Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Interview with Damon Tutunjian of the Swirlies

The Swirlies are playing the Rock'n'Roll Hotel this Friday night. They have been playing a fascinating brand of "loud, wall-of-noise/shoegaze guitar rock and twisted, lo-fi introspective pop.", to quote a fan. I was able to connect with Damon Tutunjian who helped found this band 21 years ago. Here is the interview and I hope we have a good crowd for what will be a rare chance to see this exciting band.
David Hintz (DH):  21 plus years... Why are you still here and what do you enjoy about playing out?

Damon Tutunjian (DJ):  Well, uh. heh-heh. Let's see that's a trick question.

DH  It is.

DT  I don't know. It would probably be more productive if we actually tried to do some new music I suppose, instead of playing out. But it is nice to play. We all like playing a little bit and we like our old songs. So it's nice to get together and play. At this point we mostly just do it for fun. This band is not trying to go anywhere, that's for sure. We all have careers or jobs or are playing in other bands. Sorry if that's a lame answer, but that's pretty much what it is all about. We are friends and getting to play a little music. I don't know.

DH  For bands that have been around, that makes sense. You also lead into a point I wanted to get to... Do you enjoy the creative process of writing new music and creating with your friends than playing live?

DT  Yeah, that's actually always been the attraction is writing songs and recording and producing. The things we are best at. We are not really a fantastic live band or anything like that. I think we make pretty good recordings and the studio trickery is more fun for me. So I hope we can do more of that at some point. The idea is to not really get anywhere with doing it, but the personal satisfaction of doing it.

DH  Right. What about when you were starting out? Personally I have known of of you guys more than I've known your music and I have now listened to quite a bit of it.

DT  Yeah, I've got the same issue.

DH  (Laughs) You guys started out at Taang records and at my age I started out buying all the early Taang Records.

DT  So did I.

DH  Was it challenging being kind of unique? I know that label kind of expanded to different directions but of course they were the hardcore kings in Boston which was such a tough, hardcore punk town. Was it difficult in the early days, both in releasing music in Taang and playing shows, booked with some odd bands?

DT  It was pretty strange, but Andy and I were really big into the old hardcore punk scene, so we were getting FUs and Gang Green Records, of course FUs weren't on Taang.

DH  Right

DT  You know, Gang Green. I like Mission of Burma a lot and they reissued some of their stuff. And of course kids like the Lemonheads and stuff so it was kind of thrill being on Taang. But we knew we were a weird choice. We liked playing with hardcore bands as we did some times, more than who we were supposed to play with. I don't know, to us it was always more fun to play on crazy bills. But I do think it was kind of hard for Taang to market us. I mean it didn't really work in the long wrong. I think we could have made a wiser choice if we wanted to do this for a living. But it certainly made it more interesting and less predictable I guess.

DH  And the people were good to work with their, too.

DT  Ahhhhh.... no. (Laughter) There was some fantastic people there early on who were very supportive. Then the label moved out to California. Wellll, we had a very bad contract. I'll say that. Know what I mean?

DH  Yes I do.

DT  Everything that could be in our favor was not in our favor.

DH  No, I sympathize. I really do. I used to manage bands and I have never understood...

DT  Who did you manage?

DH  I managed a band called Toxic Reasons

DT  Oh Toxic Reasons, yeah.

DH  Remember them? From Dayton Ohio, yeah.

DT  Yeah, yeah. I know Toxic Reasons.

DH  Yeah, ok. As a punk hardcore guy, you probably should. Just curious do you have any Gang Green/Chris Doherty stories?

DT  No, I never met those guys.

DH  Oh, ok. laughter. I met them a couple of times and I recall they started like three fights at the Jockey Club.

DT  I do know the guys in Slapshot. I knew Mark, the drummer.

DH  Oh, they just played here, but I missed them.

DT  We were both big Smiths fans. Maybe I shouldn't say that out loud. laughter

DH  That's ok. You gotta start somewhere, so

DT  Yeah.

DH  Does labelling bother you like from critics and such? I mean psychedelic is such a broad label while shoegaze and lo-fi I try to be careful when I use those terms. Does anything like that bother you or do you just let it slide by?

DT  Nah, I don't care. I don't think we're psychedelic. Some of our stuff could be old England shoegaze, but I don't know. I don't really like shoegaze music. I think it's all washed out and weak sounding. I like aggressive and I don't know, but our stuff is heavier and what's the word...

DH  Industrial was a word we used to use long ago.

DT  Yeah, I just think our stuff is heavier than most shoegaze.

