By Max Dropout
With respect to a man who embodies the constellation of concepts and definitions revolving around the word “movement,” I have found tremendous difficulty encapsulating Tim Kerr’s accomplishments and personality into a tidy preface. This is a man whose experiences splinter off in directions so numerous that it is now impossible to present a streamlined appraisal of his life. Though it has seldom been said in the right places, good people before me have put it straight on numerous occasions when it comes to the lives he has touched through his prolific career, which spans the forefront of several sonic chapters of contemporary music history.
Tim is one of those rare individuals, who, in spite of his Everestic monument of accomplishments, will never cease to create, so long as he lives. While most men with even a quarter of his credits to their name would resign to their laurels while clinging to some smug sense of entitlement, Tim continues to produce relevant art in the spirit of the true and impulsive artist. He breathes, and so therefore he must create. Stowed behind that broad, youthful grin, there is a spiritual warmth and a secular knowledge from which I have benefitted tremendously over the few short months and handful of conversations I’d had with him; and with every encounter, my awareness regarding the politics of art and the history of the music that I love have, and even my passion for both, only broadened.
While many veterans dissipate into mere footnotes, Tim is still as active as he was in the past. His output remains as steady and vibrant with respect to his painting, while Tim’s current musical outlet, Total Sound Group Direct Action Committee, is poised to return to the live music scene in Austin after an extended hiatus suggested by a broken leg Tim sustained during a SXSW day show, back in 2003. We recently had the opportunity to present Tim with some inquiries regarding what to expect in the forthcoming year regarding Total Sound Group, what he’s working on in the studio, and his focus on painting.
It’s been a while since you stepped onto a stage, locally, with your current outfit, Total Sound Group. Can you tell us what precipitated the break? Also, how much of a “break” was it? I know you guys have been practicing still…
What precipitated the break was the …uh… break. We did play two shows shortly after I had broken my leg, but then decided to stop for a while so it could heal. I was hoping that with some time, the soreness, etc. that I am always aware of would finally go away, and it would not have to be something I had to deal with when I was playing. At this point now though … Iím not sure it will ever go away, so with that reality and the reality that everyone in Total Sound still has things to say and celebrate, we will start doing random celebrations again in July.
I know you’ve been painting, and I was wondering if recently you have had more time to dedicate to your painting. I’d like to know what you’ve accomplished in the last year or so with regard to that section of your art, and if you intend to perhaps do a showing of your stuff at any point.
Painting is now a reality that will be added to an already over flowing plate, but I for one am pretty excited and happy about it. I have always done some sort of visual art but hadnít really “painted” painted since I had gotten out of college. Itís all been just last year that things just started falling together for me to be part of group shows, etc. I had forgotten how much I enjoy painting and donít think I will be stopping again any time in the future. At this point, I have had things in LA, Philly, San Fran, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach…. there is a group show I am in Portland right now, and I will be having a show at Yarddog in September. Other ones in the works are Chicago, London, LA, etc… I want to do what I can to help out Camp Fig as well. Itís a great community of people that cross over into the music side of self-expression more than people realize. I mean, it has always been one and the same to me and I never really separated the different actions, but I thought I was a weirdo. Now I realize there are a lot more weirdos!
The last time we spoke, you had helped produce some recordings for a folk-punk band from Florida, which you seemed pretty enthusiastic about. Is there anything else of note you’ve had a hand in, production wise, that you could tell us to keep our ears open for?
The band is This Bike is a Pipebomb, and they are really, really great! And great people as well. I still really like the Dexateens record that came out in January on Estrus. The whole “production thing” is going to get a little more complicated now that I am trying to juggle in the painting shows as well. I have a regular job doing computer graphics at UT that I do not want to lose, so scheduling is getting a bit more difficult.
People are sort of waiting with baited breath, to see what you guys are going to do next. When exactly is Total Sound Group going to start playing again? Do you guys have a date or time frame in mind?
Not sure who these “people” are, but as far as what to expect … we are what we are, and we really enjoy what we are doing, and as arrogant as this may sound … that is really all that matters. We do feel there is a responsibility to try and plant seeds and hopefully motivate through the actions and ideas we present, but thatís not a new idea or concept. As stated above, spontaneous celebrations/demonstrations of self-expression will begin in July.
Have there been any changes with the band, internally, with respect to lineup, or instrumental duties within its ranks?
Itís the same core of people/family/friends, but it would be cool if we could add more. I really like the idea of people coming with horns/bells/ whatever, to join in on the celebration, because when you present any sort of self expression to others, it should always be a celebration of the individual and group/community of what is happening at that point and things that could come… your life, your friends. Does that make sense?
