Sorta Dada-Space-Punk-Jazz: an Interview with Geza X

INTERVIEWS

Geza X is a powerhouse producer that has pushed the boundaries of genre. He’s produced legendary punk bands like the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and The Avengers. His 1981 solo album is a highly original statement, and shows off his pop and punk production skills. 

TEENAGE NEWS: The Masque was an early punk club in Los Angeles. It was one of the first venues to play independent music. What was your job at the Masque? How long was the Masque open? 
Geza X: The Masque was not open for a very long time. It was open as a rehearsal hall before it became a club. It was an illegal club, so the cops were always coming down on us. It was a BYOB (bring your own beer) type of places. Entrance was maybe two bucks, or five at the most. The bands that rehearsed there were some of the first that played punk shows. The stage was only a couple of inches high; it wasn’t a stage at all. It evolved out of this rehearsal space… I asked Brendan [Mullen, Masque owner and later drummer in Geza’s band] if I could rent a room because there was space, and only three people were living there. Actually there were four… The Controllers lived in their rehearsal room in the back. Then I said, “Okay… I have this PA gear, and a recorder.” I came in as the house sound man. He was paying me to do these shows, and I was paying him rent. It kind of just evened out… My room was at the top of the stairs when you entered the basement. We were there for less than a year before he had to start doing shows elsewhere because the cops were coming and busting it all the time. Around this time the Masque was still semi-open but it wasn’t exactly acting as a club. We had other clubs at this time that started showing some of our bands. A lot of bands paraded to the Canterbury Hotel, which was really just a block away from the Masque. So on both side of Hollywood Blvd there was this little presence of Punks.

TEENAGE NEWS: What did your job at the Masque teach you about recording?
Geza X: I came to the Masque from a recording studio that was directly across the street. That recording studio was called Artists Recording Studio. It was a little, dive, 16-track recording studio… I slept on the floor and repaired their equipment in the night. So in the daytime I learned how to record; I was doing Mariachi, Funk, and a little Disco. I was really itching to record Rock music because at the time there weren’t any Rock records. This is when Disco was at its peak. So us Rockers were starving for something loud. When Punk Rock started to come in with the Ramones and Sex Pistols, those of us who were interested Geza-Xstarted hanging out at the Masque; it became like a clubhouse and also a club. So at the daytime there were people frequently hanging out, and in the night there would be shows now and then. So I started spreading the word around this clique that was showing up there that I was a record producer, even though I wasn’t really. I was just barely an engineer at the time… Then Slash Magazine came over one day and said, “You’re a producer, well then produce the Germs!” And I said “Great!!” you know… It turns out that was the first endeavor for Slash Records, which at that point had only been Slash Magazine. So, it was the first produced Germs record, the first Slash record, and the first Geza X record.

TEENAGE NEWS: Who were your favorite bands that played the Masque?
Geza X: I joined the Bags very early on, and that was a really nice band. The next band I joined was the Deadbeats, and that was one of my favorite band I’ve ever been in, maybe the favorite band. They were everything I am which is sorta Dada-space-Punk-Jazz, you know… They also were weird chord changes, and joking on stage. So, I loved being in the Deadbeats. The Wierdos were a fantastic band, one of the best; they should’ve been signed. The Screamers were an outstanding band. I was their soundman and roadie for two years. I also recorded all of their demos. It’s really unfortunate that they didn’t get signed because they were world-class. I was the person responsible for all the echo looping and funky sounds that happened in their shows. Sometimes they would walk off stage and I would have a whole multilayer of all the instruments they would play going. It would just be all these echo montages. I really got to be a part of the Screamers’ experience, and I am one of the few people who really knew them inside. It was a pretty amazing ride! There were so many good bands; it is impossible to list them all. The Avengers and Dead Kennedys would come down from San Francisco, and they were two marvelous bands. There were, of course, so many local bands that were really fantastic. The Zeroes were a Latino-Rock-band that had a really, really cool, tight sound. The Skulls were one of the Masque house regulars. A lot of the bands on Dangerhouse [LA based record label that was the first to release only Punk bands]… There was a point when Black Randy became a really good band. He did a sorta white-boy-funk kinda thing. Wall Of Voodoo, later on, became a really great band. I did their first demos, and I named them. They were originally the Model Citizens, and I said, “This doesn’t sound like the Model Citizens, it sounds like a Wall of Voodoo.” I was sorta referring to the Phil Spector Wall of Sound; they liked the name so they kept it. 

