Gibby Haynes and the Butthole Surfers were the Captain Beefheart of the grunge era, and mixing punk and metal with a large dose of psychedelia and surreal imagery. Though never reaching the levels of fame that many bands of the time achieved, they were an ever present name lurking behind the better known, less innovative bands. Although they were lumped in with the grunge bands by the media at the time, the Butthole’s history went right back to the beginning of the 80's.
It all started when Gibby met Paul Leary. They realised they shared a very similar sense of humour, and put together a number of projects, including a fanzine that specialised in medical photographs. After a while, they decided to form a band, based on their shared love of punk, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. After a string of different names, a radio DJ playing one of their early songs got the band’s name and the song title mixed up. The band decided to keep the song title as their new name, and the Butthole Surfers were born.
In the beginning, the band were more about performance art than music, making noise while videos played behind them, things were set on fire and people danced naked onstage. Early EPs reflected this, being mainly short bursts of chaotic noise with titles like ‘The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave’.
Over the course of the 80's, the Buttholes sound was honed into a kind of drug/art rock hybrid, the most famous album of the time being 1988s ‘Locust Abortion Technician’, with ‘Sweat Loaf’ being sampled by British techno duo Orbital in their song ‘Satan’.
By the early 90's, bands like Nirvana had praised the band on numerous occasions, and major labels started to take notice. The band signed to Capitol and released ‘Independent Worm Saloon’, which spawned the hit ‘Who Was in My Room Last Night?’ It was also around this time that the members of the band started taking an interest in different side projects, with Haynes doing an electronic record with then Buttholes bassist Jeff Pinkus under the name Jackofficers, and working with Ministry on their hit ‘Jesus Built My Hotrod’.
The band’s new found fame was not welcomed, with Haynes getting heavily into drugs. The band took a break while Gibby went into rehab (though he did record an album with a new band, P, which featured Johnny Depp on guitar and bass), and came back with ‘Electric Larryland’, which was also well received, and produced another hit single in ‘Pepper’. Things took a bad turn in 1998, however, when Capitol dropped them from the label and refused to release their new album, ‘After the Astronaut’. The band signed to indie label Surfdog and released two new albums, ‘Weird Revolution’ and ‘Humpty Dumpty LSD’. Haynes has also appeared in a number of films in the last few years.
Now, Haynes has put together a new band to let out some of his more restrained ideas. ‘Gibby Haynes and His Problem’ is modern psychedelic rock in the vein of bands like the Flaming Lips and the Buttholes' more restrained moments.
Pennyblackmusic spoke to Gibby on his mobile phone as he drove to a rehearsal in his native Austin in Texas. It’s difficult to know whether much of this is true, if Gibby was just taking the piss or not, but it sure was an entertaining interview.
PB : It’s been a couple of years since the last Butthole Surfers record. What made you decide to record with a different band?
GH : Well, uh, I wanted to do a record, and the Butthole Surfers weren’t doing one, so I thought I’d do it with another band. See I love playing live, love to play live, so it was really so I could do that some more, but it’s not a solo record. It’s a new band, even though it’s called Gibby Haynes and His Problem.
PB : How did you put the new band together?
GH : To start with it was just me and the most recent Buttholes bass player, and it was more kind of electronic, two laptops, a guitar, vocals and a video screen, but then we got our current drummer in, and we got to the more live orientated, psych light pop rock. Psych light, that’s light,
PB : Did the songs for the new album come together easily?
GH - We were jammin’ for about six months, then we got someone to play keys on the record, which we’re gonna keep live, in the live set. I have no idea why I just told you that.
PB : What were your main influences, lyrically and musically?
GH : Uh, it’s hard to tell, I don’t really know what the lyrics are about, or if there’s an overwriting feel to the lyrics. If there is it’s probably emotion. That’s what I tend to write about with my lyrics, emotion, I write about all kinds of emotion. Happy, sad, complacent, anger, anger’s a good one, frustration, a lot of frustration, delusion, that’s one I write about a lot, my delusion that I think I can sing good, that I can write good lyrics.
PB : One of my favourite songs on the album is ‘Superman’. That were you thinking about when you wrote the lyrics for that?
GH : Uh, I guess that’s pretty much a pot song, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t thinking when I wrote those lyrics. But Superman’s pretty cool. I like him. I really dig his house. Superman never really had a proper job so I guess most of the stuff in his house was stolen. Did Superman eat? I never really saw him eat. Did he eat in the comic books?
