Nomeansno is one of the most amazing bands in the world. They’ve been playing their twisted type of punk-rock-whatever for 31 years now and even though they might look a bit greyish in ones’ eyes (as far as the color of their hair), there are hardly any other bands that are so intense and energetic in touring and putting out music – music that’s incomparable to anything else and which makes young punks, prog- and math-rockers feel shy, mind you! They make a huge influence on the underground and they get a lot of respect in return.
I hooked up with guitarist Tommy Holliston – who I met in 2000 for the first time on their No One tour in Vienna – right after their first gig in Budapest in 17 years. As predicted, the concert was amazing, they really made all the starved out Hungarians go crazy and beg for several encores. Since this conversation, the trio has returned to Budapest once more with not less success. The Wright brothers – Rob & John – and Tommy are always welcome!
endhits: My first question comes natural: What took you so long to get here, after 17 years?
Tommy Holliston: There were attempts to do it in the last 5 or 6 years but it was just a question of finding the right people with whom to work and the right day of the week. It was really simply logistics, nothing more. To come here was to figure out whether before or after Vienna, maybe Prague or Slovakia. It depended on dates and not because we didn’t want to come.
endhits: When was the last time you were here?
T.H.: It was in 1990, with Andy Kerr on guitars. For me personally this is my first time in Hungary.
endhits: Your new album All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt seems to be a mixture of classical Nomeansno sound and some Hanson Brothers music.
T.H.: That’s exactly what it is. There were a couple of songs that were originally ideas for the Hanson Brothers, like So Low, that didn’t have any lyrics and it was just sort of a thing kicking around. It was just a coincidence. We had all these demo tapes – there were a couple of things we were looking for that were recorded a long time ago, and that was the first thing that came up and we started playing and it was fun, and Robby came home, Andy went home, did some lyrics for it. And the same is with The Slugs are Burning – that was a long lost thing, and then a couple of songs, like Mr. In Between and In Her Eyes were recorded a long time ago for some Nomeansno material and we were just sitting around, then re-recorded and changed them a little bit.
endhits: I guess this gave the new album a different direction than the previous No One.
T.H.: Yeah, we wanted to do something that was shorter and punchier songs, just to change the pace. Although that’s what we set out to do but not really by saying “Ok, that’s 3 minutes more or less, that’s over 3 minutes, we can’t use it…” Just sort of to loose idea. And there were a couple of songs that we liked, that were slower and longer, and we left off the record that maybe will someday come out, I don’t know.
endhits: Are you done with Alternative Tentacles now?
T.H.: Yes, we’re done with them. The album No One in 2000 was the last one we did for them.
endhits: Does this mean that the contract wasn’t prolonged?
T.H.: There never was a contract, it was always a handshake thing and we decided it was time to move on and look for different distributions, especially in Europe.
endhits: It makes me wonder what keeps a band like Nomeansno do this so intensely, being on tour, playing every single night etc.
T.H.: I don’t really know, it’s what we do. We’re all in our 40s and if you look at it from the context of a person working in an office and deciding to leave, to move to another office, it’s not that easy. At this time in one’s life you sort of do what you do. This is our carrier but beside from that for the most part we really enjoy ourselves. We get along quite well, we don’t see each other very often when we’re not on tour, which I think is good. Especially this last year, we’ve done about 130 shows or something. The world is opening up for us and this is a chance, e.g. to come back to Hungary after all this time, and then we’re going to Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia, the first time for us, so that is also inspiring. I think we really made a strong decision, we were very specific about we wanted to have the opening band Invasives along and we were insisting about that the promoters, that’s really giving us an inspiration to have a very fantastic band opening for us every night and that pushes us a bit more, it really does!
endhits: How would you describe your band mates, Rob and Johnny?
T.H.: I think they’re both clinically insane, and I think they have the same opinion of me. I hope their opinion of me is as that pleasant.
