Roadworn and weary
Two days into a tour that doesn't end until the middle of July, Eddie Spaghetti is in a room at San Francisco's Commodore Hotel, checking the place for anything he may have left behind before he gets into a van and back on the road. Spaghetti's band, The Supersuckers, played at Slim's last night, and in a few minutes they'll be headed south, bound for Hollywood's Key Club. The Supersuckers have a long road ahead of them, literally: The band is headlining for a month before they join up with Motörhead for another month, and then they'll finish up with a week on this summer's edition of the Warped Tour.
Of course, Spaghetti, born Eddie Daly, is already prepared for the months on the road and all the usual chores that go along with it, like phone interviews. "You're early," a slightly surprised Spaghetti says. "Are you calling from Texas?"
Though Spaghetti's in a hotel room hundreds of miles away, the last time we heard from his Seattle-based band they were firmly residing, in a musical sense, in the heart of the Lone Star State. A cross between the group's high-octane, mean-street rock and roll and gut-bucket country, 1996's Must've Been High proved that the cowboy hats Spaghetti and the rest of the band sport on stage weren't just for show. But Must've Been High was more or less a diversion. The band recently released its aptly named fifth album, The Evil Powers of Rock 'n' Roll, via the independent Koch record label. The release comes after a period of inactivity spent flirting with the big-league record business and coming back worn but wiser after a stint on Interscope Records that didn't yield a record.
So now The Supersuckers are "preaching the gospel again -- the evil powers of rock and roll," Spaghetti says, as he closes his hotel room door behind him. The evil Spaghetti's referring to is the kind that says, "Fuck off, Mom and Dad. I'm going out rocking tonight, and I'm going to be coming home late, and I'm going to be coming home drunk and high. And if I get caught by the cops before I get home, be ready to bail me out." You know, just good ol' rock-and-roll fun.
"All right, I'm heading down to the lobby empty-handed," Spaghetti reports almost gleefully. It's a bit of the real-life stuff most fans don't often see -- along with stuff like cooking or gardening -- that show how these supposed stars are only poor suckers like the rest of us. "Like doing laundry," he adds. "The stuff they don't want you to know about, but they all do." Spaghetti knows the score. As for the real-life guy behind Spaghetti: "Oh, you know, married, that sort of stuff."
"I'm in the van now," he finally announces. "Interview commence. Van is now moving."
The most obvious place to begin is where the band's relationship with Interscope Records ended. "It would have been nice to have a record out on the same par as all these bands that I feel are inferior to us," Spaghetti says, before explaining that the bands he's referring to are pretty much all of them. "Any band that's selling lots of records. I feel like we are better than most of them. That's why McDonald's sells the most hamburgers, because they're the worst. People want crap, and we refuse to give it to them.
"So we recorded the record for Interscope," he continues, "and it was a combination of it being something they could not put into a category easily, like a rap-metal thing, and of course, the merger thing, which didn't help things any. So we ended up being dropped, and they had to take it upon themselves to keep the record, so we couldn't release it even if we wanted to. Which in retrospect wound up being a good thing, because the record we just recorded is much more like The Supersuckers sound, and a tougher, rawer record than the one we made for Interscope."
Instead of trying to sell out once they hit a major label after four records on the seminal Seattle indie label Sub Pop (including 1992's The Smoke of Hell, 1994's La Mano Cornuda, and 1995's The Sacrilicious Sounds of The Supersuckers), The Supersuckers were perhaps only guilty of giving Interscope a record they thought the label could work with. "We tried, and that was our undoing. Any time we've ever tried in our career, it's been a failure. So it's back to being loose and off the cuff," Spaghetti says. For the making of The Evil Powers of Rock 'n' Roll, "We brought in a keg, and invited a bunch of people, had a party, and recorded a record, and it came out really great. Especially after going through the major-label recording process, it was very easy and fun again."
Perhaps it's no surprise that the band's major-label flirtation went sour. After all, The Supersuckers are an act who have rarely bowed their heads to the current zeitgeist. Case in point: They may be based in Seattle and have recorded for Sub Pop, but they are anything but part of the now-dead grunge movement. "It was something that we made a decision to do: not be a part of any genre that's currently being pulverized into the public's eye. Like when we first started at Sub Pop, the grunge thing had just started, and we were real careful not to get lumped in. Maybe it was to our financial detriment not to play that game, but we wanted to be our own entity. Then, later on, when we did the country record, the same thing sort of happened, where they were trying to put us in that alt-country world. Which is a great scene and everything. I just don't want to be part of a movement. I just want to be our own beast."
