Saturday, 28 June 2008

New interview with Jay from UNITED MUTATION...

I recently interviewed Jay Fox, who played bass for the legendary VA hardcore band UNITED MUTATION. While all of their recordings are incredible (including the demos, which were released later on Lost And Found), their 2nd EP 'Rainbow Person' is truly one of my favourite records ever, of any genre. Completely original and one-of-a-kind. I'm very thankful to Jay for answering these questions, and I hope you find his answers as interesting as I did..

1. How and when exactly did United Mutation form? How did you personally find out about punk, and what about it appealed to you?

Jay: UM formed in the summer of 1981, my brother John, Rev. Noel, and John Hardin had been recording for about 6 or 8 months, just learning how to writhing songs, and we met thru a mutual friend Mike Brown and a guy named Bob Otte, we started a band called Dark Self Image in the spring og 1981, it lasted until fall, then broke apart. John,John and I did a house party that fall/winter, then a couople more in the spring of 1982... This was with Mike Salkind on ..drums... We.. re-ran into Mike that spring, and he grabbed the mic. That was the start. Our first show as UM was Halloween 1982 with Media Disease in Fairfax Va.

Punk. I heard about from the sensationalist American Media. They set punk up in the Music press, so kids like me(I bought my first punk record in January 1978 - Rocket to Russia)could be exposed to it. Happily it never went away and killed disco at the same time.

2. Do you remember the first hardcore band you saw live, and what was your impression? Were you strongly aware that essentially a new music genre was being created, from the foundations of punk, in 80/81 (hardcore)?

Jay: 1st hardcore band live... I saw a buncn of pre -hardcore bands first,Cramps, Gun Club, Slickee Boys, Velvet Monkeys, Root Boy Slim, Rupert Chapplle. The first "real" DC Hardcore show I went to was Deadline.

3. How did you end up appearing on the Mixed Nuts Don't Crack comp? Does it represent the 'other' side of the DC-area scene to Flex Your Head?

Jay: Mixed Nuts was definitely the other side of the coin from Flex. Were was asked by Laura Lynch. She ran the label and went to school with John Fox. Plus we were an active not-on-Dischord hardcore band from Virginia. At this time UM and Media Disease were playing parties and such and were both recording at Inner Ear studio. It seemed to make sense.

4. United Mutation has also striked me as being one of the quintissential 'outsider' hardcore bands. Did you fit in at all with the DC scene?

Jay: We were from the other side of the Potomac River, and were not straight edge. At the time most of the Dischord folks still lived in DC or were just moving across the river into Arlington. We also were not intently trying to be "in" the scene, we had our own little scene in VA, and didn't really see the sense in hanging on someone else's party. We had our own. As far as fitting in, we ended up with lots of friends in the DC scene, played shows with most of the bands we liked and got to take advantage of the greatness that was happening. So while not conforming or trying to be in, we still ended up in the same scene.

5.What was the response like to the 1st demo when it came out, and was it this that sparked interest from Dischord? Did you play many shows with the straight edge bands etc?

Jay: By the time the Fugitive Family demo was finished we had already done 2 full demos at Inner Ear, that had already broken us into the scene. Both of these are on vinyl or on the Lost And Found Records CD. I guess that Ian/Jeff liked it well enough, they helped us get it out, and still consider us on the roster of Dischord. As far as playing shows with Dischord bands, we played with Scream, Marginal Man, Double O, Insurrection, Beefeater... Lots of others.

6. Tell us about how DSI Records started...

Jay: DSI was started by John Fox, and Lee West. Lee went on to be in Always August, a Richmond VA psychedelic band that put out a few records on SST. It was basically an outlet to get bands out. Dischord was being inundated with bands trying to get on the label, and they just couldn't do it, so DSI and Fountain Of Youth Records picked up the overflow to help get more bands that were trying to get records out be able to make it happen.

7. Were Media Disease your 'brother band' so to speak? Were you also friends with No Trend (another real outsider band)?

Jay: Media Disease were all our close friends. We played parties/shows with them, hung around, and were basically the Northern Virginia hardcore scene's main bands. John, the singer, was one of Mike Brown's school friends, so yeah we were brother bands for sure. No Trend, not really. Mike Salkind, our original drummer, joined them for a couple of records/tours. Personally, I don't know any of them other than Mike. The first couple of records were good. Live, i found them mostly painful to sit through, but that may be because they played a lot of shows, and played real long sets.

8. United Mutation are often credited with being a pioneering band to mix psychedelic music styles with hardcore. Were you influenced by 60s psych bands heavily? Were drugs involved?