PB : I’m not sure, he might have had the odd sandwich on his lunch break at the Daily Planet.
GH : Did you know they’re making a new Superman movie right now? Yeah, they’re making a new Superman movie, and it’s a fantasy of mine that they’d use that song in part of the movie, on the soundtrack somewhere. Maybe they could have a pot smoking scene and they could put my song on that part, while Superman’s getting high. Or maybe they shoot him up with something. Maybe they could shoot him up with Kryptonite, and my song could play as his powers get weak. Cause Heroin has that kind of effect on humans. When you shoot heroin you lose all your powers.
I’m just going to stop at my friend’s house. He’s been incarcerated twice for selling meth amphetamines. He also sells stolen vehicles. Hey!
(other guy’s muffled voice) hey man! What’s up?
GH : I’m doing an interview right now with some British guy. I’ll call on you later ok?
Ok man, see you later
GH : That was my friend, convicted of dealing meth amphetamines, and he also supplies stolen vehicles to his friends. In fact, I’m driving a stolen vehicle right now.
PB : What can fans expect from a His Problem live show?
GH : Live there’s going be a band and a vid screen. At recent gigs people seemed to dig the tracks. We recently got in a live bass player, ‘cause we didn’t have one before, and she really adds to the thing. Live we’re going to play a bunch of songs from the record, and then we’ll do a 10 to 15 minute freak out at the end. Oh, and we welcome people to tape the shows too. Bring your tape recorders, your Dictaphones, or whatever, your video recorders, your digital tapes, any kind of tapes are welcome. Tape worms, tape worms are welcome. Everyone can bring their tape worms.
PB : What was the concept for the cover art?
GH : Those pictures were used ‘cause we needed something for the cover. I went round my little brother’s house one time and he had a bunch photos that were like, you might have this in England actually, you know in like department stores, where people can get their photos taken, but they’re like glamour shots?
PB : Yep.
GH : Well, they were glamour shots of these really strange lookin’ women, so I took ‘em and fucked around with ‘em a bit. I’m not sure what we used on the record. What have you got on your copy? Is it the one with pearls all over her face?
PB : Yeah, there’s the one with the pearls, and another one without a nose. I think that’s it.
GH : See, I’m only askin’ ‘cause Warner Bros. made us change it, thanks to Billy Joel and the Cult. Blame it on fucking Billy Joel. It’s basically because they were photos that we’d found, and we can’t really use ‘em because someone could fuck us over. It should be alright now though ‘cause we’ve been given the ok by the people at Warner Bros.
PB – There’s a site on the internet where you shamelessly plug Project 5 and Sonar 3. Has that been an important tool to your new band?
GH : Oh, no man, I’ve been using like Pro Tools since the end of the 80's, back when it was called Sound Tools. I don’t just use Pro tools and Project5 either. I use Soundforge, I like Frooty Loops, Orion, and Ableton to route effects. We did that shameless little plug ‘cause we just like ‘em. Some of the pro stuff I don’t like because it can be clunky and slow. It’s better to get a cheaper computer. It’s like Apple or someone like that is like the Ferrari of the computer world, and I’m using like the Ford.
PB : Do you think you’ll ever do another totally electronic record?
GH : Yeah definitely, most likely on a new Jackofficers record. Also –and this is something I’d really like to do – for the next His Problem record I want to take the raw tracks from the record we’re talkin’ about right know and take snippets from different parts of the tracks and make new songs outta bits of the previous record. It’s not going to be a remix album really. It’s going to be new songs, just recyclin’ bits of the last record. I love messing about with computers, and all that techno shit, although that doesn’t mean I’m a homosexual. You know what I mean. A lot of rock guys are all like (adopts stupid rock kid voice) ‘Dude, that stuffs for fags,’ but I don’t see how techno can determine your sexuality. I think techno’s very macho; it’s made by manly techno men
PB : How do you usually get involved in different projects? Is it a case of stumbling into them or do think to yourself, ‘I need to play with other people?’
