Interview: Paul Sanders of Hammerhead

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Hammerhead rears its (hammered?)head once again, and I am excited about this. I was part of their dumber and less-attractive audience in the 1990s (see below), and they are a brick wall coming at you. This was probably THE band that my friends and I deemed most worthy of repeated 5-hour round trips to Fargo in our 70s-model teenagermobiles. Hammerhead never, ever disappointed.

Fargo, ND gets another chance to see what they can do this Friday night at The Aquarium. The last time I saw them at the Amphetamine Reptile 25-Year Reunion Bash, they picked up right where they left off. It was something like time travel for a moment, but with more ear damage. This time around, they’ve got two present-era EPs under their belt, and they’re chugging along beautifully.

I wrote an article this week for High Plains Reader, and the word-limit I was working with didn’t allow me to use all of the material I got from Sanders. Here is the DVD-Special-Edition-Features version.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Hammerhead members Paul Erickson and Jeff Mooridian, Jr. (who both make up the Sanders-less Vaz) on separate occasions, but it was cool to hear a bit about what Paul Sanders has been up to; he has understandably been a less-visible gentleman in the past 15 years or so.

Please share and let people know about the show!

How did the show in Minneapolis go?

There’s more excitement around the band now, for some reason. Since we’ve reunified, every show we play in Minneapolis seems bigger than the previous one, filled with smarter and more attractive people.

Has Hammerhead crossed the *reunion* threshold into a legitimate, ongoing concern?

We never wanted to just do a reunion. That implies sentimentality, and playing the old songs for old time’s sake. Fuck the old times. We only wanted to get back together if we could move the band forward, which I think we’ve done. That said, we’re realistic. We’re in our forties now. How long can we play at this level? Can we keep it interesting for us? Will people keep following us if we push things further than we did in the past? Can the body sustain much more of the physical punishment it takes to play live like we do? I don’t know. We’ll see.

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I’ve always been curious about what brought about your departure from Hammerhead after Duh, the Big City. Was it just typical band shit? Was there any particular moment when you decided to pack it in? Duh, the Big city was a pretty exciting album, so I remember it being kind of a shock from a fan’s point of view. 

I wanted to have a career and make money for a while like a normal person, so I started by quitting the band and going to college. What a fucking mistake. Hammerhead toured in about 20 different countries in Europe, every state in the continental USA and we were talking about going to Japan. Instead, I took out student loans, had to work in a cubicle for longer than I want to admit and didn’t go on a real vacation for nearly ten years. But it’s given me some good material. For example, lines “I’m dead, you’re dead, we’re dead, all dead,” or “go home to your infection” would have been inconceivable without the benefit of a college degree from a state university.

How has your experience in underground rock impacted you professionally? I’m curious if having that kind of creative outlet early in life helped you create and think in the real world, as they call it.

Being in a band requires a lot of hard work, and you deal with a lot of different people in often-stressful situations. We had to negotiate ourselves into and out of situations on a regular basis. That kind of experience translates to anything you apply yourself to, especially working with groups of people under pressure.

After you finished with More RAM, did music continue as one of your pursuits, I know you played with Heroine Sheiks for a while but did you do anything else? Are there Paul Sanders solo tapes languishing in a closet somewhere?

I got into electronic music for a while, with stuff like Aphex Twin and DJ Spooky. But I couldn’t really take to the digital workflow. I hate making music on computers. It feels like work.

(Note: More RAM was a post-Hammerhead project that released one single in late 1996 or possibly in 1997 on a Fargo-based record label, Meat Records. You can check out the record here. Sanders also played in Fly Republic, which I forgot at the time I sent Sanders these questions.)

The recent video you produced for Like A Wizard is great, and the production value looks quite high. Were there any audio/visual/musical concepts that were out of reach during your first run as a band?

We couldn’t really agree on any video concepts back in the nineties. This time around, we partnered with the Seawhores to do a video, and we pretty much just told Cody what the song lyrics were about. Yeah, there was one idea I had for a video that I still think could really get some attention for the band. But there are some lines that should probably not be crossed, I suppose.

It seems the Fargo thing follows Hammerhead around today even more doggedly than in the past. How long were you a Fargo band? Was it less than a year? Do you guys harbor any resentment over the Fargo association?  

It’s amusing to me that our Midwestern roots are interesting in any context. A lot of musicians and artists come from nowhere towns like Fargo. It’s necessary to have some time to figure things out far from the possibility of a limelight when you’re just starting out. For us, it helped distill our approach.

How did the recording of the new songs (on Memory Hole & Global Depression) compare to your initial run with Vortex, Duh, Ethereal, etc. Was it a challenge? Was it easy? Was there any trouble finding “the sound” again?

Recording is always difficult for us, but it was even more challenging given the fact that Jeff and Paul Erickson lived in Brooklyn, and I lived in Minneapolis. I traveled there a few times, they would practice here when they were in town. We shared demos via email. Even so, it didn’t take long to re-establish the musical link. Paul Erickson and Jeff are really the core of the band, and with Vaz they’ve never stopped playing together. So, it was really just getting me back into the groove. Some of the early reunification practices were comically terrible. I still can’t figure out some parts of the old songs. Over the past month, we’ve all been in the same town, practicing about five times a week. That kind of takes it to another level now.

