Mr Ratboy, Mr Popular (Lou), Cowboy Mark & Splat Action
interviewd by Nervous Nick for BAM! Magazine (Italy, 2002)
Can you please introduce yourselves and let us know how Sour Jazz got together, and where did the band name come from?
MR RATBOY: Mr Ratboy, guitarist & synthesizer enthusiast. I formed the band a few years ago (already?) with "Mr Popular" Lou Paris. We both were bored, generally & musically, so we decided to put yet ANOTHER band together! Just what the world needed, you'd think that we would have known better by then...
SPLAT ACTION: I’ve known Lou for years. We played together in a band called Dirt Search Headlight in the early 90s. I play with keyboard player Jim Duffy in a band called Martin’s Folly and Duffy had played on Rat’s solo record. So I knew about Rat from Duffy. Anyway, when Lou, Cow and Rat got together they tried a couple different drummers and none of ‘em worked out. So Lou gave me a call. At that time Sami Yaffa was on bass and Cow was playing rhythm guitar. As for the name, although those guys will tell you a different story, a little man named Metitron, who lives inside my head, actually came up with the name Sour Jazz.
MR POPULAR: Rat rang me up one day and said something like “since you don’t want to be in a band and I don’t want to be in a band we might as well be in one together”. After a couple of months of somewhat awkward auditions we ended up with Cow and Splat, two more perfect misfits. Splat I already knew was right because we had been playing together for a few years, and Cow, he was just a freak, just like us! The name “Sour Jazz” is a bastard offspring of a mislabeled record title we saw in a catalog one day while hanging out in a record store.
MR RATBOY: We decided that "AXEMAN's MASH" was a stupid moniker for a group of our caliber (we already knew we would be outstanding) so we named it SOUR JAZZ.
How would you describe Sour Jazz music to those miserable souls who haven't listened to your albums yet ?
COWBOY MARK: Iggy meets James Brown and drinks entirely too much vermouth? And sometimes we sound a bit like John Lee Hooker on crack.
SPLAT ACTION: Better than White Stripes. Less influential than Horselips.
Best thing and worst thing about being in Sour Jazz...
COWBOY MARK: It's fun, which is a rare thing...and we're all best friends, which is another rare thing, especially within bands. And it's great listening to our records, memories of the days and nights in the studio for those particular sessions, and then hearing from people on the other side of the world who get something else out of listening to our records. Something that I could never get. The worst thing...as the old saying goes, it's only rock-n-roll but I wouldn't mind getting paid for it!
MR RATBOY: Best : Since we already have reached MATURITY, we don't need to worry about getting old, we can think about more constructive things like ROCKING harder & better than the younger clowns who think they know but don't know jackshit. Worst: We don't make half as much as we deserve.
MR POPULAR: Best thing: We really don’t give a fuck about anything. Worst thing: It sometimes takes us longer to get things done because we really don’t give a fuck about anything. But in the long run things will be all right because what matters is the music and I guess that’s the one thing we do care about.
SPLAT ACTION: “The best thing about being in Sour Jazz is the incredible range of snack foods that we’re fortunate enough to endorse. Worst thing is the smell, unfortunately.”
Rat, You were born in Switzerland. Then you moved to London. Then L.A. Then N.Y. Now Japan. Will you ever settle down? Why Japan? Does it make it hard to keep Sour Jazz together living on the other side of the world?
MR RATBOY: I'd love to settle down, believe me ! I just don't know where. I actually think that one of the main reasons Sour Jazz is still together is coz we nearly never play. You know, a band is like a sinking ship that every band member tries to keep afloat, since I'm not in NYC, it takes a very long time for SOUR JAZZ to actually go down. Do you think if the Stones all shared a tiny apartment they'd still be together ?????
Best thing and worst thing about living in NYC (or in Japan...)
MR POPULAR: Best things are having anything you want at your disposal. Even if you don’t want some of them anymore. Worst things are having to deal with the way New York has changed over the last 10 years. Our so called “Hero” Rudy Gulliani has pretty much fucked up New York to the point where it is nothing more than an amusement park for uninspired rich kids and tourists. Real New Yorkers have seen their quality of life deteriorate to the level of “theme restaurants” and coffee shops. Nothing is spared at the expense of making another all mighty American dollar.
