The Beatnigs Interview

Originally printed in Spinal Jaundice #11 – 1990. By Jacques Cliché.


It was The Beatnigs live at the Manitoba Theatre Centre, September 15, 1988, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Supporting Billy ‘yawn’ Bragg. The place was packed. People everywhere, about 500 of them waiting for Billy. It was a weird day and I didn’t feel like putting up with Billy Bragg let alone the Jello Biafra solo rants booming over the Manitoba Theatre Centre PA. Jello was cut short by some synth sounds reminding me of high-end beer gas. It was The Beatnigs from San Francisco blurting into their anti-suppressive tirade “C.I.A.” and it was cool. Onstage the band is a whirlwind of bodies. Michael the bass player who does most of the lead vocals runs all over looking like a demented bouncing track star. Henry the so dubbed ‘industrial percussionist’ criss-crosses the stage, leaping from one set of instruments to another almost knocking down Michael or any member in his path. All the while Rono Tse is bashing metal with hammers and chains, or creating harsh metal noise with power tools which adds a unique polyrhythm to the steady drum beats played by Kevin, and the nightmarish keyboard sounds created by Andres Flores. They shouted tribally, made sincere stabs at everything we crazy mixed-up North Americans hold holy, or take for granted, stuff like TV and nature, and managed to perform all of this with enough wit, style and experimento-punk professionalism to seriously threaten any pretentious follow-up headliner. Especially Bragg, though I must admit the send-up jam both brands of entertainment did for Bragg’s encore, of Prince’s “Purple Rain” (ala “Acid Rain”) was nothing less than holy. But then it coulda been Bob Denver, or Benny Hil playing guitar for all the audience cared. Their attention was glued – like so many children told not to by welding grownups – to the circular saw sported by Tse which sprayed the audience with a downpour of sparks on cue. After that I caught the Beatnigs getting ready to load their equipment into vehicles at the rear of MTC. Present were Kevin – drums, Henry Flood – timbales, congas, percussion, Michael Franti – bass, vocals.

JC: How many recordings have The Beatnigs released?
TB: We have one record out, it’s on Alternative Tentacles Records. It’s called “The Beatnigs.” It’s self-titled. It’s a great record. But we have a remix coming out mixed by Adrian Sherwood. It will be out in October. He produces a lot of bands that we really like. Like The Pop Group, Mark Stuart And The Mafia.

JC: Are there any bands our readers should be listening to?

TB: Consolidated Music Group. Operation Ivy.

JC: Do you have any messages to deliver?
TB: Question! Question authority. Question ourselves and let’s get some more shit done. There are a lot of things being ignored in American society, along with a lot of others, because American society, particularly the government, has a great influence on a lot of other environments. And I think that people on the whole need to question themselves and what they feel about our government, and questions our government. I thought it was a really strange thing that Richard Nixon should show up at the latest convention after all the bullshit about this guy. I look at that and I have no confidence or no trust in that situation. For such a subject to be ignored, it’s a real scary thing. That’s my main message.

JC: What about these songs of yours on these compilation records?
TB: Yeah, there is this one San Francisco compilation album called “Commotion,” and we have a song on that. As well as the Alternative Tentacles compilation album “Oops, Wrong Stereotype” we also have a track on. Would you mind helping us move some equipment?

JC: Okay.
TB: (heading towards the hallway) You know, part of what you didn’t see tonight at our show was the visual element. Film, video and photography. Both Andre and Michael have studied that, and right now we are at a point where we can’t travel with these things or we don’t have the facilities…and those elements are very, very important to us because we definitely do not want to appear to be just an ordinary band. We want to incorporate as much as we can into our live shows. It’s important for us to make things different. Our shows are not always the same. We change the sets, we change the songs, we leave room for improvisation. We are always improvising, we are always learning.

JC: It’s important to maintain the fresh approach with music.
TB: It’s an approach to life too, because if you feel you have all the answers then you stop. Then all this other stuff passes you by. Then all of a sudden you find that you are not able to stand on something.

JC: Except being jaded.
TB: Right, which gets us nowhere. Part of what we try to establish is a big base to run and jump off of. Get ahead. Not only the territories outside of us but the ones inside of us as well. It’s very, very important that we express ourselves this way. You may not agree with what we have to say. But please take the time to at least consider what we say. Then do something. Certain powers have been allowed to take control because we’ve allowed it.