Kat Talley-Jones interview by Ryan Leach

John Talley-Jones and Kat Talley-Jones


Kat Talley-Jones never aspired to be a photographer. She simply ended up with a hand-me-down camera that ended up documenting seminal bands The Urinals and 100 Flowers. She is the lyricist of “Ack Ack Ack Ack” and has compiled an impressive 1978 to 1983 gigography of The Urinals and 100 Flowers. Talley-Jones is the wife of the bands’ bassist and vocalist John Talley-Jones. Professionally, Talley-Jones is an independent exhibit developer and writer. She’s worked on teams that created the Dinosaur Hall and Nature Lab at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and visitor center exhibits at Mammoth Cave National Park, Devils Tower National Monument, Badlands National Park, Stones River National Battlefield, and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, among many others.

Talley-Jones is still involved with The Urinals and 100 Flowers, taking photos and contributing in countless other ways, something she’s done since the late 1970s.

kat Talley-Jones and John Talley-Jones | photo by Pat Aldarete

Ryan: Where did you meet John (Talley-Jones)?

Kat: Like John, I come from a military background. I was born in Italy. I later lived in Japan, the (Washington) D.C. area, and Iran. I met John at the University of Texas at Austin. We gravitated towards the same circle. There were Texans and then there were army brats. We had a different frame of reference than other people did.

John was walking down the hall of the dorm I lived in. I had pulled a picture out of the NME of Kevin Ayers and put it on my door. Kevin Ayers was wearing some blue silk jacket. It was a great photo. I loved Kevin Ayers—The Soft Machine and the Ayers, Cale, Nico, Eno album.

Ryan: That’s a great live record.

Kat: Yeah. My roommate was a lesbian, so we had a nude pinup of a woman on the door, too, which was very scandalous—we hoped.

Ryan: At that time in Texas it was. Even in Austin.

Kat:
Right. John and a friend of his were walking down the hall. They stopped, saw the photos on the door, and wondered, “Who lives here?” I opened the door and there was John, wearing blue eye shadow, black nail polish, and a toothbrush around his neck [laughs]. We got to know each other after that, running in the same circles. I went out with a guy and John went out with his sister—you know how it is being college aged. Everyone is switching partners.

John left UT. His parents thought—and maybe he did too—that film school would be better at UCLA than at UT. That probably wasn’t the case, but John left for California. My parents had moved from Iran to Redondo Beach. So we got back together again. It’s complicated.

Ryan: John had mentioned that he had moved to San Francisco before attending UCLA.

Kat: He was in San Rafael in Marin County. He lived with his aunt and uncle and worked at a bookstore in San Rafael. That was before he went to UCLA.

My parents went back to Iran. I moved in with my brother in Santa Barbara. I was living in Santa Barbara, John went to UCLA, and then we started going out. I did not see the first Urinals iteration when they played the talent show at UCLA. However, I did see the first three-piece show at UCLA with Kevin (Barrett), Kjehl (Johansen), and John. That was on the fourth floor of Dykstra Hall.

John Talley-Jones and Kat Talley-Jones

Ryan: Had your parents not moved back to California, would you have likely stayed in Austin?

Kat: Probably not. At that time, there wasn’t really a scene yet. It was sleepy. It was a place where you could get by getting stoned, paying a hundred dollars a month for an apartment. I was ambitious, but I didn’t happen to paint or anything. I didn’t love Austin. Just as I was leaving, friends of mine were forming The Huns. We would go to Raul’s and bands like the Skunks were playing. The Ramones and Patti Smith came through there. So there was stuff, but L.A. felt much more exciting.

Ryan: You mentioned The Huns. So you knew Phil Tolstead and the rest of the band?

Kat: Yes. Phil was an Air Force brat. We had a mutual friend named Victoria (Jones) who Phil went to see the Sex Pistols with in San Antonio. She had lived in London. We were people with a broader background. I can’t say that about everyone in The Huns. I’m still friends with Dan Puckett who played keyboards in the band. I knew their drummer, Tom Huckabee.