I heard some interesting comments about the new material, comparing it to Lungfish! I thought that was pretty fascinating. Can you tell me a little bit more about the sound and how you think people are going to react to it? Also, what does Beth think of it?
Well, the song thatís on the single, which is also the one I broke my leg on, Ben thought sounded sort of like Lungfish … thatís why we subtitled it ďBaltimore.Ē The new stuff is kind of all over the place, but in reality itís us, so it may not seem as drastic when you hear it live. I do think the stuff is getting a lot more open in the sense of we are not really thinking about categories or styles and their limitations. In self-expression you and the group of people you are working with set up the rules and limitations. Luckily this group has no rules or limits, only ideas, which is how it should be.
Have any local talent been spurring your current creative frame of mind?
I think Attack Formation just gets better and better, even if some of the ideas donít get pulled off when they are playing live. Itís the idea of thinking outside the box; who said we had to do this or that in this or that way. They are inspiring to me for that questioning. When I see any band that is really into what they are doing, that alone is inspiring to me.
Austin is pretty malleable when it comes to new local acts, with respect to the local punk scene that I am familiar with. The Nervous Exits for instance, a relatively new band… all those guys are having a significant impact with what they’re doing in the community. What effect do you think the new Sound Group material will have? And also, how do you think it will fit in?
Everyone is influenced by something or someone on a daily basis. I donít think that is limited to any sort of group. Thatís life; itís just human nature, and the biggest compliment you can have as a human is to have influenced someone in a positive way for them by just doing what you do. I can only hope that Total Sound will motivate someoneís actions or ideas in a positive way. I would be honored. As far as how we fit in? We are really not concerned with someone else’s definitions with whatís in or out…we are not of “that” world.
One of the things I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on regards your attitude toward “conventional venue settings,” and your apprehension toward playing in that sort of environment again. You seemed sort of apprehensive and disinterested, and didn’t seem interested in playing in front of an audience so comfortable or confined by their surroundings or certain etiquette. Can you tell me more about that, and how you arrived at this conclusion?
This is in NO WAY pointing fingers, and I will always support places like Beerland or Emoís and bands that are going that route but for me, here and now. Itís the whole idea and realization of that idea, that self-expression should have no boundaries. Once you realize the possibilities of that statement… then how do you apply it to your life, because your life is your self-expression. There is so much more you can do if you step outside of “their” confines, throw away their rulebook, look at things differently, which means you need to step outside of the box they have made you comfortable in. Going to a club to see a band has become regulated and “safe” in most cases because the formula is always the same … bands play, you go to the barÖ and even when a band pushes that limitation, everyone there knows their place and the routine is still there. It doesnít just apply to clubs. The confines of a “band,Ē etc. are also in question; a “show,Ē itís all those labels and the baggage that come with them.
Has the new Sound Group material had anything to do with this attitude, or is this just something you have felt for a while?
Pretty much both, itís just now being put into practice more and more.
Bad Mutha Goose was considered a political fulmination, and currently things are getting pretty intense with respect to the youth culture’s feelings toward the current administration. Are you currently interested in approaching politics in any of your new music?
Bad Mutha was political in terms of personal politics, the same way a band like Black Flag or Fugazi was/is, and I think I will always be involved from that side of it.
I have heard a lot of people remark that attendance is down at shows recently, which some folks say has something to do with audiences segregating themselves according to what they listen to. Also, someone in a recent article submitted to me said how back in 1997 or so, you could open any underground rock zine or rag, and half of the bands on the recommended or review lists were from Austin. Things have changed. Define the change according to your own experience; how did this happen?
Itís the whole ďputting a label on thingsĒ and people politely getting in line for their uniform. When this ” punk/alternative” thing started there were only two labels, and they meant the same thing: punk and new wave. Everyone that was not happy with the current choices they were presented with all came to this umbrella, and it was a very big umbrella that encompassed everything and everyone that didnít fit into the other established labels. But as always the powers that be will figure out labels and plans to market the movement; divide and conquer. For the most part, itís just easier for someone to say ďI like hardcore,Ē so I will just be content with the stuff I find under that banner instead of looking for things that influenced or are influenced by their favorite hardcore band, which in turn opens up more and more influences and ideas. Every “garage” person that thinks The Stooges or MC5 is the most important band on the planet, and that is not supporting every one of the free jazz shows going on in Austin right now, is, in a way, insulting their so-called idols. The MC5 and Stooges were trying to open more people up to their inspirations; Sun Ra, Roland Kirk, etc. As far as Austin bands, being the flavor at any time is a never ending cycle, and in reality is only important if you are playing on “their” court; their ball, their rules. Once again this is not pointing fingers, or me looking down on anyone else’s choices … Iím just not concerned with that and in the context of Total Sound; none of us are. As Sun Ra would say, ďI am not of that world.Ē
What can people do, if anything, to unify Austin’s audiences again?
