“SONG FOR EWE”
with JOHN SCHMERSAL of BRAINIAC & ENON
“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day.
Today’s guest was the guitarist of the super loud, super well-lauded Brainiac, and the founder of the uncompromising Enon. He’s also sung backing vox on one of my all time fav songs “Patty Lee” by Les Savy Fav. He has composed a kids TV theme tune (got to love that, given my day job) and also tours with dance a-listers Caribou. When I asked him for pics he sent three, two of him posted here and one of Donald Trump with Neil Young. How did that get in there? It’s quirksome axe man extraordinaire, John Schmersal!
My first connections with Brainiac came when during the days when Velvet Sheep was photocopies and coloured paper – and I interviewed the now sadly departed lead singer Tim Taylor over the phone from my East London student digs. In the interests of archival nostalgia (love a bit of that I’m afraid), I thought i’d reprint most of the original interview below before we get to John’s song choice. John is mentioned by Tim in this interview, I’ve highlighted in bold for easy access…ps. have included by hyperbolic bollocks intro – bear in mind I was only about 19 then…
“Giggolos au-go-go-GO! Brainiac are the four man fighting machine of guts and glamour but don’t be fooled by their silvery shirts. Born in Dayton, Ohio: the home of boatraces, Guided By Voices & The Breeders, Brainiac combine being playboys extraordianire with some perception breaking (and more than occasionally ball-breaking) waves of Rock & Roll distortion. They screw the guitars up and then they scream and they play on their favourite Moog whilst straining every last squeak out of the last remaining Rubber Ducky left on earth. Hell, they’d even sample the feedback from your Grannie’s hearing aid if they could. The future started in 1992 with their first EP “Super Duper Seven” (what more credential do you need for arch-coolness than that title alone) on the Limited Potential label (irony lives!). They followed this with a split with Bratmobile, then two albums through Grass (Dutch East India) “Smack Bunny Baby” in 93 and “Bonsai Superstar” in 95 both with their buddy and fiercesome bass-bending Eli Janney (Girls Against Boys) setting the controls for economy wash. Of course, once you’d let these crazy cats out of their brown paper bag, there’s no stopping them – after the exuberance of another split (not in their lame) with Lazy and a starring role on volume 10 of Amphetamine Reptile’s “Dope, Guns & Fucking In The Streets” they’re here again babe. Rolling on the crest of a wave with “Internationale” their first release on Touch & Go (an EP in which the E stands for epic). It’s time to get your pecker up for Brainiac. Introducing Messrs (but never messers) Tim Taylor – vox, gtr, Moog, mayhem (ahem), Tyler Trent (drums/windmilling), John Schmersal (lead gtr), Juan Monasterio (bs / zip gun). I chewed the cud with the one and only Chesney…no, Tim Taylor…
Nick: Are you the last of the international playboys?
Tim: You could say that yeah.
Nick: Would you say that the music of Brainiac is a sex thing?
Tim: I guess it depends on what kind of sex you like – like if you were a virgin it would be a disaster.
Nick: What pisses you off more than people constantly misspelling the name?
Tim: I guess people who’ve never heard of the name.
Nick: Apparently Eli Janney picked up the tab recording “Bonsai Superstar” – has he paid for anything else on behalf of Brainiac?
Tim: No, actually we’ve been paying him back slowly and surely by washing his dishes and doing his laundry and that kind of thing – now we’re square with him.
Nick: Are you still friends?
Tim: Oh yeah, except on the last album which we finished a couple of weeks ago and he was working on that too, and towards the end we all ran out of money, so he bought us a couple of pizzas to keep us all going, so I guess I do owe him a little bit.
Nick: Did he produce the new material, because I thought Kim Deal did “Internationale”?
Tim: Kim did produce the single, but the record that’s coming out in Spring, we had Eli for that one.
Nick: Why’s that, cos you’d already got the working relationship?
Tim: Well, we’d talked about doing 3 records together – we joked about doing “the trilogy”…
Nick: Like the Star Wars trilogy?
Tim: Yeh. Nick: So are you going to call it Part IV and work backwards?
Tim: We’ll try and relive those glory days of Brainiac.
Nick: At a recent gig you said “someone give me a kiss – i need to be kissed”. Do you often need to be kissed?
Tim: There were some jerks out there and I thought I need to warm up to them and they need to warm up to me – they were just running around..they actually were talking about kissing and I caught a bit of it, so I just called em on. Cos there was this kind of junior heckling. I didn’t think they’d have the guts, but one guy came up and gave me a great big kiss. It was a pleasant surprise. After that he was much more friendly.
Nick: Do you think they were heckling you because you’re untouchable?
Tim: I think they were just heckling us because they were very drunk. Actually the first thing I did when I got on stage was asked if there were any hecklers here, and I told em that I was a better heckler than they were just to get em going.
Nick: Do you like it when you get heckled, or when people throw things…
Tim: I like to get a response – I certainly don’t want to get hit in the head with a piece of flying sheet metal.
Nick: When I saw Shellac over here…people were constantly throwing cans to get Albini to rise to the occasion…
Tim: I think that if anybody tried that I’d probably be smackng some faces with my guitar – I guess any type of action I consider acceptable as long as it’s enjoyable.
Nick: Would you say you attract a meathead element or not?
Tim: I sometimes wonder about that, cos we do jump around and act like idiots and I think that definitely appeals to the baser elements of society – I guess it’s out there – I don’t think they’d ever buy my records…
Nick: Why’s that…because of all the fx?
Tim: I dunno – I just can’t see someone putting our record on and running around their room and throwing a chair out the window, whereas live it’s a little bit more appropriate.
