More Strychnine and soda pop: The full interview with Mad Tea Party, new video

Maybe you saw excerpts of Whitney Shroyer’s interview with Mad Tea Party in the Oct. 13 print edition of Xpress? Well, here’s the whole conversation. Also, the duo released a rad new music video today that features footage from last weekend’s Zombie Walk. It’s fitting footage considering the band’s new Halloween-themed EP, Rock ‘N Roll Ghoul. The self-described “uke-abilly” group plays Stella Blue on Oct. 15.

Here’s the full dispatch from Shroyer for Xpress:

For long-time Asheville music fans, watching the Mad Tea Party develop its sound has been a consistently fascinating delight. On the occasion of their second Halloween 7”/download, Rock ‘N Roll Ghoul, I sat down and geeked out with Ami Worthen and Jason Krekel on a variety of topics, including the liberating aspects of writing about monsters, the benefits of being on boingboing, and that other Tea Party.

The duo will be playing with Mark Sultan (BBQ of King Khan and BBQ). Full disclosure, your humble interviewer will be there as well, spinning his (un)usual gaggle of junked-up 45s. Now pull up a tombstone and sit down.

WHITNEY SHROYER: You guys excited to be doing a show with Mark Sultan?

JASON KREKEL: It’s really awesome. When we decided to take Mad Tea Party back down to a two-piece, I saw King Khan and BBQ Show for the first time, and that gave me confidence that a duo CAN rock. He’s my favorite one-man band. He’s really got that drive, without it sounding too novelty. 

WS: I think that before people hear you they think you’re just going to be some “cute” band…

AMI WORTHEN: Actually, I just want to be gnarly. Just a gnarly middle-aged woman trying to rock out in the bars… We beat up cute!

WS: There’s also this macabre side to what you guys do.

JK: That mainly comes from me. I was a total monster kid. I saw all the old black and white classics. Read Famous Monsters. I was obsessed with the whole thing. The cover to the new record is inspired by old EC horror comics.

WS: Rock and Roll Ghoul is your second Halloween 7” in two years – is this going to become tradition?

JK: Partly tradition, partly necessity. We hadn’t put anything else out this year, and so we had to come up with something.

AW: I thought you said that this is part of a trilogy…

JK: Yeah, but I don’t know if the next one is going to come out next year.

WS: Last year you managed to get last year’s 7”, Zombie Boogie posted on [big deal internet cool stuff aggregator blog] How’d you pull that off, and did it help your sales?

AW: That all came from the fact that I play ukulele. There’s a pretty big ukulele community, and a friend of ours in the “scene” pitched it to them. And it took the whole thing through the roof. Somebody called me and said we were going to be on boingboing, get ready, and then my blog and download orders really took off. 

WS: Your ukulele style is different than most, I’d guess.

AW: Right, and that gets back to the whole “cute” thing. I think a lot of people listen with their eyes. The way reviews of our CDs usually start is, “You wouldn’t think this kind of instrumentation would rock the way it does, but it does.” So we work against that perception. But at the same time, I’m really excited about the ukulele as a rock and roll rhythm instrument.

WS: Tell me something about ukulele rhythm playing in rock and roll.

AW: Well, you know, it’s chordal rhythm. It’s really driving, and fills up the sonic space really well. I think of myself as rhythmic peanut butter. And I’m really conscious about my tone, and what I do with my amplifier – turn down the high end, turn up the low. I just want it to be really chunky.

JK:  To me it works a lot like Jerry Lee Lewis’s pumping piano works. 

WS: You got anything to say about the profound joy and wonder of a good rock and roll song about monsters?

JK: It doesn’t seem like people do it as much anymore, but during the 50s and 60s, that was a real theme. And if you have a theme to write about, it becomes a lot easier. So for me, and I’d imagine a lot of the older artists that did it, it is a chance to embrace eccentricity and to shed ego and have fun with the musical process. 

