Interview with Frank Discussion and D.H. Peligro of the Feederz by David Ensminger

May 01, 2017

Feeding the Flames of Insurrection, All Over Again

In the late-1970s and 1980s, Frank Discussion became a legend; his performance rituals, shaped by Situationist-inspired insurrection, included wielding machine guns, wearing bugs, and donning transparent outfits, while the music (the first album featured a sandpaper sleeve to ruin other nearby record covers) was grisly and blasphemous (“Jesus Entering from the Rear”), anti-work (“Love in the Ruins”) or disruptive, like subverting pop fare (their cover of “Have You Never Been Mellow” by Olivia Newton-John).

Their music remained singular and unique, anything but cookie cutter punk. Meanwhile, later follow-ups like Vandalism: Beautiful As a Rock in a Cop’s Face took a similar route, from evoking Godzilla films (“Mothra”) to condemning police (“Off the Pigs”) and advocating rampant file sharing (“Burning MP3s”). The newest single, featuring D.H. Peligro from the Dead Kennedys (who drummed on the Feederz first album too), focuses on the Black Lives Matter era, including the distorted democracy underway, plus it explores sabotage and civil disorder.

From what I understand, during a trip to San Francisco, Vale from RE/Search propelled you to read some Situationist texts, and you decided, “Our revolt should extend into every aspect of life.” Is that right or did you already have some background in transgressive theater, agitation, or art?

Frank: At one time I considered myself a kind of homespun surrealist. That is, until I met with some of the surrealists. They were more interested in the differences between “true poets” and “false poets” than anything else. I guess my biggest mistake there is that I took what to me were the obvious implications of their manifesto seriously.

Finally, after meeting with one of the major Surrealists who lived near Vale, I was pretty disgusted. Then Vale hooked me up with some Situationist texts saying, “I think you will find these people more to your liking.” He was right. In a big way.

Though I considered myself as a Surrealist, at least in some ways, I wasn’t terribly interested in art or theater. Agitation, yes. In fact, a number of the Feederz first actions had nothing to do with music or art, such as our communique and our press conference and a few other things.

I am not an artist. Art is a disgusting mess. I greatly respect the fine arts though: sabotage, theft, looting, subversion...

David: D.H., you lived through a slice of history many young people could barely conceive, like Section 8 housing in the North County of St. Louis, but also the segregated cotton field south, where you heard piano for the first time—the blues. Do you think that is very different from someone today whose life and music is shaped by iPhones?

DH:  Yes, it’s very different from anyone who gets music from the web or wherever. There’s no substitute for hands-on music learning or hearing it for the first time. By the way, it was guitar, drums, bass, and piano, and you can’t get the feel or smell of a pot belly stove or hear the sound of cicadas or the smell of an outhouse nor the taste of cool, crisp water from a well nor the anarchy of kids playing with tires and sticks in the projects from the web….

Frank, for decades, people have focused on your “outrageous” acts—shooting machine gun blanks at audiences, donning dead animals, gluing live bugs to your head, et cetera. Those acts seem like spectacle, shock, and provocation….  Do you think your actions sometimes overshadowed the content?

Feederz - Ever Feel Like Killing Your Boss? (FULL ALBUM) 1983.

Frank: Perhaps. At least for some people. But it’s a calculated risk. First you provoke, then it’s a matter of, “Now do I have your attention?” Then you get down to the real business at hand.

David: D.H., from what I understand, having dyslexia or ADD led you to being bussed to a white school with a music program and students listening to Kiss, BTO (Bachman–Turner Overdrive), and Led Zeppelin. Musically, did you begin to combine two sides— black and white music?

D.H.:  Yes, we were forced into segregation. Bussing was mandatory, and to mix and actually change music was a matter of being open to new things—being curious, if you will. Really, it was about it listening to my soul. I yearned for something more. And yes, I’ve always found peak energy points in so-called black/white music.

David: How did you save up money to get the bass drum kit you stuffed on the bus to Frisco?

D.H.: I got a job at a Mexican restaurant called the Hacienda and saved money, and I also worked at a soap factory called Brash.

