The Illusion of a Meaningless Exchange

A Conversation with Brent Babb of Dead Hot Workshop

Confession: I was late to the Dead Hot Workshop party. I left the Tucson area in 1993, and returned to Tempe in 1996. But for about four years I got to see it through its golden era before I graduated from ASU in 2000 and left for Pinetop to teach English. Those were awesome years. Nita’s Hideaway. The Electric Ballroom. Minder Binders. The Mason Jar. And of course: Long Wong’s.

I quickly gravitated to The Refreshments and Satellite, and those four years turned me into a life long Roger Clyne and Stephen Ashbrook fan. As such, Brent Babb was like Uncle Fester to Tempe’s Addams’ Family. Because if you were a fan of either of those two guys, and others as time would tell, then you are already intimately exposed to the influence of the enigmatic front man of Dead Hot Workshop. Whether it was result of: River Otis begat Tributary Otis or 117 begat Houston or life just being a bitch for so long that now it’s just a shame or you grew up wearing ripped up cloths and pretended to be Dead Hot Workshop, Babb’s lyrical voice and cadence became staples in the development of vast numbers of local songwriters.

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Bob Mehr, writing for the Phoenix New Times in October of 1999, says, “Within the Valley music scene, few artists or songwriters enjoy the kind of universal admiration of Dead Hot Workshop’s Brent Babb.” In that same article, Roger Clyne, who had just recently formed The Peacemakers with one time Dead Hot guitar man Steve Larson, is quoted as saying:

“Music people in this city in general get as excited about what Brent Babb does as people did about what Dylan was doing in the ’60s.”

But for me, like many things in the musical regard, my love of Dead Hot Workshop came through my wife, who discovered, and loved them at least a decade before I had developed the interest of delving into that Southwestern-Rock/ Tempe-Sound rabbit hole. But once I did… I have never been able to imagine being Alice in Wonderland more clearly! Of course I had heard of the Gin Blossoms and loved them, but all of a sudden there was The Chimeras, then The Pistoleros, then Gloritone, all somehow bundled together with the constant antics and presence of Marc Norman and the appearance of Ghetto Cowgirl.

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Then Wyves and Dead Hot Workshop play last years Silver release from The Pistoleros and eventually Brenden McBride and Nick Sterling{bassist and lead guitar of Wyves} play with Stephen Ashbrook at this year’s Geronimo Wine Release at Cactus Jack’s! And none of this references that Gin Blossoms begat Chalmer’s Green {via Josh Kennedy} and Chalmer’s Green begat The Black Moods. And somewhere down there, the Wednesday and Pugsley of the family is Analog Outlaws. {Just to bookend the whole metaphor, lol.} And, none of this references the genealogical line that extends down through Steve, and Roger and all things Peacemaker.
To say nothing of the fact that the first time that The Gin Blossoms play The Late Show with David Letterman in 1993… they wear Dead Hot Workshop shirts. Whew! But you get the idea. The genealogy of Tempe/ Phoenix music runs straight to Brent Babb.

Life is like fallin’ down
A whir of indecision follows you around
A spark of intuition always keeps you
Second guessin’

One for the road’s worth two in my hand
I can’t explain what I can’t understand
I’d just be second guessin’
I’m remembering times when it was all I could do
To have my cake and eat it too
My record’s doin’ long play
Says you can’t stop rockin’ while the house is rockin’
And the highway rolls, and I can’t stop rockin’

Slice of Life 1001

Once discovered, better late than never, Dead Hot Workshop quickly moved up the list to one of my all time favorite bands. There are simply very few lyricists, poets, who are able to make such perfect sense of the cacophony of your own experience. Immediately, song after song after song, shook me, and the more I listened, two epiphanies struck my brain. First, I could not believe it took me so long to find Dead Hot Workshop and two – Brent Babb was my spirit animal.

I knew we were meeting for coffee at 7. The text came at 5. “How do you feel about Dunkin Donunts? 2 and a half stars on Yelp! How bad could it be?”

Perfect! And I was off.

