fLiPSiDE Fanzine, which was founded by Al (fLiPSiDE) Kowalewski and four of his friends (including Patrick “Pooch” DiPuccio) in Whittier in 1977 (and, later moved its offices to Pasadena) was a vast punk rock and indie resource for the Los Angeles area and, from the 1980s to 2000, for the world at large. Many early punk rock bands received their first exposure to the underground masses thanks to fLiPSiDE, including such (now) classic bands as The Minutemen, Social Distortion, Black Flag, the Germs, Redd Kross, The Salvation Army (who later became known as The Three O'Clock), The Dead Kennedys, etc. The list is insanely long!
fLiPSiDE also had a record label. In the early to mid-1990s, Al fLiPSiDE would set up free shows in the Mojave Desert featuring bands and musicians as diverse as The Offspring, Fugazi, At the Drive-In and the legendary Nik Turner of Hawkwind (who dressed up as an alien “gray” for this momentous occasion). Sadly, fLiPSiDE went defunct back in 2000 due to financial problems, but the memories of those days will always live on in the minds and hearts of the underground scene.
In chronological order, here are my all-time favorite interviews that I did with bands and musicians during my time writing for fLiPSiDE Fanzine:
1. Smashing Pumpkins (from Issue #75 of fLiPSiDE; published in November/December 1991)
I was lucky enough to be working at Caroline Records Distribution in Sun Valley as a sales representative, and the Smashing Pumpkins came into the office to meet our staff that fateful day (Aug. 14, 1991). I ended up going to see them play at English Acid (which was located at the Peanuts club on Santa Monica Boulevard) and interviewed both Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin prior to their set at the club. Their debut album, Gish, had been released three months earlier on Caroline Records and both Billy and Jimmy C were extremely weary of L.A. They were very aware that the album's sales would possibly begin to fall and they were not expecting the sort of success, at the time, that they eventually got. It was a great, very down-to-earth interview; Billy had his long hair flowing that day and was letting me know that their producer, Butch Vig, had just put the finishing touches on the new Nirvana album (which was going to come out in five weeks) and how he was expecting the album to “be huge.” Damn, he was right! By the way, not only do I still have this interview on tape but I also taped the Pumpkins soundcheck that evening.
2. Courtney Love of Hole (from issue # 77 of fLiPSiDE; published in March/April 1992)
Bob Cantu, one of my fLiPSiDE colleagues and a fantastic photographer/interviewer, and I did a phoner interview with Courtney Love on Feb. 12, 1992 (12 days before Kurt Cobain and Courtney got married in Hawaii). The interview was three hours of, mostly, Courtney expressing her views on her band Hole's major-label bidding war (which was eventually won by DGC Records), how Madonna wanted to sign Hole to her label at the time (Courtney: “Yeah! She really wanted to sign us! To be perfectly honest, I actually gave her a Bikini Kill fanzine, a Bikini Kill tape, a Calamity Jane CD and a fLiPSiDE. All of a sudden she wants to find out about the underground and I'm like, should I even turn her on to shit?”) and Al fLiPSiDE insisted that we ask Courtney if her views on plastic surgery had changed and her answer was “Fuck you!” since she'd had surgery on her nose after appearing on the cover of fLiPSiDE in 1991. Hole's second album and first on DGC Records was released on April 12, 1994, barely a week after Kurt Cobain's death, and it sold over 2 million copies worldwide.
3. Larry “Wildman” Fischer (from issue # 77 of fLiPSiDE; published in March/April 1992)
Walking around Hollywood, I would occasionally see Larry “Wildman” Fischer roaming the area, and I wanted to see if he would do an interview with me since I had been a fan when Dr. Demento would play My Name Is Larry over and over on his radio show on 94.7 KMET on Sunday evenings. My friend Jula Bell (ex–Bulimia Banquet, Bobsled) was happy to help me out and we met up with Larry at Hollywood Star Lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard on Feb. 2, 1992. Apparently, he had refused interviews since the late 1960s/early 1970s, so I was a lucky, star-struck fan. Jula had asked him a question about his track “Jennifer Jones” and Larry proudly answered, “Believe it or not, I was trying to be Bob Dylan for a song 'cause that's when Dylan was real popular and I looked up to him!”
