Dharma Bums Interview

Originally printed in Spinal Jaundice #11 – 1990


Oregon’s current answer to godhead rock and one of the best groups on Frontier Records. These boys have 2 albums under their belts, “Haywire” and the new and improved “Bliss,” which bestowed them with some much-deserved radio recognition. Yes, Dharma Bums are heavy, but they revel in melodicism so that the music edifies as it bludgeons. The lineup of stars here is (from left) Jeremy Wilson – vocals, John Moen – drums, Eric Louvre – guitars, and Jim Talstra – bass. The sincerity of the Bums make their brand of fun, jangly raucousness not to be missed. We talked to singer Jeremy about the wide world and all that.

MJ: I wanted to ask about the circumstances around the recording of your new release, “Bliss,” and the sounds therein that one might expect?
JW: We recorded the record using a 24-track mobile studio, which means a studio that’s on the back of a truck basically…the recorder and the mixing board and all the processing gear is in it. We took it out to near Silverton where we all grew up and stuff and recorded it in a grange hall, which was built in the 1920’s or so. And it was a cool old place, a big old wooden room. We were trying to get a certain feel for the record, that was the goal. I don’t know how successful we were, but…We thought it’d be neat to be in an area that we are fond of. It was an experiment. I think that it was a pretty gutsy experiment considering it was our follow-up record, when we could have easily just gone and made a really well-produced record in a huge studio here in Portland or something. We wanted to try and do it our way, be artists or whatever. I think it worked. Some of it backfired, I think that there’s a lack of low end on the record that came from us fucking with the bass sound. I’m proud that we just went for it, not to just be complacent. I’d like to produce records someday and I’d like to learn what works and what doesn’t. Any negative feelings I have towards the record are on a purely technical level. I love the songs on the record, I think they’re really honest, great songs to tell you the truth.

MJ: So you just returned from doing brand new recording this weekend, how did all of that go? What kind of release timeframe are you projecting?
JW: The projected release date is sometime in March, 1991. We’re leaving in February for a national tour. The dates are just slowly getting confirmed. We did a single at Reciprocal Recording, which is kind of the home of the Sub-Pop sound as they say, with Jack Endino, who has produced all those bands. It was a beautiful thing, it was a real happening experience. Two days of recording and mixing for two songs. I think that we brought in a band that was tight, that wrote music and are professional about what they do. And what he gave us was the ability to obtain a real rockin’ sound. We are really quite a rock band live, that was one thing I don’t think has come across well on a record yet. People are actually surprised when they see us live. Much heavier, and a much more powerful thing. He had to offer the ability to get that on tape, the low end. We just did a couple of more ‘fun’ songs because we’ve been working so hard that we wanted to do something purely for fun. The funny thing about us doing something for fun is it turns out to be our best stuff, because we did it with the right frame of mind.

MJ: Your band name cites a particular Jack Kerouac passage. Does literature often times interact with songwriting?
Oh, yeah…sometimes. I read tons. I can’t point out anything absolutely specific at this moment, but yes. I’ve always considered my lyrics to be a kind of confrontation with myself. Lately we’ve been going in this kind of direction. You know, like when you’re younger everything is so confusing that the only thing you can put into words is confusion. I’m actually pretty happy to feel like I’m starting to define some things in myself. I think we are going in a direction of some real definite feelings. Like, a song like “Time Together” on “Bliss,” I wrote the lyrics for that over a year ago. They’re very direct and about rape. But I think they’re also done creatively. I’ve never liked a song that said, “Hey baby, is my car nice…I’ve got a nice pair of shoes on…and boy we’re gonna get it on tonight…but I’m still so sad,” you know. Spare me. But you know what are the worst songs? I mean, I consider myself an environmentalist; I try to recycle and everything. But the stupidest songs in the world are environmental songs. If you think about it, the only people who could write good environmental songs were the old Clash. (ehh…MJ) Almost everybody who tries to write like, “It’s gonna be a nuclear winter in Russia,” you know, it just sounds so fucking stupid. But you know what I think is a great song is that Pixies’ “Monkey Gone To Heaven.” That is a good song. That’s saying something. Although they always say they don’t mean anything in their lyrics. Every time I read an interview with them it’s, “Oh, we don’t mean anything in our lyrics.” That’s what I like, somebody who’s creative, yet giving people a clue about what’s going on. I know when I was younger and even now, I go to the arts for some inspiration. I listen to Neil Young records. When I was younger I listened to Pete Townshend every day of my life. If I have anything to offer I hope it’s just my own honesty as being a human being. That’s what I’m trying to put on record, total human emotion, total human experience. I think that we live in such a denial oriented society that just that act alone is incredibly important. Showing other people that it’s okay to be angry and pissed off, but it’s also okay to love, you know. And where I’m coming from lyrically, that is a conscious focus.

MJ: With all the differing textures in your songs, there have to be some influences in there somewhere, too.
JW: Yes, you know I’m looking at probably 300 records as I sit here just in my household. I think a trend for all four of us, we all really admire your real great songwriters. Elvis Costello, Pete Townshend. That stuff. And we’ve never gotten angry at it, we’ve never stopped liking it because everyone else liked it. We never have copped an attitude like that, which I think is about the most stupid thing in the music ‘scene’ these days. People rejecting everything that’s becoming accepted. And it backfired because the positive stuff, because it was like ‘cooler than thou’ is now just on major labels anyway. Every artist in the world wants his stuff to be put out there so everybody can hear it. I’ve gone through periods like that myself, so it’s partly coming to grips with my own self about it. I realized the other day. I heard a Sinead O’Connor song. Somebody we always joked about when she came out…you know like ‘Skinhead O’Connor’ and stuff, and never listened to her music. Then this song I heard, I was going, “God, this is a beautiful song.” It’s really good. What makes her so horrible in this ‘cool’ clique of people? All of a sudden you’re not very cool you’re a bunch of fucking jerks. Closing your mind off.

MJ: A lot of the stuff that’s prominent now is grunge. Do you find people expecting a certain geographical type of sound where you’re from? What would you consider to be your relationship with all that?
JW: I was just talking to some friends, we were up in Seattle all week. And they turned to me at one point in the conversation, because we were talking about the northwest, they said, “No shit Jeremy, when we think about the northwest, and the attributes that a band would have, we think you’re like the #1 band,” in the sense of the kind of openness and friendliness of the area. And I think that people here are pretty grounded and stuff. So that made me think of your question, that we share the same philosophy, we’re from the same area. I mean, I know the guys in Nirvana. I don’t go hang out with them because they live too far away but every time we see each other it’s fun. It’s kind of like this ‘devil may care’ attitude but a real heart of gold is actually caring. I feel very connected to the region and the bands around it. We were just in Arizona playing a show out there and I ran into the guys from Swallow who came up and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy from Dharma Bums?” I thought, “Wow!” It’s really great.