Jay: All members of UM listened to 60's psychedelic music. John Fox and I were and still are fans of the San Francisco sound - Dead, Airplane, Country Joe, Quicksilver + lots of other stuff like the 13th Floor Elevators, Electric Prunes, then stuff like Zappa, Beefheart, Hawkwind, Gong... All that stuff played into our heads/music. As far as drug use, we were pot head types, not hard drug users. No one in our band was ever involved with hard drugs. We did try and expand our music into a psyche direction, but more into the weirdness of it not the flowery bits. Hawkwind was more of an influence than most other bands. But stuff like Butthold Surfers were high on our list as well. Alternative Tentacles and SST bands all had the same kind of vibe aswell. Though not so many Dischord type bands touched that vibe... Void did I guess, and 9353.

9. Is it true you hung out in your basement most of the time and rarely played shows?

Jay: It is true we hung out in our basement, and we did practice a lot. There weren't that many shows so almost everyone got a lot of practice in, it shows when you listen back to the DC records of the time, bands like Faith, Marginal Man, Scream, those bands kicked ass big time. We had to work hard as the competition was fierce. In general, UM played out a couple of times a year. But that was about all you coule expect in the time frame.

10. What's the funniest story you have to tell from the UM days?

Funniest story... Mike Brown doing a backflip onstage and landing on a full can of beer, and the geyser shooting between his legs in front of the entire Wilson Centre was pretty funny... Getting to play with the Dead Kennedys because we said we would play for free was pretty funny as well as a great business decision, careerwise.

11. How did the transition between the two 7"s come about, in sound? Were you just listening to more Beefheart? I think Rainbow Person is a true masterpiece of the genre (or any genre), and an example of a band truly pushing the boundaries. What are your thoughts on this?

Jay: Thanks for the kind words. RP is still pretty solid, it has stood the test of tie where other discs have not. In general I think all UM stuff still holds its own, though we were contacted by a Major/Independent label recently, and we were interested in signing with them, but the main dude thought UM was "too lo-fi"... which in comparison to some things is true, but I never thought of us as a lo-fi band... What like Luna? hahaha... Transition was just a natural one, we wanted to make RP more like a whole disc of Lice And Flies, which I guess it is in some capacity. We were trying to push the edge, but the songs just happened as they came about. We just happened to mesh well together and the songs were just the way they came out.

12. How did Mike Brown come up with such a disgusting, and amazing, voice (years before many death metal and hardcore bands would adopt similar styles)?

Jay: Mike Brown's voice... No effort was made, that's the way it came out. He eid work on it after the fact but it was never planned as a vocal style. We have been touted as being innovators in the style as well as criticized by people who seem to think we were bandwagon jumpers, but the truth is, that was Mike's voice. What you hear is what it was.

13. Why is the track on the Bouncing Babies compilation under the name 'The Last Minute'? Is it all the same members?

Jay: Infinite Regression on Bouncing Babies was from our first session as Inner Ear with Steve Kirkland. We went in after Billy quit, and Steve joined just to keep up the momentum, and to get Steve used to the studio. We got a few tracks done, early version of Rainbow Person tracks mostly and some old UM standards. Fountain Of Youth contacted us and we wanted to use something with Steve on drums, and that was all we had mixed. It had me on vocals... It was kind of in between EP's. Band line up on it is John Fox on guitar, Steve on drums and me on bass/vocals.

14. Explain where the sample on 'Rainbow Person' came from, with the mentally unstable person talking about aliens etc?

Jay: The sample was recorded by Mike Brown and some of his friends. It was recorded in Old Town, Alexandria, VA. The guy was a homeless person who was ranting on about all sorts of things. I think some of the samples on the Malefice: Lotus Blossom LP came from the same era.

15. What are your top 5 hardcore records ever, and why?

Jay: Top 5 huh...

Damaged by Black Flag: Flag at this era were unstoppable. Two guitars, Dukowski, and Henry... No way to top.

Minor Threat, first 1 EPs: Minor Threat in the original format brand new were great. They lost something with 2 guitars in my opinion. But Out Of Step has some killer songs.

In A Car by Meat Puppets: Perfect example of what's great about punk rock. It can be anything, noise rock, psychedelic. This EP was the predecessor to the future.

What Makes A Man Start Fires by Minutemen: M-Men changed my life with this one. It showed you could be punk rock without having to be hardcore the spirit of D Boon lives on.

In God We Trust Inc by Dead Kennedys: Harder faster does rule.

16. What bands have you been in since United Mutation, and tell us a bit about your record label...

I've been in about 40 bands seriously. I have been a hired gun and a member of so many bands since UM kind of took a break. Most were one-off shows, some in Antarctica, where that tends to happen. I only consider bands that have played live, ones that did aren't bands in my opinion. UM is not over, it's just spread thin. Highlights--- most recent: Into The Ether, Birmanray, The Jane Wymans, Goiter, Anesthesia... It looks like I will be joining yet another band here in the near future, Denver punk trash band Daisy Cutter. It features Critter on drums who was the original drummer for Fang.

