When someone inevitably writes an oral history of L.A. punk rock venue The Smell, many of the members of Foot Village will play an integral role in the discussion.
The Foot Village characters have been in so many other bands and noise projects (both short-lived and enduring) that their individual influence on L.A.’s punk rock scene is immeasurable. After the breakups, fizzling outs or failings of their respective bands, Brian Miller, Grace Lee, Josh Taylor and Dan Rowan decided to start a band simply out of drums and Miller’s and Lee’s lunatic ravings. (Recently, Matt Loveridge from beak> also joined the crew.)
Foot Village releases their fourth album, Make Memories today on Northern Spy Records. In advance of the release, I sent various questions over to the band, which were primarily answered by Miller. I’d talk more about the release, but I reviewed it for Geek’s April/May issue and I don’t like being redundant. However, Miller recently joked that the band was part of the burgeoning “Grunge 2” genre. Take that for what you will.
Geek: Your music, being a drum circle, has a very primeval feel to it. But the screaming clearly sounds born of punk, which feels born of urban environs. Can you talk about the band’s relationship to the past, present and future?
Brian Miller: I hate to start an interview sounding contrary, but I just want to take issue with the phrase “drum circle”. While we are physically just drums, arranged roughly in a circle-shape, that term seems to me to be more about improvisation and the idea that there is no audience, just participants. Neither of those essential “drum circle” elements apply to us. We write songs that audience members are not supposed to jam along with.
That out of the way, I feel most rooted artistically in the music that first excited me to play in the ‘90s. Bands like Babes In Toyland, Huggy Bear, and, of course, Nirvana. The sense of ecstasy, the huge blistering sound, and the sense of openness are what I feel as a member of Foot Village. Four drummers really sets things on fire and is fucking huge and raw. While the lack of other instruments may seem like an experimental move to many, it is an experiment we long ago finished and have moved on to just developing and refining. We haven’t really done much that questions the rock status quo since that initial move.
Your album art from the last three albums seems to echo the past/present vibe as well. Can you talk about the relationship between nudity and Foot Village?
B.M.: With the narrative theme of our first three albums, we wanted fantasy novel cover art. But we don’t know/can’t afford fancy painters. We also didn’t know what type of clothes would make sense. So we said fuck it, let them be nude. Plus, it was an excuse to have male nudity on the art, which is so rarely done. With the new album I wasn’t actually involved with the art, and personally think it is a huge fault for not having male nudity on it, just female. It is dangerous sexist territory. But this is the nature of compromise, or at least my compromise.
Am I wrong in thinking that Make Memories was initially supposed to come out on Fat Cat? Or was that just the split (with Super Khoumeissa)?
B.M.: Very sadly, when it came time to do this new album with them, they were having terrible financial problems and had to cut a bunch of stuff from their 2012 roster. It certainly was a setback, pushing this release to 2013, but it led us to being on Northern Spy, which has turned out to be the most supportive label we’ve ever been on. They respond to everything we ask/suggest fast, are down for our creative promo ideas, and care about the band like a band member does. It is really fortunate—a blessing. Very happy we got to do at least the split with Fat Cat before their money troubles. Hopefully they can get back on their feet soon.
So, you’ve all been in various bands that could be deemed as some form of art punk or another. But it was the drum circle that got you invited to play All Tomorrow’s Parties at the invitation of Portishead. When Foot Village first started, what were the band’s primary goals?
B.M.: Very simply to just learn drums. After years of exploring new ways to arrange sounds, this total accident of a band arrangement is what audiences liked the best. If I give myself any credit, its just for being open-minded enough to try it. But it might be the only band I’ve ever been in that didn’t have a goal/vision before we started. We’ve let the drums lead the way on this one.
For Matt, what lead you to want to work with this four-headed monster? It seems worlds apart from beak> on the surface. Or are the similarities closer than they appear?
Matt Loveridge: Well who says that beak> is where I begin and end? We’re more than just the sum of our parts goddamit! I don’t live in a flight case—I love idiosyncrasy in art, and the FV dickheads bleed it—I’ve been a fan of their music and their outlook for a while, and I’m really into acoustic instruments to yield intense results, so this works perfectly for me—plus they’re top dudes which is a rarity
Given the plethora of bands everyone has been in, is Foot Village the perfect culmination of trial and error?
B.M.: In terms of live shows, I’d say yes. So much that I learned in how to play with both precision and freedom never could fully manifest in other acts… acts designed to not quite function the way I wanted to play live. Foot Village formed just at the right time to embody that experience. But as for albums, I still think we haven’t done a perfect one. The only thing I’ve done that I consider a perfect album is the 6th and final Rose For Bohdan album, There it is, the creeping moral decay of the past thousand years.
