Rep raps about his love for Ohio, its archaeology and history, the World Series, a potential job with the mob, grackles and whatever else we just happened to talk about. His discography, forever being unearthed, parallels his love for the past. Anachronistic or timeless? Time…there ain’t no stinking time. The underground sage speaks…oh, and before I forget, he also has a new 7″ out from around his “Rocket To Nowhere” era material.
“NEWS FLASH!!! Just got word this long awaited vintage Quotas 7” release is finally completed! A year late but hell, much of my stuff waited up to 30 years to come out HA! “A” side (“It’s My Movie”) is from the SAME SESSIONS as “Rocket To Nowhere” (1975), “B” side (“G-L-O-R-I-A”) is from 1978. It’s being released by a small label oo the U.K. i will supply more info on how to obtain it as asap. 70’s DIY Punk Quotas fans, yer gonna love this one!”
DECAYKE: Alright, I’ll start out with that question again. Keep in mind that we’re in no hurry here. I keep pushing the publishing date back on this because the John Shirley interview I did (that’s going up at another site, but going to be included in the contents of this issue) keeps getting pushed back. So no worries.
So what’s going on with the grackles? You say they’re your spirit familiar?
M: Totem is a better word, I have always had an affinity for this particular bird. According to totem lore the grackle’s iridescent coloring reflects a need to look at life differently. Situations are not always what they appear to be, particularly when dealing with emotions and the creative muse. Grackles remind their allies to take action, not just rehash everything, not just talk about and not do anything to resolve a problem, and to start something creative new and different. I am always surprised at how lowly many regard these beautiful intelligent and inquisitive birds. When they migrate back North in March through April through the Ohio Valley, i scatter shelled corn daily in my 1/2 acre yard, lots and LOTS of corn, have for decades. They share it with the Fox Squirrels and occasional mourning doves peacefully, and now grackles return here routinely. I sometimes have between 100-150 grackles at a time in my yard here in Harrisburg, and neighbors don’t know what to think seeing me standing out among them HA!, but i understand that they know me now to be their ally (both the birds and the neighbors). I jokingly call myself “The Alpha Grackle” ha! After so many years i can walk out and sit among them they don’t scatter. I’m 1000% sure some individual birds have returned year after year leading others, they know my home is a haven on their migration path when they are coming back North in the spring. My other major animal totems are cats and skunks, I get along exceptionally well with both. Cats many of you know the virtues of. I once had a skunk for a house pet (or he had me, ha! – his name was Spunky) and i can to this day walk among groups of wild ones without fear. As a totem they represent Sensuality, Respect, Self-Esteem (see Pepe Le Pew). The skunk is a very powerful totem with mystical associations. They teach how to give respect, expect respect and demand respect. My skunk totem helps recognize my own qualities (and the qualities of others) and assert them. Skunks are fearless but very peaceful Sp also like grackles they are incredibly under-appreciated for their intelligence and general good nature, when not protecting their young or otherwise being fucked with. So, why did you ask me about grackles before I went off on this tangent _____________? Because of the last vinyl release title?
DECAYKE: I was thinking about the conversation we had on Facebook because I was asking you to write an entire piece about feeding grackles. It seemed like a good thing to read about. I think you knocked that out in your answer, though. It’s really high-minded, plus we got fox squirrels, skunks and cats to boot. That’s a good day at the track.
Grackles do get a bad rap. My ex thought they were annoying. Me too. I guess I’m a grackle in that respect. But since you mentioned it, yeah, Songs The Grackles Liked is a cool record. That was a few years back, though, right? Tommy Jay was also on that one, too, correct?
Mike: Grackles annoy most people similarly to the way cats and skunks do. They do not do the bidding of humans without reservation, so we consider them inferior creatures because WE are pompous asshole creatures that think we are the superior creations of “god”. What HORSE CRAP. They (like most of nature’s creatures) are beyond our petty desires to control manipulate and exploit . I pity the fools who do not appreciate their grandeur, or for that matter all of nature’s variety of creatures. I personally consider human beings well down the evolutionary scale of Earth’s most evolved creatures, “intelligence” is overrated or a the very least misunderstood; it may in fact be a neurosis of sorts… . As Jim Morrison once sang, “what have we done to the Earth? What have we don to our fair sister?” (from “When The Music’s Over”) Our only saving grace may very well be our knack for “creating” stuff, which is not necessarily a survival trait. The good news is the planet will survive us, even if it take a few millennia to undo our reckless destruction … but I digress, back to the music question. Songs The Grackles Like is a Mike Rep and The Quotas record, recorded by and for the amazing folks at Columbus Discount Records, and I consider it one of my (our) finest creative efforts EVER. It was (so far) our last released release together, our performing lineup from 2003-2008, and there is more stuff in the can that may yet be released. Everyone involved had previously been a Quota in at least in the very least a metaphysical sense. Everyone involved in the band during that time recorded and played together as compatriots in our living rooms (and barns in various incarnations for almost two decades. Tommy Jay, Nudge Squidfish and Johnny Furnace have always been HUGE contributors to what many people know as The Quotas, from songwriting to performing to inspiration to brotherhood… I could ramble on…
Correct about Tommy, yes. Glad you like the ‘Grackles’ record it is one of my favorite releases. That version of the Quotas played from 2003 – 2009. We also made an LP (CD Only) called “Black Hole Rock” in 2005. This version of The Quotas last show was Jan. of 2009. There are full videos of several of our sets, we are debating the release of one at some point. If you’re asking what I’ve been doing musically since, I Co-Produced / “L.F.W.’d” the first LP by Mount Carmel in 2010 and am currently working on an LP with local rockers Sundown. They sound a lot like Crazy Horse to me. I like them a lot.
