Black Fork

Black Fork Interview: “Preserved” ‘90s Oakland Punk by Tracy Stansbury

May 14, 2015

I first heard Black Fork when they played with Kicker, another Oakland-based punk band, last year in San Francisco. My first thought was, “This takes me right back to the mid- to late- ‘90s.” And I wasn’t far off with that impression. Black Fork is ‘90s punk that hasn’t changed at all since then and haven’t produced any new songs, so it sounds like going back in a time—a short time back—we aren’t that old yet. Sitting down with the band in a West Oakland backyard, they shared their many, harried tour stories, how MC G. came to be a part of their shows,  and other recollections of being a band together that broke up—or never broke up—who still just loves to get together and play music after all these years.

Vocals: Robin (Tussin) Indar
Guitar and Vox: Josh Indar
Drums: Jim “Nastic” Anderson
Former Drummer: Ivy “Hellbaby” McLelland
Bass: Cyrus “T. Nails” Comiskey

Tracy: So, you guys played together from ’94 to ’98 and then took a long break.

Ivy: Yes, definitely.

Tracy: So, why come back together now?

Cyrus: I wouldn’t say that we are back together.

Robin: Because we love each other.

Cyrus: It’s an excuse to hang out.

Jim: We’ve been doing it here and there.

Cyrus: But we haven’t been actively writing new songs or anything.

Robin: I think when we first broke up we were just totally fried. Just totally burnt out on the whole thing and I think we didn’t realize how well and how easily we made music together. And how getting along on tour for days on end—we took it for granted that it was so easy to get along. We cracked each other up and kept each other going through long, boring stretches of Texas and whatever else—flat tires. We had some of the worst, ridiculous tour tragedies. We had a dead battery that we were trying to trade back for money. We kept it in the back. JJ slammed on the brakes and the battery flew from the backseat and vibrated between Ed and…

Jim: It got on all our stuff and melted everything we owned.

Robin: We had battery acid on everything and then we showed up at the place and they were like, “Well, we don’t have a show. The person who set you up for a show is not here. You can play in our living room to nobody or…” . And then they set us up for an open mic at a café. We played. Then we asked for water and they were like, “No.”

Josh: They really hated us.

Robin: That was just like one day of Black Fork on tour.

Josh: We’re not really an open mic kind of band, I don’t think.

Robin: No. [laughter]

Robin: But they can give us water. You would give a stray cat water, wouldn’t you?

Cyrus: Yeah, we toured a lot. I also think that was the tour where we were surviving by busting up soda machines with salt water and getting the money and soda out of there. We paid for gas with a pile of change.

Josh: And then we’d sell the sodas at shows. [laughter]

Robin: “Don’t you want a warm soda?”

Cyrus: “You look like you want a warm soda.”

Jim: Remember we would throw them at signs?

Cyrus: We built this launcher out of this giant rubber band. And we’d just launch sodas at the signs.

Ivy: Black Fork cares about your health.

Tracy: How did you guys come up with the band name?

Josh: It’s an anti-spoon statement.

Robin: Yeah, Josh got us on an anti—a whole thing—a program, if you will.

Ivy: Talk about B.A.S.S.

Robin: So we started the Bay Area Spoonless Society, which had a newsletter, The B.A.S.S. Newsletter. So I did a lot of the graphics department, some cartoons, some drunk poetry, and other important insights about the deadly effects of spoon use.

Ivy: What was your name?

Robin: Oh, I had a lot of names.

Josh: I was Dr. Elbar Barbarbarre.

Robin: I was Razlina Pretty, which was my rat’s name.

Josh: So we had the “Fork” thing, and if you’re a punk band you have to have “Black” in your name, basically.

Cyrus: A not-so-subtle play on Black Flag.

Robin: Yes. There was probably alcohol involved with the decision.

Josh: You think? I don’t know.

Robin: I’m pretty sure.

Josh: I don’t think so. We were pretty much sober.

Robin: Yeah. All the time. And so after the time when Black Fork broke up, I know Josh had been in another band and I was shortly in another band. I realized it could be really difficult. That’s when I realized Black Fork was so easy. The rhythm section and all the…

Josh: Chemistry.

Robin: Chemistry. So we always looked forward to seeing each other again and doing something else. Forever. Forever and ever. We’re going to call it “The Until-We-Break-A-Hip Tour.” That’s when you know you’ve got to slow it down a little.

Cyrus: I’m going to fall off the stage tonight and break a hip.

Robin: Damn it, Cyrus.

Josh: Didn’t Wattie just have a stroke on stage or something like that? That’s how I’m going out. (Walter “Wattie” Buchan, singer of The Exploited, suffered a heart attack on stage in Lisbon, Spain.)

Robin: The “Meet-Your-Maker Tour.”

