Sharks, insects and so forth: An Interview with Ben Wallers
Anarchist and leftist punks have long sought to raise awareness about various forms of oppression and exploitation by offering first-person caricatures of the enemy, whether corporate bosses, suburban drones, college preppies, skinheads, or the cult of dumb. It was in this tradition of critique that Ben Wallers started the Country Teasers in mid-'90s Scotland and began releasing albums that prod listeners by holding a mirror up to bigotry of all kinds, especially bigotry that's been culturally sanctioned because of positions of privilege, i.e. the correlation between climate change denial and being a wealthy white male. Often taunting listeners (or readers in this case) to hold on to such positions of privilege in the face of their underlying violence, Wallers set the Country Teasers in the vein of the Dead Kennedys and Butthole Surfers through albums that both take aim at and inspiration from American culture. (The Teasers second album Satan is Real Again, for example, is a nod to the 1959 Louvin Brothers album in which the country duo truly seemed to want their listeners to feel the flames of hell licking at their heels.) From the ashes of the Teasers, Wallers has now emerged as The Rebel, having continued to release albums that take on various forms of patriarchy, cultural exceptionalism, and the self-destructive elements of contemporary humankind. He plays at Off-Broadway, Thursday, August 18 with Spray Paint, Old Scratch's Burn Pile, and DemonLover. In advance of the show, he answered some questions over email about Nashville, William S. Burroughs, satire, modern appliances, Star Wars, as well as some of the heavier facts of contemporary American politics.
Q: I see a lot of similarities between your lyricism in songs like "Anytime, Cowboy" and the satirical style of a young Randy Newman. Who are some satirists that have influenced your voice, and can satire hold up as a weapon against the growing threat of fascism?
BW: Satire ought really to get stronger and funnier as things get worse in the Non-Funny world (Syria; Ukraine; Congo) but I'm too out of touch to really say. Oh, except comedian Stewart Lee, he's keeping it up over here in England. Lenny Bruce, William Burroughs, Jonathan Swift, viz. See my take on humour is that unless it's attacking something evil or referring to something utterly bleak, I don't really find it all that funny. Although my niece told me this knock knock joke and it's adooooooooorable: "Knock knock." Who's there? "Butcher." Butcher who? "Butcher lil' arms aroun' me!"
Q: Speaking of, would you like to see the grave of William Burroughs while you're in St. Louis?
BW: Oh god I would LOVE that! I just read Barry Miles's recent Life of Burroughs and it was huge and unputdownable. I totally fell in love with him all over again and this time properly, accepting him also as a human, not just a godly writer. So, yes please.
Q: In a previous interview you said that what country music is like an allegory for American culture going off the deep end...
BW: I must have been high when I said that; or else my neurons got tangled up with the wires that my fingers dangle from in my mouth. I probably just meant "Off a cliff, into the deep end." Really deep, where your feet can't touch the bottom and you panic and ask the guy on the side to help you by maybe passing you the pole and the guy says, "Wait a minute buddy: where did you say you were from?" And you say, "Oh I... I don't think I did say! In fact in all this excitement I can't remember!" So you look down and see your face in the water, and suddenly you remember. That guy on the side is Donald Trump, your new president. You voted for him, but he doesn't pass you the pole. You drown. On the bottom of the pool are a thousand million rotting undead corpses. That's America.
Q: Do you think Tammy Wynette was murdered and, if so, what parallels does the cover-up of her death have with the decline of Nashville?
BW: Nashville IS Decline! I mean what drew me to Nashville's country music was the sense of decaying White culture. The last breath of a threatened, paranoid empire: WHITEY. And Tammy I loved because she sounded like she was trapped, like all our sisters are. Trapped under a man's superior muscle strength. (I am confident that Patriarchy will be overthrown, btw; it's happening).
Q: Is it true the Jon Wayne LP Texas Funeral had an influence on the Country Teasers? And how did it feel to record an album of your own in Texas, were you able to draw from the bottomless well of Texas country?
BW: Yes, I love Jon Wayne and so does the whole band. Monty Buckles sorted it out in 2006 that we supported them in LA and it was really something, like a dream really, i don't think it's even sunk in yet! He was playing a crudely spray-painted vox Phantom... I'm not sure how much influence he had on my Schtick, because I didn't hear about him until we were playing a gig in Edinburgh and this big lad comes up - this must have been 1994 -- and says "You must be fans of Jon Wayne" and I was all like "Wha...? " so he gave me a tape and i couldn't believe it. But thereafter I think the main thing was that David Vaught's production was like totally wow. So maybe it opened us up or something? Not sure.
Q: If you were a domestic appliance what would it be?
BW: I'd be an old typewriter. I dislike the white goods you have in your bourgeois kitchens. Fridges, washing machines and PARTICULARLY dishwashers. Never let me see you putting tea-spoons in a dishwasher please! In fact let's get that thing in the car right now and drive to the Dump ready! Fucking dishwashers! Breeders of deadly virus! Symbol and embodiment of fucked-up, dying, self-hating, hurrying Whitey culture! Push them over the fucking cliff! Down, down, down! Crash!