WS: Do you have any songs that are the king of the haunted castle?

JK: I really like this one called “Igor’s Party” by Tony’s Monstrosities. “Midnight Stroll” by the Revels. All Roky Erickson’s songs. The Cramps. Round Robin’s “Wolfman” is a great one.  It’s funny, because we talked about doing a Halloween record for years, but Ami’s the one who ended up writing our first “monster” song, the “Zombie Boogie.”

AW: To me all those things are really visual, so it’s more like you’re writing a movie. But I’d never really seen a zombie movie. So I asked Jason, what do zombies do?  Ok, they eat brains, what else?

WS: So tell me about your song on the new 7” (“Possessed”).

AW: Actually, Jason wrote that for me. It’s the first song he ever wrote for me to sing. We collaborate sometimes, but this was the first one he specifically wrote for me.

WS: What about the other tunes?

JK: “Dr. Phibes” came to me complete in my sleep. I woke up, and there it was. That’s only happened to me a couple of times, and I really like this one, because I’m not sure who many people have seen that movie, so it’s like my own private in-joke. “Rock and Roll Ghoul” was also like that – we didn’t even have it when we went into the studio. That came out of me listening to a bunch of Guitar Wolf.

AW: I’m really excited we have that song now, because it’s very therapeutic.

WS: Oh yeah?

AW: If something sh-tty is going on at a gig, you can direct it in your mind to things in the music business that are frustrating. You can think: “That is a rock and roll ghoul action.” Whatever it is.

JK: Originally it was about music critics – you know, a rock and roll ghoul, somebody who feeds off the soul of the artist, and then I came up with a verse about opening bands who wait too long to go on and then play for an hour so there’s nobody left when you go on.  “Rock and roll ghoul – eatin’ my crowd!”

WS: So how’d you manage to pull off [genius Halloween classic by the Hollywood Flames] “Frankenstein’s Den”?

JK: Well, I’d found that song on one of my Halloween comps, and I gave most of the songs to Greg [Cartwright, who produced the record]. But for that, I just gave him the original. And I was trying to feel out the drum part, and he said, [humble voice] “Well, maybe I’ll just play the drums.” So we had to turn my kit into a regular kit. So we just learned it together.

WS: Did you have fun working with him in the studio?

AW: It was great.

JK: We’ve sort of worked with producers in the past, but for the most part we self-produce. I didn’t know how hands on he’d be, but he really likes to get in there and get dirty.

AW: Most of the songs we go into record, we’ve played out a lot and we know how we want them to go. But since these songs were really fresh, they were more open to be shaped because we weren’t stuck in our ways.

AW: Having him there really gave me a lot of confidence that we were getting what we needed. We’d do a take and he’d be like “That wasn’t it” or “That was it.”

JK: It was fun to turn some of the reins over to someone I trust, musically.

WS: OK, now let’s talk about something really scary. This last year has seen your band name get contextually appropriated by an organization that’s been getting a whole lot more media attention. Has that affected you at all?

AW & JK (at the same time): It’s been irritating.

WS: So it has affected you.

AW: Oh, yeah. First I should say, that, of course, the name is not ours, we kind of co-opted it, too, so I don’t feel like they stole it from us. But my main thing is Mad Tea Party is about fun, and joy, and debauchery, and the name is being associated with things that aren’t fun. We want to keep the “party” in Tea Party. I do know when all the rallies are now, people Twitter and Facebook me about them all the time. Some of our fans have caught grief for wearing our shirts. Fortunately, most of those shirts have zombies on them now, so we can say, “Yeah, Tea Party Zombie.”

JK: We have a response coming. It should be here around Election Day. [Actually, it’s here now – check out “Hey Teabaggers, Leave Our Party Alone!” on the band’s web page.]

AW: Yeah, it’s annoying, but here’s a true thing I believe:  We will outlast them. They will be a distant memory, and we’ll go down in rock and roll history.

JK:  There you go.


About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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