John Trubee Interview

Originally printed in Spinal Jaundice #7 – 1988


Ranting poet, avant-garde jazz experimentalist, founder of the “pathetically unpopular” band The Ugly Janitors Of America. It’s all been written but nonetheless, upon hearing one of his recordings around 1984 it was an influence similar to none other. Several albums and cassettes are available on his label Time And Space, and you can send a blank tape to be filled with whatever type of thing you want: poetry, atmospheric keyboard recordings, live performances or telephone victimizations. It’s up to you.

MJ: What sort of things were you doing prior to embarking on recording?
JT: In highschool I was in a band called Gloop Nox And The Stik People. I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey so that was my highschool band. I went to Berklee College of Music for three years from 1976-1979 where I concentrated on composition and arranging. I graduated and came out west…then worked with Zoogz Rift on his first LP which he released himself which is called “Idiots On The Miniature Golf Course” on Snout Records which is an old label. At the time he lived in Maraga, California, which is sort of in the Bay Area. And actually I had known Zoogz  when he lived in Persippany, New Jersey. He lived in southern California for a while then New Jersey, then Oregon then he moved back here to California. And when he got back here in 1981, I was in his band for a while called  The Amazing Shitheads. We played the Hollywood club scene and sort of had a following and interest from writers. Then the “Blind Man’s Penis” came out in 1983 on my own small label called Space And Time Records which is actually just a sub-label of Enigma. After that, “The Communists Are Coming To Kill Us,” my first album on Enigma. They were reluctant to give me a budget so I made that album from various tapes I had made since I was a teenager. Prank phone calls and studio tapes and other assorted strange things. After that I began writing a few things for Spin, and since it seemed like people would be interested in what I was doing, Enigma gave me a budget to record a second record in a studio called “Naked Teenage Girls In Outer Space” that came out in 1985 on their sub-label Restless. After that I did yet a third LP called “Beyond Eternity/Lavender Flesh.” I liked both titles and couldn’t decide so I just combined the two titles. And that came out on Cordelia Records which is a really teeny label in England. That record is like virtually impossible to find in America, you’d have to really search for it or place a special order with imports from England, but it is available. And again that was made with a bunch of oddball tapes since that label would not give me a budget. I had to compile tapes that I had made on my own over the years. What was interesting, I went on a European tour earlier this year with Zoogz in May of 1988, and when we were in Linz, Austria we were playing a concert and in front of the hall some man who ran the local hip record store had a concession stand and on the table was Zoogz' LP on SST. And copies of “Lavender Flesh” my third LP. There, thousands of miles from where I live, in Linz, Austria of all places they would have this, take the trouble to find them and be aware that I was in Zoogz’ band touring…that was very exciting.

MJ: So how many copies of the “Blind Man’s Penis” single have you sold? How far was it sent?
JT: I have no idea about sales, maybe a thousand or a couple thousand when it first came out as a single. You’d have to ask Mykel Board of The Only Label In The World to see how many he’s sold. See my deal with him is he presses 500 and I get 10% of the pressings as my payment for licensing the rights to him. And they sell fairly quickly from what I understand. People are always bugging him to repress more but at the current time he doesn’t have the money to press up some more.

MJ: The “Communists” album and the “Naked Teenage Girls” album had some similarities but were actually quite opposite. Are the cassettes on Space and Time different as well?
JT: Oh yeah…Enigma released those two LP’s but I have tons of cassettes that I’ve made over the years. Prank phone call tapes, studio demos, synthesizer experiments, recordings of The Ugly Janitors Of America, live poetry rants. So I actually assembled a catalog and starting selling them called Space And Time Tapes. Like “Drowning In The Society Of Snot” was one cassette, and “Sexual Obscenity” was a compilation of Ugly Janitors performances we did live of assorted freakiness. Unusual synthesizer pieces recorded in 1979 called “Deserts Of Utah” then the “Calls To Idiots” volumes 1-6. Six one-hour cassettes of prank phone calls. Those seem to be the most popular actually, the idiot factor, people are more interested in those than music, because it’s the bottom line, the low-brow, the obnoxious vulgar humor is more popular than finely crafted music because it actually takes some thinking and appreciation to appreciate music that has some thought into it. But the phone calls and the adolescent humor are most popular because it doesn’t require much thinking and most people don’t think very well…most people can relate to them. I mean it sounds very snooty and obnoxious but it’s brought out by what sells and what sells is often the most mediocre and most vulgar. I don’t mean to sound snotty I’m just stating the facts.

