Spending as much time as I do listening to music, I always get a great thrill when some young kid comes out of nowhere and plays the kind of music I wish all the kids of today were playing and listening to. Young Jeff Novak is one of these cases. His nowhere is Henderson, TN, and some time ago I received some CD-Rs of his one man band recordings for review in the mail. They were packaged with care, and charmingly displayed thank you lists comprised of "People I Know" and "People I Don't Know Personally", which included a list of musical inspirations from Steve Albini to Don Howland. Both discs were jam-packed with crazed stompers cut straight from the proverbial garage rock cloth we hold so close, and I was suitably impressed enough to keep an eye out for any further recordings. Soon reports trickled in of live shows in Memphis and the next thing you know various European trash labels started releasing seven-inches, which have led to him having somewhere around six records released this year (counting the upcoming LP on P.Trash and a 10" on Perpetrator), all of which display a undeniable knack for writing catchy tunes and some incredible youthful exuberance. This is in addition to his own micro-label, Sonic Assault, on which he has released limited CD-Rs of his stuff. Once we find a few more kids like Jeff, I'll be able to sleep easier at night knowing that our music will be in good hands when we're all old and tired. Look for him touring the country this summer, and check his records out!
TB: So Jeff, tell us how old you are and how long you've been playing music for...
Jeff: Right now, Iím 19, but Iím turning 20 in June. I guess Iíve been playing music since I was 14 or 15, but I wasnít in any real bands back then. I just recorded stupid stuff on my 4-track.
TB: Exactly where is Henderson, TN in relation to Memphis and Nashville? What goes on there?
TB: Makes sense, since obviously the Memphis music scene and related bands have influenced your playing. What record was your first introduction to that stuff? Oblivians? Jeff Evans? How did you come to find it?
Jeff: Henderson is in-between Memphis and Nashville. Itís about an hour from Memphis and around two hours from Nashville. Itís just south of Jackson, TN, home of the Rock-A-Billy Hall Of Fame, which is probably the biggest joke of a museum Iíve ever seen. Henderson is just a shitty boring town with nothing going on, and Iím really unpopular around there. Iím banned from playing most places, and everyone seems to hate my music. I donít know why I still live there. I keep saying Iím going to move. The closest city for me to see and play shows is Memphis.
Jeff: The Gibson Bros.í "Memphis Sol Today", was probably my first introduction to anything related to the 90ís Memphis scene. Iím a big fan of Pussy Galore, so I had always heard about the Gibson Bros., because Jon Spencer had been in the final line up of the band. So I bought "Memphis Sol Today" because Jon Spencer played on it, and thatís how I ended up discovering Jeff Evans and all of the other bands in Memphis. Somehow I ended up hearing the Obliviansí "Kick Your Ass" 7Ē, and they instantly became my favorite band.
TB: Did you have a chance to get to see any of those bands while they existed, or was that before your time? What was the first live show you saw that really made an impression?
Jeff: Well all the best Memphis bands of the 90ís are long gone, but most of those people still live in the area and still play music in other bands. Like Jeff Evans still plays a lot with his band the Roadmasters or occasionally with the CC Riders. Luckily, I got to see the Obliviansí reunion show the Halloween before last. That was one of the best shows Iíve ever seen. I had somehow never heard of the Cheater Slicks before that show, and they blew me away. I couldnít get over the way Dana Hatch was playing his drums. It was perfect. But Memphis still has the best local bands like the Dutchmasters, River City Tanlines, Tearjerkers, Final Solutions, and the Reatards might be getting back together. Maybe? Jayís putting out new records.
TB: You've played Memphis several times now, and even had the chance to play with Jeff Evans. Was the Memphis scene initially very supportive? Did you feel any pressure playing shows with guys you've cited as inspirations on your records?
TB: Tell us the story of you puking while playing the show at Gonerfest...
Jeff: Yeah, I guess. I had sent a copy of the first CD I put out to Jeff Evans, because I had covered one of his songs, and he wrote me back and told me how much he liked it. Then he ended up getting me my first show in Memphis opening for the Roadmasters, and he introduced me to everyone. Apart form being one of my favorite musicians, Jeff is just a really nice guy.
Jeff: Well Iíve puked at a lot of shows, thatís just a problem I have. I always drink too much and get exhausted, and then I usually end up throwing up in the middle of playing a song. At Gonerfest, I just drank way too much and played way too hard, and then I ended up covering the sidewalk outside the store in vomit.
TB:Tell us about your other projects: Rat Traps?