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Ryan B. Clark: In 1993, Robert Baird wrote in the Phoenix New Times, “If Dead Hot Workshop is going anywhere it is on Brent Babb’s back, and he knows it.” But, known as an iconoclastic rocker who distrusted rock stars, major labels, and the music business in general, you did it your way. You recorded all of your latest albums independently at Curtis Grippe’s Stem Recording Studio and you are inductees into the Arizona Rock n Roll Hall of Fame… so, what does going anywhere mean to Dead Hot Workshop?
Brent Babb: We looked at {success/ going somewhere} way differently back then. We were young. We never had any illusions about selling a whole bunch of records or anything. At the time, we thought we’d probably do better than we did, financially through the band, but as far as independence goes, we were always kinda independent anyway. We got on that one label, but it was a shitty deal. And immediately, right after signing the contract, we started seeing on tour that the record wasn’t where we were going. Basically they were putting us out on the road, and it was obvious that they didn’t have any concept of who we were, but I don’t know if we had a concept of who we were at the time either. You know.

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Steam pours from open sores
The earth expands Making room for your newborn child
And the world is wild with anticipation.
It can’t wait for him to grow like a weed.
Into fresh meat……
-Mosquito Coast Old Favorites and New Ones Too

Ryan: I am fond of saying Poetry is Necessary, and in today’s world… the song writers are the most prolific poets. It’s tempting to try to read too much into what you might be trying to say. Lyrically, your songs are very dense, so are your songs more of a lens or a prism… to you as a Poet.
Brent: It’s not that I don’t care what the meaning of the words are, but I don’t mind if they are open to someone else’ interpretation. There’s multiple ways you could interpret them, and even different ways that I would interpret them. It’s all loaded, right, with intent, at the time. There’s a message… but it might change in ten years. So, it has to be more a prism, because it is continually bending to interpretation.

Two things immediately jumped out to me in those first few minutes. First, Brent was one of the most reluctant rock stars I had ever met, and perhaps the most humble. Every time he was referenced to as Dylan, or a Poet, or as anything significant, like an asshole, he didn’t blush… but it was easy to see that in a very endearing way the attention made him uncomfortable. Second, he reminded me of two of my most treasured heroes: Neil Peart and J.R.R.Tolkien. Hold on to the Peart reference… it comes back. As far as Tolkien, I taught Lord of the Rings to high school seniors for years, and one of the quotes that I used as an introduction is as follows:

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

I drive an Instamatic Cadillac,
through every socio politico opoly.
There’s no day to day dignity.
We fall apart at the seems.
I hear it’s really catastrophical.
I’m speaking purely philosophical.
I see a demographic acrobat
writing elemental artifacts.
-Noam Chomsky Karma Covered Apple

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Ryan: Leading from there then, I have a question about a specific song, not to put you too much on the spot. Is your song Noam Chomsky a political play on him as a person, or is it a play on sociology through linguistics?

Note: Considered the founder of modern linguistics, Noam Chomsky is one of the most cited scholars in modern history. He introduced the Chomsky hierarchy, generative grammar and the concept of a universal grammar, which underlies all human speech and is base in the innate structure of the mind/ brain. Chomsky has not only transformed the field of linguistics, his work has influenced fields such as cognitive science, philosophy, psychology, computer science, mathematics, childhood education, and anthropology. Chomsky is also one of the most influential public intellectuals in the world. He has written more than 100 books, his most recent being Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power {which has been turned into a documentary on Netflix}. Noam Chomsky is Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona.

Ryan: {continued} So, I’m listening to your music, and I am making the connection to the guy we used to quote in debate all of the time, and the documentary I just watched a while ago on Netflix, and I am sitting here thinking well, poets are prophetic. So it is a good example of a song where I am tempted to read way in to your motivations.

Brent: What really attracted me to Chomsky at first, when I first heard of him, was through language, through linguistics, and wanting to play with words. I mean a bunch of words in the song are just made up words, you know. Playing with language is fascinating to me, and learning about it, reading about it, and researching just language and words, cadence…. the brainy stuff of songwriting {poetry}, his name kept popping up.
Ryan: Okay, bear with me, I’m a huge Rush fan.
Brent: Me too.