COWBOY MARK: In NYC I'm left alone nobody gives a shit about anyone else's business. There's a real anonimity. I can work hard here, and I do work hard and I feel pretty good some of the time. But living here is very, very difficult. It's a struggle, a monumental fight the whole time. You open up the front door and you look outside and it's rarely very pleasant. But you take a deep breath and either crawl back inside or go out and join humanity and the chaos for a bit.
SPLAT ACTION: Best thing about New York (Brooklyn in my case) is my little daughter Clare. She rocks! Pizza’s pretty good too.
MR RATBOY: Best: I can make the ca$h that I should be making with the band. WHAT'S WRONG HERE? I really don't get it...Worst: I miss sitting around at rehearsals talking about how BIG we are.
Let's talk about "Dressed to the Left", the new CD which came out on Munster Records. First you released two albums on the French Ghostrider Label, now this cd on a Spanish label. Europe shows a lot of interest in Sour Jazz...tell us why!!
MR RATBOY: Because we are fucking GOOD, that's why ! Europeans RAWKERS always had better taste in ROCK music than their US counterparts, it's a well know fact... Well at least a handful of them...
SPLAT ACTION: I think Europeans have always appreciated true artistic genius more than Americans. I think Europeans are just naturally sensitive to the divine artistry of Sour Jazz.
COWBOY MARK: It's probably more a matter of America and Asia and Australia and Scandinavia and Russia and the United Kingdom not showing any interest at all.
MR POPULAR: It seems to be Europe, for some reason or another, still cares about Rock and Roll. The states have underground pockets here and there that do, but as a whole the passion is missing. The average American youth has been spoon fed the worst possible diet of shit from record companies and things like MTV the last 10 to 15 years that they don’t even realize how fucked up it is. I’m not saying who’s right or wrong, it’s just the balance is completely more one sided than it ever has been before.
I really love the song “I Like The City”, it is probably my favourite track on the new cd. I think it’s an instant classic. Tell me something about it !
MR POPULAR: On each record I seem to have a song that is pretty much worked out before anybody else hears it. This was one of those songs. Since I usually just bring a basic rhythm track to the studio, Rat proceeded to work his magic with the guitar part. Splat understood what I was looking for and Cow did his Cow thing. The lyrics I just tried to put in perspective my 15 years of living in NYC, but at the same time it could be associated with wherever a person might be listening to it. I’m glad you dig it. It’s one of my favorites too.
The lyrics to “Fortune Cookie” are absolute genius. Who came up with the idea?
MR POPULAR: That was Rat. He showed up at my studio with a pocket full of those slips you find in fortune cookies and said he had the lyrics to a new song. We pieced them together and a new song was born. It was genius.
Tell me something about the video of "That's Cool" included in the "Dressed To The Left" cd. It's pretty cool actually!!
COWBOY MARK: Yeah, I doubt if anyone in the band spends any time watching rock videos, but we had the opportunity to make one, so we did. We wanted a really clausterphobic feeling to it, in a ridiculously "rock" setting, so the obvious choice was to film it entirely in the gents' at CBGB. We thought the whole thing was pretty clever until we found out that the film crew's lights multiplied the stench of twenty years' worth of piss and diarrhea that crusts that room. That was the day, for obvious reasons, that our drummer's name was changed from Pat to Splat. But, yeah, I think everyone in Sour Jazz has a secret fondness for the early days when a rock video meant just showing the band playing, and not tie it all up in special effects, dancing chicks with implants, and celebrity guest cameos. So that's what we aimed to do...straight-forward...here's the song, here's the band, dig it or don't.
Do you think Mtv and videos are to blame for murdering rock'n'roll?
COWBOY MARK: No, not at all. Rock'n'roll wasn't murdered, it died from neglect. The kids stopped liking rock'n'roll, for whatever reason, and the majority of rock bands completely lost their hunger.