Other than that lots and lots of archiving, as Tommy and I are sitting on around 200 reel-to-reels that date back to the mid-70’s, and at least as many cassettes. Of course most of it is not worth releasing, but the LP “Grim-o Comix Sequence” is an example of what has emerged from this activity. A “folk-rock” opera we recorded in 1974 fresh out of high school, released in 2012 by Columbus Discount. Tommy and I play out now and then on rare occasion and we plan to appear at Blackoutfest this year. Of course I get together with Tommy, Squidfish, Harrisburg Players on occasion just to play for fun, too.
Columbus locals are aware that I have not been very involved with the local scene much for a few years, but not because there aren’t a lot of good bands around. I simply have other interests too. Local archeology and history among them, which have been taking up a huge part of my time. Also my “lifestyle” shall we say, is not what it used to be… I tend to run in cycles musically over the years, taking sabbaticals now and then. I just recently feel like I may be returning my focus to performing music more actively again.
Two LP’s are in the works. One is mostly unreleased songs from the archives that “Rocket To Nowhere” fans will like, full of raw and punky DIY insanity. The other is more offbeat kind of stuff; folk, countryfied and even some bluegrass (!). They should be surfacing sometime soon, as both are nearing completion. A few labels are patiently waiting for me to finish them.
DECAYKE: I get what you’re saying about taking sabbaticals. I do it from time to time, maybe work on other stuff, dissolve, coagulate, create a new persona. So tell us a little about your interest in archeology and history and if, at all, that intersects with what you do musically in any significant ways? After all, we’re an amalgam of all of our interests and obsessions. And how has your view of rock, underground or otherwise, changed over the decades? Archeology is a study of cultural elements bound in time, but it’s also about the immutable. That seems particularly relevant to your music, because even though it sounds anachronistic in some ways, it always manages to be and sound equally as relevant to what’s going down now.
Mike: You have a knack for multilayered questions! [It’s because I’m so damned scatterbrained. – ed.] First, yes self-reinvention every few years is key to keeping my sanity and you seem to be a kindred spirit in that sense. It usually involves more than just my musical involvements. Its personal too, although I do tend to flow into local music scenes when things start to get interesting, and those things run in cycles too, of course. My interest in Ohio Valley (for the most part) archeology and Ohio pioneer history is another galaxy in which I revolve too. Perhaps it is its immutableness that grounds me yes, especially the archeology. As far as music goes sometimes i think the more things change the more they stay the same, maybe the two interests are not so different after all. As Roky Erickson would say, both tend to exist ‘in a time of their own’, not by my will for it to be so, they just do. When one or the other interest beckons i follow, one balances out the other. Music has me reaching for the stars, ancient wonders keep me grounded on this island Earth. Anachronistic is a great word i like that, it’s often been said that much of my work sounds as if it could have come from anywhere between 1966 and 2013. I’m not ‘trendy’ in my songwriting or whom i choose to work with. For example, a current band I’m recording (called Sundown) sounds like Neil and Crazy Horse circa Zuma. The musical time frame would probably be much more vast if electricity and the ability to record music on ‘permanent’ mediums were not a relatively very recent phenomenon in human history. I love old music too, such as the mountain gospel / folk songs of the Appalachians. Also medieval European songwriting for example (of which bluegrass and American folk are modern permutations). Many of my listeners know and appreciate me for my DIY/punk rock shenanigans, but I have recorded and written dozens of songs in almost every genre imaginable, such as (gasp!) disco, bubblegum, novelty doggerel, barbershop music, doesn’t matter if it’s cool or not. My father directed barbershop choruses (The Columbus Ohio Singing Buckeyes / Sweet Adelines) in the late 60’s/70’s and that’s how I learned to sing harmonies as a kid. I learned classical music taking piano lessons for 7 years as a child and thanks to that training can play several other musical instruments. Although some might not agree when they hear my productions, I learned that I had a special gift, that I have “an ear”, something that can’t be taught. When I hear a song I know immediately what all the chord structures are. I love playing keyboards and bass guitar too. Played bass a couple of years for other groups for short periods, Great Plains being the best known of them. The Campfire Walkers were a band I played bass and sang in, that featured one of the greatest songwriters I ever knew, but remains totally obscure to my listeners today for the most part, which is, to me, a real tragedy. But such is the way of the world. Really I’m amazed I get the bit of attention that I do. I truly am. There is so much great stuff out there…
DECAYKE: What about the lesser known stuff; the oddball or unusual or unexpected. What are some of those highlights?