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Ryan: I knew we were kindred spirits. But with Neil Peart, you can tell what he’s reading, what he’s into by reading into those lyrics. So, to bring this lyrical question full circle, can I tell what you are reading from Dead Hot Workshop song lyrics?
Brent: I can tell you I don’t think I’ve read a fucking book since the Internet.

We both laugh. And sip coffee.
Ryan: I’m surprised. But that’s totally fair. I would have guessed you were going to roll out some Infinite Jest or something. Have you read Infinite Jest? That’ll warp your brain.”
Brent: I’m in to having my brain warped.

And can you blame this on our government
Just little men lacking in integrity.
America’s asleep in front of their TV
Watching Who’s the Boss.
Remind me to sit you down someday
and sing the song to the imaginary sun
about me and some of my old friends in the rock a billy years before the war.
And how the rich got even richer
then with a set of bones they ripped out of a poor man’s back
and they handed him a rifle and taught him die… like a good American should.
And they locked us away with a sealed key
and all the shit they told us was true on TV
and I grew up believing slaves were set free.
Just to find their ain’t no such thing.
And I hope you’ll understand how in my day
greed became grease between hand and hand
and power became a disease infected with natural corruption man.
And the rich got even richer still
investing their money researching appeals.
Its a marketing deal.
Been inflicting new pain that they said they could kill.
While the thirsty got thirstier down
by the the drain where they’d just as soon kill you if they thought it would rain.
And they put them in prisons were they all go insane.
They are so happily wet.
This is the season of drugs guns and treason.
Used to be in my day we called it liars and thieves.
Now it goes without saying.
You don’t even bother asking.
Which one are you if you don’t mind my asking?
And on the screen of my TV
something’s telling me zone out completely.
– Rise of Decline River Otis EP / G Daddy River Otis EP / Rational Anthem Old Favorites / Burger Christ White House

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Ryan: Back to the Phoenix New Times, but this time in 2015, Dead Hot Workshop was described as politico-rock and the Valley’s answer to U2. First, I would say that you are nowhere as guru-red out as Bono, secondly, I do not think I would call you politic- rock more than a band with an unafraid social consciousness. But have you noticed a change in crowd reactions to your guitar tuning rants? Have you consciously toned them down?
Brent: There’s definitely a social conscious there, and it is stuff that I do think about, and talk about, you know, between songs. {In a previous interview Babb is quoted as saying, ‘You gotta say something while you are tuning your guitar.’} I used to be more deliberate, and more direct, in-between songs with shit that I would say. But I mean, even within the band, everyone has different you know, opinion on things. As far as Us {he laughs} I, we, the band, I have been called some really flattering things over the years, and it’s…. flattering. I don’t really see it like that.

Ryan: Curtis is quoted as saying that if you weren’t doing this, you would probably be an activist somewhere? But when I look into your lyrics, I am not sure I notice a sense of activism more than this sense of complacency. Like watching the TV just makes one want to unplug from the world.
Brent: Yeah, TV did not have the desired effect on me. Just how loaded it is. The intent behind most of it, it is all monetary. Sure, there’s art, but it’s all motivated… you know? You’re not going to see the art if its all… {His voice trails off, with this look of disgust. It was as if even the discussion of our media, with its over-saturation, shareholders, and constancy was painful to him. Like Kryponite.} So no, TV just has the opposite effect on me. Like advertising? I just can’t…
Ryan: My wife is a long time googly eyed admirer, I must tell you, but once we were talking about her love of Dead Hot Workshop, and I told her, ‘Honey, you are a happy, go lucky, optimistic person. I, am not, and you married me. I mean our wifi username is Curmudgeon Corner for crying out loud! I would not say that Babb’s lyrics are sad, or depressing, but they are definitely angst driven, they are sharp, critical. They are focused. So it surprises me that you are into Dead Hot music.’ And her answer was really cool, and I wanted to share it with you. She said:

“It’s because he expresses things that I feel, but that I am afraid to show.”

Brent: {again bashful} I feel like if people get something out of {my songs} I am down 100%, you know what I mean. We do put a lot into it, so we want it to resonate. And I am always glad when it does. That is really cool. But hell, she can probably make as much sense out of it as I could. It’s like we were talking about before, we could tell people specifically some of the answers… but it would take away some of that. You know. Some of that ambiguity. Some of that prism.
Ryan: A lot has happened since Dead Hot Workshop released an album. There is a lot going on in the world. A lot. What’s making you tick lately, as you write and record new songs?
Brent: The same old shit. You know.

