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vol 6 - issue 02 (oct 2003) :: interviews
THE SLACKERS' VIC RUGGIERO
interview and image by vinnie baggadonuts

NOT A DAY GOES BY THAT I DON'T PLAY A SLACKERS RECORD. I'M HOOKED. NINE YEARS AGO, I HEARD A SONG CALLED "SISTER, SISTER", AND HAVEN'T STOPPED LISTENING SINCE. RECORD AFTER RECORD, THEY TRUMP THEIR PREVIOUS EFFORTS, EXCELLING BOTH AS MUSICIANS AND SONGWRITERS. AND SEEING THEM LIVE IS SOME OF THE BEST FUN YOU'LL EVER HAVE. I'VE SEEN THEM FILL AN EMPTY DANCE FLOOR IN A MATTER OF MINUTES. AND STANDING AT THE MICROPHONE, POUNDING THE KEYS, AND SINGING THE STORIES, IS THE ONE AND ONLY VIC RUGGIERO.

Vinnie: The new record is beautiful, man.

Vic: Aw, thanks, man. Iím glad you like it. Itís a little more rocksteady.

V: Yeah, but I really dug that. And itís pretty heavy, too, as far as subject matter goes. Itís a really sad record.

V: Yeah. (laughing) It is.

V: I mean, I thought Wasted Days was sad in a heartbreak sort of way. But Close My Eyes is pretty overwhelming, talking about the whole world.

V: Well, I didnít intend it to be too sad, but itís supposed to not be-- we didnít want to put out a party record. And I know a lot of people are right now. Thatís what you do when thereís confusion: everybody puts out party records. But we figured with this, itís more like in the 1960s, where music reflected what was going on. So thatís kinda what weíre trying to do. My comment, politically, is to say, ďWeíre aware of things.Ē

V: And I think that you hit on a lot of emotions and reactions people are having, too.

V: Iím glad you got that out of it, man.

V: Now, Iíve read (Jack Kerouacís) Visions of Gerard, and when I saw the quote you use in the album, it changed the way I perceived the music. The book and the album are really similar. But knowing that you read the book, and had the book in mind, it made the songs seem more innocent.

V: Yeah.

V: Thatís one of my favorite books heís written.

V: I know. Itís beautiful, right?

V: Yeah. Toward the end, when Gerard starts dying, and heís talking about the world and everything thatís happening, it all seems more innocent, because itís coming from him, this little child. And when I saw the connection, the album took on a whole new attitude.

V: It was funny because when I was reading that book Iíd actually never really gotten into Kerouac too much.

V: Really?

V: A little bit. Iíd read his poetry and stuff. Then I was reading a bunch of his books and I was like, ďOh. I really like this.Ē I like the way he says things in a way thatís not judgmental, you know? Itís not preachy.

V: Yeah.

V: Iíd read his stuff and think, ďYeah. Thatís definitely the feel Iím trying to go for.Ē And when I ran across that paragraph (in Visions of Gerard), it was perfect, you know? I was like, ďOh, man-- ĎI close my eyes, it all goes away.íĒ Even if you continue on that page-- I forget where else it is-- but it says all this other shit like, ďI close my eyes, thereís no Mama, thereís no Papa.Ē Itís all this stuff that heíd listed, but it was too much to put on one little panel. (laughs) Man, Iím glad you liked it. I was afraid I was going too over-the-top, you know? (laughs)

V: Itís weird that you say youíd never really read a lot of his stuff before. Even on your solo record, he seemed like an influence on you, just in the way that youíd word things.

V: I always felt that, with him, I relate to the way he puts things, his phrases. But, up until recently, Iíd never read a good amount of his work. I just kinda flipped through things. I kinda like to do that, though. If I like the way somebody does something, Iíll just check it out a little bit at first, and then Iíll try and copy it. (laughs) But without knowing it too well, I donít really copy it, you know what I mean?

V: Yeah.

V: If something really turns me on, Iíll just tilt my head for a minute and get some inspiration. But I donít read too much of it, you know? You donít want to copy stuff.

V: Yeah. You donít want his style to become your style, too.

