘em under their wing and touring with ‘em. My favorite memory was when they were recording “Cunning Stunts” and asked me to stop by and do some guitar on a track. I had been sitting in a bar with my brother and Bill Hobson (Killdozer) getting trashed and at the last minute remembered I was supposed to meet them at the studio. Piled in the car, staggered into the studio, and proceeded to lay down the biggest, sloppy, drunken-assed pile of dogshit guitar lick (which cracked me up at the moment) and then I split back for the bar. They gave me a heap of shit (imagine rightfully getting called out by the Cows for being a fucked up fuck-up, ha-ha) for the stunt, and then they nicknamed me “Legless Haze” on the LP credits.
TB: Hammerhead: Where did you find these guys? Perhaps my personal favorite of the AmRep bands, I'm extremely intrigued how they got from North Dakota to AmRep. I remember them saying something like Travis Bickle inspired the band. Their last few records were so amazing, and hinted at such promise for their future. Do you feel they were perhaps the apex of the genre AmRep came to represent? Which Paul was calling the shots in the band?
Haze: I think the initial recommend came from the Cows. There wasn’t exactly any hint of a “scene” in Fargo at the time, so they relocated to Minneapolis pretty quickly. As far as an apex, possibly. They were one of the first bands to come up after the label had been established and certainly were influenced by what we were doing. They then quickly digested all that and reconfigured it into their own sound in short order. Yeah the last couple of things they did hinted at them possibly taking an even bigger evolutionary step forward, past the amazing peak hit with “Into The Vortex”. I don’t recall any member as taking the role of leader and that might have been a factor in their break-up, as the two Paul's struggled trying to mesh varied visions. Right after the break up, it was odd watching the two halves perform, as at that point they seemed incomplete. I have to say though that I think Vaz certainly recovered and went on to fulfill a lot of the expectations and promise of Hammerhead. Ericson is a fucking genius songwriter.
TB: What inspired the Dope, Guns,...7" series? A great concept, did you plan on it going as far as it did?
Haze: It actually started out of a nightmare. A small local zine wanted to do a comp 7” with their upcoming issue. There was talk of helping with costs, etc. so I busted ass in getting it pulled together and made, and at that time said zine had seemingly taken a powder and the deadline for releasing next issue was nowhere in sight. Seeings how the majority of AmRep’s $1000 working capital was tied up in getting those singles made, I couldn’t wait around. I grabbed Dave Dueteromy to assist with the cover design and just put it out. The response was amazing. It didn’t hurt that the first ever Mudhoney track to be released was on there.
TB: How did you end up doing the soundtrack for 'Screwed'?
Haze: Another convoluted nightmare. Originally the producer said it was gonna be called “Porn” and would be a documentary on such. They had just done the amazing “Hated” GG Allin documentary so I knew they did quality stuff. Besides it was about porn...fuck, sign me up. So I pulled it together, did a series of 7” releases (that had the “Porn” title on ‘em) and in the last week they pulled the rug out, changed the title to "Screwed" and decided it was gonna be a documentary on Al Goldstein. I would have never done it had I known that, as I couldn’t give two fucks about Al Goldstein. Man, I wanted to see somebody do an interview with Ginger Lynn or Gregory Dark! By then I was committed. The funniest part is the producer of it went on to be a Hollywood director that’s done such movies as 'Old School'. I wonder why he hasn’t hit me up to get the Cows onto the soundtrack of a movie like that?
TB: You managed to release quite a few records by Australian bands. How did you end up with such a good grasp on the Aussie stuff at the time, as Australia seemed (and still does) to be one of the countries whose records/music seem to have such a difficult time getting to the States? I mean, how does a guy in Minneapolis get turned on to a Lubricated Goat or King Snake Roost, especially in the pre-Internet days? feedtime in particular?
Haze: The Australian connection was a direct result in the time I spent in Seattle. The record stores out there in the late 80’s were fucking phenomenal (like Fallout and Cellophane Square) and seemed to be bringing in an inordinate amount of Aussie underground stuff despite the very limited demand for it. John Bigley turned me on to Lubricated Goat, Steve Turner convinced me to buy the first Cosmic Psychos and feedtime LPs. It’s largely undocumented how influential a lot of those bands were on Seattle, as a large chunk of that crowd were spinning the aforementioned bands and a lot of the Celibate Rifles kinda stuff. Once I went back to Minneapolis I realized how hard the stuff was to get and started talking with Aussie labels to license stuff like King Snake Roost and Lubricated Goat. Pretty much I think from having worked with other Aussie acts, you get recommended to the band by Cosmic Psychos or others and they see it as a viable outlet in the States that’s obviously interested in that realm and takes that stuff seriously. 'Billy' is still one of my favorite releases.
