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  • 7:49:08 pm
  • Monday
  • 24 June 2024

Wrong Side of 7am

Saturday Looks Good To Me interviews with Tweed and closes the night at the Northsix.

During the CMJ festival, Tweed met up with Polyvinyl’s Saturday Looks Good To Me for an interview. Early on in the evening, before they took stage, Tim and I took it to the streets, interviewing the band on a sidewalk by the Northsix, the lights of Manhattan off in the distance. Fred asked that we not take pictures outside but rather capture the band’s live performance. Their set ended with “When the Party Ends,” closing out the venue for the night somewhere around 2:00am.

Fred’s solo delivery and improvised lyrics nearly brought tears to my eyes. It’s true. He was switching back and forth between the two microphone stands as he rattled off autobiographical rhymes about the band’s CMJ experience last year, cheating girlfriends, negative income, rising rent, and whatever else crossed his mind in that instant. For a moment there, I forgot myself.

After the show, I had a few minutes alone with Fred, driving behind the band’s van over to their friend’s loft. We made some small talk. I got the impression he had things on his mind. When we got to the loft he stayed behind while I walked with the rest of the band to Kellog’s Diner. It was seriously late. By the time I went to sleep, it was the wrong side of 7am.

Saturday Looks Good To Me is Betty Barnes (vocals), Elliott Bergman (saxophone, wind instruments, percussion), Scott DeRoche (bass), Steve Middlekauff (drums, percussion), Scott Selwood (electric piano, organ), Fred Thomas (vocals, guitars)

First of all, what brought you guys to Polyvinyl Records? Because, Fred, you had your own label, right?

FRED: Yes, I had my own label. It was very small. The purpose of it was not to put out records but just to be a hobby or a craft. You know, more of a fun thing to do. Eventually, we put one of our records out on this label, which worked out well, but we wanted to expand. Polyvinyl was one of the labels—one of about 3 or 4 labels—that were interested. Certainly, they were the most...familial, the most “punk rock,” and so we ultimately went with them.

So, how did you guys fall in love with the “lo-fi sound,” the melodies and the aesthetics? I know, Fred, in the past, you’ve mentioned your friend’s band, Teach Me Tiger. Can you tell us a bit about that?

FRED: Chris Puccini, a friend of mine from Teach Me Tiger, was recording his stuff onto four-track, making this really crazy reverbed-out like, total rip-offs of these 50's and 60's production styles—-like a really cool rip-off thing. I felt like I was good enough. I could rip-off this thing too, and in so doing, basically discovered this really cool style of music—like Echo-Plex, Wall of Sound, Phil Spector type stuff.

What do the rest of you guys think about that style, that sound? Steve, you said you’d joined the band just a year ago...

SCOTT S: Yeah, I came from California, and we were basically listening to that like, sun-bleached lo-fi rock stuff for a long time—stuff like Pavement, more West coast stuff.

FRED: What we do is by no means amazing. It’s just a ton of reverb.


How about the changing lineup in the band? Do you think it surprises people?

FRED: Totally annoys people, all the time...

SCOTT S: I got hit, it was really... bad.

FRED: There’s been a lot of like, reviews in the press and online and stuff, and people have been like, “I bought the CD, and then went to see the band live, and it fuckin’ sucked!” or “I saw that band live and it was amazing, and I bought the CD—what is this pansy-ass shit?” And it’s this—we’ve had so many different lineups—I think this is like, our 8th or 9th tour and lineup. You know, looking back—one tour we did, some of the guys met at the first show, you know—hadn’t really met before, I mean we practiced before. We just got in a van, went down to Florida... and kinda had a super-shitty band that no one possibly could have liked. I think that’s really an important thing because I don’t think a lot of bands are doing that right now.

What about the songwriting, the process?

FRED: I write all the songs and all the lyrics.

But what happens when other people come in and improvise? Do songs evolve during live sets?

FRED: No, it’s just like, you know—the basic core of the song—that’s my thing. But each player writes their own part, you know?

Does that ever become a dispute of authorship? Do people leave the band and sort of take their possessions? Does it become an issue?

FRED: Hasn’t happened yet...

Everyone’s been really cool about it so far?

SCOTT D: It’s been a really great, collective experience.

Well, Fred, what primarily motivates your lyrical content?

FRED: I write all the lyrics for this band, and I uh, I can’t answer that question. I’m sorry, I just can’t...

Well, what then are your feelings about bands with politically-charged lyrics? Would you ever consider writing politically-charged lyrics?

