- I used to be roommates with Joe Chilcote, one of the members of The Revolutionary Hydra.
- This interview was conducted in April 2002, on the eve of the release of their 7-inch single for the song "Snowbound the Blue Flowers" b/w "Airport Transit Guide," by Montesano Records. Also, their 3rd full-length CD, Knockout to Dispense, was about to come out on Elsinor Records. In spite of this, it doesn't seem terribly dated when you read it.
- The Revolutionary Hydra is releasing their 4th full-length CD, The PEEFs, in February 2004 on Skrocki Records, a label started by The Revolutionary Hydra's drummer, Robbie. It is very very good.
What were your favorite bands when you were in high school?
Jay: The Cure, The Smiths, The Housemartins, Talk Talk, New Order, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, The Woodentops, Wire, Throwing Muses, Love and Rockets, The Bolshoi, The Alarm, The Style Council, Aztec Camera, and XTC.
Bart: Pixies, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh, Nirvana.
Joe: Smiths, Posies, Dukes of Stratosphere.
Rob: The Hollowmen… the best band ever!
Now really, where did you get the name for your band?
Joe: Off of a Who's Who of Reform ™ trading card. I still cherish my Che Guevera autographed rookie card.
Jay: From a Beatles movie called Magical Mystery Tour; there's a scene where the walrus guy is shimmying past the camera and written on a placard that's sticking out of his pants pocket is the phrase "The Revolutionary Hydra Ate the Egg Man"
When you look back at your beginnings as a band, with your cassette-only 4-tracked albums, do you see it was a fond memory or do you cringe in embarrassment?
Jay: A little of both. I'm proud of the songwriting experiments, and the way we seemingly didn't know any better and just did whatever sounded cool to us at the time. However, I'll be honest and admit I do cringe when I hear how bad my singing was (is). That's why nobody's going to get any of the early Gian-Carlo's stuff. ["Gian-Carlo's Reaction" is the moniker Jay used for a side project at one time.]
Bart: I don't have any of those tapes, so I can't remember if they were good or bad. They seemed good at the time.
Joe: Mostly fond. Some of our best songs are on those old 4-track tapes, like "Massive Chin Strap Philosophy" and "Arnold Palmer Dear."
Anyone doing research on the Hydra would find that your origins lie in Bellingham, Washington, and that you miss it occasionally. Does Bellingham miss you?
Joe: She stopped calling after a while. We're still friends.
Jay: I think there are precious few people left in Bellingham who even know about us… But I do still have very fond memories of that town. If I could find a job there that paid more than $8 an hour I would very likely move back. Or maybe when I'm retired, buy a sweet house in Fairhaven, get a hippie van.
Jay, when you say, "Don't you dare put that fishstick in the wrong fishstick place" in "Pinball Blizzard" from your 2nd CD The Antiphony, are you commenting on classism within modern American society? Or is it just about lunch?
Jay: I've never thought about it I guess, but it makes sense that it's a class reference, just because while you can take the cockney girl out of the slum and teach her how to cook breaded fish products, that doesn't mean you can take the slum out of the cockney girl.
Joe: I thought it was about Long John Silver's.
I read somewhere that you thought Hydra fans might be surprised by the "Snowbound the Blue Flowers"/"Airport Transit Guide" 7-inch single. In what way would they be surprised?
Bart: The songs seem cooler.
Rob: Thurston Moore came in to do the arranging.
Joe: Normally our math rock is more remedial.
Jay: The Snowbound song sounds like the Fall. It's kinda weird. When we recorded Chris Walla thought maybe I was having some socialization problems, and he would look at me in a concerned way. But a baby born in the musical wilderness, I looked up at Chris and imprinted on him big time. Now I'm only happy when he's around, feeding me little bits of chewed fish. Anyway, back to the song, I wanted to "push" a little more with that song, we had just started playing with Robbie and he has a different kind of energy and it just worked out that way. Joe's song, similarly, has a very interesting passage at the end where it's just instrumental build-up for a long while, something we hardly ever do. Plus I just said that to get people to buy the record, it was a marketing ploy.
Your 3rd full-length CD, Knockout to Dispense, is my favorite Revolutionary Hydra album to date. Describe how the process of making it differed from what you had done in the past.
Joe: It [took] a year and a half to finish. It [was] a new record, and a new record.
Jay: The obvious difference was that we recorded in a professional studio (as opposed to a house or a garage), and the microphones, 2-inch tape and nice old board did wonders for the sound. But as usual, the best part was just being able to hang out with the fellows (like the magical moment when we were all bored with pestering Chris with geeky technical questions and decided to walk to the Texaco, there's just something so bonding about walking with your friends to a gas station to buy comic books). And Chris Walla… he is truly gifted at this recording/music stuff, I will never cease to be amazed at what Chris can do. Well, I take that back, any day now I'm going to start taking him for granted.