Frank, in “Imitation of Life,” you once sang, “Living in such luxury/With just one choice/More boredom or more misery,” hence no real choice exists at all. But what happens when the old economy stumbles, so now the super-rich 1% exist in appalling luxury, but the rest of America is opiated, looking for work in the workforce shrunk by robots, and is numbed by service sector work?

Frank: As glaringly obvious as all that shit has now become, a lot of people by and large still live under the delusion that they are living a life of “relative luxury.” It’s all a sham of course. In this society, simply being became replaced by having things—paid for through an installment plan of a lifetime of slavery. Later, even having products became replaced by appearances, so you can now have the joyous opportunity of leading an utterly bankrupt life while appearing to be “doing well.” So, we ourselves become badly advertised products, bought at a ridiculous price, of course.

David: D.H., when you traveled to San Francisco, how was your Midwest innocence re-shaped by punk?

D.H. Everything I knew had been shattered: seeing gay people for the first time, or hippies—real, live hippies. It was a culture shock, for sure. However, being open-minded as I was helped me to maneuver through the streets of San Francisco.

A few years ago, though, you declared you can’t live in S.F. due to cost.

D.H.: Right down to my core it sickens me to think that all the hard work and effort we put into that city only to see it turn into a techbro hub pushing people out of their homes where they’ve been for years. It’s bullshit. Fuck them.

David: Your political music, as early as SSI (Supplemental Security Income), actually pre-dated Dead Kennedys—do you recall the topics the band zeroed in on? Were the Speed Boys and Nubs political agitators as well?

D.H.: No, the Speed Boys were not as political, maybe social-political, but SSI had songs like “Who Shot John Kennedy?,” “Kids in Saigon,” and “9 to 5,” not to be released, which was a song about not conforming to a record company.

David: Jello Biafra said you got a lot of shit for liking white people’s music. Is that true?

D.H.: Yes, very much. Most people have this picture of the stereotype, and I just didn’t fit the mold.

David: You used to hang out the Deaf Club quite a bit. Do you recall any interactions with the deaf patrons, and what made—apart from the deaf—the club different than, say, Mabuhay?

D.H.: Well, there were deaf people there. It was where they hung out. We were coming into their place, so we were kinda the outsiders, and they loved the vibrations, the look, the energy, the pogoing, all that shit…  performing art. It was like punk rock culture came to them.

David: Within weeks of playing with the Dead Kennedys, you were in the studio, cutting “Too Drunk to Fuck.” Ted (Bruce Slesinger, the Dead Kennedy’s first drummer) was jazz-influenced, so did you attempt to approximate his style, or did you intend to cut a more hardcore path?

D.H.: Yeah, I was totally me. I had been schooled by SSI, Speed Boys, and slew of other punk bands, so I brought my style to the scene.

Feederz live 1987

David: Frank, “Taking the Night” seems to be an amalgam of SI theory, Paris May 1968 graffiti—in a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish the society—and L.A. riot unrest: “believing in the reality of our desires… adding up our private treasons… tonight we tear it down… what’s yours is ours” you sing. Such rioting plays out again and again, like in Ferguson, Mo., but are such moments just pressure valves that allow people to vent at Wal-Marts and Starbucks rather than dismantle the state’s apparatus?

Frank: First, I have to take issue with trivializing such acts as rioting and looting as “pressure valves,” as these acts are valid acts of well deserved rage—and joy. It reminds me of how the left whined about how people burned down and looted the prisons that were “their” neighborhoods during the Watts uprising. For a moment, Watts was really theirs to burn down and they were ably to taste the joys of destroying what enslaves them. Such whining tries to deny the inherent critique of society implied by these acts. And as these implications become fully comprehended and embraced, then the real fun begins.

Of course, such uprisings need to be prolonged and extended until they are irreversible. It’s a delightful little game I believe they call “insurrection.” Sure as hell beats walking around in circles dressed like a sea turtle chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho—fill in the blank here—has got to go,” doesn’t it?

David: D.H., You’ve been frank about the hostility of some punks towards people of color. In Austin, some guy yelled “fake rasta” at you. Do you think “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” made an impact?

D.H. Yes, I believe it’s what most people were thinking, but they were too afraid to say it. We don’t let racists and fascists prey on our scene. Fuck that. Get the fuck out. People are able to make up their own minds. They see it’s wrong to judge people by what they look like.