TB: The bands on the 'Clusterfuck '94' tour/record represented sort of a new wave of younger AmRep bands. How did you find Chokebore (all the way from Hawaii), Today is the Day (still kicking, and releasing stuff vastly different from the AmRep stuff), and locals Guzzard, and why did you see fit to push them with the tour and record(s)?
Haze: Chokebore had relocated to L.A. from Hawaii, and I was sent a tape when they were called Dana Lynn. It was amazing, and tracks from that demo became the first Research & Development Series single. Today Is The Day was another demo tape sent in. It was amazing to hear something as blistering and original as that coming out of Nashville. Not a place exactly known for doing cutting edge shit then (or probably now). Guzzard were hometown kids that put on some amazing shows locally. At that point we were just starting to hit the wall with critics. They had thrown up barriers to the “AmRep” sound. It was a way to generate extra attention for three new bands that couldn’t tour on their own yet. By putting ‘em together we could actually get ‘em a decent guarantee, and into venues they couldn’t have otherwise. Also, we could concentrate on that tour far more than if the bands had each toured on their own. Those were some amazing shows, as comraderie was riding high, but the competition aspect wasn’t far behind.
TB: You ended up doing a Killdozer record (that you also played on). How did you become friends with the Hobsons and Michael Gerald, and were you as much in awe of them as the rest of us?
Haze: Fuck yeah. One of my all time faves! Met Bill Hobson through Peter Davis (Your Flesh), as he was the band's booking agent. Bill lived in Minneapolis at the time. Actually they're all from Minneapolis, they just went to school in Madison and became a Wisconsin band by proxy. My main involvement was filling in for Bill on guitar for a European tour as he was expecting his first kid at the time and couldn’t go. While we were in Madison rehearsing for the tour, we found time to cut the single. Man I felt like a rock star getting to do a single with ‘em! "Twelve Point Buck" is still one of my all time favorite LP’s.
TB: Were the God Bullies as whacked out in real-life as they were on record? Did the act extend beyond the stage or was it not even an act?
Haze: No, they were definitely a collection of miscreants and oddballs. It definitely wasn’t a case of putting a burning bible out on your bare chest during the set, then go to your day job as an accountant right after. Mike Hard is all you see on stage all the time, ha-ha.
TB: How can someone not like a bunch of likable blokes like the Cosmic Psychos? They must've been huge fun, did you have the chance to pal around with them at all?
Haze: We ended up working together as a result of an amazing drinking session in Berlin. One of the greatest live bands, and most fun to get shitfaced with. I still can’t believe that a band that wrote as infectious hooks as those guys never did better in the States despite efforts from both AmRep and Sub Pop during both label's prime. It was always a treat when they rolled into town. It’s a point of pride that the night I introduced them to the “Dead Nazi”, I managed to drink ‘em under the table. Okay, it was probably the only time, but I can say I did it!
TB: The "Dead Nazi"?
Haze: An elixir of one part Jagermiester and one part Rumpleminz. It’ll make you smarter, better looking, thinner, wittier, stronger, faster...Anyhow, you hoist it up and proclaim “The only good nazi is a dead nazi!”, then slam the drink.
TB: The Research & Development series was a great concept. What inspired it, and why did it sort of disappear towards the end? Was the picture disc aspect influenced by your interest in art/design?
Haze: I was always into design, and actually the series was the start of me realizing art didn’t have to suck. Growing up in the Baby Boomer dominated world, where they were cramming galleries and museums full of deconstructive conceptualism bullshit, I had just assumed art sucked. Then I started noticing a lot of artistic talent was in the same scene and circles as AmRep folks were, but it wasn’t acknowledged by the mainstream art world (and still isn’t). Thought it was a great marriage: new artist with new band. Combining the then new artist Chris Mars with the then fledgling Hammerhead, or Chokebore with Edwin Fotheringham. Hell, I thought it was a slam dunk. Turns out nobody else agreed (ha-ha). You put those together now on a wall and they still look amazing. Squashing the series was aided by the fact that it enormously expensive to do, and being new bands with no following the sales just weren’t there and it wasn’t a clever enough schtick to lure people to check out a new band.