MJ: Why wasn’t “Remember The Good Old Days” ever put on your first LP though it was listed on the back?
JT: “Remember The Good Old Days” was never recorded or read, it was merely written for my own amusement. You notice on the back of the albums there’s a lot of writing, a lot of print, because there are things which I’m dying to say to the world. I’m not just a regular person who wants to be in a band and be popular, and all the jive ass reasons people put out records, I’m dying to communicate things with people. Because when I was growing up a lot of things that I wanted to express were just shut out and ideas that I wanted to express were always screamed down. I never got along very well with my father and he constantly castrated and invalidated anything. So a lot of what I’m trying to express is to overcome the sort of castration I had with my father. And the idea that his overly-authoritarian behavior was actually wrong. And I think a lot of overly authoritarian behavior is wrong. Just what I observe in the world is generally what I’m trying to express. People are really strong and intelligent and enlightened. They don’t need to look to leaders to get things done or to seek advice or anything because they can live as freely and as independent and make their minds up to be…okay, answer the question. The answer to “Why wasn’t 'Remember…' on the first album,” because it was never recorded. Enigma agreed to put out the album and I told them that I wanted a bunch of lyrics typeset and put on the back cover. I gave them the lyrics and threw “Good Old Days” in there so that it would be read by people.

MJ: Yeah, I just enjoyed reading it.
JT: Well I enjoyed writing it and I like to get it out there. I’d do that full time if I could get paid for it somehow. I’d put out records every month if someone would take me into a studio and someone would release it. Since I am allowed to do it so infrequently, that’s why there is such a concentration of diverse material and why there’s so much print on the albums. I’m doing it as if it were the last thing I ever get to do in my life so there’s all this concentration of energy and thought and weirdness because I want to say it all, because I might die tomorrow, and if I die tomorrow, that’s what will be left of me. Something tangible that I created with my brain for the world to see. That’s what this person did with his life. And that’s why I feel a certain amount of anxiety because I’d like to do that everyday. Put out more product, more ideas, more images. That’s what’s important to me. That’s what’s frustrating - that it’s so difficult to make a record because you have to deal with assholes and record companies and basically ask them for permission to do things. It takes more money from work to make tapes myself and release them myself if I want the world to hear them. I can’t stand people having power over me, I can’t stand asking permission to do things. I decided if I make a record, I’m going to make it myself and release it myself, but that takes money. That’s what I’m trying to do now, find ways to make money so that if I want to release albums I don’t have to ask the permission of idiots who don’t understand me or are totally indifferent to me.

MJ: Who is in The Ugly Janitors Of America?
JT: The musicians in the UJOA always varies. The purpose of the UJOA is to create a vehicle to hear my songs and musical pieces performed and recorded. So whenever I have a batch of material I want performed or recorded, and I have money to do so, I start calling up people and see who’s available and start getting them for rehearsals. So the only stable member in The Ugly Janitors Of America is me. I am the leader. And since its inception in 1983 there have been about 60-70 musicians, I haven’t bothered to count them all. What’s interesting is right now in the band we have Jon Sharkey on keyboards and Danny Buchanon on bass, both of whom have played in Zoogz Rift’s band. Sharkey is currently in Zoogz’ band also and will be touring with him next year to Europe and throughout America. They were both in the band in 1983 when it first started, since then it’s been a fluid membership.

MJ: Are you planning at all to do more stuff with Zoogz in the future?
JT: Probably not. Unless he does something fantastic. The only reason I did the European tour with him is because I wanted to travel to Europe. I didn’t know of any other time in my life when someone would actually pay to fly me to Europe to play music. But I’m not crazy about being in Zoogz’ band because he requires a lot of rehearsing for weeks and weeks and weeks and months just to do one performance or a couple performances. And I don’t want to devote that much of my limited time to someone else’s music even though he’s one of my best friends. But so much of my time is wasted in my day job, and with such limited time and energy I really shouldn’t be piddling it away in someone else’s  band even if that other person happens to be one of my best pals. Time and energy in our lifetimes are incredibly limited. And if you have specific goals you want to create, you (I) should not piddle them away on anything other than what I want to do.

MJ: Do you hope to do another album?
JT: I don’t like to use the word ‘hope’ because hope implies powerlessness. I encourage you to read stuff by Friedrich Nietzsche. I think he was talking about words like hope, dream, those are very nice words and they’re very attractive but they imply powerlessness. They imply that you’re thinking about doing something instead of doing something. What matters in the world is getting things done and action and activity. And if you want something and if you have a goal you act and behave in a way that will help you get to that goal.