V: Right. Youíre just like, ďOh, wow. Thatís interesting.Ē And then you run from it so that it doesnít influence you too much. But I felt like it was time for me to read things like On the Road. And I was like, ďIím glad I never read On the Road before I went on the road.

Both: (laugh)

V: You know what I mean? Because I would have felt like I was always looking at that. And instead, I wrote my own, you know? But I love his stuff now. My girlfriend got me into it. She was like, ďDude, you gotta read this.Ē

V: Then ...Gerard didnít really influence too much of the songwriting on the album?

V: Well, the songwriting is more about where Iím at, and where the bandís at. You know, books like that are circulating around the band, and it kinda fits in with the attitude weíre in right now. Thereís a lot of reflective stuff. Itís funny, the books that get passed around in the band at different times you know? Sometimes itís all Star Wars books; other times itís Beat writers. Itís weird. (laughs) But I felt like Visions of Gerard really reflected the feelings of the band. And I love that book, because it is so pure. I see it as being smoky. Itís this smoky, kinda wintery thing.

V: Exactly!

V: It gives you this kind of feeling. And youíre like, ďI would love to do something like this, but I donít write books.Ē (laughs)

V: Well, I think you did something close to it with the song ďMommyĒ.

V: Yeah.

V: That just seems so personal, lyrically. And musically, it builds up this feel like everythingís happening so fast. ďMommyĒ just picks you up, carries you off, and tells you this story about how youíre feeling. Then it leaves you to reflect. And I just felt like, ďDamn, that sucks. Iím sorry.Ē

V: But itís also optimistic. I try to be optimistic, you know? I canít really get my feelings out, except through playing. In the rest of life, Iím handicapped.

Both: (laugh)

V: So, with as nuts as the worldís been, have you been more productive than normal? Supposedly, people are more creative and productive when it happens-- when thereís confusion.

V: Well, like Dave (Hillyard), for example. Dave writes more when thereís confusion. So Dave has more of an input on this album because of that. He was pretty close to the whole 9/11 thing because of his wife. She works right down there. We were away in Europe at the time, and it was like, ďAw, shit!Ē Our new drummer, heís real close to that.

V: Ara?

V: Yeah, Ara. He has a crazy story about that. He worked on one of the floors that got totally annihilated. And he had quit his job two weeks before. He says, ďMusic saved my life. Literally.Ē (chuckles)

V: Thatís insane.

V: So thereís definitely that presence on the album. When the world gets all shook up, everybody wants to get something solid they can hold on to. Thatís when things get turned up, and you definitely start to get more creative. I had personal things going on, too, around that time. Like with my mother, and my father,.. other shit. So, for me, there was sort of this apocalypse happening. (laughs)

V: So, what was it like being away from your home, and seeing it all become this huge catastrophe, but from a distance?

V: Well, see, I was actually back home. I had taken a couple of weeks off because my mother was really sick. So I was actually home at the time it all happened. And I remember trying to get in touch with the band, to let them know what was going on, because I figured they had to have been bugging out. They were just stuck over there in Europe, like, ďWhat happened?Ē They just turned on the news after a gig. Iím trying to think what time it was. Because, for us, it was early in the morning. There, for them, it was really late at night. They were just freaking out, you know? Like, ďHoly shit!Ē They were in Germany, thatís where they were. And they said people were offering them their phones to call home. It was one of those things that made everybody feel like, ďAw, shit,Ē you know?

V: Do you feel like what the bandís doing takes on an even more significant purpose?

V: Yeah. Well, we always felt that, as artists, we have a responsibility to keep people open-minded. Man, we were in Florida right before the last presidential elections. (laughs) We were begging everybody, ďGo out and vote!Ē And we had no idea what was actually gonna go down.

Both: (laugh)

V: But we just made sure wherever we went, you know, to remind people to go out and vote. Youíre a part of the future, and you should be able to decide this shit. And of all the ironies, I couldnít figure out how to vote on the road. It was too disorganized to try and get an absentee ballot. But to have Florida be the one state that everybodyís worried about, we really felt like, "Well, at least we did our part." We knew New York was going Democrat. And we were there, in Florida, campaigning for our side. We had to preach, man, you know?

