Soledad Style: An Interview with the Soledad Brothers By Nam

Maumee, OH: Two bored twenty-something man/boys jam out in their bedrooms, eventually making it all the way down the basement where the stairs creak, the spiders bite, and the must has to be so foul that one would hardly fathom breathing in those microspores, but the Soledad Brothers did just that one fateful day and the result has been nothing short of a magnanimous victory against musical mediocrity. Countless empty beer bottles, broken hearts, spite for the system, and the fucked up state of the world as we know it has spurred one of the best new musical acts to grace the stage here at lovely Los Angeles’s Spaceland on Tuesday night. The Soledad Brothers (not “Bros.”) began with drummer Benjamin Swank’s (née Smith) ardent love of the blues skewed with that punk rock abrasion that makes all music worth a damn. Mr. Swank began playing in a band named, curiously, Henry and June, after one of the greatest twentieth century American writers and his wife. Johnny Walker soon fell in with Mr. Swank with a somnambulistic response to the love of blues that they both shared. They quickly emerged as The Soledad Brothers with a debut single on Italy Records entitled Sugar and Spice which garnered them a cult following among blues punk rock audiences. The Soledad Style is an uncompromising dedication to get loose, get busy and get wild, and they had managed to perk up the keen ears of Dave Crider at Estrus Records who released the self-titled full length debut. The next move for our Soledad Brothers is a new album called Steal Your Soul and Dare Your Spirit to Move (I love them literate rockers!). They’ve added on Mr. Oliver Henry to the lineup to add his sax and second guitar handiwork. What you see is what you get with The Soledad Brothers, and the Soledad Style, my friends, makes you want to move with the power of Christ and the Devil-locking horns amidst the fury of the days of the coming Apocalypse – now.

The scene: Backstage, where the beer is at.