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TEENAGE NEWS: Were you involved in the recent Live at the Masque albums? [“Gimme A Little Pain,” which features the Alley Cats].

Geza X: If it was a live show at the Masque, then I recorded all that stuff. So, yes…

TEENAGE NEWS: Before you produced the Bags, you were in the band too. How did you make the transition from member to producer?
Geza X: Well it wasn’t that hard. I had already produced a Dangerhouse record (the Deadbeats). So, when the Bags wanted to record, they kindly approached me. By that time I wasn’t in the band; Craig Lee had replaced me. We recorded what turned to be a great sounding single, “Survive.” That record, despite the technical problems recording it (there was funkiness in the recording gear)… I was able to clean it up to the point where the record sounded so good and fat. I was very proud of that Bags record. Alice Bag is a really good bandleader. She does a great job of keeping things rolling and relevant, she always was in with the cool kids! She would make sure everyone knew about gigs, and when that record came out it got a lot of attention.

TEENAGE NEWS: Would you say that you prefer producing? Did you realize this around the time you produced the Bags?
Geza X: I didn’t think I preferred producing… what happened was it just took off! I did a couple of records, and then the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag called me. It just went from there… I recorded many of the top, indie and underground bands of the West Coast. I love the studio, and I love recording, and I love underground music, so you know… It wasn’t like a moneymaker, but it was artistically a marriage made in heaven. It was exactly what I wanted. It was low bucks, you know, very low bucks, but the underground always took care of me. There was always a floor to sleep on, there was always chicks, there was always love, (there was a lot of community spirit). It was really fun, and active time to be making these tiny, little 45 RPM ghetto records. I really try to think of it as the Delta Blues period at the turn of the century. The Punkers never really got much appreciation from the industry either, and the various small labels ripped them off. They never really learned the business thing (even though they didn’t really want to). They were outsiders, and they knew it, and they wanted it that way. There are tremendous parallels… I think this is one of the reasons Punk has had survived such a long cycle of public interest. It really is the new Blues. The artists were treated in a similar backhanded manner; drugs, despair, and a lack of opportunity took them out. The scene imploded on itself from the craziness. The craziest of the crazies were in Punk Rock. You have these people who had criminal tendencies, and mental problems, but we all just loved each other and forgave everything. You have to remember that there was genuine and extreme poverty. This is when The Reaganomics Era started to kick in, and people were really deprived of opportunity. Some came form the suburbs and had affluent Christian families, but they saw what a black hole that was. Most kids came from the wrong sides of the tracks… Everyone merged together in this self-imposed poverty; the clothing, the fashion, everything was a reflection of that. We got all our clothes at thrift stores, and made our own records, makeup, and hair dye (we would use rug die to color our hair). People tend to forget, because Punk fashion was rather attractive, that it was really dark and noir and born out of poverty. Culturally, these kids didn’t have a chance. What I am trying to say is it really does parallel the Blues, if you look at it at in a cultural and sociological perspective. That is why there is international interest in it, and of course the level of art it is… It came out of nowhere and it was an outsider movement. It has remained this way forever…

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TEENAGE NEWS: What do you mean when you say you “quadruped the vocals” on “Holiday In Cambodia?” Why not just triple them?
Geza X: [Laughs]. Because we wanted it to be absolutely ferocious on the chorus! Jello Biafra, to his credit, has really good ears and is a good organizer… When we recorded everything we just recorded four of everything, so it had a lot of guitars and vocals. We went and picked through it, the chorus and verses… there were three or four of us at the consoles…and we had to flip the switches on and off to get the various track combinations we wanted for different parts of the songs. That’s why the 45 RPM single of the song is so much better than the album version  (they rerecorded it for the album). The version that I did has all the Punk-upped double and quadrupled tracks. You aren’t supposed to show this off in Punk. It’s not like a pop record where you wanna make it sound glamorous, it’s more like… to make something sound loud in a recording –you only have two tiny speakers to hear the tracks off of– and have to multiple them and do them several times. Even early on I was producing Punk records and hiding production (so it wouldn’t be about me, but rather make the band sounding more ferocious). I think it was a good strategy because a lot of those records have really stood the test of time when you play them today.