My parents moving back played a part. But my brother was at UCSB and needed a roommate. I thought, “Well, I’ve got nothing going on in Austin, so I’ll live with him.”

Ryan: You took a lot of early Urinals photos—obviously, for most of their record sleeves. Was photography something you had been pursuing previously?

Kat: Well, I had a camera [laughs]. It was just because I was there and I had one. I wasn’t really trying to be expressive. I didn’t take that many photos of shows; the cost of film and developing was expensive. Also, with the low light, the photos often came out horrible.

Ryan: You need an SLR and a lens with a low f-stop. Even then, results aren’t guaranteed.

Urinals house party photo by Kat Talley-Jones

I didn’t take photographs as a means of self-expression. I just had a camera and I was standing there.


Kat: I had a Canon FTb camera. I was the beneficiary of trickle down: my dad would get something new, and I’d get the old version of whatever he replaced it with. It was a nice camera that was unfortunately stolen. I didn’t take photographs as a means of self-expression. I just had a camera and I was standing there.

Ryan: If you don’t mind me digressing back a bit, did your parents have to flee Iran when the Shah fell or had they already moved back to the States? I can’t help but think that all of this—you having lived in Iran—played some part in the naming of “Surfin’ with the Shah.”

Kat: Yes, they did. They went on Christmas vacation and never went back.

Ryan: Amazing. I’m glad to hear they got out safely.

Kat: Yeah. My dad was an army officer. He liked that kind of excitement [laughs]. I was in Iran and John would write me and send me punk mixtapes. Iran was very much on his mind. I would say that had a lot to do with naming of the song, “Surfin’ with the Shah.” But not the modality or anything.

Ryan: What years were you in Iran?

Kat: I was there when I was in high school, so 1970-1973. I then went to the University of Texas. I was an insane overachiever and graduated UT in three years. My parents moved back to Iran. I went to visit; I thought, “Why go back to the States? I can get a job here.” So I got a job typing repair logs for Bell Helicopter. I came back to the States with something on my resume: “I’ve had a job!” When I moved back to Austin, I was employed by a contractor that worked for the Air Force at what was then Bergstrom Air Force Base.

Urinals practice dykstra dorm room photo by Kat Talley-Jones
Ryan: Going back to the early days of The Urinals, do you recall the first 7” EP (self-titled) coming out?

Kat: Oh, sure.

Ryan: You took the photo for the back cover. I can only imagine being part of a self-released 7” was pretty exciting back in 1978.

Kat: It was very exciting. I had been a prog fan. I loved Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. It seemed so out of reach; what ordinary mortal could release a record? To think that you could control the means of production that way was amazing. I can’t remember if that’s the one with the taped piece of Super 8 film on it, but I certainly sat down with Kevin and Kjehl and taped pieces of film on one of the labels. I stuffed the singles into the plastic bags, too.

I would go around with John and we’d drop the records off to stores on consignment. I was still living in Santa Barbara. I recall going to record stores there. People were often extremely uninterested, because the records were so handmade looking. Not all of the record stores—even the independent ones—were interested in the DIY thing yet.

Ryan: I grew up in Newbury Park, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. I found it surprising that The Urinals played an early show in Santa Barbara (at George’s on Nov. 4, 1979). The recording was recently released as a live LP, Pin the Needles. You must have been the conduit for that show.

Kat: Yeah. There was a band that was playing up there, The Neighbors, and someone in the group worked at a record store in Goleta. I would go and hang out there and that’s how that connection was made. Santa Barbara doesn’t seem that likely, does it? There wasn’t much going on up there.

Ryan: Nearly zero. You don’t think of Santa Barbara and punk.

Kat: There was a little bit. There was The Rotters.

Ryan: That’s true. Lance Loud was from Santa Barbara.

Kat: But he had moved on.

Ryan: Right. To New York.

