That Was Then/This Is Yesterday

Interview: Alan Bishop (October 2002)

Posted in Interviews by wwyork on July 31, 2014

Call me when you discover the bar code on your body and I’ll show you how to remove it.

This was an email interview conducted sometime in mid-to-late 2002, with portions of it being used in an article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian in advance of an upcoming Sun City Girls show at Bottom of the Hill. At this point, I was still on the fence about the Sun City Girls—I liked some of their recordings, but found them very hit-and-miss. (Honestly, their recordings are hit-and-miss, but I was wrong about the hit:miss ratio, which is more like 70:30 than 30:70.) Plus, I had only seen one show by them—in 2000 at the Bottom of the Hill—which was kind of tedious and unbearable. Over the course of writing and researching this article—and then seeing their amazing Bottom of the Hill show soon afterward (where I was able to purchase a copy of the elusive Horse Cock Phepner album)—I became a full-fledged convert, and that hasn’t changed since then.

For someone to find out about Sun City Girls and hear any of the music, they have to go through a lot of steps to get there. This makes sense in that what you do isn’t ordinary everyday stuff, but it also has its downsides. Your music doesn’t strike me as elitist, but the audiences can sometimes be that way. Any thoughts on this? Does the idea of audiences increasingly filled more with balding 38-year-old record collectors and record store clerks than “the man on the street” bother you?

I refuse to look at it THAT way. All I see is an UPSIDE here. What am I missing? Should I be investing in some knee pads and hydrogen peroxide in order to kneel down in comfort as I suck the shriveled cock of a Record Company/financial derivatives market addict while I’m asking him to call his buddies in the “oil-soaked, spy-riddled monopoly press” to hype and distribute Sun City Girls product as he simultaneously circumcises the New York Port Authority and a 38 year old bald dude with his two remote-controlled Boeing 747s in order to coax legions of beautiful 22 year-old Korean Air flight attendants to come to our performances to please an aesthetic that is currently reserved for the cult of “Sponge Bob”? This legendary “man on the street” is controlled by forces of malevolent nature and it’s not OUR responsibility to bargain for “his” soul. Let’s look at it the OTHER way . . . the MAN ON THE STREET is an appendage of ELITISM.

Scott Colburn compared the working with you guys to “being in war”—he said he never knows what is going to happen next. Do you intentionally try to keep people guessing or screw what their expectations, or is that a byproduct of you just doing what you want to?

Yes, we’ve put Scott through a chipper-shredder the past 12 years but he is extremely savvy, resourceful, AND willing to accommodate our needs. He is also able to keep up with our pace, which would leave most engineers in the dust. We don’t have anyone telling us what to do other than our own various interests, which are scattered wider than acceptable by many. We are governed by forces GREATER THAN those found identifiable to an industry or its consumer base so therefore, we will challenge ANYONE we work with in ANY medium. It’s our nature.

It is weird looking back and seeing how you were on hardcore compilations and played with hardcore/punk bands. Was punk ever important to you, or was that simply all that was there at the time as far as an “underground” scene?

It WAS important to me AND it was NOT all that was there at the time. We were in a performing weekly lottery, which included punk and hardcore bands, but also other, more imaginative “extreme characters” such as Boyd Rice, Africa Corps, Maybe Mental, Helios Creed, Victory Acres, Eddy Detroit, The Mighty Sphincter . . . the list is endless of non-punk contingents that were roaming the west at the time.

What was it like back in the ’80s when you played shows alongside straight-ahead hardcore/punk bands, and (I guess) in front of audiences who had no idea where you were coming from or what you were doing? Is it different now that most of the audiences are people who have come specifically to see you, and who view you as “legends” or whatever? Do you miss the antagonism?

We had an affinity with the punk aesthetic and perhaps we were an extreme example of it. I don’t know that anyone NOW knows where we’re coming from. Only WE’VE seen the blueprints and they are difficult to decipher. We’ve discovered other ways in which to be antagonistic or confronting if the need arises. When one doors closes, another one opens. We are interwoven into an endless, rotating collage of communities, realities, and situations in which SCG is merely a footnote.

Why do you think this band is still together after all these years (considering almost everyone who came along in the late ’70s/early ’80s is either long gone or else doing a watered down version of what they were originally about)?

Because we’re a family with its shit together.

Can you ever foresee a time (short of someone’s death) when this band won’t exist? [Note: Drummer Charles Gocher died in 2007, five years after this interview.]

No. Existence comes in many forms. It’s WHICH forms we will exist in that are unknown.

Do you ever suck on purpose just to screw with people’s heads?

I suppose we suck WITHOUT purpose at times. We’re high rollers at what we do. Our approach is fearless. “To suck” is a point of reference without any REAL meaning anyway. Because we do not use a “patented” formula to express ourselves, we have the freedom to not only succeed or fail, but to continually re-invent ourselves.

What did you think about that last show you did in SF, back in 2000? I remember some guy going up and saying something to you, and you said something like, “Well, you’re the idiot—you paid 10 dollars to see this?” You think so?

I really don’t remember THAT particular comment but IT IS something I would say. From what I CAN remember, it was a packed house and we kept the hillbilly music to a minimum. Anyone looking for a DIFFERENT SCG performance can go to the next one. At least with us, one has that option!

Like you said in your earlier email to me, you are not exactly “career-oriented” as far as trying to sell a lot of records. This is cool, but have financial constraints ever been an issue as a result of this approach?

Not really. There are other ways to make money. We’ve always known that SCG was not a dependable financial instrument. Thanks for your concern, but REALLY . . . we’ll be OK!

Is Eyvind Kang playing with you or is it going to be a separate set? Also, can you describe what it is about Eyvind that you feel qualifies him to play with SCG? It seems like you are pretty discriminating in who you associate with.

Eyvind will play solo AND perform with us. Don’t YOU feel he’s qualified to play with us? Have you ever seen or heard him? [Yes, yes, I have!] If I was not discriminating in who I associate with, I’d be a complete IDIOT!

Several of your songs make mention of hell, pitchforks, and/or at the devil. Have you made contact with the devil, and if so can you reveal any details about the experience or the circumstances?

Yes, of course. And so have you. Or, in other words, “demons are a dime-a-dozen . . . most of ’em got 13 cousins.” [This is a line from “The Ghost of South Carolina” on the black Alvarius B double LP—one of the greatest albums ever!] What the fuck is the BUSH crime family? Ariel Sharon? The Crown of England? Heaven and Hell were invented one night during an extremely uninspired game of poker. Call me when you discover the bar code on your body and I’ll show you how to remove it!

How did you meet Gregg Turkington, and how did he end up releasing Midnight Cowboys from Impanema?

I met Gregg at the Valley Art movie theater in Tempe, Arizona, in 1982. We became friends, and after a few years he wanted to release a cassette of trashy covers. It was loosely affiliated with his magazine Breakfast Without Meat. Someday, when people finally figure out ALL the things he’s actually created or been instrumental in creating over the past 20 years, he’ll be liberated from the “Amarillo on the street.”


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