TEENAGE NEWS: You were released on a Rodney on the Roq compilation album. What was Rodney’s contribution to PUNK? 
Geza X: Rodney is a very, very important person to the story. He was active in Glitter and Glam long before Punk. He had created a street presence as far back as the 1960’s. He kinda copied the same style as Andy Warhol, he made himself very hidden in some ways, ambiguous (he didn’t really reveal much emotion), but his work is clearly seen through what he has done socially. He was always the person that was giving our bands access to the airwaves. He used to promote shows, and had a club called Rodney’s English Disco, and then when Punk came out he came onto KROQ with a several hour-long Saturday night show. He was the only one in the country practically (except a few college radio stations) that was playing our stuff. As a result of his devotion to the street team, all of LA began to hear these songs. They never really went nation wide, but in Los Angeles, as the scene grew we would all plan our parties around Rodney’s show and just blast it for our Saturday Night Beer Bash. We would go to each other’s houses, get a bunch of beer, and play Rodney.

TEENAGE NEWS: What was Kim Fowley like? Did he do anything for PUNK or you?
Geza X: We just interviewed him for our movie. Don Bolles and I are making a 4 part documentary series about LA Punk and its origins. It starts in 1975, with Glam and Glitter, and moves through Zolar X and the Motels, and then ends with Punk in 1982. Of course, Kim Fowley was a very important interview. We interviewed him literally on his deathbed. He was on a gurney in his apartment. We got a fantastic interview of him trying to size up his history and his contributions to the beginning of Punk DIY scenes. I consider him very, very important because of many things… He co-promoted shows with Rodney… he was the weird, sex-maniac record producer on the fringe of the music business, and he knew a lot about the music business, but he also was a cranky, cantankerous fellah. It was always a love/hate kinda thing with Kim Fowley, but I did grow quite fond of him when I realized that some of it was just an act. In some ways his act makes him an early Proto-Punk. He wasn’t necessarily a huge fan of the Punk scene; he had good taste in music… He knew what bands were good and what ones were not. What he did that was pivotal was that he created the Runaways. The Runaways came just a little bit before Punk, so they were in the same time period as the early Ramones and Sex Pistols. The Runaways were in some ways a really good band and in some ways not that good of a band, but Joan Jett was always a Rocker… She was this little girl, she couldn’t have been older than 15 or 16, but she could play the guitar like anybody! She was so rad, like a little dude or something.The early Punks weren’t too crazy of the Runaways, but we would see their shows especially for Joan because Joan was part of our scene. She was really close friends with the Germs, and we all used to get drunk together at Joan’s house (which was kiddie corner from the Whiskey A Go Go) as early as 1976. Joan Jett, Kim Fowley, and Punk Rock all triangulated each other in the days where there was no concert promotion or independent bands on the scene. You have to remember that those of us who liked Rock were starving for loud music, and so anything that sorta fit that rowdy and underground screech was pretty crucial to us and made a big impact on our lives.

gezaXTEENAGE NEWS: What is the scoop on your  documentary?
Geza X: We are doing a 4 part documentary series that is coming out on Reality Films, and it basically traces the origins of Punk from its Glam and Glitter roots to where the movie “American Hardcore” takes over. We are picking the key moments, quite a bit about the early days before Punk Rock with Rodney’s English Disco, and how the Glam people migrated into Punk. We go into Zolar X, The Dogs, and The Motels (which were sorta more Rock). Those groups were the only people who were doing anything in the mid-70’s. So when I became really active in the mid-70’s I met people like Charlotte Caffey (she was my girlfriend for a while), and Wall of Voodoo. Joe Ramirez, who formed the Eyes with Charlotte and Don Bolles… all of us were in these proto-bands before Rock was permitted in LA. We would do these little singer-song writer shows with tiny amplifiers because nobody would let us play loud. The mid-70’s were like a vacuum. The only thing that was noticeable was Disco, and we hated it. We were right into what the Punk scene brought into the mix after that. We documented all of that, and we are talking to all those people (we have about 40 interviews so far). Not necessarily the big stars that are so well-known and featured in other movies; we went back to the street to find all the Masque regulars, all the people who lived at Canterbury Hotel (like the Maus Maus, the Controllers). We also interviewed photographers, graphic artists, and writers… and historians! We have two historians: one is at UCLA, and one who has written several books on the 60’s and 70’s, he’s has a PhD from Denmark where he also teaches. We have the historical perspective from him (about the background of the Regan Era)… We have tons of photos; photographers were so nice with their archives. We have fliers, a lot interviews, and we are getting more. It’s gonna be a 4 part series, but it will be both entertaining and historical. We might break it up into a 10 part TV series… I cherry picked a fantastic editor from reality shows on television. It’s ready for stage two, which is the main edit. We have the rough edit done… Don Bolles of course did a lot. I’ve groomed him to be an interviewer because he is a very talented guy… A lot of things aren’t known about Don, they just know him as the drummer of the Germs; but, number one he is a fantastic musician, he plays guitar and sings, and he understands song structure really well. He is an intellectual, he loves obscure and weird art, he does montages with shortwave radios and with sound generating machinery, he likes mixed media stuff, he’s very smart (he’s written books on Punk Rock history). I kinda groomed him to interview and narrate; he’s going to narrate. He did a lot of the interviews with me… He and I started this team, and now we added in two very good editors, and I have a distributer, so it will be smooth sailing once we put it together.1-1-5