TB: Mad Lovers?
Jeff: The Rat Traps are my new band with my sister April and her husband Joe. I play drums and they both play guitar. I guess itís sort of like KBD-style punk rock or whatever. Itís the first band Iíve ever played drums in, and Iím not very good. Weíve played a few shows, and we just did some recordings in my garage.
Jeff: The Mad Lovers were the band I was in around the same time I started my one-man band. It was originally supposed to be an all-girl band like the Brentwoods or the Donnas, and I was going to write all the songs. But then we could never find any other girls to be in the band so I ended up playing guitar along with Leslie on drums and Emily on second guitar. We ended up sounding more like the Gories or the Demolition Doll Rods. We were by far the worst band in town, and luckily we didnít do much. Somehow we ended up playing a few shows and recorded some songs in my bedroom.
TB: Ultra Rad?
Jeff: Ultra Rad might actually be worse than the Mad Lovers. It was a short-lived band with my friend Will Shull. We recorded a bunch of songs, and ended up playing one show that got me banned from playing in Henderson. It wasnít suppose to be a one off band really, but thatís what it turned into more or less. It was different from my other bands. Ultra Rad was more of a No-Wave band. Sort of like DNA with a keyboard instead of guitar.
TB: Will there be any records released by these bands?
Jeff: Even though Ultra Rad have a bunch of recordings, most of it is pretty bad, and I would rather not do anything with it. I think Will Shull would agree with me. All of the Mad Loversí recordings were done on a boombox in my bedroom. I just found the tape recently and itís horrible. Itís mainly just us arguing and never making it through a whole song. Kind of like that Supercharger song ďLive From Radio X.Ē The Rat Traps just recorded some songs at 3rd Street Audio Terror that I might release. Iím trying to find a label that wants to put out our first 7Ē.
TB: I've heard something called Bodie Green mentioned too. Is it a band? Is the name a reference to John Waters or the "Dirty Boogie"?
Jeff: No, itís another band that my sister April and I have. She plays drums and I play guitar. We recently just played our first show in Memphis. I donít really remember it, but everyone told us it went really well. We did do a fucked up cover of the Endís ďPeople Talk.Ē The End was Jack Yaber and Jimbo Mathusí new-wave band after they were both in Johnny Vomit & The Dry Heaves. They put out this really cool 7Ē, which I found at Goner last year. We played our second show at JMMís BBQ, and weíve been asked to play some more shows this summer around Nashville.
We are both big John Watersí fans though, but April took the name ďbodie greenĒ from a dirty dance that she saw while she was living in New York.
TB: What stuff can people still get from Sonic Assault Records? Do you have any releases upcoming? Any plans of doing vinyl?
Jeff: I keep putting out more of my stupid one-man band stuff, but I plan on putting out stuff by other bands. I was planning on releasing the first Rat Traps 7Ē. I had wanted it to be a split 7Ē with the DC Snipers, but they didnít want to do another spilt 7Ē, so now I donít know what weíre doing. I had asked King Louie about doing a Loose Diamonds 7Ē, but he told me they had already recorded a whole LP, so they were looking for someone to put it out. I donít know if I could afford doing an LP, but I still plan on putting out some real records sometime in the future. As for the CD-Rís, Iím sold out of everything, except for this outtakes/demos collection called "Go Way Out" that I put out for the tour I did in March. I still have a few copies of it.
TB: A lot of people seem to be down on bands/people releasing CD-Rs, but I think you did the right thing with them. Did putting those CD-Rs out help you get the singles and LP released? Did you send a ton of them out?
TB: So how long have you been recording OMB stuff for?
Jeff: Yeah I couldnít believe people would actually take CD-Rís seriously! Itís crazy! I got the idea from Alicja Trout. Sheíd been putting out all these really cool limited edition CD-Rís on her label Contaminated. Itís great, because theyíre so cheap and easy to make. The first one I put out was called ďTo Hell In A Handbasket,Ē and I mailed it out to people not really expecting anything. But a couple zines actually reviewed it. Then this label in the Netherlands, A Fistful Of Records, contacted me because they had read the review I got in Savage Magazine, and they offered to put out my first 7Ē. Around the same time I had mailed out copies of ďJungle Beat StompĒ to all these labels I liked, and Ronan at Yakisakana offered to put out my second 7Ē.