Larry also spoke about his friendship with Billy Mumy (Barnes & Barnes) and how Billy inspired him to keep recording albums. We ended the evening by bowling and Larry ended up singing to us “Bowling! Bowling/I like going Bowling/I bowled a 65/It's Not too good/Bowling, Bowling.” I still miss his friendship and will never forget how he helped me move into my apartment in Hollywood on a rainy day in 1996 as my astonished friends looked on. We then shared pizza and he sang songs to us — including the memorable “Merry Go Round.” An unforgettable soul.
4. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (from issue #78 of fLiPSiDE; published May/June 1992)
By the early spring of 1992, Nirvana was the biggest band on the planet and I had convinced Al fLiPSiDE to help me interview Kurt over the phone. Instead of having to go through the normal channels of going to the publicity department of DGC Records, Courtney just told me to just call their home number in the Fairfax district. When Al and I did, Kurt was not happy. He was expecting us to show up at his and Courtney's apartment and had “bought all this food for us,” so there was a slight miscommunication. We apologized to him and started the interview and I will never, ever forget this exchange between Al and Kurt:
Al fLiPSiDE: “Well, you've gotten a bit more popular since our last interview (issue #62). What's it like? How did you do it?”
Kurt: “You mean what's it like being in The Beatles? I hope to someday turn into Pete Best — just brush it under the carpet and forget about it!”
Kurt couldn't stand the idea of being compared in the press to other bands like Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam, since they didn't at all sound like Nirvana:
Kurt: “They're obviously corporate puppets that are just trying to jump on the alternative bandwagon, and we are being lumped into that category.”
A few weeks after the interview was published, I ran into both Courtney and Kurt outside of the Hollywood Palace, and when Kurt realized I was the same dude who'd interviewed him, he grabbed both of my hands and held them and said to me, “You never misquoted me once! It's my favorite interview that I have ever done.” I get misty-eyed to this day remembering that moment.
5. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth (from issue #82 of fLiPSiDE; published January/February 1993)
One of the best, most memorable interviews I ever did was with Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth on Sept. 26. 1992, at Castaic Lake Recreation Center with the help of Bob Cantu, Royce and Janet Housden. Sonic Youth's second major-label album, Dirty, had just been released three months prior to this amazing interview/show and both Pavement and Mudhoney were the opening bands. We arrived around noon to interview Thurston and Steve, and I approach Thurston and shake his hand and introduce myself and he says to me, “Aren't you in the band Dicktit?” which floored me since I had no idea he knew about my band.
Thurston: “Dude, everyone who reads fLiPSiDE knows about Dicktit!”
Thurston went on to praise the drumming of Janet Housden that day.
Thurston: “Janet Housden. The greatest drummer in Los Angeles. She was in the original Red Kross.”
Janet didn't know what to say and just smiled back. We also talked about his label Ecstatic Peace Records, his record collection and appearing on The David Letterman Show. After the interview, Thurston asked us to stay and we ended up drinking all of Mudhoney's beer stash, which caused them to storm the stage completely sober and made Mark Arm of Mudhoney yell out, “The fLiPSiDE crew drank all of our beer!”
I also remember walking both Kurt and Courtney into the backstage area. Kurt had an acoustic guitar with him and I jokingly said to him, “Are you going to play some Nirvana songs acoustically?” and Kurt answered, rather cryptically, “You mean like that MTV Unplugged show?” as he smiled. This was over a year before they actually did MTV Unplugged. I still get chills thinking about that moment.
6. The Butthole Surfers (from issue #5 of Fiz Magazine; published March/April 1993)
The Butthole Surfers are one of my favorite bands of all time, and I had the absolute insane pleasure of interviewing them a total of three times since 1988. The best of them all was when Capitol Records flew me to Austin, Texas, on Jan. 16, 1993, to interview the boys for their upcoming major-label debut album, Independent Worm Saloon. Jeffrey Pinkus (bassist extraordinaire of the Buttholes) picks me up at the airport driving a late-'60s Mustang with horns on the top and we listen to Rush Limbaugh on the way to the band's recording and practice studio (which they had been sharing with Ed Hall) as Pinkus starts to constantly crack up at everything that Limbaugh is saying.