Both: (laugh)

V: You know, I think the last Skandalous All-Stars album you did (Age of Insects), and Close My Eyes, and even Da Whole Thing album are all very similar in what theyíre addressing.

V: Yeah.

V: Do you look back on recording with Da Whole Thing and the Skandalous All-Stars and think, ďMan, if I only knew then what was going to happen,...Ē

V: (laughs) I donít know, man. My mind is always over there. Weíre always thinking about that stuff. With that Age of Insects record-- that one was just because the millennium was turning. Those songs were like, ďYeah, man. Apocalypse.Ē I wanted to call that record My Own Private Apocalypse. (laughs) Like My Own Private Idaho. And, the record company just kinda took it into their own hands. (laughs) They did their own thing. Man, those are good records. Iím glad you know those, because Da Whole Thing is one of my favorite recording sessions of my life. I always feel with that record,.. man, it never even got printed. Itís just online.

V: I donít even know how I came across it. I just found it, bought it, emailed Patrick (Carayannis), and we kinda became friends. He told me a story about some piano improv you did that wasnít on the online version of the album.

V: Oh, thereís a bunch of stuff. You know, me and Chris Murray, whenever we meet up with each other, we still do this tune off that record, ďThe Worldís About MeĒ.

V: Yeah?

V: We do that every time we play together. And that record,.. Patrick wouldnít let anybody do overdubs.

V: Really?

V: Yeah. He wanted me to play all these different things, right? But I couldnít do any overdubs. So, I had about five or six keyboards set up around me at one time.

V: So you had to jump around from keyboard to keyboard?

V: Yeah. I was boxed in, like one of those Ď80s keyboard players. (laughs) Except my equipment is falling apart from playing over the years. So I have this monstrosity of keyboards that are all falling apart. And I only have two hands, so I had to be very organized about my parts. And it was great because I realized that I donít always get my own way.

V: Man, that record is amazing. Victor Rice was saying he doesnít think the worldís ready for it. (laughs)

V: Man, that was one of the best weeks of my life. Patrick, man,.. heís ahead of trends. Heís got his arms around things. Guys like that is where I try and take my inspiration from. With The Slackers, of course, Iím nervous to sing about my mother. I donít like to let people in real close sometimes. But a guy like Patrick, he ainít afraid to say anything. Patrick actually has more to lose than a lot of people. He lived the straight life for a long time, you know? He was a regular guy. To be a banker, you know, and then be a freak avant garde musician-- to live that duality, thatís risky. Guys like that change my whole perception of what Iím doing.

V: Do you get nervous singing about certain things? Is it hard to play that stuff live? Do you get nervous about how the crowdís gonna react?

V: Well, you know, everything is personal. Some things are just more obvious. I was more nervous presenting it to the band. Like, ďIím gonna lay some heavy shit on you. Tell me if you think itís cool.Ē And theyíre good, man. Theyíre like, ďDude, why you even got to ask?Ē (laughs) Some of those things, I feel like theyíre just my own. With other things, itís okay to share them. You know, youíre supposed to share all that stuff-- the stuff that makes you feel completely uncomfortable.

V: Really?

V: I think so. William Burroughs says if you like something you write, you should immediately throw it out. But the other stuff that you think is horrible, you have to wait. You have to sit on that, because years down the line you'll read it and go, ďWow. That was it!Ē Itís got to feel bad when you get it out. Like vomiting, you know? (laughs)

V: Itís like that with art, too. Artists I know will make something and think itís terrible. But people around them will see it and say, ďOh my God. Thatís amazing.Ē I just think that the people who make it have a hard time seeing it for what it really is.

V: Yeah. Because youíre close to it. Like, some guy last night was telling me he liked Wasted Days. And Wasted Days was a time for me that was really bad. Sure, the world is a bit confused nowadays, and things have really gotten weird, but when I was making Wasted Days, man, I was really unhealthy. So, to have people tell me they think that record is beautiful, I think to myself, ďGod, I really donít see things for what they are.Ē Because, to me, that record sounds like it came from an insane person, you know? (laughs) And when I think back to it, I kinda wonder what the band was thinking!

