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vol 6 - issue 05 (jan 2004) :: untapped
UNTAPPED TALENT: CAN KICKERS
interview by vinnie baggadonuts

TAKE THREE GUYS WITH A LOVE FOR OLD-TIME MOUNTAIN MUSIC, ADD PLENTY OF D.I.Y. SPIRIT, AND INCLUDE A GENUINE PASSION FOR JUST PLAIN PLAYING MUSIC TOGETHER. DO THE MATH RIGHT, AND YOU HAVE THE ORIGINAL NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, CONNECTICUT'S OWN CAN KICKERS. VINNIE SOMEHOW MANAGED TO TAKE A PHONE CONVERSATION WITH ALL THREE MEMBERS, AND TRANSCRIBE IT INTO ONE OF THE MOST FUN INTERVIEWS HE'S EVER DONE.

Doug: (to both Dans) Can you guys hear, dude?

Dan Thompson: Yup.

Dan Spurr: Present.

Vinnie: Okay. It’s cool that we get to do this, because everyone here’s obsessed with Mountain Dudes. Wayne thinks it’s one of the best records he heard all year.

DS: Damn!

V: Not that that means anything in the world.

All: (laugh)

D: (to someone on the other end) What? Wait, dude, can you pull that door down?

DT: (to Doug) It’s kinda cool not being in the room with you, but still talking to you.

All: (laugh)

D: Yeah, so, as you can see, we live together. (laughs) Wait, so you guys are from Milwaukee, right?

V: Yeah, we’re in Milwaukee. We used to be in Columbus. That’s how we knew Rancid Yak Butter.

D: Oh, yeah. Nice. Those guys are awesome.

V: Tyler (Rancid Yak Butter singer) is so quiet when you meet him--

D: --but onstage he’s like, “RAAAAA!”

V: (laughs) Yeah!

D: They played with, do you know Wigglepussy, Indiana?

V: Yeah.

D: Yeah, they split the stage with them. They’d play one song, and then the other band would play a song.

V: When I read your book, you talked about hanging out at The Bucket-- Wigglepussy’s rehearsal space.

D: Yeah, yeah!

V: It was so weird reading that, not being in that town anymore, ‘cause we just moved up here.

D: Really?

V: Yeah.

D: Those guys are cool. They invited us to play a party there, but we couldn’t do it. We live too far away.

All: (laugh)

V: So, the tours you wrote about in Making Good Time, were those the first few tours you’d done?

D: That was the first long tour, and then we did two short tours. We just went on a huge tour again.

V: Oh, really?

D: Yeah. We just got back. (to the Dans) When did we get back? November?

DT: Yeah. November.

D: We’re home all winter, pretty much, and then we’re going to Ireland.

V: Holy shit! That’s pretty awesome. How did that happen?

D: Well, on the first big tour we did, we met two kids named Willie and Natalya. They lived in Dublin. They booked it for us. We didn’t even have to do any work.

V: Damn!

D: Yeah. And, supposedly, we got an email from Bono from U2 yesterday. I’m sure it’s someone just messing around.

All: (laugh)

D: It says, “Hey! This is Bono Vox from U2.” (to the Dans) What does it say? Like, “I can’t wait for you guys to come to Ireland.”

DT: Yeah. “Are you planning on coming to Ireland? I can’t wait to hear your music.”

V: (laughs) That’s awesome! You guys will be on the next Zoo TV tour.

D: (laughs) I’m pretty sure it’s fake, dude.

V: So, are you playing Irish pubs over there, or what?

DT: Actually, we have no idea. He mentioned something about record stores.

D: Yeah. I think some colleges, too, to get big checks.

DT: I would expect it to be fairly underground, just because of the context in which we met Willie.

D: Yeah. We met him at a space in New Orleans.

V: Do you guys feel like rock stars now that you have someone else booking some of your shows?

DT: (laughs) Not really.

D: (laughs) We’re still poor. We’re basically just going over there to have fun. It’s not like we’re trying to get big or anything.

DT: Yeah. We’re not like, (in snooty voice) “Oh God. They’re dragging us to Ireland.”

All: (laugh)

D: (sarcastically) “God, we have to go there again?”

DS: (sighing) “I’m so sick of touring.”

All: (laugh)

V: Do you guys want it to get to a point where you can make a living just playing music?

DT: Well, at least part of a living.

D: (laughs) Yeah.

DT: How about, “Make some money!” (laughs) I mean, you can’t make a living working most of the jobs out there.

V: Yeah.