Interview by Namella J. Kim and Bradley Williams
Photos by Bradley Williams

Nam: What the fuck are we talking about? Here, I’m drunk so he’s gonna do it [points to poor Bradley. The guys fumble around for last minute equipment collections after the set].
Ben: [breathes heavy]
Nam: Oh, I have to put that on my answering machine… I’m standing here next to Johnny Walker. Please describe Soledad Style.
Johnny: It is good clean fun. Nothing but the cleanest of fun.
Nam: Are we talking about soap-and-water fun or drugs-and-partying fun?
Johnny: Mostly just the blues part for me.
Nam: So, how did this music come about?
Johnny: I’ve been playing blues for about six or seven years and I basically started out playing on the (street) corners for change and it was just a way to get a bite to eat. It was a way to hustle a little money.
Bradley: Where was that?
Johnny: Toledo, Ohio. There’s not a lot of money there.
Nam: I can imagine. Hey, aren’t those hicks very apathetic towards the blues?
Johnny: Uh-uh (no), they love it. Oh yes, Toledo’s all about that shit. They have the best shows there. If we were in Toledo right now there would be about three or four people puking in front of the bar right now.
Nam: Uh, I’m not gonna say anything right now.
Johnny: (sniffing the trap) Just because they like to drink. People dance in Toledo. LA is pretentious.
Nam: Well, you have to realize that LA is “very pretentious.” We show up in droves but we like to drink. Some of us do like to dance though.
Johnny: (Toledoans) like to drink AND dance. If you haven’t noticed.
Nam: No, I have noticed. You guys are all up on it. Yeah, what’s up? So, how do white dudes from Toledo, Ohio derive their inspiration to rock?
Johnny: There’s nothing else to do.
Nam: Oh look, here comes that really cute guy. [Distracted] We’re like drinking right now and this is all just cold fusion now.
Bradley: It’s the drummer and his name is…
Ben: Hi, I’m Ben.
Nam: Ben, so how did white dudes from Toledo derive their inspiration to rock?
Johnny: I mean there’s nothing else to do. I mean we fucking hang out and play music all day long, smoke a bunch of cigarettes.
Nam: What happened to college?
Ben: [dreadfully] Oh no.
Johnny: You end up like me.
Ben: I’ve been in college for fifteen years. I’m gonna be a doctor in June. I’m gonna be an MD in June. I have fifteen years of schooling under my belt. I’m gonna be a psychiatrist.
Nam: Oh no. You’re gonna kill yourself if you do that, you know. OK, how did you get John Sinclair to write the liner notes describing Soledad?
Johnny: We backed him up in Cleveland for a show and I drove him to Ann Arbor, MI and we’ve been the best of friends ever since.
Bradley: Was it one of his poetry shows?
Ben: Yeah, he was doing spoken word.
Johnny: Except Ben and I were backing him up.
Ben: He came over to our house and we jammed.
Nam: Oh, and he approved, gave you the thumbs up.
Ben: He told us stories about the MC5.
Nam: Did he talk about jail?
Ben: No, we didn’t ask. That’s just harsh.
Johnny: He’s a laid-back guy and he DJs now. People should have more respect for that guy and pay more attention to what he’s doing. People should definitely pay more attention to what he’s doing and saying.
Nam: You guys should bring him out just to even introduce the band or something, just get him out there. You know, Wayne (Kramer) is down here and they should do something together.
Johnny: You know, Wayne and John are super tight still.
Nam: Well, you guys should talk them into getting back together – hello! Okay, so was there a multi-label bidding war for your album? [Everyone’s making “eeeeh, wrong answer” quiz show noises.] Wait, shut up! OK, Long Gone John (Sympathy For The Record Industry), Dave Crider (Estrus), and Larry Hardy (In the Red) sitting around a motel room in Austin with a pile of cocaine and a bunch of fucking strippers going, “Yeah, what’s up?”
Ben: [regretfully] No, that never happened.
Nam: So, how did you get on Estrus Records?
Johnny: We had our debut single out on Italy Records (A great label that put out The Dirtys back in the day and released the posthumous Larry Dirty single. Props to them.) from Detroit and I didn’t think it was spectacular. No, it really wasn’t spectacular!
Nam: Oh shut up! You know it was good. Why would I be here if it wasn’t?
Johnny: Who knows why they made you come.
Nam: Hold on. Time out. No one gets paid doing this. Look at this! [Pointing to cheap little micro cassette recorder just purchased that day.]
Ben: Did you pay for that out of your own pocket?
Nam: Yes, I did!
Johnny: [Says something really offensive.]
Nam: Fuck you, asshole! [Makes beating up noises.]
Johnny: I wasn’t gonna say anything about that.
[More garbled exchanges about The Lords of Altamont, Thai Elvis, and things not pertinent to the interview.]
Nam: If you had twenty-four hours to take buckshot to anyone, like in the back cover of your old CD, who should wish they wore their bulletproofs that day?
Ben: I’d put every CEO of the Fortune 500 on there and – I don’t know, pretty much anybody of authority. I don’t know how to put it, but everybody on that list deserves to die.
[Johnny takes the liberty to peek at my notes and ask the next question.]
Johnny: What inspires you more, women or booze?
Ben: Booze because I have one woman and she’s fine enough.
Nam: Yeah, that’s what it’s all about! (Women dating rockers now rejoice.)
Nam: Do you have guns?
Ben: No comment.
Johnny: I wrote a song called “.32 Blues.”
[Ben now starts to ask the questions. Don’t you love it when your subject interviews themselves? Kind of makes me wonder, “Why am I here?” Oh yeah, the free beers backstage, duh.]
Ben: What inspires you more, Johnny, women or booze and why? Women, because you’re very fertile.
Johnny: I’m not fertile – I’m virile!
Bradley: Do you have any guns?
Johnny: I wrote the song “.32 Blues.” I’m not gonna lie.
Nam: What kind of gun do you have?
Johnny: A pocket .32.
Nam: Okay, what about you, Mr. Ben?
Ben: I have a switchblade and a bottle.
Nam: You know, that works.
[More rambling about fights, broken bottles, request for more beer, laughter, and Tijuana.]
Nam: How do you feel about gun control and the NRA, Mr. .32?