V: Do you get a lot of people asking you what certain songs mean?

V: Yes and no. Itís about half-and-half.

V: Reason I ask is, when Wasted Days came out, I dug ďThe NurseĒ. Lyrically, there were so many metaphors going on. I thought it was a great song just for that reason. But then I listened to it, and thought, ďYou know, it seems like thereís something really sad going on.Ē

V: Yeah,.. ďThe NurseĒ is like a ďdonít fuck with meĒ song. I wrote that the day after my 28th birthday. Or the day of. It was kinda like ďHey, Iím grown up now. Donít fuck with me.Ē At 28 years old, I felt that I could now say whatever the fuck I wanted.

Both: (laugh)

V: Do you think that youíll be doing this forever?

V: I hope so.

V: I just wondered if there was a point where you could see yourself moving on and doing something else.

V: I donít know. I thought about being a cop for a while.

Both: (laugh)

V: Hey, itís good work if youíre used to getting attention. I mean, whatís closest to a guy in a band? A cop!

Both: (laugh)

V: I gotta hear this.

V: Well, you get to talk to girls; itís a job thatís half fun, half complete shit; you get to spend your days dressed up funny; you get free drinks.

V: (laughing) So, with this tour, is there gonna be anything new or different about it?

V: Yeah. Weíre playing two sets most nights. We decided that after playing Europe so many times where they let us play for two hours a night; we decided weíre going to force our will on America and make them let us play longer. Weíre tired of being shut up. (laughs) So thatís gonna be the new Slackers thing: play longer. You know, I hope people really like this record, because itís a sweet sounding record. It sounds old.

V: Yeah, it does sound old. Like the production work you did on the Fireproof record, with Sister Nancy.

V: Yeah, that was the same studio! That studio has a beautiful sound. Thatís the place where I got to take all the things I learned over the years and make them happen. That place is important to me, and Iím glad you like it.

V: It doesnít sound slick or overproduced. It sounds like you guys are in a room playing together. Which, I think, is really good.

V: Itís so hard to capture that. And you realize it when you listen to the Rolling Stones. You realize how great they are live, because they sound like that on their records.

V: Okay, now, I have one last question for you. We ask everybody this question. Do dogs have lips?

V: (laughing) Uh,.. yeah, dogs have some lips there, donít they? Big furry lips. (laughing) Right where the whiskers come out. It's kind of like their mustache. That counts as lips, I think.

V: So, they have a dog mustache?

V: Yeah. Their whiskers are like their dog mustaches.

V: Did you want to plug anything before you go? Like Little Blue Pills?

V: Yeah! Thatís my side project. Thatís really going good lately. Iím gonna try and record that soon.

V: Cool.

V: We also did The Slackers and Friends--

V: --Thatís a damn good record, too.

V: I hope it gets a little bit of attention. That would do it justice. Itís one of my favorite things Iíve ever done, and it was done at the same studio with all these great singers like Cornell Campbell, and Congo Roy from The Congos. Glen Adams, one of my fuckiní idols. Heís the organ player from The Upsetters-- one of my heroes.

V: How did you arrange that record?

V: Well, there are as many Jamaicans here in New York as there are in Jamaica. And all these reggae singers live in Brooklyn, so weíd run into them and get to talking. Next thing you know, we talk them into coming into the studio. (laughs) Man, that record is really good. I hope that somebody picks it up-- a good distributor. We have a really good distributor in Europe. I just hope people get aware of it, because that record is The Slackers doing exactly what theyíve always wanted to do-- be a great backing band.

V: And it doesnít sound like, ďHey, hereís this weird band playing with these old singers.Ē It really fits together well.

V: Yeah. We just want to keep that music going. The people on that record are the reason we do it. Those guys made such good music, and we just want to be a part of that.

A NOTE FROM VINNIE: At this point the recorder stopped, because our intern left another large interview file on the digital recorder. Fortunately, what was cut out was short. Vic talked about a forthcoming record where The Slackers serve as backing band for the infamous Chris Murray.

VISIT VIC AND THE GANG HERE.

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