TEENAGE NEWS: How long did it take you to complete “You Goddam Kids!”?
Geza X: My analogy is like this: If you are a gardener and mow lawns all day, the last thing you want to do when you get home is mow the lawn. I was recording all these other bands, and mixing a lot of live shows. All the bands wanted me to mix them. I was mixing shows at the Roxy, the Whiskey, and the Mabuhay. I was up in San Francisco almost every weekend. I spent just as much time in the San Francisco scene as I did in LA (people even thought I lived there). I was always doing mixes. When it came to recording my own stuff it was hard for me to get focused on it. Of course, there was anxiety of trying to do it myself. I produced, sang, and played guitar… It took, I don’t know, maybe six months. I don’t remember exactly. However, six months was longer than most of the usual records, which were a few days. The Dead Kennedys took the longest besides me; they would record for weeks at a time. 

TEENAGE NEWS: How many copies did you make of the album?
Geza X: Just a limited edition of 1,000. Those are really becoming collectors’ editions now. They had a bumper sticker, and a lot of them were signed. I wanted to make it a very limited issue. At this time we never knew how many records would sell. It’s ironic going back in history, so many of these records are really well-known, but many of them had a pressing of 500 or 1,000 (not very often more than that). Maybe with the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag you had huge sales of 30,000 or 50,000 indie sales, huge. Most of the other Punk records really were 1,000 copies until other labels reissued them. 

TEENAGE NEWS: Are the lyrics song in jest? 
Geza X: They are satirical, and came out of observation. I was living at the Canterbury Hotel at this time, and I was watching people make such a mess of where they lived. They got evicted all the time… I just decided to make sorta funny, satirical songs about all the stuff I hated. I was really intending to tease and torment my friends, as opposed to seriously hating Punk. My music was a little goofier; it was based on, maybe, Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. I liked pop songs, and pop structures, and unlike some of the other Punks I liked New Wave and Top 40. My idea was to take all that stuff, put it in a shredder, and reassemble it using regular pop song structures. So what I did on “the R-1345740-1211481281.jpegMommymen” was make all the songs like pop songs (with weird chords and gimmicks) that went against the Punk element. It was Punk because it was anti-itself. “I Hate Punks” was a satire, with truth (all humor contains some truth which is what brings out the pathos, or whatever you wanna call it). All those lyrics were about the stuff that was driving me crazy: the drugs, all the stunted sexual growth, and the vandalism.

TEENAGE NEWS: Was the CD copied from the masters, or was it from the vinyl record itself?
Geza X: Well when we mastered it, I got a lucky break. I originally recorded some of the stuff on 8-track and some of the stuff on 4-track, “Mean Mr. Mommyman” was 4-track… I had to bounce so many tracks back and forth, and there was some sludge and bad clarity loss. I had a real lucky break when I went to master the CD. The engineer loved the music, and he went into Studio B where Frank Zappa recorded, and brought out a magic box that he put the audio through and it cleaned everything up. It took a lot of the hiss out, and pumped up the highs and lows. I don’t know how it worked, but it was fantastic. I got the original mastering from this really good Frank Zappa device, that I don’t even know what it was. It was a very early spacial enhancer type of gizmo… With the CD I very carefully copied the audio off of the vinyl. So the CD is off the vinyl. In other words, the mastering is the same as the original vinyl disc. It is literally played off a record player, and rerecorded for the CD. It sounds great, like the original record.

