We Talked About Mouse Turds an interview with Beta Valentine by Beky Hayes November 18, 2005 A CROWD squeezed into End of an Ear Records in South Austin for Beta Valentine‟s CD release show. Support from a troupe of disco cheerleaders and a DJ (Super Sonic Soul Squad and Bigface) doesn‟t hurt, but something in my ear tells me this indie-thrash trio could be pulling crowds all around the country, even without their cuddly good looks exploited on a record cover. Their debut CD, The Proposition, comes packed in brown cardboard with a barely discernible cityscape painted on the front; very anti-marketing. When the music speaks for itself, you don‟t need to „convince‟ people. Beta Valentine formed from the leftovers of the Austin band We Talked About Murder (2000-2004) who recorded with Tim Kerr. Joey Benjamin and Chris Boehk regrouped, added PJ Tanzillo on bass, and cranked out a remarkable, re-playable album. Last month‟s Whoopsy review of The Proposition left out the speculation that this CD was the product of three very smart, solid dudes (possibly with real jobs and stuff). Sure as shit, our in-person interview confirmed the facts: they are programmers, project managers and engineers. The advice your mother batters you with when you become a musician is the logic behind their name... “It‟s about always having a back-up plan, a beta valentine.” –Joey B. Interview with Beta Valentine: Joey Benjamin - guitar, vocals PJ Tanzillo - bass, vocals Chris Boehk - drums The boys arrive at the Whoopsy headquarters precisely on time. Unassuming, they wait to be seated. Their strangely reserved manners dissolve the rock band stereotype and throw all plans to the wind. The beer stocked in honor of their visit remains untouched – aside from my own, which cracks the awkward silence. Well then, what shall we talk about… WHOOPSY: In a bio where you describe your sound, there was something about a mouse family infected with a hanta virus. What‟s that all about? Chris: I don‟t know what it is. I got it off that Car Talk - you know that show on NPR where Click and Clack talk about cars, and people call in and describe weird noises that their cars make. Someone talked about opening the trunk and finding a mouse family and all this shit… Hantavirus is fatally spread from mice to humans; we breathe in their poo dust and blammo! That‟s why you never sweep or vacuum mouse shit – or snort drugs in a dirty house. But you don‟t actually know what a hanta virus-infected mouse family sounds like? I thought maybe it was a reference to the guitar noises on your record that sound like bugs crawling around in your brains, telling you that someone is about to get murdered, or die of a brain virus. PJ: In that context, I think it‟s as accurate a term as any. Chris: We‟re louder than mice. It should be rats, or squirrels... something a little bigger. Joey and Chris played together before, in We Talked About Murder. What happened with that project? Joey: They had put out an EP before I joined. We put out two records after that. Chris: Once the drummer quit, it was like, eh… Joey: The cheesy musical differences… Chris: It started as a four-piece, then one guitar player quit, then Joey came along... then the other original guitar player quit, so then it was just Joey and me and the drummer. At that point it was already not the same band… then when the drummer left it didn‟t make any sense… since I was the only original member, there was no point to keep doing it. PJ: It met its natural end. Chris: Plus I played bass in that band and I wanted to play drums, so we started something new. Chris, you started a label - Has Anyone Ever Told You - to put out your own records as well as some others, but you mentioned it was in debt. What happened, did you do something silly like put out good music? Chris: It‟s in debt, but I still do it. The last few releases, I haven‟t paid for personally. The bands did. They wanted to do it and I was proud for them to be on the label, so we put it out and put the label stamp on there, rather than it being just a self-released thing. PJ: Chris doesn‟t take enough credit. He promotes the stuff, too. He doesn‟t have the CDs pressed or pay for the recording, but he sends out monthly bulletins and opens distribution channels, so it‟s definitely worth having the label stamp on there. Of the 7 or 8 bands, and 15 releases (including your new one), didn‟t any of them sell? Chris: Yeah, they all have sold, just not enough to break even, which is very common with small indie labels. Selling records is not an easy business, especially these days. Well how do you pick the bands on your label, what‟s your priority? Chris: Anymore it‟s like if somebody wanted to do it, and I liked what they‟re doing, I‟d let them do it. Like The Chapters, they‟re a great local band, and they play great music and I‟m friends with them, they did a CD through the label, so… If it sounds good and I like it... and it would have to be something where I kind of knew them and we had a relationship, too. There has to be an understanding. Since I can‟t offer them much in terms of money, all I can do is help and be another part of the process. With most bands these days, their influences are obvious. You‟ve listed some “influences” but I don‟t hear it. You have a different sound. Where does it come from, how do you write your songs? PJ: Someone will come up with a “part” and we‟ll work off of that. Sometimes that original part doesn‟t even make it into the song, but it inspires something else. Joey writes all the lyrics – what are they about? Joey: I have no idea. I have no idea either. There‟s nothing written on the jacket. What are you screaming about? Joey: They all came to me in dream. Who am I to deny the dream. Chris: It probably starts more like, you get a thought in your head and you‟re already screaming just, like, crap… and then you go „oh, recording‟s coming up and I need to have something…‟ Joey: I already have a melody with no words. Then it‟s just one line that I like, and hopefully I can find enough to go around it that works. On the record it sounds like more than one singer, but with similar voices. PJ: Joey does 90% of the vocals, and I do a little. Mostly what you hear is Joey doubled up. Sometimes Joey‟s doubled up 8 times, haha! No it‟s awesome, it sounds like a football team singing our songs. Yes, the vocals and production are outstanding, they‟re what got me hooked on you guys. Who did the cover art? Does the street sign represent something, or was it just a „whatever‟ type design? Joey: I did the original hi-res