Kat: I lived in Isla Vista. The Rotters played a park there and I saw them. I would walk down the street and people would yell, “Hey, punk rock!” Nobody looked like that in Santa Barbara then. There was this club called The Fubar in Goleta. I saw Magazine play there. There were probably fifteen people there. It was not a crowd. People didn’t know about them.

John might not frame it this way, but I was also pretty instrumental in setting up the Raul’s shows in Austin (March 27, 1978, and March 28, 1978).

Ryan:
That’s interesting.

When the Huns had their bust (September 19, 1978), they sent me a T-shirt with the image of Phil being arrested by the police officer. I still have a photo of me wearing it.

Kat: Phil Tolstead had been John’s roommate (at UT), so I can’t say that they weren’t close. But I had a connection with the Huns. The Urinals played with the Re-Cords (at Raul’s) which was Tom Huckabee from the Huns’ band. They also played with the Norvells, which was Sally Norvell’s band. I don’t have a specific remembrance of setting the Raul’s shows up, but I was always writing letters to (Huns keyboardist) Dan (Puckett), Victoria (Jones) and less to Phil (Tolstead). Phil could hardly manage to write you back. We were in touch a lot. When the Huns had their bust (September 19, 1978), they sent me a T-shirt with the image of Phil being arrested by the police officer. I still have a photo of me wearing it. I think I have the original cover art for their 7”. Victoria painted the cover and sent it to me. I’ll have to look for it. I’ve got boxes filled with stuff.
Urinals practice UCLA art studio photo by Kat Talley-Jones

Ryan: It’s pretty amazing that the first Urinals show outside of UCLA was in Austin at Raul’s. Do you recall trekking out there?

Kat: I think we drove out to Austin in Kjehl’s Chevy Caprice. It was a small Chevy; it wasn’t big. We crammed everyone in there. My particular gift is that I wake up very early. When everyone else can’t drive another moment, I’m starting to wake up. With the four of us, we were able to make it to Austin in one shot. I think it was twenty-seven hours. We just brought guitars. Kevin borrowed Tom Huckabee’s drums. We stayed with friends and drank a lot of frozen margaritas. I think those two shows at Raul’s happened over spring break (1978). That was the only time everyone could get together to leave town.

Ryan: That makes sense.

Kat: Yeah. We weren’t in school or working.

Ryan: Can you talk about writing “Ack Ack Ack Ack.” As far as I know, it’s your only songwriting credit, but it’s a great one.

Kat: Right. Why not stay on a highpoint? I had heard the news reports about Brenda Spencer, the girl who shot some kids in school. It was the same event that inspired the song “I Don’t Like Mondays” (by the Boomtown Rats). I was thinking about that. When I was a kid, as everyone does, I’d play war with friends. We’d chase each other around and pretend to shoot each other. The boys—I don’t know if it was genetic or what—but they could always make that machine gun sound better than I could. I was always jealous. They could vocalize “Ack Ack Ack Ack” and I couldn’t. It was a word you’d see in comic books. I always liked it as a sound. Why did I name the subject of the song Johnny? Possibly because of John.

Ryan: How did the music come together? You wrote the lyrics and John composed the music?

Kat: I wrote the lyrics. I typed them up. I was still in Isla Vista. I probably mailed them to John. But we saw each other virtually every weekend. I would drive down (to West Los Angeles) and occasionally he’d drive up. But John had an old Volkswagen that couldn’t get over the Conejo Grade.

Ryan: I lived right at the top of the Conejo Grade for years. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

Kat: Yeah. So John would take the Greyhound Bus to Santa Barbara and he’d smell like the bus for a day or two. It’d take a while to get that smell out.

Ryan: Los Angeles to Santa Barbara isn’t too far. Nevertheless, it’s still about a two-hour drive.

Kat: There would be a Urinals or 100 Flowers show. Afterwards, I’d sleep until about 4 AM. And then I’d scoot out when there was no traffic to work. I had a Buick Skyhawk with a V6 engine. It was a terrible car; the clutch cable would always break. I’d drive it straight to work. It’s no wonder why I didn’t get the best performance reviews.