David: Frank, critics on all sides have attacked tunes like “Fuck You” as sexist and misogynist (they suggest you treat “the media as women”) and have issues with “Stayfree” in the same manner; yet, I always felt “Stayfree” was a satire on the products that condition and control women, to keep them “clean” and “confident.” Did you have some hostility towards women, or have critics fallen into a trap of misimpression?

Frank: I sure as hell have no hostility towards women. The whole idea of being hostile to women is utterly moronic. And more than a little disgusting. If that’s what some guy with a fatal dose of testosterone poisoning gets out of that song, they are useless.

But I am extremely hostile towards submission... to husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, cops, laws, governments.... There is nothing that men can do that can’t be done as good or better by women. Period. About the only real advantage men have is that it’s easier for them to write their names in the snow with their pee. And that’s not much to base any delusions of superiority on. Really, it’s not. And by the way guys, if you don’t think women can’t see through attempts to patronize them, then you’re hopeless. Sheesh. Get a fucking life and figure out women are people and probably a fuck of a lot better than you.

“Stayfree” came from the ridiculous idea being advertised that some piece of cotton stuffed up you will somehow make you “free” or “confident.” It just makes it so you not leave puddles of blood around. I just, well, brought that little omission into the light.

David: In the same vein, in the age of trigger words, safe spaces, et cetera, the Feederz might be more controversial for your use of dead animals—yet Survival Research Laboratories used them in art too—and the sodomy/abortion references in “Jesus/Aborted Jesus,” which might be viewed less as iconoclastic—since less people are religious now—and more as homophobic in today’s climate. As someone testing the limits of free speech and art/music/performance, how do you feel about the current generation’s monitoring?

Again, the dead animals were a means of slapping people in the face and then it’s, “Do I have your attention NOW???? “Jesus” was not an attack on gays in any way, shape, or form. But I sure as hell did take full advantage of taking their homophobia and jamming it down their fucking throats. And “Aborted Jesus” was just me taking the Christian whine of, “What if Jesus had been aborted?” to its obvious implications. People would be worshipping a bloody puddle of goo. Of course, they already worship a corpse so.... Besides, if Jesus had been aborted, let’s face it, a lot of our problems would be solved. I mean, if “Jesus is the answer,” then what the fuck is the question? Actually, I don’t think I even want to know, come to think of it.

Monitoring? What the fuck? We already have the ultimate behavior monitors. They’re called cops. And I’ve always had a problem with cops of any kind.

The Feederz - Jesus Entering From The Rear

David: Though fiercely frenetic on “Dead Bodies” and “Bionic Girl,” Feederz always stretched the boundaries of punk sound, including: the soft, lulling intros to “Jesus” and “Fuck You,” the ambient version of “Jesus,” the spoken word of “Psychward,” the wailing avant-gardism of “Gut Rage,” the brutal choppy stop/starts of “Day by Day” and “Stop You’re Killing Me,” the media mash-up/cut-ups of “Off the Pigs,” and more. Are you always trying to assault the routines of punk music making as much as anything else?

Frank: Yes, I learned to play guitar by trying to learn Trout Mask Replica. It’s one of the reasons I play using my fingers instead of a pick. The Feederz have never tried to fit in and do anything the way everybody else does things. We don’t make very good sheep, I guess. By the way, who the fuck made the “rules” about how “punks” are supposed to sound, dress, anyway?

David: D.H. your drug habit—cocaine, crack, heroin—began peaking and draining your royalty checks. Now, the drugs plaguing America seem to be opiates and crystal meth. Do you see any connections between eras?

D.H. Yeah, and by the way, heroin was the downfall … man, it’s all the same when it brings you to your knees.

The Feederz - Teachers in Space (Full Album)

David: Frank, the cover of Teachers in Space advocated “refusal to pay is your only real freedom of choice”; meanwhile, in 2002 (the era of rampant file sharing and decentralization of music), the sentiments of “No more dealing with records stores/no more dealing with fucking whores…” found on the tune “Burning MP3s” embraced free culture and disintermediation, cutting out the middle man. But what do you think now that Spotify streams Feederz albums?