Bart: We recorded most of it in a single week. We used 3 times as many tracks as we had previously. Half the songs have two drummers playing. Nathan tried to record a Bobby McFerrin inspired vocal drum track which was supposed to then be slowed down and sound spooky. That didn't work so well.
"In the Movies," from Knockout to Dispense, is one of your lovliest songs. Is it sad or happy?
Jay: I think it's actually a completely zero statement, banal to the point of insightfulness. In other words, if you were to ask for a melancholy scale with which to measure the rest of the songs, most math rockers would agree that "In The Movies" would serve as an ideal zero point.
Joe: It makes me happy because Allisyn [Levy] sings so beautifully on it. We used to practice it at the Hydra house in Bellingham, and I remember one of you roommates commenting on our "emo" song. It went directly to the shelf for three years, until such time that emo became kitsch (see Pedro the Lion).
Bart: The movies are fun to go to, therefore — happy!
Your current live lineup seems to be, in my observation: Jay Chilcote, Joe Chilcote, Bart Sharp, and Rob Lodermeier, with occasional visits from Allisyn Levy, Chris Walla, Nathan Good and Ben Gibbard. What steps do you take to remember one another's birthdays? Do you do a "Secret Sant
a" thing around the holidays? How do you manage the chaos, man?
Rob: We remember purely by accident. I took Bart to a game on his birthday yesterday.
Jay: The way we handle this is to all stand around in our button-up shirts with our hands deeply buried in our jeans pockets and, without making any eye contact, saying "happy birthday man". Same thing for Christmas, and Bastille Day. I tried to break the mold yesterday (Bart's birthday by the way) by offering to buy a birthday beer for him at the Mariner's game last night (Robbie scored tickets for all four of us, right behind home plate) and Bart just said "Naww" and that was that. We don't hug much either.
Bart: I know Jay's birthday is impending. I've never done anything for anybody's birthday. Various other members have given me gifts and taken me to baseball games on several of my birthdays.
Joe: Nancy Reagan's astrologer is my Aunt.
Is your goal to simply make music, or is the band a way for you to spend time with your closest friends?
Bart: You ask the question as if the two possibilities described cannot exist peacefully together. And you may be right.
Joe: Hydra practice is the only time I see those guys, so it's critical that we continue playing.
Jay: A little of both, although the drive to be in a band making music is slipping in favor of just hanging out with the friends… I guess I should qualify that. There are times when it feels like we're all on a mission, and we're all connected that way, like when we're playing a show and I'll look over at Bart, and we're both thinking "This is kind of stupid and cheesy, why are we on stage? Who do we think we are?" But at the same time there's that undeniable rush of playing songs you've invented. I'm a fairly shy person, in the sense that I would never be able to give a speech or anything, but for some reason we're all compelled to put our stuff on the stage or on tape. It's a weird dichotomy, I know, but I guess I'm trying to describe how we work. If we weren't friends, we wouldn't be together, that much is clear. But going further, if we were a "serious" band we wouldn't be together either, because all four of us hate pretension, we hate when other bands go on stage and dance around or gesture gratuitously. Maybe I'm just jealous that we can't/don't, who knows.
Are you a proud person? Are you a proud band?
Rob: I guess.
Jay: I'm proud when talking about the band, or when I think of some of the cool songs we've recorded, but I'm self-effacing otherwise, to the point of going overboard.
Joe: I'm very proud. Some might confuse it with self-delusion, but we're my favorite band.
Do you have mojo?
Joe: We leave that to Rasputin, our monkey.
Bart: When attending Mariners games…
Jay: In a classic bloc vote, I was stripped of all mojo by the members of the Security Council at the Mock United Nations conference in Saskatchawan, Canada in 1987.
Is what you do more art or entertainment?
Jay: That's an uncomfortable question. If we're honest with ourselves, I think all the Hydras would admit that we aim to be more art than entertainment. But, to pick on Art History majors for a second, if we ever find ourselves saying "While the execution is admirable, this piece shows a fundamental lack of compositional understanding as the leading elements work improvidently against each other" then we start to sneer at ourselves. At the same time, if something is so sugar-basic that it can be completely comprehended, appreciated, consumed and forgotten about, all in quick order, like most popular entertainment, then we shy away from that too. Summation: I think the Hydra would rather play a song that we find compelling even if it has zero entertainment value, but the ideal format for us is one of subterfuge… write a song that's very catchy, but also has other layers to it, whether lyrical (one reason why I love Stereolab), or (here I go) compositional. I think the pervading schema for the Hydra is this: Write songs to impress the members of the other bandmembers first, girlfriends second, average people third, members of the press fourth.
Joe: Reflex artsy fartsy.
Rob: It's just fun.
Some might say that art rock comes from the head, and punk rock comes from the crotch. Where does your music come from?
