Photo by May May Del Castro
I grew up in Portland, Oregon even though I was deported by the FBI for Moral Turpitude-corruption, and involvement in organised crime. I’m a good wee boy now, back in Bonny Scotland milking cows, shagging sheep and hunting the elusive haggis. No, seriously, we’ve all either imploded, got ourselves buried or cremated, or made the necessary adjustments in our lifestyles to at least increase the likelihood of our longevity. We’re kind of an endangered species. The cohort of people that I grew up with in Portland, sought to express themselves through punky music and included people like Jerry A (Poison Idea), Kat Bjelland (Babes in Toyland), Mish Bondage (Sado Nation), and Courtney Love (Hole).
I remember Jerry A as being articulate, loving to get on stage and having a good old fashioned mash-up, and enjoying a libation of an evening, and having a laff. When I was in FBI custody, Poison Idea were out on the road. It was 1988, and Jerry has told me: ‘When we got back to Portland, you and Eugene (my brother) were gone, and I never seen you again!’ So for me it was a wee bit emotional to get Jerry on the phone after twenty seven years. After a catch up and shooting the shit, I got down to talking about Poison Idea, and this is what was said.
Poison Idea have a new LP Confuse and Conquer. Stream the new track "Rhythms of Insanity" below and look for the LP via Southern Lord on April 7.
NOISEY: How do you even start to fill the shoes of the great man, Tom ‘Pig Champion’ and remain significant without him?
Jerry A: Well, Tom was my best buddy and it was hard to play without him but honest to God, the people who really, really knew Tom, like the handful of people knew he did NOT like to play live. It was painful for him, he was so big. It was hard for him to get on the stage, it was hard for him to stand more than a couple of minutes, people would see him on the street, and think he was a Cartoon character. They would fuck with him, they’d try to jump on his back and poke him, and he just wanted to be left alone. He did NOT like that. We would play Germany, and they would want us to play ‘encore, encore, encore,’ and we would leave the stage, and they wouldn’t let him leave. They would like hold him. They would form a wall, and put him on the stage, and he would be physically sick, and they would see him suffering, they loved that. He fucking hated it. He said to me once: ‘I am not touring anymore. I’m not playing. I’ll go into the studio and play, I’ll write songs, but I’m not fucking doing this-it’s not for me!’ There was a time when he kind of dug it, and people would ask: ‘How come when Black Flag were playing all over the place, and driving all over the world, we were here in P-Town?’ Even then we had everything we needed here in Portland. We sat in our house and drank beer, we listened to our records, had parties and we had a good time. Why go anywhere else, we had everything we needed right here? So, it’s hard Tom being gone, but if he was in the band, he wouldn’t be playing, he wouldn’t be doing this. In a way, it’s a Tribute to him that we’re pushing forward, that we keep going and spreading the story.
It’s no secret that you guys have been through a lot, we all have. Could you just tell me, and our readers, what you’ve been through and why you’re still here?
When we started, we liked playing the music and partying and the partying got to be the priority, where we partied more than anything else. We weren’t musicians who like to get fucked-up but turned into people who had to get fucked-up, who played music on the side. So that was our priority. We’d get up in the morning, and that was the first thing we had to do -get loaded! I mean, we were full-blown addicts. That lasted until Tom died, and contributed to why and how he died. When people say ‘Oh it was kidney failure and stuff’ – I was there that morning to take him to the methadone clinic. I was just, you know, ‘Oh Tom’s dead now, and I’m next, and Steve’s in prison for robbing a pharmacy, Charlie’s almost dead, he cracked his head open, and his eye popped out of his fuckin head.’ We were all on that kind of course. There were people who liked Poison Idea, a lot, and we weren’t being fair to them.
So between Last Will & Testament, Pig’s last album, and Confuse and Conquer, how much of those experiences that you’ve just described have you alchemized into the new material and music of Poison Idea?