Frank: I think the best answer is the fact that most our stuff can be readily downloaded off our site.

David: You once quoted Situationist International, saying the “train of occupation” is everywhere, so the occupation has been globalized, but where do you see the most intense revolt— WikiLeaks/Julian Assange, Russian hackers, elsewhere?

Frank: Actually, they got that one slightly wrong. What I said was: the terrain of occupation is everywhere. Hacking is a delightful form of sabotage but the Russian hackers work for a state, and a not very savory one at that. If the terrain of our occupation is everywhere, the terrain of our revolt, it’s a simple matter of looking at what is used to suppress and enslave us and see how you can turn it against them.

David: You think artists like Tristan Tzara, Luis Buñuel, and Marcel Duchamp never lost their bite, never sold their dreams. But in the last fifty years, who has duplicated their approach, other than you? The street artist Banksy?

Frank: The only one I can think of is Guy Debord—Situationist International, author of The Spectacle of the Spectacle—off hand. Sad, ain’t it? I just hope I can live up to that. I’ll do my best, of course.

David: You still prefer the politics of disruption and subversion, as “Stealing” sets out in lines like “fuck the right, fuck the left… I prefer total subversion with a dash of theft… set the world on fire.” Did the election of Trump catalyze your urgent nihilism—since politics as usual are hollow and meaningless?

Look, Trump’s election ripped apart the last tiny shred of “credibility” the United States, and the entire “free world,” (cough cough) could pretend to. So, of course, I had to jump into the fray since I haven’t lost my taste for a good street fight.

If it isn’t obvious to people by now that the society of things and their price tags is utterly bankrupt, then they are ridiculously easily fooled. Let’s face it, you have three choices: submit and tolerate the intolerable, walk around in circles in large numbers and whine, or fight back... insurrection. But you’d better hurry up and decide because time is running out. There is nothing left to wait for. We need to take things in our own hands. Now. And if we make mistakes along the way, at least they will be our own and not some fucking asshole’s in Washington.

David: I might be wrong, but “Sabotage” seems like the first Feederz tune sung 1/3 in Spanish and is an anti-colonial stomp for a not-so-civil war. Is that where America seems to be heading, towards a clash in the dying embers of white racialism? Was this ethnic awareness always packed into your agenda, but maybe not understood?

Frank: Of course, it has. The blatant outrages against people of color, here and all over the world, have always been the most obvious and the most disgusting. What’s almost funny is that the white people are now being fucked and colonized in a big way, and a lot of them are just too fucking stupid to realize it. Oh, and don’t forget, a not-so-civil war can be enjoyed right here and now too!

David: “Sabotage” addresses the violence aimed at blacks and Mexicans, and the promo photos feature the Feederz armed to the teeth. For you—having known segregation, discrimination, and public housing firsthand—do you think revolt and direct action are the best forms to stir change?

D.H.: The guns were props, but if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

Feederz ‎– Vandalism: Beautiful As A Rock In A Cop's Face (Full Album)

David: Like MDC, Feederz music has always condemned the presence of police, and “Stealing” envisions a marauder “drop[ping] another cop.” You don’t think the police can be redeemed, can become tools of the people rather than the powers-that-be?

Frank: No. Cops sign on to do one thing and one thing only: to oppress and to keep us all “in line.” Anyone who has ever claimed to “redeem” cops has merely used them for the exactly the same purposes themselves.

David: A friend told me, if all the punk rock in the world could not stop the ascendancy of President Trump, then punk rock has failed. What would you say to him?

Frank: Why in the hell depend on punk rock to do that???? Did anyone really think punk rock could save the world on its own? Music is a tool not an end in itself. It’s a convenient way to say what everyone’s already thinking. We don’t “speak truth to power” because we are not on speaking terms. Sure beats the hell out of standing in front of factories handing out flyers, though.

D.H. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.

David: D.H. in 2004, you told Mark Prindle, “This country is run by fucking Enron and other global organizations.” Do you think President Trump is the culmination of that, or just another stooge for the corporations?

D.H. Both. I think he’s a corporate, sexist egomaniac who wants to keep big pharma, oil, gas, coal, all the Koch Brothers, and the one percent rich and destroy the country in the process.

Feederz - Taking the Night