Nick: Do you read Maximumrocknroll?…cos Rev Norb in his column listed “Bonsai Superstar” as one of his top ten records last year and he pointed out that despite being called Brainiac, there are some misspelt song titles…
Tim: We totally blame that on our label at the time – Dutch East India – there were just lots of problems – it happened several times – they were decent enough people there, but they didn’t have the staff to put it together.
Nick: He just said it seemed ironic being called Brainiac and having spelling mistakes on the back and The Dummies LP had none..
Tim: I was a little pissed off – we were in such a rush with the record – it ws just “fuck it, let’s go”…
Nick: Do you find the US is more scene oriented than over here?
Tim: I dunno – that is a good question – cos over here I’ve had more people ask me how i categorise our music – is it punk? it it psych? whereas over there I don’t think people do – cos we’ve been around a bit more – people say “Well, they’re just like oddballs”.
Nick: Do you find that categorisation is a real problem, because people have to categorise something to get a handle on it…
Tim: If everyone said it was one thing…like “you guys sound just like early Madonna”, first I’d think it’s really amusing and then I’d get really pissed…a lot of bands get a tag, like “these people are blatant Pavement rip-offs” and they can’t shake it off – we’ve been accused of blatantly ripping off everyone from Devo to Astrud Gilberto, so it’s like what the hell? – and it’s all true, but at least they’re not just picking up on one element.
Nick: Are you image conscious?
Tim: I think so – we were more to start with, because it was so uncool to be image conscious – so we thought “yeah, we’re gonna do everything the wrong way”.
Nick: In all the pictures I’ve seen, you all seem to be wearing cool shirts and 70s polonecks.
Tim: We spend a good deal of our time in second hand shops – more than we do playing our instruments – that’s the thing that I can say’s really good about our home town (Dayton, Ohio) – we can put together a week’s worth for 5 dollars.
Nick: Describe your favourite shirt. Tim: I used to have this shirt that was a button down shirt with loads of pictures of naked women all silkscreened over it – something happened to it – I think it got used up in an emergency spill, taking up a nasty stain or something like that.
Nick: What’s been the weirdest thing you’ve managed to get a sound effect from?
Tim: Well for one thing, other people…
Nick: That’s weird enough…
Tim: Complete strangers – we’re always trying to get soundbites out of them. John, our guitar player carries around a mini-recorder wherever he goes – we just put it up to peoples’ mouths and say “say something” whatever – go back and listen to it, and the results are downright hilarious.
Nick: Have you ever fought anyone at a gig?
Tim: Yeh I actually beat the crap out of some kid, and in turn got beat the crap out of by his larger buddy. This kid was a total jerk – he was spitting candy at me the whole time and saying “fuck you”, so I just jumped out and started pounding his head – and it was like one of those shows where they have a barrier – and between the barrier and the stage they had these huge bouncers that were there in theory to protect us – I jumped out there and started pounding on his head and his buddy just prised me off him, got his arm round my head and started flattening my head with his first and I was trying to get away and the bouncer wouldn’t let me get back on stage and wanted me to take my beating, he probably hated my music so much.
Nick: And the band played on?
Tim:The band played on…another time I also got my eye ripped open by some kid in a diving accident, so I had to go to hospital for a couple of stitches.
Nick: Would you put that down to Rock & Roll?
Tim: Oh yeah, I don’t mind destroying my body for Rock & Roll?
Nick: When I saw you support GVSB at the Garage this year, I met a couple of people from Ohio that had followed you all the way to London – how do you deal with such fan obsession?
Tim: I think it’s hilarious that no matter where you go there’s people from Dayton, Ohio there. We walked up on stage and the first thing I hear is “Dayton, Ohio!” and it’s like Oh my God they’re popping up everywhere – I guess it’s because people are so anxious to get out of Dayton.
I loved Brainiac, and also went onto review Enon in the zine although there was some crossover between that and when I started my job at MTV, so never got a chance to interview John Schmersal before now, finding him amongst mutual mates on the book of Face. I was chuffed by his response, and although I told him I was a fan, he bet I hadn’t heard of some of his recent lesser known concerns. I don’t but I will check them out for sure, as John is an erudite, funny guy. Part Bobby Conn part James Williamson, his brain burgeon-eth over with a descriptive song choice, so without further ado, it’s over to John and this is a song he’s enjoyed lately, exclusively for ewe…
“If you are thinking literally today, I don’t think I’ve had a single tune in my head. Probably the last thing I’ve put on recently that’s been floating back and forth in my mind is “It’s a Monday kind of Tuesday” by Hello People.
I got this record sometime last year in a thrift store in LA, bought it on a whim because I liked the cover and it was cheap as well… it was in a thrift store! I don’t have much about the history/players or anything juicy to impart regarding this..
They appeared on the Smothers Brothers Comedy hour and backed Todd Rundgren at some point in the 70’s so they weren’t totally obscure, at least at one time. They did apparently keep up the mime thing through out their career for better or worse (probably worse). There’s something polarizing about this track and album in general as it vacillates between bubblegum 60s pop and raw, creepy, even bored in the way it shuffles around.
The whole album has crazy psychedelic raw shards clashing with very twee and straightforward pop moments. It’s a great mess and I can’t tell how much is meticulous or a perfect accident. The song after this on the record has the most blatant Byrds “8 Miles High” rip off ever and it kind of still rules. Guitars are quite raw sounding and super sloppy in contrast all over the record and you crave it.
I’m not really into bubblegum stuff by and large nor is this my all time favourite record to be clear. I just love still being able to find gems for a buck like this and have it repeatedly reward, surprise, and amuse.”
THANKS JOHN, YOU’RE THE PROVERBIAL BOMB.