Q: What is the wackiest "instrument" you have used on a track (i.e. an oven for percussion, a slinky for texture, etc., etc.)?
BW: I used a slinky to make star wars laser gun noises and reverb; believe it or not the sound of hair, skin & bone rubbing against the wooden edge of a desk is the only thing I can think of sounds-unusual-wise; I like to use lots of different little keyboards; musical boxes; hmmm... Mind's gone blank.
Q: Is it true the Jon Wayne LP 'Texas Funeral' had an influence on the Country Teasers? And how did it feel to record an album of your own in Texas [which?], were you able to draw from the bottomless well of Texas country?
BW: Yes, I love Jon Wayne and so does the whole band. Monty Buckles sorted it out in 2006 that we supported them in LA and it was really something, like a dream really, I don't think it's even sunk in yet! He was playing a crudely spray-painted vox Phantom... I'm not sure how much influence he had on my Schtick, because I didn't hear about him until we were playing a gig in Edinburgh and this big lad comes up -- this must have been 1994 -- and says "You must be fans of Jon Wayne" and I was all like "Wha...?" so he gave me a tape and I couldn't believe it. But thereafter I think the main thing was that David Vaught's production was like totally wow. So maybe it opened us up or something? Not sure.
Q: What is your animal totem?
BW: I never used to like cats, despite my hero Burroughs' addiction to them, until we got a cat ourselves, little Tammy, who had run away from a cattery in Somerset as a kitten. Now I love cats. It's great being on the internet all day watching videos of cats. Omg they're HILARIOUS lol? :))))) I love Tammy, she is on my lap as we speak. Other animals I dig are sharks, spiders, centipedes, cockroaches, woodlice, ants. Dogs are a fucking bore, yawn yawn yawn (sorry, no offence meant). I really like sharks, did I mention that? Terrified that's how I'm gonna go. Aaarrrrrgggggh! First human shark-attack death in British waters, that'll be me. Off the Cornish coast. Still, I've had a good innings.
Q: In the latest Star Wars film what was Luke Skywalker doing on that island, how did he even get there? Do you have a new hope for the new Star Wars Films?
BW: I know, what the Fuck, Ireland?! The Jedi started in Ireland, on EARTH of all planets?! Wild! I'm not a good person to ask about Star Wars because i blindly follow it wholesale like a zombie (except the crap 3 from the 90s obvs). I totally, totally, TOTALLY loved The Force Awakens when it came out and went to see it -- in secret -- 4 times, or maybe 5, I lost count. Not 6 though. Cried a lot; different cinemas produced different emotions, all good; felt that viewing 2 was much better than viewing 1; loved it when Han shouts "Ben!" of course; think we should all shout "Ben!" whenever wotsisname the actor from Girls who played Kylo Ren appears in a trailer before a film at the cinema; "BEN!" Ha ha ha! That'd be hilARIOus!!!! So you know I got the dvd and I watch it a lot, mainly to block out the misery of my home life, but I turn the sound off now because the script is SO BAD and the plot so fragile. But I live in the Force and its ways! So I am DEFINITELY 100% confident that the next one will be even better.
Q: Who would play Ben Wallers in the made for TV biopic?
BW: Ryan Gosling would play me; I don't really LIKE him per se, I just think we are very much alike, he and I. Similar ages and so forth. Outlook.
Q: Wot wud U do with a million pounds?
BW: With a million pounds I would buy a nice studio set up somewhere I could play drums again. I'd get someone to build me a Fostex X-30 four track which wouldn't break down. I'd retire from my job for a year and try to knock out the really great album I think might be in there somewhere under all the frustration. Also I'd get like 1,000 Reese's cups, I mean 3,000, because it'd be 1,000 packs of 3.
Q: According to a 1983 interview in Smash Hits, Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran was once electrocuted while swimming. If he had died, how would your career have been different?
BW: I guess Simon's lyrics and delivery, which are unique, would have left a big hole in frontman-ship; could there have been a Morrissey for instance, without Simon Le Bon going before and lighting the way? If anyone can get hold of "Blue Silver," the documentary of their USA tour around the time of Seven and the Ragged Tiger, I'll give you a collectible badge and a used plectrum if I can spare it.
Q: In the same interview, John Taylor of Duran Duran said, "Our fans don't believe pop stars have bowels." What do you think about celebrity culture and is it wielded as a tool for oppression? Furthermore, do you think John Taylor from Duran Duran had bowels?
BW: Obviously Duran Duran were übermenschen in ways we teens would never need to understand. Things like going to the bathroom, shagging, getting angry with each were all totally irrelevant. It's all music! You can't see music! And yes, the capitalist system uses it to make money and like patriarchy I feel its days are numbered. Revolution will come and the next thing will take over until humans destroy themselves and the Earth can carry on with the insects and so forth. Who gives a shit!