Check, check, checking out Rocket From The Tombs - a discussion with David Thomas, also of Pere Ubu and Projex Ubu

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Wed, 07/26/2006 - 19:51.


I was really thrilled to get access to photograph the Rocket From The Tombs show tonight at the Beachland Ballroom (if you are reading this before 10 PM - get over there now and read the rest later) - but when I got a call this afternoon from their publicist Ilka saying if I wanted to drop by the soundcheck at 6:30 to do a quick interview with lead singer and founder of RFTT and Pere Ubu and all sorts of other art music projects that I love, I was exstatically intimidated, as I've seen both RFTT and Pere Ubu (many times) so know in every way David Thomas is larger than life - and his music and words foretell a seriousness and directness that doesn't give the sense this is an easy person to chat with... and I was right. But nothing worthwhile is easy, so I took my chances and Evelyn and I hit the Beachland for the treat of hearing a seminal musical force tune their sound, and then be intimidated by the man Pere Ubu in person... well worth the punch.

The sound check was clearly a challenge - David and band belted through core works to force into submission a sound system ill-prepared for the force of the Rockets, in a room not easily yielding to the range of rock blasting forth. Just hearing these talented artists work through the challenges of honing their sound was a great experience to behold, and with the right adjustments the show is set to rock very hard and loud tonight... more on that later.

That David Thomas would still sit down for 15 minutes, after an exhausting sound check, shows he is not a man to be feared - but he is a massive artistic force with an intellect to be respected, and addressed with great respect - super-smart, precise, articulate, certain of himself and his work - uber-artist I wish I had a better opportunity to learn from and observe in action... I'd follow the tour if I had the time and money - I will follow up with the other band members later to get more persectives on their whole phenomenum as it is all so impactful - this is a rare group of talented masters of their arts and the art of music.

Here are a few quick notes from my discussion today with Thoms, which I'll clean up and fill in more as I have time to think about what we discussed, and after the show that starts up in less than an hour... your your sake, I wish you would be there... I'll share photos and insight as I'm able to grasp what I may.

I started the discussion referring to a quote by David Thomas in the liner notes for Rocket Redux about the fact the band may not always get along but they really like playing the RFTT songs with each other... that “the only reason I do it is because what we do on stage is so satisfyingly hot.”

Well, having seen them in 2003 and now the soundcheck for tonight's show, there is no doubt the band is hot. David Thomas has a completely unique voice and range and vocal style – from a shrill, harsh high-range to a full, often droning low, which the sound-man really had to reach into his trick-bag to pull out of the thud and crank of the bass guitar of Craig Bell.

I asked David if this tour meant RFTT had shifted from a project to a formal band – had evolved in some way. David said they've been writing new material and it's going okay – they're in the early stages of sorting that out – that's why they're doing this short tour of the United States, to try new things out.

I can't wait to hear what's new and where that takes them – more on that after the show.

Trying to bring the discussion home to Cleveland and the roots of RFFT, I mentioned a quote about early Cleveland RFTT days where he said “it seems to me, as I remember it, what we were angry about was ordinariness. The mainstream rock bands who played in all the clubs were SO ordinary and unambitious, were satisfied with so little when there so much that could be done.” I asked if that was still an influence, mentioning I thought in many ways Cleveland is defensive and still fighting against a sense of ordinariness...

David said that is not an influence on him and his work now – what influenced them in 1974 is not an influence now – he's had a long successful career and it has always been influenced by very different things, constantly changing – not angry at ordinariness – “I do what I what – I can't answer for other people – people can't keep fighting the same battles that were supposed to be fought 20-30 years ago – solutions that applied in 1975 do not apply now - too many people worked on those problems then.”

I mentioned a quote on Projex Ubu, the website for all things David Thomas: "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." - Hunter S. Thompson

David said he put that up when Thompson died and hasn't taken it down, but that “I don't particularly care that it is...” That lead to insight on David's career.

I mentioned that it seemed the next Pere Ubu album (coming out in September), “Why I Hate Women”, was going to be very successful and he was surprised I said that... I clarified I'd read it was “artistically successful”, as it has had very great critical acclaim even before release.

David said he takes that his work will be artistically successful for granted – “if it wasn't, I wouldn't put it out – I've always had a high standard of production over the years” – he said it would be nice if people bought the release but he's been an artist too many years to worry about having a hit release – it is about the art.


RFTTSoundCheck1.JPG44.17 KB