FRED: Our lyrics are political in that they are um, there is a belief that the personal is the political, and I believe that very much so and I believe that like, uh, the reason that maybe you don’t eat meat is the same reason that you may make some other decision, just like certain feelings may cause you to vote for one thing or protest another. The lyrics themselves are not expressly of politics, but if you believe that the personal is political as I, as we do—then our lyrics certainly have a political context.

Do you think it’s possible to pair 50's style music with political, topical lyrics?

FRED That’s the whole point. That’s the entire point. The first record we did was way over the top , being completely overt trying to be like—anti-capitalism with this like, super happy dance music—and it was almost like people weren’t even listening to the lyrics; that was the trick—use this pop music to kinda like, get it in there—secretly. But it’s been a little bit more—more direct now.

Did you guys happen to see any of the Presidential debates?

STEVE: Moments.

BETTY: We’ve been really bummed out about missing them. I know it’s hard to find a TV but every time there is one, we try and rush to find one.

SCOTT D: We saw part of one in a liquor store in Texas, and you know the owner was really into letting us watch it.

BETTY: It’s really cool to see people just stop and watch it, like if you’re in a bar and people are all watching...

SCOTT D: I was really struck, you know in Houston, and it’s somewhere you’re used to walking into a venue with a somewhat festive atmosphere, you know, like a DJ or a bar or whatever—and we walked in and everyone was just dead silent. Everyone in the audience was just watching this debate, hanging on every word. It’s kind of weird, you know, this dance band—having to follow that, in that atmosphere. But it was cool, I mean, it was very inspiring actually, I mean, I was personally very happy that the kind of people that came to see our show were that invested in it.

What are your thoughts on Ralph Nader as a person, or any third party candidate? What do you think their role in this election is, and would you consider voting for them in a “safe” state?

SCOTT S: In the 2000 election, Ralph Nader perpetuated one of the biggest lies in modern American political history when he said that Al Gore and George Bush were “the same” and I think that he’s either lost his mind, or he was just lying.

Do you think he was lying as a marketing strategy?

SCOTT S: I think I don’t care what the motive was. We could try and predict what the motives were but if you understand it from an anti-establishment perspective, but uh, it was irresponsible and I’m still pissed at him for it. So, uh, I’m gonna vote Democrat.

It’s interesting because you keep hearing that Republicans are working hard getting him on ballots in swing states in hopes of siphoning votes.

SCOTT S: They are. The only way he’s gotten on ballots in Nevada and Arizona is through Republican money, and he’s taken that money and uh, I think ultimately that his political career is played out. I don’t think he will have a substantive effect on this election because we all know this election only matters in a few states and Nader is not a player in any of those states and I hope the Green Party picks somebody else soon.

They have. They officially endorsed someone else.

SCOTT S: Good. Good, he’s gone, and I hope they stick with that.

What are your thoughts on the war on terror and the war on Iraq? In your view, does either candidate offer a solution for this? Can either solve the problem?

FRED: Well, what’s the problem? The problem being that we’ve been attacked? Or is the problem that America is hated all over the world ?cause we’re shitty? I mean, what’s the real root of the problem, you know? Is there ever going to be a President that will make America less shitty? Is our foreign policy the problem or is it the focusing on this faceless, nameless boogey-man foe? You know? A little of the debates that I saw, I heard Kerry say it too. He said, “I hate the terrorists too. We’re going to go find them, and we’re going to kill them”

BETTY: Oh, I heard that—“kill”—it just, it like shook me. I was like, I can’t believe I was thinking, “I have to vote for you!”

FRED: I don’t know how much can really be done at this point that’s in anyone’s hands—I mean, foreign policy has just been progressively more shitty for years and years, going downhill, and it’s really all just about oil anyway and just, a gluttonous, spoiled, baby of a country that America is. I remember when 9/11 happened. I just wrote, in my journal, “God, like, I’ll give up whatever I have to-” just my personal thoughts, you know? “This is a really terrible eye opening thing.” And I couldn’t stop thinking that it was because the country just keeps wanting more and more...

By “giving up” do you mean freedoms, or privileges that come with a capitalist society as ours?

FRED: Privileges. I don’t understand—I mean, you would have to define a freedom for me to understand what it would mean to give it up. I’m not challenging you—I’m saying, I just feel as though, like, today—there were 700 pizzas down there (at the venue) and I ate three pieces and I totally feel sick but you know, I don’t even think about it. And so many people are super hungry all the time, in this country, so many people in the world are going hungry, living in abhorrent, terrifically unhealthy, terrible environments based on the way this country operates for the last like, 30–40 years, and that’s gonna take a lot of rebuilding, you know what I mean? So I don’t know if either President is gonna make me think, “Oh, great, the long term is getting better, he’s making it great-” I just think it’s become the lesser of two evils. Sorry to filibuster on this entire issue.

