Nation of Ulysses interview - 1989

(The following originally
appeared in Interrobang?! #1)

Ian Svenonius - vocals, Steve Kroner - guitar, Tim Green - guitar, Steve Gamboa - bass, James Canty - drums

Tell me about your trip.

Ian Svenonius: It was to Seattle, but really it was a mission to bomb Sub Pop Records because we're diametrically opposed to everything they stand for, their retrogressive vision. It was basically an exodus, a pilgrimage.

Tim Green: We left from DC Space on Oct. 26 after The Ex/No Means No show. We all like The Ex...We drove for sixteen hours and got to Chicago.

James Canty: All across North Dakota and places like that they'd obviously never seen colored hair before and it was really was like a trial. When we got back we compared it to...

Tim: The Twelve Tasks of Ulysses.

Ian: Sometimes there'd be temptations along the route, like sirens screaming in our ears...

Tim: Hotels.

Steve Kroner: Dairy Queens.

Ian: Actually, this isn't really valid as a Ulysses trip 'cause Steve (Gamboa) wasn't there.

And Tim wasn't in Ulysses at that point.

Tim: But I jammed with Ulysses about a year ago.

James: Everyone's jammed with Ulysses.

Ian: It's a nation concept.

James: Speaking of trips, we went on a one-stop tour earlier this year to Schenectady, New York.

Ian: We played at an eagle lodge. It was pretty crazy, with Fidelity Jones and Shudder To Think.

How did you do?

(lots of laughter)

Ian: Well, uh, that's not really the point of Ulysses...y'know, the Eiffel Tower was scoffed at in its inception. Ulysses similarly might not be appreciated in our lifetime, but that's all right.

What are you trying to set forth as The Nation of Ulysses?

Steve K: Proper speech, proper attitude...

Ian: The Nation of Ulysses is basically about a shout of secession. We don't want to be involved with the United States and the structure that exists. We've introduced a whole new form of currency that takes its form in garbage.

So does that mean when you play shows from now on we can pay you in garbage?

Ian: Yeah, you can. And also, we indulge peoples' repressed whims and make them banal in doing so. We basically want to create a new sense of who we are community-wise. A nation of youths.

Tim: Under one groove.

Ian: It's embarrassing to be an American at this point, I think, with the lack of control that people have.

James: Especially for the youth who are so ignored. The youth are so based on angst and repressed emotion. We're just trying to get that out.

Ian: And people assimilate things so rapidly. With MTV and these immediate accesses, it's harder to be grass roots. That's why I think you have to try as hard as possible to be underground and not to be assimilated. The thing is, music has had a short lifetime as the youth culture's flag. It wasn't always like this. It was art back in the early 20th century. Now music's the form of expression for counter-culture people and it didn't used to be. Y'know it used to be that people would get excited about art and now art's a very insular thing-very rich people.

It seems one of the characteristics of underground musical movements has been youth. But there's not a lot of people involved here that are around your age.

Ian: I think there are a lot of people and a lot of great bands, but I think they're intimidated by the degree of professionalism out there. I know we were initially encouraged, but the encouragement didn't last long once it became evident that we really didn't know how to play our instruments. I think that's a really bad thing. All you need is a concept. There's no reason you have to sound like Led Zeppelin.

Tim: Yeah, exactly. When I first saw you guys, you really sucked. But you had the coolest ideas.

Steve K: Jeff Turner said to us, "I thought you were just a conceptual band, but now that I see you put it into motion, it's great." I thought about it - I knew that the music sounded like shit. I knew people were lying through their teeth when they said the music sounded good, but what they were saying was that the concept was good.

James: I love the music we used to do. It was incredibly raw. We'd come up with this insanely amateurish stuff that was really great. Just parts thrown together. We knew how to play them and it was important to us that we played them right. That's all that counts - doing something that's important to you.

Ian: If I wanted to just rock then we could play Tom Petty covers at proms and people would dance their butts off, and they'd genuinely enjoy it. But that's not what I want to do. I'd rather suck poop.

James: One thing that's constant is that I look forward to every show being the biggest show.

Ian: We've never stuck with the same thing; we've never clung onto anything. We've had so many songs and we have no problem evolving.

Steve K: That's the only way a band should be - you develop. How many other people would just go out there hardly knowing shit about their instruments?

Ian: Well, a lot of people do, but not in this city. That's why I think people are intimidated and there's not a groundswell of bands. But then again, I don't want it to become some piss poor joke where people just get up on stage.

Steve K: With no conception.

Ian: Then it gets really old too.

James: Yeah, just for the sake of doing it.

Ian: Just 'cause they wanna be wanking and playing some guitar hero role.

Steve G, what do you think? You're the silent bass player over there.

James: He really likes Public Enemy.

Steve G: I'm just the Minister of Style.

Steve K: On the trip James was the Pilot, Tim was the Navigator, Ian was the Minister of Information, and I was the Stop Light Coordinator.

One thing that's really cool, Steve, is that when you first started playing bass you kept your back to the audience 'cause you didn't want anyone to see that you couldn't play. And now you're more confident..

James: And he still can't play!

Steve G: I'm not ashamed about not being able to play. I know I can't play. I still can't tune my bass. I turn my back 'cause I don't like crowds.

So how did it come about, Tim, that you became the fifth permanent member of Ulysses?

Tim: It was the next logical step.

James: It just sort of came about - evolved, if you will.

Tim played me a demo that you recorded in Ian's basement and it sounded really good.

James: Yeah, conceptually I thought that was great. It was the second set of songs that we had.

Do you plan to record again someday?

Ian: Someday.

Tim: I think we should stay away from big studios.

Ian: Yeah, I agree. We don't want to record a big 24-track kind of thing. I'd rather do an eight-track or four-track. You don't need all that shit when you play our kind of music.

Tim: It takes away from the immediacy.

Ian: Word. It just dilutes it all. Especially when people sacrifice everything for a good drum sound. It's nowhere.

James: I think if we put something out it should definitely come from us. If the music sounds too polished and produced, then that's not us. Whether it helps us or not, that's us. The fact that we try to look good at every show is also something that's us. It's part of our manifesto, but it's just something that evolved. We didn't plan on it. A lot of what we do is spontaneous.

What positive things do you see happening now that may be indicative of the changes that will occur in the 1990's?

Ian: There's nothing now. But we're gonna be like the phoenix arising from our own ashes.

Steve K: The '90s are gonna be called The Age of Ulysses.

Steve G: The '90s are going to be sexcellent.

Ian: In the '90s, let's bust out of this retrogressive groove, man. I hate to define a decade as being anything, because the '80s will go down in history as being this sordid decade, and I don't believe it was altogether. I've seen the gems of goodness that existed. I don't like how history has a glaze over things. The '90s, man, righteousness will prevail.

James: It's hard to see where the music scene is going 'cause we just do our own thing...Three of us work in record stores and the new music that comes through is a product. It's pretty hard to grasp.

How about the demise of the single? That really sucks.

James: It's an awful thing.

Ian: The demise of the record.

James: Yeah, people are totally grasping onto stuff to sell vinyl. It's unbelievable. It's getting way out of control - etchings and stuff.

So, where is The Nation of Ulysses headed?

Ian: The Nation of Ulysses is the establishment viewing their own mortality. The Nation of Ulysses spells the end of life as we know it, society as we know it. The Nation of Ulysses is the apocalypse.

©1989 s. cheslow top of page