There’s a mythological story behind the first few Foot Village albums—How does Make Memories fall into that story?
B.M.: As soon as the band started writing songs, we knew the first three albums would be an impressionistic narrative trilogy. The story of founding a nation, rising to glory, and then crumbling under our own hubris. All taking place in an alternate timeline where the world ended in 1998. Thing is, we never really looked past that, so when we found ourselves writing a fourth album, we didn’t want to drag out that story any more. Instead, we’ve returned to the timeline most of us all live in, to share our more open ended experiences as survivors of the apocalypse. I mean, that’s what we all are nowadays, so just here to reflect on that aspect of the world for a bit.
What are some contemporary myths that you find compelling?
B.M. Oh man, everything. When I heard that there is a Buddhist temple that now has Batman and characters from The Matrix on their walls (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wat_Rong_Khun), this just seemed right to me, not silly or desperate. I was a religious studies major in college, so I do look at everything in pretty particular terms—hard for me not to. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the simple-minded moralistic mythologies of ‘80s cartoons like He-Man or my favorite, C.O.P.S., influenced both me and an entire generation. Reality shaping stuff. Endorsing stuff in the wrong hands unfortunately. Also, it piques my interest that a lot of fluff science publications are doing articles lately about how there is a good chance that our universe is a simulation. Think about that enough and you realize it doesn’t really mean anything unless you assume our “gods” use computers pretty much just like ours, otherwise it is merely a very confused metaphor. But regardless, the choice to speak that way in science articles feels very post-Matrix. Spiritual beliefs in the future most certainly will be a return to kitchen god style, with pop culture being the sculpture of that pick and choose religion. Shit, we’re there already, right?
What are some contemporary myths you find disturbing?
B.M.: I have a very hard time with the whole torture porn/rape culture stuff going on. Even before this cultural direction, I couldn’t handle watching The Crow. But lately… too much for me. For instance, that found footage horror anthology V/H/S from last year, was the most philosophically ugly film I’ve ever seen. So many rapist-minded characters, and no cards really shown that any of them are in the wrong. Plus the credits to that film, which were outside of the narrative, were just a loop of a molestation scene. That sealed the deal, that film just thinks it is cool to assault women. Fuck that movie.
Brian, you’ve had a history of writing abstract lyrics that can seem confrontational, confounding and purposefully contradictory. Are there historical touchstones (philosophical, musical, poetical) for your lyrics?
B.M: The most influential 1st-person narratives I’ve ever read are Julian Cope’s two autobiographies. He writes from his point of view at the time he is describing, for better or worse. If he was being a dickhead, he doesn’t hide it or justify it. He is honest about what he was thinking and feeling even if he has moved past that now, and it makes for a much more human story. Adopting this sort of approach definitely has earned me some major haters though. For instance, our release on Fat Cat has lyrics from the point of view I had in college and I feel many 18-22 years have. A self-righteousness that is very cruel to outsiders, but also truly dipped into an enlightenment that can only come from totally rejecting and hating society. I wanted the lyrics to be bold and brazen. A little bit of mysticism, and a whole lot of misguided attitude. But lots of critics didn’t realize I was playing a role, reflecting and giving commentary. Rather, they just thought I was some bratty shit-nosed 19-year-old and felt the need to talk like all knowing, asshole stepdads. Look, I’m a grown ass man. Do your research before blindly reviewing something.
I read a review that referenced your previous album, Anti-Magic, as “not annoying” (totally taken out of context for the purpose of this question). For you, where does Make Memories fall on the scale of annoying to not annoying?
B.M.: iTunes has informed us it is “Indie Rock,” so I guess that just depends on how annoying you find that genre. I find most of that genre pretty vain, which is a turn off.
Seriously though, Make Memories does sound like an epic moment in your band’s career. Where does Make Memories fall on your personal pride scale?
B.M.: It is the best Foot Village release to date. I didn’t say that about our last album when it came out. I still thought the one before that was better. So I think I get to say that even though most artists would say their latest is best.
Were you inspired by They Might Be Giants when you launched the phone promotion for Make Memories (where fans could call a number to hear an advance of the new album)?
B.M.: No, I just wanted to be able to do promotions that got people off of the Internet for a sec…. Not that I’m patting myself on the back, acting like this is peace prize level behavior, but hopefully it is at least fun for people.
What are your geekiest personal memories?
B.M.: The first time I became infatuated with a girl, I gave her an X-Men poster. In retrospect, it is amazing she liked it. I remember her brother saying to me, “She only likes you cuz you gave her an X-Men poster.”
Here’s a high quality video of the band performing “This Song is a Drug Deal” from Make Memories:
Images: Foot Village / Northern Spy Records