Random acts

Of note

Regional favorites The Goodies finally have a new full-length album in the works. Rumored to contain more than 20 tracks, the as-yet-unnamed effort is a follow-up to the group’s recent EP, Postcard. The Goodies have had a turbulent time during the past few years, including a brief breakup, and have only recently returned to recording and performing. For more information, visit www.thegoodiesonline.com.

Local hip-hop/drum & bass act Us was named Band of the Month for January 2002 by the Internet-based music magazine Silent Uproar (www.silentuproar.com). For more about their music, visit www.musicuntouchable.com.

Front-row reviews

Who: The Monsters of Japan

Where: Stella Blue

When: Thursday, Feb. 14

As I watched the girl in the black leather corset and red feather boa slink and squirm on stage, two thoughts occurred to me — thankfully, both were printable. The first was that a surprisingly large crowd of lonely hearts had come out to see this Valentine’s Day show, and the second was that The Monsters of Japan were far better than I’d expected them to be.

Their music borrows almost exclusively from late-1980s heavy-metal bands like Metallica and MegaDeth, but the Monsters manage to add enough panache to the performance to make it all seem new again. It isn’t just the sultry costumed dancer that makes their show interesting — it’s also the band’s clever use of dramatic pauses, rehearsed poses and strange segues.

For instance, toward the end of the show, the opening movement of The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack played, and the band (in something approaching unison) all did a little choreographed dance. This would later be overshadowed in my memory by the mock torture and ravishing of a female cupid, but by that time, the band’s theatrics and solid performance in the metal idiom had already won me over.

Local vocals

James Owen is the memorably wild drummer for The Track Rabbits, The Ether Bunnies, Lube Royale, and a whole range of other musical projects. Since moving to Asheville six years ago, he has become known for his unusual choice of percussion instruments, which range from the typical drum set to shattered plate glass, corrugated metal tubing, and similar acoustic contraptions. His most recent recording is with the The Ether Bunnies, as percussionist on their current release, E.B. E.P.. He spoke with Random Acts about his professional and personal background, his interest in unusual instruments, and his recent brush with death.

MX: Where are you from?

JO: I’m from Rosman, North Carolina. Deep in the Baptist woods.

MX: What is your first memory of music?

JO: My first real memory of music is being in church. And sitting next to my grandmother, singing old gospel songs. White people singing old gospel songs. It was a way Southern Baptist church. Really racist, but I didn’t realize that at the time, [not] until much later.

MX: What was it like?

JO: Screaming, yelling, preaching kind of stuff.

MX: Foot stomping?

JO: Oh yeah. Definitely.

MX: Do you think that led to your interest in doing percussion?

JO: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I’m sure somehow it did. I didn’t get started … I was a clarinet player for probably 10 years before I ever picked up a drumstick. What happened was that they had too many clarinets and not enough bass drummers in the marching band in high school.

MX: This is still in Rosman?

JO: No, my mom taught in Henderson County, so I went to East Henderson High School. After having been in Rosman, moving to East Henderson seemed like … it was a little different. It seemed way different at the time, because Rosman was way backwoods and real small. Everybody was either a member of my family or a friend of a member of my family. And then when I moved to East Henderson, I didn’t really know anybody there. But, I became really good friends with a lot of people really quick, and it seemed like a lot more open atmosphere, although I realize now that it wasn’t really at all.

MX: But, by comparison it was?

JO: Yeah. Then, I just started playing bass drum in the marching band, and I loved it. It was really powerful.

MX: What was it about the drums that made it appeal to you?

JO: Well, it was loud, for one thing! You didn’t have to struggle real hard to be heard, I think, which was originally what got me into it. And I improved a lot quicker than I had on the clarinet. I mean, I was an okay clarinet player. I went to college on clarinet, I got my degree in clarinet, but I don’t play … I play clarinet a little now, and I’m not very good at it because I haven’t touched it in probably eight years. [Not] until the past six or seven months. But drums. I started playing drums, and I was in a cover band. When I was fifteen years old, I was playing at the Beach Motor Inn at Lake Lure. I was in the house band, and I had all these bikers, you know, getting me drunk. That was the coolest thing, ever.

MX: What was the name of that band?

JO: Isolation.

MX: What a great name for a biker-bar band.