artwork with my fiance, the talented Erin Jacobs. PJ then screened it to the cases. They both rule the school. Whatever?... No way, that street sign represents everything! It's the Double W. It represents the indecision that many face at the crossroads in life. It represents reaching for the big brass ring and getting yourself a piece of that sweet sweet american pie. It represents a better way. Joey, you engineered the record – tell about the re-amping and other techniques you used to get that distinctive sound consistent throughout the album. Joey: I don't know if I'd call any sound consistent, but "distinctive" would be the use of tube gear, run really hot at low volumes. The tracking was done all over Texas, but everything was mixed through the same API board, and those eq's are fantastic. Some of the re-amping was done through those pre's and have a pair of LA2A's and 1176's working their asses off on those tracks, if not everywhere. It's atomic. Talking about music is gay, so I get nosey and ask about their personal lives. Sorry girls, they’re all taken. Changing the subject again… Do you guys read music magazines? I mean, does anyone really care what a music critic says, about… anything? Joey: You mean if we got a review, or if they wrote about someone else? I mean is there a music critic whose opinion you would seek out, for advice on what to buy? Joey: No. Not particularly. Would you take anyone‟s word for it, as advice to buy a record? All: No. I‟m questioning the value of music journalism, here. PJ: Honestly, if I read a good review of a record… it doesn‟t necessarily have to recommend it. I‟ve read bad reviews that make me want to buy the record. Chris: Yeah, like it says “I hate this crap” but they‟re naming off all the bands you like. PJ: - or they‟ll describe it as “unlistenable” and usually that means I‟ll like it a lot more than something that “has a nice hook”. So, not to validate music journalism, but you can only listen to so much shit. There‟s always more out there that you‟re gonna like. So actually I read a lot of record reviews... mostly online, like Tiny Mixed Tapes, and Coke Machine Glow, and Pitchfork. And I put more credence in the description, rather than the recommendations. So you think it‟s more useful to describe music in a neutral way, than to say “this record ROCKS!” or “this record SUCKS!” Chris: Yeah, because that seems very opinionated, and, does it suck as in you just don‟t like it, or does it suck on a musical level? Because it might be good music played by good people, but the reviewer just doesn‟t happen to like that style. I don‟t think it‟s fair to say “that sucks”. This very issue has generated the most hate mail for Whoopsy! PJ: Why? We have a column designated for stuff that sucks. It‟s exactly as you say; the music in this column doesn‟t necessarily all suck, it‟s just that the writers of the column hate that music, and that‟s their assignment – to be opinionated. It‟s obviously not traditional music journalism; it‟s a different form of entertainment. But some people don‟t like the fooling around, they get pissed off. Chris: Well if they get pissed off then don‟t review them anymore. At least they got some press! If they‟re gonna send their stuff out for review, they should be willing to take whatever comes back at them… PJ: yeah we‟ve talked about this before – Chris: - It‟s better to end up in the paper… at least someone took the time to write down “this sucks” rather than just throw the shit in the trash. A mention is at least worth your postage to send it in. What if they didn‟t send it to us, we just picked them, without their consent… and slandered them! PJ: I think that‟s even better! Shit! I mean come on! Ok, you wrote a nice review of our record. If you had given us a shitty review, I think we‟d still be sitting here having this conversation. Because it‟s like… our wives don‟t like our records. You know, and they live with us! Chris: But it would be rad if we had fans who got pissed off when we got a bad review, and wrote hate mail to the reviewer, because if we got a bad review, nobody would give a shit! This is an ongoing dilemma that I‟ve noticed since I started booking here. You are punished for taking creative risks (both the bands and promoters). It seems like the “worse” a band is, the bigger the crowds they pull, and vice versa. Maybe I have bad business sense; I book bands because I want to see them. On Whoopsy Night, you‟re gonna see mostly bands that I like, whether they have a following or not -- like you guys, for example. Do you ever draw a crowd, or was that just a bad night? [everyone laughing a sort of self-deprecating laugh] Joey: No. We never draw a crowd, but that was a bad night. PJ: Actually, the show that you booked was the closest to being on a bill where we belonged, that we‟ve ever been on. PJ: Yeah, we haven‟t really… Usually when we get booked they put us with… like that Foo Fighters cover band. Chris: A lot of times we get put on the bill with the emo kids, and we don‟t fit in with that at all. Joey: The emo kids don‟t fucking like us at all. PJ: Yeah we got put on a southern rock show – that went over real well… Joey: Yeah we followed up Honky. There‟s a rough fuckin‟ slot. We played after them and when their crowd left, they didn‟t even pause – didn‟t even acknowledge that there was a band playing music – just shhhoomp – walked right by. Chris: We played at Redrum, and like, my dad was there, my wife was there, and Chris Hernandez (local artist, jeep driver, manicotti eater) and that was it. Somebody told me they left the room because it was too loud. What?! It‟s a fuckin‟ rock and roll show. It‟s supposed to be loud! Joey: I wouldn‟t say we “have” a crowd, but if we had the opportunity to play for a crowd… Well I‟m gonna keep booking you until you get a crowd, or until you start to suck. I‟d put you more in the art rock category – or experimental – with Madamimadam and Rubber Robot and Rubble… Chris: yeah, I saw Rubble and that‟s the kind of shit we need to play with. We‟re out‟er space, so is there anything else you want to add, to this, your first interview? Chris: I‟d like to thank you, Beky, for being so nice to us (this interview, the CD review, booking us on your show). We really appreciate it! Also, to all you kids out there, take your vitamins, say your prayers, and keep reading Whoopsy! Support these nice people for the love of god! And now, let us bow our heads for the benediction: Gene, Gene made a machine, and Joe, Joe made it go. Art, Art blew a fart and blew the whole damn thing apart.