May 2014

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The feature on William Burroughs in this month’s issue by John Robinson made me think of some of the bands who took their names from Burroughs’ books, most famously The Soft Machine, Steely Dan, and Grant Hart’s Nova Mob

. There was also Thin White Rope, a band from Davis, CA, named by a friend after the term used by Burroughs for male ejaculation in Naked Lunch. Largely forgotten now, it seems, TWR’s 1987 LP, Moonhead, caused quite a stir at Melody Maker. We were so taken by them we ended up putting them on the cover a couple of years later, recklessly ignoring the fact that at the time no-one outside the office had even heard them.

Moonhead arrived unheralded, from a dark, uncharted place, somewhere off the map. The twin guitars of Guy Kyser and Roger Kunkel were torrential, terrifying, full of feedback, fury and dread, Kyser’s voice on disturbing songs like “Wire Animals”, “Wet Heart”, “Take It Home”, and “Crawl Piss Freeze” sounding like the dismal wailing of something not quite human from The Hills Have Eyes.

Not long after it came out, I called Kyser at Radio WDR in Davis. I don’t know if Kyser was working at the station at the time, but I later found out he’d been an aspiring DJ before he started making music with The Lazy Boys, a local Saturday night bar band inspired by The Stooges and Captain Beefheart and one of the evolutionary distractions that preceded the then-current TWR lineup. The connection when I called him was bad and there was a delay on the line that meant we ended up either listening to each other’s silences or shouting at each other simultaneously. One way or another, it was difficult to make much sense of the conversation or the scribbled notes I’d made of what Kyser had to say, which wasn’t a great deal to begin with. So I found out a little about not very much, except that “Crawl Piss Freeze” had been written about a friend diagnosed with cancer of the colon and given poor odds on pulling through. When I finally meet Kyser and Roger Kunkel in the bar of a west London hotel, in April 1988, the day after TWR’s UK debut at a pub in Finsbury Park, where they bizarrely open for John Cooper Clarke, I ask after the girl for whom “Crawl Piss Freeze” had been written. “It was rough,” Kyser says, rolling a cigarette, threads of tobacco falling through his fingers, into a pool of beer on the table in front of him. “But she didn’t die. She’ll just,” he adds grimly, “have to shit in a bag for the rest of her life.

“I was so angry and depressed when I wrote that song,” he goes on, and I feel like I’m teasing something from him he doesn’t really want to talk about. “It was because Reagan had just been admitted to hospital with the same complaint. And of course everyone was making this big fuss. It was a real big deal. But she gets it and she’s just another poor sucker and nobody really cares.”

TWR have just put out a new LP, In The Spanish Cave. How does he think their music has developed? “Things have lightened up,” Kyser says. “Moonhead barely had a grip on reality.”

“A lot of Moonhead came across as gut-wrenching, dreadful, intense music,” Kunkel adds. “But we’ve always wanted to play real good country swing. Typically, when it comes to it, we back off. But the new LP, the first guitar thing you hear is a direct steal from Marty Robbins.”

I now recall Kyser telling me he liked Marty Robbins because in his songs everybody dies.

“That’s right,” Kyser says. “His songs always start with him singing, ‘I’ll tell you how he met his fateful end…’ It’s hysterical. Like Utah Carroll, riding off a cliff. A lot of our own stuff is just as funny.” I wasn’t so sure. Taking as an example, I mention the rather frightening “Wand” from In The Spanish Cave. It’s about genetic mutation, isn’t it?

“No,” Kyser says. “‘It’s OK’ is about genetic mutation.” So what’s “Wand” about? “That’s a real angry, scary song,” Kyser says. “‘Wand’ starts off with me talking about my guitar. Then it goes into this fantasy about all the things my guitar is going to do to change the world and in the end I realise my guitar is going to do about as much to change the world as my dick.”

Enjoy the issue.


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