Jeff: I played my first one-man band show in December 03í, and then I recorded ďTo Hell In A HandbasketĒ in January 04í. It was right after I had bought the first Panther Burns LP, and I liked the idea of recording a whole album in a day. So I tried it, and I ended up recording my first one-man band CD in about 3 hours. And it sounds horrible. Then a couple months later I recorded ďJungle Beat StompĒ which took me about a week to record. Itís a little better than the first one. I guess. I donít really play songs off those CDís anymore.
TB: What do you record on?
Jeff: Itís just a Tascam 424 mkIII 4-track. Itís real basic, and you can record live on all 4 tracks, so it works well for my one-man band stuff. I use to record stuff in my bedroom, but now I record most stuff in my garage. I also record some stuff on an old boombox. Iíve gotten offers to record at places with better equipment, but I like recording my one-man band stuff myself.
TB: How much stuff do you have recorded? Rumor has it you recorded something like 28 albums worth of stuff in one year, including a cover of the entire first VU record?
Jeff: Well I have a ton of 4-track stuff recorded, but most of its not one-man band stuff. Itís old weird bedroom band shit from when I was 16. I had nothing better to do, so Iíd just record a new album every other week or so for about a year straight. For a while, I was writing around 20 songs a week. Most of that stuff sucks though. No one needs to hear it, but that Velvet Underground record was interesting. It was the first album I recorded on my 4-track. I recorded the whole thing on a Sunday afternoon. I had never really played any of those songs before, so I had to learn each song, and then I overdub all the different parts. I actually broke a bottle for that part at the beginning of ďEuropean Son,Ē and I still havenít gotten all the glass out of the carpet in my bedroom.
TB: What are some covers you do live? I've heard you did the entire Persuaders LP once? Cheater Slicks?
Jeff: For some reason I kept playing Persuaders songs on that tour I did in March. I never played the whole LP or anything, but I do know most of the songs. Iím planning on recording either ďAinít Your DaddyĒ or ďLas Vegas (High Stakes)Ē for this 10Ē thatís going to come out on Perpetrator Records. Iíve played ďMurderĒ at a lot of shows, and when I played at Goner last summer, I did an extended version of ďThinkiní Some More.Ē I donít know what I was thinking. I think Eric or Zac might have recorded that show, so Iíd be interested to hear it.
TB: When is the LP set to be released?
TB: What kind of gear/kit do you use as one-man band?
Jeff: Itís coming out this summer on P. Trash Records in Germany. I put out an advance CD-R version of it on Sonic Assault with a bonus track thatís not going to be on the LP, but I only made 32 copies with two different covers. Hopefully Peter will have the LP will be out in time for the tour later this summer.
Jeff: A bass drum, snare drum, ride cymbal, and guitar. I play the bass drum with my right foot and the snare drum with my left foot, and then I hold a drumstick in my right hand and hit the ride cymbal while I strum the guitar. Iíve tried several different set ups and contraptions in the past, but this set up has worked the best. As for the guitars, I like to use old cheap catalog guitars from the 60ís. You can still find them fairly cheap around west Tennessee. I only paid 100 dollars for my Airline.
TB: You recently did a Southern tour, how'd that go? Did you find any good bands we should know about?
Jeff: That tour actually went really well. Thanks to Rich Evans for setting it up. I was really surprised. Most of the shows were great, especially in Orlando at Willís Pub. The best band I played with was probably the Hex Tremors. Theyíre from Orlando, but we ended up playing several shows together in East Tennessee. The Hibachi Stranglers in Mobile and the Buttercups in Orlando were really good. Plus I ended up playing a show with Eric Apneasí band the Boos in Gainesville. Eric had almost died a couple days before that when he had slipped on some mustard and fell on some glass. He cut his wrist up pretty bad, so he wasnít able to play drums in Quest For Fire, but he still played bass in the Boos.
TB: Any plans of touring further and getting around the country more?
Jeff: Defiantly, I working on it right now, Rich is helping me set up some stuff. Weíre going to try to do a Rat Traps/one-man band tour in July. We want to hit the Midwest, and the East Coast, and maybe play some shows in Montreal. Then we want to play around the south and head back down to Florida for some shows at the end of the summer.
TB: Final question: What's wrong with kids and their musical tastes these days? How can we steer the youth of today towards non-mainstream music and keep the kids out of Hot Topic?
Jeff: I donít know. Thatís a hard question. I donít really hang out with anyone my own age. Iím just lucky that my older sister was always turning me on to good music.
Contact Jeff at:
Sonic Assault Records
402 North Ave
Henderson, TN 38340
Interview by Rich Kroneiss
OMB pics by April Novak and Jeanie Peaden
Rat Traps pic by Jemina Pearl
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