TEENAGE NEWS: In an interview you said, “We tuned the drums to EACH song with a guitar tuner, so they were part of the melody.” Why did you do this, and what does this mean?
Geza X: What I did was what they used to do. By this time I had quite a bit of production experience, and what they were doing in the big studios was they were tuning the snare to the fundamental key of each song, or to something that would resonate nice and smooth with it… (this way the drums wouldn’t be twangy with the rest of the music). What I did was tune the snare to an E, and the tom toms to the dominant notes in the song. For one thing, Brendan wasn’t the world’s best drummer, he was kinda dorky, but God bless him! Brendan was one of my best friends; he started the Masque, and was super important to the scene. If I hadn’t done these records he wouldn’t be recorded. What we did was really work on his drum kit; we got his drums sounding really good and smooth. The songs have a George of the Jungle (bom bom bom bom) parts to them. I was trying to teach Brendan the parts to a certain point, and we would incorporate the tom toms that were in tune to various notes in the song. When you listen to the record there is a really nice glow to everything. Especially for Punk Rock, we made it melodic.

TEENAGE NEWS: “You Goddam Kids!” featured several well-known musicians. Were you able to tour with the album? Where?
Geza X: Oh my god yes! Don Bonebrake, Pat Delaney, Kira Roessler, and Brendan toured all over California with me. We did many shows here (at the Whiskey, at the Masque), and at the Mabuhay Gardens and Deaf Club up north [in San Francisco, CA]. We also played the Roxy! We played all the main places that Punk bands played. We played one show that even turned into a police riot! I had Brendan, so any band he had access to I had access to too. We were able to put together this all-star band! They loved playing with me because they were able to do something totally unique. Don Bonebrake was the drummer of X, but he got to play the marimbas with my band. He enjoyed that, and came to all of my shows. R-1345740-1211481303.jpeg

TEENAGE NEWS: Why did Pat Smear borrow your guitar (as seen in “The Decline of Western Civilization”)?
Geza X: WOW! That’s a fantastic question. I’m surprised you researched this so deeply. It’s kind of a cute story… Pat Smear was in the Germs, and a natural musician. He was a shreddy guitar player when I first heard him play. The rest of the band really wasn’t like that. The Germs lived a pretty rowdy lifestyle, and his guitar got stolen during the early in the days of the scene. He barely had an amplifier or anything, so he was always borrowing gear. I had all this gear stashed up (from the Masque days) before Punk Rock started, and I was very generous with different people. Amazingly, given all the mayhem of the Germ shows… the guitar was returned okay. That Firebird he was playing the neck was very slim and goes all the way to the top; if you drop it or throw something at it the neck will snap. Pat always fought off the fighters, and would return it to me in perfect condition. I have to say he was extremely good with my gear. I was always afraid something would happen because the Germs’ shows were more like performance pieces where things got destroyed (including Darby)! I was always a little afraid, but he always returned my stuff in perfect condition; God bless him. He borrowed it for “The Decline of Western Civilization,” and that was a nice feeling because I never got asked to be in that movie but at least my guitar is in there.

TEENAGE NEWS: What are your memories of recording Redd Kross? How young were they?
Geza X: Oh God, they were so young and so talented! They were so funny… what sweethearts. They were just kids, but they had their whole thing way worked out. By the time Redd Kross hit the scene they had their back history all worked out, like how Devo did when they first started. Redd Kross arrived as a thing, with all their “Leave It To Beaver”-TV-sitcom energy; that was their world and they were so good at it. They took off on this 60’s/early-70’s TV stuff and sorta regurgitated it into their kinda thing. They were more of a Rock band, with their long hair. I am flattered that they went onto such success because that was their first real album. It was done at The Kitchen Sink, which turned out to have horrible monitoring (all the mixes are really thin and trebly). Their playing is great, and my production was at a very high standard at that time, I really knew my shit by then. The thing was we were all strung out on speed… the sessions were really wild. It was very animated and very mysterious; the way speed makes you feel psychic, and like, you know in touch with another science fiction reality. By that time we were all really messed up on drugs. It was odd that way, but all I remember is the sheer fun of doing a record that good. The songs were great and their playing was great. The record suffered from the quality of the monitoring because the room was not very accurate. 