Ryan: Do you recall taking the photo for the Presence of Mind 7” EP? It has a real dada feel to it.
100 Flowers cover photo by Kat Talley-Jones

It’s insane to me that we have so few photos. We just couldn’t afford it at the time.


Kat: John came up with the idea. I think it was taken at Kevin’s apartment. I don’t know why it was just John and Kjehl (on the front cover). It feels like Kevin was developing in another direction. He had gotten extremely political. I wrapped them up in newspaper and took the photo. That one turned out nice because the black and white was more saturated. It seemed like the photos for the other albums were washed out. We may have had a rudimentary darkroom; it’s possible we made the prints ourselves. That sounds like something we would’ve done. It’s insane to me that we have so few photos. We just couldn’t afford it at the time.

Ryan: You’ve compiled an amazing Urinals and 100 Flowers gigography. How did you put it together?

Kat: I had these tiny datebooks my dad would get from the USAA. I would get one and he’d keep one. When we lived in Iran, I’d make daily notes. What I was doing in Tehran, the dates I’d been on and other things. I had a habit of making daily notes. Later on, I went back to those little pocket calendars and made that gig list. It’s moderately accurate.

100 Flowers at the Whisky photo by Kat Talley-Jones

Ryan: It’s an incredible resource. I didn’t realize 100 Flowers played Phoenix with the Meat Puppets (on October 17, 1981). I thought those early shows at Raul’s in Austin was the only time the early incarnation of the band left California.

Kat: We drove in Seabiscuit—the name I gave my horrible Buick Skyhawk. Again, it was Kevin, John, Kjehl, and I and we drove straight to Phoenix. We left early. I remember Savage Republic drove out, too, and played; they might have been called Africa Corps then. I did take some decent photos of that show. It was at a boxing ring (Phoenix Madison Square Gardens). There’s a nice one of John and David Wiley that I took. David was in Human Hands.

Ryan: The Consumers, too.

Kat: Right. We stayed at David’s house. Bruce Licher and the other Savage Republic guys stayed with the Meat Puppets at their place. The Savage Republic guys were pretty clean cut, but the Meat Puppets took acid and were playing cowboys and Indians over them all night.

Ryan: That makes sense.

Kat: Yeah [laughs]. It was always kind of a blitzkrieg thing. We actually spent one night in Arizona. 100 Flowers played in San Francisco. We drove up for the gig and then drove back home (to Los Angeles) afterwards. It was pretty horrendous.

Ryan: I’ve done Los Angeles to Phoenix and back to see a show. It’s pretty rough.

Kat: It’s doable.

Ryan: I did it in my early twenties. I’d just spring for a motel now.

Kat: Yeah. I mean, if they were playing in San Diego now, we’d stay the night at a hotel. We drove back from a show in San Diego one time. A truck tire bounced over the center divider and hopped over us, hitting the car behind us. That was scary.

Ryan: With the benefit of hindsight, it’s interesting seeing The Urinals evolve. You can hear their musicianship develop on each EP. Eventually, they’d release compilations like Keats Rides a Harley on their own imprint, Happy Squid. I picture The Shaggs evolving like that had they actually wanted to be in a band. There aren’t many similar examples. Maybe The Raincoats? I can’t think of any at the moment from Los Angeles.

Kat: They learned more and more as they went along. I don’t think they initially had aspirations to release, say, Keats Rides a Harley or The Happy Squid Sampler. An LP was unthinkable when they started. I’m sure John and Kjehl have mentioned this, but getting a mentor like Vitus (Mataré) was key. Vitus knew how to do things. Obviously, being in The Last he had a much broader reach. They knew Gary Stewart (The Last’s manager) and people who were more record business savvy. But there was never any aspiration to get picked up by a record label. That was also unthinkable. It wasn’t a political thing: “We’re pure of heart. We’re not going to sign.” But who would’ve signed The Urinals in that era? There was some interaction with Greg Shaw at Bomp! It seemed like it was all a natural progression. It wasn’t aspirational—if that makes sense.