JO: Yeah, it was cool. We were … let’s see … the guitarist was 18, I was 15, the bass player was 16, and the singer was 35. We did anything from Nirvana to Kansas. We were the house band at the Beach Motor Inn for three years. That’s really where I learned to play drums.

MX: You were a gigging musician even back then, at the age of 15?

JO: Yeah. And my dad found out about it, and he tried to stop me from playing drums, and I left home. My dad is really hardcore Southern Baptist. And, you know, just being in a bar is sending me straight to hell. He thinks I’m going to get AIDS because I live in Asheville. To this day.

MX: So, I guess you don’t talk much to your family …

JO: I talk to my mom a lot. My dad, he’s got all these medical problems so he’s, oddly enough, the most pill-popping person I know, even though he is very Southern Baptist. So, he’s really kind of out of his head, and a little crazy. So, it’s kind of easy to deal with him by not dealing with him. That’s how my mom deals with him too, at this point. I mean, my mom is wonderful. She’s a really great lady. She’s got her PH.D., and is really happy to help me do what I want. And my dad is exactly the opposite. And, you know, even after 30 years of me trying to do my own thing, he’s [just now] starting to catch on that [playing music is] what I’m going to do anyway, and lay off a little bit. I try and talk to my parents.

MX: When did you leave?

JO: When I was 16. I got a friend of mine, the bass player in Isolation, gave me a ride home from school, and my dad was furious that I hadn’t ridden the bus, that I had actually got someone to bring me home. And then I helped him hang this giant, like 300-pound oak door in the front of the house, and then he went to the hardware store to get some stuff, and I hopped on my bicycle and rode to my girlfriend’s house. And I haven’t really been home since. It’s probably been within the past five years, since I moved back to Asheville, that I’ve tried to have a relationship with my dad.

MX: What was the first real drum work that you got any real creative feedback out of?

JO: I did a lot of stuff when I first started college. I ended up playing with this sort of Jerry Lee Lewis-type piano-player guy. It was just the two of us, and we were the Power Laser Disco Players, and we played this kind of awful honky-tonk, totally as a joke, because he was a phenomenal classical pianist. But he played this honky-tonk stuff, and I just played whatever. I played a lot of weird, non-drum set instruments, but I played it set up with a drum set. That was the first percussion thing where I really got a lot out of it.

MX: The last time we talked you mentioned that you were in five bands. Is that still the case now?

JO: Yeah. Mostly, right now, I’m focused on The Ether Bunnies.

MX: Describe The Ether Bunnies for me. Is there a band philosophy?

JO: It’s kind of interesting. The first time we ever played together, I just showed up and played with the two guys, Dan and Bill. We still play two of the songs we came up with then. I mean, they already had it together. As far as a band philosophy? I think we just want to make music that is fulfilling to each of us, and doesn’t really sound too much like other things that we are doing, or other things that we’ve heard other people do.

MX: The bands that you are in seem to be avant-garde kind of rock. Why is that? Why have you chosen to kind of fall into that field?

JO: I don’t know that I’ve really chosen to fall into that. It’s just kind of … it’s where I feel best. That’s where I feel like I’m playing my best, doing my best. It’s much more interesting to me. I mean, with Lube Royale …

MX: I was going to cite that as the main example.

JO: That started as … I was in a band, The Track Rabbits, that was the first band I was in here in Asheville, and we’d been playing for a couple of years. We played a show with this band called Low Level Fever, which became Lube Royale. I joined Low Level Fever from our first Track Rabbits show with them. I was playing chunks of broken metal, and glass, and barrels and stuff. You know, I used to just show up at the shows. It was a really noisy band, a lot of electronics, you know, loud guitars and bass and stuff. We had a New Year’s Eve show, and the bass player was so wasted [that] he couldn’t even play his bass line. So, we kicked him out of the band, and got another drummer, and then we changed the name to Lube Royale. That’s always been about just being as crazy as possible. That’s what the band philosophy is there.

MX: What is the deal with all the rabbit band names?

JO: I didn’t come up with any of those names, that’s the odd part. I like rabbits. I don’t know what it is with the rabbits, but I like it, so I try to encourage it.

MX: Are you currently making money as a gigging musician?

JO: I make some money, but I don’t make a living. That’s for sure. And most of the money I make with any given band goes right back into the band.

MX: What is your day job?

JO: I’m a tile restorer. I work with a German guy who does handmade tile, and I do his installations. I do tile-work and mosaic tile.


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