2strokeBuzz interviewed legendary punk guitarist/scooterist/nice guy Tim Kerr in issue 1, as he was launching the Lord High Fixers. Geoff Prezkop caught up with Tim (Big Boys, Jack O’ Fire, The Monkeywrench) and Mike Carroll, Tim’s bandmate in Lord High Fixers, Poison 13, and their newest project Total Sound Group.
Total Sound Group
Interviewed by Geoff Przekop
Seeing the Total Sound Group really was like being in church for the first time. Maybe my judgement is skewed because I like them so much, but never, in such a small room, have I felt so much energy. And it wasn’t the Pabst I had that night either, because the second night they played, they rocked just as hard, if not harder. There was no Hammond B4 on the second night, but Pat smoked ’em just the same on an old Korg. It’s not as if Tim Kerr and Mike Carrol haven’t done anything like this before, though. Poison 13, Lord High Fixers and now Total Sound Group Direct Action Committee. It’s hard to believe that they work during the day at the University of Texas, Tim a graphic designer and Mike a networking guy. It’s harder to believe that I witnessed it. 7/06/02
Geoff-G, Tim-T, Mike-M, Beth (Tim’s wife)-B
G-So who’s in the band besides you and Mike?
T-There’s me, Mike, Pat, Nick and Ben, and Brian is our sound guy who kind of does shit from the back.
G-How did you meet the other guys in this band, post-Lord High Fixers?
T-Ben used to come to Lord High Fixers shows. He actually came to Jack O’ Fire shows too, but I’ve kind of seen him around and he’s been in a bunch of bands like Tune In Tokyo and Society of Friends and he’s been in a lot of stuff. He’s a real great guy. Nick’s been in a whole lot of stuff, too. Nick’s in the Crack Pipes now. Ben and Nick have another band called Attack Formation.
T-Ben’s actually playing guitar in that and singing. They’re pretty cool.
G-And they are out of Austin (TX)?
G-What was the transition like from the Fixers to the Total Sound Group? It seemed like you guys got together pretty quickly.
M-Yeah. It was just a pretty natural transition. ‘Cause we’re kind of just continuing the same ideas and the same philosophy we had in the Lord High Fixers. The Lord High Fixers were like family and we’re all still friends. It wouldn’t be right to keep the name without those guys in the band.
T-And its different too. It’s the same ideas but its defintely different. Ben drums totally different than Stephanie and we got Pat. We got an organ going full tilt now.
G-There’s a heavy Jack O’ Fire vibe comming through, too. It seems a lot more blues oriented.
T-Yeah, kind of. I mean, we’re doing a lot of different stuff.
M-It’s a mixture.
T-I think what’s happened is that with the organ it’s probably more danceable all the time. Because of that organ. You know, where Lord High Fixers would just completely go off and do more of the garage-type rock stuff, this thing’s kind of more… just the general nature of the Hammond organ, it makes it a little bit more soul-oriented and danceable.
G-How come the Lord High Fixers split up?
T-It just got to be time, you know. Andy and Stephanie met through Lord High Fixers and got married which is really great. Stephanie kept calling it the Lord High Fixer-uppers. She was in Sugar Shack, cause that’s what Andy’s band was. She started an all-girl band with Mike’s wife, Julie, called Sunshine Supergirl. It just got to be too much to have that many bands going.
M-And Suger Shack was their main band, really. Because that had been going for years. That’s kind of like Andy’s baby.
M-That was real important for them.
T-I think we all left on good terms and stuff. It was one of those things where it was just kind of time. I didn’t even know that Mike really wanted to do anything else until we were coming out of the studio one night, it was me and him, and he just kind of said to me that he really wanted to kind of keep doing things and I was like “yeah, great”.
G-I know you guys (Lord High Fixers) recorded a last album together (‘Beginning of the End…End of the Beginning?) and I guess you did that shortly before you broke up.