John Wright (happens to hear my question and steps to my microphone saying): I’d say we are pathological liars.
endhits: Why’s that?
J.W.: Oh, well, if I told you it would just be a lie. :)
endhits: So do you still live a real rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle?
T.H.: I never have. I was never like that. Maybe a good book and a glass of scotch… I’ve never been a partying guy too much, occasionally and very rarely. And I don’t think we ever got the opportunity for the sex part. Never. Nobody ever comes backstage and hits on us anyway. I’m serious, unfortunately, sad but true.
endhits: But you are very popular underground band, there were a lot of girls in the crowd tonight and I guess it’s like that every night…
T.H.: Yes, but they come for the band, to listen to the music and rock out and hope for a good show. That’s it.
endhits: How do you manage to do these tours anyway? Do you live in a van?
T.H.: On this tour we have a large sprinter and we also have a car along. It’s more comfortable to drive that way rather than being packed like sardines in a van, and I think tonight we are staying at a private apartment. So, we sometimes stay in a hotel or with people that we know and then in the morning get in the van and drive. Most of the times the driving is done by John Wright or our wonderful soundman Blair Calibaba. Blair’s been with us about 4-5 years now. Prior to that there was another fellow named Craig Bougie who went away.
endhits: How do your families tolerate this lifestyle, like being on the road this much?
T.H.: John is the only one who has got a family of his own, he’s got 2 sons. We plan our tours so well in advance, it’s not really a problem. We certainly don’t say at the very last minutes that we are going to do a show because that wouldn’t be fair. Usually we have the luxury of thinking about 6-7 months ahead about where we’re going to go and what we’re going to do. So that makes it easier to figure out the time off.
endhits: Do you have any strange or impressive story that happened to you on a tour?
T.H.: Nothing really. We had a shaky show the other night, rather than entwined to dwell on that we had the most positive shows. You can have a bad show but I would rather look back at tonight’s show: There was absolutely wonderful food that was made for us, the people at the club were very friendly and pleasant, so I would rather concentrate on that, because one has too much time during the day to dwell upon the negative things in the past. It kind of gets you down, so look at what’s being really good. That’s not really the most exciting answer but that’s really the way to go and enjoy yourself on tour.
endhits: Who has been the most extreme fan of yours?
T.H.: Oh, there’s a really great guy named John Sawyer, who lives in East London. And he makes a point of coming out to a couple of shows, flying out for every tour and he actually flew to Vancouver to a show past year. And a few other people… We have a website and there is a couple of real hardcore people that we got to know over the years, and I wouldn’t call them extreme but they just really seem to enjoy the band. We think they’re going to get sick of it after a while but they never do, they’re keep coming out… And it’s nice sometimes when you don’t know anybody in a town to have someone like John Sawyer show up, and we hang out with a friend, have dinner with him, go for a walk… He’s been a die hard fan for 3 years now.
endhits: Who writes your website and what is it exactly? It’s very unusual, compared to other bands’ pages…
T.H.: It’s by a fellow named John Chedsey, he’s an American, he’s from Colorado, so therefore he’s been living under and surrounded by a cloud of unreality all his life. And this is sort of a reaction to the life in the United States… Also, we decided to do it this way rather consciously many years ago because when we would answer and say this is what’s happing with the band, somebody would invariably get it wrong. And completely the wrong information would be put in print or on the radio, so we just decided to give the wrong information out to get ahead start on it because it is always wrong anyway. People would say “Oh, your playing only one show in Slovenia, that must be your breaking-up!” or something like that. So we would say now, “Okay, we are playing our last show ever in Ljubljana!” or whatever and then tomorrow would be in Zagreb. :)
endhits: You’re playing jokes on your fans actually…
T.H.: Yes, a little bit. It’s more like media. People who are maybe really familiar with the band would just write whatever and they would get it wrong, so decide to give them the wrong information.
endhits: Don’t you mislead your fans too much with this?
