Artist Interview: To Live And Shave In LA
Interviewer – Phill Bruce
Interview Date – 5th October 2011
In 2010 To Live And Shave In LA finally parted ways and split up. The band was iconic and had in it’s ranks some of the music worlds greats. Gone maybe but not forgotten, I had the rare chance to interview Tom Smith and here’s how it went.
Phill – Can you tell us a little bit of a background about yourself and where in this beautiful world you are from?
Tom – My name is Tom Smith. I was born in 1956, in Adel, a rural Georgia enclave about 40 miles from the Florida border. Music and sonic phenomena were constants. I knew I was going to be an artist from a very early age. Now, I live in Germany. Much nicer.
Phill – Why did you move to Germany?
Tom – Romance trumps all other errant perversities. I met a woman, Cupid did his dirty work, and that was that... But, in truth, there was the problem I had with America herself. Too religious. Too conservative. Too racist. Incalculably fucked by Bush. (And too late for Obama, who turned out to be more a fixated centrist than the progressive ass-kicker the nation needed and deserved.) With love calling in a sweet, socialist democracy, what was an Antichrist to do? A no-brainer if there ever was one.
Phill – So what was it at an early age that gave you the insight that you would be an artist?
Tom – I knew from around the age of seven. I was surrounded by the sounds of the inexplicable for as long as I can remember. I didn't necessarily want to recreate them, but I knew I wanted to follow them.
Phill – What is the meaning of the name To Live And Shave In L.A.?
Tom – To Live and Shave in L.A. was the title of a particularly threadbare pornographic video directed by Ron Jeremy in 1986. I first saw the box art in 1988 and knew immediately that my next project would carry the name. A perfect accidental distillation of high culture and low.
Phill – At what point in your life did you decide to form your band and why?
Tom – I created the first To Live and Shave in L.A. demo in May, 1990. Why? Next phase in development. Previously, I'd been in other groups: Boat Of (Athens, Georgia, 1979-1983), Peach of Immortality (which began in Washington, DC in 1984 and continued until 1991), Velvet Monkeys (a few months of rehearsals - I was to have played turntables and organ, but by the end of summer 1984 I'd been booted for sleeping with the drummer's ex-girlfriend), and Pussy Galore (autumn 1985 through February 1986 - just helping out). All very experimental, (not terribly) crowd-pleasing ensembles. My cup of venom.
Phill – What was it about To Live And Shave In L.A. that you knew that it was the band that would end up being the main band for you?
Tom – All my projects bleed into one another. There are no absolutes. During TLASILA's 1990-2010 run I co-founded Miss High Heel (1996), Sucking Coeds (1996), A-Aachen AAL Nevada Jim (1996-1998) OHNE (2000-present, although we're currently inactive), Memories of Underdevelopment (2001-2006), Kevin Drumm/Tom Smith (2005-present), Three Resurrected Drunkards (2008-2010), Rope Cosmetology (2008-present, the group that TLASILA basically morphed into), and other duo/trio combinations. These variants have all seen albums released, and each has fed the other. OHNE was/is a particularly grand experiment.
Phill – Of all the bands you were within the past was there any of them that you thought had the potential to be huge?
Tom – A person would have to be mad to think about art in such a matter. I prefer pestilence to the standard program of protracted disillusion. Success is random and fleeting, but mainly extremely fucking dull. Why waste one's time with banal imponderables when one can fail, and thus continue to learn?
Phill – Who besides yourself is in the band and what background are they from?
Tom – To Live and Shave in L.A. was a collective - we had more than two dozen people pass through its engorged loins between 1990-2010, when I decided to end our losing streak once and for all. Some of them you may have heard of: Thurston Moore, Andrew W.K., and Don Fleming. Others have lower profiles, but are no less interesting. A lot of friends helped in the beginning, but by the autumn of 1994 the core unit most fans recognize was in place: me, Rat Bastard, and Ben Wolcott. We lived on Miami Beach. It was hell.
Now, I'm the last operative standing. It was a good run.
Phill – Do you feel that the line-up you have now is the strongest?
Tom – We have no line-up – the group ended in 2010. The 2008 line-up was quite possibly the most effective, however. Concise, abstract, no messing about. 1999 was pretty lethal. So was 1994, ditto 2004...
Phill – Do any of the previous members of To Live And Shave In L.A. still contribute in any way?
Tom – Most have moved on, but remain in a sort of mobbed-up orbit. Two decades of activity makes even contentious partners family. Everyone eventually contradicts the orthodoxy, or revels in the numbingly daft legacy, or throws their hands up in dismay. Or all of the above. It's normal. Bands noted for their collegial relations are usually horrifyingly poor.
Phill – What are your musical influences?
Tom – Filmmakers, painters, philosophers, literary luminaries. Lots of them.
Phill – Is there anyone or anything that you could say gave you the spur to create music?
Tom – My favorite uncle gave me a shortwave receiver in 1969. That was a life-changer.
Phill – Where do you see your band in five years and what are your hopes for the future?
Tom – The band ended in 2010. My hopes are well restrained but my enthusiasm is boundless. I have many, many projects and activities purring away in parallel.
Phill – Do you see To Live And Shave In L.A. breathing life again?
Tom – One should never disturb the dead.
Phill – If you could reform To Live And Shave In L.A. what line up from the ex-members would you like to have?
Tom – Believe me, it's not going to happen. I'm remain on friendly terms with most of the members of the collective, and some of us continue to work together.
Phill – Is there any place or venue you would like to play at and why?
Tom – I'll play anywhere. I've played everywhere. It's important to meet other people and deal with the vagaries of chance.
Phill – So to you it is important to keep playing and to get your music out to the masses?
Tom – Of course. It's what I do. “Masses” is pushing it, however.
Phill – Without giving too much away is there any instrument or program you wouldn’t be without and why?
Tom – I'd certainly be hampered without my body, but otherwise, no. Gear and software only perpetuate and reinforce dogmas. If you can't make music with what's in front of you (or, with nothing), you're a fraud.
Phill – How many instruments can you play?
Tom – None and all. (I can, I could, but I prefer to rely primarily on my voice. A sound check should be a two-minute affair, quick and dirty and done.)
Phill – What is your favourite instrument and what is it about that instrument that holds magic for you?
Tom – Instrumentality is an impediment. Magic doesn't exist. Stochastic variability is the way of the world. I find it best to make use of what you find in front of you.
Phill – If you could have anything in the world what would you want?
Tom – I only want what I don't yet know. All other paths lead to anomie.
Phill – Is there any place is this amazing world of ours where you can go to totally relax, if so where?
Tom – I can power down anywhere. Police state border crossings, Category 5 hurricanes, I've slept through them all. All I need is a cat nap and I'm good for another twelve hours of mania. But, windswept Baltic coastlines rock.
Phill – What would be your ultimate pet real or imaginary?
Tom – It's better to learn to be happy with oneself.
Phill – What’s your favourite piece of clothing?
Tom – The ones I can't remember taking off.
Phill – Thanks so so much for giving Grave Concerns this interview Tom, is there anything you would like to add?
Tom – No, thank you, Phill!
Many thanks, best wishes,
Tom Smith/To Live And Shave in L.A.
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