Jim: Well, and the guy from Twisted Sister died the other night.

Robin: Yesterday.

Jim: After he played a show.

Cyrus: Wait—who? Not Dee Snider.

Jim: The drummer.

Josh: “No! Not Dee Snider!” [laughter]

Robin: No, you’re going to ruin my millennium.

Tracy: Do you feel like the crowd has changed from when you played back then as opposed to now?

Josh: Not looking at last night! [laughter] Last night’s show was like the same people! And if it’s not in the Bay Area, it’s a smaller crowd.

Cyrus: We played to nobody most of the time on tour.

Josh: We played a kid’s living room because his parents were away shopping.

Cyrus: We drove all night—drove from Nashville to North Carolina—or Memphis to North Carolina, and we show up at seven in the morning thinking, “Okay, cool the promoter is going to help us out.” We get there and knock on the door and this mom answers.

Robin: Wasn’t it a Historic Mansion?

Everyone: Yeah, it was so weird.

Cyrus: I’m like, “Is this the right place?”

Josh: And this sixteen-year-old kid was thinking he was just going to have this show in his basement.

Cyrus: And the kid comes out and says, “Oh, the show’s off because I got grounded.” [laughter]

Jim: Wait, didn’t we play in the room, though? He tried to pay us with Canadian money!

Josh: It wasn’t Canadian money…

Cyrus: It was Korean money.

Josh: It was at his friend’s house. He was like, “Well, my friend’s mom is shopping. Maybe we can play there.” And so we played in this kid’s bedroom for like three or four kids.

Cyrus: Who could really care less about us.

Robin: They were sitting on a bed.

Josh: They were scared watching us play.

Jim: Remember when we finished playing—they were like, “The tape recorder wasn’t working. Can we do it again?” [laughter]

Josh: And then they gave us some Korean money.

Cyrus: Like seventeen dollars.

Josh: It was left over money from one of their parent’s trips. And then we left and tried to go to all these banks to try to exchange the money. It was the East Coast, so no one would touch it. So we had to get all the way to Seattle before a bank would exchange it for us. It was like thirty dollars. It was a pretty good score. [laughter]

Cyrus: Yeah, for a fifteen-hour drive!

Ivy: Black Fork will play for anything.

Josh: Pretty much. I don’t know what we were doing.

Jim: By the end, the shows got a little bit better.

Josh: Yeah, for some years it was pretty bad… well, it was.

Cyrus: Every tour we did after that was better.

Robin: I started stockpiling Ramen before tour.

Josh: There were always one or two good shows between all the bad shows.

Cyrus: New York or Chicago.

Ivy: Tijuana!

Cyrus: Yes, TJ was great.

Robin: For some reason, they loved us in Oklahoma City.

Cyrus: Oh, yeah. That was weird.

Robin: Which made no sense. The first time we played there, all the skinheads showed up and they were beating up a kid with glasses. It made no sense.

Ivy: Norman, Oklahoma. It was at a Christian Rec Center.

Jim: Remember the security guard? Everyone was just jumping off his back.

Tracy: Did you tour up into the Northwest?

Cyrus: Yeah, we did Seattle and Portland. Back in the ‘90s we played up there probably about seven or eight times.

Robin: Oly.

Tracy: You played in Oly, too?

Robin: Yes, the Lucky 7 house.

Josh: And we played at the Capitol.

Jim: We were walking around and Kathleen Hanna leaned out the window, “Where’s the girl?”

Josh: Umm, she’s back at the house. “Are you from the East Bay?”

Cyrus: Yeah.

Josh: It was always weird.

Josh: Olympia was weird, too. There would be like either no one at the show or they would all come and see their friend’s band and then leave.

Jim: I feel like Olympia was just like hanging out—at that bar behind the diner.

Josh: Yeah, King Solomon’s Reef.

Jim: That place was awesome. Drinking Greyhounds.

Josh: I think that place closed down last year.

Tracy: They had another fire and then remodeled it.

Jim: That place has had so many fires.

Tracy: Yes, it has.

Ivy: Let’s talk about “U.S. Hugs.” This is when Black Fork had the rivalry with Rancid.

Josh: It wasn’t really a rivalry.

Cyrus: No.

Robin: We just tried to practice in their wrestling room—weight lifting room.

Josh: Wrestling room? [laughter]

Cyrus: Their rumpus room.

Josh: This was all engineered because JJ was the one who wrote all that shit on the walls.

Robin: JJ was our roadie and he also had ongoing battle against Eric Yee who was—was he a roadie for Rancid? Or just hung out with them?

Ivy: He was in U.S. Thugs with Rancid’s gang.

Robin: So, I think he may have, in their weight lifting room changed it to “U.S. Hugs.” And, they didn’t like that.

Cyrus: They didn’t like that.

