“SONG FOR EWE”
with ROBERT POSS of
BAND OF SUSANS
“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day.
Today’s guest is someone who I enjoyed a couple of pints and an interview for the original xeroxed version of Velvet Sheep fanzine at the O’Hanlon’s pub in Kings Cross, reconvening there about a week after meeting Caspar Brotzmann and being subbed up by the generous Paul Smith of Blast First Records.
It’s a New York noise rock pioneer, with a massive collection of guitars and an equally impressive array of anecdotes, one of my favourite artistes met during VS fanzine first time around, step forward Band of Susans band-leader – Robert Poss…
Not only did I have fun hanging out with Robert, the issue of Velvet Sheep which featured Band of Susans is a legendary one, being the copy that John Peel read from when he mentioned VS on air in 1995.
There to promote the ironic and Iggy Pop nose thumbing “Here Comes Success” album and the “Wired For Sound” best of, it’s fair to say that although I remember having an alcohol fuelled thoroughly good time, the details are hazy (perhaps also since it’s 20 years later).
So therefore I thought that before we hear Robert’s (unprecedented) two songs for ewe (if you need to collect guitars so fervently you also need to accumulate song for ewe choices), it would be an interesting exercise into my juvenile mind to reprise bits of the 1995 zine script and interview. Here’s the over-wordy, but earnest intro as a way of reminder/intro to Band of Susans:
“BAND OF SUSANS were spawned by the heaving New York armadillo – the baby of Robert Poss and Susan Stenger, into a city reeling from the art school of noise that comprised Sonic Youth, Live Skull, Glenn Branca, Swans all doing their mix of the left-field with what Billy Haley once called rock & roll. Poss had come with a head full of the blues, Stenger had been hanging out with John Cage and been doing some pretty heady compositions.
Along with Susan Lyall and Susan Tallman, Band of Susans fused together a team of 3 concordant guitars working as a unit. There was no room for individualism, yet improv was still allowed for, provided it concurred with their landscape texturing, which stirred from minimalist drone to strident harmony.
And after all, perhaps Band of Robert wouldn’t have been so appropriate. With their innovation on the perception of guitar music, Band of Susans avant-garde nature saw them startle a few people who had been waned on the guitar w*** solo (Nick from 2015 – sorry was only 20 then) and virtuoso pomposity.
From their first EP “Blessing & Curse” it was clear that here you had four virtuosos plus a powerful drummer providing the midfield engine. Band of Susans got onto Blast First records, a label boasting a vast degree of (noisy) talent – you know the plot – went away for a bit – “musical differences” saw line-up changes including the coming and going of Page Hamilton (now of Helmet), and the departure of Lyall & Tallman, but despite the hiccoughs, they had essentially coined a term – Band of Susans. “Wired For Sound” captures their best form from seven albums on a triple LP on Blast First and a new Blast First album tags on the shirt tails. I met Robert Poss and Susan Stenger to chew the cud and drink some beer at O’Hanlons…”
Here’s some highlights of the original interview:
VS: Apparently, you have a massive selection of guitars. Tell us about them.
Robert: Well I guess in the United States a lot of people spend a lot of time working on their cars, sitting on their driveways and buying and selling them. I never had a car, so I trumped for that weird kind of fetishism with my guitars.
Susan: He puts carburettors in his guitars which is really confusing.
Robert: I was trying to think if I had more guitars than the number of people that I’ve been intimate with and it’s actually worked out to about the same.
Susan: Here’s another comparison – all your guitars are really cheap.
VS: Would you consider yourselves music scientists?
Robert: Science sort of implies that you have a certain goal. Science is like cooking – making a cake or something. We’ve come over the years to figure out how to produce muffins or pancakes – but the best time are when we’ve cooked something other than them – and it comes out like a mud-pie.
VS: Why the title to the new LP “Here Comes Success”?
Susan: Someone referred to it as the “wittily titled” – I think they understood there was a certain level of humour in it – yes there is that side which is meant to be taken ironically, but there is the other side that is yeah, this is exactly what we want to do. We’re very successful on our own terms – I think that if you listen to the last song on the record there’s this chant on the end “This is how we measure success” that’s very serious, but the title takes it in a non-serious way.
Robert: We also thought calling it “Free Willy” would not be so good in England. Or “Led Zeppelin 3”.
Susan: Robert wanted to call it “Major Label Debut”
Robert: That’s like calling your band “Free Beer” like “Free Beer at the Marquee” – kind of a tradition.
Susan: We’ll stop at nothing.
I found Robert on Facebook through mutual friends, all this time later, and I would stop at nothing to have him choose you his song for ewe. He chose two, but if anyone could get away with it it’s Robert Poss. After all, he didn’t stop at having two Susans in his Band of Susans. Here we are in 2015, and…
it’s over to Robert for his first choice:
“”Texas Tony” by Yank Rachell
This song always intrigued me as a teenager. Blues played on a mandolin. I had no idea what the song was about. But it had a mysterious charm. It still does.
This Tom Verlaine track from his second solo album Dreamtime is one of the most perfect guitar songs every recorded:
“There’s A Reason”
THANKS TO ROBERT POSS. More about the man and the music here…