T.H.: Yes, for one viewpoint, but the other viewpoint is like a caution to people. If you really like us, you shouldn’t believe everything we say. It’s just the same way if you’re interested in a politician or a movie star. Just think about everything they say and think about whether you agree with them or not, and why do you agree with them.
endhits: I’ve seen an interview with Rob on Youtube recently, where he speaks about the lyrics of Nomeansno and says that they are mostly about things beyond real because reality is so obvious, it can be seen everywhere, so there’s no point in writing about it. Do you agree with this?
T.H.: I think so much of what we base our ideas and opinions on are often subjective or composed of all sorts of different things we think, and we come up with these conclusions that aren’t necessarily real. They don’t have anything to do with us, they are unreal. It’s very-very easy to realise that you might have been sleeping through your life sometimes, that you weren’t really there. I wasn’t really awake, just walking around and basing my actions on past years, past incidents: for example walking down the street and not looking at anything just thinking about what you did yesterday. But you are risking your time you’re on the street, you’re there right now.
endhits: Is it kind of like escaping from the word, building another world?
T.H.: No, I think it’s getting INTO the world. Too often one may have the tendency to be escaping from the world without knowing it.
endhits: So are your songs perhaps metaphors for something?
T.H.: At times. But I don’t think there’s an overall idea to stick to any guideline really, and I think it’s a good thing.
endhits: Even though you personally didn’t play on Wrong, why do you think it is the most popular album of the band? Everybody refers to it as the absolute masterpiece of yours and fans are going crazy on concerts when you play a song off it…
T.H.: Well, it was the first one that was really popular, I think that’ part of it. I personally don’t think it’s the band’s best album, I like Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? the most… And not because that’s my debut for Nomeansno. I think every band that’s been around for a long time eventually has their own You Really Got Me or their own Holiday in Cambodia and in our case it’s Rags and Bones, that’s the band’s most popular song and people expect to hear it. Also because we don’t come to a city very often, so we’re lucky that we still have young people coming to our shows so they’ve never heard us, their first exposure’s probably through Wrong and they want to hear those songs. And then they may or may not go on to other records. When kids get into punk rock the first thing they buy is almost invariably Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (Dead Kennedys), Nevermind The Bollocks (Sex Pistols), the first Ramones records, maybe Damage (Black Flag), an early Birthday Party, these sort of things. And this is also for our Wrong.
endhits: And which is your least favourite Nomeansno record?
T.H.: Oh, I think the one with Biafra (The Sky is Falling and I Want My Mommy), because it simply doesn’t sound very good. A lot of the songs are inchoate, which means something that has been done but doesn’t feel like it’s been finished.
endhits: If you were the president or a very prominent person what would your message be to the world?
T.H.: Well, If I was the president of the USA or the Prime Minister of Canada for example, I would have come from an extremely privileged background, it would be very unlikely that I would ever have to go to work, and I think my idea of the world would be very-very faint, I would probably be a liar, possibly a pathological personality and probably I would have no idea or care or interest in what people do, that seems to be quite obvious from the actions of most people in political power, otherwise things wouldn’t be as they are. And I think money makes the world go round, it always has, it always will. You can take somebody who’s a working class guy and works in a filling station or doing whatever job the president didn’t have to do, I think 7 out of 10 people given the opportunity would be gladly step in the place of the president and screw their fellow man. I’m not an optimistic person about our people. I’m keep trying and hoping for a better world but I don’t have a lot of optimism about the human race. And I don’t care for it all that much, I think we’re overrated, we rate ourselves too highly and that’s a terrible problem.
endhits: Version B is similar. If you were an alien watching us from the outer space, what would you say to humanity?
- T.H.: I really can’t answer that question, but I think the book Solaris by Stanislaw Lem answers that question, as well as anybody in literature or art about the nature of alien intelligence. It’s unlikely that it would be understood, because if we have enough trouble understanding ourselves, that’s just getting away from trying to understand each other – to understand some alien beings or some animals.
photos by vader