TEENAGE NEWS: What version of Black Flag did you record?
Geza X: The one with Dez singing. I did the first version of “The Damaged” album. It is kinda unfortunate that they got Henry right after we recorded it. For a while they didn’t release it except for a few singles (“Six Pack” and “American Waste”). Now they’ve reissued a lot of the stuff with Dez singing. That was a really good version of “The Damaged”… So, there are two versions of “The Damaged,” “Damaged 1” and “Damaged 2,” I did “Damaged 1.” Originally, I was only going to do a single… they heard the Dead Kennedy’s stuff, and they thought they might want a song or two that was a little more produced sounding. They came to me and spoke about that. I said, “Great that sounds cool.” Then they said, “We wanna do a whole album, but we want you and Spot to produce it together.” That sounded like a good idea, so we did it together. Spot had a lot to do with that album too… I did what you might call the “traditional sound layering and texturing” (how to build it up, how to get the vocals right). Spot used a lot of tricks from his earlier albums. I did not think those tricks would work, but they did. He put multiple microphones on one speaker, and that’s not supposed to work! I got a really bright, bouncy sound on that album. Dez was such a great singer, that album sounded really cool.

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TEENAGE NEWS: Did you think PUNK was something that was going to last forever?

Geza X: No, what I really thought was going to happen was a lot of the better bands would get signed and go mainstream. I thought it would become the next music era just like the other various waves. I did not understand that Punk was blackballed politically. I did not know that it was going to be suppressed, and that it got suppressed. As a result, I like to say, it spread its roots laterally and reerupted in places like Seattle, Austin, and San Diego. Consequently, it continued to remain underground. None of us had our moment of glory except a few safe bands like X or the Dickies, and of course the more New Wavey East Coast bands. West Coast Punk (including San Francisco) was really important, and never got the light of day. My feeling is that the reason Punk continues to reemerge and has achieved this museum level status is because of that story about the Blues. It has become, now 30 years after Punk, the new Delta Blues. The people who were instrumental in creating that scene are now obscure, DIY legends.

TEENAGE NEWS: Can you talk a little more about the political suppression? Was it only radio bans or were there other ways too?
Geza X: There is an urban legend that President Jimmy Carter had written a letter to all his friends at the record companies who helped him get elected. He said that he was afraid of the Punk Rock coming out of England, and that he didn’t want anarchy in the USA. Supposedly he sent them all a memo asking them to ignore it. I went to New York with the Screamers, and I spread the word that I was an investigative journalist because I was trying to do a story on it at the time. I circulated that info at a lot of parties, and I got an anonymous call one day from a reporter for the New York Times. He told me that he was trying to write a similar story, and his editor squashed it. He said it’s true, and that it’s one of those things that the right research will eventually dig up. My view is that in the 1960’s a lot of acts got blackballed, so why not in the 1970’s? There is always suppression that comes from very high places. You have Jimmy Carter who was in bed with most of the major record companies because he was a Folk-Rock kinda guy. They put up a lot of money to get him elected; it stands to reason that he could have that control. Then of course, Reagan came in and he shifted the whole economic and political climate. It became very dark; it was proto-Republican, now we call it the Neo-Conservative Movement. It was really getting hard during the Regan Era, and we felt the strangeness that was coming down from above. Reagan had been the Governor of California before, so we were aware of his tactics. He was a very force driven governor. There was a lot of police action; we were always getting arrested in the 1960’s when he was governor. Anyway, that’s how that went down…

TEENAGE NEWS: What is your favorite early production, and was there a Punk group that could’ve have used your production skills?
Geza X: I would say that my favorite early production was the “Holiday in Cambodia” single. That showed everyone in their best light. I was able to produce it the way I felt it should be produced, and I had tremendous support from the band (both Biaffra and Ray had really good ears, and helped lead me to a good mix). It got mastered in England by a cat named Porky Prime Cut. When you hear the Cherry Red version of that record that came out in the UK, it is a phenomenon. It is as big and ballsy as anything I’ve ever heard. It stands up nicely to the Sex Pistols. That has to be one of my all time favorite recordings.

I had always wanted to record the Mutants. They were San Francisco’s craziest, most bitchin’ band. They had great songs like “New Dark Ages.” They were some of my favorite people. I would stay at their loft when I went to San Francisco. They always had an open door for me. Sally [Webster, one of the three lead singers] was a sweetheart of a chick, and so much fun to hang out with. They were all great, but Sally in particular. Sue Brisk, the photographer, lived upstairs from them so she would come down and capture all the morning hangovers. She took amazing photos; I’ve seen some of them on Facebook recently. The Mutants, and their scene, was really important to me and I always wished I could’ve recorded them.