You mentioned sacrifice. And it’s interesting that Charles Rangel, a Representative from New York—and you wouldn’t think this from a liberal—but he was advocating the draft as a way to hammer home the sacrifice needed in a war, and to bring the war to the doorsteps of those people inert on the matter. That’s partially why they’ve been able to perpetrate the war—we haven’t had to even consider how it affects us.

SCOTT S: A certain segment of the population hasn’t had to stop and think about what this war actually means. I mean, a significant portion of my high school went and fought in the first Gulf War because that’s what you did. A lot of people went into the military because a lot of them were in trouble with the law or for various reasons. I really don’t think a lot of the population have to deal with the repercussions of this war—and a draft, theoretically, would bring that home. If there was a way to widen the disparity between those who go and those who can get away from it, to bring the consequences to everyone if we are to go to war, I think that’d be healthy.

ELLIOTT: The thing that is really deeply upsetting to me is that like, instant stratification that happened after 9/11 and I think that Bush cultivated an atmosphere that really polarized the Muslim world and the Christian/ Judeo world, and there are already many existing conflicts in the world ? Africa—and I think that putting America at the forefront of pushing on that rift is really disappointing, especially at a time when there’s a lot of spiritual deadness in our country, especially in the youth. It’s tough, I mean, you read all the language of Bush’s speeches form day one and it’s been all us/ them. Even post-9/11 he was very sloppy with his language and how he talks about Islam, terrorists is damaging. So for anyone that isn’t honed in on his vernacular, it all becomes this one big rallying cry. That’s the thing that’s most frightening to me, you know we’ve talked about how this tour, we’ve joked about the purpose of it is to bring “universal love,” and yea, it’s hokey...

SCOTT D: We talk about it all the time, in different levels or another, but you talk about tying politics and music—but this little band, what does that have to do with politics? How do we effect—I mean, we’re just out playing music every night, how does that change the political realm, or even the social realm? I mean we have an audience for a few hours every night, and then they’re gone so I think that ties in with what you’re [Elliott] saying, I think we do, I think there is like a spiritual background to it and I think that maybe our political views, they’re views that I think are very important to everyone in this band, even though I don’t think it’s definitely an overt political message we’re trying to send. But I think it’s an underlying thing like a caring not only for our audience but for like, humanity.

On a lighter note, in an interview with Rockin’ the Scene, Fred, you said you fantasized about riding bikes with Brian Wilson...

FRED: He asked me what I would do to hang out with Brian Wilson, and I was like, “dude, I don’t want to meet fuckin’ Brian Wilson,” he seems like a real depressed guy. So I just thought—shit, I’m about to go ride a bike anyway, so that’s what I said. It had more to do with riding bikes than Brian Wilson.

Well, I was going to ask, if you felt that way about Brian Wilson—if you thought the same occurrence could happen with Rivers Cuomo.

FRED: I would never ride a bike with Rivers Cuomo. I don’t like Weezer at all. He seems like a nice guy but he doesn’t seem like he even rides bikes—doesn’t seem like he rides bikes at all.

Do you ride bikes?

FRED: All the time.


FRED: Everyday.

Great. [Pause] So you don’t see any parallel between like, the aesthetics, the pop...

FRED: Absolutely not! I see absolutely no connection between our band and Weezer.

Oh no, I meant a corollary between Weezer and Brian Wilson...

FRED: I see less of a connection between Brian Wilson and Rivers Cuomo.

Did you hear Smile?

FRED I haven’t heard it yet.

It’s awesome.

STEVE: I heard it sounds like The Blue Album...




Well that’s all I was asking really; if you were into Brian Wilson, hanging out with him...

FRED: Listen. I wouldn’t not hang out with him but I would not hang out with Rivers Cuomo.

Well, is there anything else you want our readers to know about the band?

FRED: Uh, what magazine is this for?


FRED: Oh, awesome. I’m sorry, I didn’t even know.

No, it’s cool.

STEVE: You missed that part of the briefing.

FRED:: Yeah, I did.

[Long Pause]

FRED: Our band is trying very, very hard all the time, and it’s just a band, it’s not that big a deal, but in that, it’s the biggest deal it could possibly be. There really is a hope for universal understanding and universal love with our music. That’s the only goal we have.

Stewart Smith, Tim Rogan
Thursday, 23 December 2004

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Tweed Magazine content report:
2024-06-24 19:49:08
Saturday Looks Good to Me, Tegan and Sara, Saturday Looks Good to Me, antiwar, Baghdad, congress, Mike Kinsella, politics, Emily Haines, senate, End report.