T-‘Is Your Club a Secret Weapon?? and ‘Beginning of the End…? is all kind of from different times we recorded. And there’s things that are brand new and things that are kind of older and it’s kind of mixed with all the stuff I did in between to kind of make it more of a big statement instead of just songs.
G-Is there a release date for that yet? I know they said May?
M-It’s out now.
T-It finally came out about three, four weeks ago. I’m so bad with time. Maybe a month ago.
G-Why only three shows instead of a longer tour?
M-(laughing) We can’t do this for more than three shows!
T-(laughing) You saw it, you can answer your own question with that one! I mean the Lord High Fixers, one time, tried to do five shows in a row and it was nuts. By the time we got to the third show, I don’t know how you write this, but my guitar literally made two sounds. It either went “woooo” or “wheeee” like that, and Robbie’s jack inside of his bass was so up inside his bass, we couldn’t figure? but we were going to play! It was the attitude like you just do whatever’s going on at that time and “here we go?” This band, it would be pretty hard to do more than four or five shows.
M-Physically, we can’t really take it. If we had to do a bunch of shows in a row, it just wouldn’t be as intense.
T-It kind of makes it more special, too.
M-Yeah, I think we put a lot more into it.
G-Yeah, it shows.
T-I mean, I’m sure we would do that anyway, no matter what. But there’s got to be nights where you’re just kind of tired, you know, its like if you’re touring all of the time. You know, to each his own. It’s great when bands do that. Its just that that’s not what we do anymore. It sounds kind of pompous. We’re really at the stage now where we kind of don’t really want to be a band. We just want to be this thing that happens, between a bunch of bands or somwthing like that.
M-It’s a happenin’. (Laughs)
G-And I know you got your production duties, too. You produce just about everything that comes out on Estrus now.
T-Yeah, there’s a lot. And I keep thinking it’s like going to like slow down or curtail or something. It seems to keep getting more and more and more crazy. ‘Cause I have a regular job to do, you know, at home and its not like I do that for a living or anything.
G-Yeah, you do graphic design for the University of Texas, right?
G-(to Mike) And what do you do at the University?
M-I work at the Telecommunications and Networking department.
G-Somehow, I can’t picture that though.
M-It’s a challenge. I have to let out the frustrations and do this.
G-Somebody had written about Poison 13 (Tim and Mike’s first band together) saying how off stage you (Mike) were so calm and quiet and onstage? shit? just fucking nuts. This was nuts. I can’t even imagine when you were ten years younger!
T-Or the woman when we played in Cleveland, like one or two songs into it she’d gone over to Beth, and she was just going, “I can’t believe that’s the same dude, he said one word when he was in the house!”
G-So how did you guys hook up? The rumor was that you (Mike) roadied for the Big Boys.
T-That was it. But we knew each other before that. We met each other through Raul’s (an old punk club in Austin) punk rock stuff.
M-I was at every punk rock show. That’s how we met.
T-Mike would always read all the time so he kind of knew about a whole lot of bands before any of us even knew about them or what was going on. Like the first time Black Flag came, he already knew all about them.
G-Do you have any shows scheduled after this?
T-We’re supposed to play with the Dishes in Austin in about three weeks or so. They are really great, they’re getting a whole lot better. And then we’re supposed to? uh? what else are we supposed to do?
M-Gearfest. They’re doing one in Austin.
T- And then were supposed to go to Japan at the end of October. But we’re kind of waiting for cheap tickets, you know. It’s one of those kind of things were we can go and tell them the dates and it will all be set up. We just have to figure out the dates.
G-I noticed the Coltrane tat, and all the Bird stuff on the guitar, the Pharoah Sanders cover (“Lower Egypt” on “Group Improvisation…That’s Music!” by the Lord High Fixers)?
T-(smiling) Did you get the Roland Kirk thing on the first song of Total Sound?
T-There’s a sample on there?
G-I got to listen to that one again. I didn’t pick that up. Your music is such an eclectic mix, how much does free jazz or experimental jazz factor into you guys putting your sound together?