What records are you listening to these days? Do you like any of today's bands in particular?
COWBOY MARK: Not that many bands around today that I listen to...I really dig The Flaming Stars, and I can usually listen to a bit of Thee Michelle Gun Elephant. Spencer P Jones out of The Beasts of Bourbon is still putting out consistently good records, and there's another band out of Australia, The Monarchs, who I've been digging a lot lately. Otherwise, I mostly listen to records that were recorded before I was even born. Before stereo was even born. I'm certainly not listening to The Strokes.
MR POPULAR: I pretty much still listen to the same old shit I have always listened to. I seem to be playing a lot of old soul stuff lately. And I have been dusting off records I haven’t heard for some time like Mott the Hoople and Elmore James. I don’t take chances and buy just anything anymore and I don’t listen to the radio much so I cant really say I like anything new right now. But I hope that will change.
SPLAT ACTION: I’ve been playing around with a couple of Korg synths lately (thanks Rat!) So I’ve been listening to a lot of ambient-type stuff: Ashra, Windy and Carl, Thomas Koner and a band from England called Spaceheads. And a lot of non-rock stuff: Sun Ra, William Parker & Hamid Drake, Magic Carpathians, Steve Lacy, and Dutch jazz like Han Bennink. On the rock end I Love Acid Mother’s Temple new CD and their guitar player’s, Kawabata Makoto, solo stuff. I also love a record called “Southern Rock Opera” by an American band called the Drive-By Truckers. It’s a 2-CD rock opera about Lynyrd Skynyrd! Ian Hunter’s new CD “Rant” is amazing! And I always find time to listen to my all-time faves Mott the Hoople, BOC, Hawkwind and Thin Lizzy.
MR RATBOY: This week: Harvey Mandel "Cristo Redentor" Yes "Tormato" ( I have no shame) - Aerosmith "Toys in the attic"- Ron Wood "Now look"- Bobby Womack "Collection Gold" ( French compilation)- Suzanne Rhatigan "To hell with love" ( Robert Quine is on guitar!) In no particular order.I don't really like any new bands... I guess I tolerate Buckcherry but can we call them new ?
Plans for the future? Any chance to see Sour Jazz play some gigs in Europe?
MR RATBOY: We'll probably record our new masterpiece in the Summer.
COWBOY MARK: Yeah, we're planning on recording the third album this summer, hopefully, and working towards a little tour of Europe, possibly in October...France, Spain, maybe Berlin and Hamburg, maybe London. And for me, a week back in Venezia when it's all over! A bottle of Clinton on Murano!
What do you like about Venice in particular? Have you also visited other Italian towns?
COWBOY MARK: Yeah, a few years back I spent some time in Rome, Florence, Sienna, the Tuscan valley, Milano...but Venezia was my favourite, by far. I don't know what it is about the place, but it's definitely for me...as long as I go when there aren't too many tourists clogging it up. It's a great place to lose yourself in. The appeal is definitely more than the sum of its parts, though...it's something about the place that there are no words for. I'll tell you, though, Florence didn't impress me much. But Venezia is a place that I keep returning to, and I hope I always will. I'm also intrigued with Positano, but I haven't gotten there yet.
So far you recorded a few amazing cover versions (13 Women, Messin' with the Kid...) ...is there any other song you'd like to cover?
MR POPULAR: You’ll just have to wait and see. Though I have been listening to Lou Reeds “Metal Machine Music” lately
SPLAT ACTION: I always thought Cowboy would be a natural to sing “Cowboy Song” by Thin Lizzy. And of course, I would love to duet with Rat on a version of Diamanda Galas’s “Litanies of Satan.”
COWBOY MARK: I've always wanted to have a go at L'anamour, the old Serge Gainsbourg song. I think that the tricky bit with covers is to stay away from the obvious, first, and second, to avoid doing a straight cover where you don't bring anything at all to the party. Rat and I are plotting to cover Gary Numan's In Cars but Lou and Splat are yet to be very receptive to the idea.