Bart: From anger towards the system.
Rob: Straight outta hell baby.
Joe: The pituitary gland.
Jay: You've created yet another dialectic for us!!! Argh. Well, it's once again a little bit of both in our case. I'd say mostly it comes from my head, as I'm always trying to imagine how the other guys will like something, much more often than I try to assess how one of my songs makes me feel. Now and then, however, if we're playing a show and we get to, say, a catchy Bart song, I kind of start to lose myself, it's like the sort of rolling you eyes up under your eyelids mesmerizing thing, there's like a sweet spot similar to in tennis when you hit the ball on just that one perfect spot on the racquet… But this feeling of sublimation is definitely one that the Hydra is wary of. Similar to people (like me) who are accidental teetotalers, they don't get drunk because they like the feeling of always being in control. On the other hand, the one that's more open minded, it's undeniable that there can be times when you're playing and you start to forget yourself and your surroundings, and you kind of go into autopilot mode and you don't have to worry about being in control because the friction of letting go of the control keeps you in the correct orbit. Yeah.
Who are your heroes?
Bart: Musically, Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth.
Jay: Raymond Queneau and Arthur Wellesley (First Duke of Wellington).
Joe: Green Arrow, Spider Man, Ambush Bug.
Rob: Chris Walla.
What is your standard equipment setup? You know, what guitar/bass do you play? What about your favorite amp? Drums? I swear there are fans out there who want to know.
Bart: Fender Jaguar through various pedals that I'm trying to decide if I need or not to a Fender Bassman 50 driving whatever speaker cabinet is closest.
Joe: I play a japanese Strat through a MXR fuzz pedal into a Silvertone amp and 2×12 Silvertone cabinet. I think.
Jay: I have two guitars, a 1974 solid body Epiphone, that has a Strat-like body and a Les Paul-like headstock, and I have a 1966 Gretsch Clipper, a semi-hollow body. I never play my amps at shows, but I love my early 60s Gibson Falcon, and my early 60s Kalamazoo (both tube amps).
My bass is a black and white 1974 Rickenbacker beauty that I got from my pal Brian, which I play through my early 80s Bassman 60 (sort of a combo Fender, with a 15" inch speaker, sounds surprisingly good). I have a 60s blue sparkle Pearl drum kit, and I'm proud of my Zildjian cymbals (all handpicked over the years) and my 15" Slingerland mother of pearl snare drum. I also have way too many keyboards, including a Farfisa Professional and a Farfisa Fast (both early 70s), an EKO Tiger (made by Farfisa), a Roland Juno 6, a cheap Casio that I plan to use for MIDI stu
ff, another Farfisa air organ, and a Gretsch air organ. I also have a sweet little Farfisa amp with a funky light up dial, which I will pair with a Fender speaker cabinet I just got from Bart. Then, on the PA side, I have two of those really tall and skinny Shure Vocalmaster speaker cabs. I don't really get to use pedals very much, because I just use whatever Joe has set up on stage, but at home when I'm recording stuff, I like to use my Electro-Harmonix Memory Man analog delay, a Big Muff, an MXR Phase pedal, a wah/volume and I want to get a ring modulator someday. For recording I have an M-Audio Quattro USB-based system, paired with my G4 Cube or G4 PowerBook. And that's all I'm going to say on the subject.
Rob: It's all about Rogers Drums….. 1964!
Have you ever been recognized when out in public by a complete stranger, that is: a fan of the Hydra? If so, describe the experience. Were you scared? Excited?
Joe: I was once told that I was great as the little kid in E.T.
Jay: Once, at a movie theater, but I think the guy sort of knew somebody that knows us or something. So no, I guess not.
Bart: No. One time several years ago somebody saw the Elsinor shirt I was wearing and said "nice shirt!"
Rob: Um.. yeah… it was at a Death Cab show and it turned out to be Sharlese from KGRG. By the end of the night she was totally impressed by my bladder control.
Explain the superstar status the Hydra maintains on the Barsuk Records message board.
Joe: Alter-egos. Lots of 'em.
Jay: 98% of it is provided by actual Hydra members, the other two percent by a few misguided fans around the country. Well, seriously, there are a couple of people out there that seem to like us, and it's a place to talk about that. We attract the loners out there, I guess, or those that enjoy finding obscure bands that nobody else knows about. If we were from Montana the FBI would have already been tracking all this hyperspace activity… and now that I've mentioned "FBI" in this email we're now on their books.
Rob: It's gotta be Joe's good looks.
You've always purported to be legally represented by a mysterious attorney. What is your present relationship with Attorney Anton Filigree, esq.?
Joe: Strained. As in, "I strained a relationship playing basketball."