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Listen close do you hear something?
Think I’ve been talking all for nothing?
Just be sure it’s all for something.
Something’s all I ever do.
Seems my fear of indecision
is eating away at the height of my indifference.
The fear of rediscovery
is eating away at the heart of my ambition.
A spark of intuition always keeps you second guessing.
The past is fact and fiction, the future is contradiction
Too many forks in the road,
too many tracks for your train.
Too many freaks in the barn,
you can’t know them all by name
-Slice of Life 1001 / E Minor White House / Vinyl Advice 1001 / World / Tangled Heavy Meadow

Ryan: So, I am not sure if you read Ed Masely’s newest review on AZCentral about the Jimmy Buffet show, but he mentioned something in there that was very indicative of a question I was also planning on asking you.

Fins becomes a celebration not of “fins,” the title characters who prey like sharks on women at the bar, but “Fins,” the song that lets you put your hands together and wave your fin in the air like you just don’t care. Some Parrotheads even like to show up wearing fins, the disconnect between the lyrics and the atmosphere complete.”

Ryan: {continued} So I am thinking, you know, as an artist, you have to be standing up there thinking, ‘this is the epitome of the disconnect right. I mean these people have completely missed the point. I was up watching Stephen Ashbrook play last year in Jerome, and several of his fans had developed a similar treatment for Scotch and a Handgun, but in their frat-induced joviality it had become Scotch and a Handjob. Again. Total disconnect. I mean Scotch and a Handgun is a pretty damn serious song.

I guess what I am getting at is what would you say now to the crowd of people who flocked to you, followed you, to live show after live show after live show…. how many of that crowd has aged into something a bit diametrically opposed to what used to be that 90s, angst driven crowd?
Brent: You know, really, I think we were always just kinda doing our own thing. We were surprised by the crowds, but, frankly, I mean, here, especially around town, we caught a huge break from the Gin Blossoms. Just living and playing the same bars at the same time. I mean we were all hanging out, watching each other play. We were all playing in different bands, and grouping and regrouping. Dead Hot Workshop formed, as a band, about a year or so after Gin Blossoms.

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Ryan: How does this fit into Long Wong’s on Mill? When did that place really hit, and become the legend we mid to late 90s college students remember?
Brent: When we first started playing Wong’s, we were hearing stories all over about this place being nothing like this a year ago. In that year, Gin Blossoms and Feed Bags were sharing billings back and forth. Stephen and Satellite were forming and playing up on the North end of Mill closer to where Rula Bula used to be. He moved down to Wong’s shortly after. That is when that Mill scene, exploded. I had met Steve {Larson} and I was trying to kinda shoe horn him into the band. We had a bunch of songs, but I had always wanted two guitar players, and it was him that first said, ‘Man, you gotta go to Tempe.’ In fact, I think the first show I saw in Tempe was Gin Blossoms at Wong’s. I mean we were renting VFW halls and shit just to have places to play, and this place was packed. Just packed to the absolute gills. I mean I was from Iowa, and I didn’t even have a clue what was going on in Minneapolis, let alone what was happening in Tempe, Arizona. Well soon enough, Gin Blossoms had us opening up for them, and that put us in front of the crowd that they had. And, well, our music, well, it isn’t very straight forward shit. It’s all over the place, stylistically. And a lot of those folks were just like, what the fuck is this? Some didn’t like it at all, but you know, some of them really dug it. So yeah, we owe a lot to the Gin Blossoms.

While Brent and I were firmly in cruise mode in the DeLoreon, I pressed another nostalgic question.

Ryan: Stephen Ashbrook recounted the story of his song Houston as a dialog between the Satellite, Chimeras, and Dead Hot Workshop vans while you were on tour in the Pacific Northwest one time. It was before cell phones, and you all had CB radios. His call sign was Satellite, yours… was Houston. You and love songs have always seemed like an inside joke. First of all, to what beside the lyrics to 117 {“Guess I never could write a good love song anyhow”} might Stephen be referring when he writes, “And Houston, I gotta tell you, you write one hell of a love song”. What is the Brent Babb definition of a love song?