Mike: Two really stand out in my mind at the moment. One is a group i was in from 1989-1990 called Campfire Walkers. I played Bass, sang backup, Co-Produced and helped arrange most of the songs. One cassette release on OldAge/NoAge called No Edge Lines which did well locally, and 12 years later I recorded and LFW’d a solo CDR for her called Firefly which was the last of the OA/NA releases. A very limited edition, but great stuff.
The singer/songwriter Terry Devin was one of the top five best songwriters I’ve ever known and I loved her dearly. During the Campfire Walker’s time she was married to (ex) Great Plains Guitarist Matt Wyatt who was CFW’s Guitarist as well. I think that if it had been released five years later we would have been darlings in the “No Depression” music scene, “rock n’ rural” kinda sound, very Americana. Occasional ‘Quotette’ Jen Eling Kangas was our drummer. Rosanne Cash meets The Jefferson Airplane is how I describe it. Terry later became my wife, but tragically, she passed away a couple years ago. Some people get their moment in the sun, some don’t…. though Terry did have many local fans.
The other project that stands out was Creeper Ohio (1996). That was myself and singer-songwriter Jeff Robertson. One 7″ (on Bim Thomas’ Seldom Scene label) which was a minor cult hit, and a OA/NA cassette-CDR-only full-length release (“Double DWA”) that should should have been pressed to vinyl by somebody, but I couldn’t get anyone interested. Once again just out of step with the times like I often am. I used to describe it as “thinking man’s bubblegum.” Very catchy pop rock. Creeper Jeff still writes books and records songs and recently got heavy into politics, ran for Ohio Congress on the Democratic ticket in ’12. He lives in my favorite Ohio town Yellow Springs, ‘home’ of Dave Chappell and Antioch University (one of America’s first truly Liberal Arts colleges). The great cult band Mia Zapata’s The Gits formed there in ’86 before moving to Seattle and making their splash. Those are two project I would still like to see get to vinyl someday, who knows?…..
DECAYKE: What’s your take on the “No Depression” ‘scene,’ the “Americana” thing? Is it frustrating for you to see bands take off when you know you were doing it before it became fashionable? I don’t mean that in the base sense of envy or anything, but just being out of step with the times in general. Any outstanding bands that have come out of that to your mind?
Mike: In truth I am almost ALWAYS out of step with the times! Most Quotas stuff i recorded in the 70’s/80’s didn’t get released until the 90s or since. That’s the most obvious example. Another good one is Ego Summit, which NOBODY listened to when it was originally released. Now it is considered a cult classic by many and is about to be reissued some 15 years later…. It partly has to do with me I must admit. I am not a ‘linear time’ thinker. In fact I don’t believe time really exists at all. It is just an artificial construct of the human mind, that everything we do happens all at once in other words. But we’ve gotten into some deep quantum acid-head shit here so let’s move on….
re: No Depression; no band really pops to mind as outstanding from that movement, I just think that’s a good example of where Campfire Walkers potential audience would have been, people searching for “NewBobs” and a midwestern musical identity outside of the harder edged rock most people reading this identify me with. As far as ‘Americana’ goes I am a big Steve Earle and and Townes Van Zandt fan for example, and like quite a lot of what Mellencamp was doing in the late 80’s / early 90’s, too. Yes I’m so fucking uncool really, ha!
DECAYKE: I’m gonna start a new email thread to make sure it all stays straight. [Thinks really hard and makes hands work].
These interviews, I like them to try to let the subject get to fill in some context as to why he or she or it does whatever he or she or it does. Sometimes it happens, it completes the work, or it does in a sense if you think that living is itself a form of art. Most of my friends do. The ideal being that there’s no separation between art and life. Neither is commodity, both are inherently valuable and each gets more and more spectacular and engaging the closer we look. That’s why I wanted to ask you about your interest in archeology.
