Wednesday, May 28, 2014

INTERVIEW: The Wit and Wisdom of John Petkovic (Death of Samantha/Sweet Apple/Cobra Verde)

courtesy of Death of Samantha

Journalist and purveyor of all things “real”, indie rock icon John Petkovic knows how to talk.  And talk.  Over a freewheeling 45 minute conversation that covered everything from the charms of Buffalo, NY architecture to “heritage” rockers’ use of technology, we rarely strayed into the territory of straight dirt about the reformed Death of Samantha and their fab “new” record, “If Memory Serves Us Well”.  Thus, while the chat with John was an engaging and stimulating one for your blogger, it would largely be a slog for the rest of you (the several minutes wherein John and I discuss him coming to visit the Buffalo area over the summer is charmingly sycophantic and best left to your imagination) therefore, in lieu of our standard conversational interview, it is my pleasure to offer up several of John’s more intriguing and salient bon mots…enjoy!

On Death of Samantha’s “new album”, “If Memory Serves Us Well”:

The funny thing is, we didn't decide to really get back together…it just kind of happened.  I’m not the kind of guy to look back on things, so the title is literally about how I NEVER even listened to the old material before we got together to play it! The drummer kept telling me, “you’re not playing it right!”  I don’t live in the past, not because I am above sentimentality, but I just don’t remember it! (laughs)  I have this amnesia…my mind just doesn't process these things.  I am like some sci-fi character who is always trapped in the present.   When we recorded, everything was a work in progress…the recorded versions of things are codified in the minds of people as THE versions, but that’s only one moment in time.  So I didn't think I needed to listen to the old stuff…if memory serves ME well, I will remember what I need to remember! 

On DOS’s reformation:

I think people are used to bands of that time getting back together for various reasons. For us, I just happened to go out for a pack of cigarettes and the guy who plays bass happened to be standing there in the street smoking a cigarette!  I haven’t seen you in years!  And the guitar player, Doug (Gillard), had been playing in town about three days earlier and we ran into each other.  The drummer and I see each other around from time to time, and he said, “hey would you like to work together on a project?” and I thought, “well, here we have 3 of the 4 people in the band!”  And with Doug just in town, we thought maybe we could jam some DoS tunes.  I’m not trying to make some magical thing out of it, but if I hadn't gone out for a cigarette that day (laughs)…we wouldn't be playing!  We got back together for the opposite reason that so many of these other bands did.  We are contrarian in some weird way…the last thing I’d want to do is what everyone else is doing!  What I think is really special about the DoS thing is that we all started when we were between the ages of 15 and 19…we started at a very early age.  There are very few bands whose entry point was at such an early age, it is highly unlikely that people like that continue to play after college.  But 25 years later, we still continue to all play music!  It's like choosing the field you want to work in in middle school and sticking it out for 25 years.  That’s pretty incredible and impossible…it never happens.  

On what’s “real”:

The marketing of our time is really the marketing of “authenticity”, you know, which I find really weird.  I did a story on the “authenticity scam” about how everyone is trying to market and sell everything to you as this is “organic” and this is “artisanal”.  I walked into a bar and a friend of mine was in from California, and he wanted to know what craft brews we have.  And I walked in and asked if I could see the list of the machine-crafted macrobrews (laughs).  My friend thought that was typical of us Cleveland folk, but I explained that I’m just ahead of the curve because the craft brew phenomenon has even hit Cleveland!  It’s so saturated…it’s the whole cult of authenticity and people want to believe that everything they do is “real”.  Everyone has their own set of propaganda.  The whole “farm to table” thing…are you telling me that I should be buying watermelons from Cleveland???  Because there aren't any!  And really what is farm to table?  Isn't there a butcher involved somewhere in there?  It seems like being not a part of the herd is the new herd!  Everyone wants to feel special and unique. 

On his love of Buffalo, NY:

I've always had a soft spot for Buffalo.  There’s some amazing architecture there – I have a friend who’s a documentary filmmaker and I told him that he should do a film on the buildings there.  You also have some great sports teams – I mean, the original ones were the Buffalo Braves baseball team but the Bills have such an interesting history too.  It must have been an amazing city to experience in its heyday of the 1930s and 1940s.

On Sweet Apple’s new records:

We just recorded a new record and its coming out soon…actually we got two albums recorded, three singles.  It was insane.  That’s why it’s not bullshit when I say I can’t go back in time.  I have so much going on NOW.  It’s fucking insane trying to take care of everything in the here and now.  I am pretty stoked on the Sweet Apple thing right now…we have a lot of videos and I like to have a hundred things going on at the same time.  We have a video for one song, which we recorded in Los Angeles, and I've known J (Mascis) from really early on, probably the first time we played New York…Mark Lanegan sings on the song, and Mike Watt is in this video and I've known him forever.  People that you meet early on in your formative times, those are the people that you are on the same page with and you continue to be friends with…there weren't a lot of us in the mid-80s, so we kind of had to gravitate towards one another.   We got into it when there was no money to be made, and it was just passion-driven…you can’t quantify that. 

On what continues to inspire him:

I’m a walking disaster otherwise! (laughs)  Dude, I am in a relationship with the clouds.  I’m in like fucking five bands, and people question why I do all that…if I didn't, I would go crazy! And it’s ok to be at peace, but those people who say that they are fully in communication with the world?  I feel bad for those people.  Music and art is an abstract thing that is an attempt to grapple with the flaws in our language.  There should be some mystery and mysticism…simple language is not enough and music and art, you never master those languages.  It’s an abstract communication, and that pushes me.  It’s tough, because so many musicians are worried about losing their audience, and it’s a fine line you have to walk…you have to not care about what you are putting out or be wired in such a way that you don’t think about it.  Someone like Brian Eno, for example, isn't wired to think that way I would think and his career has probably been more rewarding and even financially lucrative because of it.  That’s the way to be. 

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