After all, if a group is a real rock-and-roll band, they're going to fall naturally somewhere outside of the mainstream. "Right," notes Spaghetti, "because that's what real rock and roll is."
Spaghetti confesses that the music that first "turned my head as a kid was new wave -- Blondie and The Knack. They were sort of edgy, but they were brushed up enough for a kid to like," he explains. "That's what made me decide to play music. Then, later on, I got into some pretty crappy metal, just due to my environment, which was growing up in Tucson, Arizona, on the east side of town, where all the metal heads lived. Then The Ramones came into my life, and that just changed me for the good forever. So then it was all Motörhead, Ramones, and AC/DC."
The Supersuckers all hail from Tucson and formed the band -- originally named The Black Supersuckers -- following high school graduation, "just for the sake of cranking out simple music and having a good time," Spaghetti explains. They moved to Seattle in 1989, totally unaware they were relocating to ground zero of the last big rock music movement of the 20th century.
"We had a friend who had moved up there, and I had kept in touch with him. And he said, 'Hey, if you're bored of living down there, and there's only one bar to play down there, why don't you come on up here? There's three or four bars you can play at.' So basically, just on my friend's recommendation, we moved up there, and it was great. It turned out to be a really good idea. We had no idea that we were moving into Rock City, U.S.A., because it hadn't really happened yet. I definitely wasn't expecting that one. I thought we'd get up there and be the best damn band in town. Then we got there, and saw there were a lot of good bands."
But with typical outsider's pluck, The Supersuckers didn't jump on the grunge bandwagon. "The big cash cow hasn't come our way, but quality has been the idea," Spaghetti says. "And we've made good records that we've been proud of, and hopefully we will continue raising the bar with each record." They've also ended up outlasting many of their grunge-rock contemporaries who also recorded for Sub Pop. "Yeah, most of them. That feels good as well, to not only survive but thrive at the level at which we do." I offer Spaghetti my theory that the best rock-and-roll bands perhaps need to operate at a lower level on the radar screen, and in opposition to the star-making system. He agrees. "It creates a hunger and appetite to prove yourself over and over again," he says.
Since these are days of rampant pop conformity and success-driven careerism in the musical world, Spaghetti feels that, in the record industry, "everyone is maybe a little bit scared of real rock-and-roll bands right now. If you don't have a rap-metal thing going on, they don't think they can sell it after all the big mergers and drops and stuff like that." But the experience on a major label hasn't totally soured the Supersuckers. So what if they didn't fit in during the late '90s? Perhaps they will at another time. "I think after a while, after things settle down a bit, people will be ready to take a risk on a rock-and-roll band again. It seems like whenever people are pronouncing rock and roll dead and part of the past, that's when it's really good. If you just scratch below the surface a little bit, you'll find a lot of bands like us."
I ask him who those peers might be, and he's ready to tout some faves out there, bubbling under the current pop-infected chart scene just like The Supersuckers. "Rocket From The Crypt, Zeke, Zen Guerilla, and Electric Frankenstein -- lots of great, gritty rock-and-roll bands. The Lazy Cowgirls have been doing it for years, decades even. They're bands that do roughly the same sort of thing as we do, only their own interpretations thereof. And do it on their terms. And no, they're not on the charts or on TV." Just like back in the days when there was no MTV.
While The Supersuckers may portray themselves as part of the permanent opposition, Spaghetti isn't opposed to some of the benefits that might come with breaking big. "Of course, it would make my life really comfortable," he says, "but I would be able to spread the good word about other good bands out there and influence people where music can be heard."
And he is aware of the traps that come with breaking big: "It seems like with every band that gets real famous, they get obsessed with their own fame and just want to perpetuate their own success more and more." Spaghetti seems to be aiming for a big time that would help the band get better at what they do and not take them too far from the street.
Ultimately, for The Supersuckers, it all comes right back to the true evil power of rock and roll -- being independently minded. "You do what you are going to do," concludes Spaghetti, "regardless of what people are going to think about it."
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