D: I don’t know. A band that we know that kinda does that is the Hackensaw Boys. Have you ever heard of them?

V: Did they do a tour with Cake a few summers ago?

DT: Yeah.

D: They’re really cool. They stayed with us a couple times.

DT: They pretty much make a living-- a meager living.

D: They make about a thousand bucks a month, each.

DT: But they tour all the time.

D: I was asking them about it, and they’re on the road between three and seven days of the week.

V: Wow! So, I gotta ask this out of sheer curiosity-- what got you into the type of music that you play?

DS: My parents were into country dancing and old New England-style fiddling, so I was exposed to that.

DT: That’s not what you said last time.

V: (laughs)

DS: Oh,.. the part about the aliens? It’s all lies.

D: (laughs) The part about aliens?

DS: And they had old Pete Seeger records and stuff, so that’s how I got to playing the banjo. And when you talk to people, they tell you, “You should listen to this or that.” Then you just sort of get into that whole world of old-time music.

D: And it is a whole world. (laughs)

V: Is it hard to find?

D: What’s that?

V: Is it hard to find? Because, for me, this last year has introduced me to musicians who are either inspired by it, or actually play it. But it doesn’t seem all that accessible in record stores.

DS: Yeah, it’s really not. I mean, you can get stuff from different distributors.

D: You can get it, but if you just walk into a record store, it’s kinda hard to find.

DT: Unless it’s a really big store that has everything.

DS: And there are specialty places. Stores that sell old-time instruments will sell recordings, sometimes. The Internet is probably the easiest way to get stuff.

DT: It’s more accessible now, because a lot of it used to only be available on vinyl. Now they’re rereleasing a lot of it on CD.

D: Smithsonian Folkways always has a lot of stuff. Rounder Records has some other stuff. County Records.

DS: How’d you get into old-time music, Dan Thompson?

DT: Oh! Glad you asked. (laughs)

V: (laughs)

DT: Well, it mostly happened just from hanging around Daniel Spurr. He was into it from his parents listening to old music.

DS: With the aliens.

DT: (laughs) Yeah! I don’t know. I think I got into it just because I liked playing the fiddle, and I don’t really play any other instruments.

D: Except the skinflute.

All: (laugh)

DT: I also went to an old-time festival with Danny, got a fiddle on the Internet, and started playing it. I like hanging out and drinking and playing fiddles.

D: It’s a pretty social kind of music.

[LOUD, INEXPLICABLE BEEPING INTERRUPTS US BRIEFLY.]

DT: Yeah. You’re not playing a game, and you’re not talking or watching TV. It’s a very different thing that you can do with people. It’s a different sort of experience. It’s very personal--

[LOUD BEEPING HAPPENS AGAIN.]

DT: --to be involved in it, rather than just observing it. When I’m just observing people jamming, I don’t know what to do with myself. (laughs)

[LOUD BEEPING HAPPENS YET AGAIN.]

D: That beeping might be my stupid phone card.

DT: It just wants to participate. (laughs)

[BEEPING CONTINUES.]

V: Do you want me to call you guys back?

D: Yeah. Do you mind?

V: No. That’s totally cool. Just wait right there.

[VINNIE HANGS UP AND REDIALS.]

V: Okay. You guys there?

D: We’re back.

[LOUD BEEPING CONTINUES.]

D: Aw, it’s still beeping! Hey, Dan. Hang up your phone.

[DAN SPURR HANGS UP HIS PHONE.]

D: Hey, Vinnie. You still there?

V: Yeah.

[LOUD BEEPING CONTINUES.]

D: Ah! Crap. Hold on one second.

[AFTER MUCH PHONE CHANGING, IT IS DISCOVERED THAT ONLY TWO OF THEM CAN BE ON THE PHONE AT ONCE. THE INTERVIEW RESUMES WITH DOUG, AND DAN THOMPSON.]

D: Minor setback. Sorry about that.

V: I think something like this happens on almost every interview I do lately. It’s always something; someone’s phone dies, or they forget to call. There was one interview I did with Jolie Holland, and the recorder wasn’t even on for half of it.

D: Aw, man!

V: It was such an awesome conversation, too-- as close as I’ll ever come to journalism.

All: (laugh)

V: Alright, so give me a little bit of Can Kicker history.

D: We started in 2000, right? Early 2000. We haven’t been together that long. We got together, and a few months later, you went to North Carolina to work on a farm.

DT: It was, like, Fall of 2000.