With a little gleeful smile and a quick glimmer in his sorrowful eyes, Brent quipped.
Brent: I used to say, no matter what the song was about, that it was a love song.

It was exactly like a magician smiling with pride as a teaches the reveal on one of his best tricks.

Cruel
That’s what the world is for you.
I dedicate every song to you.
I really though that Robert Smith was cool.
And I’m so lonely for risk to do
And who’s the freak that held Jane’s hand through her Addiction?
It’s true
There’s no one looking out for you.
I mean, did you expect them to?
I know it’s lonely being nobody’s fool.
So alone and such a fool.
-Demograph Old Favorites and New Ones Too

Ryan: There are a number of songs that when you hear them they get stuck in your head…. you think jeez, get out of my head….. I could have written that one…. or even that one. You have written several songs that do that for me.
Brent: Really? Like which ones?

Ryan: Vinyl Advice, Push Luck Shove, Demograph and Strangers. Those four roll off immediately.
Brent: That’s cool.
Ryan: In terms of character songs, songs that are so close to the bone they are uncanny. What does that for you… is there a song that kinda sums you up?”
Brent: It’s almost easier for me to answer by saying it’s not a song, its the pursuit of the perfect joke. You never know if you have it when you write it, or think of it, but you know it when you hear it.

So there you have it, a love song is an inner Brent Babb Joke, a wink and a nod to the gods of the comedic rant, and his segway into another guitar tuning attempt.

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Ryan: Returning to lyrics and poetry, Stephen asked me to ask you what your process was for writing a song, from start to finish?
Brent: You know, it either all sounds super corny, or…. pretentious or whatever. But for the most part… you know how you get songs stuck in your head? All the time. Right? Everyone does. A lot of times, its just like that. You can hear them. They’re just… in there. Sometimes there’s words, but often its just sounds, cadence. You know, okay that’s gonna have to be a vowel, and the melody and the words you’ve had stuck in your head start to fall into place.
Ryan: So for you, the lyrics and the melody come together at the same time? You don’t have like a journal of songs sketched out?
Brent: Yeah, not necessarily lyrics, but the cadence. The cadence and the melody start to form. Then you start to get a vibe of what it’s about.
Ryan: You sound like a medium. Like you are channeling it.
Brent: I’ve explained it like hearing someone listen to a record in another room. You hear it. You have to kinda focus on it. Lean into it a bit. And the more you lean into it, the better you can hear it. I do other shit too, not that I release, but stuff that I work on at home, mess with. I call it Music that Nobody Wants to Hear, From People Who Don’t Want to Hear It. That stuff can be whatever it wants to be, as opposed to a song, that a lot of times already are what they are. You are just trying to figure out what they are.

Ryan: So, second question from my twitterpated wife, she says that guitars are like bras. They are very personal, customized, particular and specific. What can you tell about a musician by analyzing their instrument?
Brent: It’s interesting, because here lately, just like the last six months or so, I have been buying a ton of cheap guitars. Used, new, whatever. Just cheap guitars, and I have been playing a lot more guitar, just daily, than I really have in years. And when it comes to guitars, my brother, knows a bunch of stuff about everyone else’ stuff. There are some folks where that analogy makes a lot more sense than others. My brother can play anything he picks up, and he likes to mix it up and use different stuff for different arrangements and songs. For me, especially live, I prefer to have the same shit every time, It’s a comfort thing. It just feels like something that you don’t have to think about. You know it. Playing is one thing, but playing and singing, For me, it’s difficult to do. Some guys its like effortless, but I just gotta have the same shit. Every time. And I like my guitar to be heavy. But if you see someone like Willie Nelson, and that fucking guitar. There’s a lot more story there.