MR RATBOY: I'd like to do "I bet you thought we couldn't do it" by the mighty GENTLE GIANT but I also bet it would take a LOT of persuading ! There's hope though, Cowboy has been listening to ENO these days: he's on the right track, Gentle Giant is just around the corner...
Lou, what do you think of Iggy’s last solo records? Do you think he should retire? Do you think he should ring Mr Ratboy and ask for HELP?
MR POPULAR: Man, until he gets a different group of guys to work with I don’t foresee anything that I am going to be interested in. Should he retire? Naw, as long as someone feels like doing something and enjoys what they do, who’s to say they should stop. Who knows, one day he might surprise us when we least expect it. If he stops we’ll never know. If he’d only find another band… Yea, I’m sure Rat could remind him of a few things he seems to have forgotten.
Mr Ratboy, before Sour Jazz you played guitar in a lot of bands (Motorcycle Boy, Pillbox, Intruders…),and “guested” on a lot of records (Jeff Dahl, Freddy Lynxx, Kevin K, Bebe Buell…)… it’s an endless list…so which one did you enjoy in particular? And how was playing with Marky “Wig” Ramone?
MR RATBOY: I dunno....Thery were all cool. I love playing guitar so each one of these experience was valuable to me plus they're all friends of mine. Marky was alright, he never wigged out on me ! :-)
It’s been a few years since “A gift from Mr Ratboy”, your fantastic first solo record, came out. What do you think of it now ? Are you planning to release another one sooner or later? What should we expect from it?
MR RATBOY: I think it's not too bad...I don't like all the songs equally but altogether it's OK. I can't stand listening to my voice so I rarely listen to it. I prefer my voice on the slower songs... I will probably record more solo stuff in the future, I actually just finished a track for a Spanish GUN CLUB tribute album.It will be on EL BEASTO records (what a great name) & I did "Lucky Jim" , all by myself. My wife said it sounded l a bit like karaoke but what do you expect after having lived in Japan for a couple of years ?
Let’s talk about guitars…which are your favourite guitars? Also, it is well know that you are a man of excellent taste (like me), you seem to prefer P90s pickups over everything else...
MR RATBOY: AHHHHHH Geetars! I Love'em ! Yes, until recently I was exclusively into P90s, most of my guitars were equipped with that particular pick up. But since I've been in Japan, I've been buying a bunch of guitars & all of them have humbuckers that I dig. Lately, I believe that , if you know what you're doing & have developed you OWN playing style, the guitar doesn't matter that much. I tend to sound the same on ANY guitar & that also goes for amps.... The last time we went in the studio in NYC, I didn't have any equipment so I ended up playing on a Telecaster & a Les Paul Standard through a Marshall amp. Believe or not, it ended up sounding the same as my Epiphone Casino through a Boogie. Basically, if you can play the thing, any guitar that looks cool to you will do the job ! These days I really enjoy all my cheapo copies !!!!!
Pat, which is your favourite brand of drums?
SPLAT ACTION: I don't really have a favorite kit, although I own a couple. My favorite drums are the ones I don't have to carry! To be honest, I often use the house kit cause I'm too lazy to hump my own gear anymore. Honestly, I like stuff that won't break easily, basically. I like Tama stuff cause if it breaks on the road you can get replacements anywhere. I use Sabian cymbals 'cause mainly 'cause I used to have a deal with them. For snare drums, my drum tech in New York, Marcus A.C. Demuth, makes his own snare drums under the Cake name. I think they're available in Europe. They are the best!
Why did you choose to play the drums? And who were your biggest influences when you started playing?
SPLAT ACTION: I chose drums cause they looked like they were so much fucking fun! As a kid, I idolized all 70s guys who had big gongs, had style, but could also hit the drums REALLY hard: Bonham, Moon, Cozy Powell, Tony Williams, Thin Lizzy's Brian Downey, and "Rock Action" -- of course. As I got older, hittin' hard was not the most important thing and I got into all those great James Brown drummers like Clyde Stubblefield and John "Jabo" Starks, Meters' Ziggy Modeliste, Al Jackson. As for the punk guys, the only ones I really dug were Rat Scabies and Television's Billy Ficca.