The follow are the most prolific or engaging post-UM bands...

1. Bullhead: Features all members of UM. Basically an offshoot of the UM theme.

2. Anesthesia: Lo fi druggy psychedelic stuff, kind of Velvet Underground/Luna/Television/Sonic Youth.

3. Birdmanray: All instrumental space rockish punk stuff, incorporated poets as vocals, lots of improv live. Performed with dangers/film/lightshows as "Fragments of Divine" but was really just Birdmanray.

4. Into The Ether: Most recent band, basically Birdmanray doing songs as well as the improv sets. Space punk like more recent Hawkwind stuff.

5. Jane Wymanns: Matt Hurley set list, kind of an offshoot of Anesthesia, Garegey punk folk.

6. Goiter: Ugly punk/hardcore, lots of weirdo songs. Kind of negative on purpose.

My label, Livingnightengale is an offshoot of DSI, which is currently just kind of floating in limbo along with everything else John Fox is doing these days. We have 3 released on the label, 1.) White Cold Days: Music from the McMurdo Station Scene, all 3 acts are from the Antarctic music scene. This is all attached to my job, which is based sometimes in Denver and other times in the Antarctic. All bands are doing original music. 2 tracks recorded in Antarctica, 2 in New Zealand, 2 in Denver. 2.) Historic Huts Of The Ross Sea, DVD slide show by Ed Anderson, photojournalist. Musical soundtrack by Savage Republic/Scenic, Bruce Lichers BNDs Score The Hut Tour. 3.) Shit From An Old Notebook Compilation CD, produced for the art gallery show of the same name. Features music from various bands I have played in, with outtakes, demos, live tracks etc... Bands include United Mutation, Pre-Mutation stuff, Mainline, Jane Wymann's etc... Hope to have Rainbow Person as LVG#4 split with DSI out this fall/winter... Other things in the queue are Sir Edmund Hillary Tribute CD/DVD...

17. Could you write a quick discography, including demos and a time frame, since there's been lots of confusion regarding this...

Dark Self Image: 1980-1981 home demos only

Quick Relief : 1981-1982 Spring demo at Inner Ear, later became UM demo after.

Overdubs of Mike Brown on vocs UM: 1982 Fall demo at Inner Ear, later appeared on Mixed Nuts Don't Crack.

UM: 1982-1983 Home demo with Billy Fox. Never released.

UM: 1983 Summer demo at Inner Ear Billy Fox on drums, Fugitive Family EP.

UM: 1983 Winter demo at Inner Ear first demo with Steve Kirkland. The Bouncing Babies version of Infinite Regression from this session, as well as Rock N Roll Party Mix off Freaks Out LP.

UM: 1984 Summer demo, Inner Ear, Rainbow Person EP from this. As well as Sensations Fix, which was re-mixed in the fall for the Alive And Kicking compilation EP.

18. Tell us a bit about what the other UM guys are up to now too; Billy playing jazz etc?

Jay: Billy is playing jazz and other styles of music, John Fox is into Hawaiin music, Mike Salkind plays in various bands here in Colorado, we jam about once a year just for fun. Steve is still MIA, no one has seen him in years. To my knowledge he's not doing any music on a professional level, which is sad. Mike Brown has a studio in his house and is doing psychedelic hip hop type stuff, and whatever else he feels like playing.

I usually have about 2 bands going at any time.

19. Are you glad there is still interest in a band that's been split up for so many years? Have you seen the rising prices your records go for on Ebay now too?

Jay: I'm very pleased that people are still into the UM thing as we all spent a lot of years and time on the whole project. It's great that hardcore in general is still around and people still want to hear it. It's funny, we never thought about the band being done, it's just in limbo, we could play any day and still have fun and make music, I guess kind of like Fugazi. They aren't really broken up just doing other things.

20. Any last words?
Jay: Thanks for your interest and the great questions... It is appreciated on every level.

From the insert to the 'Rainbow Person' EP.


nxg said...

Sickest band. The vocals on Rainbow Person are straight up the most insane on a hardcore record, ever. Can you possibly scan the insert to rainbow person though? Mine never came with one, from what I can gather alot of them never got an insert put in em.

RobxT said...

I'll scan the whole insert (sections are posted in the interview) here soon

Oliver / Cultpunk said...

Wow thanks for posting this. Have always loved the band and the sick, creepy vocals. Have always been surprised by the number of folks into septic death, etc., who've never heard of these guys.

great post

RobxT said...

Perhaps the sickest vocals of any early 80s hardcore band. Just listen to the 82 demos, considering it's pre-Siege etc it's staggering how horrible he sounds. Great stuff

Adrian said...

you dont happen to have any demos from these dudes do you?

LIAM said...

Hey I just bought an OG copy of Rainbow person and it doesn't have the spoken quotes anyone know what's up with that?