The Fluid Interview

Originally printed in Friction Vol. 2, No. 2 – 1992


On a sub-freezing November night in Denver, local faves The Fluid are preparing to open up a show with Sonic Youth at the Gothic Theatre. Chris McLallen, Chris Irvin and I travel next door to the China House Chow Mein & Egg Roll restaurant with The Fluid vocalist John Robinson to chat about the current state of events. Other band members (James Clower – guitars, Rick Kulwicki – guitars, Matt Bischoff – bass, Garrett Shavlik – drums) enjoy some fine southwestern cuisine as we interviewed John for Friction. During the passage of the interview, the show sold out beyond the 800 persons capacity, leaving a few people outside and fairly miffed.

MJ: So what is it about Denver that’s persuaded The Fluid to stick around?
JR: By this point we’re all pretty much rooted here. I’m not from here but now I’ve gotten comfortable here. You know, it’s one thing about Denver, it’s always reliable. It’s boring, it sucks, but it’s not going to change. You can count on that. We get our fill of happening scenes when we’re on tour, and we come back here and it’s mellow, just hang out at home. It’s become a comfortable place to be. When we get back here, none of us go out and do anything anyway. We’re traveling so much that the best thing about being in Denver is sitting and watching the TV or something like that. When we travel around and people ask us what the Denver scene is like, we’re like, “We don’t know.” We can talk about a couple of bands that are up and coming, but other than that none of us really get out here. So, it’s stable. I guess that’s the best answer.

MJ: Where did the recent “Glue” tour take you and what are some of the most receptive areas you’ve played?
JR: Touring has gotten to be more and more every year. This year it’s been about six months of touring. We’re done for the year. It’s no fun to tour during the winter. We just got back two days ago. Our last show was in Lawrence, Kansas. It was a pretty long tour. We started in Seattle, zig-zagged across the southwest and then four shows in Texas. From Texas up to New York, upper Midwest into Canada, then back home. A lot of miles. It seems like each time we go out we can add a new city onto the best reception list. Atlanta has become really good. Minneapolis is always fun although they’re a little laid back there. Chicago has become really good; San Francisco has become really good, so each time it seems to get better in a certain place. It’s come to be that we’re pretty popular out on the road. We’ve been touring a lot and the records have done pretty well. We’ve been getting crowds in several cities as big as we do in Denver. It’s rare that we do opening slots, and when we do we’re just playing with them. You know, we project a real happy, positive thing. We play happy music. It makes us happy to play it, out fans know the way we feel about it, they hopefully can pick up on the same groove. But when we’re opening for somebody, there’s somebody else’s crowd there, they don’t necessarily understand or appreciate it. But it’s been pretty neat. The only state in the continental United States I haven’t been in is Maine. We’ve seen a lot. We haven’t played in all those states but at least we’ve gone through and seen them. Stopped for gas or something. On top of that we’ve been to England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Holland, all as a result of the band.

MJ: I wanted to ask about the big deal with the different album covers that you had on Glitterhouse over in Germany?
JR:  The “Clear Black Paper” album came out first on Glitterhouse with that cover. That was what we decided would be the cover of the record. And then for the Sub Pop edition we just wanted to switch the photos. But Sub Pop wanted to save money so they didn’t run the cover photo on the back of theirs, they just ran the back photo of the Glitterhouse session on the cover.