Robin: That’s not very tough. And some other things like that, graffiti-related. We got kicked out of the practice garage.

Cyrus: They kicked us off a show.

Josh: Yeah, but we kicked ourselves right back on. And Bikini Kill let us use their stuff. That’s how we got back on. Bikini Kill set up and we just jumped on their shit. And Rancid were so pissed. They were so mad, but they couldn’t do anything though.

Ivy: This is when I was playing drums and I had a personal problem with Lars. When Bikini Kill set up their equipment to play, Lars had tried to kick us off to have Swingin’ Utters play.

Jim: And they did play.

Ivy: Right before we started, Lars yelled, “Hey, I didn’t say you could!” and I clicked off 1-2-3-4. He was so mad. He threw an adult temper tantrum and his face was so red.

Jim: I just remember when they were playing—he was like, “I want to send this one out to Kathleen, because I think she’s really cute.” [laughter]

Josh: He(Tim “Lint” Armstrong) gave me a big hug after that. Everything was fine. But we don’t need to be talking about Rancid.

Cyrus: They probably don’t remember who we are.

Robin: Our sister band Los Canadians—who she (Ivy) left being our drummer to go play for—we did a split 7” with them, which we just re-released on Shut Up Records.

Ivy: Two tours.

Jim: Yeah, ’96 and ’97, right?

Robin: And we kept getting injuries that were twinsies.

Jim: And you guys stole like crazy. You guys were trying to outdo each other. “I got two cartons of cigarettes, you only got one?”

Robin: Cigarettes and beer and snacks. Yes.

Josh: By the time we got to the East Coast, you guys were limping, black eyes, you were on crutches.

Cyrus: What did you do?

Ivy: Moshed, man! I was rocking and went down. That was at Chattanooga Instant Beer Pleasure Lounge, which was the bar that was run by Chinese immigrants that were pretty redneck. It was a pretty amazing punk venue for a while. Pretty special place.

Tracy: Do all of you still live in Oakland?

Robin: Jim and Cyrus do. And Josh and I moved to Chico about ten years ago.

Josh: And Ivy lives in the city.

Tracy: And what made you decide to leave Oakland?

Robin: A number of things.

Josh: The cost of living.

Robin: The cost of living and we got pregnant with our first child. Our next door neighbors were some heavy duty criminals who later ended up murdering a dad at a taco stand and ended up going to prison. And just—I would walk to BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) from my house to go to my job at the Berkeley library. Walking that pregnant was a real drag because I’d see wild dogs eating garbage and growling at me. There would be pimps saying “Hey, I can get you a job.” And I’d say, “I’m on my way to work right now—and I’m pregnant.” They’d yell back, “Hey, I got people for that!” And I just would say to myself, “I need to get the frick out of here.”

And then when we tried to buy a house in the Bay. We couldn’t even afford the house we were living in. That’s when there was a huge real estate bubble and we were bidding on a house—it had no foundation, the plumbing was cracked and exploding, the house was sliding down the hill, they were saying we can’t even enter from the front, we have to go around the back, and there were clogged toilets that were overflowing—and there were twenty people checking out the house, “Oh, this is really good.” Then we’d get outbid by $100,000. All the houses were like that.

Tracy: And now it’s worse.

Robin: Yeah. It’s quite affordable where we live now. We’re waiting for the giant earthquake to come back.

Jim: Something needs to happen.

Robin: Also, moving to Chico, it’s a small town and quite a bit more opportunities.

Jim: It seems like Berkeley in the ‘90s.

Robin: Yeah. We just had some friends move to Chico from the Bay Area and that’s what they are saying. And I have to agree.

Cyrus: Chico is coming up.

Josh: Do you remember when I’d come back and you would tease me about it? You were calling me “Chico” and I was so pissed off about it? Well, I’m from Oakland, too!

Cyrus: Okay, Chico.

Josh: Yeah, Robin makes awesome mosaics. She’s world famous. Locally.

Ivy: She makes amazing, larger-than-life mosaic sculptures.

Tracy: That’s awesome. Are you guys planning on making more music?

Cyrus: I don’t think so.

Robin: Fuck you, Cyrus.

Cyrus: Well, it would be news to me.

Robin: Yeah, we’re kind of preserved.

Jim: We have some songs we never recorded, but I don’t know.

Robin: Yeah, our official first last show—we had two songs that were brand new and never recorded. I thought that was quite humorous that—well, that says it all—that we did not plan to break up—it was just boom.

Jim: I remember the time when you were like, “Yeah, I think it’s time we break up,” or whatever and then you were like, “But we are so good at practice.” [laughter]

Josh: Well, I was expecting you guys to talk me out of it. I was really just burnt. We could have just taken six months off or whatever, but…

Jim: Yeah, we just started playing music again.

