Last month, after a grueling, week-long hike through the Rocky Mountains in search of members of White Trash, I came home to a 7” vinyl record on my kitchen table by Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. Upon first listen, I was immediately intrigued by its abrasive monotony. Upon second listen, I farted a lot and wondered if the Taco Bell on Glen Cove Avenue was still open. But on the third listen, I remembered seeing footage of a phony talk show Schrader did with his Baltimore-based comedy troupe Wham City and cringed. Could this be the same guy?
Internet research proved it was indeed the same dude and it made me wonder if I even wanted to talk to him. “No matter how hopelessly shticky this guy might be on the tiny screen,” I thought, “he can really beat the fuck out of some drums and scream about rats, that’s for sure.” With this thought firmly planted in my skull, I pushed my prejudices away like an old lady at a bra sale and called up Ed, who turned out to be one of the most engaging, charming, and hung artists of our generation.
VICE: Before this record came in the mail, all I knew of you was the talk show you hosted, which made me want to punch you in the face. Was that the reaction you were looking for?
Ed Schrader: Well, originally my idea with the talk show was to act like an exaggerated version of myself, which means that you and I should probably not be roommates. I have since decided to just be my normal self, which might be less irritating, if you're willing to give this girl a second chance.
We’ll see. You recently came back from a US tour. How did that go?
Man, this tour was so monumental. Devlin [Rice, bass player in ESMB] and I did it by ourselves, and we were playing only in cities where the responses were great on the prior tour. The best night was The Legitimate Business in Greensboro, North Carolina. There is nothing like playing smaller scenes where people are just there to hear the music, not to show off fanny packs and Native American-esque hairpieces from Urban Outfitters. Meeting Michael Stipe was not half bad either, we hugged and he dug our set, and his drunk poet friend commented on my missing front tooth, saying it gave me gumption or some horse shit like that. I just don’t have health insurance. We also played with Ski Mask, a great Boston band who do for me now at the age of 32 what the Close Lobsters did for me when I was 12, when I stumbled upon their CD at the dollar store.
So Michael Stipe hugged you?
Well, to be honest, being a big dumb REM fan, I threw myself at Stipe. I don’t think he was hoping for a hug, he was kind of like “Oh, OK, I guess we're gonna hug now.” By saying we hugged, I really mean he didn’t reject the hug or have me tackled by the Athens Mafia. I suppose I made him really uncomfortable, but then again I have purchased enough REM albums to cover his iPhone bills into the next millennia.
So he wasn’t coming on to you, then?
That is the timeless question: Would you make out with Stipe if he came on to you? I am straight, but hell, what's one kiss? Peter Buck too, aww fuck… THE WHOLE BAND, LET'S HAVE SEX!
I’ve heard this single is just a teaser for a full length, Jazz Mind, coming out on Load relatively soon. Does it stick with the vibe of the single?
Well there are definitely some additional heavy hitters on the full length, as well as some shit that sounds like me impersonating the Swans and REM circa Murmur. I didn’t want the full length to be a “Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am” affair. I wanted it to be something that I'd give a shit about in ten years, or rather something I would restrain from wiping my ass with in five years.
What struck me about the 7” is how abrupt and jarring it is. Was there a conscious effort to make it so short?
Well, I should say something deep and artistic here, but truth be told the reason all of my songs are so short is because I make them in the bathroom at work, when I am suppose to be washing dishes. If you can't say it in a minute-fifty, get off the pot.
So you actually write the music and everything in the toilet at work?
Yes, I write the vast majority of my music in bathrooms. I actually recorded half of my last album that way, on a hand-held recorder utilizing towel dispensers and sinks as instruments. With the new LP I would come up with the rough draft while on the john. The lyrics I spend a little more time sketching out, usually over the course of a dish-washing shift—in between loads I will come up with a few verses and a chorus. It gives me something to do besides listen to whatever Foo Fighters song is blasting out of the cooks’ hole. I think people at work have noticed me sneaking off to the bathroom quite a bit, but I am at the bottom of their caste system—the waitresses don't even look at me when I walk by. I think everyone there just sees me as a disgusting weirdo covered in shit, so I am essentially invisible and I can just do what I want.
How did you first become interested in music?
My twin sister went away to summer camp in 1993 and came back with these great mix tapes that cool camp counselors made for her. You would get a jumble of everything from The Lemonheads to The Pixies, Nirvana, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and even some Blake Babes. Those tapes were like crack to me. I would wait for her to fall asleep, snag the tapes, then sit awake puffing on stolen cigarettes from my old man and sip cooking wine and listen to “Debaser.” I also fucking loved Sting! But the person who really did it for me early on—not so much anymore—was Montell Jordan. I heard “This Is How We Do It,” and that was my “Love Me Do.” I learned the song, and even a few dance moves, and one night in a church basement, at the age of 16 I sang that shit, and the kids went nuts! That same night a group of gents who were putting together an REM cover band approached me, and the rest is history, baby!
Sting? Montell Jordan? An REM cover band? You’re going to have to backtrack some here…
Ok, here are the cold hard shameless facts: I was in an REM cover band called LOL. It was 1995 in Utica, New York, and the term LOL was very fresh, and REM was about the limit of weird you could get away with in upstate New York. We had a half dozen originals that we'd mix with REM songs. It was so much fun when I was 17, but I could never do it again. Back then, especially in Utica, you kind of had to build your chops with cover songs if you wanted to play the bars. If a band walked up to Captain Trips—a once-thriving Utica pub—and was like, “Hey, we're really attractive and have these really cute songs and expensive clothes, can we play your bar?” they’d get a reply of, “Fuck Off! Learn Blues Traveler’s entire back catalogue, then come back and talk to me you worthless sacks of shit!” Being at the mercy of Joe Six Pack for the entirety of your career is not fun. That’s why I moved.
So can we hear the influence of Montell Jordan, Sting, or Stipe on this new LP?
Montell’s tendency to be constantly ON FUCKING POINT can be heard on there. All jokes aside, Stipe's lyric writing, along with Steve Albini, David Bowie, and Michael Gira, is really what propelled me into giving a damn about lyrics. I discovered most of the dark stuff previously mentioned through Allen Mozek and Mike Yaniro from the band Twin Stumps. I met them at SUNY Purchase a decade ago, and they would be like “Fuck Modest Mouse, check this shit out!” next thing I knew I was in this whole other universe. That stuff is forever engrained in my work.
Finally, have you dropped many suckers lately?
Well, I occasionally have to tell someone to fuck off when I am closing up the bar at night, and they feel the need to fuck with me while I am taking out a leaking bag of rotting food.
Pick up the “Rats/Sermon” 7” if it can still be found and make sure you get a hold of Jazz Mind, his full-length (both on the Load label) when it drops soon-ish.