Your new album “These Ones Are Bitter” was just released on your own label, Mendota Recordings. What made you decide that this was going to a digital-only release?
I wanted to release the album myself and it was really the only way I could afford to do it and still promote it properly. CD sales are in the toilet across the board from what I’ve been told by the people I know who are running independent labels. Vinyl sales are up a bit but the main thing is that digital sales are climbing. I decided to go with this idea last October. At that point the label people I asked were telling me 30-35% of their sales were digital. 9 months later I’m hearing 40-50%.
Why do you think bands haven’t really released their music strictly digitally yet?
Most people in bands are in their twenties and most people in their twenties are really provincial. They fear change. They’re at an age where they’re scared to grow up so they try to hold on to things that remind them of the past. Being an American in your twenties is a constant struggle between reality and the hope that somehow you’ll be able to remain a teenager for the rest of your life. People in their twenties fetishize their entertainment – stuff like music, TV shows, punk rock shows, movies, video games – even drinking and sex. It’s a way of trying to stave off middle age. Their approach to music is not the approach of a normal fan – it’s an obsession that fills an emotional need. If you’re a rock fan in your twenties in America you’re probably politically liberal but in most other ways you’re probably very conservative and traditional and uptight. Digital-only is an extremely threatening concept to people whose identity is wrapped up in the music they listen to. For these people, the music is only a part of the package. The image is just as important, along with what it represents to them, and the tactile aspects of a packaged piece of music. It’s like a security blanket. You try to take that away from somebody who feels they really need it and you’re going to get a pretty severe reaction. I was the same way at that age – me and my friends were never going to buy CDs. The art was all squashed into a little space, the sound was inferior to vinyl and it just wasn’t a “real” record if it was on a CD. We were carrying a torch that nobody ever passed and that nobody but us cared about, and we didn’t really understand why – we just had a list of half-assed reasons that weren’t really legitimate reasons as much as they were entries in an out-of-date and irrelevant rule book . So I think bands aren’t going digital because of all those reasons. The other really important reason is that not enough other people are doing it yet. Most musicians are scared to death to do anything but business as usual. I’m mostly retired anyway so I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. If it pisses people off so what? I’ve got a lousy reputation anyway – it’s not like punk rockers are looking to me to lead the Charge Of The Light Brigade or sing them to sleep at night or anything.
Screeching Weasel has broken up more than me and my girlfriend. Is such a relationship healthy? Why do you guys keep coming back together, like abused yet obsessed lovers?
Joe Queer has written a song about you. If you wrote a song called “Joe Queer,” how would the lyrics go?
I don’t ever call him Joe Queer. I call him Joe King. Or Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy. If I were to write a song about him the lyrics would probably cover things like how he smells like Wheatina and Lipton tea bags – the bridge would deal with his glass eye and his dog face. He’s a salty old sea dog, that one. His band is a leaky canoe with one paddle and a crew of retarded Boy Scouts with cum stains on their trousers.
Is there any song you regret writing?
Rant about something that bothers you about the music industry.
I really hate it when people doing interviews try to get you to dance around like an organ grinder’s monkey because they can’t be bothered to write something interesting themselves. Present company excepted, naturally.
How huggable is Dr. Frank?
You can’t hug an octagon.
Do you think Lookout! will ever put out another good album again?
My attorney has advised me to remain silent on this subject.
I read on your blog that you troll on punk message boards. How come you don’t visit the ReadJunk.com forum?
I don’t troll. I hate trolls. I post on one message board, but only on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I never heard about the ReadJunk.com forum. Are you inviting me?Hold on – I’ll check it out. Okay, I’m back. Big problem: you can’t lurk – you have to create an account and log in. To heck with that.
Is there any hope left for today’s punk scene?
Yeah sure, why not?
What’s something people don’t know about you?
I make a terrific Cherries Jubilee. (The trick is to use a brulee pan)
What would be your last meal?
I’d probably just ask for a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of Jameson’s.
Thanks for the press, good luck with ReadJunk.com!
Ben Weasel and His Iron String Quartet’s “Theses Ones Are Bitter” is out now on Mendota Recordings. You can buy the new album here: here. Thanks a lot for the interview Ben and we’ll create a ReadJunk.com Forum account so you don’t have to!