Well, we’ve always written about what we know, whether it’s being crazy little Skateboard kids, or being fucked-up adults getting thrown in jail, or being broken down beaten old men, it’s what we know and what we write about. The world doesn’t need another song about my friend dying, there’s too many fucking: ‘Me and Bobby McGee’s’ out there, what-the-fuck? We’ve always tried to be humorous. We’re not The Bad Seeds. It’s not like Murder Ballads, its Poison Idea. We’ve always had some kind of theme, and we’ve always injected a sense of humor, and it’s in the music too. Even though it’s always been dark, we’ve always had a laugh. Between that last record and this record, there’s been subjects that have come up, and we’ve written about them. I could write a record about what happened yesterday, all this shit that happened in one God damned day. Wake up, there’s shit going on everywhere.
Photo by May May Del Castro
How much of Eric Olson’s ‘Dive Bomb’ Poison Idea guitar ‘sorties’ are there on Confuse & Conquer?
All five of us wrote this record. I was really happy with everyone on this record. I finally got a band that all wanted to do this. They wanted to tour, make a new record, write songs, and they wanted to play. Eric is there, and he giving it all he’s got and it’s great, great to have him back. Tom was like the first real guitar player after Chris Tense, and then we got Eric, and he was like our first lead player. Poison Idea never had two guitar players. So, he was the first, second guitar player, and after that, we had to keep two guitar players. He knows what he’s doing and I’m not boasting, but I’d pretty much stand Eric up against anybody and he’s humble about it. He knows what-the-fuck he’s doing and he’s great. He’s there, and I’m really happy about it.
What would be your considered response be to any disparaging voices in the music press that might say that this is Poison Idea Light?
Wow! I would never think that, that’s crazy! If somebody thinks that they obviously haven’t listened to us before. It’s just as heavy as anything else we’ve ever done before. There’s stuff on Feel the Darkness, Feel the Vacant, War All the Time, We Must Burn. There’s stuff on all those records that is way lighter than this record. If somebody said that shit, I’d think it’s just them being lazy.
When I think of nihilism and nihilistic people, I think about you, and Tom, and myself-in-the-past. By merit of that, you’re still here. Do you feel like some Punk-rock Gandalf after wrestling with the Balrog?
I feel kind of like a Punk rock Gandalf after wrestling with … I call my underwear, a Ball-rag. So I’m like an old man wrestling to put on my underwear in the morning, and consequently I feel like a Punk Rock Gandalf after wrestling with my Ball-rag – (Guffaws). If I’m too fast, I fall over.
Time waits for no man!
What are your memories like of the early eighties in Portland, and how much has the scene changed?
It was like a playground for all of us. The city is built on a Port that lived on human slavery and Shanghai-ing people – selling people, and drugs and stuff. So the whole city from the Mayor’s Office, to the Police, is very corrupt- fucking corrupt. In the eighties, they had more important things to do than with a bunch of kids like us, spray painting and fucking around. So we kind of had open-season and just went crazy – abandoned buildings, the West Hills… There were places you could go and camp-it was great, like Disneyland. It was so beautiful, you know. Bands would come through from places like Vancouver, to Seattle, to ‘Frisco. Portland was in-between. There were always band’s stopping here, and we’d have our own little party, and it was safe, it was great. Now, the word has spread that this is what it’s like, and fuck. San Francisco is expensive, Seattle is horrible it rains all the time, but Portland’s in-between. It’s like The Three Bears, you know; ‘this porridge is too hot, this porridge is too cold, this porridge is just right!’ Now, it is not right, this porridge is too hot! For three lane traffic- the streets have stayed the same, the blocks have stayed the same. The place is building up the way, there’s no place left to go, but up. It’s like Tokyo all of a sudden. You go to a show now, and there’s not one Oregonian there. It’s like ex-Pats from where ever. It’s not the same at all. We all knew each other, intimately. We might not have got along really great with everyone, but we all knew everybody. That’s what changed. It is called progress. People do ruin everything, they always have and they always will.
Poison Idea 1990
What would you like to say about your new album, Confuse & Conquer?
It stands up. If you were reading a book it would be the next chapter that goes into it, there’s nothing strange or new, and it’s not the rewriting an old record. I’m really fucking happy with it. If we were to break-up tomorrow, I’d be happy with leaving that as a legacy. Whereas, before, with Pig’s last record, Last Will and Testament, which was meant as a demo, and they released as a record anyway, I was like: ‘This is our last record?’ It’s a fucking demo. So we were like five six days into this one, Confuse & Conquer, some real quality time, and I’m really happy with it. You know what, we’re writing new songs – we wrote a new song last night.