Was there ever any difficulty in reconciling what Hammerhead was with who you guys are today? Do you see any great difference in the band from now to then, besides age, experience, etc.?

We’re different people now, as everyone is after twenty years, and take my word for it, that’s good. We’re probably more adaptable than some groups because we existed in relative isolation and obscurity for so long. Somehow, we seem more flexible than in the past and try different things more often. You can hear a little of that on Memory Hole and Global Depression. But there’s more of that in the works.

Do you find life in a rock and roll band more amenable at this age? Are expectations and pressures easier to manage?

We pretty much only do shows we want, so there’s not that much pressure. We’re all pretty comfortable with ourselves, so that helps. Every once in a while, I think about how when we were starting out and saw people in their thirties or forties play, they seemed elderly and you wondered whatever possessed them to show their faces in public, let alone on stage. Well, here we are now, and anyone who has a problem with that can go fuck themselves.

BY THE MILE FOR BE THE MATCH DAY 2

I am participating in By The Mile For Be The Match—a fund raiser for the national bone marrow donor program. For more info or to donate, please visit my page: http://bit.ly/1kI2Txk

You know that saying about it being better to aim high and fall short than to aim low and make it? 

Well SUCK IT MICHELANGELO! We’ve raised $120 in one day!

Note to Michelangelo and all others concerned: I apologize if I have misattributed this quote to you due to shoddy googling. If this nugget of wisdom is not a bona fide Michelangelo, I am sorry I told you to suck it. (I’m a big fan, by the way.) This being the internet, it is also possible that this quote originated somewhere else, from some other person, living or dead. If that is the case, I apologize to you, anonymous coiner of phrases, for not giving you the proper credit. Also, suck it. 

Seriously, I was going to nickel and dime this thing all the way to $300, and you’re making me feel unambitious. We’ll keep the goal where it is for the time being, but I’ll probably increase it because this fundraiser is supposed to be 100 days and you are kicking this thing’s ass.

Since this is becoming an art-themed update, I promised a weird shout out to the first person who donated $10 or more. That honor belongs to Sarah according to an 8:40 a.m. notification in my Yahoo! junk email account. Sarah is a woman of conviction who is doing way more to make the world a better place than I probably am, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that she was the first one to jump forward.

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The above drawing was the weird part—a tracing portrait of you and your adorable boy wearing boxing gloves! I have been tracing random photos for my personal amusement since I was a kid. The results are almost always hideous/hilarious. I think this one just turned out kind of neat. Sorry! Besides the stalkery of raiding your Facebook page for a traceable photo, not that weird.

An interesting aside from years ago. A band I was in called The Trans Ams wrote a song for Sarah to thank her for buying pizza one night when we were all hanging around late at night. We had not yet mastered graceful exits, apparently.

My second donor, Jessie, probably deserves a tracing portrait as well. However, the rocket-propelled future summers our families are about to share are reward enough.

And finally, I want to thank my sister and brother in law for topping me off today. You deserve a portrait too, but nope, you get my unconditional familial love instead!

Thank you all so much.

Oh, and I did another 17ish miles today.

I leave you with three wonderful Ramones jingles for a shitty beer. I have had them stuck in my head all day, and I think that, indirectly, they say a lot about why the Ramones are the best. Also, Joey Ramone was a lymphoma patient and I’m guessing a bone marrow transplant or two helped him extend his fight. 

So…give me some money. The next Steel Reserve High Gravity Lager you drink will be on me!

BY THE MILE FOR BE THE MATCH DAY 1

I am participating in By The Mile For Be The Match—a fund raiser for the national bone marrow donor program. For more info or to donate, please visit my page: http://bit.ly/1kI2Txk

Today I biked a little over 17 miles.

I blinded myself with my flash.

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I listened to two podcasts.

My helmet gave me Dennis-Hopper-in-Super-Mario-Brothers hair.

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I skateboarded for 20 minutes or so.

And what’s that got me so far? A WHOLE LOTTA NOTHIN!

Help me get some numbers on the board folks.

If all my Facebook friends pitched in a one-time donation of $1, I would SMASH my goal. That’s what I’m out to do.

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The first person to donate $10 or more will get a weird shout out in tomorrow’s update.

This inspiring little list of 10 Painful Rejection Letters To Famous People reminded me of one of my own rejection letters. I am not famous, but I still have the email. And I still think the list of songs by right-wing ska punk bands is pretty funny, though I can understand why McSweeney’s rejected it.

Crispin the Friendly, Quickly Dissipating Cloud of Dune Buggy Exhaust

Alligators and Owls #friends

jimllpaintit:

Dear Jim,

Please paint me Jimi Hendrix explaining to an owl on his shoulder what a stick of chalk is, near a forest.

Thanks,

onemariannestephen

As sketchy as it appears to post a video that is selling my old Saturn, trust me. It turned out pretty good IMHO.