T-It’s pretty much right in there with everything else. It’s just? The freedom of it, the attitude of it, the whole openness, the spiritualness of it. Music, as corny as it is, music is a really, really spiritual thing for me. It’s all that stuff. It’s everything. I’m open to Coltrane, Black Flag, Fugazi, you know, all that stuff. That’s me, I can’t speak for everybody. It’s definitely a big, big part of it.
G-What about you, Mike? Where do you get all that energy from?
M-That’s hard to say. My thing right now is the sixties freak-beat sound. I’m really into that. Also, I’m getting more into jazz and stuff like that, but for me, jazz and all that stuff, its more about attitude. I mean, I’m just drawing on all the stuff I used to listen to. All the seventies hard rock that I listened to growing up. Just blending everything together.
T-There’s a thread that runs through it all. I mean there’s either stuff that’s totally coming from your heart or not and that’s pretty much all. Every kind of music is like that. If you’re going to do something, do it, put a hundred and twenty into it. There’s no point in getting up there and just kind of being half-assed.
G-When I was talking to Pat yesterday, he said you guys were childhood friends, even though you started only playing with him back in ’90.
T-Yeah, I’ve known Pat since he was a little kid. I knew his mom, Suzie, who ran kind of a used clothes store, kind of punk rock clothes and things like that. We’ve just been friends since then, so I’ve known Pat, I mean I haven’t known him since he was born, but, I’ve known him since he was probably like nine years old, or eight. It was really great when he really started playing piano, it was just so amazing, cause he was just all of a sudden just playing it. And it was really great cause he was in high school and he was playing total Jimmy Smith. To have somebody that age, and to be already totally rocketing into that kind of stuff and listening to that? it was really amazing. It was really cool. And I’d always wanted to do something with him. I didn’t even realize this, but Mike was saying that he had kind of wanted an organ in Lord High Fixers. When this started, that was one of the first things I said. I was like, “OK, if we’re going to do something, let’s get Pat.” ‘Cause it would be real great to have an organ in there.
G-After Poison 13 broke up, there was a rumor that you guys had a big falling out…
T-We didn’t have it, but me and Chris did.
G-That’s where it came from?
T-Friendship is a really, really big deal with me and a really strong thing with me and he basically pulled something and I told him, I mean it was really a fucked up thing, and I told him, “If you ever do that again, I’m out of here.” I’m not supporting that kind of shit and stuff. I really didn’t want to quit Poison 13, I really liked it alot and I really liked Mike and stuff. But it was just, if I didn’t do it, I’m setting myself up to where he’s going to try to pull stuff all the time. Or at least that vibe. We’re talking now. We’re friends. That was basically the gist of it.
G-Can I ask what happened?
T-Well, its real stupid. I mean, the gist of it is what I just told you. What he did was just really petty and stupid. Basically, in the studio, I come in, I don’t hear, like, my guitar. See, I don’t even want to talk about this because I’m not that kind of person. It was just one of those power trip things, you know. Instead of doing something as a community and as a group of friends together, he decided he was going to do it on his own. When I walked in, and it’s just kind of like, “well, wait a minute, what?” and he’s not fessing up and its real obvious what’s happening?
(Beth walks in with a fresh t-shirt for Tim)
B-I thought it was the Tom Bunch thing.
T-That was the first one. It was just one of those things where you would have had to have been there and known Chris and all that. That’s the only way I can explain it. The first time he did it, he basically? the Big Boys were supposed to play with the Minutemen and this guy, Tom Bunch, put the show on, was charging all these kids way too much money to come in. It was right at the time when everybody was trying to get kids into shows and was charging way too much and all that. We found out. We decided we weren’t playing wtih the Minutemen because of that. The Minutemen supported us and the whole thing. And I, being me, got on the microphone? when we showed up at the show we realized what was going on, so we played that show, these kids had payed, but I got on the mike and said, “If we ever come back here again or if you ever see me up here again, we didn’t have anything to do with this. We’re not really supporting this.” And then Chris really wanted to play with TSOL really bad and booked Poison 13 to play with TSOL and it was with Tom Bunch. I literally asked him up front, “Tom Bunch doesn’t have anything to do with this?” “No, he doesn’t have anything to do with this” and we get there and there’s Tom Bunch and he’s sitting there grinning at me and it was just fucked. And I played cause we were there. But then the justice of it is when the show was over, Tom Bunch didn’t pay him, which I was like, you know, it sucks, but I was just like? and they had to go out to the car and try and scare him out of his money and all of this kind of shit?