The first record I heard of yours was when Tom put out Stupor Hiatus Vol. 2. Though it was a part of that whole lo-fi movement (I guess you could call it a movement – it was a thing), there was something about that record that superseded the bulk of other stuff going on. It was as if the songs were relics from another time. Like they were rare psych moon rocks from another galaxy, but balanced out with songs specific to a specific time. Songs like I Resign and One For My Baby… The whole sci-fi theme that was in there too combined with the weird recording quality gave the entire record a sort of ‘time capsule’ feel. And the sense of melody there is undeniable. That also set that record apart at the time. Now I’m rambling…
Ohio is kind of a strange place, isn’t it? It’s not the south but in a way it is. I’m talking about the culture. There’s been a proud blue collar spirit and a history of work rebellion there as well. And the rock history of Ohio is deep. Can you imagine ever moving and settling down somewhere else?
Mike: I’m not sure that living is intrinsically an art form, at least to me, but it’s an interesting concept. I don’t think of myself as an artist, and yet if I wasn’t making music I have no concept of what my self-identity would be. I do know that there were three distinct points in my life where I could have led a totally different life than I do today.
One was when I enlisted in Air Force Academy out of High School, but odd circumstances (a serious physical injury before my induction day) led to that not coming to be. Another was when J worked in the vending business in the 80’s for, shall I put it discreetly, a ‘Sicilian-based business’ that wanted me to become part of the family. Literally and foreverly. I didn’t do that either obviously even though I would be a rich man today if I had. In both cases my life of course would have been very very different. How much would music have been a part of it? Probably not nearly as much as it has.
The third turning point was when I had the opportunity to produce records for a major L.A. label under the auspices of one of contemporary music’s most famous producer/moguls (who shall remain unnamed here). But that would have required me to move to L.A. leave Ohio which I did not want to do. So the last answer I think covers your last query. No. I can’t imagine living anywhere else but Ohio on a permanent basis. And I agree with your analysis of Ohio culture; add that southern Ohio and Northern Ohio have distinct differences culturally speaking, with Columbus as kind of the dividing point. Ohio State University being in Columbus has a lot to do with that because it draws people from all over the state and indeed the entire world. It’s a rich tapestry of culture. And yes. blue collar spirit is very big all over Ohio and I identify with that totally. I am a union man by occupation currently, but sadly, that has its good points and its bad points. Unfortunately in these times (at least for myself) it means living a lifestyle less than I am accustomed to most of my ‘middle-class’ existence, and it does not appear like it’s going to change, the way things are going this economy. Still I wouldn’t change a thing. I regret nothing and feel blessed to have done all that I have. If I shuffled off this mortal coil tomorrow I would certainly hope my friends understand that and celebrated the good times we have had. As Warren Zevon said shortly before he passed, “enjoy every sandwich”. I enjoy every sandwich.
DECAYKE: Who you got in the World Series this year?
Mike: Ohio culture is a good segue into my answer to this. I grew up a dyed-in-the-wool Reds fan, so I am a tad biased in that department. Plus baseball is very unpredictable year-to-year. But I will say this and ‘stir the pot’ a bit. Reds legend Joe Nuxhall, during his long broadcasting tenure was frequently asked come spring training, “Joe how many games you want the Reds to win this year?” to which Joe always replied, “Well, I’d like to see them go 162-0. Every year”. The thing about Joe was, he truly meant it, the ultimate ‘homer’ announcer, as opposed to the zombie-esque guys today like, for example, Herb Score. Reds fans loved him dearly for it; myself included! Still, I am an Ohio oddity, in that I have always rooted for the Indians club too, even though next to the Cubs they have the most obnoxious, ill-informed fans in baseball. (Sorry to all my very good Cleveland friends but it’s dead-on true). I never met an Indian fan who rooted for the Reds also. Never. And it ties in with your earlier Ohio cultural question. Southern Ohio white folks’ ancestry goes back to Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland stock, and our forefathers migrated up Route 23 (the “hillbilly highway”) northwest to Michigan, settling everywhere in between in search of work and prosperity. Clevelanders are ‘lake folk’ like people from Buffalo and further upper East, born to lose and die bitter in the frosty wind. I find they mostly look down on Ohio southerners with little good reason in this day and age. White Clevelander’s prudish ‘wasp’ forefathers came from the upper East. The easily coolest folk from around there are from immigrant stock, including black & proud folks who found their way North thanks to Southern Ohio’s Underground Railroad. So while I often hear Ohioans south of Columbus (which is the DMZ for all of this thanks to OSU’s cultural crossroads) generalized as redneck racists (historically true to some extent I do admit), The Reds are the team with a black Manager. So anyway, to answer your question re: the 2013 season, I look for Cinci to be the team to beat this year and the Braves & Dodgers to be hot on their heels in the NL. No big surprises there I suppose. In the AL it’s hard not to like the Angels chances to run away from the pack if they can keep Josh “Headcase” Hamilton off the sauce (good luck on that because he’s a hybrid of Miguel Cabrera & Barry Bonds). Maybe Tampa Bay and my ‘dark horse’ pick Toronto will be in the AL mix, too. And The Wahoos too, GO TRIBE! (just Go Away Tribe Fans).