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TEENAGE NEWS: What Punk recording paid you the best royalties?
Geza X: The only group that’s ever actually paid me royalties is the Dead Kennedys. That’s because Ray is such an honest guy, and a good administrator. He’s sent me royalties every three months for 35 years! I want to give him a special high-five and props for his honesty.R-625707-1283779836.jpeg

TEENAGE NEWS: What did you do after PUNK? You left LA for where?
Geza X: Well, I had a nervous breakdown from too much speed abuse. I was shooting speed for about three years, and I unraveled really fast. I lived in a barn with Kim from Silver Chalice, and then I moved to Pomona and lived near the Pomona Mall –but it really was a ghost town, there was nothing there– near the train tracks. I was just trying to recover; I went to the gym and took vitamins. I was freaked out, paranoid, and psychotic. I had a shotgun under my bed incase I needed to use it on myself [laughs]. I didn’t go outside very much. A few people took pity on me, like Paul Roessler; he was always a good friend and would come out and play music with me. Ironically, I was writing for Spin Magazine at the time and I wrote all these funny stories about independent recordings, but otherwise I was a mess and couldn’t really handle my shit. It took me a few years to come back. I came back to LA and joined AA and then got sober for a really long time. That was my ride to back recovery, like so many other people [laughs] that are survivors of the scene. There comes a point when the drugs and drinking has to stop.

 TEENAGE NEWS: What did you do for Meredith Brooks? What did she do for you?
Geza X: Oh wow… I kinda discovered her. She had been in a band called the Graces with members of the GoGos. They made a couple of albums that never really went anywhere. She was managed by a woman named Barbara Baker (the famous producer, Roy Thomas Baker’s, wife). Barbara and I somehow met at a club or something, and we somehow hit it off. She brought me Meredith, and I thought that she was a great guitarist and songwriter, but that her stuff sounded really dated, and too square. I said, “Meredith, you are awesome, but seriously you need to write something that is contemporary.” Then, she disappeared for a while and found, shit I forgot her name [Shelly Peiken]…but now she co-writes with Christina Aguilera, a top songwriter… She buddied up with her and wrote “Bitch,” and then she played it for me on acoustic guitar. I swear I could barely scrape my mouth off the floor the song was so strong. I thought that it was going to be a fucking number one hit, and of course it turned out to be. So on my own dime I produced it in my garage studio. I had a 24-track recorder; there were not Protools in these days… I chopped it up, put it in a sampler, and assembled it the way I did with the rappers. That song went onto be number one for four weeks. R-455451-1118593537.jpg

TEENAGE NEWS: How was the Masque Reunion? It was your first live gig in how long?
Geza X: The Masque Reunion was my first gig in ten years, maybe! I had a band called Live New Psychics that was playing around. We had some good players like Paul Roessler and David Kendrick who had played drums with Devo… I had Kenny Lyons on guitar, he’s a phenomenal studio-ish player, and I had Beth Hart, and Jossie Cotton singing background vocals (both monster, monster singers). I kinda discovered Beth Hart too. Live New Psychics played for a while, and we almost got signed to Warner. We did a showcase, but the trouble was that Warner was just collapsing at the time. After that I didn’t play much. I started my studio, Satellite Park, and did that for about 13 years. When the Masque Reunion happened, of course I was asked to play with the Deadbeats, but it got pumped up because my name was well enough known that I became a presence… That picture is me on the flyers (it’s also on the cover of the Dangerhouse reissue box set)! That is moi! After all this time I felt I didn’t get that much recognition, I was partly behind the scenes partly on stage, but never really had a successful band or anything. I’m mostly known for my production work, but I’ve done a lot of different things. I’ve written for Spin, taught production at UCLA… It was exciting to see my name, and that photo come back! A lot of people have been calling me for interviews lately, and I’m doing this documentary. I’m enjoying this typical 20-30 year cycle where all this stuff comes back for its historical presence. Punk Rock has drawn a lot of interest because so many things about it are unique compared to the 1960’s. It wasn’t as known as the 1960’s or as widespread; it was underground and more crazy and dispersing. It was dark and nourish, even though there was a lot of love within the community. We all felt the desperation; we wanted a chance but we realized we weren’t gonna get one. In some ways, ironically, that’s what kept it relevant. It remained a true underground subculture. We created the DIY Movement, we created Alternative Rock; it was all because of Punk Rock. We created all the graphics you see these days, the rough hue. Our influences are everywhere, including what you see on TV and movies. The “I-Don’t-Give-A-Shit Antihero” all came out of Punk Rock. No one in the scene ever sold out!