Josh: But you guys got into good bands after that.

Tracy: What bands are you all playing in now outside of Black Fork?

Cyrus: Me and Jim are playing together again.

Robin: In A.B.C.

Cyrus: Amish Boner Control. [laughter]

Jim: We don’t have a band name.

Robin: Work in progress.

Josh: And we are in Severance Package together (Josh and Robin).

Ivy: And I’m in Black Rainbow.

Robin: What was it that time that fell off? Was it the transmission? The whole transmission died and we had to rent a U-Haul. We broke down in Cottage Grove, Oregon, after we paid to have the car repaired like seven hundred dollars.

Josh: We made it about fifty miles after that.

Robin: We rented the U-Haul, but we could only get the U-Haul with no windows. You’re only supposed to put your house stuff in there—furniture. And we had to put half the band in the back of the U-haul. It was really hot and then we had to cross the border. And so we kept doing tests where we’d go inside and it’d get so hot that you would just instantly pass out. And we had to cover ourselves with sleeping bags to hide from the border patrol.

Josh: We wrote a song about it—“Leisure Town”—how it’s kind of impossible to DIY unless you have money and know what you are doing.

Robin: I was always envious of people who were like “Just Do It Yourself.” “Just start a record label.” Well, you need money to do that.

Jim: Yeah, it’s good if you are rich.

Josh: We didn’t have any business sense at all.

Ivy: A lot of spoons were missing when they were a band.

Jim: I still have people come up to me, when I’ve been touring with other people in other bands…

Robin: “Check the toilet tank.”

Jim: “Oh, you were in Black Fork? You know, all our spoons went missing”, or “We had to dig them all back up from the back yard.”

Josh: Well, I mean, we were saving people’s lives.

Robin: It’s kind of like the good luck. Speaking of the good luck, MC G. played last night.

Josh: Did you see him?

Tracy: I saw him when you guys played together with Kicker, too. How did you guys meet him?

Robin: He was our neighbor when we lived in Ghost Town, which is the 30th and West area. Yeah, we were having a house warming party when we first moved. He just came over and started rapping to people. We were like, “Whoa you’ve got a lot of raps, we should record you.” So we had a four track and a crappy keyboard that made some beats. Cyrus did some bass. Timmy from Los Canadians did some bass. Ivy and I did backups on a few songs.

Josh: The first demo doesn’t even sound like rap.

Robin: Yeah, one got sped up a little weird. It’s like experimental rap.

Josh: It’s kind of got that Casio—tic-oh, tic-oh, tic-oh-kind of like beat.

Robin: Well, you even sampled Blatz in one of his songs.

Josh: That one turned out kind of good, but I was just playing the record and we didn’t have sampler. We just played a record into four track, and turned it on and off.

Robin: It turned out amazing, though.

Josh: We got lucky.

Jim: Even Peanut Butter Wolf was popular for a while. (Peanut Butter Wolf helped produce one of MC G.’s demos. PBW is now pretty well-known as a hip-hop producer and the founder of Stone’s Throw Records).

Tracy: Yeah, I met him before you guys played. He came up super close to me and asked me to step on his feet. And I turned and said, “Excuse me?” He says, “No, I have steel toes. Step on my toes.” So I did.

Robin: In his raps he will say, “Step on them hard, but not vicious, put them there until I say when, now that’s chocolicious.”

Josh: Did you have black shoes on?

Tracy: No, I had these on. [Points to Doc Martens.]

Josh: Oh, really? Well, they are patent leather. He likes those.

Robin: He’s very specific.

Josh: Black socks and black shoes.

Cyrus: I think he’s expanded his horizon a little bit.

Robin: I’m his awkward wingman. I’m really just trying to put out fires, really. It’s awkward to watch people get freaked out by him and sometimes angry. And I have to step over, “No, no, he’s with us.”

Cyrus: He was at Laney, too. (Laney Community College in Oakland, CA) I remember hearing about this guy who would ask girls to step on his feet. And then Josh and Robin were like, “You should come meet MC G. He’s got a foot fetish.” I’m like, “That’s the dude!” [laughter]

Tracy: I know! I had the same experience! After I stepped on his boots and tried to hide in the crowd, he got up on stage, and I’m like, “Oh, my God, it’s that guy!” and now it’s time for me to head to my car.

Josh: He used to be called the Foot Stranger and now he’s calling himself the Foot Playa.

Robin: He’s still keeping it real. People would tell me about MC G. sightings on BART.

Ivy: He does big art shows: Creative Growth.

Robin: And I was recently looking up his art online and came across MC G. handbags and they were put out by Marc Jacobs. The fashionista was putting Creative Growth’s art on handbags. I thought that was pretty wild. I was pretty bummed I missed that. I would love an MC G. handbag. His art is amazing.