We arrive at the studio and King Coffey, Paul Leary and Gibby Haynes are all there. I am seriously momentarily star-struck and then we start the interview and the ganja starts a-flowin'! Al fLiPSiDE said there had been too many Butthole Surfer interviews in the zine, so he allowed me to do this one for another zine named Fiz Magazine. Let's just say that the interview was intense. I got to see their famous tape room and Paul Leary telling me, “You see those shoeboxes over there? Those are every single one of our practices since 1981!” There were shoeboxes full of precious cassettes of all of their practices and also a list of songs they had recorded that had never been released. From what I remember, there were over 150 unreleased studio tracks that the Buttholes had recorded up to that point. When I asked the band what it was like to be produced by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Paul Leary says to me, “Well, I thought it was a joke, you know? I kept thinking it was going to be this short bald guy who looked like Danny DeVito!” The whole band was really funny and wanted me to participate in a softball game afterward, but I was too … tired.
7. Boredoms (from issue # 85 of fLiPSiDE; published in July/August 1993)
Wow! Osaka, Japan's Boredoms! Let me tell you about this band and how they blew away audiences with their intense, surrealist and out-of-this-world live sets. The night before, in Hollywood, Matt Groening introduced himself to the band backstage and told them how much he liked their music. They had never heard of The Simpsons and had no idea who he was. The next day Boredoms were playing at Spanky's in Riverside on May 17, 1993. I drove to the show with my friends Dave Markey and Steve McDonald and we ran into Duke Seino (from the Get Backs and White Flag) and Pat Fear (aka Bill Bartell). After their intense set, I got to interview the band with help from Don Bolles (who kept correcting me on my knowledge of Boredoms' released record catalog) and Duke (who was happily translating Boredoms' absurd and hilarious lyrics during the set and then helped in translating the interview from English to Japanese for me!)
Duke: “I don't know, man! It's like their lyrics make no sense at all in Japanese! They're singing about having electric teeth, I think!
Eye Y (of Boredoms): “I hate rock. Hate rock. Hate rock. I like the Shaggs.”
8. Mark E. Smith of The Fall (from issue #86 of fLiPSiDE; published October/November 1993)
Shane fLiPSiDE (R.I.P.), the rock & roll bank robber (for reals!), and I did this interview with Mark E. Smith of The Fall back in August 1993 at the Hollywood Hyatt Hotel. When we arrived, Shane's tape recorder died, so Mark was kind enough to lend us his for the interview. We had around 40 minutes to interview Mark as he started popping some medication into his mouth and drank some whiskey, so we got to asking him about prog-rock and conspiracy theories as we smoked a doobie.
Mark: “I hate this hippie shit!!” and then Mark grabs the joint out of Shane's hand and takes a huge hit off of it and starts coughing up a storm. A few minutes later he ends up patting us on the back like brothers and lets me take a photo of him. Mark: “Cuz I wanted to point out that Steve Hillage even had moments like the one LP by the group Khan, which he dominated — and his guesting on Kevin Ayers' Bananamour and maybe even his very first solo LP — I'd be the first to agree his post-’75 stuff has been dreck!”
At the end of the interview, Mark walks as outside the hotel and thanks us and — all of a sudden — this elevator opens and out pops Little Richard and his entourage. Mark: “Is that fuckin' Little Richard??” as he runs up to meet him. Even Mark E. Smith got star-struck!
9. Sawed-Off (aka Pat Fear from White Flag and Buzz and Dale from Melvins) (from issue #88 of fLiPSiDE; published February/March 1994)
Another one of my favorite interviews took place at Canter's Deli after an incredible Melvins set at Raji's in Hollywood in late 1993. The interview started with band members of Sawed-Off accusing me of being stoned (who? me??) and talking about how they badly wanted to cover Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music in its entirety. Mackie, Buzz's wife, asks me if I had seen the band Plainfield and I told them that I wasn't really into them and boy oh boy, did that tickle some shoes and feathers and turn the interview into an absolute comedy routine, which included a small food fight. Pat Fear: “I work at Gene Simmons' Deli.”
10. Brainiac (from issue #105 of fLiPSiDE; published January/February 1997)
Dayton, Ohio's Brainiac were one of the most incredible live bands I had ever seen. Timmy Taylor (R.I.P.) was the singer and heart of the band and they had originally contacted me in early 1992 by sending me a postcard begging me to review their demo cassette. I listened to it and really enjoyed it and gave them a great review. They followed the demo with some incredible vinyl releases between 1992 and early 1997. On Sept. 25, 1996, I finally got to interview them at Pedro's Bar and Grill in Silver Lake during their tour for their (sadly) last album, Hissing Prigs in Static Couture. The band were in top form and played yet another insanely energetic set. If you can imagine James Brown, Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys and Prince merged together — that was the beautiful soul of Tim Taylor. I really fucking miss you, man.