Ryan: It does. The Urinals and 100 Flowers weren’t trying to get on Enigma Records.

John is extremely thrifty and a monetarily conscious person. Doing things as cheaply as possible resonated with him.


Kat: Right. I think it was really satisfying to put out friends’ work. I think about the little Happy Squid Sampler (1980). Getting stuff out by Neef and Phil Bedel (“Bells in Ice” 45, 1980). I’m not going to say it was done out of generosity of spirit; they’d just figured out how to do it. John is extremely thrifty and a monetarily conscious person. Doing things as cheaply as possible resonated with him. They were playing with all of these great bands—Leaving Trains, Meat Puppets, and Gun Club—and they had simply figured out how to get records made. So they did it without being careerist. It was coming from an artistic standpoint.  

Ryan: Do you recall the last two 100 Flowers shows at the Anti-Club (Jan. 28 and 29, 1983)? I think that was the only time the band headlined a bill.

Kat: Oh yeah. It was so crazy—it was celebratory, but it was also the end of the band. There was that psychological development: celebrating and mourning at the same time. I don’t know why, but it always seemed like 100 Flowers played when it was raining. That’s true up until the present. I think the Anti-Club shows happened during an El Niño year. It was really wet outside; everyone at the club was wet. It was humid; the walls were dripping. The Minutemen played. It was a lot of fun. I remember thinking, “Why couldn’t it have been like this all the time?” But people didn’t appreciate them until they were ending the band.

The second night was with the Leaving Trains and The Last. I don’t remember that show being as wild as the one where The Minutemen played. But how could it ever be?

Ryan: With the release of the Negative Capability compilation and reunion in 1996, it seemed like folks caught up with the Urinals. It was the same thing with Mission Of Burma when they reunited.

Kat: Yes. Honestly, I think some of it had to do with the singles being collectors’ items. They were being bootlegged back in the 1990s. “Oh, that band I paid one hundred dollars for their 7” is reforming.” Perhaps I’m wrong on that

Ryan: I think you’re right. I was in New York City two years ago and I went to Almost Ready Records. They had just gotten the first Urinals 7” EP in. I remember saying, “Oh, wow! That’s the first one I’ve seen in the wild.” It has an effect.

Kat: Oh, really?

Ryan: Yeah. I’d never seen an original copy of the first 7” before. Those records suck you in. We were talking about Vitus and The Last earlier: I recall seeing a test press of Look Again (1980)—obviously, the record was never released—on the wall at Amoeba for hundreds of dollars in the mid-2000s. It sticks with you. Especially with self-released records like The Urinals 7”s. They had an initial small pressing, limited distribution, and often record labels—with or without a band’s approval—will repress titles once used copies hit a certain price. If you released it and you’re not repressing them, prices go up and they sometimes get pirated.

Kat: It always irritated me. The band never saw any of that money. Like I said, John was very thrifty. I’m sure he wasn’t in the red. But they weren’t sold for much originally. I don’t know how many copies of the first EP we have. I’d be surprised if it was five. You wanted them out in the world.

Ryan: You’re still involved with the Urinals and 100 Flowers. I see you’re still taking photographs. It’s amazing seeing them play places like Belgium and China.

Kat: Yeah. I always thought they were doing interesting things. It wasn’t random. I had mentioned that their records being scarce had some allure, but they were doing something different. They continue to. All of John’s iterations of the band have been good. There are things I’ve liked more than other things. There have been times where I’ve liked the band less than at other times. But they’ve persisted because they have merit. All of the band members have a vision. I believe in it. There have been times where I’ve been busy with my own work and haven’t gone to shows.

As I mentioned earlier, I wake up early, so having a set start at midnight isn’t always my favorite thing. But I enjoy watching them play. I think John appreciates that if I think something sucks that I’ll tell him—but not with an axe to grind.