Razorcake Podcast #64: With Russ Van Cleave

Jul 17, 2009

Razorcake Podcast #64: With Russ Van Cleave

I’ve been experiencing something of a Nomeansno renaissance of late and thought this would be a good opportunity to push the whole podcast envelope into uncharted waters (for myself anyways) and do an entire podcast dedicated to single band. I thought Nomeansno was a good candidate for this experiment due, not only to the aforementioned renaissance (which has fueled my enthusiasm for their music), but also because I feel that they are an often overlooked band. Of course, I should point out that this lack of recognition applies only to my known small confederacy of friends and musical acquaintances as Nomeansno has enjoyed both a significant cult following and critical acclaim in Canada and Europe. Nonetheless, I’ve noticed a lacking of Nomeansno’s presence from a lot of record collections I’ve seen here in the States. Additionally, my own experiences trying to win folks over to the “wrong” side are usually met with a fair amount of ambivalence, if not an outright feelings of discomfort. So, I thought I’d lay it all out here and give anyone who cares to listen a chance to decide for themselves just how they may feel about the band. My friends Shawn Watkins and Adam Hull (both still very avid Nomeansno fans) got me into Nomeansno in 1998 and I feel I have led a richer life for it. It’s probably safe to say that there is very little chance that you have ever listened to a band that sounds like Nomeansno. They have an incredibly distinct sound that would be instantly recognizable to a listener familiar with the band regardless of whether or not they had ever heard the song. To the extent that it may help, I offer this short (though probably inadequate) description of the band’s sound. Imagine a bass-guitar driven hardcore band that applied the same creative openness of late '60s jazz-fusion movements to music that lyrically focuses on the worst the human race has to offer. If this sounds like something you can get into, then click where Todd tells you to and continue reading for a brief summary of the band’s discography as it pertains to this podcast.

I didn’t play anything from Nomeansno’s earliest albums, Sex Mad or Mama, for a couple reasons. For one, the only copies I have of both those records are copies I dubbed to a tape from Shawn’s record collection many years ago. Two, Mama is just sorta weird, not really representative of the bulk of the Nomeansno classic catalog and also my least favorite Nomeansno record. And thirdly, one of my favorite songs from the copy of Sex Mad I listened to all the time was “Body Bag”. Of course, “Body Bag”, as I discovered years later, was not actually from the record Sex Mad, but from the You Kill Me EP that was re-released along with Sex Mad on a single CD. I do have the You Kill Me EP and thought that “Body Bag” would be a good ambassador from the early Nomeansno years. Along with that track, I could definitely recommend “Dad” and “Dead Bob” from Sex Mad. I’ve also always really enjoyed the cover of “Manic Depression” from the You Kill Me EP as well. I don’t really have much else to add about Mama, but I do think it’s really interesting to listen to the last four tracks that comprise the first Nomenasno release, the Betrayal, Fear, Anger, Hatred EP, to hear how much they changed over time.

“Small Parts Isolated And Destroyed” is the title track from Nomeansno’s third full-length record, released in 1988 on AT. Small Parts Isolated And Destroyed was later released together on CD with The Day Everything Became Nothing EP as The Day Everything Became Isolated And Destroyed. The songs from both of these releases were recorded at the same time. While both of these releases fall short of the standard to be set by Wrong the next year, they hint at even greater things to come. The “Brother Rat/What Slayde Says” tracks, played here, and the title track from The Day Everything Became Nothing EP and other songs like “Victory” and “Teresa, Give Me That Knife” from Small Parts Isolated And Destroyed are Nomeansno classics.

“It’s Catching Up” and “Rags and Bones” are both from the Nomeansno album Wrong. Wrong is considered by many to be the band’s very best release and I would probably argue that point on many days myself. It was originally released in 1989 via Alternative Tentacles and is a really solid record all the way through. In fact, it was hard to only pick a couple songs off this record since it contains so many of my favorites. Other highlights include “The Tower”, “Tired Of Waiting”, “The End Of All Things” and “All Lies”.

Sandwiched in between Wrong and Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy?, 0 + 2 = 1 suffers comparatively only from the high standards set by its predecessor and successor. But, on it’s own, 0 + 2 = 1 is still a solid record. This was the third Nomeansno record I heard and the first I bought, so it holds some sentimental values for myself. But I think that, aside from “Valley Of The Blind” which was played here, “Now”, “Everyday I Start To Ooze”, Joyful Reunion” and the title track all make this an enjoyable listen.

“The River” and “Cats, Sex And Nazis” are from Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? If one was to catch me on one of those days where I didn’t argue that Wrong was the best Nomeansno record, I would definitely then be arguing that Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? holds that title. Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? was released in 1993, also on Alternative Tentacles, and was the first full record that Nomeansno recorded after guitarist Andy Kerr left the band. The entire record plays like some sort of twisted, genocidal, masterpiece of a concept album with many of the ends of one song running into the beginning of the next, both lyrically and musically. I very badly wanted to play the “Madness And Death” - “Happy Bridge” - “Kill Everyone Now” trilogy that is one of the many other highlights of this excellent record, but could not really afford the 15 minutes of time that would need to be dedicated to such grandiose luxuries.

The Worldhood Of The World (As Such) (released in 1995 on AT) is, shamefully, the most recent Nomeasno record I own and provides the most recent snapshot of this band’s creative output in the track “Angel Or Devil”. In cutting out everything from here on and the B-sides collection Mr. Wrong & Mr. Right, I know I am opening myself up to some criticism from serious Nomeansno fans (especially given the appreciation for collection Mr. Wrong & Mr. Right and their most recent record All Roads Lead To Ausfahrt.. But I hope that the songs provided in the podcast are a good introduction to the band and, perhaps, provide enough inspiration to track down some Nomeansno releases, including the ones I’ve been inspired to now track down myself. Unfortunately, many of Nomeansno’s releases are either rare, out-of-print and/or generally difficult to track down, but are, in my experience, well worth the effort.

-Russ Van Cleave

1. “It’s Catching Up” from Wrong (Alternative Tentacles)
2. “The River” from Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? (Alternative Tentacles)
3. “Small Parts Isolated And Destroyed” from Small Parts Isolated And Destroyed (Alternative Tentacles)
4. “Angel Or Devil” from The Worldhood Of The World (As Such) (Alternative Tentacles)
5. “Body Bag” from You Kill Me (Alternative Tentacles)
6. “Brother Rat” from The Day Everything Became Nothing (Alternative Tentacles)
7. “What Slayde Says” from The Day Everything Became Nothing (Alternative Tentacles)
8. “Valley Of The Blind” from 0 + 2 = 1 (Alternative Tentacles)
9. “Rags And Bones” from Wrong (Alternative Tentacles)
10. “Cats, Sex And Nazis” from Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? (Alternative Tentacles)