Ben: Gun control does not work very well. If you look at a belief system like the Canton System in Switzerland where they have guns in every single home, there’s virtually no gun violence, and no gun accidents because everybody knows how to use them. I think there’s a deeper social problem than the guns. I don’t think guns are the problem.
Johnny: I think societies are the problem. Some societies get along perfectly with guns. It may sound Libertarian or something but it’s a deeper issue than the guns itself. I mean, there are guns everywhere and if you control the guns then who’s gonna have the guns?
Nam: The Man.
Johnny: The Man and the bad guys. When was the last time you called the cops and they showed up at your house? I don’t know about LA, but it takes about eight hours in Toledo for a cop to come to your house.
Ben: I got robbed in Detroit with a gun and it took two hours for the police to show up. I was in the East side of Detroit by Belle Isle. There was a race riot there in the ’40s so it’s a real volatile area.
Nam: Would you do time for the rock’n’roll revolution when it comes?
Ben: I would do time for the rock’n’roll revolution because it’s here – now.
Nam: I knew you were going to say that.
Ben: I’m doin’ time already! They will bust you for playin’ on the street in Cincinnati. They will bust you if you are black if you’re on the street. If you’re outside, it doesn’t matter. You’re gonna get busted and that’s just in Cincinnati. There’s twenty other cities where that happens.
Johnny: Our friend Brian got three months in the can for playing on the street.
Ben: The rock’n’roll revolution is here and I will happily do time for it. It’s not gonna change anything but I will happily do it. It’s not hard to do time.
Nam: Why? Have you done time?
Ben: Not hard time but I’ve done time.
Nam: Where? Juvey?
Ben: Toledo County. It was because I was in this car. I wasn’t driving but it had to do with what was in the car.
Johnny: I did some fucked up things but I’ve never been caught or else I never would have made it through med school.
Ben: Johnny, who do you admire the most?
Johnny: I like William Somerset Maugham because he’s got a real positive message and he knows what he’s talking about. It’s like a self help book. Every time you read it, you get something good out of it. Of Human Bondage is a fantastic book. Every time you read it, you get another valuable insight into where you are at that time of your life. Every time you read it, you get something that you did not get before, which is a sign of an excellent work of art.
[More gibberish talk of meeting in Detroit, their record producer, the WWF (now the WWE), etc.]
Johnny: I love George “The Animal” Steele. He’s my favorite wrestler because he was friendly, until you pissed him off. He’s a bad ass, like Nature Boy Rick Flair.
Nam: You can’t fuck with Jimmy Superfly Snuka. Are you guys a permanent fixture at Ghetto Recorders (Jim Diamond’s famed Detroit studio)?
Ben: We are not a permanent fixture there but we would love to do more work there. We’ve lived apart from the Detroit scene for five years so we just do what we can.
Nam: How did you guys find Ghetto?
Johnny: Okay, the scene in Detroit used to be really, really small. You’d go to a show and there would be like forty people there and they all played music and Jim was one of those guys. So, he would come to the show. Naturally, he enjoys the music and you’d want him to work for you. Now the scene is like huge and all the forty people that used to be at the shows are now on tour. All of us rock’n’rollers grew up and went away. We’re all perfectly competent and talented and the reason is because we’ve all been playing together for so long. We all practice now.
Nam: Okay, I’m officially too hammered to conduct this interview, so why don’t you guys just read the questions.
Ben: What’s your favorite Motor City brew, Johnny?
Johnny: I drink tequila, I don’t drink beer. I drink liquor.
Ben: Johnny, was it difficult to record this album?
Johnny: The logistics were a nightmare. It was recorded in three different places over four or five different sessions with ten different musicians. It was a nightmare.
Ben: My vision was something really stripped-down, acoustic sort of dirty blues with New Orleans percussion behind it. We’re working on that and I’d like to get to bigger things, which I think we’re working at. I think I’d like to get to Beggar’s Banquet part two.
Johnny: I’d be worried if my visions came true. It’s really bad and scary. We’d love to do a live record but nobody does live records these days. I’d just like to have all my friends there and have fun doing it.
Ben: Meg White was the third Soledad brother for the first record and Jack White helped us out a lot, too.
Nam: How do you guys feel about them signing to a big label? (White Stripes signed a deal with Virgin.)
Ben: I think it’s great. They did everything naturally. Nothing got pushed. I’m happy for them.
Johnny: I can’t speculate on someone else’s success. It came as a total surprise to me. I hope they can handle the level. I think when you get to that point it’s pretty hard to maintain your integrity but I think they are doing a pretty good job so far.
Brad: If they offered to sign you guys to their label, would you?
Johnny: Yeah, we would love to but we’ll see what happens. It’s hard to say.
Nam: I’m sure they would love to help you along if you are listening, Jack.
Ben: [sarcastic] His tentacles are everywhere. Hey, who do you identify with most on The Simpsons?
Johnny: Sideshow Bob, definitely. [Everyone laughs in agreement.]
Ben: [taking initiative] We’re going to Europe in June!
Nam: With who?
Ben: Immortal Lee County Killers.
Nam: This is the best interview ever.
Ben: Johnny, do you have a message for the kids?
Johnny: Yeah. Stay away from the hard stuff. It’ll ruin ya. And question everything.
Ben: I got a lot of things to say to the kids but not right now. They really don’t want to hear it from me.
Nam: You got anything to say to me?
Johnny: I think you had some good questions but I don’t like your abbreviations. It’s “Brothers,” not “Bros.” I like bicycle, not bike. I like telephone, not phone. I like Budweiser, not Bud. Do you catch my drift?
Nam: Oh-kay.

To check out the Soledad Brothers, click: http://www.soledadbrothers.com

And for the ever-crankin’ music machine for a label, click: http://www.estrus.com