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I see a little bit of me in you,
You just don’t know how to have no fun.
Are you with me or against me?
Promise me… My time’s not wasted.
I’m not… I’m not crazy.
My head swims curious clouds.
I never want to come down.
I can’t win or lose.
If you plan on pretending either is easy to do.
But the more I get to thinking
the less I think there is to be said
about things that don’t need to be said.
And they’ll never get me to say our quiet conversation
was some meaningless exchange.
-Push Luck Shove / Beach Dog Karma Covered Apple

Ryan: In today’s music industry is there still inherent value in presenting your songs as an album?
Brent: From our perspective, we weren’t ever really a Pop band. In terms of format. Verse. Chorus. Verse. Chorus. I like it when I hear it, if it’s done well, but that’s just not really what I, we, do. We like a good hook, but I don’t need to hear the hook. In fact, when I am listening to music, and I know it’s coming, it loses my interest. Unless, it’s really good. For us, as a band, when we started putting out music it was kind of the end of sides {vinyl}, you know what I mean. I grew up on sides. So our first stuff that we put out was with that mentality; you want to start side A with this song, you want it to end with this one, and side B to lead off with this one. And then, it was CDs, which are all linear, so you change the order of the songs to lead with a certain key, and you want the songs to flow from key to key. So for us, a majority of our songs are kinda, well, if you are into that music, they are kinda sleeper tunes. You might hear and be like, ‘Why the fuck bother’, but then after a while, you start to wonder, ‘where is that from? I like that’. But the format of our music just does not work with that one song on the Internet kind of idea. It doesn’t work in shuffle.
Ryan: My wife will love this answer. I listen to Ghost Writer Radio, which is my phone on shuffle, 90% of the time. My wife hates that. She enjoys albums. To her point, it is like me combining stories in a collection: they are meant to be experienced as an album.
Brent: I miss that.

Things are pretty heavy, out of this world.
With all the spins and turns,
falling faster and further away
Falling apart at the end of the day.
It used to be a bitch, now just a shame.
When everything is wrong.
And ending all along.
And everyone’s to blame.
And everything’s the same.
It’s like sometimes we come up short.
And sometimes not at all.
You pull up your stakes if things get too bizarre.
So maybe there’s a reason.
For exactly the way we are….
A tired explanation is exactly what we are.
I know you’re stuck outside of Phoenix.
I know exactly the shit you’re in.
We all deal with going nowhere.
That’s exactly where we’ve been.
You’ll get yours today,
tomorrow I’ll get mine.
And we’ll step outside of ourselves like strangers.
And I’ll see you see me see you
and the chances are we will still be strangers.
Me and you and me and you.
And I guess all my friends are strangers….
in the end.
-Round Record/ Oh Well / Chorus / Strangers Karma Covered Apple

Ryan: We have talked about the rants, and the jokes, but going back to that kind of hyper focused, critical lens that generates so many of your songs, it is interesting to think about the concept of social responsibility and celebrity. For example, your guitar tuning rants were a staple of your shows, sometimes they hit, sometimes they didn’t, but it wasn’t something that sparked outrage. These days, Roger Waters’ tour opens with a huge graphic that says, Trump is a Pig…. and people freak out. Taylor Swift endorses a candidate and asks people to register to vote on the AMA’s, and people freak out. But, times have changed. In an instant, a political stance can get you blocked, unfriended, or otherwise silenced on social media. We have become an incredibly tribal and divided populace, that doesn’t talk about the really big issues very well anymore. Do you think an artist has a degree of social responsibility?
Brent: They should just lower the voting age to twelve and get rid of the electoral college, and select a President. Why the fuck not? As far as social responsibility, I think every human being has that. Regardless of anything else. When it comes to this stuff, to be honest with you, I never checked out, you know, but I never checked in, either. The reality of things, is that as bad as things are now, really, it’s not that much different than it’s ever been. Obviously it’s more absurd on the surface, and everyone can see that now, but really, one can sick back and look at this whole train wreck and think, ‘but really, this is how it’s always looked. As far as Trump goes, I mean he is a fucking disaster, yeah. But can we look at it, and go, maybe people can see the business as usual end of it, but they might also see the fear of it. The fear of the train going off the tracks. That could motivate people to take more of that social responsible role. This administration, might be, actually more representative of what we’re about, as a culture, than we’ve had in the past.
Ryan: I’m not sure if that’s a good thought at all, but I think you might be right.