I know you’d rather be a Chef than a rockstar! Would you like to share one of your best recipes with our readers?
SPLAT ACTION: You got that right Nick! Here's one for your readers to grill up now that summer's coming up:
Barbecued Short Ribs:
8 pounds beef short ribs
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 cup brown mustard
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon molasses
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon granulated onion
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the ribs, garlic cloves and bay leaf. Parboil the ribs, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tender
In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients. Pour 1 cup of the rib water into the mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for approximately 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened and is heated through. Add the ribs to the pot, turning with tongs to coat well. Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer the ribs to a hot outdoor grill, meat side down first, and cook 8 to 10 minutes on each side, taking care not to burn them. Serve with remaining sauce on the side.
Your favourite Rolling Stones album?
MR POPULAR: This one is harder than I thought. I guess I’ll say Beggars Banquet. No wait, “Let it Bleed”. Ah, OK its Sticky Fingers! But then there’s Exile…
COWBOY MARK: Man, that's a tough one. I haven't really got a favourite, though whenever I grab a Rolling Stones album to spin, it's usually something with Brian Jones on it. It's also usually vinyl, because their stuff was mastered HORRIBLY for compact discs. But, yeah, to answer your question...I'd have to go with Between The Buttons, on the strength of Miss Amanda Jones, Connection, Complicated, and Let's Spend The Night Together. But I also really dig Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, for the huge Phil Spector-like quality. As far as later Stones stuff goes, I haven't got a favourite album, but Silver Train, off Goat's Head Soup, is definitely a favourite track of mine.
SPLAT ACTION: Let It Bleed
MR RATBOY: "BLACK & BLUE", by far ! I was never a Brian Jones fan. During the sessions for the album the Stones were auditioning replacements for Mick Taylor ( not a bad axeman...) and had the glorious idea to try HARVEY MANDEL out !!! You can hear him on a couple of tracks, including "HOT STUFF". Apart from that, the songs are all great, I love the ballads, "MEMORY MOTEL" & "FOOL TO CRY". If you dig "BLACK & BLUE" too, you have to find a John Phillips album called "PAY BACK & FOLLOW", it's produced by the Glimmer Twins around the same time & CHRIS SPEDDING is on that one !!!! Why did they ended up hiring Ron Wood ? I don't know, I don't get it at all !!!! They supposedly also offered the job to ROY BUCHANAN at one point.
Saints or Radio Birdman? Cramps or Gun Club?
MR POPULAR: Saints. That’s an easy one. Cramps or Gun Club? That’s a little tougher. Early Cramps were cool, but the Gun Club definitely helped fill a void in the early 80’s. Let’s call that one a tie.
Your favourite Sour Jazz song so far and why?
MR POPULAR: It’s a new one I wrote that’s going to be out on a 45 soon. Its called “Big Generator”. It gives the allusion that I have a BIG DICK!
COWBOY MARK: It's either Mr Popular, for the swagger, or I Like The City, for the flow and the dynamics. I think that those two, in particular, stand a bit apart
from the rest of our masterpieces.
SPLAT ACTION: I like No Fun(house) 'cause it's a little different from what we usually do. We recorded it in one take, and even though it's sloppy as hell, the vibe was was kinda special. I remember finishing the song standing in up -- in FRONT of the drum set!
MR RATBOY: I'm tempted to say "MR POPULAR" but I'm sure someone else already did so I'll say "DIG IT UP/DIG IT DOWN". WHY ? It grooves like crazy & the vocal track is first class. I also love the Wurlitzer & the horns on it, I'm very proud of that one but nobody ever mentions it in review.
Maybe now some dudes will actually notice it....
Why Lou Paris is "MR POPULAR" ?
COWBOY MARK: Only because he married Mrs Popular.
Final question. Who is gonna save Rock’n’Roll ?
MR RATBOY: Save it from who ? From the bunch of clowns who pretend to be playing it ? Not me, man, there are too many of them and only one of me....
Final words of wisdom
MR POPULAR: Keep it simple!