GH - It’s uh, kind of a combination of both. ‘Jesus Built my Hotrod’ came about I think at Lollapalooza. Ministry had this guitar and drum part, but they had that killer riff, and the guitar solo, but they didn’t really know what to do with it, so I said I’d help ‘em make somethin’ of it. I did the vocals in one take. Well, I tried to do a coupla other takes, but they didn’t really turn out that good, so we had to use the first one. Most of the other things come about when I’m hangin’ with a bunch of friends and we end up like ‘Man, we have to jam together sometime’. It’s like also I write a lot of songs, and anyone who writes songs is an egotist, so I need to release songs to like feed my ego, give my egotistical side a fix. Everyone who writes songs is egotists, and after you’ve released so many records you kind of become a clown. I mean if you think back to all the people who have been releasing records for years, most of them kind of lose it after a while. There’s only a few who are still any good, like Neil Young, Bob Dylan. He’s kind of borderline. He’s on the edge. Devo! Devo still have respect when they play. Nirvana too,. They’re still as good as they were when they started. Well their last record was as good as their first. Well not quite as good, but it’s still up to their standards, don’t you think? Anyway, if you look at older bands, a lot of ‘em lose what they had when they started as they go along.
I’m going along to a practice after this. I got a lot of work to do before we go on tour. I’m actually going along today to try to learn the words of the new songs, cause I can’t remember any of ‘em. Like at the shows we were doing before I’ve just been mumbling, like ‘muh da da der der muh duh’ stuff like that, and we played two or three shows, and no-one noticed until one of my friends said ‘Uh, Gibby, are you gonna sing any words on the record?’ I thought I was getting away with it, but I got caught, so I got to learn the words now.
PB : Can you not remember any of them?
GH : Nah not really.
PB : Oh right. Could I ask you a bit about when the Buttholes first started?
GH : You can ask anything you want, man.
PB : Ok, cheers. When you first started playing with the Buttholes, your performances were infamous. How did your gigs end up that way?
GH : When we started we wanted the shows to be more performance orientated rather than be about the music. We were influenced by the Birthday Party. We wanted a similar kinda dark humour. There was a whole bunch of people trying to do that at the time. Bands like Gwar took it to its extremes, but we were trying to be as edgy and as little slapstick as possible. You see there’s a fine line in performance art between serious and shit.
PB : When you got big in the early 90's, how did that affect the band? Did it put a lot of pressure on you?
GH : Well, I think we were fortunate that we weren’t that big, so it wasn’t too much pressure on us, but it was a weird time. It wasn’t somethin’ we expected to happen or that we wanted to happen. I think if we’d got bigger, or we’d stayed in the spotlight, it would’ve broken up the band. I don’t think I could’ve coped with a lot of fame that suddenly. I mean look at what happened to Nirvana, and the change between their first two records. I mean, they weren’t like totally unknown around their first album. People knew who they were, but that next step was so big that it must’ve been weird. I’m not surprised that things ended the way they did.
I don’t have to worry about people coming up to me in the street and bothering me and all that shit, but people do know who I am, which means I get some drinks out of it. All the bartenders around here know who I am, because I go into a lot of different bars, and I dress kind of faggy so the bartenders take notice of me, and try to find out who I am. Means I get the odd free beer, the odd nice pint of Stella.
PB : Going back to the origins of the Buttholes, How did you meet long-time band mate Paul Leary?
GH : It was around the Spring of '81 that we put the Buttholes together. We were in college and we did various projects together, fanzines and t-shirts and shit like that. We decided to form a band that wasn’t about skill. It was about creativity and ideas, and we were out drivin’ near Austin one time, and this band called the Big Boys were playin’ at this bar and they asked us if we wanted to play as well, to open for ‘em. So we went there and borrowed some equipment and played a show, and we got $250, just for droppin’ in at a club and playin’ a show. We thought to ourselves ‘Hey, we could get used to this!’ so we went on tour in this shitty little van, played loads of shows, and never even came close to making as much as that Big Boys show.
PB : Where are you playing on the His Problem tour?
GH : Well, we’re gonna do a show at a place called Moontime Pizza, a pizza restaurant that does gigs and stuff. You can have a pizza and a beer and check out bands as well. Man, it’s pretty cool. We’re also playin’ all round the US. We’re going to play some shows with Ween as well. I think we’re going to go over to Europe in December time. Hey, I’m sorry man, but I’m going to have to go to this practice.
PB : Ok, no problem. One more question, just out of curiosity: how did Johnny Depp get involved with P? Is he a big Buttholes fan?
GH : Well, I was at a party this one time, and he came up to me and said: ‘Hey, you’re the guy that did ‘Jesus Built my Hotrod’ song with Ministry. That’s one of my favourite songs.’ And I said (adopts rubbing in type voice): ‘How’s Winona?’ and he said: ‘Fuck You!’ and we’ve been friends ever since.
PB : Thank you