TB: Any truth to the rumor you were kicked out of your own AmRep CMJ showcase for what I've heard was "Drunk and disorderly" behavior?
Haze: Yeah, three times. The fourth time I was sneaking back in, a Hells Angels security guy persuaded me against it. Couldn’t use that knee for a week after either. It was a blast other than being too drunk to meet Iggy Pop who was in attendance.
TB: Where did you get the diabolical idea to release a series of limited Melvin's singles? (A year long project where a different Melvins limited edition single was released every month)
Haze: That one is all Buzz’s doing, I was just along for the ride (and design). It was a boon to direct sales as the only way a store could get ‘em was directly from us ONCE A MONTH. That guy’s a diabolical genius in many, many ways.
TB: What was the deal with Love 666, and their mysterious line-up?
Haze: I still wonder. I play those two LPs more than most of the AmRep discography. I’m figuring in ten years everybody will get it. Still one of the funniest sights was pulling into the AmRep parking lot at 8:00 am to see the shirtless guitar player (Gary) sitting in the back of the van with the doors open, and chugging on a forty. I just saw Dave Unger in NYC recently.
TB: How did the S.W.A.T. project and the various personalities involved wind up in AmReps lap?
Haze: That was through mastermind shit-disturber Adam Parfrey. I think it was largely a project of his devise, and he decided AmRep was the best suited home for such a project.
TB: "Dope, Guns, and Fucking up Your Video Deck": What were you trying to accomplish with this series? Was it directly inspired by anti-MTV sentiment, or just another part of AmReps multi-media plan?
Haze: It was still relatively early in the development of video for rock, and had just gotten to the point where the equipment was affordable and accessible. The anti-MTV sentiment was a result of them acting like Top 40 radio, and not being willing to buck the schmaltzy one percent of what they like to give themselves credit for. It was an endless sea of Whitney Houston and Bon Jovi as far as the eye could see. Their idea of alternative was fucking R.E.M.! I realized that video and visuals were gonna be playing a hell of a lot bigger role down the road than any of us considered. So we made them for NOTHING and proceeded to spread ‘em guerilla-style around as there was no other outlet other than MTV. So we’d track down friendly public access shows, send ‘em to clubs we knew had an in-house video systems, put ‘em in the hands of zines, college music directors and any other outlet we could think of. Folks should realize there really weren’t any video comps before those, so it had a big impact. I’m not saying we invented the idea, but we certainly utilized the idea before anyone else I can think of. You had people making indie vids, but they would just send ‘em to MTV in hopes that they might show it. I thought that was a waste of time. As successful as the 'Dope, Guns...' comps had been, it just seemed obvious to do the same with videos. The sales of individual copies covered some/most of the cost involved, but it really helped establish the bands further and had folks take them a little more seriously than just another indie band living in the college radio ghetto. Of course having the genius Rich Kronfeld (Dr. Sphincter) involved helped immensely. He wound up on Comedy Central as the host for 'Let’s Bowl' a couple years ago.
TB: Were all the videos done in-house, or were the bands themselves doing their own videos? How did that work?
Haze: On occasion the band had a hook-up. Some friend in film school or such. Usually we hooked bands up with friends we had in film school. There’s several videos directed by John Anglim (HoF drummer) and others, but the lion's share were done by Dave Roth, an old hardcore-days buddy that was in the film department. of the big local art school. Plenty of the videos were actually shot on that campus as well. The standard budget was $500, some were far less. The Halo of Flies video was done by the first ever AmRep intern Tom Greenwood (of Jackie-O Motherfuckers) for about $200.
I'll let the interview end abruptly there. I could've gone on for another fifty questions, but we'll save that for a part two some day. The DG&F video series was recently reissued by Atavistic, and you can still order in-print titles from AmRep direct. They still release the odd limited edition single here and there, usually for a Grumpys/Ox-Op show by Billy Childish or The Melvins. Check out the addresses below for more info.
Interview by Rich Kroneiss
AmRep still lives at www.amphetaminereptile.com
OX-OP Gallery: www.ox-op.com
Grumpys Bar: www.grumpysbar.com
Flamerite Zippos: www.flamerite.com
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