T-(Laughs) and then, ’cause I had known Chris since he was a kid, we all skated together and his family and it was all bullshit. And that was basically it. That’s when I told him, “If you ever do anything like this again, that’s it. Don’t ever pull this kind of shit.” Here we are in the studio and I walk in late and he decided he’s going to do what he’s going to do. It was like, “Oh come on.”
G-As far as Total Sound Group goes, is this hopefully, the new solid project? I know you are still doing Monkeywrench?
T-I’m super happy about this, Monkeywrench, its real hard cause those guys are there [Seattle] and I’m in Texas. We recorded eight songs already. And I was hoping Mark [Arm, of Mudhoney] would just put it out because its enough. But he was real intent on having more than eight songs, so they are wanting me to come back, but I don’t know when I’m going to have time. They were hoping I was going to do it this summer. But I can’t do anything till past October at this point, so? But I mean, it took ten years for the second record to ever come out. So, if it takes two years for this one, its not that big a deal. But this is super fulfilling, you know, with Mike and stuff. It’s just really great to be able to do something like this. Monkeywrench I really love doing, but its a band. That’s what it is. This is more of just a total complete big expression.
G-Hopefully you guys can get some big gigs too. You blew a lot of people away in there.
T-Me and Mike were talking about that earlier. See, I like stuff like this more than I do playing at the (Empty) Bottle last night. I like things where its a community deal. People put something together and its not an expected place and its not what you are always presented with. “Oh, we’re at such and such club tonight and the band plays there and the audience stands here.” I’m more into things where it’s not the same old thing. You are kind of expected to do whatever it is that you do when you are in a position like that. At parties and other things, people aren’t going to know exactly what to expect. Its a little bit more open.
G-Definitely. Well, what’s it like living in Austin? I certainly don’t mean this in an offensive way, but you guys are so far away from other hubs of music. Like you were saying with Monkeywrench.
T-Being in Texas, you are kind of in the middle. You’re not in the middle of the states like if you lived in Iowa, but you can take a trip to LA and come back. Go to the east coast and come back as opposed to as if you?re on the east coast and you want to play the west coast you have to go through the whole country. With us, you can kind of do these things like this and come back. Do small groups of gigs.
M-Also, I think it influences are attitude. We aren’t as hard, I guess, as people who live in bigger cities. They tend to have more of an attitude.
T-It’s kind of a southern thing, too.
M-Yeah. To live in a big city, you kind of have to be a little harder. Living in Austin, its just a little easier and that makes us a little easier-going.
G-What recordings do you have out now as the Total Sound Group?
T-There’s the album (“The Party Platform? Our Schedule is Change!”) and there’s a comp that Doc from River Boat Gamblers is doing, I’m not sure if it’s out yet or not but there’s going to be a song on that. And then there’s the two on the Estrus thing, but those are on the record. We have a couple more. We’re getting ready to go in and record and put something out for a thing in Japan. We’re probably going to start recording more, kind of like what the Fixers were doing and the Jack O’ Fire stuff. Since we don’t tour that much, we’ll still record and put out a lot of stuff.
G-Is there anything else you guys wanted to say? Future plans and stuff?
T-Participate, do something. That’s what I want to say.
G-I caught the, “Go start a band” thing earlier (an old Big Boys stage quote).
T-It’s just the fact that you plant seeds when people see you do stuff, they realize that it’s not unobtainable. It’s not that hard. You just need to get up and do it. Sounds like a Nike commercial really.
G-Maybe that could be the next t-shirt.