MJ: What are some memorable show occurrences?
JR: Well…the ones that are coming to mind are shows that I would rather forget. The ones in the forefront of my mind are shows that something bad happened. Like a show at the Palladium, where we opened for Gwar and Rollins Band. It was a really mixed crowd. The biggest crowd we’ve ever played for by far. There were something like 3,500 people there. And before I really gauged the crowd, I made the mistake of jumping off the stage into the crowd, and I just practically got beat up. It turned out that there were a lot of skins there that were really into Rollins’ trip and didn’t at all groove on what we were doing. They just ripped my shirt to shreds and I got some pretty uncomfortable friction burns and bruises out of the deal. That was a pretty bogus deal because after I finally got back on stage I realized that there were lots of people that really hated us there. They were just flipping us off and screaming, “You suck” and spitting all over me and shit. So it was a pretty bad scene. It’s pretty memorable though. Good warm welcome things happen a lot, it’s just that it’s gotten to be since we are headlining a lot, it’s usually a really good feeling everywhere we go, so it doesn’t stick out. The ones that stick out are the ones where something really fucked up happened. I could turn it around though, our show in L.A. on our last tour before this Gwar show, we were headlining there. And the place goes dark and we walk on stage and there’s these cheers and it’s like, “Wow!” We haven’t even played a note and they’re cheering and that’s a really good feeling.

MJ: I heard Gwar recently got arrested in the deep south on obscenity charges.

JR: I wouldn’t be surprised. Though they’re from the deep south. They’re just a bunch of goofy guys. I appreciate what they do because no one else is doing it. They really put a lot of time and energy into the creation of that stage show. Musically, I don’t care for it. But they’re really entertaining to watch. They actually script out the performance before the music is written. Write the songs around the script for the show. It’s strange for a band but it apparently works for them. I appreciate it and find it really entertaining to watch. It’s not fun playing for them because they have such a production that they spend all day there doing their soundcheck. It’s not at all enjoyable opening for that kind of a production.

MJ: How about your musical influences? Are there any recent ones since the release of like the first album?
JR: As far as recording goes we’ve gotten better at materializing what we’ve always been trying to do. We haven’t really spent more money in the studio than we have in the past. It happened to be we’re just a lot better at getting the sound that we’ve always tried to get. The sound on “Glue” is what we would have tried to get all along if we knew what we were doing. The fact is, when we went to record “Punch N’ Judy” none of us had really a clue as to how to really get the sound that we wanted. We just experimented and made a record out of experimentation. There’s no current rock music that’s influenced us, really. Since “Punch N’ Judy” we’ve all gotten into big band a lot. We listen to a lot of big band and swing music. I can pretty safely say that’s been an influence because they really wrote songs. They’re short, they’re structured, they have really catchy melodies and those are givens for any big band song. It’s not like we try to take pieces of those songs and put them in a block form or anything, but I think somewhere in there all those melodies make us be more melodic ourselves.

MJ: Every Fluid record has had consistently top-notch packaging, but never any lyrics sheet. Is there any reason for this?
JR: There’s not a basic reason for it, you know, there are a couple of different ones though. Like when I was a kid and I really got into a song and there wasn’t a lyric sheet, I would really spend time with the song, and put it on a cassette, and rewind and rewind and write it all down until I had it. You sort of garnish your own meaning out of the song. And I would hope that there are songs of ours that people like that much to do that. In a way, by giving them lyrics you can sort of take that away. They’re not able to delve into it that deeply because it’s all there in black and white. Plus like with The Stones for example, sometimes I think Jagger is saying something and it means something to me, then I find out what he’s really saying, 12 years later, and it’s really interesting. But if you don’t have lyrics there in front of you, you can derive your own meaning. When I write lyrics I try to think on a couple of different levels. Sometimes it’s real basic rock song lyrics. Then if you kind of look under the surface there’s little messages in there. I like to think that I have things to say that could awaken people to a certain topic or situation. Then, some of the lyrics have been things that I didn’t want to spell out in black and white either. I didn’t think it was important. A lot of the songs will sound angry or they’ll sound happy, and it seems natural to tailor the lyrics to what emotion you get from the song.

MJ: What’s the status on your first two releases that are out of print?
JR: Chances are that the original mix of “Punch N’ Judy” is going to come out on CD on Sub-Pop, with all of “Clear Black Paper” on the disc as well. I don’t know if it will be re-released on vinyl anytime soon. But for the CD we’re going to do the original mix and original order of songs.