DH  Yeah, that's why I hesitate using it because it has a precious quality to it that I don't like to use.

DT  Yeah, a lot of bands like My Bloody Valentine, but they all emulate this sort of this later washed out My Bloody Valentine and I was like, you know, You're Living All Over Me--Dinosaur Jr. is amazing--My Bloody Valentine... That's the kind of stuff that has the shoegaze edge I like. You know, the rougher stuff.

DH  Yep, you and I are a good fit there, then.

DT  What are you listening to? Punk, but are you kind of all over the map?

DH  I'm all over the map now at this point. I went from punk into psychedelic folk.

DT  Psychedelic folk, like what? Banhart?

DH  Yeah, well I collect the old stuff from like all over Europe and the world. I mean you start with the classic Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Steeleye Span (chuckles) and then you go into the Kong Lavring, Ougenweide... oh god, just tons and tons of bands. I saw Michael Chapman the other day. I mean, Roy Harper.

DT  I went on these, I like these blogs where they post these all these links to all this vinyl. I assume you get a lot of your stuff from that, right?

DH  Yeah, I do. But once you get on the collector's market, you get a lot, although I don't make as much money as I used to, so I don't buy as much.

DT  Yeah, I sold my records a long time ago. Now I buy music gear. (laughter)

DH  Yeah, of course. I have thousands of records anyway and I just can't always get to them... Robbie Basho is another name, and of course Comus is a classic. Have you ever heard Comus?

DT  No.

DH  Oh gosh, oh you'd love Comus.

DT  Yeah, I think I need to hear some of this stuff. Again, I did download some stuff off some sites. I moved to Sweden and I was looking for some old Swedish stuff. My parents-in-law, they have some really funny records like one that was put out by the government to promote social democracy and it's like, oh what is it called... It's really funny songs, you know songs about like sharing you food with poor people and stuff like that (laughter) oh, and another one by a band called Kebnekasje.

DH  Oh yes.

DT  Yeah, named after the tallest mountain in Sweden. It's like jam band, I don't know...

DH  They are hard to describe. Right, they are like a perfect band because I put them in my psyche folk section, but they are something...

DT  Yeah, what do you call that? Do you know Kebnekasje then?

DH  Yeah, um hmmmm.

DT  Oh ok, Yeah, my mother-in-law used to see them.

DH  That's great

DT  Yeah, there's like ten people in that band.

DH  Yeah, I've got like four or five records by them.

DT  Oh wow.

DH  Yeah, they did a lot. I'll try to burn you something as a little gift for your show maybe.

DT  Oh that would be really cool. Yeah, make me mix.

DH  I'll do that.  (after more discussion on my blog, that he did not meet Lou Giordano, etc.).

DT  Lou certainly produced and engineered a lot of things I liked. We never really met any of the real... I guess we did some things with Carl Clauster (spelling?) who worked on the drums. But we never worked with the Boston legendary producer folks. I know the guy who runs Q Division and I know a couple people from Fort Apache I suppose. Out here we're kind of left to our own devices.

DH  Yeah, one of my questions here was talking about your outsider status, so that was kind of what I was guessing which is both good and bad career-wise, maybe.

DT  Bad (laughter) but satisfying.

DH  But you're still here. One thing that is not so much a question but I noticed when I put you in my ITunes, you ended up right between Swell Maps and Syd Barrett, so I thought wow...

DT  That's interesting.

DH  Isn't it? I thought that was a great combination.

DT  It's quite nice and bizarre.

DH  Yeah, I don't know if I could do better describing you.

DT  Yeah, we are kind of in between there.

DH  They are part of your brethren anyway even if the sounds aren't quite alike.

DT  Yeah and I like Syd Barrett.

DH  So, just a few shows on this tour?

DT  Yeah, just a few sloppy shows. (laughter) . Yeah I live in another country and we're all spread over the east coast--kind of impossible and this was the most we could find time for. I hope we can record something.

And then we went on to talk about his life in Malmo, Sweden which was interesting to me, but maybe not so much here (plus transcribing interviews is such a time consuming pain, unlike bashing out my rambling reviews). But I appreciate Damon taking the time to chat before heading off to the airport. And I am hoping for more fun talk about music this Friday night.


Me said...

Thanks for posting this.


David Hintz said...

You are welcome. I am happy that people keep reading this years later, so there is still plenty of interest in this fascinating musician.

Anonymous said...

yeah thanks nice interview, big fan of swirlies since mid 90s, really hope they make another album one day!