D: Yeah, I guess it was. We played this really big punk show. We played with The Dictators and The Liars and The Fleshtones. It was one of our first shows. What? (to Dan Spurr who is away from the phone) Huh? Oh, you’re right. I’m full of crap, dude. We’d been playing for three or four months, then we played that show, then Danny went to North Carolina to work on an organic farm for six months. And then he came back and we started playing again. Then we went on our first tour-- a week long tour down South, in the Spring of 2002. We’ve only really been touring for two years, I guess. We’ve played about 200 shows in the past two years.

DT: You can count them. They’re all on our website. (laughs)

V: It’s kind of fascinating to me that you play the music you do, but don’t play with any country or old-time bands.

D: (laughs) That’s ‘cause I do most of the booking, and the only shows I know how to book are punk shows. But we have been playing a lot of different stuff lately. I think we go over better at punk shows.

DT: It’s mainly the drums. Like, I mentioned to a fiddler I knew that we were playing at a certain rock club, and he was like, "Yeah, I wanted to play there once with my band, but we didn’t have drums." I mean, it transforms it a bit. It gives it volume, too.

V: I think it’s cool that you aren’t just playing for folk audiences. You play for anyone, even in the street.

D: Oh, that’s so much fun, to go busking.

DT: You’re in a new city--

D: --and you don’t know anybody. People come up to you--

DT: --they often think you’re local street musicians.

D: Yeah. It’s especially fun when we’re down South, like Nashville, and people will ask, “Are you guys from around here?” And we’ll tell ‘em, you know, “We’re from Connecticut.” They’re always like, “What the fuck?” One time we were playing out in front of a hockey arena in Nashville, and a drunk guy gave us a whole plate of chicken wings. Every time he leaned over, he’d put another dollar into the case. (laughs)

V: So, then, you guys obviously like playing together.

D: Oh, yeah.

V: Are you guys trying to tour as much as possible now that you’ve done a huge tour?

D: We could be touring more.

DT: “As much as possible” tends to be, like, 1% of the time. But without any of the usual limiting factors, yeah, we try and tour as much as possible.

[DAN THOMPSON BEGINS TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT CHEMISTRY, WHICH VINNIE CAN'T UNDERSTAND ENOUGH TO TYPE, BECAUSE HE'S EXTREMELY UNINTELLIGENT.]

D: I got a “D” in chemistry, so I’m gonna excuse myself from this part of the interview. (laughs)

V: Yeah. Me too. (laughs)

D: We’re probably the worst band to interview.

V: Ah, this will make it way more fun than a boring and straightforward interview.

DT: What’s the worst band you ever interviewed?

V: I can’t think of one.

DT: Maybe the most negative interaction you ever had?

V: Hmmm,..

D: We’re all hanging on, like, “Come on! Dish us the dirt!” (laughs)

V: I think mine tend to go pretty well.

DT: Have you ever interviewed Frank Black?

V: No.

DT: Danny Spurr did. Wait-- let him talk about it for a second.

[DAN SPURR GETS BACK ON THE PHONE.]

DS: Hey! Yeah, there were actually three or four of us interviewing him at once, but we only had one set of headphones, so we’d ask our question, and then pass it quickly. We had no idea what he was saying because we couldn’t hear it.

All: (laugh)

DS: He’d start singing, and then he’d go on about AAA, and how they screwed him over. Just a little tangent there.

V: There was one time I interviewed Frank Kozik. I don’t know if you know him. He’s a really famous poster artist. Everyone I talked to was like, “He’s the biggest dick. He’s just gonna make you feel like shit.” But, honestly, he was the nicest person in the world! He called back and wanted more issues of tastes like chicken, so he could show people. He was great. (laughs) Have you guys done other interviews?

DS: We’ve done a few.

V: Have they been way more structured than this?

All: (laugh)

D: Maybe just the radio ones, because you’re doing it for a lot of people who are listening in. Whereas, here, the only people listening are the government.

All: (laugh)

V: You ain’t kiddin’! So, you put out Mountain Dudes on your own, right?

D: Yeah.

V: Are you interested in getting picked up by a distributor?

D: I actually just talked to our guy a few minutes ago. Basically, we pay a set amount of money, and he pays a set amount. Then he takes the CDs and is responsible to get them out to two- or three-hundred college radio stations, and a few record stores. And we’ll get a bunch of copies to sell to make the money back.

V: Will you send it out to other record labels to try and get signed?

DS: Maybe. I mean, we’re not so worried about that.