 TEENAGE NEWS: Can you talk about your album with Eddie and the Subtitles (specifically the song “Magic”)?
Geza X: Thanks for bringing this up. This was the anomalous thing on the album. I got some criticism for it because the rest of the album was a Punk album. Eddie had a pretty good-sized hit with the song “American Society” (a great song). Eddie was a great guy; he would drive us to San Francisco in his van and sponsor a lot of our projects. He was an awesome cat, and we are reissuing that album pretty soon. Anyway, what happened was he played me some of his songs and I actually wanted to produce a couple of songs for him. At this time they were doing the Punk thing but the musicians had a wind range of things they could do. He played me the other songs, the ones he wasn’t doing with his band, and I fell in love with “Magic.” I thought it was a top 40 song. I also fell in love with “Stream of Consciousness” because it was dark, weird, and sad. It was so sad! I made it sound like a movie scene, like something in a horror movie. I did this microtonal thing on the guitar with the bottleneck. I split the notes in half (instead of 12 going down the scale, I did 24). You can only do that with a slide, of course. I added weird cymbal sounds and weird splashes. I love that song! I decided to really produce three songs, or two, as singles. I got Nicky Alexander (of the Cramps) to play drums, and I got a couple really good studio musicians for him. It was me on guitar, and I produced them for all they were worth. We only had an 8-track so I had to do a lot of bouncing, but I think “Magic” turned out very pretty. It was unfortunate that it stood out on the album as some weird thing. It was written to his wife, it was beautiful.

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TEENAGE NEWS: What is “Cultural Indexing?”

Geza X: [Laughs]. Well that is a term I came up for the way that we put index cards in the back of our minds. They are sorta like the shorthand for the way we interpret what we see. I was trying to prove this concept with these mock human sacrifices I was doing for a while. It was almost a joke, but I dusted it off so it looked proper and serious. I did it as a performance art piece. People took it really seriously… Like one guy was on acid and he thought that we actually killed the poor girl! The idea was that when you say something there are all these symbols that you associated with the thing and you don’t really look to evaluate it, you just pull out this index card in the back of your mind, and these certain cultural motifs tell you what is going on. 

TEENAGE NEWS: Can you talk a little more about the “mock human sacrifices?”
Geza X: It was total strung-out-on-heroin-goth-and-dramatic. Periodically in my career I have done performance art pieces that were either part of my stage shows, or just as an art form in themself. We staged out this thing where we brought out Tammy Dresslar (she was Don Bolles’ girlfriend), and she was in panties and scantily dressed. We put her on a folding table, and I had these collapsible knives and fake blood, that I got at a magic store… So I set up this whole recital up, and I stabbed her a few times with this fake knife. There was no spiritual message to it or nothing like that; it was kinda against things like that! A lot of times with performance art, or just art, you want to do something that freaks peoples’ heads… you wanna get them thinking. This being said, the Cultural Indexing Theory was that I don’t think people really do that much thinking for themselves, they just pull out these index cards… The mock human sacrifices proved it to me because of the reactions I got.

TEENAGE NEWS: Will you vote in the next presidential election? Who do you want to win?
Geza X: No, I gave up. I was all for Ross Perot, but he got squeezed out under bizarre circumstances. Highly placed people had “threatened his family;” it was too creepy so I gave up. I think that I voted for Obama because he was such a good hypnotist, but the results didn’t pan out. He was a puppet king. I think he did improve healthcare, I am on Medical and have to say it did improve (it didn’t get worse). That’s reasonable, I was skeptical about insurance companies picking up the ball, but they are treating me well. Who knows though what he had to do with that. I don’t feel very positive about voting, and that’s a shame because it’s the one way to create change… The trouble is there isn’t one rallying force in America that unites the people. Everyone is in his or her own cliques and camps. The left and right have become armed camps, and it’s all staged for the benefit of TV stations to satisfy the hunger of their audiences for violence. My parents used to tell me the advantages of being in the middle of the road, taking parts from the Democrats and Republicans. No one does that anymore, it’s stupid. We’ve been reduced to the level of gibbering idiots. People are getting dumber and dumber and the only group intelligence is Google, thank God. But who knows what they are going to turn into; but for the time being at least you can research things on the web, and find out what you want to know for yourself. However, there is a lot of misinformation. You have to be pretty scrutinizing of the sources that you deal with.

 

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Post by August BernadicouTEENAGE NEWS 2

 

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3 thoughts on “Sorta Dada-Space-Punk-Jazz: an Interview with Geza X

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