Jay: For quite a while the Hydra had been estranged from Anton because of his connections with Phil Spector… Now that Walla is our Producer-For-Life, we're back to an amicable relationship. He schemes up weird promotional ideas for us, thinking he's going to make a bundle of cash, and we continue to refuse paying his outrageous phone bills.
Are you ambitious? What do you hope to achieve with this band?
Rob: Not really
Jay: I would like to be able to have an album come out on a different label. For some reason I feel like that would be cool. But nobody will want us, I think, because we don't tour and we're not all that professional. Other than that, in some ways I think if people could read my mind they'd be surprised at how ambitious I am. I hope one day that we can be the coolest band in the world.
Bart: No. Write cool stuff.
If you could have anyone produce your next album, who would it be?
Joe: Chris Walla.
Rob: Why would we ever go anywhere else? Walla!
Jay: You mean other than our Producer-For-Life, Mr. Walla? I think I would like to produce us, because I think I could come up with some odd ideas, but I would never be able to get buy-in from the other fellas that's for sure. They already think I'm too goofy.
What would be a "dream" bill for you to play on? You know, if you could play a show with any band/musician, who would it be, and where would you like the show to happen?
Jay: I would absolutely die to play a Pavement reunion show at the Crocodile. Seriously, I would die.
Rob: It's gotta be Pink Floyd (I could take or leave Roger Moore though…. that pompous ass)…. Maybe at Pompeii, just like the video.
Joe: I'd be perfectly happy opening for the Little Champions at the YMCA.
If all of your bandmates suddenly died in a freak monkey-mating ritual, how would you carry on with your music? Seriously now, what would you do if you didn't have each other?
Joe: Geezus. I'm not answering that, you evil person.
Jay: I think I'd record a memorial album, playing all the instruments, except it would finally be all just my songs, so people might actually like it. Wait, did you say that you were going to publish this?
Bart: I would play open-mic nights and try and be scary.
Do you sing in the shower?
Jay: Yes, and it's always the same song (to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean"): "Oh, Jamie my little sweet baboo, oh Jamie my snoring lady, oh Jamie my sleeping babushka, please bring a clean towel to me…")
Jamie: …which is why I have to constantly dismantle and hide the shower head.
Do these pants make me look fat?
Jay: No… but I would recommend you stay away from pinstripes for other reasons.
Bart: I would stay away from horizontal stripes on pants, dude.
If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
Bart: A mean kind.
Jay: I would be a bodhi tree, because the chicks dig that Buddhist stuff, or at least someone who has read Herman Hesse.
Joe: A stump. As in, "I'm stumped."
Use these words in a sentence: calipee, groat, oneiric, staddle, bus*
Jay: "Last night, after reading some D.H. Lawrence on the long bus ride home, I had a strange, oneiric experience: For some reason there I was, in a cavernous country barn, mending a broken harness while sitting next to a large staddle upon which was stacked some newly mown hay when, to my no small surprise, a short gentlemen with a pronounced limp and a Van Dyke goatee which, curiously, was the color of brilliantined calipee, appeared before me, accompanied by a lovely young lady of a seemingly retiring disposition who was clutching a white lace parasol and a purse full of groats, her dark eyes fixed upon me with a look of secret expectation."
Describe the ideal pair of shoes.
Jay: The shoes of the guy who works the University bridge, what a cush job that must be, I'd love to be in those shoes.
Bart: A beautiful pair of shoes encrusted with lots of pretty things. The shoes would be boss (but not too boss) and just the right color.
Joe: Converse. The indierock standard.
Rob: Aaaaahhh, this is the question for me. My ideal pair of shoes does not exist. I am a man of many different shoes. Let's take our different activities:
l toes. I have a pair of steel toe work shoes that are my favorite show shoes.
Write a haiku about Canada.
Jay: Stealthily does the Canada
pronouncing about "aboot"
Joe: stranded now on the roadside
i try to check my email
You've answered a lot of questions here. What haven't I asked that you'd like to talk about? What do you want the world to know about The Revolutionary Hydra?
Joe: I'm a world-renowned cook, as far as breakfast burritos go.
Jay: We're genuinely unconventional and unconventionally genuine.
calipee – a. The lower shell or plastron of the turtle. b. That part next to the lower shell, containing a light yellowish gelatinous substance.
groat – 1. Hist. A denomination of coin, recognized from the 13th c. in various countries of Europe. Its standard was theoretically one-eighth of an ounce of silver. 2. The English groat coined in 1351-2 was made equal to four pence. The groat ceased to be issued for circulation in 1662.
oneiric – the science or subject of dreams, or of their interpretation.
staddle – 1. A foundation. 2. A young tree left standing when others are cut down. Also the root or stump of a tree that has been felled. bus – 1832. Abbrev. of OMNIBUS ; also colloq. An aeroplane, motor car.
All definitions from The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles, 3rd Ed., revised with addenda. Prepared by William Little, published by Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1955.