MJ: Battling the demons.
HT: Battling the demons, overcoming obstacles, overcoming barriers, overcoming indifference from other people, when the best thing to do in order to help you realize your goals is become so ferociously independent, so strong and so resilient that you don’t need anybody for anything. You can simply grab whatever you need in the world. And that doesn’t mean killing other people, that doesn’t mean stomping on other people, you can still observe the golden rule and basic Christian morality which I highly support but I also support independence and freedom and also taking responsibility for one’s self. I don’t believe in something called ‘society’. I don’t think that society exists. I think that people should be responsible for themselves and be very confident and forthright, realizing their personal goals, at the same time observing the golden rule, not infringing upon the rights of others. You call your label Dormant Utopia Records (eventually just D.U. Records - MJ) Well, if everybody acted on that premise I think we’d be living in a utopia. Self-reliant, self-independent, self-actualizing without infringing on the rights of others. And actually there’s nothing wrong with helping other people but to the extent that you help other people before you actually live in a healthy manner yourself, you’ll make yourself miserable and that creates a lot of problems. But I don’t believe society exists, and I believe that people are really strong and independent and healthy and free. They don’t need any authoritarian figures whatsoever telling them what to do. The words ‘hope’ and ‘dream’ imply that we’re inactive and passive…because life is actually a playground in which you actualize your dreams and ideas and you actually act out any ideas that you have in your brain. It’s very important to get those dreams and ideas realized in this lifetime because when you’re dead, you know what? You can’t. You can’t actualize those things. When you’re alive and realize that social interaction and things such as day jobs suck up your time and energy in this world, then if you do have any goals you have to be very resilient and very judicious in how you spend your time and energy. There’s no such thing as society. The idea of society is something that is used by parents, teachers, clergymen, and other authority figures in order to control children, as children  are growing up, to believe that there’s something called ‘society’ so that when they do grow up, they are complacent sheep and behave in these prescribed manners and build some sort of imaginary power structure that only benefit people in the top and positions of power. But power itself is an illusion. The only thing that power means is that people agree that somebody should be in power. And there’s a general agreement on a certain world view or a certain way that things are getting done. That’s how, like Jim Jones’ rise to power. He gets a lot of people to agree that he should be in charge and that they should listen to him. And if you don’t like people like Jim Jones, or Hitler or Reagan or anybody in power, you don’t even fight with them. You just walk away from them and say, “I don’t need you.” I don’t need your leadership. I don’t need you to tell me what to do. Because when you fight with a ‘power’ figure, what you’re doing is creating sort of a polarized situation. And they feed off of that controversy and conflict in fight. You don’t need them. And if everybody walked away from all power structures, it’s like all those people in block format sig heiling Adolph Hitler, some madman raving bullshit. To me it’s bullshit, and to any free-thinking individual it’s a sick, fucked up image. The same image you see in any corporate structure. My favorite image is when Adolph Hitler is at the podium at the Nuremberg rally, and people one by one cease sig heiling him and walk away in different directions, all in search of their own goals. At the end, he is left before an empty stadium, still raving, and he’s basically reduced to the level of an infant. Which is what anyone who wants to be in power is. A drooling fucking infant asshole. We should always be drilled into being free and autonomous.

MJ: So you still think the non-conformist punk rock thing is still feasible?
JT: Yeah, but even non-conformity in a way engenders its own type of conformity because the punkers then all start to dress the same, they look the same, they have their hair the same way and wear the same leather clothing and they affect the same sort of attitudes. They still have a sort of herd instinct to them, it’s almost like an inane human thing to want to belong to a group. And if you can’t identify with your parents, and going to church and conventional values you become part of a peer group. But to me the ultimate strong person is a hermit who lives in a cave and heeds no one. Listens to no one and decides for himself what is right and what is wrong. And is totally free and doesn’t belong to any social movement or any ‘scene’. Ultimately, come to terms that he must get a job, face the real world and get some sort of income. And in this country, it seems very difficult to work for yourself, the most available work is working for someone else. And I’m trying to find a way where I can freelance and work for myself and not for any boss.

MJ: Then it seems when people are opposed to that, and don’t work, they just sort of end up…
JT: Being dependent on other people. Letting other people have control over you. So you’re either at the mercy of your boss or you’re at the mercy of a social system, where you have to comply with certain rules to get your unemployment check. Either way, you’re still at the mercy of an asshole over you. If you can make peace with your boss and have some sort of civilized business where you’re selling your time to him, that’s much more preferable that leeching off the supposed social system.