D: We’re pretty happy putting stuff out ourselves. I mean, if a label wanted to pick us up, and it was a good deal, sure. We’d do it. But we’ve heard of a lot of people who have gotten screwed over, and we’re not necessarily trying to be too professional about this.

DS: We’re just more worried about distribution.

V: Honestly, that would be cool, because if I could turn on MTV and see you guys right after Beyonce,...

D: Oh, man. (laughs)

V: My whole thing is, I’d love to have music like you guys replace music like that.

D: Yeah. Commercial radio is crap right now. It’s so terrible. I do like that one Outkast song.

V: “Hey Ya!”

D: Yeah. But everything else is shite.

V: You know, a lot of the stuff I’m asking you guys, I kinda can tell the answers already. Like asking you guys if you have fun playing together. I kinda figured you did, because your disc just sounds like you enjoy it.

D: That’s what most people tend to say about us.

DS: And it always seems like even if they don’t like the music, they at least had a good time.

D: When I go to a show, I want to have fun. And a lot of bands right now just take themselves so damn seriously.

All: (laugh)

V: As you toured, did you notice that the crowds that were into you were getting bigger?

DS: Yeah, definitely.

D: The coolest thing is, we played Pittsburgh, came back four months later, and these two kids who saw us started their own old-time band.

V: Awesome.

D: I think that’s the coolest thing that’s happened to us. Old-time music is getting more popular among punk kids, and other younger people who are sick of a lot of what’s out there. I think the punk kids like the communal aspect of it. We do a lot of house shows, you know. That’s the way to go. Some of our best shows have been warehouse or co-op spaces.

V: Are you guys itching to get back and make another record?

D: We’re more of a live band.

V: Yeah?

DS: I think we’re gonna be making a 7”. A friend of ours wants to do a split with us. But we’re not really itching to put out a new album.

D: We just put out Mountain Dudes pretty recently. It’s getting re-pressed, too.

V: And you guys are going back on tour again in the Spring?

D: We’re going to Ireland next month.

DS: And we might do a small tour in New England in June. We should probably play New England more.

D: (laughs) We’ve never played Providence, and it’s 45 minutes from our house! We’ve played in 33 states, but not there. We’re not in the club scene, and up here, it’s really club scene-oriented. And we can draw a crowd, but it’s still hard for us to get shows up here. When bands ask us for help, it’s tough.

DS: It’s getting easier.

V: Just out of curiosity, did you intend for the book to be a book, or was it just a journal for you?

D: In the back of my mind, it was always sort of there, that intention.

V: Well, I liked reading it, because I get to live my rock star fantasies vicariously through you. And it wasn’t like reading Bono’s journal, even though I know you guys are good friends now.

All: (laugh)

V: It wasn’t like, “Oh, I took the Bono jet out to New York. Darn, I had to sign autographs for six hours at a Virgin Megastore.”

DS: You could see yourself doing it.

D: What, signing autographs at the Virgin Megastore?

All: (laugh)

DS: No. I mean, like, traveling, and eating cheap Mexican food, and having no money.

V: Exactly. I could totally relate.

D: And it’s really cool how many friends you make touring. You can just call them up to get a show instead of doing the thing where you have to send a CD, and be like, “Hi. I’m Doug. I play washboard and drums with the Can Kickers, and blah, blah, blah.” (laughs)

V: Alright. Well, I hope you’re prepared for this. I have one last question for you guys: Do dogs have lips?

D: No.

DS: Yes.

D: Ask Thompson. He would know.

DS: I will. (to Dan Thompson) Hey, Dan-- do dogs have lips?

DT: (in the background) They have gums.

All: (laugh)

DS: Yes. They have lips.

D: That’s the final answer?

DS: That’s the final answer.

D: Okay.

DS: And gums,.. and teeth.

All: (laugh)

DS: I wonder if it depends on the dog?

D: But why would a dog not have lips?

DS: Well, what’s a “lip”?

D: Yeah. How do you define “lip”?

V: Man, you’re turning it into philosophy, now.

DS: I don’t know. I’ve met people that don’t have lips.

D: What-- they’ve just got gums?

All: (laugh)

DS: No. But the typically bulbous, fleshy lip part is just kinda flat. So there’s just kind of an edge to their mouth.

V: Maybe that’s what it is-- dogs just have an “edge”.

All: (laugh)

D: Dogs just have an edge.

All: (laugh)

DS: But you can talk about the lip like “the lip of a cliff”. The lip is the cliff’s edge.

D: Man, this is getting deep.

GET YOUR CAN KICKED HERE.


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