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Brent: It’s not. It’s not a good thought at all. It’s awful. But seriously, Obama was certainly not representative of what people were, and they are voicing it. So, I would venture to guess that we are as polarized as ever, and we probably should be looking around. I mean if we only have two fucking parties, it forces that polarity.
Ryan: Are you an advocate of instant run off voting then?
Brent: Or lowing the voting age to twelve and everybody votes through Twitter. I mean, that’s a ridiculous popularity contest, but at the same time do we really need career politicians either? I mean really, it’s all ridiculous already anyway.

Whatever gets you nowhere faster.
Turning our backs on this disaster.
I’d do it again.
I guess everything was trying to tell you something.
A good thing to be so well advised.
Were you surprised?
To find the stars were all you got as souvenirs.
Just be glad you’re still alive.
Could you survive when there’s no one else you can blame?
….. Guess all the answers tell you nothing.
Just assume they’re classified, or somebody lied.
We’re all stranded just outside that final frontier.
Standing there without a ride.
Take a left at the end of the road.
Take a right at the end of the world.
Straight ahead into where I don’t know.
Everywhere I’m waiting for.
-It’s a Shame Heavy Meadow / Heavens to Mergatroid /Chorus Karma Covered Apple

Ryan: When you look around Phoenix right now, and see the bands and the talent, it is easy for me to draw parallels to that vibe that permeated Tempe twenty five years ago. As the guy, the Godfather if you will, the Poet Laureate of Mill Avenue, who is still making music, what is your advice to this young generation of independent musicians?
Brent: We used to have this ratio of all the good shit that you never heard. I mean, just some of the stuff that came out through here {Arizona} that nobody will ever hear. Years from now, the vast majority of songs, nobody will have ever heard. I don’t mean to rain down, it is just there is so much, and it is all out there, everywhere. But like that song Houston you were telling me about. Of all the people who have ever heard the song, I mean, how many know the reference? And it is cool that it is out there. I don’t know, maybe I’m the wrong guy to ask. Even within the band, there are just so many elements to all of it {the business} that I have just no interest in. So, as far as advice, especially with technology being what it is, record your shit. Get it out into the world. It’s there. It exists. People will hear it. It may move someone. I remember back in the day, before Dead Hot Workshop, I had just arrived from Iowa and I was playing this show out in Mesa, and someone asked if I had heard of this band from Athens, Georgia: REM. He said I should check them out, that we kinda sounded like them. I picked a record up, and sure enough, there were a lot of elements, but the point is they were from Athens. I was like, I don’t give a fuck where they are from. All real bands are from LA or New York. That’s it.

Then Seattle happened, and it was the first time people were looking.. somewhere else. It was like bands started to have an identity based on place. It had never occurred to me that bands were from other places.

That is not like it is now at all. The Internet has changed all of that. You know, so back then, it was kind of the social thing to do, in your town, was get out and see what bands were playing. It was the first time you were hearing things like Seattle sound, or Southwestern Rock. But now, you have instant access to the whole fucking world, and the world has access to you. So I guess, my optimistic view of it, is that people have access to the technology, then record the stuff. When I think about my favorite music in the world, a vast huge chunk of it, nobody else will ever be able to hear. It’s gone. It was never recorded. It’s just gone, so it will never reach anyone. Now, you can record it, in your house, for free. There is no reason for the art to ever be lost. It chronicles that place in time. Record your shit.

Ryan: Dead Hot Workshop has been recording again, right? Any plans on a new album yet?
Brent: Hell I don’t know. We are talking about it, and recording songs, but there are no solid plans.
Ryan: And when is the next Dead Hot Workshop show?
Brent: Thanksgiving with The Pistoleros and Ghetto Cowgirl at Crescent Ballroom. {Show has yet to be officially announced folks, keep your eyes peeled!}

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In the end, Brent had promised me a half hour. An hour and a half later, I was back on Ghost, headed home, and wishing I had more time. Coffee with Brent Babb reminded me of laughing in Mexico with the great Arizona poet Richard Shelton. I am a student of words, my friends. They move me. Ideas… matter. And sitting with wordsmiths…. fills me with wonder.

Keep the Greasy Side Down, Brent, and never fear… I’ll never say our quiet conversation was some meaningless exchange.

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