Itís an individual thing that seems to grow among friends. I am seeing more crossovers at a show like say, Attack Formation. If bands would play with a bigger variety of bands, and/or clubs would present a bigger variety on the bill, you would see it slowly start to happen. Itís a slow process, especially when people feel comfortable in their own little groups. But then again…why just stop with music? How about art, dance, etc.
There are a lot of interesting bands that are starting to emerge now, like The Nervous Exits, The Arm, The Steers, and Velorum. It also seems that a lot of people who were in old hardcore or emo bands, who later went on to pursue more rhythm and blues or roots influenced music, are rediscovering their hardcore origins … I see an interest in fusing elements of blues and hardcore together, and it’s made for some interesting results. What are your opinions on some of the new bands, and whom do you dig?
As long as people are pushing ideas forward and not trying to relive some past they think they missed out on, then I am all for it! And it really is neither here nor there if I like it, because what is important is the act of expanding on an idea.
You have seen so much transpire with respect to underground rock n’ roll and punk. Recently, while I was trying to predict the trajectory of what’s going on in music, you stressed that everything regarding this culture was cyclical. With that, I was wondering as to what you see happening next in regard to live shows and sound?
I think at some point DC hardcore will pop up again, as well as most everything. It just seems that in this day and age with the internet/etc, the cycles move a lot faster. The best is when someone takes an idea and thinks they are copying it, but are so not at all what they think they are doing, and they in turn start influencing others… thatís when it starts to get really interesting.
I only have the luxury of reading and hearing about things as they have occurred over the years, so it’s hard for me to view things as cyclical. In light of the fact that media and the entertainment industry have morphed into some set of conjoined twins, with that bond getting thicker every day, how hard will it be for underground music to remain pure? Do you foresee hardship for independent labels and recording artists? Do you think it even has an effect on them?
I think if you are going to try and operate in “their” arena then you will be playing by their rules. It can be done but its far and few between … Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Touch and Go, and Estrus are all good examples, but that is because they donít think or see themselves as part of that machine, and thatís the key; you deal with it but you are not part of it.
What’s your opinion on the Internet, as far as a means of promotion for bands and communication amongst the punk community on an international level?
I think itís great!!! Iím not crazy about cell phones, though.
Austin, being the live music capitol of the world, seems to have some pretty anti-live music policies, with respect to noise ordinances and this unkempt and unchecked step child of theirs known as TABC. What’s your opinion on this?
I think the whole thing is pretty hypocritical and until someone of the stature of like, Asleep at the Wheel or Willie Nelson points this out publicly and makes a stand, its really neither here nor there.
You are a fairly recognizable and respected figure within the realm of record collectors and true music enthusiasts. I’m always sort of amazed how you have been a part of so much and participated in so many vital scenes and bands, and yet you sort of remain under mainstream culture’s radar. Is this intentional on your part?
Uh … thank you (smile). I have definitely made choices that have kept me on the “other” route that I am on. I am not a salesman for myself in the terms that they use to promote. To each his own, but itís embarrassing for me and I would prefer to just “walk my walk”. It is not my goal to be on “their” walk of fame, but itís nice to be acknowledged by your friends.
One thing I have always been curious about is how you choose a production project? Do you generally approach the artist, or do they come to you? And how do you decide if you wanna work with someone or not?
Mostly they come to me, and it has to be something that I like.
A few questions regarding some artists you have produced in the past: I recently heard that The Riverboat Gamblers and Throwrag cut a split 7″, which is a tribute to the Big Boys, with each band covering one of your songs. I was wondering if you’d heard this, and what you thought of this.
I was honored and proud that I was a part of something that meant something to them. They are both really great bands and people, and to be told you had any sort of influence in that is an honor that is not taken lightly.
You mentioned being in contact occasionally with the members of New York’s Mooney Suzuki — I’m sure you’re aware of the Matrix producing their major label debut, Alive & Amplified. Have you heard any news from them regarding the process, or have they sought any advice from you? It sounds like such a strange record — Sammy has described it as having a clean, California pop sound, ala the Beach Boys, even mentioning Spector, further stating that this is the most Mooney sounding record to date. What are your opinions on all of this?
They seem unsure and really happy all at the same time.
What’s your advice to members of the artistic community who wanna help strengthen it?
Participate … support … do something!
Visit Tim Kerr’s website to keep abreast with all of his current activities including art and music at www.timkerr.net